Chapter Nine

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Blink. There was the dog—more or less true—with shark-like teeth and a bloody mouth. Blink. An alien dog. Blink. Though I'd seen the carnage from them, I almost thought they weren't real. None had been wandering around in the streets, the screaming had stopped from how it sounded earlier. Blink. But here it was, right in front of me. Lunging at me, and there was no time to think.

Its massive paws landed on my chest and pushed me down, causing me to yelp as my ankle took on my weight. I hit the pavement hard, the crushing weight of the animal settling on top of me. The baseball bat slipped from my hand as I reached up and tried to push the massive creature away. My fingers slipped through the warm, wet mat of hair, and I nearly gagged at the idea of what it could be. Cassian was screaming beside me, a loud, bone-chilling sound, but it was nearly drown out by the panting of the dog over me. Its snout was near my face, its hot breath like a wave over my nose, a low growl coming from the depths of its throat.

But while its weight crushed me, its jaws never opened; it never tried to bite me.

The dog threw its head back and let out one lone howl, almost like a clicking, mechanical sound. With my heart pounding in my throat, I almost couldn't understand what it was doing—my mental process was shunted by the fact that I literally had an alien dog with a bloody mouth practically sitting on top of me. But then I realized that its howl was it throwing out a signal. I found her.

"Get off!" I yelled at it, shoving at its neck, but it didn't move an inch. Its nails dug into my shoulders, tearing the fabric there, and sparks of pain lit up on my skin. Panic started to claw at my throat just imagining those four aliens turning around, coming back to Fletching, finding me, finding Cassian... "Cassian, you have to—"

Suddenly, the bat that had fallen from my grasp came down over the top of the creature's head, eliciting a sharp yelp from the dog and a loud ding from the bat. The crushing weight disappeared from my chest as the dog fell off to the side, its legs stumbling to keep itself upright. "Jojo!" a voice gasped, and two arms grabbed ahold of mine. "We have to move!"

"Wait—Kelsey?" I blinked at the fiery hair of my friend, taking in her appearance. She, too, was wearing her server uniform, but hers was far less dirty than mine—she hadn't had garbage smeared all over her. Her hair, though, had come undone from its bun and hung wildly in her face. "What are you—"

"Not now," she said, shaking her head, and handing me the bat. She looked frantic herself, drawing in breath after shallow breath to try and speak normal. "Those things are like machines—they won't stop until their in pieces. I...I know."

I glanced back at the demon dog, who was stumbling in a circle around in the roadway, as if malfunctioning. My own chest heaved as my breath came in short gasps, everything in me trembling. Both of my shoulders ached from where its nails had dug in. We were too close to that thing for comfort. "Beck's place. We need to get to the apartment."

Cassian grabbed ahold of my hand, eyes never leaving the dog. "I thought you were dead for sure."

Me too, I thought with an almost disarming wave of panic crashed through me. I was shaking, trembling like I'd been plunged in a bath of ice water, unable to think straight. "It's this way," I told them both, surprised at how even my voice truly sounded. I glanced towards my friend, who walked with her hands pressed to her chest. "Kelsey, how did you get inside the dome?"

"I was already inside," she told me, keeping close at my heels. I saw that her expression resembled something of shock; wide, vacant eyes, pale face, tense lips. "I was on my way to work. My shift didn't start til four—I-I should've dragged my feet a little bit l-longer, I guess."

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