The elevator carriage settled, and Miranda expected to find Officer Hoskins somewhere along the well-lit path, ever vigilant as he stood guard over the park. But once the door opened, she saw only a long, vacant stretch of brick surrounded by topiaries and impenetrable darkness. The park did span several acres around the tower. Perhaps something demanded Hoskins’s attention.
Miranda kept her phone in hand as she began her brisk walk, reminding herself that this was one of the safer parts of town. Still, her parents had issued many warnings about the dangers a city held after dark, and her mind replayed the greatest hits. Miranda felt her ears expanding to catch even the faintest rustling of leaves.
She heard something else. Not leaves or wind or any scurrying critter. Nothing from nature. Nothing natural.
A moan. It was coming from somewhere behind those bushes. Miranda’s senses all dialed up to maximum.
She decided to ignore it and stay on the path, stay under the lights. Keep her eyes on her phone and check the hell out of those text messages. Or pretend to while secretly poised to dial 9-1-1 if the need arose—a need like someone leaping out and strangling her.
Whatever it was, Officer Hoskins was probably already on it. That explained his absence. But what if he was the one moaning?
“I’m hurt,” the moaning person called out from the darkness, her voice hoarse.
It was definitely a woman’s voice, not the policeman’s. And he wasn’t around to respond to the cry for help.
This could have been a trap—some creepy man lurking, sheathed in the dark, ready to throw the first unsuspecting good citizen into a black van. And if not, well, really, what could Miranda do to help? Aside from the simple task of dialing 9-1-1.
It would be the right thing to do, in case someone was suffering. Miranda could make the call and run away.
Miranda wanted to keep walking until she exited the park, but her feet refused to budge and she cringed. She remained physically capable of forward momentum, just not mentally.
Her stomach folded in on itself, threatening to incite debilitating queasiness unless she did the right thing. If she walked away, she’d spend days or weeks dwelling on whatever she walked away from, constantly checking the news for any hints about what the hell this was. All food would lose its appeal, and she would look back on the concept of sleep with nostalgic fondness.
She considered running back up to Ken, but he was nearly half a mile above the ground. And someone right here might be hurt.
Miranda dialed the digits 9-1-1 and positioned her thumb over the “call” icon. Without hitting it just yet, she advanced toward the source of the moaning and commanded herself not to dissolve into a shivering mess of nerves. She did not heed herself. Her shaking thumb almost jabbed “call” by accident.
Didn’t happen, though. A flash of light cut through the park for just a second, and she stopped. Where did it come from? Not the park’s lighting system. Was it … Fantastic Man? Was she about to meet Fantastic Man? This seemed more like something he should handle, not her.
“That was me,” the woman said, each word scraping against Miranda’s ears. So scratchy and parched. She wasn’t far, maybe only a few feet into the darkness. “Want to make sure I … have your attention.”
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