New York editor Jonas Faukman was just turning off the lights in his Manhattan office when his phone rang. He had no intention of picking up at this hour--that is, until he glimpsed the caller- ID display. This ought to be good, he thought, reaching for the receiver.
"Do we still publish you?" Faukman asked, half serious.
"Jonas!" Robert Langdon's voice sounded anxious. "Thank God you're there. I need your help."
Faukman's spirits lifted. "You've got pages for me to edit, Robert?" Finally?
"No, I need information. Last year, I connected you with a scientist named Katherine Solomon, the sister of Peter Solomon?"
Faukman frowned. No pages.
"She was looking for a publisher for a book on Noetic Science? Do you remember her?"
Faukman rolled his eyes. "Sure. I remember. And thanks a million for that introduction. Not only did she refuse to let me read the results of her research, she didn't want to publish anything until some magical date in the future."
"Jonas, listen to me, I don't have time. I need Katherine's phone number. Right now. Do you have it?"
"I've got to warn you . . . you're acting a little desperate. She's great looking, but you're not going to impress her by--"
"This is no joke, Jonas, I need her number now."
"All right . . . hold on." Faukman and Langdon had been close friends for enough years that Faukman knew when Langdon was serious. Jonas typed the name Katherine Solomon into a search window and began scanning the company's e-mail server.
"I'm looking now," Faukman said. "And for what it's worth, when you call her, you may not want to call from the Harvard Pool. It sounds like you're in an asylum."
"I'm not at the pool. I'm in a tunnel under the U.S. Capitol."
Faukman sensed from Langdon's voice that he was not joking. What is it with this guy? "Robert, why can't you just stay home and write?" His computer pinged. "Okay, hold on . . . I got it." He moused through the old e-mail thread. "It looks like all I have is her cell."
"I'll take it."
Faukman gave him the number.
"Thanks, Jonas," Langdon said, sounding grateful. "I owe you one."
"You owe me a manuscript, Robert. Do you have any idea how long--"
The line went dead.
Faukman stared at the receiver and shook his head. Book publishing would be so much easier without the authors.
Katherine Solomon did a double take when she saw the name on her caller ID. She had imagined the incoming call was from Trish, checking in to explain why she and Christopher Abaddon were taking so long. But the caller was not Trish.
Far from it.
Katherine felt a blushing smile cross her lips. Could tonight get any stranger? She flipped open her phone.
"Don't tell me," she said playfully. "Bookish bachelor seeking single Noetic Scientist?"
"Katherine!" The deep voice belonged to Robert Langdon. "Thank God you're okay."
"Of course I'm okay," she replied, puzzled. "Other than the fact that you never called me after that party at Peter's house last summer."
"Something has happened tonight. Please listen." His normally smooth voice sounded ragged. "I'm so sorry to have to tell you this . . . but Peter is in serious trouble."
Katherine's smile disappeared. "What are you talking about?"
"Peter . . ." Langdon hesitated as if searching for words. "I don't know how to say it, but he's been . . . taken. I'm not sure how or by whom, but--"
"Taken?" Katherine demanded. "Robert, you're scaring me. Taken . . . where?"
"Taken captive." Langdon's voice cracked as if he were overwhelmed. "It must have happened earlier today or maybe yesterday."
"This isn't funny," she said angrily. "My brother is fine. I just spoke to him fifteen minutes ago!"
"You did?!" Langdon sounded stunned.
"Yes! He just texted me to say he was coming to the lab."
"He texted you . . ." Langdon thought out loud. "But you didn't actually hear his voice?"
"Listen to me. The text you received was not from your brother. Someone has Peter's phone. He's dangerous. Whoever it is tricked me into coming to Washington tonight."
"Tricked you? You're not making any sense!"
"I know, I'm so sorry." Langdon seemed uncharacteristically disorientated. "Katherine, I think you could be in danger."
Katherine Solomon was sure that Langdon would never joke about something like this, and yet he sounded like he had lost his mind. "I'm fine," she said. "I'm locked inside a secure building!"
"Read me the message you got from Peter's phone. Please."
Bewildered, Katherine pulled up the text message and read it to Langdon, feeling a chill as she came to the final part referencing Dr. Abaddon. "`If available, have Dr. Abaddon join us inside. I trust him fully . . .' "
"Oh God . . ." Langdon's voice was laced with fear. "Did you invite this man inside?"
"Yes! My assistant just went out to the lobby to get him. I expect them back any--"
"Katherine, get out!" Langdon yelled. "Now!"
At the other side of the SMSC, inside the security room, a phone began ringing, drowning out the Redskins game. The guard reluctantly pulled out his earbuds one more time.
"Lobby," he answered. "This is Kyle."
"Kyle, it's Katherine Solomon!" Her voice sounded anxious, out of breath.
"Ma'am, your brother has not yet--"
"Where's Trish?!" she demanded. "Can you see her on the monitors?"
The guard rolled his chair over to look at the screens. "She hasn't gotten back to the Cube yet?"
"No!" Katherine shouted, sounding alarmed.
The guard now realized that Katherine Solomon was out of breath, as if she were running. What's going on back there?
The guard quickly worked the video joystick, skimming through frames of digital video at rapid speed. "Okay, hold on, scrolling through playback . . . I've got Trish with your guest leaving the lobby . . . they move down the Street . . . fast-forwarding . . . okay, they're going into Wet Pod . . . Trish uses her key card to unlock the door . . . both of them step into Wet Pod . . . fast- forwarding . . . okay, here they are coming out of Wet Pod just a minute ago . . . heading down . . ." He cocked his head, slowing the playback. "Wait a minute. That's odd."
"The gentleman came out of Wet Pod alone."
"Trish stayed inside?"
"Yes, it looks that way. I'm watching your guest now . . . he's in the hall on his own." "Where is Trish?" Katherine asked more frantically.
"I don't see her on the video feed," he replied, an edge of anxiety creeping into his voice. He looked back at the screen and noticed that the man's jacket sleeves appeared to be wet . . . all the way up to his elbows. What in the world did he do in Wet Pod? The guard watched as the man began to move purposefully down the main hallway toward Pod 5, clutching in his hand what looked like . . . a key card.
The guard felt the hair on the back of his neck stand on end. "Ms. Solomon, we've got a serious problem."
Tonight was a night of firsts for Katherine Solomon.
In two years, she had never used her cell phone inside the void. Nor had she ever crossed the void at a dead run. At the moment, however, Katherine had a cell phone pressed to her ear while she was dashing blindly along the endless length of carpet. Each time she felt a foot stray from the carpet, she corrected back to center, racing on through the sheer darkness.
"Where is he now?" Katherine asked the guard, breathless.
"Checking now," the guard replied. "Fast-forwarding . . . okay, here he is walking down the hall . . . moving toward Pod Five . . ."
Katherine ran harder, hoping to reach the exit before she got trapped back here. "How long until he gets to the Pod Five entrance?"
The guard paused. "Ma'am, you don't understand. I'm still fast-forwarding. This is recorded playback. This already happened." He paused. "Hold on, let me check the entry event monitor." He paused and then said, "Ma'am, Ms. Dunne's key card shows a Pod Five entry event about a minute ago."
Katherine slammed on the brakes, sliding to a halt in the middle of the abyss. "He already unlocked Pod Five?" she whispered into the phone.
The guard was typing frantically. "Yes, it looks like he entered . . . ninety seconds ago."
Katherine's body went rigid. She stopped breathing. The darkness felt suddenly alive all around her.
He's in here with me.
In an instant, Katherine realized that the only light in the entire space was coming from her cell phone, illuminating the side of her face. "Send help," she whispered to the guard. "And get to Wet Pod to help Trish." Then she quietly closed her phone, extinguishing the light. Absolute darkness settled around her.
She stood stock-still and breathed as quietly as possible. After a few seconds, the pungent scent of ethanol wafted out of the darkness in front of her. The smell got stronger. She could sense a presence, only a few feet in front of her on the carpet. In the silence, the pounding of Katherine's heart seemed loud enough to give her away. Silently, she stepped out of her shoes and inched to her left, sidestepping off the carpet. The cement felt cold under her feet. She took one more step to clear the carpet.
One of her toes cracked.
It sounded like a gunshot in the stillness.
Only a few yards away, a rustle of clothing suddenly came at her out of the darkness. Katherine bolted an instant too late and a powerful arm snagged her, groping in the darkness, hands violently attempting to gain purchase. She spun away as a viselike grip caught her lab coat, yanking her backward, reeling her in.
Katherine threw her arms backward, slithering out of her lab coat and slipping free. Suddenly, with no idea anymore which way was out, Katherine Solomon found herself dashing, dead blind, across an endless black abyss.
Despite containing what many have called "the most beautiful room in the world," the Library of Congress is known less for its breathtaking splendor than for its vast collections. With over five hundred miles of shelves--enough to stretch from Washington, D.C., to Boston--it easily claims the title of largest library on earth. And yet still it expands, at a rate of over ten thousand items per day.
As an early repository for Thomas Jefferson's personal collection of books on science and philosophy, the library stood as a symbol of America's commitment to the dissemination of knowledge. One of the first buildings in Washington to have electric lights, it literally shone like a beacon in the darkness of the New World.
As its name implies, the Library of Congress was established to serve Congress, whose venerated members worked across the street in the Capitol Building. This age-old bond between library and Capitol had been fortified recently by the construction of a physical connection--a long tunnel beneath Independence Avenue that linked the two buildings. Tonight, inside this dimly lit tunnel, Robert Langdon followed Warren Bellamy through a construction zone, trying to quell his own deepening concern for Katherine. This lunatic is at her lab?! Langdon didn't even want to imagine why. When he had called to warn her, Langdon had told Katherine exactly where to meet him before they hung up. How much longer is this damned tunnel? His head ached now, a roiling torrent of interconnected thoughts: Katherine, Peter, the Masons, Bellamy, pyramids, ancient prophecy . . . and a map.
Langdon shook it all off and pressed on. Bellamy promised me answers.
When the two men finally reached the end of the passage, Bellamy guided Langdon through a set of double doors that were still under construction. Finding no way to lock the unfinished doors behind them, Bellamy improvised, grabbing an aluminum ladder from the construction supplies and leaning it precariously against the outside of the door. Then he balanced a metal bucket on top. If anyone opened the door, the bucket would crash loudly to the floor.
That's our alarm system? Langdon eyed the perched bucket, hoping Bellamy had a more comprehensive plan for their safety tonight. Everything had happened so fast, and Langdon was only now starting to process the repercussions of his fleeing with Bellamy. I'm a fugitive from the CIA.
Bellamy led the way around a corner, where the two men began ascending a wide staircase that was cordoned off with orange pylons. Langdon's daybag weighed him down as he climbed. "The stone pyramid," he said, "I still don't understand--"
"Not here," Bellamy interrupted. "We'll examine it in the light. I know a safe place."
Langdon doubted such a place existed for anyone who had just physically assaulted the director of the CIA's Office of Security.
As the two men reached the top of the stairs, they entered a wide hallway of Italian marble, stucco, and gold leaf. The hall was lined with eight pairs of statues--all depicting the goddess Minerva. Bellamy pressed on, leading Langdon eastward, through a vaulted archway, into a far grander space.
Even in the dim, after-hours lighting, the library's great hall shone with the classical grandeur of an opulent European palace. Seventy-five feet overhead, stained-glass skylights glistened between paneled beams adorned with rare "aluminum leaf"--a metal that was considered to be more precious than gold at one time. Beneath that, a stately course of paired pillars lined the second-floor balcony, accessible by two magnificent curling staircases whose newel posts supported giant bronze female figures raising torches of enlightenment.
In a bizarre attempt to reflect this theme of modern enlightenment and yet stay within the decorative register of Renaissance architecture, the stairway banisters had been carved with cupidlike putti portrayed as modern scientists. An angelic electrician holding a telephone? A cherubic entomologist with a specimen box? Langdon wondered what Bernini would have thought. "We'll talk over here," Bellamy said, leading Langdon past the bulletproof display cases that contained the library's two most valuable books--the Giant Bible of Mainz, handwritten in the 1450s, and America's copy of the Gutenberg Bible, one of only three perfect vellum copies in the world. Fittingly, the vaulted ceiling overhead bore John White Alexander's six-panel painting titled The Evolution of the Book.
Bellamy strode directly to a pair of elegant double doors at the center rear of the east-corridor wall. Langdon knew what room lay beyond those doors, but it seemed a strange choice for a conversation. Notwithstanding the irony of talking in a space filled with "Silence Please" signs, this room hardly seemed like a "safe place." Located dead center of the library's cruciform- shaped floor plan, this chamber served as the heart of the building. Hiding in here was like breaking into a cathedral and hiding on the altar.
Nonetheless, Bellamy unlocked the doors, stepped into the darkness beyond, and groped for the lights. When he flipped the switch, one of America's great architectural masterpieces seemed to materialize out of thin air.
The famous reading room was a feast for the senses. A voluminous octagon rose 160 feet at its center, its eight sides finished in chocolate-brown Tennessee marble, cream-colored Siena marble, and apple-red Algerian marble. Because it was lit from eight angles, no shadows fell anywhere, creating the effect that the room itself was glowing.
"Some say it's the most striking room in Washington," Bellamy said, ushering Langdon inside.
Maybe in the whole world, Langdon thought as he stepped across the threshold. As always, his gaze first ascended straight up to the towering central collar, where rays of arabesque coffers curled down the dome to an upper balcony. Encircling the room, sixteen bronze "portrait" statues peered down from the balustrade. Beneath them, a stunning arcade of archways formed a lower balcony. Down at floor level, three concentric circles of burnished wood desks radiated out from the massive octagonal circulation desk.
Langdon returned his focus to Bellamy, who was now propping the room's double doors wide open. "I thought we were hiding," Langdon said, confused.
"If anyone enters the building," Bellamy said, "I want to hear them coming."
"But won't they find us instantly in here?"
"No matter where we hide, they'll find us. But if anyone corners us in this building, you'll be very glad I chose this room."
Langdon had no idea why, but Bellamy apparently wasn't looking to discuss it. He was already on the move toward the center of the room, where he selected one of the available reading desks, pulled up two chairs, and flipped on the reading light. Then he motioned to Langdon's bag. "Okay, Professor, let's have a closer look."
Not wanting to risk scratching its polished surface with a rough piece of granite, Langdon hoisted his entire bag onto the desk and unzipped it, folding the sides all the way down to reveal the pyramid inside. Warren Bellamy adjusted the reading lamp and studied the pyramid carefully. He ran his fingers over the unusual engraving.
"I assume you recognize this language?" Bellamy asked.
"Of course," Langdon replied, eyeing the sixteen symbols.
Known as the Freemason's Cipher, this encoded language had been used for private communication among early Masonic brothers. The encryption method had been abandoned long ago for one simple reason--it was much too easy to break. Most of the students in Langdon's senior symbology seminar could break this code in about five minutes. Langdon, with a pencil and paper, could do it in under sixty seconds.
The notorious breakability of this centuries-old encryption scheme now presented a couple of paradoxes. First, the claim that Langdon was the only person on earth who could break it was absurd. Second, for Sato to suggest that a Masonic cipher was an issue of national security was like her suggesting our nuclear launch codes were encrypted with a Cracker Jack decoder ring. Langdon was still struggling to believe any of it. This pyramid is a map? Pointing to the lost wisdom of the ages?
"Robert," Bellamy said, his tone grave. "Did Director Sato tell you why she is so interested in this?"
Langdon shook his head. "Not specifically. She just kept saying it was an issue of national security. I assume she's lying."
"Perhaps," Bellamy said, rubbing the back of his neck. He seemed to be struggling with something. "But there is a far more troubling possibility." He turned to look Langdon in the eye. "It's possible that Director Sato has discovered this pyramid's true potential."
The blackness engulfing Katherine Solomon felt absolute.
Having fled the familiar safety of the carpet, she was now groping blindly forward, her outstretched hands touching only empty space as she staggered deeper into the desolate void. Beneath her stockinged feet, the endless expanse of cold cement felt like a frozen lake . . . a hostile environment from which she now needed to escape.
No longer smelling ethanol, she stopped and waited in darkness. Standing dead still, she listened, willing her heart to stop pounding so loudly. The heavy footsteps behind her seemed to have stopped. Did I lose him? Katherine closed her eyes and tried to imagine where she was. Which direction did I run? Where is the door? It was no use. She was so turned around now that the exit could be anywhere.
Fear, Katherine had once heard, acted as a stimulant, sharpening the mind's ability to think. Right now, however, her fear had turned her mind into a tumbling torrent of panic and confusion. Even if I find the exit, I can't get out. Her key card had been lost when she'd shed her lab coat. Her only hope seemed to be that she was now a needle in a haystack--a single point on a thirty- thousand-square-foot grid. Despite the overwhelming urge to flee, Katherine's analytical mind told her instead to make the only logical move--no move at all. Stay still. Don't make a sound. The security guard was on his way, and for some unknown reason, her attacker smelled strongly of ethanol. If he gets too close, I'll know it.
As Katherine stood in silence, her mind raced over what Langdon had said. Your brother . . . he's been taken. She felt a bead of cold sweat materialize on her arm and trickle down, toward the cell phone still clenched in her right hand. It was a danger she had forgotten to consider. If the phone rang, it would give away her position, and she could not turn it off without opening it and illuminating the display.
Set down the phone . . . and move away from it.
But it was too late. The smell of ethanol approached on her right. And now it grew stronger. Katherine struggled to stay calm, forcing herself to override the instinct to run. Carefully, slowly, she took one step to her left. The faint rustle of her clothing was apparently all her attacker needed. She heard him lunge, and the smell of ethanol washed over her as a powerful hand grabbed at her shoulder. She twisted away, raw terror gripping her. Mathematical probability went out the window, and Katherine broke into a blind sprint. She veered hard to the left, changing course, dashing blindly now into the void.
The wall materialized out of nowhere.
Katherine hit it hard, knocking the wind from her lungs. Pain blossomed in her arm and shoulder, but she managed to stay on her feet. The oblique angle at which she had collided with the wall had spared her the full force of the blow, but it was little comfort now. The sound had echoed everywhere. He knows where I am. Doubled over in pain, she turned her head and stared out into the blackness of the pod and sensed him staring back at her.
Change your location. Now!
Still struggling to catch her breath, she began moving down the wall, touching her left hand quietly to each exposed steel stud as she passed. Stay along the wall. Slip past him before he corners you. In her right hand, Katherine still clutched her cell phone, ready to hurl it as a projectile if need be.
Katherine was in no way prepared for the sound she heard next--the clear rustle of clothing directly in front of her . . . against the wall. She froze, stock-still, and stopped breathing. How could he be on the wall already? She felt a faint puff of air, laced with the stench of ethanol. He's moving down the wall toward me!
Katherine backed up several steps. Then, turning silently 180 degrees, she began moving quickly in the opposite direction down the wall. She moved twenty feet or so when the impossible happened. Once again, directly in front of her, along the wall, she heard the rustling sound of clothing. Then came the same puff of air and the smell of ethanol. Katherine Solomon froze in place.
My God, he's everywhere!
Bare-chested, Mal'akh stared into the darkness.
The smell of ethanol on his sleeves had proven a liability, and so he had transformed it into an asset, stripping off his shirt and jacket and using them to help corner his prey. Throwing his jacket against the wall to the right, he had heard Katherine stop short and change direction. Now, having thrown his shirt ahead to the left, Mal'akh had heard her stop again. He had effectively corralled Katherine against the wall by establishing points beyond which she dared not pass.
Now he waited, ears straining in the silence. She has only one direction she can move--directly toward me. Even so, Mal'akh heard nothing. Either Katherine was paralyzed with fear, or she had decided to stand still and wait for help to enter Pod 5. Either way she loses. Nobody would be entering Pod 5 anytime soon; Mal'akh had disabled the outer keypad with a very crude, yet very effective, technique. After using Trish's key card, he had rammed a single dime deep into the key-card slot to prevent any other key-card use without first dismantling the entire mechanism.
You and I are alone, Katherine . . . for as long as this takes.
Mal'akh inched silently forward, listening for any movement. Katherine Solomon would die tonight in the darkness of her brother's museum. A poetic end. Mal'akh looked forward to sharing the news of Katherine's death with her brother. The old man's anguish would be long- awaited revenge.
Suddenly in the darkness, to Mal'akh's great surprise, he saw a tiny glow in the distance and realized Katherine had just made a deadly error in judgment. She's phoning for help?! The electronic display that had just flickered to life was hovering waist high, about twenty yards ahead, like a shining beacon on a vast ocean of black. Mal'akh had been prepared to wait Katherine out, but now he wouldn't have to.
Mal'akh sprang into motion, racing toward the hovering light, knowing he had to reach her before she could complete her call for help. He was there in a matter of seconds, and he lunged, arms outstretched on either side of her glowing cell phone, preparing to engulf her.
Mal'akh's fingers jammed into a solid wall, bending backward and almost breaking. His head collided next, crashing into a steel beam. He cried out in pain as he crumpled beside the wall. Cursing, he clambered back to his feet, pulling himself up by the waist-high, horizontal strut on which Katherine Solomon had cleverly placed her open cell phone.
Katherine was running again, this time with no concern for the noise her hand was making as it bounced rhythmically off the evenly spaced metal studs of Pod 5. Run! If she followed the wall all the way around the pod, she knew that sooner or later she would feel the exit door.
Where the hell is the guard?
The even spacing of the studs continued as she ran with her left hand on the sidewall and her right out in front of her for protection. When will I reach the corner? The sidewall seemed to go on and on, but suddenly the rhythm of the studs was broken. Her left hand hit empty space for several long strides, and then the studs began again. Katherine slammed on the brakes and backed up, feeling her way across the smooth metal panel. Why are there no studs here?
She could hear her attacker lumbering loudly after her now, groping his way down the wall in her direction. Even so, it was a different sound that scared Katherine even more--the distant rhythmic banging of a security guard pounding his flashlight against the Pod 5 door.
The guard can't get in?
While the thought was terrifying, the location of his banging--diagonally to her right--instantly oriented Katherine. She could now picture where in Pod 5 she was located. The visual flash brought with it an unexpected realization. She now knew what this flat panel on the wall was.
Every pod was equipped with a specimen bay--a giant movable wall that could be retracted for transporting oversize specimens in and out of the pods. Like those of an airplane hangar, this door was mammoth, and Katherine in her wildest dreams had never imagined needing to open it. At the moment, though, it seemed like her only hope.
Is it even operable?
Katherine fumbled blindly in the blackness, searching the bay door until she found the large metal handle. Grasping it, she threw her weight backward, trying to slide open the door. Nothing. She tried again. It didn't budge.
She could hear her attacker closing faster now, homing in on the sounds of her efforts. The bay door is locked! Wild with panic, she slid her hands all over the door, feeling the surface for any latch or lever. She suddenly hit what felt like a vertical pole. She followed it down to the floor, crouching, and could feel it was inserted into a hole in the cement. A security rod! She stood up, grabbed the pole, and, lifting with her legs, slid the rod up and out of the hole.
He's almost here!
Katherine groped now for the handle, found it again, and heaved back on it with all her might. The massive panel seemed barely to move, and yet a sliver of moonlight now sliced into Pod 5. Katherine pulled again. The shaft of light from outside the building grew wider. A little more! She pulled one last time, sensing her attacker was now only a few feet away.
Leaping toward the light, Katherine wriggled her slender body sideways into the opening. A hand materialized in the darkness, clawing at her, trying to pull her back inside. She heaved herself through the opening, pursued by a massive bare arm that was covered with tattooed scales. The terrifying arm writhed like an angry snake trying to seize her.
Katherine spun and fled down the long, pale outer wall of Pod 5. The bed of loose stones that surrounded the entire perimeter of the SMSC cut into her stockinged feet as she ran, but she pressed on, heading for the main entrance. The night was dark, but with her eyes fully dilated from the utter blackness of Pod 5, she could see perfectly--almost as if it were daylight. Behind her, the heavy bay door ground open, and she heard heavy footsteps accelerating in pursuit down the side of the building. The footsteps seemed impossibly fast.
I'll never outrun him to the main entrance. She knew her Volvo was closer, but even that would be too far. I'm not going to make it.
Then Katherine realized she had one final card to play.
As she neared the corner of Pod 5, she could hear his footsteps quickly overtaking her in the darkness. Now or never. Instead of rounding the corner, Katherine suddenly cut hard to her left, away from the building, out onto the grass. As she did so, she closed her eyes tightly, placed both hands over her face, and began running totally blind across the lawn.
The motion-activated security lighting that blazed to life around Pod 5 transformed night into day instantly. Katherine heard a scream of pain behind her as the brilliant floodlights seared into her assailant's hyper dilated pupils with over twenty-five-million candlepower of light. She could hear him stumbling on the loose stones.
Katherine kept her eyes tightly closed, trusting herself on the open lawn. When she sensed she was far enough away from the building and the lights, she opened her eyes, corrected her course, and ran like hell through the dark.
Her Volvo's keys were exactly where she always left them, in the center console. Breathless, she seized the keys in her trembling hands and found the ignition. The engine roared to life, and her headlights flipped on, illuminating a terrifying sight.
A hideous form raced toward her.
Katherine froze for an instant.
The creature caught in her headlights was a bald and bare-chested animal, its skin covered with tattooed scales, symbols, and text. He bellowed as he ran into the glare, raising his hands before his eyes like a cave-dwelling beast seeing sunlight for the first time. She reached for the gearshift but suddenly he was there, hurling his elbow through her side window, sending a shower of safety glass into her lap.
A massive scale-covered arm burst through her window, groping half blind, finding her neck. She threw the car in reverse, but her attacker had latched on to her throat, squeezing with unimaginable force. She turned her head in an attempt to escape his grasp, and suddenly she was staring at his face. Three dark stripes, like fingernail scratches, had torn through his face makeup to reveal the tattoos beneath. His eyes were wild and ruthless.
"I should have killed you ten years ago," he growled. "The night I killed your mother."
As his words registered, Katherine was seized by a horrifying memory: that feral look in his eyes--she had seen it before. It's him. She would have screamed had it not been for the viselike grip around her neck.
She smashed her foot onto the accelerator, and the car lurched backward, almost snapping her neck as he was dragged beside her car. The Volvo careened up an inclined median, and Katherine could feel her neck about to give way beneath his weight. Suddenly tree branches were scraping the side of her car, slapping through the side windows, and the weight was gone.
The car burst through the evergreens and out into the upper parking lot, where Katherine slammed on the brakes. Below her, the half-naked man clambered to his feet, staring into her headlights. With a terrifying calm, he raised a menacing scale-covered arm and pointed directly at her. Katherine's blood coursed with raw fear and hatred as she spun the wheel and hit the gas. Seconds later, she was fishtailing out onto Silver Hill Road.