Cold in the Shadows

By: Toni Anderson

She darted through the door that led into the park and screamed for help, but there was no one to hear her. The receptionist who also sold the tickets in the kiosk always left at five sharp. Audrey had given her student the day off, and most of the local scientists were still on vacation. The place was deserted. Darkness had fallen. Good. Plenty of places to hide. Her white coat made her an easy target but the man was so close on her heels she didn’t have time to take it off—and she was still wearing her gloves and clutching the little dead frog in her hand. She needed to remember what she touched so she could clean up later. She almost laughed. Stupid what went through people’s minds during moments of extreme duress—Rebecca had lain dying in her arms pleading over and over to make sure her cat, Marley, was taken care of.

The memory ripped through Audrey’s mind like a machete.

She was not going to die.

Her feet pounded the concrete. If she could get to the area where they hatched the butterfly chrysalises, she could lock and barricade the doors, then use the landline to call for help. Her cell was in her purse back in the lab.

She dashed nimbly down a small path that wound between different enclosures. There were no lights because they didn’t want to disturb the natural rhythms of the animals, but she knew the way. She heard the man stumble and swear, falling farther and farther behind. Good. Exhilaration filled her. She was going to make it.

Her sandal caught on a piece of hosepipe and she flew through the air, losing her glasses a split second before she smacked her head on a post. Pain and disorientation exploded inside her skull. The sound of labored breathing brought her back to the present. A dark shadow dropped to his knees beside her. The smell of cigarettes on hot rancid breath turned her stomach.

“What do you want?” she asked weakly.

Something sharp pressed against her side, and she tried to pull away, but it didn’t stop coming. Pain was all consuming, and shock crashed through her as a knife slid deep. Her mouth went wide in astonishment and she grabbed the man’s wrists, nausea rolling through her body. She struggled frantically to push against his arm.

“W-why are you doing this to me?” she panted. Agony streaked along her side. She could barely breathe, let alone think. “Help,” she begged someone, no one. “Help me.”

He said something indistinguishable in Spanish, but after a few seconds he loosened his grip on the knife and fell backward to the ground. All she could think about was the fact this man had stabbed her and it hurt. Then she understood what had happened. The neurotoxic steroidal alkaloid from the frog’s skin had transferred from her gloves and was now making her attacker’s heart beat too fast as the poison irreversibly opened the voltage-gated sodium channels of his body’s cells. She dragged herself to her knees, tugging off the lab coat in case she’d got batrachotoxin on that too. The man needed immediate medical attention if he was going to live. Ignoring him and her own wound, she carefully peeled off her gloves, balling them inside out before tossing them aside. Blood ran down her hip in a hot, slick trickle that streamed down her leg.

Holding onto the fence she dragged herself to her feet and staggered along the path. She knew she shouldn’t remove the knife, but it cut into her with every step. Blood soaked her jeans, making the denim feel wet and heavy against her leg. She swayed unsteadily, clinging desperately to the fence. Her assailant thrashed on the ground behind her, having a seizure.

The equivalent of two grains of salt could kill a man. She doubted he’d last until she called the ambulance, but she had to try.

The sound of footsteps made her freeze in fresh horror. He had a partner. She wanted to scream with frustration at the unfairness of it all. She couldn’t run. She could barely walk. The beam of a flashlight hit her full in the face, and she tried to shrink back into the shadows.

“Come to finish the job?” she bit out. The pain in her side was so intense she couldn’t concentrate, but the lightheaded feeling from losing too much blood was more worrying. The beam of light swung from her to the ground where her would-be killer lay prone on his back with his mouth wide open, eyes staring fixedly into the sky. If he weren’t already dead, he soon would be. The newcomer bent to check his radial pulse.

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