Sam and I made it to the side of the highway at about the same time.
Twenty feet below us on the ground, the streets and shops were empty. I doubted that was normal. On the other hand, they’d probably had sirens and alerts too.
Any sensible person would drive home after that, right? Not that we were driving home, but normal people would.
Sam stopped looking down. “Do you see anything? I don’t.”
“Me neither. Night vision’s not my thing.”
Not that it was bad. Sure, it was basically night, but they had streetlights. Knowing what they’d said on the radio, it was likely the person who screamed had gotten hurt someplace dark.
“You see anything?” Rod shut his car door, and walked around the front of the car toward us.
The car behind him beeped. I couldn’t see why. No one was going anywhere.
Rod flipped him the bird.
Sam and I said, “No,” almost simultaneously.
We could have used Haley, or her brother Travis then. Seeing in the dark was the least of what they could do.
Rod leaned over the side.
Sam said, “So?”
“I’d have to change to get a better look,” he said, standing straight again. “I can’t do that here.”
“Too many people,” Sam said.
I ignored them. I’d seen something move near one of the metal supports that held up the highway. It seemed human shaped, but the posture seemed wrong (too bent over), and I thought I’d seen a webbed hand.
Then it disappeared under the highway.
To the right, maybe twenty feet away, I thought I saw an arm sticking out.
“Did you see that?” I pointed.
Too late. Rod followed the direction my hand pointed, but no one could see anything. I’d have jumped over the side if it weren’t for the people.
“Nothing,” Rod said.
My phone rang. I had two phones—the second because Nick thought having a second phone for League business would be a good idea.
That wasn’t the one that was ringing. My personal phone was ringing. I pulled it out of case on my belt, checked the caller ID. It was Mom.
Oh God. Best to get it over with.
“Cassie, where are you? I got back to the apartment, and no one was here. Did you know there’s an alert out?”
“I know. I’m fine, Mom. I ran into a couple people who got the same scholarship I did.”
Mom paused. She’d caught the reference to the Stapledon program. How would she take it?
“You’re not out in the middle of this, are you? Where are you?”
“Georgetown. In the traffic jam.”
“Cassie, that’s the worst place you could be. You’re inside the car, right? Turn the light on. Don’t get out.”
“Don’t worry about it. We’re not doing much of anything. I saw worse last spring.”
“If I’d had any idea what you were doing last spring…” She trailed off. She couldn’t go any further with that thought on an unencrypted call.
“I’m calling people,” she said. “Don’t go anywhere.”
“Mom, I’m fine.”
“Cassie, listen to me for once. Don’t go anywhere, and if the traffic jam breaks, come home. Did you hear me?”
“Heard you.” Which didn’t mean I’d do it.
She sighed. “I’ll call back soon. Bye.”
Sam said, “Your mom?”
“Please don’t take this wrong, but you weren’t just saying you’d had a fight with her back at the club, were you?”
“No.” It had seemed better on vacation, but now that we were back in the States we were back to where we’d been before we left—wherever that was.
“My mom’s not happy that I’m doing this either.”
“See, it’s funny,” I said, “my mom wants me to train, but she gets freaked out whenever I do anything—if she knows. Half the time she’s here instead of home.”
Sam put her hand on my shoulder—she seemed like she was about to give me a hug (and I wasn’t sure I wanted to be hugged). Then the window of the car behind us (a black Lexus) slid down.
The man inside shouted, “Hey, you kids. Did you hear the alert? Get back in your car, and turn on the lights.”
Rod raised his hand. I thought he was about the flip the guy off again, but he gave a little wave, and said, “Thanks, man.”
Turning to us he said, “We’d better get back in the car.”
We started to—except that was when the lights went out. I mean, all the freaking lights for miles. I could see lights in the distance, and across the Potomac, but the nearby buildings’ lights went out—along with the streetlights and the traffic lights.
We all walked a little faster toward the car then. Rod made it around the front and opened the door as we began to hear the noise, a wet sounding squishing and scraping, and a lot of it. The noise reminded me of a flock of birds taking flight, not because of any particular noise, but because there were a lot of them doing it at once.
Sam was the last one in.
She’d opened the door for me, and waited as I stepped inside. She pushed her seat back, and stepped inside as the first of them came over the side of the road.
Dark green, they reminded me of frogs. Potbellied, and goggle-eyed, with long limbs, and webbed claws, they slouched, moving more quickly than they should have.
Sam barely shut the door in time. Unfortunately, she didn’t lock it, and they understood locks because the creature’s hand went straight for the door handle.
It opened with a musical click.
Sam tried to shut the door, grabbing the armrest, and pulling.
It was no contest. The creature barely seemed to notice she was resisting.
I leaned forward, pushing between the seat and door to grab the armrest myself. I pulled the door shut so quickly it barely had time to notice, pitching forward to almost hit the door, catching itself with a claw.
Rod put the key into the ignition, turned it, and messed with the lights while pounding on the horn.
When the headlights turned on, it took a step back.
The dome light inside the car turned off, then turned on, making it a little harder to see outside.
Light or not, I could still see more figures climbing over the side of the road by the second.