This story can be read as a stand-alone narrative, but it's also a chapter in a blog novel.  If you'd like to read the other stories in this growing book, please click on the links below.

While chasing the woman from Rampart Rock, I realized that my own world was alien to me.  Most people had grown soft, believing numbers and technology would save them from everything.  Civilization was ripe for the raping, despite its own cancerous violence.  No guns or bombs or electric lights would help us now, but she was different.


My own people thought I was homeless and crazy.  I was sure the woman did too.  I spent most of my time outdoors in this world and The Other Place.  My mind and body--as well as tools I made from plants, bones, and stones--provided me with all I needed.  That day, I hunted the woman with a bola I'd crafted from yucca fibers knotted around three stones.  All things considered, I guess I don't blame her for believing I was nuts.  

I'd followed the woman for two days, waiting for the right moment to approach her.  Then the animals I called Bat Horses, from The Other Place, attacked her and forced me to come out of hiding.  The woman was lucky I'd tracked her, and that I felt safer carrying larger weapons at night.  Otherwise, the Bat Horses would have torn her apart.  After I'd sunk a spear into the Bat Horse matriarch's chest, the two remaining creatures almost got me.  

I'd sprinted to a nearby bridge and wedged myself under it long enough for the animals to lose interest in me--which didn't take long.  They went back to consume their fallen leader, and I slipped away to my camp across the road from the woman's apartment.

That morning, just a few hours after our first meeting, I hunted the woman like the Bat Horses had stalked me.  From my camp amid a patch of gamble oaks, I'd heard her apartment's screen door squeak and slam closed.  I'd been sleeping, but The Other Place had taught me to be aware no matter what.  I woke up, grabbed my bola, and took off after her.

My joints ached until they got into the rhythm of the run.  The woman ran on sidewalks instead of her usual path on wilderness trails.  As I followed her alongside the busier roads in downtown Rampart Rock, commuters rubbernecked at my bare feet and my kilt.  The morning air was still too cold to run bare-chested.  An old windbreaker kept me warm until my body heated up.  I said a silent prayer of thanks when the woman stepped onto a remote trail, where I wouldn't have to worry about people calling the police on me.  

The woman was strong and quick for a suburbanite, but I ran faster.  Her bulky clothes slowed her down.  Besides, this was my way of life.  Running was just her eccentric hobby.  We danced along the path for many miles before she heard me closing in.  I'd shed my shirt by then.  My feet passed over a patch of golden leaves, alerting her to the hunt.  

She turned to look, and took off sprinting when she saw me.  I increased my pace, knowing she would have to slow down soon to compensate for her burst of speed.  

"Stop," I said.  "I just want to talk to you.  I saved your life last night, you know."

She ignored me and sped up for a little while.  A mile or two later, I un-looped the bola from my waste, twirled it, and slung it at her legs.  She went down face first, skidded, and sprawled out on the trail.

I trotted up to her and checked her pulse.  A bump had already formed on her forehead, but she was okay other than that.  I turned her over, she came to life, and her hand swung up under my kilt and grabbed my balls.  Pain jolted from my crotch up to my stomach.  I collapsed and dry heaved as she yanked at my plumbing.  

Our faces were now squared off.  I lurched forward and head-butted her swollen forehead.  She screamed and got up to run, but the bola still held her legs together.  She could only jump to keep her balance..  

"Stop," I said, getting up.  "Please.  I'm not going to hurt you."

She turned around and swung a fist at me, nicking my chin with a ring on her index finger.  The pain in my groin slowed my reactions.  "That's what all the pervo rapists say," she said, sending her other fist at me.  I dodged it, and she fell over.  Her hands began fumbling at the bola.  I let her struggle with the twisted ropes while I recovered from her groin strike.

 

"Let me help you with the bola," I said after a minute.  She screamed instead.

"Wait, wait, wait," I said.  She howled like a Pig Dog.  Putting my hands over my ears, I said, "My name is Jake Green.  I'm here to help..."

The woman stopped shrieking and looked up at me.  "Jake Green," she said while scanning my face.  "The famous barefoot runner?"

"Yeah," I said.  "That's not what I do anymore, but..."

"Why in the hell would you want to stalk me?  I mean, last I heard, you disappeared and everyone thought you were dead.  I recognize your face now, but you had a lot less hair before--which definitely looked better by the way.  And, off the subject, you should probably do something about that unibrow."

Ignoring her insults, I said, "I've been...away, in a place you're going to have to be worried about very soon."

She'd finally figured out how to unravel the bola from her legs as she asked,  "Why would I need to be worried about any place you've been?  You missed your opportunity to clunk me over the head and drag me to your "place" already.  The woman kept my bola in her hand, stood up to full height, and glared at me with amber eyes.  She had dark hair and darker skin, like an Indian princess.  Her face was gaunt, and her cheekbones were high.

"Can we talk about this somewhere else?"  I asked.  "Like your house?"

"No," she said.  "Out in broad daylight is just fine creepo.  Why don't we start running back toward the police station, and I'll decide if I want to turn you in along the way."  She started running again.  Sighing, I followed her.

"Do you know my name?"  She asked, rubbing the knot on her forehead.

"No," I said.

"What kind of stalker are you if you don't even know your prey's name?"

"I'm not a stalker.  I came here to make a tribe, starting with you."

The woman scowled at me and laughed.  "A few minutes ago, I was pretty sure I was at least partially delusional.  Thank you for providing a nice contrast to my apparent sanity.  It's funny, you know, none of the papers that reported you missing said anything about you being wacko.  I hope you understand that hell would have to start vending freeze pops before I went off with you to begin some Neanderthal nature cult."

"I'm not crazy, and neither are you.  Those creatures you saw last night were real.  They come from another world that occupies the same space as earth, but is, also, in another place altogether."

The woman nearly tripped at my mention of the Bat Horses.  When she noticed me noticing her fear, she sped up and stuck her chin ever-so-slightly in the air before saying, "When people start talking about places in other places, Barefoot Jake, the next step is the psychiatric ward."

"That's not my name," I said.  "And you saw the same animals I did last night.  When two people see the same creatures at the same time, they're generally accepted as real."

"Oh yeah?  Well what happened to those creatures?  How did you survive them?"

"They chased me for about a quarter mile before I ducked under a bridge.  Thanks for that, by the way.  And you're welcome for me saving you too...I don't know what happened to them after that.  They're still out there somewhere, resting until night."

I could tell the woman had started to believe me.  "Bat Horses," she said.  "That's what you call them then?"

I nodded.  "Like I said.  They're from The Other Place.  And stop calling me Barefoot.  I'm not some gimmick or brand name."

"Well," she said, looking down.  "You are barefoot."

"So are you," I said.  "I don't label you, do I?"

"But you were the best," she said.  "Winner of the Pikes Peak Marathon.  Everyone wanted to go barefoot or minimalist because of you."

"I ran the marathon in sandals," I said.

"Yeah, thin sandals you made yourself," she said.  All fear and coldness left her face for a moment.  Her eyes widened, and she grinned. "You were one of my inspirations to go barefoot and primal...until...now, that is."  Her expression darkened again.  "Now you're just a hairy stalker cave beast, I guess."

"You forgot what barefoot and primal mean," I said, trying not to show my irritation.  "They're about the human legacy of survival.  They're about how we were adapted to the wilderness.  Humankind has tried to leave behind and rise above nature.  Look what it's got us.  All most people want to do is escape reality, live in their cozy boxes, and get fat."
  
The woman nodded and stayed silent for about a mile.  In the interim, she crooked her eyebrows and chewed her bottom lip.  She ran at a pace just above my usual walking cadence.  We need to hurry, I thought.  We have to get indoors.  Bat Horses weren't the only things from The Other Place out there now.  I'd seen strange tracks and scat all over the foothills that month.

When the woman spoke again, she asked, "Why would I need to be worried about this Other Place--if it exists?

"The Other Place is here," I said.  "And you'll be seeing more of it soon.  Rampart Rock has a seam of some kind."

"A seam?"

"A place where someone or something is sewing our worlds together.  There are other seams too.  They tend to get bigger over time."

By this time, we were getting close to the Rampart Rock Police station.  The trail we ran on was dangerously close to the Bat Horses' hunting grounds.  The creatures were asleep, but I didn't want to press our luck.  I hadn't located their den yet.  Disturbing their slumber in the day was worse than waking a hybernating bear.

Meanwhile, the woman just trotted along, oblivious to the danger.  The pain in my groin heightened my awareness.

"That doesn't make any..."  she began to say.  

"We should get off the trail," I interrupted.

"Why?"

"The Bat Horses have burrowed in somewhere around here.  I can tell by their hunting patterns.  Most of the dogs in this area have gone missing in the past few days."

The woman immediately took a concrete ramp up to Rampart Rock's Main Street, where commuters, shoppers, and errand-runners zoomed by in a continuous train of vehicles.  The woman frowned at me skeptically before one side of her mouth lifted in a sarcastic grin.  "By the way," she said.  "You're now running half-naked, barefoot, and in a dress.  And you're in front of God and everybody."

I shrugged.  "Let them think what they will.  I am what I am."

"Well, I'm just sayin'...if they lock you away, its not my fault.  Maybe that's what you need."

I asked, "Who's crazier: The guy running in a kilt on Main Street, or the woman who thinks he's a stalker, holding his bola, and running beside him."

She looked down at the bola and said, "You're not making much of a case for yourself.  The cop shop's just a couple blocks away, you know."

"You'll decide what you decide," I said.

"Thanks for stating the obvious," she said.  "You seem to be good at that."  She smirked at me just before a car horn blared right behind us.

My head whipped around.  Cars going both ways swerved left and right, trying to avoid a huge creature in the middle of the road.  

This monster wasn't a Bat Horse.  No.  It didn't quite fit any Earth animal combo I could come up with.  I knew it was from The Other Place, but I'd never seen it before.  It was a blob of green, fleshy mass, with huge, leaf-like protrusions that it used to glide on the wind.  As a breeze gusted, the being lifted off the ground slightly.

In the meantime, the creature slithered forward, blocking the road completely.  It lengthened itself so that it looked like a rolled piece of clay.  Slimy maws, like venus flytraps, opened on both ends of the thing.  It reached out with its mouths and started gnawing on a black Lexus SUV and a Nissan truck idling opposite each other on the street.  

The Lexus was closest to us.  The creature's mouth enveloped it.  Too late, the middle aged couple in the SUV came out of their mutual frozen shock and tried to exit the vehicle.  Helping the couple didn't even occur to me.  Doing so seemed impossible.  As the couple struggled with the SUV's electronic locks, the creature swallowed the vehicle whole, like a fast-forwarded scene of an anaconda gulping down a baby deer.

The driver of the Nissan truck hit her gas petal, backed out of the creature's other mouth, and into the car behind her.

Coming out of her own gape-mouthed stupor, the woman I'd hunted said, "Oh my God."

"Doesn't really look like a delusion now," I said.

"It...it...ate them," she said.  "We have to help..."

"How?  I asked.  "Do you have a tank or something?  Jiu Jitsu sure as hell aint gonna help.  Those people are dead now.  Let's get out of here before it notices us."

The woman nodded and took off at a sprint.  People on both sides of Main Street were leaving their cars and running in all directions.  "Where are you going?" I asked as I caught up to her.

"My house," she said.  "We need to talk."

A sound, like a thousand dinosaurs vomiting, boomed behind us.  I looked back to see the crumpled heap of the half-digested Lexus come flying out of the creature's mouth.  The SUV landed on top of a vacant white minivan a block away.

"Those people are dead for sure," I said.

With tears in her eyes, the woman looked over at me, nodded, and sprinted even faster.  We kept up that pace until we got to her house.  


Chapter One: The Mechanic

Chapter Two: The Walker

Chapter Three: The Mechanic 2

Chapter Four: The Walker 2

Chapter Six: The Cop

Chapter Seven: The Hunted

Chapter Eight: The Escapee

Chapter Nine The Mercedes Man

Chapter Ten: The Shooter

Chapter Eleven: The Monster

Chapter Twelve: The Yehasuri

Chapter Thirteen: The General

Chapter Fourteen: The Wendigo 

Chapter Fifteen: The Librarian

Chapter Sixteen: The Suburbanites 

Chapter Seventeen: The Paralibrarian

Chapter Eighteen: The Blighted

Chapter Nineteen: The Captive