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Adventures of Thomas Hunter 5
TOM WASN'T sure if it was the heat or the buzzing that woke him, but he woke with a start, snapped his eyes open, and squinted.
Impressions registered in his mind like falling dominoes. The blue sky. The sun. The black trees. A lone bat perched high above him, like a deformed vulture. Thomas held perfectly still and stared up through slits, determined to make sense of what was happening. He'd just had another incredibly lifelike dream of a place called Denver. For a fleeting moment he felt relieved that his dream was only that, a dream. That he really hadn't been shot in the head and that his life really wasn't in danger. designer collections for wedding in short
But then he remembered that he really was in danger. He had banged his head on a rock and cut his foot on the shale and passed out under the red gaze of a hungry bat. He wasn't sure what he should fear more, the horrors in his dream or the horrors here. Bill.
Tom opened his eyes wide and ran them in circles to view as much as he could without having to move. He couldn't see where the buzzing came from. Stark, square branches jutted from the leafless trees. Lifeless, charred trees.
Tom concentrated, grasping for memories. None that preceded his fall came to mind. The amnesia had locked them out. His surroundings looked oddly familiar, as if he'd been here
before, but he felt disconnected from the scene. His head ached.
His right foot throbbed.
The bat didn't look as threatening as it had last night.
Tom slowly pushed himself up to his elbow and glanced around the black forest. To his left, a large black field of ash lay between him and a small pond. Fruit that he hadn't seen last night hung on the trees in a stunning variety of colors. Red and blue and yellow, all hanging in an im- possible contrast to the stark black trees. Something seemed very wrong here. More than the strange surroundings, more than the fact that Bill had disappeared. Tom couldn't put his finger on
it.
Except for the one high above, the bats were gone. He knew about the bats, didn't he? Somewhere back in his lost memories, he was completely familiar with bats. He knew that they were dangerous and evil and had very sharp teeth, but he couldn't remember other details, like how to avoid them. Or how to wring their necks.
A blanket of black rose from the field. The buzzing swelled.
Tom scrambled to his feet. What he'd thought was black soot on the field was actually a blanket of flies. They buzzed a few feet off the ground and then settled again. As far as the clearing extended, the squirming, black-winged insects crawled over one another, forming a thick, living carpet.
He backed up, fighting a sudden panic. He had to get out of here. He had to find someone who could tell him what was going on. He didn't even know what he was running from. But he was running, wasn't he?
That's why he was having those crazy dreams of Denver. He was dreaming of running in Denver because he really was running. Here, in this black forest.
He glanced back in the direction he assumed he'd come from, then quickly realized he had no idea which direction he'd truly come from. Behind him, the sharp shale that had sliced into his feet and arms. Beyond the shale, more black forest. Ahead, the field of flies and then more black forest. Everywhere, the black, angular trees.
A cackle rasped through the air to his right. Tom turned slowly. A second bat within spitting distance stared at him from its perch on a branch.
It looked like someone had stuffed two cherries into the flier's eye sockets and then pinned its eyelids back.
Movement in the sky. He glanced up. More bats. Streams of them, filling the bare branches high above. The bat nearby did not flinch. Did not blink. The treetops turned black with bats.
Eyes fixed on the lone creature, Tom backed into a rock and reached out his hand to steady himself. His hand touched water.
A chill surged through his fingers, up his arm. A cool pleasure. Yes, of course, the water. Something was up with the water; that was another thing he remembered. He knew he should jerk his hand out, but he was off balance and his eyes were fixed on the black bat, who stared at him with those bulging red eyes, and he let his hand linger.
He dropped to his elbow and pulled his hand out of the water, turning to it as he did.
The small pool of water pulsed with emerald hues. Immediately he felt himself drawn in. His face was eighteen inches from this shimmering liquid, and he desperately wanted to thrust his head into the puddle, but he knew, he just knew .. . Actually, he wasn't sure what he knew.
He knew he couldn't break his stare and look off somewhere else, like at the buzzing meadow or at the canopy still filling with black bats.
The bats screeched in delight somewhere in the back of his mind.
He slowly dipped a finger into the puddle. Another shot of pleasure surged through his veins, a tingling sensation that he liked. More than liked. It was like Novocain. And then he felt another sensation joining the first. Pain. But the pleasure was greater. No wonder Bill had A shriek pierced the sky.
Tom's eyes sprang open and he stared numbly at his hand. Red juice dripped from his fingers. Red juice or blood. Blood?
He stepped back.
Another shriek high above him. He looked at the sky and saw that a lone white bat was streaking through the ranks of black beasts, scattering them from their perches.
The black creatures gave chase, obviously opposing the presence of the white flier. With a piercing cry, the white intruder looped over and dived through the squawking throngs again. If the black bats are my enemies, the white one might be my ally. But were the black bats his enemies?
He looked back at the water. Pulsing, wonderful. It occurred to Tom that he wasn't thinking clearly.
A shrill call like a trumpet sounded from the white bat's direction. Tom turned again and saw that the white bat had circled and was streaking over the meadow, trumpeting as it blasted through the horde of black flies. And then Tom caught a single, brief glimpse of the white bat's green eyes as it swooped by. He knew those eyes!
If he wanted to live out this day, he had to follow that white flier. He was sure of it. Tom tore his feet from the ground and lurched toward the meadow. His flesh throbbed from the cuts of yesterday's fall and his bones felt like they were on fire, but everything was suddenly quite clear. He had to follow the white creature or he would die.
He forced his legs forward and ran into the meadow despite the pain. He'd made it this far into the black forest by running, hadn't he? And now it was time to run again.
At first the flies let him pass. An unbroken swarm lifted from the pond and buzzed in chaotic circles, as if confused by the sudden turn of events. Tom was midfield, racing toward the black trees on the far side, when they began attacking. They came in from his left, swarming, slammed into his body and face like dive bombers on suicide runs.
He cried out in panic, raised his arms to cover his eyes, and nearly beat a hasty retreat. But he had come too far already.
His shoulders suddenly felt like they were on fire, and with a single terrified glance Tom realized the flies were already through his shirt, eating his flesh. He slapped madly at his skin and sprinted for the trees. The flies blanketed his body, chewing. Fifty yards.
He swatted at his face to clear his vision, but the little beasts refused to budge. They were getting in his ears and his nose. They furiously attacked his eyes. He screamed, but the flies bit at his tongue and he clamped his mouth shut. He wasn't going to make it. A chorus of screeches filled the air behind him. The black bats.
Fangs sank into his left calf Pain shot up his spine, and the last threads of reason fell from his mind. Time and space ceased to exist. Only reaction remained. The only messages that managed to get through the buzz in his brain were to his muscles, and they said run or die, kill or be killed. He smashed at his calf. The black bat fell away but took a chunk of flesh with it. Twenty yards.
Another bat attached itself to his thigh. Tom clamped his mouth to keep from screaming and pumped his arms with every ounce of strength remaining in his strained muscles. He plunged into the forest, and immediately the flies cleared. The bats did not. His shirt was tattered and his skin was red. Covered in blood. He stumbled through the trees, nauseated, legs numb from the loss of blood.
A black bat landed on his shoulder, but each nerve cut by the beast's sharp teeth was already inflamed with pain, and Tom barely noticed the black lump on his shoulder now. Another attached itself to his buttocks. He ignored the bats and lurched drunkenly through the trees.
Where was the white bat? There. Left. Tom swerved, hit a tree head-on, and dropped to the ground. He tried to catch his fall with his right arm, but his forearm broke with a tremendous snap. White-hot pain flashed up his neck.
The bats lodged on his body lost their places and screeched in protest, beating their wings furiously. He struggled to his feet and lurched forward, right arm dangling uselessly at his side. The bats landed on Tom's jerking body, struggled for footing, and began chewing again.
He stumbled on, vaguely aware that his moccasins and most of his clothes were now gone, leaving only a loincloth. He could feel fangs working on his thigh.
A voice, slippery and deep, echoed quietly through the trees. "You will find your destiny with me, Tom Hunter."
The voice had come from one of the bats behind him, he could swear it. But then he broke from the forest onto the bank of a river and the thought was lost.
A white bridge spanned the flowing water. A towering, multicolored forest lined the far bank, dazzling like a box of crayons topped with a bright green canopy. The sight stopped him. Green. A mirage or heaven.
Tom limped toward the bridge, hardly aware of the bats squawking on his back. His breathing came in great gasps. His flesh quivered. The black bats fell from his back. The lone white bat flapped eagerly on a low branch across the river. His ally was large, maybe as high as Tom's knees with a wingspan three times that. Its kind green eyes fixed on him.
He knew this bat as well, didn't he? At least he knew that his hope rested in this creature now.
In his peripheral vision, Tom saw that thousands of the black creatures were lining the stark trees behind him. He wobbled onto the bridge and gripped its rail tightly for support. His mind began to drift with the water below. Slowly but steadily he hauled himself across the bridge, over the rushing waters, all the way to the other side. He collapsed into a thick bed of emerald green grass.
He was dying. That was the last thing he thought before the pain shoved him into the world of unconsciousness.

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