ILL

Chapter 1

Nia hated her bartending job, especially so tonight. The classy lounge where she worked was unusually crowded and boisterous for a Tuesday night. The music was loud, thumping and irritating, and to top that off, the patrons were hardly tipping.

Why do I let Kayla talk me into these things? She wondered to herself with a sigh.

Kayla was her best friend who had been working at the lounge for over three months before she successfully talked Nia to jumping on board. Since she was a part-time college student with monthly rent, car note and a bad movie rental habit, she needed the job. But Nia could do without the hassle.

"Hey there, sweet thang," crooned a very unattractive regular at the club.

Speaking of hassle

"What can I get for you, Donnell?" she asked him dryly.

"Your digits for starters."

She tried to stop her lip from curling up in disgust but she was unsuccessful. Donnell had to be over forty year's old- not that that was bad. Denzel Washington and Johnny Depp were all forty or older and look at how sexy they were! But Donnell was no Depp or Washington by any stretch of the imagination. He was as scrawny as a toothpick, his hair was styled in some very kinky dreads, his clothes look like they had been slept in and the mouth full of gold teeth were certainly not a turn on- not for Nia anyway. She was so glad her mother taught her that she didn't have to be nice and sweet to everyone.

"No, you cannot have my phone number or anything else of mine. Now either order a drink or make room for the customer behind you." She snapped. Donnell gave her a rather hard and unappreciative glare, but he took the hint and walked away.

Ugly bastard. She said to herself. She couldn't understand for the life in her why that man hit on her every time he came in here. She had never so much as given him a second glance, so where did he get the notion that she'd ever go out with him? Why didn't the fool stick with the women on his own level? She easily answered her own question: Because they don't want him either!

A half-hour later the crowd at the bar had dimmed and Nia was ready for a break.

"Hey, Meagan, I'm gonna' take five out back," she said to the petite white girl who was working the other end of the bar.

"Okay," Meagan called back in her bright and bubbly voice. She was jealous of Meagan because she had a figure like a WWE diva- all legs and breast. Tonight she was dressed like a temptress schoolgirl with her blouse tied under her boobs and two ponytails on either side of her head. Nia would bet her paycheck that Meagan's bra, if she was wearing one, was stuffed with tips.

Life sucks, she thought as she headed for the back of the club. She herself had the body type of any other African-American female- hips, butt and a heavy bosom. She had tan-brown skin, honey-brown eyes and long, black hair that was shaded a lighter brown in some places by sun exposure and chemical relaxers. Tonight she was dressed casually in a black knee-length skirt that had splits on both sides and a purple, knit sweater with a V-neck cut in the front- not at all sexy enough to win big tips.

She stepped out into the alley behind the club and leaned against the door, trying to unwind from the hectic night. All the club employees enjoyed taking their breaks back here as was evident by the many cigarette butts that littered the ground. The evening air was cool and a bit damp because it had rained the night before. Puddles of water still had not completely evaporated. The big dumpster across from the back door had been emptied, so the alley didn't stink as bad as usual. She had fixed for herself a strawberry daiquiri before she left the bar and she was enjoying it thoroughly when she suddenly heard a low growling sound echoing through the air. She instantly came to attention.

"Anybody there?" she called, looking about but finding nothing to confirm the sound. She glanced at the beverage in her glass and wondered if she had mixed in too much rum. Shrugging, she dismissed the sound as liquor-induced paranoia and poured the remainder of the drink out on the ground. She was about to go back inside when she spotted a shape step out of the shadows.

Nia gasped and reached for the door handle, but was yanked away. The glass fell from her hand and shattered on the concrete ground as she was being dragged to the other side of the alley. The figure slammed her back against the wall so hard that her teeth clattered together. A dim, overhead light illuminated the face of her attacker.

"Donnell!" She both exclaimed and questioned. Donnell makes growling noises? "You scared me half to death! What do you think you're doing?"

"Taking what's mine!" he shouted back and she stared at him oddly.

"Excuse you?"

"Better yet, I'm takin' what you got between your legs!" His foul breath confirmed that he was drunk.

"The only thing you're taking is your hands off of me!" she shrieked as she struggled to get out of his grasp.

"No, you're gonna' give me what I want right here and now." Donnell demanded, shaking her. "I'm tired of playing nice. I asked you out, but you kept turning me down. What? You think you're too good for me or somethin'?"

"I don't think it, I know it!" She retorted, then promptly kicked him hard in his groin with her knee. The man yelped in pain and doubled over.

"Bitch!" he growled between clenched teeth, but she only cared that he had let her go. She pushed him out of the way and ran up the alley, realizing too late, though, that she should have run across the alley to the back door of the club. But she was reacting on adrenaline at the moment and not common sense.

"You're gonna' to pay for that!" Donnell promised coming up behind her. She spun around, surprised that the man had recovered so quickly, and came face to face with a .38 pistol. Her heart missed a beat.

"Yeah, you ain't so tough now, are you?" he gloated. "Take your clothes off!"

Her eyes widened in utter fear. "What?"

"I said take off your clothes!" Donnell shouted, rage palpable in every word. "I'm tired of you stuck-up women looking your noses down at me like I ain't no better than dirt. I'm gonna' screw you until you bleed, then I'm gonna' screw you some more!" He bragged, using his free hand to undo his belt and then his zipper. Nia backed up slowly, shaking her head in protest as well as in disbelief.

Donnell fired off a warning shot and she screamed, placing her hands over her ringing ears. "Hey college girl, I'm talking to you! Come out your clothes, now!"

College girl? How did he know that? Is he the one that's been following me? On several occasions over the past few weeks she had had the strongest feeling that she was being followed and watched, especially when leaving the club at night. However, when she looked around, she never saw anyone. Was she going insane?

"I ain't askin' you again, bitch!" Donnell shouted. His eyes were wide and glazed over in a crazed expression and his gun hand was shaking, probably from a mix of his own adrenaline and the booze he had engulfed.

Nia could remember watching scenes like this on TV or reading about them in mystery novels and she'd always wonder how she'd react if death were staring her in the face. Well, she'd be damned if she'd help the prick rape and kill her by lying down on the ground helpless and naked. She'd die with a lot more dignity than that! Nia didn't remove a stitch of clothing. Instead she stared Donnell directly in his wild eyes and waited for the shot that would end her life.

But that shot never came.

Out of the blue, Donnell's chest exploded outward as if someone else had shot him from behind. But she had not heard a gunshot, only the awful splitting sounds of metal piercing flesh and bone. A warm liquid splashed across her face. She wiped it away and looked at her palms, knowing even in the faint light that it was blood.

Fear gripped her.

Donnell was lifted off the ground by an invisible force. His body began shaking violently, attempting to fight death. The gun in his hand went off repeatedly at no particular target until it was empty. Nia screamed. A burning sensation erupted high up on her left arm, but she was too hysterical to notice it or the blood that trickled from the wound. When Donnell lost all muscle control, the gun fell out of his hand and clattered to the ground. Soon his death spasms ceased altogether and his body flew off to the side where it crashed into the cement block wall and drop to the ground with a sickening thud. She didn't realize that she had been backing up until she bumped into another wall of the alley. Her arm felt like it was on fire and her breaths were coming in ragged gasps. She had stopped screaming but only because she was too petrified and hoarse to continue.

Then there was a thump, then another and another. All of a sudden, not ten paces in front of her, a puddle of water splashed upward, as though a big, invisible stone had been dropped into it. The crackling sound of electricity ignited in the air. Nia looked all around, her heart jolting with each thump, but she couldn't see anything. Another rain puddle exploded just four paces away and Nia realized that those thumping sound were footsteps. Someone else was in the alley! Someone she couldn't see that had just killed Donnell and now was coming for her. A large someone by the sound of those steps. Paralyzed with fear, Nia was more afraid now than when Donnell had held the gun on her.

The thumps stopped. She could just make out a distortion of light directly in front of her. The far end of the alley looked misshapen, as if she were peering through the bottom end of a drinking glass. Without warning, the transparent distortion moved and she cringed back against the cold, damp wall that barricaded any possible escape. Her heart slammed against her rib cage as if it were trying to break free. She waited for whom or whatever it was that killed Donnell to butcher her too. Instead, the crystalline shape solidified. No, not solidified- visualized- and what stood before her made her breath catch in her throat.

The being was at least eight feet tall, but fear had a way of making things appear larger. It had smooth, tube-like extensions that began at a large head and stretched all the way down to the creature's elbows. Its barrel-chest, broad shoulders, abdomen, arms and legs were thick with muscle. The upper part of its torso was covered in a body armor that Nia knew was not of this world. A net-like material enveloped the parts of the creature that the armor did not. If it had a gender, she guessed it to be male since the groin area was cloaked in an armor-type loincloth. Around its waist was a large utility belt and she shuddered to think what kind of weapons were carried there. Even its back and lower arms were loaded with equipment. Nia deduced that he had to be super strong in order to support all of that gear plus his own weight. Lastly, the creature's face was concealed in an odd mask with no mouthpiece. She tried not to think about what kind of horrid appearance was hidden behind that mask. At least now she knew what had been following her and why she never saw it.

The creature just stood in front of her staring down at her, its chest rising and falling as it breathed. It made her feel self-conscious and she wondered if the monster could see straight through her skin. When it tilted its head downward somewhat, she felt that it was focusing on her lower abdomen and she instinctively placed a hand on her pelvis as if she were protecting an unborn fetus. The gesture would have made sense if she was pregnant, but she wasn't. In fact, she was barren. But she wasn't reacting on logic right now, only on mind-numbing terror. Why hadn't Meagan or any of her other co-workers come out here to check on her? Hadn't someone heard the gun shots and at least called the police?

Suddenly, a hand with fingers as thick as a water hose, and twice as long as any of Nia's, reached out to her. She cowered in fear, bending her knees in an attempt to move away from its touch. She was sure that that hand was about to strangle her to death, or worse. Instead it stopped to rest on the top of her head and softly caressed her full, black hair. The creature maneuvered a tress between his thumb and fingers and fondled it. The action was so unexpected that she glanced up at the dark eye-ports of the mask in complete confusion. He was about to stroke another section of her hair, but she dodged out of his way and squealed in fear.

His hand paused in midair and Nia was sure that he was about to slap the stew out of her. However, the creature pulled its hand back and reached into a pocket of his belt. Whatever he retrieved was concealed in its large hand, yet with a speed that she never would have believed a being of his size could possess, he pushed the object against her neck. She felt a sting of pain and heard a slight hissing noise. She cried out in pain and rubbed at the spot where she was stung.

Nia had had enough. She had not survived an attempted rape and a gunshot wound only to be killed and mutilated by this…this…beast! She'd crawl between its legs to get away if she had too! Nia steeled her back and straightened up, but before her knees could lock in place she lost all feeling in her legs and collapsed. But before she could hit the ground, an extremely powerful arm caught her about her waist. She tried to push out of his grasp, but his strength was unbelievable. He was holding her with about as much effort as she would hold a toothpick. To make matters worse she was growing weaker by the second.

Her gunshot wound had stopped burning and throbbing and the alley began to spin. She knew she was about to pass out, but she fought against the urge to do so. Whenever her lids closed she forced them back open again and even when they rolled upward into her head, she still tried to remain awake by rubbing at them. She pounded at her captor's chest-plate, screaming at it to let her go, but it didn't. A foreign, electronic noise emanated from behind the creature's mask. Nia glanced at the face screen, bewildered. She was certain that the sound had a speech-like quality to it and although she had no clue as to what it said, she had an inkling that the creature was telling her it was useless to struggle.

Why doesn't he just kill me and get it over with? What does he want with me?

She shook her head vigorously in an attempt to stay awake. She tried to cry out again, but now all she could manage was a feeble whimper. She fell against that huge, barrel chest, suddenly unable to control her own limbs. Her weight was supported completely by the creature. A sensation of flying swept over her, though in actuality the creature had lifted her off her feet. She didn't even feel its powerful arms underneath her legs and back, nor was she aware of the impact of his heavy-booted feet on the ground as it carried her away.

Nia managed one last moan of protest before she completely blacked out...