A strange flash in the sky, a rolling of what sounded like thunder, and the light patter of rain. Panda glanced up at the gloomy sky choked with iron-gray clouds. She sighed and sought shelter from the light rain by crawling underneath a parked car, and hoped the rain wouldn't pick up strength and force her out from her dry hiding spot.

Not only was Panda hiding from the cold damp of the rain, she was also hiding from threats unknown. She didn't know where she was, or how she had gotten there, but she could see clearly that this particular Elsewhere was thoroughly trashed. It looked like a demolition team made only a halfhearted effort to rip the place apart, then gave it up as a lost cause. The eerily empty streets were strewn with rubbish, automobiles sat abandoned or overturned, the windows of buildings were smashed, the glass glittering on the wet pavement. Panda was getting a serious Creep-Vibe from the place, and the fact that she had seen no one, not another living soul, made her feel small and alone.

Just when rainwater started to creep relentlessly under the car and Panda was considering finding a drier hiding spot, she heard voices. They were distant, but Panda had no trouble distinguishing them. Panda had a few quirks about herself, and highly acute hearing was one of them. She listened hard over the faint patter of the rain.

"Food! Hulk want food! Hulk hungry!"

Several other voices rose in agreement. Panda stiffened and remained under the car, keeping her fingers crossed. She did not want to be found by the owners of those voices--they sounded wrong. Wild, desperate, like a mob in the full grip of some insane need--and they were drawing closer.

Panda curled up even tighter and waited with bated breath as the mob pounded down her street. The pavement shook slightly under the crowd of stampeding people--but were they people? Panda could only see feet passing by the car she hid under, and she had to stifle a gasp of horror when she saw some members of the mob were dragging broken and disfigured legs. In a couple cases, they hopped along on one foot, the other completely missing, spilling a trail of blood along the street. Panda closed her eyes tightly, hoping against hope that the mob would not somehow sense her presence.

Where the hell was she? Who were those people? What were those people? As the mob stormed past the car, further down the street, Panda listened to their barbaric shouts for food grow quiet along with their rampaging footfalls.

Wherever she was, she had to find a way out, a way back home. And whoever those people were, she had to stay clear of them.

In her frozen terror of watching the mob go past, Panda had not noticed that it had stopped raining. However, it was still somewhat wet under the car, and she no longer felt safe there, not this much out in the open. Carefully, she slid out from underneath the car and peered up over the hood into the street--then immediately ducked back down.

Something flew over the tops of the buildings, and if Panda hadn't been absolutely sure of what she saw, she would have called herself crazy for thinking she saw a red and gold robotic man cruising through the sky, going the same direction as the mob. He flew by, seemingly scanning the streets, as though looking for something he'd dropped. Panda kept a watchful eye on him until he dwindled into a small speck against the stormy sky, and disappeared.

Panda gently blew out her breath, which she had been unaware of holding. She considered herself fortunate she was so small. At a mere four-foot-three, weighing in at sixty-seven pounds, Panda wasn't easily noticed when she wished to remain hidden, and remaining hidden from prying eyes was a habit she'd gotten into early. Despite her child-like size, she was twenty-two, and her physical appearance was definitely something people had a tendency to stare at. She was a genetic mutation, a hybrid of human and red panda, which also meant she was a vegetarian. For a large part she looked like a human girl, but she had a lot of oddities due to the fact she was half red panda. Her skin was pale, so pale it was almost white, and in stark contrast to her pale skin she had translucent red markings over her eyes that resembled the triangular facial markings of a red panda. The spiky thatch of hair atop her head was a deep burnished burgundy color with golden highlights that naturally gave her hair the look of a beautiful sunset.

Panda was small, lithe, and full of energy. She could leap higher and run faster than any normal human being, and if she ever chose to run away and join the circus, she'd be the star attraction on the highwire: Along with paw-like feet, sheathed lightly with soft silvery fur, with flexible toes, much like a red panda, Panda also had a long fluffy tail the same dark burgundy color as her hair, but her tail was striped with rings of darker red. She also had enhanced hearing, thanks to her versatile ears, which were white and poked up out of her spiky hair on either side of her head. Small and pointed, somewhat like cat ears, Panda's ears were far more sensitive than human ears, and she was thankful for it.

Despite the oddness of her appearance, there was one thing Panda actually liked about the way she looked; her eyes. Rimmed with thick black lashes, Panda's irises were a rare and captivating hue of coppery gold, striated with a lighter honey-gold around the pupil. Panda liked her eyes. She thought they were cool. She would gladly give up her red panda tail, feet, and ears if she could keep the eyes...at least then she could wear shoes, hats, and she wouldn't have to ride her jeans so low so her tail could poke up over the waistband.

The only other strange things about Panda were her teeth and fingernails. Her fingernails were rather short, but strong and tapered to form slight points. Her canine teeth and the bicuspids just behind them also tapered to small sharp points, but they were white and perfectly straight and even.

Shivering slightly, Panda was starting to wish she'd dressed a little warmer. But then again, she'd had no idea she'd find herself in a city that looked like it'd been visited by the four horsemen of the apocalypse when she chose her wardrobe that morning. She was only wearing a black T-shirt with quarter sleeves, and black jeans worn low to accommodate her tail. the effect being that a portion of her perfectly-shaped lower belly was exposed since her T-shirt didn't reach down far enough to keep it covered. The cuffs of the jeans were rolled up to her heels, since she walked on the small balls of her animal-like feet, where they sported pads of thicker flesh not covered with a light downy fur. She also wore a white belt, which looped over the top of her tail in the rear.

Outside it was chilly and dim from the rain, but Panda had noticed that what meager light remained was receding fast: Night was closing in. Though she could see better than a normal human in the dark, Panda firmly decided she wanted to be curled up in a safe hiding place before nightfall. But where was safe? When the crazy mob had gone by, they had been shouting for food. What kind of food were they looking for, and where did they normally find it? She had no idea, but she knew she needed a place that would be easy to escape from if she were found.

Panda moved away from the battered car under which she'd taken shelter. As well as searching the dark streets with her gaze, she was also watching the sky for any flying robot men. She ducked into a dark alley, staying close to concealing shadows, when she saw her.

A woman lay on the ground, her face pressed against the pavement and hidden by her shaking hands. She seemed terrified of something, but of what Panda wasn't sure. Perhaps the woman was also hiding from that insane mob? As Panda inched nearer to the woman, she dimly noted the stranger had short dark brown hair, and was wearing...some kind of uniform? It was a one-piece suit, some kind of black shiny material, with a yellow Y mark on the front. The closer Panda got to the stranger, the sense that something wasn't quite right grew stronger. Panda had amazing instinct, intuition that was hardly ever wrong, which she attributed to being a woman as well as part animal. Panda was a good six feet from the trembling woman when she lightly cleared her throat and said,

"Miss? Miss, are you okay?"

The woman only whimpered pitifully. Panda wanted to get closer, place a hand on the woman's shoulder, comfort her, but she was unable to move toward the woman due to instinct positively screaming at her to turn around and run the other way. Panda was quite frozen to the spot.

Panda tried again. "Miss...I won't hurt you. Are you okay, do you need help?"

The strange woman just shuddered on the ground. Panda realized she needed to trust her instinct and get the hell out of there. Her heart was telling her to get away fast, and Panda had always run into trouble when she didn't listen to her heart. She took a step back. Then another. Without quite realizing what she was doing, she started talking in a reassuring tone to the stranger.

"It'll be okay. Listen, I'm going to go find some help and--and I'll come back, alright? Just wait here--" But Panda's comforting speech was cut off when the woman finally started to get up, causing Panda's internal alarms to set off. Panda felt an almost irresistible urge to bolt, to just start running. But Panda wasn't a coward, and she could easily outrun any human being. She stood her ground as the woman pushed herself up onto her knees and turned to face Panda.

Panda's insides seemed to turn to ice. The woman's skin had an ashy, grayish tinge. Her eyes were blank white but seemed full of malice as they fixed on Panda. And the mouth! Oh, God...the woman didn't have lips, just a skull-like mouth lined with bloodstained teeth. She looked like a corpse!

Panda began backing away as the strange woman lurched to her feet with a single word--"Food!"

In the back of Panda's frightened mind, a voice spoke in a hurried whisper. She looks like a corpse and she just referred to you as food. Zombie!

Panda didn't need to tell herself twice. She was a child of late-night horror movies, and it didn't take much to convince herself that the stranger was a zombie and was about to make an attempt to eat her. Panda turned tail and ran, hearing the woman shout behind her, "Food!"

Panda's small padded feet slapped the wet pavement as she tore out of the alley, back into the street where she'd hidden under a car. She was in excellent shape, nimble and graceful, and she positively flew, almost as though her feet didn't touch the ground at all. Instinctively, she turned left when she'd exited the alley, going the opposite direction the mob had gone earlier. She knew now what that mob was composed of: Zombies. Zombies on a hunt for food, for living flesh. Judging by how eagerly the strange woman had deemed Panda as edible, she didn't think a bit of fur and a tail made her any less appetizing than a normal human.

Panda ran down the street then shot up another dark alley, keeping her senses open for any more zombies. She thought she heard the strange woman shouting again, following her. Panda chanced a look behind her, then realized a second later that she'd made a mistake. Someone had just stepped out into the alley from one of the buildings, and Panda ran straight into him. She bounced back and fell to the ground in a tightly curled ball, her tail wrapped around her as though it could hide or shield her somehow.

Before Panda knew what was happening, she was being lifted off the ground by a strong hand gripping the scruff of her shirt. Dangling far above the ground, Panda was looking into the white eyes of another zombie. A big zombie. Panda figured she was pretty much doomed, this specimen of the undead stood at least ten feet tall. The collar of her T-shirt was cutting into her neck, so she reached up and found a grip on the zombie's forearm--and it was then that she noticed that he too was wearing some kind of weird uniform. It was predominantly red, but Panda saw that his hands and forearms were sheathed in blue gloves. From his shoulders to his silver belt was a large black V marking over his chest. He also wore a mask that covered most of his face, just the skeletal mouth and nose above it visible, and those blank white eyes filled with the same kind of malice that had been in the woman's eyes, over which extended two thin, yellow, antenna-like attachments.

The zombie glared at her, holding her up to eye-level. Panda stared back, expecting to have a bite taken out of her at any moment--then in the distance she could hear the shouts of the strange woman start up again, more screams for food.

Great, Panda thought to herself. Just great! Now I'm going to be split between two of them...

The big male zombie, however, had heard the shouts and seemingly had no intention to share his catch. In a low, annoyed tone he said, "Damn...it's Jan!"

With that, he left the alley, taking Panda with him, probably to devour her in private.

Panda had had bad days before, but this one really took the cake.