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Strange Days

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The row of shabby warehouses was dark. Again. JD wove his bike through the broken blacktop silently, ignoring the prickles on the back of his neck. He didn't have to look for the shards of glass beneath the streetlight to know it would be there; he wished Karles and Vitaliy would find a less destructive way to conduct their business.

Most nights he would go out of his way to avoid the Nandier brothers and any of their customers, pedaling the long way around the warehouse three down from the one he currently called home; but tonight he felt more annoyed over the broken light than he did cautious. Legs pumping hard, he flew past the loading bay door with his head down.

Something inside the warehouse slammed against the rippled metal hard enough to buckle it outward.

JD shied away from the unexpected violence and lost his balance. He and the bike went down in a tangle that might not have been so bad had he put his energy into catching himself and not lifting his messenger bag out of harm's way. Pain exploded down his left side as various parts of his anatomy connected with the asphalt. The bicycle helmet absorbed most of the impact for his head, but the blow was still hard enough to make his vision swim.

He bit down on his lip and a string of blue words. Carefully he extracted himself from the carnage and began assessing the damage. The laptop thankfully didn't appear broken. Neither, he added after a moment's evaluation, did any bones; though his left forearm and elbow bore some impressive road rash. His ankle wobbled when he tested it, but did reluctantly support his weight.

A violent crash rattled the warehouse again. Something within shrieked; a shrill, inhuman sound that snaked icy fingers of dread into JD's brain and squeezed. Blood pounded in his ears, urging his feet to run as fast and as far as they were able. He would have listened to that primitive instinct; but at the same time it was urging flight, another, louder part of his brain – the part of his brain that was forever leading him into trouble and out of jobs – that part eyed the mangled door and wondered.

Stinging abrasions and blind terror were no match for the allure of a good mystery. JD abandoned his catalogue of hurts and examined the warehouse cargo door. The bulge created by the earlier impact had pulled one side of the roll-down door away from the steel track; the resultant gap was as wide as his palm and slightly longer than his forearm.

Hesitating just long enough to pay lip service to common sense, JD peered inside. What he saw made him gape. Two men were engaged in a life and death battle with a monstrous ivy plant. The plant appeared to be winning.

A vine – thick as JD's arm – lashed out and batted aside a tall blond man with as much effort as JD would use to shoo away a gnat. The man crashed through a table of hydroponic trays, disappearing from JD's sight in an avalanche of marijuana seedlings. The creeper lashed after him, upending a second set of plants.

The other combatant, a young black man, drew back his arm and flicked a knife toward the heart of the writhing mass of ivy, the action almost faster than JD could follow. The plant wailed, leaves quaking in pain and clearly translated rage. Three tendrils whipped toward the man, faster than anything rooted in the ground had a right to. He managed to dodge the first vine, but the second snaked around his ankle and yanked him from his feet, the third coiled around his throat and hoisted him into the air. The man dangled mid-air, both hands clutching the vine, feet kicking frantically without purchase.

JD held his breath.

A third man moved into view, rising from the floor in front of JD's spy hole. He moved unsteadily, but with determination. JD realized with a wince just what had stuck the door hard enough to dent it. The new combatant was slender with long hair. He fired three quick shots into the vine that strangled his friend. The plant shuddered, but didn’t drop the gasping man.

Heart pounding in his chest, JD was transfixed by the ridiculous spectacle. This was a bad matinee sprung to life and escaped the screen – complete with questionable special effects. He was absolutely certain that the epic battle taking place on the other side of the door could not be happening; and he was equally certain that it was. Almost unthinkingly, he drew his cell phone and hit record.

The blond man had apparently regained his sense and launched himself back into the fight, darting forward with a docked shotgun to pump round after round into the thick clump of vegetation that the vines emerged from. A stout limb swept his feet from beneath him; and followed with a brutal attempted coup-de-grace. He threw himself to one side, a hairsbreadth before the vine slammed down hard enough to shatter the concrete.

"Chris!" the only one still standing cried out. He put another round into the vine that still choked the third man.

Chris was on his feet instantly, putting some distance between himself and the flailing ivy. "I'm fine," he yelled. "Help Nathan."

While JD and the plant had been focused on Chris, Nathan had produced another knife. He was valiantly hacking away with one hand, while the other struggled to protect his vulnerable windpipe. With each slashing blow, the plant shuddered and keened.

JD was so enrapt by the battle raging inside, that he completely missed the arrival of the black Chevy until it was nearly parked on top of him. The truck came to a hard stop, doors flying open before the vehicle stopped rolling.

An imposing man dashed by wielding a chainsaw and maniacal grin with equal malice. "Make way," he bellowed unnecessarily, since the chainsaw had already delivered the same message quite effectively. He thundered past JD, saw roaring to life as he burst through the pedestrian door. The driver, wielding a saw of his own, was hot on his trail.

The third man--slighter than either of his companions but no less formidable--turned in the threshold to regard JD. His sharp green eyes caught the light unnaturally. "This matter will be resolved presently," he said in a silky accent JD couldn't place. "Were I you, I would vacate the vicinity." The green light flickered in his eyes again, so quick that JD couldn't swear he hadn't imagined it. "Sooner would be preferable." He pivoted gracefully and joined his cohorts inside.

JD stood dumbfounded for a moment. The proffered advice was humming an off-kilter ditty in his ear; he shook his head, chasing an itch he couldn't reach. He wanted to stay and--

The tuneless song changed pitch, scattering his thoughts.

Absently, he gathered his belongings; obedience nearly shattering when he discovered that his bicycle had been on the losing side of an encounter with the over-sized truck. The urge to be elsewhere, to go to ground was growing.

Mildly confused and frowning, though he did not know why, JD limped off into the dark, pointedly ignoring the pronounced wobble in his bike's canter.