Sneak Preview: “The Man in Black” (4)

He scowled at Taylor and broke into a trot.

Taylor gasped and started to run, but he was too fast—faster than should have been possible. In an instant he had grabbed her by the arm and pulled her off the path and into the trees. She tried to scream, but he clamped his hand tightly across her mouth before she even knew what was happening. She tried to kick, but he was too strong.

He threw her onto the ground. As she looked up, the stranger was standing nearly on top of her. Something about him had changed, and not in a good way. He was still tall and dressed all in black, like undertakers always dressed in the old Westerns her Grandpa Miller liked to watch. But now she could see he was carrying an empty burlap sack in his hand. What most concerned Taylor, however, was the man’s face.

His skin was mottled gray with splotches of pink, and his bushy unibrow made him look like he was wearing a fur-lined sun visor. His teeth were yellow and misshapen. There was a hard, brown wart on the end of his chin.

“Easy does it, chica. I don’t want to hurt you,” the man hissed.

He grinned a disgusting, toothy grin and reached toward her. Then he fell back, bowled over by dog that had appeared out of nowhere. It was lanky and medium sized with a tapering snout and short black fur. A Labrador retriever?

The dog chomped down on the strange man’s right hand, the one that held the sack. He fell to the ground, roaring in anger and pain, but the dog didn’t let go. It growled and shook its head back and forth. Taylor inched away and hid behind the nearest tree. Something in the back of her head told her to run, but she couldn’t convince her body to cooperate.

Uncle Waldo threw off the dog, which yelped as it hit the ground. He rose to one knee, nursing his arm.

Somehow the dog disappeared, but in its place crouched Danny Underhill. “Back off!” he yelled. Uncle Waldo growled. Taylor’s head swam.

“Oh…my…” she whispered.

Danny sprung forward, and this time Taylor saw him change. In midair, his face lengthened into a muzzle. His body shifted, compacted. His khakis and red polo shirt were overrun with sleek, black fur, and his hands and feet turned into paws. By the time he bowled into the stranger, he had turned back into a dog!

Uncle Waldo rolled on the ground, trying to regain his footing. The black Lab grabbed the tail of his coat in his teeth and held on tight. His eyes glowed like there was a fire inside his skull and his eyes were glass windows tinted yellow.

The stranger pulled himself out of his coat. The dog—could this really be Danny Underhill?—spat it out, growled, and bared his fangs. Uncle Waldo lifted his hands to shield himself from the next attack. And attack Danny did. He pounced on the stranger again. This time, the man with the sack took a bite to his throat and fell back bleeding. He shouted in fury, then threw the dog off him and scrambled away.

By this time, Taylor was hyperventilating. She sat on the ground at the base of her tree as Danny, who had once again turned into Danny, ran to her.

“Are you alright?” he asked.

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