I didn't get more than three steps inside before every neuron in my head fired a warning shot down my spine simultaneously.
It was like a sudden inexplicable chill; goosebumps rolled up and down under my suit. An invisible hand had seized the core of my brain in its fist--and was slowly nudging all of the buttons labeled 'panic'.
The house wasn't anything to write home about. Looked abandoned, with waded up newspapers on the floors and graffiti sprayed on the walls. All the lights were off, but there was enough for the helmet to give me an outline of what I was looking at.
The feeling did not abate. It seemed to intensify when I took a step toward the stairs. Partly out of curiosity, partly out of a refusal to listen to my own fears, I moved forward.
And nearly stepped into the 7 foot tall bastard standing at the base of the steps.
I hadn't seen him because he'd been standing so still--in the blurred darkness of my helmet's night-vision, his body had resembled part of the banister, and his head had resembled a lamp. But then he flicked his lighter with a sharp 'tink', briefly illuminating his face in an orange, metallic glow.
His skin was gray and mottled; it had the appearance of meat that had been left in the bottom of a moat for a few weeks too long. There wasn't a stitch of hair anywhere on his head--not even a set of eyebrows. And instead of a normal, straight teeth--or a set of crooked, bent incisors--his mouth was full of what looked like steak-knives.
He was wearing a pair of frilly bath-robes and bunny slippers. Somehow, this did not detract from how scary he looked.
"Evening," he said, chewing on the end of his freshly lit cigar.
"Evening," I said right back--I don't know why. I was never a smart-aleck, but then again, up until now, I'd never been genuinely terrified for my life. "Hey, this isn't my house." As subtly as I could, I slipped the cellphone I had been holding into the costume's back pocket.
He smiled. Which pretty much meant I got a look at even more of those teeth. "Funny," he said, followed by: "Funny girl."
I stepped back, trying to assess the situation--compile my options into one big heap. He was big--really big. And he looked muscled, too. The chances of him being some sort of power--of actually being able to throw trucks or spit lightning... I rated it a good 50-50. The gray skin and razor teeth were big tip-offs, after all.
"Let me guess. You dug through your neighbor's garbage and found last year's Halloween costume," he said. "Dressed yourself up like the Skull and decided to dedicate yourself to a life of crime-fightin'."
Damn it. He didn't sound stupid. I put that down under the list of 'Reasons-I-Might-Be-Screwed'. Much to my distress, it was a list that was rapidly growing.
"So maybe you managed to get the best of one of my boys, or loosen somebody's tongue--and found out where I operate. 'Cept now that you're here, you find out it ain't run by some no-name punk off the streets." He cracked his knuckles--the sound was like a series of gunshots. "It's run by me."
"Donovan, I presume," I said, taking another step back.
"Yeah, but folks 'round here call me Sharkface," he said, grinning.
"Kids can be so cruel."
"Here's how we're gonna play this, sweetheart. You're gonna take off your mask. Nice and slow. Then you're gonna get down on your knees--and you're gonna beg me to just put you in a coma for a week or two. Instead of ripping your head off and using that fancy skull of yours as my new piss-pot."
"Interesting proposal," I said, my hand creeping toward my back. "Allow me to make a counter-offer."
Just like I had practiced, I snapped one of the electric prods out of the backpack and extended it out, sparking bit aimed straight for his crotch. It hit; his body clenched, muscles locked in violent spasms as a bolt of electricity speared through him and hit the floor.
He went down on top of the stairs with a grunt. I snapped the rod back and threw a punch at his chest--lunging with everything I had. When it hit, I felt a bolt of pain roll up my hand and explode somewhere in my elbow and shoulder.
I had a little formal training when it came to fighting, but nothing extensive. And I hadn't even gone to class for over a year--which meant I was horribly out of practice. But I still knew enough to aim for the solar plexus. I felt the wind rush out of him; I felt something moving that didn't feel like it should be moving. Had I fractured a rib?
The thought made me a little queasy. I still had no clue just how strong I was. That definitely went on the 'need-to-know' list. Which was also growing at a distressing rate.
What little experience I had told me he should have been out and wheezing for at least a few seconds, but instead he recovered almost instantly--he kicked off the steps and hit me with a full-on charge, his shoulder pounding into my chest. I deflated like a cheap balloon; he plucked me up and hurled me back toward the stairs.
Much to my own surprise, I managed to land on my hands and feet--crouched like a cat, staring back at him from the stairway.
"Quick little bitch, ain't you," he said, turning to charge.
I didn't wait for him to arrive. I bolted up the stairs.
No clue where I was going. Maybe I could find a window, a ledge--someplace I could get outside. Hopefully, I was faster than him, which meant I'd be able to get away.
I found myself stumbling into what I assumed was his room--in that it had the least amount of crap on the floors. A moment after I stepped in, I saw the Elvis Presley stained glass window, now facing the inside.
He arrived at the doorway a second after I did. Which meant I was boxed in.
I turned around and faced him, fists clenched.
It was time to find out just how powerful the Elixir had made me.