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About the Author

J.E. Deegan, a teacher/writer by trade, has a volume of published poetry and has had a number of short stories published in small-press magazines. He has also completed a novel and two screenplays. His writing interest is in spooky things; of things that make us know why we are afraid of the dark.

[an error occurred while processing this directive] Outside In: Review by A.L. Sirois

Six To Go

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In time he became used to the quarterly cycles of man to beast and back again. In time he came to relish them…to look forward to them despite the pain caused by the transformation. In time he came to understand that a bit of suffering up front was a small price to pay for the reward that resulted. For as a panther, he was the hunter, the master of his domain.

***

In the Hotel Harrow…in a room on the third floor…the transmogrification began again. The pain, endurable because of its promise, ignited in his skull then spread slowly downward. Dennis Bonn stood before the mirror, eagerly watching his brow shrink and all but disappear above eyes that gradually narrowed into slanted slits with wild, yellow irises and thin, black pupils. Concurrently, his nose and jaw steadily elongated into a rounded snout; his lips thinned and turned in upon themselves. His mouth stretched backward, and he opened that mouth to watch his tongue thicken and turn a rubicund red. His teeth widened; his incisors swelled and lengthened into twin, curved ivory daggers.

The transformation continued into his neck, shortening it and shifting the muscles, tightening and thickening them. His shoulders and hips narrowed; his coccyx grew into a sleek, supple tail; and his spine straightened, forcing him forward onto powerful truncated limbs that ended in rounded padded feet tipped with razor-sharp claws. A wave then rippled backward from his snout to the tip of his tail, leaving in its wake a thick coat of black shiny fur. With a quick head-to-hindquarters shudder that repositioned everything internal, the alteration was completed. And within the mind of this powerful mass of sinew and muscle, human reason and prudence had been suspended, rendered inert by pure, primal, predatory instinct. By a pitiless cunning…by a feverish craving to eat…and by an inexorable need to kill.

Man had become beast.

Prey had become predator.

Dennis Bonn had become a Black Panther.

The hunt began.

Quickly, gracefully, he stepped through the open window to the fire escape, then loped down the steps to the alley below, then to the edge of the street. There he carefully scanned the surrounding area and sniffed the air for scents of danger, a tactic he had adopted following his first hunt from the Hotel Harrow nearly three years ago. Although Limboland was his domain and night his cover, both nonetheless contained hazards. Fully sated and made neglectful by his first kill, he had carelessly plodded in front of an oncoming car. He barely escaped, suffering a bruised hip that had him limping for weeks thereafter. The driver, unhurt but drunk, was ordered—so the papers said—to undergo psychiatric counseling after insisting that he had skewered his car on a stop sign to avoid hitting a huge four-legged black shape that was as big as a lion.

And there were two other ill-fated occasions, which he chose not to dwell upon.

The street was crowded with still shadows and was deserted, for even in Limboland some respite is needed from perversion and depravity. The strip joints and squalid lounges closed at 2:00 a.m., and by now even the most desperate of Limboland's hookers had given up the hunt until the following evening. By now, visitors to Limboland's carnal carnival were nearing home, the lies they would tell their mates about their whereabouts fully manufactured and repeatedly rehearsed. By now, the potheads and winos had again anesthetized reality with their chosen elixirs and were soundly comatose within Limboland's glut of dead-end alleys, deserted buildings and rubble-strewn lots.

He took care to keep his hunting pattern unsystematic…never hunting the same area twice in succession; being sure to exploit all the attractive zones within Limboland's five square blocks. Much to his favor was the fact that violent death was no stranger to Limboland. Psychopathic homicides and suicides were not uncommon in this God-forsaken pit of filth and ruin, and killings performed by psychopaths were almost always brutally sadistic. Limboland was littered with psychopaths, and here the police usually did nothing more than ensure that what remained of a mutilated body was carted away.

He kept to the shadows of the storefronts, repeatedly sniffing the air and searching the mix of darkness and gloomy light to both sides. The night remained calm, the street quiet. It was a good night for hunting. Now…Where to feast this night? Which hunting ground to prowl?

He decided on the park…near the footbridge where he had first become a hunter.

***

He entered the park through a thicket of neglected bushes and silently glided toward the arched bridge over the pond. Once before…a year or more ago…he had caught a hapless soul in an alcohol-induced stupor on a small embankment beneath the bridge, which did offer a degree of cover when the weather turned hostile. And tonight a storm was brewing. He could smell it in the air and sense it in the stiffening breeze. The moon began to dart among the clouds, lightning pierced the sky, and heavy thunder rolled through the sky to the west.

Surely the coming storm would lure prey toward the shelter of the bridge.

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