STRATAGEM Chapter 11

STRATAGEM by Joshua Graham



Washington Heights, New York

THE MAN WHO RESEMBLED PAIGE’S FATHER lunged at Derek and started choking him with both hands. The sudden inability to breathe caused Derek to panic. He tried prying the cold fingers off but to no avail.

The crazed man squeezed harder.

Derek flailed about, punching his assailant in the arm, shoulder, wrist…didn’t work. The guys’ arms were fully extended, putting his face out of striking distance.  He swung Derek around, slamming his back against the car’s open door frame. Tiny flecks of light danced about Derek’s eyes and the pain from his spine spread to his neck.

Hulk started snarling and barking. From the corner of Derek’s eye, he saw the little beast tearing at the man’s pant leg.

Inside the car, Paige cried in fear.

Now the woman was coming around the car to help finish Derek off.

Everything around him blurred.

Strength left his legs.

He lost his balance and fell back into the car.

The sudden drop caused the man to lose his grip on Derek’s neck. As Derek landed in the driver’s seat he used the last bit of strength remaining to hook his foot upward and smash his heel into the man’s crotch.

But the man didn’t flinch.

He lunged at him again.

Derek gasped for air, and then with both feet kicked the man in the midsection with enough force to make him fall back onto the ground. On the way down, he knocked the attacking woman back as well.


Hulk leaped into the car, ran over Derek’s stomach and face, and stood barking at the attackers from the passenger seat.

Before another moment could pass, Derek pulled his legs into the car and swung around to plant his foot on the accelerator. The engine raced, but the car didn’t move.

He hadn’t shifted gears.

Derek slammed the door shut and locked it.

Just as he put his foot on the brake to shift into DRIVE, a heavy slam to the left of his face jolted him. A quick glance showed the window shattered around a bloody circle.

“Go away!” Paige screamed. “Go away!”

The man coiled his fist back, then punched the window again.

His fist penetrated the glass. A spiderweb of microfractures extended from the hole through which the man pushed two or three fingers, trying to reach Derek.

But Derek had just shifted into drive.

The wheels screeched.

The car pulled forward, but only slightly.

Another loud bang rang out from the back of the car.

Through the rearview mirror, Derek looked on in disbelief.

With her bare hands, the woman had punched holes through the trunk door, gripped the edges, and kept the car from moving.

Another crack.

The man had forced his hand through the broken window, his fingers clawing at Derek’s neck.

“What is with everyone today?” Derek leaned away and shifted the car into reverse.

The car shot backward.

It bounced as it ran over what felt like a large speed bump, except for the sickening crunch under the tires.

The hand made a scraping sound through the jagged hole in the glass as the car moved.

Without thinking, Derek put the car in DRIVE, floored the gas, and inadvertently ran over the “speed bump” again. He winced at the second crunch.

Just as he looked ahead, he found himself driving straight at the man, his hand covered in blood. The madman leaped at the car as though he could catch it and stop it. Based on what the woman had done, he probably could.

In that fraction of a second, before Derek decided not to swerve away, the car struck the man at full speed, throwing him about twelve feet before he hit the ground. Out of instinct, Derek drove away from his fallen frame, then sped away.

“You okay, Paige?”

“Uh huh…” But her rapid breathing betrayed her.

Hulk jumped up with his front paws on the seatback and barked toward the rear window.

Derek continued to drive but glanced up at the mirror.

The entire scene diminished in the rearview mirror, but he saw what Hulk had been barking at. Derek shook his head and could only let out an incredulous laugh. Had he not witnessed everything he had already, it would have terrified him.

But what he saw in the rearview didn’t him even register. How could it?

The attackers—both the man and woman—got up off the ground and stood there looking at each other, as though nothing unusual had happened to them.




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