The door swung automatically shut behind him with a thunk and a click, the two sounds having a sense of finality about them. He pushed aside his fear and moved to the boxes just inside the door with the speed of a striking cobra.

Originally, the basement had been meant to be used as a tornado shelter. It was as wide and long as the building above. It had been made to house the employees, and a full lot of customers, were a twister to strike during work hours. In the thirty-nine years that the Happy Hamburger has stood, not once has there ever been even worry of a tornado. So Mr. Finkleton had been using it to store that which wouldn’t fit upstairs.

Dominick couldn’t find what he was looking for in any of the boxes near the door, so he moved further into the room, throwing startled glances at the ceiling above him as he went. It wasn’t until he reached the supporting column midway into the room that he found the medium fry boxes.

He sighed and tore into the cartoon. There was no sense of delicacy about the operation. He could have used a box cutter to slice open the packing tape that held the flaps at the top of the box together. There would be a box cutter down here somewhere. It would only be the polite thing to do. That way, once he’d grabbed up what he needed, he could just closed the flaps back up. It made stacking and storing easier.

But Dominick wasn’t interested in anything but getting through this as quickly as possible. So, by the time he was able to starting pulling fry boxes from the carton, the entire top third of it had been removed and what remained was a jagged mess.

The door opened behind him and Dominick sighed once again. It would be just like Mr. Finkleton to check on him. Not out of worry for Dominick’s well-being, but because he would assume that Dominick was down her loafing.

“I’ve found them,” said Dominick. He moved to ensure that he was directly between the carton of fry boxes and the door. It wouldn’t do for Mr. Finkleton to see the state in which he’d left it.

But there was no reply. No biting comment about Dominick’s taking his sweet time. No scathing remark in which Dominick’s dedication would be called into question.

Nothing but the steady sound of ragged breathing.

Dominick turned.

“I’ve got them right here, Mr. Finkle—” but he couldn’t finish.

What he suddenly faced standing in the doorway before him took the words from him, stole them right from out of his body like a mugger in a dark alley.

Dominick blinked.

He shook his head. Then he blinked again.

He couldn’t quite make his brain process what his eyes were telling it.

It wasn’t Mr. Finkleton.

It wasn’t even human.

It was a lizard.

A big lizard.

A lizard that stood on two legs and held a sword.

A part lizard, part man creature like in that game Dominick used to play in Junior High with the dragons and the dungeons and such. In other words, a genuine Lizard Man straight from the books.

It stepped into the room. It had been stooping to get under the doorway and now stood at full height. It was at least two heads taller than Dominick. It wore some kind of leather armor with circular steel plates sewn into the chest. Its sword was curved and broad and looked big enough to split Dominick down the middle without much effort. The creature also wore a circlet of gold around its neck.

Dominick rubbed his eyes violently with both fists. His eyes cleared and the thing was still standing there gripping its sword.

“Are you him?” the lizard man said. Its voice conjured images of gravel rolling around in a plastic barrel.

“Uh,” was about all that Dominick could make himself say.

The lizard man crossed the room in four strides and before Dominick could so much as squeak in terror, the thing was standing over him.

“Let me see your hand,” it said.

“Um,” Dominick said. “Um . . .”

“Your hand, human dog! Show it to me or I will take it off at the wrist!” The lizard man brandished his curved sword.
Dominick held up his left hand as he fought against the tears that were forming at the corners of his eyes.

“Your right hand!” The lizard man barked. “Show it to me!”

Dominick held up a shaking right hand and the lizard man took it in his own. Its tough skin was dry and rough like sandpaper. It gazed at the birthmark on his palm.

“Yes,” it hissed. “The mark. You will be coming with me.” The lizard man tightened its grip on Dominick’s hand and pulled him away from the wall.

To be continued . . .

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