Updated: Dec 14, 2018
The thing--the juggernaut--almost looked human, in the same way a child’s crayon drawing might almost look like a horse. The pieces were there, but the proportions were way off. It towered an easy seven feet, even with the clear curvature of the spine that gave it a sideways hunch. The body was inhumanly wide, like an upright grizzly. The hands, a dark shade of ashy gray, were hairy and composed of fingers like sausages and nails blackened from blood ruptures. As it dragged the sledgehammer across the pavement, it moved with an arrhythmic gait, as if it were still learning to walk on two legs of different sizes.
Like a chimera from the ancient stories, this creature stalking ever closer was made up of mismatched parts. The head didn’t come close to anything remotely human, but its visage is burned into the core of my memory in a place where no amount of therapy will ever allow me to forget.
The face, if you can call it that, was coated in black scales and comprised of an elongated snout that formed the top half of a jaw. The bottom was equally long, connected at a hinge like that of an alligator, with ivory hooks growing wildly in every direction from the maw. If the monster had any eyes, I couldn’t see them.
The lipless orifice hung open, exposing a wet tongue tangled in the jagged rows. The teeth were overgrown like a cancer, and there was no way the mouth could ever close without shredding the gums to pieces. I don’t know how it ate, and I wasn’t keen on finding out. The noise coming from within was a wheezing gurgle, steady, with each shallow breath.
For the life of me I can’t figure why, but somebody had gone through a lot of effort to dress him. On the outside, an extra long black duster. Beneath, the body was more or less contained within a long-sleeved blue jumpsuit, and on its feet were a new pair of enormous black tactical boots.
There was a sort of fog about the creature, and as it came closer I realized that the humming cloud around its face was actually a thick swarm of flies. Festering boils on its neck wriggled with maggots, and I became dizzy just trying to fathom what I was beholding.
This must have been what they thought of when they first invented the word “abomination.”
I kept my Beretta steady, waiting for the thing to charge. With the way it ran back at the bowling alley and in the cemetery, I likely wouldn’t have but a split second--if that--to take it down. The gun was pointed at the widest point on its center of mass--the chest, where I quickly noticed a cluster of bullet holes already in the jumpsuit, stained black.
Looks like I hit him already.
Whatever this thing was, my pathetic 9mm wasn’t going to do more than annoy it. But at this point, running simply wasn’t in the cards. Yet again, I found myself with the ever-familiar feeling of being a sitting duck.
Think fast, you’re running out of time. Options?
Run? Hide? No, too late for that.
Shoot it? The thing took four shots to the chest before you launched him off the car. He’s not going down from bullets. Unless…
Head shot? Could work.
Go for the weapon? Shoot his hands? Also valid options. But even without that hammer, a charge from that thing would be like getting run over by a truck. I need to slow him down.
Slow him down. That’s the play. I can keep a hammer’s distance, but not if this thing starts moving like he did earlier.
I pointed the gun at his knee and fired six shots in rapid succession. The cloud of flies exploded off the monster after the first impact, and the creature stopped.
But it didn’t go down.
It stood still with that expressionless reptilian face.
After a tiny eternity, the thing shifted its weight to the good leg and lifted the wounded one, moving it clumsily forward, then landing. I held my breath and watched as it tried out the injured limb, then dragged the metallic weapon forward and moved its other leg. It had just taken another step, and all those shots had succeeded in doing were jack and shit. The cloud of flies had returned to the area around the monster, and I prepared myself to go out swinging.
When he charges, start shooting.
If there’s a reason God decided not to let me die right then and there, I don’t know what it could be. I’m not a good person. I’ve barely done anything in my time on this earth to make anybody miss me when I’m gone. But whatever the reason, this was not going to be the moment I had to face my maker.
The partial deafness from the gunshots coupled with the situational blinders kept me from noticing the black vans until they had sped past me and screeched to a stop.
I didn’t see where the smoke grenades came from, but the parking lot was swallowed in the thick gray in a matter of seconds. The last thing my eyes were able to pick up was the juggernaut lifting the weapon over its head.
When the shots started, I hit the ground. By my count, I was dealing with at least half a dozen fully automatic weapons. I held my breath and started to crawl away from the fray.
The next thing I remember was waking up on the floor of a moving vehicle with a splitting pain in my side reminding me of all the shit I’d put my body through that day. I was on my back when I came to and sat straight up.
How the hell did I get here?
The van rocked back and forth as we drove. There were no windows back here, only bench seats against the walls and five heavily armed men in camo fatigues and tactical gear. In front of me was a sixth man, only he didn’t have a weapon, or helmet, or any kind of gear. He was dressed in a tan t-shirt and jeans, and when he saw that I was awake, he smiled and said, “He’s up. Good. Welcome back.”
“Where am I?”
I instinctively reached for the spot on my side and found nothing but an empty holster. One of the armed men put a firm hand on my shoulder. His way of saying, “Take it easy. And no sudden moves.”
“Don’t worry. You’re safe now,” said the man in jeans.
“That’s not what I asked,” I said back. “Who are you people?”
“We’ve been watching you for a while, detective. You’re lucky we showed up when we did.”
This is it. I’m finally getting to see the man behind the curtain.
“Where’s Vanessa?” I demanded.
“Wow,” the guy shot back, “You really have no idea what’s going on, do you?”
“I know enough. I know you’re part of some shady organization with reach and pull. I know you’re working on something big, and you’re willing to kill to keep a lid on it. And I know my niece was involved somehow.” I was showing my hand, but at this point I didn’t even care. They had me dead to rights, and even if I played dumb, there was no way they were going to let me off with a warning. “I also know you’re responsible for what’s been going on in this town. The disappearances, the phone calls from the dead, the weather. I don’t know how, but I know you-”
“Let me stop you right there,” he interrupted. “You’re embarrassing yourself. Because not one part of that was correct. Yeah, there’s something going on here, but we’re not it. We didn’t take Vanessa. We’ve been trying for years to find out who--or what--is actually responsible for all of this.”
“Bullshit. You’re saying that this shithole small town just happens to have two secret paramilitary organizations?”
He laughed. “No, no no no. Definitely more than two.”
The van made a sharp right turn and I started tracking seconds. I couldn’t be sure how long I was out, or even how they knocked me out to begin with, but if--if--I made it out of this van alive, I might be able to retrace my steps.
“Let me ask you something, detective. How much time have you spent at that gas station? I mean, concurrently? Because it looks like you actually slept there. That place messes with your head, you know. Most people can’t stand it for more than a couple hours at a time.”
I ignored his question and asked my own, “So if you’re not the ones that took Vanessa and framed me, then who the hell are you?”
“You can consider us... an interested third party.”
“Yeah,” I replied, echoing Spencer’s words from yesterday, “There sure seem to be a lot of those in this town.”
The man pulled a gun out from beneath his seat and pointed it. Before I could move, the men on either side of me clamped down their grips on my shoulders, holding me in place. I looked at the gun and recognized it as my own Beretta.
“You army?” the man asked. “I knew this guy. He was a ranger in the army. You remind me of him.”
“No, I’m not army.”
The man nodded, then stared at the ground, like he was trying to decide what to say next. The van made another right turn and I restarted my count.
“It’s weird that you would be so careful, constantly watching your rearview, switching up cars, keeping an ear to the ground, and still you couldn’t find the tracking device they put in your gun. Don’t worry, we took it out. They have no idea where we are now.”
“The ones that actually took your niece.”
I wasn’t buying this story for a second. After everything they had tried to throw me off the trail, this was just another elaborate set up. But why? Why not just let that thing kill me and be done with it? Were they testing me to see what I knew? How much I had figured out?
“For what it’s worth, we’ve been trying to find her. But these guys are careful. They cover their tracks, avoid every camera, leave no footprints. Then you came along and they got sloppy, they got frustrated, and they sent a knight after a pawn. No offense.”
Oh, fuck you.
He continued, “We’ve finally captured one of their tall guys. And all we had to do was piggyback off their tracking device and follow you until it decided to show. This is a big deal for us.”
The van turned to the right.