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The Skull Hunter, 4

The Kaining of Rick Vargo

by S. Michael Leier

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Part 1 appears
in this issue.
Part 2 of 2

“What?” he exclaimed running from behind the counter. I could here him cursing as I made my way up the creaking stairs. I got to my room on the second floor, when I opened the door I was immediately struck by the smell of stale, moldy air. I turned the knob of the light switch, a bare bulb hanging from a frayed wire lit up the small, dank room.

Gray paint was peeling from the walls, lying in piles on the worn wood floor. In the center was an old metal framed bed with a single sagging mattress. A yellowed paper blind hung in the window and moved as the wind from outside came in through cracks in the frame. A rusted metal rod hung on the wall to hang clothes above a painted dresser with a washbasin on top.

I felt like I needed a shower just looking at it, but at that time of the morning beggars can’t be choosy. I took off my hat and coat and hung them on a nail. I removed my pistol from my coat pocket and tossed it on the bed. Exhausted, I sat on the bed and closed my eyes.

I must have fallen asleep, because the next think I knew I woke up lying across the bed and hearing a sharp knock on the door. I bolted up as my hand fished for my pistol. The light was still on in the room as I cautiously opened the door. I looked out into the hall, but no one was there.

Shaking my head to wake up I closed the door only to hear a loud pop followed by the sound of glass breaking as the light went out. Suddenly the room erupted with the sound of movement. Something grabbed me and threw me across the room over the bed. I landed with a painful thud. Quickly recovering, I reached for the paper shade and tore it from the window. The street lights bathed the room in a pale blue, and I could see several shadows race from the light.

I aimed my pistol and called out, but something grabbed at my legs making me crash once again to the floor. Hitting hard I fired off a round and heard something unworldly screech wildly. I rolled to my side and pointed at the noise and fired again into the darkness.

Everything went quiet until I heard someone beating on the door. The voice of the old man from the reception desk was screaming for me to open up. Hearing a key in the lock, I scrambled to my feet as the door opened. I saw the silhouette of the fat man holding a baseball bat. He stepped into the room cursing when the door behind him shut and I heard a blood-curdling scream.

I started for him when something tackled me and sent both of us flying through the glass window. I fell on top of a cloth awning covered in snow, rolled off and hit the sidewalk. My ribs felt like they were broken as I lifted my body from the wet surface.

I looked around but there was no sign of whatever had knocked me through the window. Painfully I stumbled back into the boarding house and up to the room. I saw the outline of the old man lying on the floor in a pool of sticky liquid. I started to gather my things when I heard sirens at the front of the building. I could hear the distinct voice of detective Sergeant Brogan barking out orders as heavy footsteps came up the stairs.

“Freeze right there,” commanded a police officer with pistol drawn.

“My name is Rick Vargo. I’m a...”I stated until I was interrupted by a familiar voice.

“Pain in the ass,” said Brogan coming into view. “Well what have you been up to now, Vargo? Burning down a building not good enough for ya? You’ve moved up to murder now.”

“I didn’t kill anybody,” I stated flatly.

“Really? Well, we got a call from the night manager that someone was shooting here, and here you are with a dead body. By the way, where is your gun?”

I reached into my pocket and tossed it at his feet. “I fired some shots, but something was attacking me. I didn’t shoot that guy.”

“Looks you tore the place up pretty good,” Brogan said, looking around.

As the dawn light began to flood the room, I saw several slash marks on the walls just like the one on the front door.

“Either way you’re going downtown. Come on, let’s go.” Brogan grabbed my by the arm, pulling me from the room. My ribs screamed in pain, but I wasn’t going to give Brogan the satisfaction of knowing it.

We got to his car and he opened the passenger-side door and forced me inside. He got in and headed north towards the 21st district precinct.

“Look, I didn’t kill anybody,” I stated firmly.

Brogan looked at me as if he was going to say some smart-ass remark and then paused as though thinking before speaking. He had a puzzled expression and shook his head in confusion. “All right, Vargo, I’m giving you the benefit of the doubt. That’s why I didn’t cuff ya, but give it to me straight, no bullshit or I’ll...”

Suddenly the driver’s-side door flew off the car. Brogan yelled with surprise as long arms reached in and threw him from the speeding car. Before I could do anything, the vehicle swerved off the roadway into a lamp post. My forehead slammed into the dashboard and blood poured from my head. My sight was blurry as the red liquid pouring from the open wound stung my eyes.

The car windows began to burst all around me as finger like shards of glass showered the inside of the vehicle. I covered my eyes and felt something drag me from my seat, slamming my sore body onto the wet sidewalk. I looked up just as a growling creature kicked the wind from my lungs. The world around me began to spinning wildly as claws tore at my clothes.

Finally, I was able to get to my knees and swipe the legs of my attacker. The creature fell to the ground, howling. I struggled to my feet and ran down the sidewalk. My body felt numb as I tried to find shelter. I had almost reached the doorway of a small shop when something grabbed me and hurled me against the wall. I swung wildly in the air; my fist struck something solid, but I could barely make out shadows of anything. I couldn’t tell what I was fighting or how many for that matter.

A clawed hand took hold of my tattered clothing and tossed me haphazardly into a nearby alley. I tried to crawl away, but the thing was on me with every motion. Kicking my legs and swinging my arms, I tried in vain to fight back. My body plunged into a world of pain I had never before experienced. There were several of the creatures beating my bruised, broken body until I became numb to their thunderous blows.

I was about to loose consciousness when inexplicably the beating stopped. I strained every muscle to crawl to the walled end of the alley. I rolled to my back fighting for every breath. My ribs were crushed and mangled beneath my skin. My shredded clothes were soaked with blood as every ounce of energy drained away with each crimson drop. In the near distance, I heard the sound of someone giggling sickly as the fog of my brain began to lift slightly.

“Who’s there?” I coughed as blood choked my words. The giggling turned to full-blown laughter, as the shadow figure of a man came closer.

“Oh that was worth its weight in gold,” the voice spoke with a devilish glee. He clapped his hands slowly, menacingly as he stood beside my broken body. “You should see the look on your face. Priceless.”

“Who are you?” I asked weakly.

“Priceless,” he repeated kneeling down. He reached out and took my face in his hand, staring deeply into my swollen eyes then let my head drop. He wiped my blood from his hand onto my coat and stood up. “Yes, yes enough of play time; on to the business at hand. You have made some very powerful enemies, Skull Hunter, very powerful. You’ve been sticking your nose into things you shouldn’t.”

“Yeah, that’s me, one big pain in the ass,” I said sarcastically as a spasm racked by body and I spit more blood onto the white snow beneath me.

“I don’t believe you understand the scope of your interfering,” he said as the seriousness of his voice echoed around me. “You see, I represent... Let’s just say a very eclectic clientele who have hired me to see that you cease and desist your current activities.”

“Oh yeah,” I said working my way to a seated position against the cold brick wall. My eyes started to focus and I could see the man in front of me. He was very well-dressed, wearing a black bowler and long dark trench coat. He seemed rather up-crust by his stance and demeanor. He looked down upon me like someone in a zoo looking at the poor pitiful animals.

“And I ask again who are you?”

“My name is Joshua Kain,” he said proudly, as though that should mean something. “I am an arbitrator of sorts. I facilitate my clients’ interest in these matters and you are... how would you put it... number one on their hit list.”

“Glad to be appreciated,” I said as another spasm hit me.

“Oh, Skull Hunter, you must understand I have nothing personal against you; this is strictly business. Now I must insist that you refrain from any more interference in the matters of Para-normal activity.”

“Really,” I said trying to straighten my spine as pain shot through my back. “Do the words ‘Kiss my ass’ mean anything to you? If you plan to kill me, do it now; you’ll be doing me a favor.”

Joshua Kain sighed deeply. “You have placed me in a very precarious position, Skull Hunter. You see, I am not authorized to kill you. However, I am not so bound when it comes to others, if you know what I mean. You see, just like you I have a job to do. My clients expect me to fulfill the contract and use whatever means necessary, no matter how distasteful I may personally find it.”

He bent down to my level so I could look into his eyes. “I will do what it takes to convince you that pursing your current actions will result in unpleasantness.” He snapped his fingers behind him as I saw a large gnarled faced creature rise from below the ground and step towards me. It snatched me from the ground and I couldn’t help but cry out in pain as it held be by one arm in the air.

Joshua nodded at the monster and it ripped the sleeve from my arm. Taking two razor-sharp claws, it carved two parallel lines into my forearm. Releasing its grip, I slumped in a pile on the ground, as the creature seemed to melt away beside me.

“That scar will serve as a reminder of our meeting here today. The first line represents your life before, while the second represents your life after our little discussion. This is a world of endless possibilities, why waste your time dealing with things beyond your grasp to understand. Things are changing, and you could be on forefront of a new age.”

Joshua straightened his coat and hat. “Don’t make the mistake of thinking you can go back to life as you knew it. That would be a dreadful folly on your part. We will talk again, Skull Hunter. Remember, I will be watching you.” Joshua turned and walked away leaving me alone in the alley. Then I heard footsteps running toward me as someone knelt down beside me breathing heavily.

“Vargo, Vargo.” It was Brogan. “Can you hear me? Are you all right?” “Peachy, never felt better,” I answered as a dark shroud fell over my eyes and darkness engulfed me.

When I awoke, I was lying in a hospital bed. The smell of alcohol and disinfectant stung my nostrils. Every muscle in my body ached. My head pounded like someone was hitting it constantly with a hammer. I was wrapped like some kind of mummy and my mouth was dry as a desert. The sun was shining through the window. I could fell its warmth on the white sheet that covered by broken body. I had no idea how long I had been out.

I stared through the window, remembering what Joshua Kain had said to me before he left. I couldn’t help but feel as though a thousand eyes were staring at me at I lay helpless in that bed.

Painfully, I turned my head and saw Brogan sitting in a chair. He was snoring with his hat pulled over his eyes. I knew I had a lot of explaining to do and wasn’t sure how to do it. I mean, how do I explain to Brogan that some guy appeared out of nowhere with a bunch of monsters to kick my ass? Brogan’s rhythmic snoring stopped suddenly as he bolted forward seeing that I was awake.

“Vargo?” he said with in a sympathetic tone that shocked me. I tried to answer, but I couldn’t open my mouth. “Stay still. I’ll get the nurse.” Brogan ran from the room calling out for a nurse.

I lay there alone, unable to move, trapped within my own thoughts. I couldn’t explain it, but somehow it struck me what Joshua had said was true. The world did seem changed somehow. It felt different, like the air around had become darker, more foreboding. I wasn’t sure what the future held, but I knew I would hear the name Joshua Kain again. Next time I’ll be ready.

Copyright © 2006 by S. Michael Leier

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