by Bill Bowler
part 1 of 6
Yanosh Straker hunts monsters for a living. He’s stumbled on a nest of them and is tracking them down, one by one, and eliminating them. One young man, Josey, is terrified to discover that Straker is after him for some reason. Josey runs, but his world seems to be changing. His old life is fading and a new, confusing, unreal existence seems to be opening up before him
Straker crouched at the entrance to the deserted parking lot. The full moon sailed overhead through the swift moving clouds and moonlight coated the parked cars. Straker shivered as a chill wind from the river swept up the avenue. His eyes searched the darkness. All the lamps were broken and the far corner was hidden in shadow. A chain link fence encircled the lot. There was no way out except past the empty booth where Straker crouched. “Either I’ve got it cornered,” he thought, “or it’s a trap.”
He drew his pistol — a silver plated Colt .45 with an ornate capital “S” engraved on the barrel — and screwed on the suppressor. No need for any loud bangs. Ten silver bullets were loaded in the magazine. A beast could try to make it over the fence, but not if Straker plugged it first.
Straker heard a faint scrape from the far corner of the lot. He ducked behind the cover of parked vehicles and, crouching, ran to a position where he could block the only exit. Muscles taut, pistol ready, he sensed that the beast was following his movements, waiting for him. He had tracked too many of its kind to be surprised by this one.
Straker ran hunched low to a car parked in the center of the lot. He knelt and rested his arm on the hood, scanning the red laser target beam along the fence and peering into the shadows where he knew the beast lay hidden. It had to be down behind the last car in the row near the corner.
Straker heard it then, a low growl, a warning, coming from deep within the beast’s throat. It was cornered. The last act was about to begin. Straker’s heart raced with the thrill of the hunt. He held the pistol in both hands.
The river wind moaned and blew through the lot. Debris and paper swirled at his feet and blew up against the fence. Straker heard a clink. A bottle rolled out from under the wheels of a parked car and came to rest.
The beast struck. It leapt from the shadows of the corner, across the hoods of three cars, and reached Straker in one bound, sweeping him aside with the bloody stroke of one claw and knocking the pistol out of his hand. The gun slid away under a car. The beast pounced on Straker with a roar. Its yellow eyes blazed in the silver moonlight.
Its crushing weight was on top of him. Straker was pinned to the pavement. He felt the claws rip through his vest, tearing into his flesh. He felt the coarse fur and the hot animal breath on his face and saw the open jaws, drooling saliva, coming towards his throat.
Straker slammed his left forearm up under the beast’s chin, knocking its jaws shut with a crack. In the same instant, he pulled his boot knife from the ankle sheath. With a single, swift motion, his arm swept around in an arc and the blade sliced the throat of the beast as it struggled to open its jaws.
Blood spurted from the gash in its throat as the beast fell back, a look of confusion on its face. Straker struck again and buried the blade to the hilt in the creature’s heart this time. The beast dropped with a groan and Straker struggled to his feet. A spasm wracked the creature’s powerful frame. With a whimper, it tried to rise, but collapsed back to the pavement and lay still, yellow eyes wide open, staring up at the full moon.
Straker kicked the body to make sure it was dead, then pulled his knife from the lifeless heart, wiped the blood from the broad, silver blade, and returned it to his ankle sheath. The final battle had lasted less than a minute. Straker’s heart was still racing as he gasped for breath, his muscles aching from the exertion. His left arm was bleeding from a set of bite marks and blood was seeping through his torn shirt and vest from eight deep scratches that ran from his chest to his waist. With a groan, Straker pulled his Colt from under the front wheels of a nearby car.
He knelt beside the dead beast, took a small case from his pocket, and assembled a hypodermic syringe. He sunk the needle into the dead beast’s arm, drew a blood sample, and carefully stored the sample in the case.
Unsteadily, Straker stood up from the corpse. The pale, haloed disc in the charcoal sky gazed down on the scene below. The river wind, like a restless spirit, moaned again and swept up the avenue, chilling all in its path without mercy.
* * *
The Big Top Circus tent was set up in Damrosch Park behind the Metropolitan Opera house for its annual holiday run. Tricia, her kid brother Sam, and her boyfriend Josey hurried across the plaza, shivering in the winter wind. They stood in line under the now bare potted trees and followed the crowd as it slowly wound its way into the tent.
In the arcade leading to the main ring, the crowd milled to and fro. The smell of sawdust mixed with the aroma of popcorn and hotdogs grilling. The sideshow was in full swing. The Bearded Lady beckoned to them as they passed. The Human Pretzel, twisted into an impossible position, wiggled his toes.
Laughing, Sam pointed across the aisle and said, “Look over there!”
They followed where Sam was pointing saw a placard: “Mihu the Mighty — The Strongest Man on Earth.”
“Let’s see the Strongest Man!” Sam pleaded. “Please!”
They pushed their way through the crowd but, when they reached the Strong Man’s spot, it was vacant. Beneath the placard, a smaller handwritten sign said, “Closed Until Further Notice.”
Sam looked at the massive weights and huge barbells on the sawdust covered floor. “I wonder what happened to the strong man?” he asked.
“He got hurt, kid. He won’t be coming back,” said a carnival barker standing nearby.
“What happened to him?” asked Tricia.
“Ran into someone stronger,” said the barker. “He was killed last night.”
“He WAS?” Sam’s eyes went wide.
“That’s right. He was murdered. They found his bloody corpse in a parking lot.”
“What’s wrong with you?” asked Trisha. “That’s not something to tell a child!”
Sam’s eyes were like saucers.
Josey felt ill. The smell of hotdogs and sawdust was suddenly nauseating. He tried to shake it off but his heart was racing.
“Josey, are you OK?” asked Tricia. “You’re turning green.”
“It might have been something I ate. I’ll be all right.”
“Well, isn’t this fun?” said Tricia, pulling Sam away. “Come on.”
The crowd in the arcade was beginning to thin.
“Look!” said Sam, “A fortune teller. Can she read my fortune?”
Josey glanced at his watch and looked doubtfully at the people filing into the main arena.
“We have to make it quick,” said Tricia.
They crossed to the curtained entrance of the fortune teller’s parlor. A sign read, “Madame Sonya Sees the Future. $5 per reading. All predictions guaranteed.”
Trish parted the curtains and they entered. In the dimly lit interior, they saw a woman seated at a round table. She was dressed in a loose, flowing black robe covered with sparkling silver stars and her head was wrapped with a black scarf. It was impossible to tell how old she was. A few thin strands of white hair fell from beneath the scarf across her brow but her face was smooth. The table was covered with a purple velvet cloth and in the center before her was a large transparent globe set on a hand sculpted of marble.
Madame Sonya looked up as they entered, her eyes dark and sparkling, “Welcome. The future is yours. Please be seated. I’ve been expecting you.”
Tricia smiled but Josey halted in the entranceway. He was feeling ill again. It was more like a panic attack than food poisoning. A wave of irrational fear washed over him. He sensed that something was terribly wrong. He wanted desperately to leave, to turn and run away and never look back. From the interior of the parlor, the fragrance of incense reached his nostrils. He breathed in and his head began to spin. A faint, distant roar filled his ears with a ringing sound. Madame Sonya was looking now with narrowed eyes directly at him. Sam shouted, “Oh, boy! I told you this would be good!”
Josey struggled to overcome his anxiety. With a sheepish grin, he followed Trish and Sam into the parlor. They sat around the table. Madame Sonya hunched over the crystal globe and murmured under her breath, gazing deeply into the ball.
“Whose destiny concerns us today? Yours?” she looked up at Josey. A look of recognition seemed to cross her face.
“Me first!” said Sam. “Do me first!”
Madame Sonya smiled at the child and her dark, crinkled merry eyes returned to the globe. A milky substance floated like a cloud within. Josey thought he saw a flash or spark shoot through the cloud inside the globe. Nice trick. The thing must be plugged in somewhere, he thought.
Madame Sonya studied the interior of the globe and then looked up, “I see an airplane with a young pilot, a captain.”
“It’s me!” cried Sam.
Madame Sonya gazed again into the murky globe, “So it seems. Yes, it shall be so. A pilot. And you, my dear,” the fortune teller looked now at Tricia. “Are you curious to know what the future holds in store?”
“Sure,” said Tricia, “but only if it’s good.”
They watched as Madame Sonya gazed into the globe again. The milky cloud inside seemed to swirl and take on vague shapes, now a flying bird, now a running deer, now a face, swirling and dissolving. “I see you with a man, a rich, handsome man...”
“That must be Josey,” laughed Tricia. She hugged him and kissed him on the cheek. “Is he going to marry me?”
Madame Sonya said nothing but her gaze moved to Josey. She studied him for a moment emotionlessly. Josey heard the distant roar again. His heart was palpitating. The sense of foreboding welled up again inside him. “What’s wrong with me?” he wondered.
Madame Sonya dropped her gaze to the orb and grasped its sides in both her hands, her low voice muttering incantations in an unknown tongue, “Zakhrebat volok, oborotyen, mrak Upwyr...” Another spark flashed through the globe and the swirling white milky haze inside began to glow blood red. Madame Sonya lowered her head, almost touching the glass, and stared intently, deep into the sphere. Dozens of sparks now crackled and showered like fireworks through the swirling cloud. Josey smelled something burning. Maybe the thing was shorting out. Madame Sonya drew back, startled. She stood up and, with trembling hands, covered the globe with a silken cloth that lay on the table. Her face had gone ashen.
“That’s all for today. There will be no charge. I must ask you to leave now.”
The three of them rose, puzzled by the fortune teller’s erratic behavior.
The last one to leave, Josey stopped at the curtain and turned to Madame Sonya, “You sure we can’t pay you for the fortunes?”
“That won’t be necessary.”
“But what did you see?”
Madame Sonya took his hand and gazed at his palm. With a slender, long nailed finger, she traced the lines.
“You see that cut across the lifeline? Be very careful, young man. There is great danger ahead. The paths converge. The stench of evil fills the air. Can you smell it yet? Something creeps towards us, neither dead nor alive. It will not rest until it has you helpless in its grasp. Those who love you will try to protect you, but it will stop at nothing...”
* * *
To be continued...
Copyright © 2008 by Bill Bowler