The End Of Days: Solitary Creatures Part Four

Edwin had suffered through twelve hours, thirty-two minutes and sixteen seconds of Marie’s personalised brand of bedside manner and he was about ready to throw himself at another pack of Hell Hounds.

‘Just sit still,’ she chided, tightening her grip on his Elbow.  ‘It’s really not that bad, and anyway, we wouldn’t be doing this if you hadn’t decided to get into a wresting match with one of those bloody monstrosities.’ She frowned and sucked in her bottom lip, focusing on the muscle squirming beneath the hand that wasn’t pinning Edwin in place.

‘Easy for you to say,’ Edwin groaned, as the muscle seized and spasmed. ‘How many times have you had to regrow your own body parts?’

‘More often than you’d think, now shut up or I’ll leave you like this and we can see how well walking around without skin goes.’

Edwin scowled but shut up. It wasn’t as painful as having the flesh stripped from his bones but it still hurt like a bitch. He closed his eyes and focused on breathing through his nose but the smell of blood and burning flesh crept in. He swore and opened his eyes.

‘You know,’ said Marie. ‘I wouldn’t have to do this if you hadn’t walked headfirst into a trap. This sort of work is tricky and you haven’t given me much time to fix you up.’

There was a pop as one of his nerves fused into place and Edwin nearly bit his tongue off. The world flashed white and he could hear the ocean roaring in his ears. Swearing he resurfaced, Marie looking up at him apologetically.

‘Sorry, I should have warned you that might hurt.’

Edwin swallowed the rising vomit at the back of his throat and tried not to pass out.

‘Yeah,’ he croaked. ‘A little warning would have been nice.’

Marie shrugged and returned to her work. ‘You’re the one that wanted speed and refused any tonics.’

‘I don’t want to sleep for the next week and a half,’ said Edwin. ‘I’m working to a deadline and I’d like to see Syms stupid face when he realises that we’re in time and alive.’

There was another pop and Edwin thought he might be hearing angels.

‘Just a few more,’ Marie sang, and Edwin wondered if she’d done the last one on purpose when he mentioned Syms. He clenched his jaw and decided to shut up.

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An hour later Edwin was sat in Marie’s kitchen, trying to ignore the fresh, unblemished skin on his arm. He’d get a few scars on it eventually he told himself, then it would look just like the old one.

He distracted himself by examining the Hell Hound’s head sitting in the middle of the kitchen table. Sammy had attempted to prop it up, using the salt and pepper pots to keep the head from listing the left, and someone, probably Marie, had stuck a plastic tea tray underneath the severed neck to save the table from demonic blood stains.

‘You’re sure you tried everything you could think of?’ Edwin leaned forward and poked the monster’s head with his index finger before sitting back satisfied when it showed no signs of coming back to life and trying to bite him.

‘I’ve done everything that can be done in our current situation,’ said Sammy. ‘Marie’s pretty well stocked but there’s a few bits that she hasn’t got and I was trying to avoid burning down her house in the process.’

‘You could have taken things outside.’

Sammy shrugged and jerked his head towards the window above the sink.

‘Raining.’

‘Since when does that have an impact on spell work?’ Edwin asked.

‘It doesn’t. I just don’t like the idea of getting wet right now. Anyway, there’s no trace of a summoning spell on this thing.’

Edwin had been in the process of leaning forward again and froze mid poke. ‘No trace of a summoning- what- what do you mean there’s no trace of a summoning spell?’ Edwin could feel his jaw hanging open.

The door to the garden opened and Marie bustled back in, closing Edwin’s mouth as she walked past him.

‘We’re not catching flies,’ she said.

‘Like I said, there’s no summoning spell,’ said Sammy. He was grinning and Edwin was got the impression that he was enjoying this a little bit too much. He sounded almost chatty.

‘How can there be no summoning spell. Hell hounds don’t simply walk out of Hell, they have to be summoned and that leaves a mark, a way to trace the person who did the summoning. If there’s no trace then that means… well it means…’ Edwin flailed for an answer.

‘It means they found a way to eradicate the mark or brought the beasties out of Hell a different way,’ grinned Sammy. ‘It’s incredible.’

‘Yeah, incredibly annoying,’ said Edwin. ‘We needed that information to tell us where to go next.’

Marie made another pass and jabbed Edwin’s shoulder. ‘Drink,’ she said, and placed a cup of steaming, green liquid on the table in front of him.

Forcing a smile, Edwin brought the cup to his lips and pretended to take a sip. He heard her sigh behind him.

‘I don’t know why I bother,’ she muttered and left the room. Edwin put the cup down.

‘Look, what you’re suggesting is that someone used massively difficult magic to summon demon hounds from Hell and then used magic that’s even more massively difficult to eradicate any trace of them being the ones to do so.’ Edwin dug his fingers into the skin between his eyes, rubbing at the headache forming there. ‘You realise how ridiculous that sounds? The research and power that would be required would be phenomenal.’

‘Yes,’ said Sammy.

‘So…’ Edwin continued. ‘There can’t be very many people who can do that. Can there even be anyone who can do that?’

‘Three, perhaps four.’

‘In this area?’

‘No, three or four in the world,’ said Sammy. In this area it’s more likely to be-‘  he broken off and counted out two fingers before shaking his head and putting the second one down. ‘One. There’s one person who might be in this area.’

‘Might be in this area? You’re not sure.’

‘People move,’ Sammy shrugged. ‘I’d suggest we try and do a locator spell before we head out.’

‘Won’t he be cloaked?’

She will be, but her ex-husband won’t.’

‘You think he’ll tell us where she is now?’

‘Most likely,’ said Sammy. ‘But he might want us to kill her in exchange for the information.’

‘Well we’ll see about that.’ Edwin pushed his chair back and stood beside the table staring at the Hell Hound’s head. ‘Hey Marie, would you mind-‘

‘Just leave it there!’ she yelled, her voice bouncing down from one of the upstairs rooms. ‘I’ll feed it to the pigs.’

Edwin and Sammy exchanged a look.

‘Huh,’ said Edwin. ‘I guess they will eat anything.’

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Amelia Wranthorps ex-husband had been easily to find and even easier to convince into giving up his ex-wife’s whereabouts. He didn’t even ask them to kill her, just pass on a series of increasingly angry, bitter messages that Edwin had promptly forgotten.

When the truck eventually eased to a stop in front of the grey block of flats Edwin had worked out that there were six hours left before Syms deadline passed. Looking up at the broken windows and litter strewn steps he came to the conclusion that it was unlikely they would manage to sort everything out in that sort of time.

‘Didn’t powerful warlocks have castles once upon a time?’ he asked, squinting over the steering wheel. Sammy stayed quiet and Edwin hummed in agreement. ‘Yeah, I suppose times are tough on everyone with the economy and all, but still, this place?’

He checked his phone again but the app was showing that they had reached their destination.

‘We do get to see some lovely places don’t we,’ he sighed. ‘Right, let’s be getting this show on the road.

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The old woman was small and wizened, like an apple left in the sun too long.

Edwin hadn’t spotted her at the first. The bare light-bulb had blow the moment he tried to flick the light switch, and the rest of the room was a jumble of broken furniture and smashed glass.

She sat hunched in an green, wing-backed armchair that had seen better days, her tiny frame swallowed up by the shadows and a pair of curtains that had fallen from the railing on the window behind her.

Her eyes followed him. Quick but unseeing.

‘They said you’d come,’ she rasped. Plumes of dust escaped with her words and Edwin heard Sammy edging around the room to try and find a path to the chair.

The old woman was dead. Not dead like Syms, but reanimated and preserved just long enough to parrot back a simple message. Rather like a super creepy answerphone recording. Sorry we’re not in. Leave your message after the corpse’s howl. Edwin kept his distance, letting Sammy get close up and personal with the dead old lady.

‘They said you’d come,’ repeated the woman. ‘Said you would come to stop them. That if you survived the first test you were to be given the choice to leaving well enough alone. If you did that you would be allowed to live until the End of Days.’

‘How generous,’ said Edwin. ‘Did they happen to mention when that might be?’

‘They said you’d come,’ started the woman. ‘They said you’d come. Said you would come to stop them-‘

Edwin watched as Sammy’s silhouette raised his hand and traced a symbol in the air above the woman. She turned to dust.

‘Just brilliant. Someone murdered our warlock.’ Edwin shook his head and toed a broken coffee table with the tip of his boot. ‘Well at least she won’t be raising anymore Hell Hounds.’ A photo fell out of its frame and eight faces stared up at Edwin. The Old Woman and what looked like seven grandchildren. ‘Come on,’ he said. ‘Let’s go.’ He turned for the door and realised that Sammy was still standing by the old woman’s remains. ‘Hey Sammy, let’s go.’

‘Just a minute.’ Sammy was frowning at the dust. ‘I think she’s been dead a while,’ he said.

‘Well yes,’ said Edwin. ‘Even I can tell that she’s been sat up here a while, I mean…’ he trailed off and thumped himself in the forehead with the heel of his hand. ‘She’s been up here a while, which means the spell in the church was too young to be one of her’s. She’s not the warlock we’re looking for.’ Edwin groaned and sank into the remains of the settee. ‘That means we’re looking for someone else.’

‘Someone else with the same sort of power,’ said Sammy.

Edwin nodded and let his head drop. The faces of the old woman and her grandchildren smiled at him. He reached out to turn them upside down. A moment later her turned them over again.

‘Sammy? What are the chances of another warlock with the same level of power being born in her family?’

Sammy lifted an eyebrow and turned his gaze towards Edwin. ‘The chances? All the warlocks with this level of power are related. Families like to pair off promising individuals to create stronger offspring.’

‘Sounds like a recipe for inbreeding,’ said Edwin. He brushed the thought aside and held up the photo. ‘Let me rephrase the question. What are the chances of one of her grand-kids being able to raise Hell Hounds with no summoning trace?’ He watched Sammy’s face over the top of the photo. ‘Yeah,’ he grinned. ‘That’s what I thought.’

He flipped the photo and studied the seven younger figures.

One of them had managed to raise a pack of Hell Hounds and wipe all traces of the summoning spell from existence. Now the question was if they did it by choice, or if they were working for someone else.

‘Ready to go Sammy?’ Edwin asked. He stood and tucked the photo into his jacket. ‘It looks like we might have to put a pin in Syms deadline for now. We’ve got seven warlocks to find.’

‘Should we call for backup?’ Sammy ploughed his way across the room, wood splintered beneath his boots. He rooted out a biscuit tin from beneath a bookcase and shook the crumbs onto the carpet before returning to the old woman’s ashes and using the lid to scoop the majority of her into the container.

‘Nah,’ said Edwin. ‘We’ll be fine.’

Accepting the tin from Sammy he followed the other man out of the flat.

So far that week he’d almost been killed by Hell Hounds, regrown most of his forearm, and was currently carrying the ashes of a dead warlock of the highest power. What Edwin didn’t want to say was that he had a feeling they were the reinforcements, and he doubted there was anyone else after them.

Yeah, he thought. If they cocked this up, things might just go really, really wrong for the world. 

End of Days wrong.

 


Link To: Solitary Creatures: Part One

Monsters Love A Church: Solitary Creatures Part Three

‘Three days, three bloody days. What exactly do you think you’re playing at? How on earth are we supposed to find this thing and kill it in that sort of time frame?’ Sammy thumped the truck’s dashboard with an empty fist and swore as the plastic cracked. He buried his hands in his lap and scowled down at them. It was the first time he’d spoken since they’d left Syms’ hole two hours before and Edwin could see the storm clouds hanging around him.

‘Calm down,’ said Edwin. He checked the rear view mirror and flicked the indicator on before turning off the main road and onto one of the narrower country lanes that wound through the countryside. ‘It’s not like we’ve got to cross the ocean to find this thing and we’ve worked with tighter deadlines in the past. We do the same thing we always do, roll up, find out what’s what, stick the bad thing, move on.’

‘That only works for things like lone vampires and low key fey gone rouge,’ said Sammy. ‘Not Ancients.’

‘Well we’re not dealing with Ancients just yet are we hmmm? We’re dealing with something that’s stirring up the Ancients and that’s a whole different kettle of fish because we both know how uppity those bastards are and let’s be honest, it doesn’t take that much to get them muttering in their sleep.’

‘It takes a massive natural disaster, like the one that killed the dinosaurs.’

‘We that’s a bit of an exaggeration if you ask me,’ Edwin shrugged. ‘They’ve made themselves known now and again in the meantime.’

‘There have only been four recorded incidents of the Ancients showing signs of waking,’ growled Sammy. ‘All of them have preceded death tolls that totalled in the millions. Whatever it is that’s got them uppity is bad news and that isn’t an exaggeration.’

Edwin tutted and shook his head. ‘Sammy, Sammy, Sammy. What will I do with you?’

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Edwin parked the car and checked the clock on the dashboard. It read five-thirty. He squinted at the church clock on top of the hill he was parked alongside and read quarter-past-four. A glance at the broken windows and boarded up door suggested that neither clock was particularly reliable and he fished his phone out of his jacket instead. Seven. He crammed it back into his pocket and shouldered the driver side door open.

‘Monsters do love a church,’ he muttered. Sammy climbed out after him and followed as Edwin fought his way past the brambles ensnaring the church yard gate. The hill had once had a pathway leading up to the church, but the grass had grown over and the ground was spongy with dew underfoot, soaking into the cuffs of their trousers as they walked. There were no graves. Edwin didn’t know if that had always been the case of if the dead were lying there unmarked. It didn’t matter much but he did like a headstone. It made things simpler when there was a signpost to tell you were someone was rather than having to play guess the spot with parish records.

St Edmunds read the sign down the road. It had been abandoned at the start of the millennium, declared unsafe but the local heritage groups were trying to raise the funds to fix the place up and reopen the doors. That was as much as Sammy had been able to find with the spotty phone service and limited data connection. There were no news reports about the men Syms had sent before them being killed, and no ghost stories to suggest anything was lurking there. Edwin was half convinced that the zombie had got things wrong.

The hill was higher than it looked and after fifteen minutes the church seemed no closer and Edwin could feel sweat breaking out on the back of his neck.

‘Stop.’ He held out a hand and heard Sammy’s footsteps halt behind him. ‘Bastards’ have gone some sort of spell on the place. A looping illusions or something. We can keep walking but we’re not getting anywhere near that church any time soon if we do. You think you can…’ he looked back at Sammy expectantly and cocked his head to one side. ‘Come on, you know you want to.’

Sammy shrugged and then turned his gaze to the church, frowning slightly.

‘Done,’ he said a moment later.

‘Already?’

Sammy smiled. ‘Some of us don’t let ourselves get rusty.’

‘Easy for you to say,’ Edwin muttered. He sprinted fifty yards up the hill and was satisfied to see the distance between him and the church shorten. He tried not to let the apparent ease that Sammy had used to break the spell faze him. Unlike him, Sammy’s abilities were easy to practice unseen. Splitting the ground open at your feet was slightly more attention grabbing and tended to be noticed in public settings. Then again, picking apart the threads of a spell required its own sort of dedication.

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Riddled with woodworm, the church doors gave way easily. Brushing the dust from his jacket Edwin stepped inside and coughed as he accidentally breathed some of it in. Sammy thumped him on the back and he almost went through the floor tiles.

‘Thanks,’ he wheezed, concerned that one or more of his ribs might have just snapped.

The church wasn’t huge. At most it would have seated a hundred parishioners and there was a small vestry clustered with shadows at the back behind the spot where the font had once been. The organ pipes were long since gone as well and the alter lay on its side in the chancel, the polished wood splintered and weather stained.

Edwin made his way down the pews checking for anything unusual.

‘Huh,’ said Sammy, scanning the paintings which lined the eastern wall. They were dusty but still serviceable. ‘You would think that out in the middle of nowhere, an empty place like this would be a kid’s dream come true, but…’ he turned and looked at the other walls. ‘There isn’t a lick of graffiti in this place.’

‘So there isn’t,’ said Edwin. He checked the pews again, this time examining them for any scratching of ‘I woz ere’ or ‘J+T’ in a wonky heart. Nothing. For a church that had been empty sixteen years there was a surprising lack of vandalism. ‘How old was that spell would you say?’

‘Three months maybe,’ Sammy replied. ‘It felt green still so it had to be relatively fresh.’

‘And there was nothing beneath it. No residual boundary spell that might have kept people from straying in here?’

‘No, nothing.’

Edwin frowned.  ‘What do you think-‘

The rest of his sentence was lost as something large, black and muscular exploded from the vestry, punching directly into Edwin’s chest and driving them both into the pews.

Over the blood rushing in his ears Edwin heard Sammy yell and there was a high pitch whine as the creature buckled sideways, careering away from the knife that Edwin had thrust upwards into the flesh bit where leg met torso.

The hound stumbled. Hound was generous, the thing’s face was too wide, instead of fur there were scales, and a long, purple, forked tongue lashed back and forth behind the rows of sharp, white teeth.

‘Edwin, there’s more.’

Edwin didn’t need to look to know there was more. He could hear them growling as they paced out of the vestry. The one he’d injured studied him carefully, working out how to get the next attack in without Edwin drawing blood again.

Edwin could feel the creatures blood eating away at his clothing, the skin beneath starting to burn. It hurt, it really, really hurt, but there was nothing he could do about it right then.

‘Edwin, do something.’ Sammy was eyeing the creatures approach. They were cautious, they smelt blood and the wrong sort at that. It wouldn’t last long.

Edwin kept the dagger trained on the hound closest to him and placed his free hand against the floor. It wasn’t dirt and he was aiming for two different places which could do horribly wrong but-

The ground cracked open beneath the pack and a chorus of panicked yelps broke out as a few dropped in immediately, the ground snapping shut above them. Edwin heard scale and bone crunch as an unlucky few failed to fall completely, spines, legs, and necks breaking as the earth closed around them.

In front of him the hound had flinched, but the ground had failed to open.

‘Shit, Sammy move.’

There were two left from the pack and both bolted for Sammy, teeth bared. Edwin watched as he went down beneath them.

He didn’t watch for long as the first followed suit.

Teeth closed millimetres from his face, scraping the top layer of skin from his nose. Edwin’s arm trembled as he struggled to keep the hound at bay.

‘Shit, shit, shit.’ He thrust up with the knife again but it skittered across the scales. Claws dug into his shoulders and he could feel his skin threatening to blister beneath the creature’s breath.

Not here, not now. Ivory said so.

He brought his elbow up awkwardly and twisted his wrist so the knife went up, just missing the creatures eyeball. It snarled and pulled back. Edwin jabbed again, this time the blade went in and hot, white pulp poured down his arm.

Edwin screamed.

He could see bone, he could see his bloody bone.

The hound went limp, its weight falling on him fully.

Screw Ivory, she’d lied. Of course she’d lied.

The air went out of his lungs and there was no more breath for screaming.

‘Edwin?’ Sammy grunted and there was a desperate, high pitched whimper as one of the hounds’ skulls cracked and fractured between Sammy’s palms.

Edwin could see grey. He was going to pass out.

This was unbelievable he decided. Syms was going to end up being right.

His arm was on fire, everything was on fire. He was dying.

Another crunch, another whimper.

‘Edwin, Edwin look at me!’

The world went dark.

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When Edwin woke he couldn’t feel his hand. He looked down to check that it was still there and to his relief he saw it was. Bandaged and taped, it looked twice of large as it should have done, and none of his fingers would respond to command, but it was most defiantly still attached.

‘You’re awake.’

Edwin turned his head to see Sammy sat in the driver’s seat of the truck and realised that he was sat in the passenger seat. He frowned.

‘My head hurts.’ A lot hurt at that moment but Edwin was relatively sure that his head hurt because Sammy had smacked it on something so that was his first concern.

‘Yeah, you woke up when I was cleaning out your arm.’

‘Ah,’ said Edwin. ‘That explains it.’ He tried to move his hand again, scowling at his digits when they remained still. Sammy had wrapped them individually and Edwin could see the blood starting to seep through the bandages. ‘So Marie’s then?’ asked Edwin.

Marie was a hedge witch but a dam good healer. A few shades better and she’d be able to bring the dead back to life. The very recently dead of course.

‘You want to be able to use your hand again because at the minute it’s not looking good,’ said Sammy.

Yeah, though Edwin, defiantly Marie’s.

His head felt sort of floaty and despite being in pain, he was aware that he should have been in far more.

‘What did you give me?’ he asked. Sammy didn’t respond. ‘Sammy,’ said Edwin, his tone dangerous now. ‘What did you give me?’

‘Go back to sleep. We’ve got another hour on the road and I need to concentrate.’

Edwin sunk into the seat and slouched against the window.

Sammy took a right and something rolled around in the back of the truck. Edwin’s stomach tightened.

‘What was that? Please tell me you didn’t bring one of those things with us.’

‘No,’ said Sammy, eyes fixed on the road. ‘I burnt ’em.’

‘All of them?’

‘Most.’

They took a left and then another right and the thing in the back rolled again.

‘It’s a head,’ said Sammy. ‘It might be useful.’

Edwin sighed but he was too tired to argue.

‘Do you think they were there guarding something or just to throw people off the trail.’

Sammy shrugged. ‘I didn’t stay around to look but I’m going to guess the second.’

Edwin nodded and sank deeper into the seat, searching for a position that didn’t aggravate some ache or pain.

It was rare to see one Hell Dog, but a whole pack. No wonder the previous guys had been killed.

Feeling his eyelids dropping Edwin blinked to keep them open, the road swaying beyond the windscreen.

Not dead, he reminded himself. Still alive.

He opened his eyes and realised they’d been shut for a while and the scenery had changed from open fields to woodland and they were following a narrow dirt track.

‘We here?’ he asked, words slurring. His arm was hot and throbbing, the pain jumping up through his shoulder into his chest.

‘We’re here,’ said Sammy, pulling up and killing the engine.

Edwin managed to open the door with his good hand and Sammy was there to catch him as he tumbled out. He vomited next to the front wheel.

‘Not dead,’ he muttered, letting Sammy drag him towards the wood cabin set in among the trees.

Not dead, he repeated, this time in his head.

Not dead, an he was going to keep it that way.

There were steps, Edwin didn’t count them.

There were voices, Sammy’s and someone else.

Hands, fingers, plucking, prodding, hurting.

‘What the hell have you two been up to?’

Marie, Edwin recognised Marie’s voice.

‘You know this should have killed him through shock alone?’

Edwin was sitting down, they had managed to get inside somehow and Marie had his arm in her lap.

His very bony, flesh-less, skeletal arm.

Edwin puked again, this time bile.

Sammy grabbed him by the scruff of the neck and forced him sideways. The bile hit the floor and not him.

Marie was there as well, hands on his face not his arm, pressing something to his mouth. It went down easily.

‘Catch him,’ he heard Marie say. Sammy’s hands came down on his shoulders. Before he could ask why he was falling sideways.

Oh, he thought. She’s drugged me.

Again.

StockSnap_DTJ9IVSV0R.jpg So there we go! Part three of Solitary Creatures. Apologies about the long gaps between the sections/chapters/random spewing of story.

Please do let me know if you like this story so far. Part of my 2017 resolutions is to update this twice a month and turn it into a fortnightly feature so between then and now I’m going to try and stockpile some chapters. If you want to know more about the 2017 plans for this site then I’ll be posting a Weekend Coffee Share post either this weekend of next about what next year will have in store for Writing and Works.

Solitary Creatures: Part One

Solitary Creatures: Part Four

Half Dead And Half Alive: Solitary Creatures Part Two

Edwin hated the smell of incense, it was too potent and the nagging voice in the back of his brain told him that it was only there to hide something from him. Something like the stench of slowly decaying bodies.

Or one slowly decaying body to be exact. One slowly decaying body that had been stuck in the basement of a church for the last eight hundred years.

‘So you’re not dead,’ croaked Syms. ‘That’s a surprise and a half. Thought you and your halfwit might have tripped over your own feet into a grave months back, but look at us now, together again, all in the same room.’

Sammy shifted at the halfwit comment but didn’t speak. He wanted to be in the room even less than Edwin and Edwin was about ready to kill to get out.

He’d cocked up Edwin decided. Syms had been a bad, bad idea and now he remembered why.

The zombie kept looking between them, his one good eye bulging in its socket while what was left of the other swung from the remains of his optic nerve. Gummy as a newborn, Syms smiled with an open mouth, showing the frayed insides of his cheek and how the light from the bare bulb above them could be seen through it. In the corner a black and white TV hissed loudly, the shopping channel flickering in and out of focus on the fuzzy screen. It was the old sort, so old that they didn’t even make them anymore.

The rest of the room was taken up by packing crates of impulse purchases charged on other people’s credit cards.

Syms loved buying things, but he rarely liked them once they were in his hands.

‘Still alive,’ said Edwin, swallowing his nausea. ‘We’re here to take up the offer you made back in Nebraska.’

‘Nebraska?’ Syms frowned. ‘I’ve never been to Nebraska, what are you talking about?’

‘Nebraska,’ Edwin repeated. ‘I’m talking about Nebraska?’

Syms’ frown deepened and he sucked in a breath that hollowed out his cheeks, the skin threatening to split.

‘Ah,’ he said at last. ‘Nebraska. Now I remember.’ He nodded to himself. ‘Sorry chaps, offer expired I’m afraid. First come first served and all that jazz. I will let you know if there’s another opening though.’

Sammy swore and jumped from his seat. ‘Told you. Told you he’d screw us around.’

His elbow caught the nearest stack of boxes and they tumbled into the next.

Syms scowled.

‘I was going to return some of those.’

‘No you weren’t,’ said Edwin. ‘You never return anything. You leave it until it starts to rot alongside you.’

He put a hand on Sammy’s arm and pulled him back into the low seat of one the deck chairs that they’d been offered on their arrival.

‘Looks Syms, we came a long way-‘

‘Barely thirty miles,’ interrupted the Zombie. ‘If you think that’s a long way you should try a crossing the north pole.’

‘I might some day,’ said Edwin, ‘but for now I think I’m fine and that’s besides the point. You asked us to help you with your little peacekeeper initiative, the way I see it, we can help you and kill monsters or ignore you and kill more monsters. Either way, I’m getting to put down the bad guys.’

‘Is that supposed to convince me to hire you?’

‘You don’t pay so you can’t be hiring us to begin with,’ Edwin pointed out.

Syms’ face broke into a smile.

‘I know why you’re here now,’ he chuckled. ‘Trying to convince her you’re not all bad are we?’ He trailed off into a dry wheeze.

‘Kara’s dead. I’m not trying to prove anything,’ said Edwin. ‘Life just happened to be getting a little dull and I fancied a change.’

‘Wouldn’t be much of a change,’ coughed Syms. ‘You’ll still be sticking monsters and trying to keep out of trouble with the so-called authorities.’

‘True. But I got a feeling that the monsters you’ll be sending us after are a few shades darker than the average variety, am I right?’

‘Aye, you could say that, or you could say I’d be sending you after the deepest shit scrapings from the most forsaken pits of hell. Either way it won’t be a pretty job and you’re likely to see your insides on the outside before too long.’

Syms scratched at his chin with a finger that was mostly bone.

‘You sure you want in? Once you say yes there won’t be any saying no. It’s a blood deal type of job, no other way about it.’

‘I’m in,’ said Edwin. ‘Sammy too.’

‘Of course, where one goes the other follows,’ nodded Syms. ‘Like a dog and a bad smell.’

He paused and mulled the idea over in his head.

‘I might have a job for you, if you’re not too keen on surviving the week?

Something has been stirring up the ancient ones. Nothing dramatic, but it has the promise to become something if we don’t take care of it in time.’

Sammy’s head picked up. ‘What makes it so dangerous that you doubt we’ll survive the week?’

‘Well apart from your general uselessness and a tendency to ignore the needs of your own arcane abilities, it has killed every other agent that I sent out after it. We found their hollowed out bodies mere hours after they set off to track the creature down. It appears to sense when someone is coming for it and more frustratingly, it has proven impossible to trace using the ordinary means.’

‘The ordinary means?’ The hairs on the back of Edwin’s neck lifted as the bead curtain at the top of the stairs stirred. The wooden steps sighed beneath her weight until she hit the concrete floor, heels clicking against the cold surface.

‘The ordinary means being myself,’ said Ivory, her red eyes streaked with black in the artificial light.

She was a spiderweb of runes, her scalp shaved to show the words inked there and her fingers ringed with chapters from books long since lost.

Edwin shuddered as she moved past him.

‘Ivory,’ he greeted. ‘Such a horror, like always.’

She smiled, snapped her fingers and fire bloomed on her fingertips.

‘Burn in hell Edwin,’ she sneered and snuffed the flames.

She took her place behind Syms, folding her arms across her chest.

‘As I said,’ continued the Zombie. ‘Ivory here has been unable to locate this thing’s exact location which suggests that it’s far more powerful than your everyday run of the mill artefact.’

‘Which begs the question, why has it not woken any of the ancients.’ Sammy’s grip on his armrests had tightened and the wood was starting to splinter. ‘It’s a trap and you want to throw us into it.’

‘Of course!’ grinned Syms. ‘It took you long enough to work it out.’ He folded forward so his elbows rested on his knees and he was almost nose to nose with Edwin. ‘It’s a trap and I want you to beat it. What do you say?’

‘We say no,’ said Sammy. ‘Right Edwin? We say no and we haul arse out of here and hope to hell that we never see your stinking face again.’

He turned to look at Edwin who remained silent, his face turning green as he tried not to breath through his nose and found that breathing through his mouth was just as bad, if not worse.

‘No Edwin! We say no!’

‘Yes,’ choked Edwin, his eyes watering. Syms moved back and he managed to suck in a breath that didn’t reek of death. ‘We say yes and we show this bastard that he needs us.’

He faced Sammy’s thunderous look.

‘We beat this thing because that is what we do and then we lay its mangled, dead corpse at this bastard’s feet.’

‘I don’t see how that helps us,’ said Sammy. ‘All I see is how we end up dead.’

‘You won’t,’ said Ivory. ‘You’ve got time yet, I’ve seen it.’

Sammy snarled in her direction. ‘I don’t want to know what you’ve seen.’

‘Then we’re in agreement,’ smiled Syms. ‘You will take the mission, swear the blood oath, kill the monster or die, and my darling Ivory will restrain from revealing any more about the future.’ He interlaced his fingers, the flesh and the bone. ‘Well,’ he said. ‘That does work out rather nicely after all.’

Edwin pulled himself to his feet, ignoring the way Ivory watched him.

‘I suppose so,’ he agreed. Sammy stood beside him. ‘We’ll see you in a week.’

‘Three days,’ said Syms.

Edwin started.

‘Three days? What the hell!’

‘Three days,’ said Syms. ‘If you can manage that then you can work for me.’

stocksnap_n67uqadhi4


Part Three: Monsters Love A Church

This was part two of Solitary Creatures. It’s a new series and I’m not sure where I will take it so do let me know what you think in the comments below.

If you’re a writer yourself then please take the time to check out the weekly writer’s feature where each Wednesday we feature a guest post talking about writers dealing with those moments where you just want to pack this whole creative malarkey in.

It’s an ongoing feature so if you fancy contributing you can find more details on the post Call For Guest Writers.

Writing and Works is heaving with over five years worth of writing so have a good poke around if you’ve got the time. If you find something you like feel free to share it, like it, write it on a rock and throw it at someone. Actually don’t do that, it’s not nice to throw things.

Thanks for reading.

[Partly Inspired By The Daily Prompt: Ancient]

Click here for Part One: Solitary Creatures

Solitary Creatures

‘Well he was a stubborn one wasn’t he!’ Edwin dragged his hands along his jeans to wipe off the worst of the blood. ‘I swear, it was like he didn’t want to die.’

Sammy mumbled something beneath his breath and continued to throw body part into the pit they’d dug just outside the farm boundary where the boggy peat land crept in and made the ground wet and dangerous.

The pair were sweating but Edwin was still grinning. It had been his idea to go after the vampire, his idea, not Sammy’s.

‘You sure you got all the pieces?’ he asked. He left Sammy unloading the truck and opened the passenger door to fish around in the glove box. Between the dead torch and a road map thirty years out of date he found the half smoked pack of cigarettes and tapped one out into his palm. ‘Don’t want to risk someone coming across some stray bit of Mr Baldy here and kicking up trouble.’

The end of the cigarette glowed red and he sucked in a lungful of smoke.

‘I got ’em all,’ Sammy muttered. ‘This isn’t the first time remember.’ He hurled the last segment of Mr Baldy into the hole and mopped his face with a bit of rag from his back pocket. ‘Your turn.’

Edwin nodded once and leaving the cigarette pinched between his teeth raised his hands up in front of him. The earth groaned and wavered. Frowning, Edwin adjusted his stance and shook out his arms. The earth groaned again, but this time the hole snapped shut with a wet squelch, leaving no trace of the grave at all.

‘You’re getting rusty. You didn’t even have to raise your hand two years ago.’

‘Yeah well, things change,’ snapped Edwin. ‘At least I’m more use that you.’ He ground the cigarette out on the side of the truck and flicked in out into the marsh. ‘Let’s go.’

They climbed into the cab and on the third try it shuddered into life.

‘Looks like I’m not the only one getting rusty.’ Edwin hammered the accelerator home, ignoring the spray of mud behind them. ‘This old girl hasn’t got many more miles in her.’

‘She’s got enough,’ said Sammy, patting the dashboard affectionately. ‘She’ll last a while longer.’

The drive passed in silence until they reached the main road.

‘You think we’re making a difference?’ The question fell between them and Edwin scowled.

‘What you go asking questions like that for?’ he asked. ‘Of course we’re making a difference. It might not be big but it counts.’

‘In whose books?’ Sammy stared out of the cracked glass of the window.

‘In my books for one,’ said Edwin. ‘We’re at war with these things. The lot of us are. We got to do our bit.’

‘What if we’ve already done out bit? What if we’ve paid off whatever cosmic debt the universe thinks we owe? What then?’

‘Then we keep going,’ said Edwin. ‘We keep going and who knows. The universe might return the favour.’

.

.

.

Service stations all looked the same to Edwin. He ordered a burger from the fast food joint available and ate it quickly before finding the toilets, relieving himself, and getting back into the car with Sammy.

They drove again until it was morning and the town in front of them looked nothing like the one they’d come from. For breakfast the stopped at a small cafe that served sausage and bacon baps, and Sammy checked his email on the free wifi.

‘We good?’ Edwin asked, not looking up from his breakfast.

‘Yeah, we’re good. No one got here before us so it looks like the jobs ours.’ He turned his phone around to show Edwin a grainy photo of a young woman pack shopping into a car. She looked to be about twenty-five but that didn’t mean anything. She could be fifty, she could have been a hundred, she could even be much older, age meant nothing for her kind when it came to appearances. Sammy scrolled down to show the address listed below.

‘Bollocks,’ Edwin swore. ‘I hate apartment jobs.’ He chewed a bit of bacon thoughtfully. ‘She got anyone?’

‘Boyfriend. James Charles.’

‘Real boyfriend or mark?’

Sammy shrugged. ‘Does it matter.’

‘No. But it don’t sit the same when we pin this stuff on the mark.’

‘No body, no crime,’ said Sammy. ‘He can’t go down for it. Worse  that will happen is he gets hounded out of town.’

‘Aye, I suppose.’

The finished their breakfast and Edwin pulled a slip of paper from his pocket. Sammy watched as he rolled it between his hands for a second and then crumpled it into the centre of his fist. When he opened his hand a twenty pound note stared back.

‘That should cover things,’ Edwin grinned.

.

.

.

The woman’s flat was small, neat, and carefully laid out to look like someone lived there. There was food in the cupboards and the fridge but none of it was touched, and the bed was made up with sheets that had never seen a body between them even once.

Edwin sat down on the sofa and lit up a cigarette. ‘We’ve got half an hour, maybe more.’ He glanced at Sammy who was standing against to wall besides the door. Edwin would be the first one she’d see when the door opened, but Sammy was the one she needed to worry about.

‘You got this?’ asked Edwin.

Sammy popped his knuckles and grimaced. ‘Yeah,’ he said. ‘I got this.’

‘Good.’ He fiddled with the cigarette. ‘I was thinking that maybe-‘

Footsteps cut Edwin off and he tensed.

On the other side of the door a key slid into the lock and turned. Sammy’s hand went to his hip.

The woman saw Edwin and her face morphed from shock to snarl.

‘You,’ she hissed, starting forward.

Sammy’s blade took her head off before she’d made it three steps and it bounced twice before settling. Sammy managed to catch her body, lowering it to the ground quietly and kicking he door shut behind him as he did so.’

‘You were thinking?’ said Sammy.

‘Um-hum?’ Edwin blinked at the body. ‘Oh right, I was thinking. Yeah, I was thinking it might be time to head a bit closer to home. Take Syms up on his offer.’

The look Sammy threw him was scathing.

‘Yeah I know I told him where to shove it,’ said Edwin. ‘He’s a wanker at the best of times and he practically said we’d be useless on our own but-‘ he paused to take a drag of his cigarette. ‘I think we may need to reconsider.’

‘You said we were making a difference just fine as we are.’ He began to drag the woman’s body towards the plastic sheeting laid out behind the sofa.

‘I did,’ nodded Edwin. ‘That doesn’t mean we can’t improve.’ He pulled a saw from the duffel bag beneath the coffee table and passed it behind him.

‘I don’t want to join his army,’ said Sammy. ‘I ain’t a soldier.’

‘Yes you are,’ Edwin chuckled, ‘we all are. We’re just not a very well organised army.’ The sawing started. He shut his eyes and wished he could do the same with his ears. ‘We’ll die doing this one day or another,’ he called, raising his voice above the noise. ‘Why not give Syms a chance to prove his crazy scheme might actually work.’

‘He wants peace. You can’t have peace with these things.’

‘Not all of them, no. But maybe some.’

The sawing stopped and Edwin turned to find Sammy staring at him.

‘I don’t like Syms.’

‘Yeah I realise that you don’t, I do remember, he’s a wanker. But he’s a bloody clever useful wanker though, and I want him on my side.’

‘You have me on your side.’ Sammy almost sounded hurt.

‘I wasn’t saying otherwise you moron, I was just saying it might help to increase our support system. Give ourselves a little boost.’

The sawing started up again.

‘The silent treatment Sammy? Really mature.’

Edwin twisted back to face to door again. It was a war he reminded himself. One long, ridiculous war with no end in sight. Or perhaps there was an end, if Syms was to be believed. Syms wanted men to police a truce, he wanted them to be peacekeepers instead of hunters.

Peacekeepers. Edwin swirled the name around his head. He liked that. He liked it better than the things people called him now.

He thought about the monster behind him. The most recent in a long line. He needed a change. The cigarette end crunched against the table.

‘You sure this guy was a smoker?’

Sammy grunted behind him and Edwin spat. He was rather partial to his particular brand and these certainly weren’t that, but needs must. He grabbed a second saw. Needs must he told himself. He rounded the edge of the settee. The apartment was nice, it almost seemed a shame to burn it down.

‘Let’s get this moving Sammy. Places to be things to do and all that.’ He picked a joint at random. ‘We don’t want to be all night now do?’


 

Read Part Two here