Chapter 17 – Sharkey Investigates The Rat Hole

Sharkey drove quickly towards The Rat Hole and arrived to find the entire street blocked off. He parked in a supermarket lot and walked the block and a half to the bar, taking his time and breathing in every scent that came his way. There was blood, and not just from the bar—a great deal had been spilled in the road, very recently. Perhaps a traffic accident, he thought.

Schitt was waiting outside the bar.

“Jesus, Shark,” he said, sweating. “This one’s worse than the apartment! Must be twenty bodies in there!”

Sharkey nodded. He walked inside, stepping over a body in the doorway that was being photographed by a team of white coats. The strength of the blood scent was nearly overpowering, and Sharkey caught a smell that reminded him of the same scent as he’d found at the apartment, as well as from the rat that had attacked the boys. Similar, but not identical.

The only man in the building who wasn’t with the police force was leaning against the bar, handcuffed and looking dazed. Sharkey walked up to the man and patted him on the shoulder. Tillbrook jumped when he saw the face of the officer that had touched him. Sharkey chuckled just a bit. He smelled sweat, fear, panic, and various narcotics on the man—but no fresh blood. He wasn’t the killer.

Jensen, who was standing next to the man, silently watched Sharkey work. Jensen shrugged. Sharkey shook his head. Jensen looked crestfallen, but Sharkey knew, this man didn’t do it. Jensen knew that as well, but he had hoped… With Tillbrook off the hook, they had no suspect yet for this series of ghastly murders. Not just murders. It was clear from this scene that whoever, or whatever, was killing people—was also eating them.

Sharkey patted Tillbrook on the shoulder again, then started pacing slowly around the room. He walked to each body, quickly identifying that strange scent, so similar to the other, horrible smell that had been at the last two crime scenes he’d visited. Whatever it was, it was spreading, and quickly.

Sharkey’s body was shaking. He tracked the carnage trail, the sick smell of blood and nightmare, back to the front door and outside. His head swam. He turned outside the door of the bar and picked up the thick smell of the spot where Bill had sprayed blood from his pierced lips onto the wall and sidewalk. He had to cover his muzzle. The blood drops, barely visible in the light from the streetlamps and neon, had turned a thick black.

And then he smelled it. Not Bill’s blood, but THE smell. It had been here. The source of all this death and misery had been here, on this very section of sidewalk. Sharkey shook, badly. Felt himself bristling and stepping backwards, a sharp whine boiling up from a place deep inside himself, a place he’d forgotten. The nightmare place. He was howling a high-pitched fearful cry, and he couldn’t stop.

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Chapter 16 – Sharkey’s Taxi Service

Sharkey dropped Jason off first. The kid was only 11 or 12 years old, but he gave Sharkey the creeps. Jason said nothing on the entire drive home—Phil provided directions to Jason’s house—and Jason silently got out of the car when they arrived at his place. The windows were all dark, and Jason walked around the side of the house, disappearing into the shadows.

“He goes in through the back door,” Phil said. Sharkey nodded, but the idea of that boy skulking around in the shadows at night gave him a chill. He wondered why his friends didn’t feel it.

Next, Sharkey drove to Phil’s house. Once he was “safely” indoors (Phil’s mother was standing at the door with a wooden spoon in her hand), and Sharkey was alone in the car with Adam, who he was sure was the leader of this group of boys, the real interview began.

Sharkey looked at the Adam sitting in the passenger’s seat. The boy had a look of concentration on his face, but the horned helmet in his lap made it tough for Sharkey to see him as anything but a frightened kid. Sharkey’s instincts, however, were screaming something different.

“So Adam,” Sharkey said, “any of your buddies lose a pet recently?”

Adam turned to Sharkey, eyeballing him suspiciously. After a few seconds Adam said, “Yeah. Phil’s chick lost her cat—well, lost parts of her cat.” Adam snickered.

“That’s tough,” Sharkey said. Adam shrugged and looked out the passenger window. Sharkey drove a bit further, then decided to play all his cards.

“That rat was a nasty piece of work—not really even a rat anymore. More of a demon. I could tell by the smell of its blood.” Adam didn’t respond, but his eyes went wide.

“So how did your group track it down? That was some pretty good detective work,” Sharkey said. He saw Adam crack a smile.

“Stakeout,” Adam said. Sharkey nodded. The kids were organized enough to run a stakeout. Impressive.

“Your buddy, Jason, must be a pretty tough customer to have hurt that thing,” Sharkey said. Adam flinched, involuntarily, remembering how his own blow had bounced off one of the rat’s heads without doing any damage.

Before Adam could comment, Sharkey’s cell phone went off. He grabbed it out of its holster on the dash of the car.

“Sharkey,” he said. Adam turned to look at him, but couldn’t read any expression on the canine features.

“How long ago?” Sharkey asked. After a second he said, “Okay. I’m dropping off a juvenile witness, then I’ll be there.” He clicked off and set the phone back in its home.

“Looks like it’s gonna be a busy night,” Sharkey said. “Better get you home.”

“I don’t suppose I could tag along?” Adam said, his face pale but clearly interested. Sharkey laughed.

“Not this time, bud, but we’ll talk again.” He pulled up in front of Adam’s house and the kid hopped out.

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Chapter 15 – Nightmare Bill has a Bite

Nightmare Bill was still standing outside The Rat Hole. He had no idea how long his death and resurrection had taken. His new father, after flashing and strobing in neon for several seconds, faded back into the shadows, which hissed and popped as they received him, as if they were boiling.

Bill flexed his fingers, which became knives then claws then snakes; his teeth grew and pierced his lips, then shrank again, and he shook his head, spraying glowing red drops of blood onto the ground and wall of the tavern.

“Hey, bud—you okay,” came a gruff voice from behind Bill. His head swiveled 180 degrees, back towards the door to The Rat Hole, where he saw two women and a large, bearded biker staring at him. One of the women screamed.

“Jeezus, shit!” the biker said.

“Oh, I’m just peachy,” Nightmare Bill said, his body twisting under his stationary head until his whole figure was facing the quickly growing crowd coming out of the bar. “Although, I’m suddenly very hungry.”

The biker was on the ground, his throat torn to shreds and Bill’s face covered in blood, before the first person realized that they should scream or try to run away. One woman, Fanny Conrad, survived Bill’s attack by running up the street, although she fled into traffic and was splattered by a bus full of high school football players returning home from a “slaughter.” (They’d lost, 48-0.)

The other patrons and staff of The Rat Hole, 23 of them in total, were found—the bits of them that were left after Bill’s feast—by Matty Tillbrook, the shocked owner, when he came in to collect the night deposit. He calmly (to anyone who might have been watching—“numbly” might have been a better word) went to all the drug-stash spots in the joint, gathered everything he could find and flushed it all, poured himself a glass of the hardest whiskey he had in the bar, then called the police. He wondered, as he waited for the shit-storm of uniforms and unanswerable questions to start, which Caribbean island he would take his drug money and retire to when he left, after burning the place to the ground. He had a day or two to decide before he threw the match—and he was suddenly glad that he had always been a lazy bastard. If he hadn’t gotten Tommy (the biker whose throat-less corpse he’d had to step over to get through the front door into the building) to come in and watch the place for the night, there wouldn’t be anyone to burn this shithole to the ground.

He heard the first sirens screaming down the street as he poured himself another shot of whiskey.

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Chapter 14 – Sharkey Meets the Knights

Sharkey was sitting in his unmarked car outside the apartment where the four young adults had been slaughtered (you remember, way back in chapter one) when he got the call. A couple of kids had been attacked by something “strange.” One of the kids was in critical condition at St. Fallacies with a punctured lung, damage to his spinal cord, and lots of missing meat.

Sharkey smelled it as soon as he parked—not as strong as it had been in the apartment, but definitely the same stink. Rot and candy and hatred and nightmares.

Jensen waved at Sharkey from the porch of the house where he was standing next to three tired looking boys huddled under wool blankets. Sharkey held up a paw, but followed his nose down the driveway towards the forensics team and a carnival of lights, police tape, cameras, and blood. He hoped the crew’s activity hadn’t smothered every shred of evidence that he might have found, but as he drew nearer the garage, he actually had to control his breathing, pull in quick, careful puffs of air, to keep from being overwhelmed by the smell.

The bright shine of the halogens scorched the scene, but despite the light, which kicked off a massive odor of their own, Sharkey easily found the trail of relatively fresh, blackish blood.

“Huh…” he grumbled. “One of the little bastards actually hurt it.” He nodded absently at a few techs who yelped quick greetings to him as they passed, but his attention was focused on the trail of rot-blood that sizzled in his nostrils. He followed the pungent splashes toward the backyard, but could tell within a few steps that the creature, whatever it might be, was healing quickly. By the time he reached the hedge that the thing had jumped through, its blood had stopped flowing.

He walked back to the garage door and waved a tech over so they could shine a light into the room for him. He found the remains of several animals, and spent a few minutes looking at the fresh carcass of a cat. He told the tech to bag it, and said to have the bite marks measured and, if possible, identified—but he already knew enough. This wasn’t the thing that had caused the mess in the apartment. It was OF it, a piece of the thing, but not THE thing. He thanked the tech and headed for the front of the house.

Sharkey walked up to the porch, his paws in his jacket pockets. He looked at Jensen, and Jensen’s return glance said, “They been grilled and they ain’t got much left.” Sharkey took one of his paws out of his coat and pushed the brim of his hat back.

“Hey boys, I’m Detective Sharkey. I understand you’ve had a rough night.”

Adam and Phil looked up and stared for a few seconds at Sharkey’s face, then Phil said, “You’re a dog.”

“Clever kid,” Sharkey said. “Most people miss that.” Adam slugged Phil in the arm. Jensen chuckled.

“Schitt?” Sharkey said to Jensen. Adam’s eyes widened.

“He’s carting a few of the other boys home. These two,” he pointed at Adam and Philip, “found the thing. It attacked their buddy, and this bruiser,” indicating Jason, “came to the rescue and took a whack at it with a machete.”

Sharkey looked at Jason, who was staring blankly at Sharkey’s car, and felt a slight tremor at the back of his neck. This boy was too calm. The other two were shaken and upset, but this kid was indifferent. The amount of black blood on the driveway said that this kid had serious buried his blade in the creature, whatever it was, not to mention the fact that his friend had been attacked and was nearly killed, but here he sat, blank—almost uninterested..

“Nice job with the chopper, kid,” Sharkey said. No response.

“He don’t talk much,” Phil said.

“Hunh,” Sharkey grunted. He’d figured. When this kid popped—and it wouldn’t be long, five, maybe ten years, max—it was gonna be bad. Somewhere deep inside, Sharkey hoped he wouldn’t be around to have to clean it up.

“Well,” he said, breathing in Jason’s scent in one big breath—he’d remember it—“why don’t you boys tell me what happened. Short version’s fine.”

“Okay,” said Adam, breathing in a gulp of air himself—here’s the “alpha,” Sharkey noted—“we were out playin’ hide and seek…”

“With a machete,” Sharkey interrupted. Philip twitched, but Adam looked steely. That was his story, and by the gods, he was stickin’ too it, or so his look said. Sharkey started to think he might like this kid.

“We were playin’ and we thought we’d hide in the garage there,” Adam soldiered on. “The house has been empty for years, and we sometimes come here, only this time a huge, fuckin’ two headed rat was inside the garage eating a cat.”

“Hey! Watch yer mouth, kid!” Jensen scolded. “I’ve warned you.”

Sharkey stuck out a paw and tapped Jensen’s arm. Jensen threw his hands up—wasn’t his problem—and paced off into the yard.

“Two heads, huh? You get a good look?” Sharkey asked.

“Not too good. We opened the door and saw them red, glowin’ eyes, then slammed the fucker…oops, sorry. We slammed the door and tried to run, but it came after us.” The kid sounded angry. Yeah, Sharkey was definitely starting to like him.

Phil was nodding his head, slowly, and his face had acquired a sickly look. Sharkey could smell the fear on his skin.

“How big?” Sharkey said.

“Tall as me, when it reared up,” Adam said.

“Hmmm… Big fucker,” Sharkey said. Phil’s eyes went wide. Adam smiled.

“Jeezus,” Sharkey heard Jensen mutter.

“Okay. Thanks, boys. I’m gonna go talk to the lab coats for a sec, but after that I can give you a ride home—if you can trust a dog to drive.” Sharkey chuckled as Adam slugged Phil in the arm again.

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Chapter 13 – Hide and Seek

The front of the house was dark. There were a few steps leading up to a porch that stretched, left and right, to the edges of the house. The paint on the once white railing was peeling badly. To the left of the house, hidden in the shadows of the high maple tree branches, was a driveway that stretched all the way to the back of the house before running into the garage.

Oliver caught up, and Adam put his fingers to his lips in a “shooshing” gesture then started to slink down the driveway towards the garage. His two teammates followed as quietly as they could.

From inside the garage, once they’d crept close enough, Adam and the other two could hear something clicking or scratching, like the sound of a dog’s nails on concrete. Adam reached for the doorknob and slowly, as quietly as possible, tried to turn it. The knob squeaked slightly, gave, and began to turn, but the scratching from inside stopped dead. Adam’s heart froze.

He turned to the boys behind him, his left hand still on the doorknob. He tried to mouth a few words to them, but realized it was too dark for them to see what he was saying. He pulled the flashlight out of his pocket and turned it on, pointing up towards his face.

Both Oliver and Phil took a step backward, and in the slight glow cast on them from his light he saw that they both looked terrified. He gave them a dirty look, shocked at such unprofessional behavior, then he mimed and mouthed the words, “One, two, three,” and pushed his hand out, simulating pushing the door open. He swung the flashlight onto the boys’s faces, both pale as ghosts, but they were also both slowly nodding their heads. Adam smiled.

He handed the flashlight to Phil then pulled his wooden sword from stretched out belt loop behind his back. Holding up one finger, then two, then three, he pushed the door open. Phil pointed the flashlight through the doorway as something hissed then moaned in a voice like a small electric motor left on for too long. A set of deep red eyes glared at them in the light and the boys saw a dark grey body, long fingers with sharp, curved nails stabbing into the half eaten body of a gray tomcat. The creature hissed again and reared back on its haunches. The eyes, peering out of a giant rat face, were now almost even in height with their own, and then a second set of eyes appeared, and teeth covered in blood and cat guts.

“Holy shit,” Adam said. “It’s got two heads.” Oliver started to scream, which caused Phil to scream. Adam pushed them back out of the doorway and pulled the door closed. From inside, Adam thought he heard a hissing laugh.

“Let’s go!” Phil pleaded, practically singing in fear. Oliver, who was panting and looked immobilized, just stared at the door.

Adam heard a scratching noise from the back of the garage and saw a claw come through a broken window, followed quickly by a rat head, covered in cat blood, and a second head that turned towards him. Its eyes glowed red, even without the flashlight shining on them.

“Run guys,” Adam said, softly. He swallowed as the creature clambered through the window and landed heavily on the ground. “Run!” he yelled. Phil immediately bolted for the front of the house. Adam, looking at the rat over his shoulder, took several quick steps before he realized that Oliver was standing still, mesmerized by the nightmare rushing towards him. Adam reached for Oliver’s arm and pulled, snapping him out of his trance, and the two of them ran for the front of the house—but it was too late.

The rat pounced on Oliver, knocking him to the ground. He landed with a yelp on his stomach. One of the heads screamed fiercely at Adam, who stopped as Oliver fell. One of the rat heads dropped hard onto Oliver’s side. Its several inch long teeth sliced through his skin, muscle, and ribs. Oliver shrieked in pain. The head that had screamed at Adam reared up, then sunk its teeth into the back of Oliver’s neck.

Adam raised his wooden sword and dove at the creature, bringing it down with a crack on the skull that was biting Oliver’s neck. The creature’s head lolled then it looked up at Adam and howled in a sick, whining scream. A wickedly fast claw lashed out, smacking the sword out of Adam’s hand and sending him stumbling backward. He landed on the ground, smacking his head on the cement foundation to the house. Without his helmet, he would have been knocked out completely. He saw lights dancing in front of his eyes and four bright red stars, getting bigger, coming nearer.

Adam heard a yell from somewhere outside his field of vision and then another terrifying scream from the heads of the rat.

“You got it Jason!” Charlie yelled, and the rat thing turned, hissing, and tore away, rushing for the backyard.

“It’s getting away!” Phil screamed, and Adam heard the rat dive through the hedgerow.

Adam sat up. Charlie helped pull him to his feet.

“What happened,” Adam said.

“Jason buried the machete in that thing’s back as it was getting ready to attack you,” Charlie said. “Then it took off.”

“Oh shit! Oh shit!” Phil said. He was holding Adam’s flashlight on Oliver.

“What!?” Adam said. “Is he okay?” He half staggered over to Oliver, who was lying on the ground, not moving, the puddle of blood under him slowly expanding.

Phil said. “I think he’s dead!”

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Chapter 12 – Stakeout!

Phil sat Indian style on the ground behind a garbage can a few houses down from Ashley’s under a burned out street lamp. He opened a chewy granola bar, the wrapper crinkling loudly, and earned a scowl from Adam. Phil shrugged and stuffed half the granola bar in his mouth. Adam growled to himself.

“We’re going north first, probably to Hashman Street. If you spot anything, wave this at us,” Adam said, handing an LED flashlight to Phil. Phil jammed the rest of the bar into his mouth and grabbed the flashlight. He pressed a red button on the light and swirled the beam around on his hand, then clicked it off, and gave Adam a thumbs-up.

Adam and Oliver, each taking a side of the alley, walked slowly and, Oliver hoped, silently north, peering into backyards and listening for any signs of movement. Adam was somewhat surprised by how still and quiet the neighborhood was. No dogs barked. No cats scurried across the pavement. The only noise was the occasional car passing on a cross street.

“This is kinda creepy,” Oliver said. The sun had been down for a while, and although the moon was out, it didn’t seem to have much strength that night, so the only light was from the windows of houses and the occasional garage lamp. Adam nodded.

They reached the intersection where the alley met Willow Street, and Adam looked back down the alley. Phil had turned the flashlight on and was wiggling the light on the fence across from where he was sitting.

“Fucking moron,” Adam hissed to himself.

“What?” Oliver asked.

“Nothin’. Just watching that idiot down the alley giving his position away to any fucking thing that’s stalking the night looking for a snack,” Adam said.

“Oh. Yeah, that’s probably not good. You want me to go tell him to knock it off,” Oliver offered.

“Sure. I’m heading up a bit further. You wait for me with the dumb-shit, then we’ll do the southern sector,” Adam said. Oliver nodded, smiling, and headed off, quickly but quietly, he hoped.

The alley between Willow and Hashman was gravel instead of pavement, so Adam had to step more carefully. Unfortunately, there were even fewer lights, so he was constantly scuffing his shoes and making what he thought of as an unholy racket. He blamed his lack of stealth, of course, on the dumb-shit down the alley who had ruined his concentration by his amateurish shenanigans.

“Goddam fucking moron. I’m gonna kick his ass tomorrow, just for good…” he mumbled, then stepped on something squishy in a shadow. As he bent down, the smell of rot wafted up to his nose, undoubtedly stirred into action by his careless step. It appeared to be part of another possum, but the head and most of the guts where gone.

Out of the corner of his eye, Adam caught a fleck of light. He turned toward his team and saw the flashlight waving frantically. His chest stiffened and his fingers went cold. Wiping any gore that might be still on his shoe into a tuft of grass, Adam stuffed his hands into his coat pockets and paced, quickly and meaningfully, towards the waving light. He paused at Willow, looked both ways, and jogged quickly across the street.

“Goddam it, you’ve got my attention. Now get back in cover you fucks!” he grumbled. “We need a protocol meeting, fucking tomorrow.”

Adam paced quickly, but not too quickly, towards Phil and Oliver. Once they spotted him, Oliver tapped Phil’s arm and Phil shut the light off. Adam shook his head.

“Give me that goddam flashlight,” he hissed, and snatched the light from Phil’s hand, who looked a bit hurt. “Now what’s so fucking important? I was looking at a kill down there!”

“Down the other way, maybe halfway down the alley, a cat screamed,” Oliver whispered.

“Sounded serious,” Phil said.

“Okay—Oliver, send a note to Mikey and Charlie. Tell them to stay put, but that we heard something that we’re gonna check out. Then you follow us, once you’ve heard back from them. And you, dumb-ass, you come with me.”

“What? Why am I a dumb-ass?” Phil asked.

“’Cuz you’re supposed to be on a stakeout—staying hidden—and your puttin’ on a fuckin’ light show for the whole goddam world to watch.” Adam said this through teeth, which really didn’t want to part. “Now shut up, and let’s go see what’s chomping on that kitty.”

They walked quickly to the cross street, slowing drastically after crossing the road. Adam motioned for Phil to take the right hand side, and he took the left. They walked carefully, looking between fence planks and behind garbage cans. Suddenly, a bright flood light came on as Phil stepped behind a garage. Adam heard Phil breath in deeply, then turn his face towards Adam, but the light was so bright behind him that Adam could see Phil’s face.

“Motion detector,” Adam said. He saw Phil’s silhouette nod.

“Hey Adam, look on the ground,” Phil said as the light on the garage went out.

Adam clicked his flashlight on and spotted a splatter of fresh blood. He followed the drops with his light up to an overgrown hedge. Adam turned towards Oliver and waved the flashlight around. He wasn’t certain if Oliver had seen or not, but he turned the light off after just a few seconds, not wanting to alert whatever was on the other side of the hedge.

“I think that’s the Borstein’s backyard,” Phil whispered. The Borstein house had sat empty for nearly five years. Adam walked further down the hedge and until he came to the wooden gate near the center of the hedgerow.

“Locked,” he said. Climbing over the hedge in the dark was going to be tough—and noisy. “Let’s collect the newbie and walk around to the front. Easier than trying to climb this shit.” Phil nodded.

They got back to the cross street as Oliver was just coming out of Ashley’s alley.

“We’re going round the front of the Borstein place,” Phil said.

“Something left a trail of blood up to their hedge behind the yard. Makes sense that something would be hanging there. Place has been empty for a while,” Adam said. “Can you send a note to the guys letting them know we’re closing in on whatever it is!”

Oliver nodded and started typing, taking some uneven steps between words, but quickly falling behind Adam and Oliver. Adam pocketed his flashlight and pulled the strap on his helmet as tight as he could. It was action time.

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Chapter 11 – Goodbye Motorbike Bill

Motorbike Bill spent the majority of Saturday driving through Broken Ankle Point on his bike looking for Alice. He knew she was there. A psychic had told him so, and not just some two-bit psychic, either. A professional, upscale psychic, registered with the Work Board and everything. She’d said that Alice was in Broken Ankle Point, and that Bill would find her. She also said that he would get the justice that he deserved, and being of a somewhat bent persuasion, Bill assumed that meant he’d get to knock her on her ass in front of a crowd of people, just like she’d done to him before stealing all his cash and ditching town.

Bill wasn’t very bright.

So Bill, knowing what little information he knew, headed for a city of nearly a million souls (not necessarily all human, mind you) and figured he’d spot Alice walking the streets. He hoped this would happen before lunch. After several hours of roaring up and down the main streets of town, scowling at anyone who looked his way, Bill gave up and headed for the filthiest looking bar he could find, and The Rat Hole met his expectations. (It was owned by Matty “Rat Face” Tillbrook, a former biker who’d hit a minor lottery jackpot, winning enough cash to buy an abandoned bar and, after two years, drive it back into the ground. It now stayed in business primarily thanks to the illegal drug trade that Matty ran out of the back room.) Bill proceeded to sit alone in a booth, angrily ordering some fried food and a pair of whiskey shots. Truth be told, however, he felt remarkably at home in that thoroughly unwholesome atmosphere. By the time Bill had finished sulking, the sun had set, and he’d downed enough hundred proof to floor the average citizen. He tossed a buck on the table (for which the ancient bartender secretly flipped him the bird) and headed for the door, listing only slightly.

He paced towards his bike. The streets were partially lit by the beer signs in the window of The Rat Hole, and by a flickering amber bulb in the tall lamp on the corner across the street, but the area beyond the neon glow was mostly shadow. A movement in the shadows caught Bill’s attention and he paused just before trying to throw his leg over the seat of his bike. He swayed slightly, trying to focus on an area of black that seemed to be moving a bit more than the buildings and sidewalks.

A tall figure, too thin, and too much covered in shadow, moved close enough towards Bill that the neon imposed a vague, chalk-like definition, but the man (or whatever he was) seemed even more out of focus than Bill thought he should.

“A lovely night, isn’t it friend?” said a soft hiss of a voice. A voice like ice cracking or bone being whittled away by dry, sandy winds.

“You a fag? I ain’t into that,” Bill said. He still couldn’t focus on the man. At least he thought it was a man.

Sharkey would have smelled that it wasn’t a man. Alice would have felt and seen that it wasn’t a man.

Bill wasn’t very bright, even when he hadn’t drunk half a bottle of rot gut.

The man that wasn’t a man laughed. A dry leaves against tree branches laugh.

“No, I’m not a fag, Motorbike Bill.” The voice was still soft, still a hiss. Bill crawled off his bike, without realizing he’d done it.

“How the fuck you know my name?”

Again the laugh that wasn’t a laugh from the man that wasn’t a man. Bill started to move back a step, but stopped himself. He wasn’t a fuckin’ coward, no matter how weird a motherfucker was.

“That’s right, Bill. You’re not afraid. You’re never afraid, are you?”

“What you want, man? I got shit to do,” Bill said. His whiskey soaked blood felt cold, but he wasn’t going to be talked shit at by a fucking shadow.

“Of course you have ‘shit’ to do,” the creature said, “and I can help you. You’re looking for a woman.”

Bill swayed, but didn’t say anything. The thing laughed, like paper rotting in an attic.

“Not only can I help you find her,” said the creature as he moved several steps closer and too quickly for Bill to react, “but I can help you punish her.” It reached out an arm, flexing long, grotesquely thin fingers, like spider’s legs with too many joints. It grabbed Bill’s shoulder. The other hand reached around Bill’s skull, stabbing a long, thin fingertip into his brain.

Bill felt a rush of heat, of pleasure. His world began to glow, and the spidery creature in front of him flashed in front of his eyes, brighter than the neon. The pleasure increased as the creature continued to pump venom into Bill’s body. He could feel himself burning up, from the inside out. He wanted to scream, but couldn’t move.

Slowly, but inevitably, Motorbike Bill dissolved, and Nightmare Bill took his place.

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Chapter 10 – The Knights of 58th Street

Adam had Philip walk Ashley home—she wouldn’t stop crying—while he and Oliver searched several other alleys in the neighborhood. They found half a squirrel two blocks over, between 53rd and 54th, and a mutilated raccoon a block further on. Adam called an emergency meeting of the Knights of 58th Street at sunset to strategize on the best method for catching whatever was making a buffet out of the neighborhood animals. A stakeout was unanimously declared the best course of action.

Charles, Mikey, and Oliver all had cell phones, so the group was split into three units. It was decided that text messaging was quieter than walkie-talkies, and therefore more appropriate for surveillance, although Adam was a bit disappointed by this decision. He felt that walkie-talkies were more “professional” than plain, old texting, but he was out voted. Because of this occurrence, he was starting to think that democracy might not be the best organizational style for the Knights—but he could explore that thought more thoroughly at a later date. Tonight they had work to do.

“Okay,” Adam said to the group, “the sun’s about down. Let’s get this fuckin’ show on the road. Charlie, you and Jason hoof down to 53rd and set up about half way down the alley.”

Charlie and Jason nodded, and Adam once again hungrily eyed the machete that Jason had stolen from his Dad’s garage. Adam had tried to pull a power move and say that the leader should carry the strongest weapon, but Jason had threatened to take it back home if Adam kept badgering him about it. Adam had conceded. One good weapon was better than no good weapons, even if he wasn’t in charge of it.

“Mikey, you and Freddy take 57th,” Adam said, once he’d stopped coveting Jason’s blade. “We didn’t find nothin’ this far from Ashley’s street yet, but the thing’s been chewin’ through the animals down further, so it might need to come this way to find fresh meat.”

“Got it,” Freddy said. Mikey gave a thumbs-up.

“Oliver and Phil, you guys are with me. We’re heading back to Ashley’s alley to try walkin’ north and south a few blocks. See if we can’t spot our perp,” Adam said.

“Okay, but…” Oliver started to say. Everyone turned and looked at him. But wasn’t heard very often at Knights’ meetings.

“But what, rookie,” Adam said, coldly.

“But I’m supposed to be home before ten,” Oliver said, his voice trailing off and his cheeks turning into apples.

“You’re shitting me,” Adam said after a pause. His lip twitched and his eyes narrowed to lasers.

“Why didn’t you tell your parents you were staying the night with somebody?” Charlie asked. “That’s standard stuff, man.”

Jason shook his head sadly.

“I couldn’t! We’re going…” Oliver caught himself before saying where. He swallowed. He loved his grandparents, but going to visit them instead of fighting monsters didn’t sound very cool.

“I don’t care if you’re going to a fucking petting zoo. We’ve got a JOB to finish!” Adam shouted. “Seriously, Oliver, if you hadn’t found that possum carcass this morning, I’d toss your ass out that fucking window right now!”

Oliver’s head swung down until his chin was practically touching his chest.

“You’re going to be late. We’ve only got three cell phones between us, and since you fuckers voted against the walkies, that’s how we’re going to stay in touch.”

“But I’ll get grounded!” Oliver pleaded.

Adam glared at him for a second. “You make your decision. The rest of us got a monster to kill. You guys ready?” Everybody confirmed, mostly eager to get away from the shame radiating from the new guy.

“Okay! Check in every 30. Sooner if you spot somethin’. Let’s go!” Adam banged his wooden sword on the floor and everyone got up, except Oliver. The group crawled through the trap door and down, out of the tree house. Philip stopped as he was climbing down the ladder and gave Adam a quizzical look. Adam waved for Phil to keep going, and then he held up two fingers, silently saying, “Give me two minutes.”

Philip slipped out of the tree house. Adam walked over to Oliver, who wasn’t quite crying, and patted him on the shoulder.

“Look man,” Adam said, “I know you’ve got some detection skills. Saw that today. But this club ain’t for everyone. Sometimes we have to break rules. You know, for the good of shit. That’s who we are.”

“I know,” Oliver said. “I’ll be late. Let’s go.” He stood up.

“That’s right, my man. Maybe you’ll be grounded next week, but tonight we’re going to kick some monster ass!” Adam smacked Oliver on the shoulder again, then steered him toward the trap door. As Oliver climbed down, Adam pulled the chin strap on his helmet as tight as he could get it, walked over to the podium and grabbed his sword, then headed for the ladder, smiling like a cat who got the fuckin’ canary.

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Chapter 9 – Sharkey Meets Alice

Sharkey parked his sedan and tossed his hat on the seat before closing his car door. It was already 4:30, so he was half an hour late meeting up with Jensen and Schitt, but he’d sent them a text saying he was running behind. He had Schitt order a rare burger for him that would undoubtedly be cold by the time he got to it.

Sharkey pushed open the door to Speak-E.Z.s and stepped into the dimly lit pub. A few regulars gave him half-hearted “hello” waves before curling back around their drinks. A girl with long blond hair, who Sharkey didn’t recognize, wearing jeans and a white t-shirt, got up from her bar-stool. She dropped a fifty on the counter and headed for the door. She glanced at Sharkey as she passed him and smiled. As soon as he caught her scent, his eyes went wide. He smelled magic.

He hadn’t smelled it in years, but it’s not something he was likely to forget. The last time he’d tussled with a witch, he’d lost a partner. A witch in town was bad news, if not for anything she was up to, then because of the things she might attract. The Hungry Things. Sharkey was certain that her scent hadn’t been at the apartment, but whatever had made that mess might have been lured to town by her.

The girl pushed through the door and out into the afternoon sun. He was tempted to follow her—ask her what she was up to, (witches were always up to something,) but he heard Schitt yelling from their regular booth.

“Hey Shark! Your burgers got icicles hangin’ off it. You can chase your tail later!” Sharkey swallowed, hard, then walked over to the booth.

“Poisitive I.D. on the dental for all four vics,” Jensen said.

“Any surprises?” Sharkey asked. He waved his paw at Janice behind the bar and held up two claws (with some difficulty—paws weren’t meant to work that way,) and Janice nodded.

“It was the tenant’s niece and her friends,” Jensen said.

Sharkey nodded, chewing on his frozen burger.

“What’s our theory for this one? Ritual murder?” Schitt asked. Janice set two beers in front of Sharkey and patted him on the shoulder.

“Forensics found missing organs—hearts, brains. We’re thinking demonic slaying,” Jensen said.

Sharkey glanced back at the door. The witch’s scent was still strong in the room. “I’ve got a different theory,” he said, then took another bite of his burger.

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Chapter 8 – Adam Goes to Work

Adam, adjusting his helmet for the tenth time in as many minutes, led the way towards Ashley Holmes’s alley, though he wasn’t one hundred percent certain of where he was going. Philip, Ashley, and Oliver followed. Adam told Oliver to come along so he could see how a REAL investigation was handled.

“Okay, Ashley, let’s see that stiff cat!” Adam said, as he steered the group into what he hoped was the right alley.

Ashley’s face went red and she glared at Adam, who looked surprised and shrugged.

“What?” he said.

“Ashley’s dad already buried the cat, Adam,” Philip said.

“You’ve got to be shitting me,” Adam said, his mouth hanging open. Philip shook his head, lowering it slightly, reverentially, as he noticed a tear welling up in Ashley’s eye.

“Well, let’s grab a shovel and…” Adam started to say.

“No way! You’re sick!” Ashley yelled.

Adam took a deep breath. “How the fuck can I tell what killed little Mittens if I can’t look at the corpse?” Adam said as calmly and menacingly as he could. “That’s why girls aren’t allowed in the Knights,” he thought. “No understanding of method.”

“Her name was Mitsy,” Ashley said in a hoarse whisper, and she broke into quiet tears.

A disgusted look slid across Adam’s face. You try to help someone and this is the kind of shit you have to put up with.

“Hey Adam! Come look at this!” Oliver called from about halfway down the alley. He’d scouted ahead to look for clues, hoping to get back on Adam’s good side.

As Philip hugged Ashley, ugh…, Adam adjusted his helmet and paced in what he hoped looked like a professional manner toward Oliver, who was leaning over, examining something next to a garbage can. Adam smelled the rotting meat before he could see the carcass.

“What ya’ got?” he said, sliding up to Oliver.

“I think it was a ‘possum. Big one, too,” Oliver said.

“Yowzers,” Adam said. “Look at the bite out of its face! Crunched right through the skull! And the guts are torn completely out!”

Large chunks of the animal were missing. Clearly, something big, maybe the size of a dog, Adam thought, had torn the ‘possum apart.

“Good find,” Adam said, smacking Oliver on the back. Oliver blushed. “Hey Mulan, bring the sprinkler down here. I want to know if this is what her dumb cat looked like when she found it!” he yelled down the alley. “Looks like we got us a case, brother,” Adam said with a grin, and he smacked Oliver on the back again.

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