|A Grueson in The City
Author: Paul Kleihege PM
A monster that hunts monsters can find a lot of work in a place like The City...Rated: Fiction T - English - Supernatural/Horror - Chapters: 4 - Words: 16,116 - Reviews: 4 - Follows: 2 - Updated: 03-10-13 - Published: 01-06-13 - id: 3089797
|A+ A- Full 3/4 1/2 Expand Tighten|
Michael carried his duffel bag onto the bus. He'd gotten there early, in part because he didn't like being late, partially because he wanted to secure a seat near the back for himself, but mostly because he had no where better to be.
He sighed as he settled into a seat far in the back of the luxury, long distance travel bus. He was, for the first time in the last ten years, leaving the City. And it wasn't even on business! He was on, get this, vacation. Michael was still replaying the conversation that led to this moment in his head...
"Thanks," croaked Leonard (the middle manager from the black lagoon) as Michael handed him the bag. "You made sure the fries were fresh?"
"Yes, Lenny," Michael sighed.
"Where's my soda?"
"I drank it."
"Yeah, Lenny, I was thirsty. It was an hour drive."
"Drive faster next time," Lenny growled. "Which one did you go to?"
"The one on fifth."
"It was on my way."
"But there's another one a block from here!"
Michael rolled his eyes. "Lenny, in the time it took me to drive down here, you could have gone there yourself and gotten your own damn food." Lenny threw up his arms and gestured basically to his entire upper torso. "Okay, yeah, sorry," Michael sighed.
Leonard was Michael's, for lack of a better term, boss. Really, he just told Michael what he was told to tell Michael by his own superiors, known as the Echelon. Leonard, or Lenny as he was often referred to to his own great chagrin, was a towering, seven foot monster. There was no mistaking him for anything else. He was covered head to toe in deeply green, almost black scales. His sunken, coal black eyes always seemed to catch the light, shining with an intelligence that belied his size, shape, and general mass. Michael knew full well that Lenny could, when upset or getting directly involved, lift a Hummer clear over his head. And then throw it a good distance. He knew because he had seen it. That was probably the last time the driver would park over a manhole cover.
He also had an appetite for greasy food, a wizardly skill with numbers, and a specially made pair of librarian-like, horned rimmed glasses that stayed on his head through methods man was probably not meant to know. He didn't always wear the glasses.
Right now, he was sitting at his desk in his office. Office of course being the most applicable term to the carved out room they were sitting in. A desk, some chairs, a phone line, and a single, solitary desk lamp sat in a small room right off a major sewer line. How it was never discovered by City sanitation workers, Michael never knew. Did the City even HAVE sanitation workers?
Regardless, Lenny dug into his food as he got a file out of his desk drawer. "Okay, so your job this time, let's see..." He took the time to lick some grease off his fingers with an alarmingly bright, cherry red tongue before continuing. "Ah, yeah. Here."
"A bus ticket?" Michael asked, taking them from the scaly hand that offered them. "What's this for?"
Michael stared blankly at Lenny. "You have to be kidding me."
"Nope," Lenny said with a twisting of his horrifying features that may have indicated a smile. "It's been approved and everything."
"What part of this is so hard to understand?"
"The part where all of it."
"Don't you think you deserve a vacation?"
Michael paused. "That's a trap."
"Yeah, but the question still stands."
"Where will this bus ticket get me?"
Lenny arched an eyebrow (which looked a bit like an arch bridge collapsing in reverse) and glanced inside the folder he had pulled it from. "The final destination is a cute little B and B somewhere on the East Coast. Massachusetts, I think."
Michael just sort of stared, not really at anything, but more into the future, trying to figure out what was going on. "I... I don't things."
"Understand," Michael finally decided on his word.
"It's... look, Mike, I can't really make this any clearer," Lenny sighed.
Lenny rolled his eyes, a gesture which, as has already been stated, was somewhat pointless. "Mike, seriously, get the hell out of the City for a few days. Take some time to recharge your batteries, AND YES," he snapped, cutting off Michael's interruption, "I KNOW you are not Frank, it's a figure of speech. Greg can handle the City for a week while you're out of town."
Michael stared at the ticket, then back up to Lenny, and then down to the ticket. "... is something going on?"
"Is something in the City happening that you don't want me around for?"
"Mike, that's ridiculous. It's going to be a pretty slow month. February usually is."
"What about Sinter Klaus?"
"We're not making any moves on him this year."
"Nope," Lenny said firmly. "Trust me, I'd like another shot at the bastard just as badly as you, but not this year. Direct orders from the Chairman himself."
"What about the Door-to-Doors?"
"Like I said, Greg will handle it if it needs handling."
"He's in the middle of finals!"
"And certain things take priority over his little mortal concerns," Lenny growled. "He KNOWS that. He is a good employee. Good employees take their goddamn vacations when they are goddamn TOLD to, Mike."
Michael sighed. "Okay, fine. You win."
"That was never in question," Lenny said in a matter-of-fact tone, which was impressive when you considered that his voice sounded like the death rattle of a drowning wooly mammoth. "The bus leaves in a few hours. I advise you pack appropriately."
Michael sighed as he got up to leave, and was struck by a thought at the door. "What IS appropriate to pack for a vacation?"
"Go away now, Mike."
And Michael promptly did. A few hours later would see him obediently board a bus with several other passengers. He had a set of headphones on, but no music playing. He didn't own anything that would play music, but it served to make people leave him alone, and gave him the chance to do what he wanted to do, which was watch the other people boarding the bus. Some habits died hard.
There was the single mother and her son. She wore the tired expression, unattached wedding ring, and the sentimental dog tags of a war-widowed woman. Her son was bright and cheerful, likely almost entirely for his mother's sake, and felt it his duty to protect her, despite his size and age. He wasn't unintentionally putting himself between other people and her, at least. Michael could recognize that much.
There was a businessman, or an accountant, or something. A flat, cost-effective suit and a functional briefcase and a cellphone that seemed perpetually attached to either his hand or his head. He wore a wedding ring as well, and Michael was reminded briefly of Max. This was a different man, though. It was obvious in the two calls he placed to his own home before the bus got moving.
Four younger kids, probably early to late teens, were always attempting to be the center of attention. Likely they were on this trip for a reason similar to Michael's own: to be out of the way while something important got done. Three boys, football players by the look of them, and one girl, in all probability the quarterback's girlfriend. They were not quiet or subtle. Reading them was as easy as finding a neon light in Las Vegas.
An older couple joined the ride. Well, when Michael assigned them the word older, it was relative to the other riders of the bus. Michael was the oldest passenger by far, but the husband and wife with the vacation grade luggage were easily over fifty, but probably younger than sixty. Now that their kids had gone off to college, they were traveling around. Perhaps for them, the bus was a trip home, but anything was possible. Their luggage bore stickers from New York, Chicage, Mexico, and even the City itself.
And then came the woman. Average height, average looks, but elegant. Refined. She held herself with a regality that only came to very ancient women in positions of power. With crowns. Her long hair existed almost exclusively to hide a physical feature, and Michael knew, at first sight, what she really was.
"Son of a bitch," Michael muttered, "and this is my vacation?"
The woman walked down the aisle, every step she took making Michael wish she'd just sit down and stop coming toward him. No luck, as she took the seat across from him. She had the decency to stay quiet until the bus began to move and they were well outside the City limits before Michael picked up his head and acknowledged her.
"So," he asked, popping one of his earphones out, "is this going to be a thing?"
"I was just going to ask you the same thing," the woman said in a low, unamused but sultry voice. "I was almost sure I smelled an Echelon lap dog on this bus."
"I'm on vacation," Michael growled.
"Oh," she said, brightening up instantly "so am I! How wonderful!"
"You get a vacation?" he asked.
"YOU get a vacation?"
"Valid point," Michael nodded. "It was news to me. So what the hell is an Elf doing this far south?"
"Is it that obvious?" the Elf asked, a little sheepishly.
"Only to me," he shrugged. "Humans see what they want to see."
"Isn't that the truth?" she chuckled, extending a polite hand. "My name is Oswald."
Michael looked down at her hand, then at her. "Oswald?"
She nodded, glaring up to the front of the bus as the noise level from the teenagers spiked. "Yeah, I know. Not the most... appropriate name for a woman. But, hey, that's Elf traditions for you."
Michael had to agree there. Elf traditions, like most things Elfish, made little to no sense to everyone else, but were held in fierce regard by the Elf race as a whole. Given their constant state of indentured servitude, they felt, one might suppose, that it was a way to hold onto a racial identity. The particular tradition that had saddled Oswald with her somewhat odd name was a particular quirk among all Elf kind that manifested in the belief that a family name was just that: the family's name. Oswald was probably one of dozens of Oswalds, boy and girl and man and matron alike, and to make it even more confusing from the outside looking in, they were all related. To Michael, this mattered very, very little, and yet she was still talking. In the interest of being at least basic levels of polite, he started to listen again.
"...I mean" she was saying, "I see another Monster on a bus, I say 'Hi', y'know?"
She gave him an appraising look. "You're kind of rude, ain't you?"
"Yes," Michael sighed. "Look, it's nothing personal, but... I don't get along well with anyone that might be lunch later. And since that's, well, everyone, I'm not a very sociable person."
Oswald rolled her eyes. "Look, honey, sociable saves your life in this world. You need friends to pull you through the rough patches."
"I have friend." Michael countered.
"Don't you mean friends?"
"Not really. Just the one."
"That's sad, sweetie," she sad, shaking her head. "It's okay, though. I can be a friend! What's you name?"
Michael blinked a few times, unsure if this was actually happening or if he might have dozed off and been in the throes of a feverish dream. "Michael."
"Well, that's a nice name, Michael. Do your friends call you Mike?"
"Friend," Michael insisted.
"Well, I'll have to insist you use the plural from now on, because Mike, I'm going to be your friend!"
Michael stared at her for a moment. "I... can't imagine how that would be possible."
"Why?" she asked plainly. "Just because we work for different teams?"
"Yeah, pretty much. I get ordered to kill people like you."
She smirked. "Oh, really, a lot of Elf genocide on your docket, is there?"
"Well... no, not so much," he had to admit. "But the principal still stands. You work for a greed devouring demon who's wormed his way into the good graces of humanity."
"Yeah," she nodded, "but YOU work for a paranoid power hungry cabal of Machiavellian ego balloons who all believe they have humanity's best interests at heart when all they're really doing is covering their own asses and using otherwise innocent Monsters to do it."
"But... okay, yeah."
"So what do you do for the Echelon, Mikey?" she asked, then screwed up her face in disgust. "Nope, there is is. There's the line. JUST Mike, no Mikey," she said to herself.
"I was on Prevention for a long time, but I recently got transferred to the City for Exterminations."
"Well, that sounds exciting," she said wistfully. "The only promotion I got in the last forty years was a move from painting to assembly." There was a pause from her Michael silently wished would last for eternity, but no dice. "Do you meet interesting people?" she asked.
"Yes," he said flatly. "And then I have to kill them."
"Not really. They usually try to kill me back."
"Well, hey, at least you won't have any of that right now," she said with a smile.
She stared at him for a moment. "Because you're on vacation, Mike. No one tries to kill you when you're on vacation."
"You need to relax, Mike," Oswald said, opening up her somewhat modest carry-on bag. "I brought chips. Did you want chips?"
"No," Michael told her. Then she opened the bag and waved it at him. He tried to resist. He really did, but eventually he stuck his hand in the bag as his face screwed up in surrendering frustration. "We're still not friends," was all he could manage in the way of gratitude before he took his hand, now full of chips, out of the bag.
Oswald shrugged. "So, we agree to disagree."
They sat in silence for a while, listening to the noise everyone else on the bus was making, and listening to the wheels turn on the road. Eventually, no more words traded between them, Michael hunched up in his seat, putting his head in his arm. "Wake me up when we get to whatever god forsaken hell hole we're going to," he muttered.
"You bet, buddy," she said brightly. She took an older book out of her carry-on bag and began to read as Michael forced himself to drift off into sleep, remembering to turn on a book light in his backpack before he really did doze off, letting it shine at his side of the bus, just to be safe.
A dreamless, broken and bumpy sleep was ended eventually by Oswald, carefully shaking Michael's shoulder. "Mike," she was saying, "wake up... something's wrong."
Michael shook himself into full awareness. His book light was still shining on him, so he blinked a few times at the brightness and shut it off. "What?" he asked, groggily.
A finger invaded his vision, pointing out the window his head had ended up resting against. "What?" he asked again, annoyed, looking out the window. At nothing. Confusion washed through Michael's brain before realization washed through to kick him fully awake. "What the hell?"
Beyond the window was white. Thick, cloying, all encompassing white. The bus was still moving, and no one seemed very concerned. Was it a fog? Then why was Oswald so agitated. Michael began to ask, but Oswald cut him off.
"Do you SMELL that?" she asked.
And there WAS a smell. Like the fog, it was thick and cloying, and smelled like a copper sewage pipe heated to a thousand degrees. And even now, on the edge of hearing...
"Oh shit," Michel said out loud, not meaning to. "Where are we?"
"The last road sign I saw was talking about the mountain toll road-"
"GRAB ONTO SOMETHING!" Michael shouted to the bus, shooting to his feet. He barely had time to wrap an arm around the empty seat in front of him and brace with one leg against his own before a tremendous roar from something outside tore through the bus and the vehicle pitched sideways under a sudden, heavy impact.
Oswald managed to brace herself enough that she only fell hard onto Michael as the bus began to roll, the glass behind him exploding from the impact of the ground. But as their momentum continued, and it dawn on Michael that their bus was now rolling down a hill, maybe off a cliff, he wrapped his other arm around Oswald's neck to keep her from flailing as gravity literally turned upside down. When the top of the bus hit the ground and the vehicle bounced airborne again, he risked a look up to see the other passengers, some of which had managed to grab a hold and at least one, though he couldn't tell who, hit the ceiling.
Bags and bodies tumbled as the bus continued to roll, and the screaming only served to amplify the noise of the bus as it continued rolling. One more bounce, and something tremendous hit the rear of the bus (or, most probably, the other way around), and Michael and Oswald became dislodged as a large part of the rear of the bus crumpled inward like tin foil. Now tumbling end over end, the bus next smashed front first into the ground before, finally, groaning metal and screaming people came altogether to a stop as it fell for one last time on its roof.
And Michael's world went black.
It was hours, possibly a day later when Michael woke up. He had no way to be sure. All he could tell was that is was dark. So very dark.
In the darkness, Michael became something else entirely. Due to his heritage, he stopped observing the world in the way you or I might, and began using much different senses for much more basic purposes. To him, now, in the dark, the world was chalk lines of varying colors, representing sound, life, and smell. In the pitch black, he could clearly make out the wreckage of the bus he was trapped inside. One of the seats had become dislodged in the final crash and had trapped him beneath it. Had being the operative world.
With inexorable, undeniable, and above all powerful force, the bus, or what was left of it, came apart like paper. Michael took some pleasure in working off a little aggression by turning the wreckage into its own scrapyard. It was easy, effortless. Now, he felt, he was hungry. He briefly wondered where the Elf, or even the passengers had gotten to. They might make for a nice snack.
Something caught his attention. Near the impact point, the smell of death. Never one to pass up good carrion, he looked into it. Ah, the bus driver. There had been no hope for him, in the crash. The impact with the ground had fused him to the steering wheel, and then to the ground. What was left was barely recognizable. Michael took a few opportune bites, and decided to try and find better, more interesting prey.
The dead never did much for his hunger. Not in the dark. The living, filled as they were with warm meat and fluids, were much more satisfying. A little known fact of the human condition is that no two bodies will bleed the same way, or even the same amount, when cut in the same place with an impossibly sharp... not claw, but rather the fleeting idea of a claw, should Michael decide to have one in the heat of the moment.
The lines in the darkness moved and shook as he moved about, a terrifying idea in the night. Nothing could escape his notice, or his appetite. Sure, most of the smaller, furry animals could sense something like him from miles away, but there was always the sick and the elderly. After a brief encounter with a family of deer and the subsequent annihilation of their immediate family tree, Michael noticed something else in the dark.
A presence. A living person. Out there and alone. Interesting. The heartbeat was almost a mile away, but in the pitch darkness of a moonless night, especially one shrouded in such a deep fog, the mile was covered almost instantly.
It held a light, and immediately a part of his mind recoiled. Light made him less than what he was. It made him almost normal. Mortal. Light made him the hunted instead of the hunter, and this was unacceptable. Maybe a whispered growl could frighten the creature into discarding its light? Then it would be simple to claim the meal.
Still, though, another part of him rebelled. It was the part that lived in the light. The unceasingly human side of him. It wanted to speak with this creature. It wanted to discover answers to its nigh infinite number of questions. It wanted to be in control.
But the one thing Michael of the dark and Michael of the light could agree on, and why he ultimate chose to step forward, was that he wanted revenge. Revenge on those responsible for ruining his nap. His vacation, and, Michael of the dark had to supply, an opportunity for a good meal.
"Hello?" he ventured, stepping into the light.
The figure with the flashlight spun around. "Who... Mike?"
"Oswald?" Michael asked, holding a hand up to shield his eyes. "What the hell are you doing out here?"
As his vision adjusted, he saw the horrified look on her face. "You... you were dead! I'm sure of it! The impact... the... your rib cage was crushed! How are you up and around?" she demanded.
Michael shrugged. "I'm a Monster, remember?"
"Still... wow, I thought you were a goner."
"Where are the others? The people from the bus?"
Oswald shook her head. "I have no idea, Mike. I spent the last four hours trying to find everything on the bus that was useful for a long hike and figured I'd find my way back to the road."
"Did you go through my duffel bag?" Michael asked. When she nodded, he approached her and held out a hand. "May I have my bat, then?"
"You're not going to hit me with it, are you?" she asked, holding a duct tape wrapped baseball bat up in her other hand.
"No," he said, taking the bat away from her. "But I swear I'm gonna find a use for it."
"Why do you have that thing anyway? Were you really expecting to run into some villainous Monster out in the middle of nowhere?"
Michael shrugged. "That's where most of them ARE."
"Okay, yeah, fair enough," Oswald said, attempting to laugh. It just felt awkward to her, though. "So what are you going to do?" she asked.
"Well," Michael sighed, "first, I'm going to go back to the bus and see if I can track down the other passengers. Then I'm going to find whoever took them, beat the living bajeezus out of him, and then I'm going to go back to the City and smack Lenny for sending me on this stupid bus trip."
"You think someone took those people?"
"Oh yeah," Michael nodded. "We were targeted. This fog and that smell, not to mention what knocked us off the road? Classic signs of a Mistodon.'
"I thought those things never left the Amazon?"
"Some crazy jackasses keep them as pets. Or living siege engines," Michael said. He neglected to mention that the Echelon's Chairman had one that was treated like royalty and was named Mr. Mittens. "And chances are, wherever those people were taken, they're in danger, and this is kind of my thing."
"Why?" she asked honestly. "You don't owe them anything. And you're on vacation, anyway."
"Let's just say I'm getting back to work early," Michael grinned. "Good luck finding the road." He turned to walk away, but heard her start to follow him, He turned back and Oswald strode up to him. "What are you doing?" he asked.
"I'm going with you."
"Oh, no, you're not."
"Yes I am."
"Not a good idea."
"Mike, there was a kid on that bus. I can't..."
He sighed. "All right, FINE. You can come with me. But you stay behind me and keep that light alive. And move fast, I don't want you slowing me down."
Oswald's cheery exterior from the bus ride seemed to have dried up, which suited Michael just fine. This situation was messed up enough without some inappropriate sense of humor along for the ride. Still, this was going to be strange, walking around the woods at night with an Elf. Come to thin of it, she never DID answer his question. Why WAS she this far south? And since when did her boss give anyone a vacation? Was she some sort of spy?
Michael shook his head involuntarily. "Are you okay?" Oswald asked.
"Yeah," Michael assured her. "Just... keeping my focus on the task at hand."
Armed with a flashlight and a duffel bag full of scavenged supplies, they trekked through eh darkness together, searching for the Monster responsible to the horribly wrong turn their vacations had taken. And for his part, Michael knew this was only going to end one way.
A head to head showdown with The Hookman.