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Some days, you have to just stop what you're doing, reflect on the direction your life's turning and say, have I been making the right choices? I do this from time to time, but lately, I think things have been going better than ever. Sure, I'm here, trapped in a locker with an insane monster trying to eat me, but other than that, I've never been happier. I have more than enough money, my job is rewarding — despite this current predicament — and I'm in a relationship with a beautiful, smart and talented woman. I know that parts of my life aren't perfect, but whose life is without flaw? I'd rather focus on the good, which for the most part outweighs the bad tenfold. What more could I ask for?
Okay, so there's the whole part of my life that's my job. It's hard work and, if you want to get technical, I put my neck on the line on a regular basis. I have monsters, demons and other beings who want nothing more than to kill me so they can stay on Earth. I face off with things not of this world more days in a year than not. That's not so different than a lot of other people in the world. Cops and firefighters put themselves in life or death situations all the time and they're still able to find happiness; to pick out the silver lining in an otherwise crazy and hard life. So is it any shock I want that too? I mean, despite the nightmares that wake me up from time to time — six or seven times most nights — my job doesn't really bother me at all. Most of the things I deal with are easy enough, but there are times when I do question it all.
The Shadow People.
The fact that I nearly lost Rouge and my own life.
These are things that keep me awake at night. Those images pop into my mind as I try and sleep and keep me from drifting off sometimes, and other nights they cause me to wake up screaming, sure that the nightmare isn't over. That's not something I'm used to. I don't usually get this stressed out after a job. Maybe it has to do with the fact that I feel as though there's more to live for now; like my life is a little more precious than it was this time last year. I try to tell myself that it's all okay, I made it out of there in one piece and I'll just have to be careful next time, but still the nightmares persist. The unease won't go away.
I can't tell you how many times I've woken up in the middle of the night with Rouge's screams echoing in my ears. Or there's the cold feeling as if one of the shadow people are inside me again. These are the things that haunt me. I feel the tentacles of the Hellion around my chest in my sleep and I wake up gasping for air, only to find myself in my own bed, or Rouge's — safe and alive. After that, it's a struggle to shake off the way I feel and if I manage to get back to sleep, there's more of the same waiting in the great, dark ocean of my dream world.
"I know you're around, Hunter. I can smell you."
This one that's after me now, he's not as bad as what I faced up north a few months back. In fact, he's not really that big of a deal at all. Of course he is huge, with a body size that reminds me of Andre the Giant, and he smells of old cabbage and dirty socks. But in the grand scheme of things, I've dealt with worse. He's known as a Caaraan and normally they like to hang around garbage dumps and swamp areas. Being this deep in the city is a little out of the ordinary for him. Seems to me, things being out of the ordinary is starting to be the ordinary and that sucks. Big time.
Their race isn't something I normally deal with. When I got the call to come to the high rise in the downtown area of the city, I really had no idea what I was going to be up against. My client, Dan Sartell, told me some of his workers complained about a man dressed in old rags and who smelled like death had crawled over him, loitering in the building. Dan said the guy is hanging in the stairwells and breaking into lockers in the basement. A normal thing, according to him. Usually it's just crack and meth heads, but he knows it's something different with this guy. He said he saw videos of the guy and he's huge and looks off. He went on to say that some of his employees that have been close to the ragged man describe the smell around him as feces and wet dog. Being here now, they're so wrong. This is so much worse than that.
I asked Dan why he was contacting me instead of his security or the cops, and he was straight with me. He told me he had and both attended, but refused to offer any real help. He said one of the guards looked as white as a ghost after going into the basement level where the stinky man was and quit the next day. I asked him if it was normal. Did people ever quit after seeing a sight like that?
"He'd been working for the building for eight years and then just quit. It was like he saw a ghost," Doug told me, and I thought he wasn't far off.
The beings that cross over into this world sometimes appear to be just that. Some of them look like mist; blue, white, red; it all depends on where they come from. Many of them don't want to be like that though. They want a real body, a real form and are able to call forth inanimate objects to them to form their bodies. Whether it's rags, dirt, feces, clothes or even someone recently deceased, they can take over these objects and in the case of anything other than a dead body, reform it to make something that resembles their old selves from their home world or realm. I didn't tell him this. It's always harder to explain, so I let him think what he wanted and I got ready to come here.
From the description of the odour, the area of the city and where the creature was hiding in the building, I narrowed it down to one of three things; a Krant, an Obbile or a Zern. None are too much of a hassle, and all can be dispatched almost the same way. I checked my weapons supply. Seeing I had what I needed, there was no need to stop off at Godfrey's. I packed up and headed out.
As soon as I got here, I knew it was none of the creatures I had assumed. It's a reminder of the old saying of how not to assume or you make an ass out of u and me. I should really try and remember that more often to avoid mistakes like this.
Right away the smell alone told me what was currently hiding in the cleaner's locker area was not some small, timid being which had escaped their home planet or realm. Many of the creatures who end up here are no more than that. They are simply frightened, harmless creatures looking to escape their terrible homes. I can sympathize, but there's no political asylum to be claimed for their likes on this planet. It goes against the rules set up by those above me, the people who I answer to. All they get is a visit from me or some other hunter, and then it's a one-way ticket back to whatever shithole they tried to escape.
On the other hand there are demons and more malevolent things that come here, just like the Caaraan I'm currently hiding from. They come to this world not as an escape, but for darker reasons. Sometimes it's only to wreak havoc or make gluttons of themselves on items they can't get on other planets or in other realms. Other times, there are much more nefarious reasons, such as a desire to hunt and kill humans. There are also those that have much bigger plans, like my last run in with a Hellion. He had a much grander plan to destroy an entire planet and rule the ruins. I doubt one single Caaraan could do what a Hellion could, but who's to know these days.
I've seen stranger things.
When I got to the locker room, and smelt the unmistakable reek of the damned thing, I went straight to my bag and pulled out spellbound gloves and my Tincher. The gloves can hold and paralyze almost any demon or spirit it comes in contact with and the Tincher is a knife that's carved, blessed and branded with as many curses and spells as one person could imagine. It has the ability to do away with almost any of the beings I might come into contact with. My Tincher is the go-to weapon when dealing with most of these otherworldly creatures. I should call it Old Reliable and I know for a fact that it can and will dispatch a Caaraan.
At least, I think it can.
Well, I certainly hope it will.
With those in hand, I began to walk around, checking in lockers, behind boxes, anywhere I thought a demon might hide. The room itself was messy, but I doubted that the trespasser had anything to do with that. The grime looked old and worn in, like it had been there for a long time. It's amazing that the building's cleaners were so comfortable to live in such filth as this. There are old, dusty pop cans on the floor, a bowl on the table that seems to be growing some sort of green and grey hair, and stacks of magazines. Beside a couch that looks as if it's covered in a layer of black oil, is an old tube TV that has been changed into a spot to melt candles and collect even more junk.
I tried not to pay too much attention to the mess and instead focused on the task at hand. I needed to find the demon and dispense with him or her. The faster I do that the quicker I can get my money and go see Rouge. We have a date later tonight, if I manage to get out of here in one piece. Since our date nights always make me happy, that's what I thought about as I searched through the dust and dirt. Just the thought of her in one of her spectacular dresses, smiling at me the way she does, put a little pep in my step and I moved quickly around the room.
As I walked towards the bathroom, the smell became stronger and I knew that's where I'd find it. Lucky there was only one room that the male and female cleaners shared. I went through the door, knife in hand and I thought I was ready for anything. But it's always when you think you're ready for anything that something you could never prepare yourself for shows its face.
The Caaraan was in there, dead ahead in one of the two stalls. The door to it was wide open and the demon was hunched over the toilet. The creature had made his body up of old rags the cleaners must've discarded close to where he'd passed from his world to ours. This is how so many of the creatures look when I find them. They are a hodgepodge of discarded items and garbage. It's really rare to find one in a human or animal body, but it does happen.
Of course, if they happen to have a Porter, then they can just cross over in full form, but that's another story altogether.
This Caaraan had used grey rags to make up his very large, very ample body, though as he knelt by the toilet, he didn't look very big. To me he seemed to be shorter than my six-foot frame, maybe closer to five and a half feet tops. I thought he'd be easy to handle, even easier if I could move fast and get to him before he could really notice me. After all, he seemed very busy with the treasure he was stuffing into his makeshift mouth from the porcelain buffet.
Turns out, I was a bit too late for a sneak attack.
Just as I thought I'd caught him unaware, the demon turned his head. The feces he'd been eating were smeared across his fake face and right there I felt a rumble in my stomach as though my lunch wanted to make an escape. These visitors tend to have some weird tastes. I've seen them eat paint, glass, semen, tires and now, feces. I have no idea why you'd want to escape to this world only to eat human garbage of all shapes, sizes and consistencies.
I took a step back and the Caaraan began to rise. And rise. And rise.
All said and done, when he stood at full height the Caaraan had to be seven feet tall. And that might be a conservative estimate. His shoulder's touched either side of the stall and looked as though he'd be wider if he had enough room to stretch out. The monster attempted to wipe the poop off his face with the back of his hand, but did little more than smear it on the rags making up his face. He looked like a drunken woman who'd tried to put on her makeup while in a Jeep that was driving off road.
He stared at me for a second and then let out a deep burp. I'm glad there was distance between us, because I can only imagine the stench.
"Who are you?" he asked, his voice was deep and guttural.
I said nothing right away, but his eyes looked down and I'm pretty sure the Tincher gave it away.
"Hunter!" he yelled, and slammed his fist hard against the metal wall at his sides. Even from where I stood I could see the deep dent and knew if he did the same to my face, getting that mess on me would be the least of my worries.
He was no doubt about to run at me, but I'm pretty fast on my feet and was out of the doorway and heading to get out of there before I could feel his crappy mouth on me. There was no way I'd make it to the door and out into the hallway in time, so I did the next best thing which was to find shelter before he could get out. I needed to regroup and come up with a plan.
And that's why I'm here now, in a locker. I still have no plan, but need to come up with one soon. I can hear him roaming out in the room, sniffing the air as though he'll be able to somehow smell me over his own stench. Maybe he can, but I doubt it. For now, I need to figure what to do when the eventuality of him turning to my hiding spot comes and he finds me hidden away.
He's not at the lockers yet, but soon he will be and when that happens, I need to do something before he can grab me. I know the gloves might work on him, and the knife definitely will, but I'd rather not get beat to a pulp while I fight to stab him. I keep my breathing low and slow so he has no chance to hear it.
"Come on out, Hunter. Maybe I will let you live. Or maybe I will suck your insides out of your ass. I wonder if you'll taste half as good as these humans do."
I cringe at the thought of my guts and waste being sucked out of me. I can't help but picture a disturbing scene of being bent over with a straw up my butt as though I'm some fancy cocktail drink. Silly as it might sound, that would be a shitty way to die.
"I know you didn't leave. I know you're still here," he continues to call out as he searches. "Let me see you. Face me and try to do what you've been sent to do. Are you afraid? A coward? If not, come out and let's see who will walk away from this."
He's at the lockers now. He doesn't seem to be opening any of them, just standing there. I can hear him moving, breathing as though he might be no more than ten lockers away from me. I can't see him though. I look through the small grate at the top and there's nothing but the messy room. Yet I know he's there. Close, so I better think fast. I could easily —
My hand shoots down to my pants, but it's too late. I hear the footfalls of the Caaraan who heard the ringing of my cellphone. I should've turned it off or at least set it to silent, but sometimes I just forget. What a great time for me to have a slip. I know that cellphones are supposed to be convenient, such a helpful technology, but there are times when they're a real pain in the ass.
Right now is one of them.
I pull my phone out and Rouge's number and contact picture pop up. Usually I love to see it, but right now I have other things on my mind. The Caaraan is going locker to locker, opening each one no doubt trying to find the source of the noise, to figure out where I am. I want to ignore it, but it's Rouge after all. I need to make this quick.
"Hey sweetie, I'm right in the middle of a job," I whisper as quietly as I can.
"Sorry. I just wanted to know if you made plans for tonight."
"Yep. I'll call when I'm out of here."
"Okay. I just wanted to know if it's a dressy thing. So I know if I should set my hair."
The locker door in front of me flies open and shit breath is right in my face, hulking over me, mouth open wide as though he means to eat me. The smell of caked on feces and urine wafts at me from the dark, black hole in the middle of his raggy face and more than ever I hate cellphones.
"Set it. I love the Victory Rolls."
As I say this, I lunge outward. The hand holding the knife goes forward and upward, straight into the Caaraan's mouth. I have no idea if this will work, or if he'll just bite my arm off, but there's no other choice. I've already made a ton of bad ones today — what's one more.
There's something close to shock I can clearly see registering on his face. Maybe he expected me to be curled in a ball, terrified of him, or he thought I'd plead with him and try to make some deal so I could save my ass. He's clearly never dealt with Dillon the Monster Dick before. It's a mistake so many others have made in the past.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Earthbound and Down"
Copyright © 2017 Shaun Meeks.
Excerpted by permission of IFWG Publishing International.
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