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That Darned Monkey
Falling Scales Episode 1.2

Wednesday, April 2, early afternoon
The Zoological Gardens
Dulac Park

Ali was relaxing on a park bench watching peacocks follow children around the small food pavilion when Levi handed her a slushy. She wanted to thank him but couldn’t quite get the words out as he seemed intent on defeating the large “funnel Cake” that currently hid his face from view.

“Is it good?”

He grumbled something she didn’t understand.

“Are you sure this is where we want to be?”

“Mmm Hmmm” – Levi

Levi was convinced that something strange was happening at the zoo. There’d been reports of a number of thefts around the monkey habitat and during a news report highlighting them Levi was convinced he saw them exhibiting “Unmonkey-like behavior”. She’d agreed to check it out because of all the weirdness they’d seen over the last four months monkeys seemed downright fun.

“What were the monkeys doing, exactly?” – Ali

“I told you, girl, they huddle. A lot. They never move off that little island, just huddling there and looking at you all conspiratorially.” – Levi

“Is this why we watched Planet of the Apes all last week?”

“It’s not the only reason.”

Ali shot him a look.

“Look at me like that all you want, my buddy Wally D. swears up and down that he saw a Capuchin walking around on a cellphone.” – Levi

“You said the monkeys weren’t coming off of Monkey Island.”

“They’re not! Dun-dun-duuuuun!” – Levi, finishing his funnel cake.

The monkey enclosure was incredible, a vast island in the middle of a large shallow moat with trees, stone huts and rope jungle gyms.

“Let’s go by the Elephants first, I wanna get some pizza.” – Levi


“But the Ultimate Warrior is so iconic!” – Levi, munching on some cotton candy.

“I still don’t want to play that game.” – Ali

“Come on, Ali” – Levi

Something grabbed Alegria’s bag as Levi jumped up and down.

“What the –“ – Ali

For a single, solitary moment, Ali didn’t know if she could find words. There not five feet from her was a bright yellow capuchin monkey holding her bag and waddling away at an impressive speed.

“It’s a monkey! It’s a monkey outside of its exhibit!” – Ali

“Where?!” – Levi

Ali grabbed him.

“He’s got mi bolsa!”

“I don’t know what that means, but it obviously upsets you” – Levi

“The monkey stole my purse!” – Alegria

Levi looked around and indeed saw that Alegria’s purse was some distance away, lying open on the ground with most of its contents scattered, he did not, however, see a monkey.

Levi quickly grabbed everything that fell out and brought it back to Alegria.

“Where’s my phone? That monkey stole my phone!” – Ali

“Did you leave it home?”

“No, I just called my dad, remember?”

“Do you want me to buy you a new one?”

“No, Levi, I want my phone back!” – Ali

“Is there a problem?” – It was a young man wearing a garish orange shirt emblazoned with “Dulac Park Zoological Garden” over his heart. His name tag called him Eduard Moreno

“Your monkey just stole my cellphone!” – Alegria

“What monkey?” – Eddie looked incredulous.

“I don’t know it looked like them!” – Alegria, pointing at Monkey Island.

“Calm yourself, girl, I’ll call it.” – Levi

Alegria’s bag rang.

“It wasn’t there, I swear!” – Alegria

“Okay, okay, maybe the monkey put it back.” – Eddie

Alegria and Eddie both looked at Levi incredulously.

“I’m sorry, sir, I’m gonna take her back to the hotel, maybe get her something to eat, she might be anemic.” – Levi

As they walked away, a commotion could be heard coming from the enclosure as a dozen or so capuchin began shrieking from the top of the trees and jungle gym. Levi gave the enclosure a good hard look and for the life of him couldn’t figure out how the Monkey might have gotten out of it in the first place.

Ali looked back one last time and saw a single yellow monkey on the edge of the island, watching her.

“Levi?”

“Yeah, girl?”

“I think we should call Nick?”

The phone barely rang before he heard the familiar voice of his most nervous friend.

“Hey Levi, what’s up.”

“We might have found something worthwhile, Nick.”

“Oh yeah? Not another haunted house, I hope.”

“Nah, nah, nothing like that; I’ve been hearing that something weird was happening down at the zoo with the monkeys and when we went to check it out, a monkey that wasn’t there stole Ali’s phone, which was still in her purse, but didn’t and then, when we went to leave the monkeys went nuts screaming and waving their arms around like this and jumping and then there was this one monkey and he was watching us leave and it was creepy.”

“Please put Ali on the phone.” – Nick

“Fine. Ali!”

“Yeah? Oh, hey Nick” – Ali, taking the phone.

She told Nick the same thing Levi had, though she spoke less frantically.

“It was completely Hitchcockian, man! It was like the Birds, but with monkeys! Birds Two: The Monkeying!” – Levi over Ali’s shoulder

Ali covered his mouth with her hand.

“Yes, yes we’re going to go back tomorrow.”

“Good, and while you’re there, be sure to check out the lion enclosure.” – Nick

“Is there something weird going on there too?” – Ali

“No, it’s just really great, we had a cub born there earlier this year.” – Nick

“Oh, well than thank you.”

“Why’d he need you to tell him what I already said?” – Levi

“I’m sure he just likes my exotic accent.”

“Oh, yeah, that makes sense.” – Levi

“Nick thinks we’re onto something… also he says we need to see the lions.”

At that moment
Monkey Island
The Zoological Gardens

Opie sat on a bench beyond the Monkey Island exhibit, eating his Muffuletta and watching the monkeys go nuts. He came here most days around this time, ate his lunch and, when no one was looking, launched bran muffins across the mote to the Capuchins. He was pretty sure he wasn’t hurting them and they seemed to enjoy his company.

He’d seen the scene that the hot little spanish number had made when that little yellow Capuchin had gotten ahold of her purse. He even thought about telling the employee, a dick named Eddie, that he’d seen the little guy, but to be honest, he was enjoying the shit he’d smoked on his way to the zoo and wasn’t looking for a reason to get hassled by Chuckie the Dick.

Opie was still trying to figure out how the Capuchin could’ve gotten off and then back on the island so quickly before when he watched it climb one of the trees and leap at least fifty yards, to the wall.

“Huh, Super-Capuchin… hey li’l guy, you wanna have some muffin.”

Opie couldn’t help himself, and decided to follow the little yellow superhero, pulling out his flip phone to catch a picture. He didn’t even realize he’d left his sandwich behind.

He was so busy trying to take the picture of the monkey that he just barely noticed the utility vehicle driving towards him and, in attempting to hop out of the way, tripped over his own feet.

“Woah, buddy!” – Levi

“I’m not resisting! I’m not resisting!” – Opie, his hands up.

“That’s good.”

“What the hell, man, don’t that guy know pedestrians have the right-of-way?”

Levi shook his head.

“Dude should have been watching where I was walking, he could-a hit the Capuchin!”

“Did you say you were following a Capuchin Monkey?” – Alegria

“Si, hehe, I don’t know where he went though, where are my muffins?”

“I think the truck got them.” – Levi, pointing his chin at a crushed paper bag.

“Well, fuck.”

“Language. Did you see it get out of the enclosure?” – Levi

“Yeah, man, it just jumped. It was some straight up Super Mario action! Here look, I got it on my phone.”

Opie flipped through the various pics on his phone, but somehow, they were just pictures of the sky, trees and some old lady’s rack.

“Are you sure you saw a monkey?” – Alegria

“400 percent positive, it was a rare Sapajus flavius to be specific, which is weird because the zoo is only supposed to house Sapajus apella… It was gold, but these Capuchins are supposed to be Tufted… what? I know things.” – Opie

“So where did they go?” – Alegria

“I know you, you’re the one that the gold monkey tried to rip off!” – Opie

“Yes.”

“Wanna go look at the tigers?”

Alegria and Levi looked at each other as the stoner wandered off having evidently forgotten about them.

“We should follow, he may have seen something” – Alegria

“What if he’s just stoned off his butt?” – Levi

Alegria shrugged and kissed him on the cheek.

“Fine, we’ll follow the pot-head… but if I get a contact high, I’m eating on your dime.” – Levi

It didn’t take much to catch up with the goofball, he was busy staring at a sign.

They followed him for a few minutes as he snapped pictures of the trees and occasionally the sky before he suddenly took off running for the edge of the park.

“Where’s he going?” – Alegria

“How would I know?” – Levi

By the time they reached the edge of the park, he was gone.

Sometime after dark
The Corduroy Club
The Park District

The bar was full of smoke and jazz. It was everything that Remy loved and missed about Louisiana while he was away.

Remy was currently taking a long slow pull off of some nickel and dime bourbon that went down like well-aged turpentine. He could have afforded better, much better, but he’d paid the owner to keep a case of the really bad stuff on hand for him so he could let the Jazz do the work of lifting his spirits.

A frizzy haired blonde in a too tight by half blue and black dress lurched from her booth, throwing the saxophonist off as she stumbled towards him blindly.

“My purse! He stole my purse!” – Frizzy, pointing at no fewer than three men.

“The hell I did!” – one of the accused.

“Not you! The monkey! The monkey stole my purse!”

“You need to be cut off and get your ratchet ass home.” – the man’s date.

The crowd laughed, some murmured for the woman to sit down a few heckled her.

The Blonde turned and looked as if she might want to start something, forcing Remy to step in.

“Ma’am, there’s no monkey, maybe you need to go home. Can I get you a cab?” – Remy

“No, I need my purse back! That little orange monkey is just walking off with it and you all are letting him go!”

“Where?”

“Over there! That bitch’s monkey took it out the door.”

“So now it’s my monkey?” – the girlfriend.

Remy motioned for her to just go back to the music, which was starting to play again. He quickly did a onceover in the blonde’s booth before walking her out and she was right, there was no purse.

While he was looking under the chair he felt a hand on his back pocket. Was she really so drunk that she thought she could take wallet? Remy swiped his hand behind him, grabbing what he expected to be the blonde’s hand but instead felt a small, furry arm tipped with a dry, leathery hand before it jerked out of his too loose grip.

Remy spun to find himself face to face with a small, gold-haired monkey with golden eyes. The thing howled at him and then vanished into the crowd. No one seemed to notice.

Terry, the bartender nudged his arm.

“The cops are on their way, I figured either she got her purse stolen or she’s trying to walk out on a $350 bill.”

“…Good call.”

Remy wondered what would happen if he corroborated the woman’s story. He couldn’t imagine it being a good thing.

At That Moment
The Magnolia St. Valero
The Park District

“So that’s not a Korean thing?” – Opie

His friend, Phil, wasn’t happy with the phone call. Evidently assuming that golden capuchins might be somehow lucky in Asian culture was ‘uncouth’. It didn’t help that Phil was more a customer than a friend.

Phil had already hung up.

Opie’s twitter feed wasn’t doing much better until a link popped up, it came from someone who called themselves @eNZocaligrrl linked to a YouTube video called “Monkey King Spotted at San Diego Zoo”

The link sent him to a YouTube Channel called “Zero Channel” and auto played a video in which a Blond Capuchin blatantly steals a guy’s camera phone out of his hand before turning to look directly into the camera, causing a strange lens-flare like effect with its eyes before bellowing, which coincided with some sort of static over the video, before turning and leaping some twenty feet over the fence of the monkey habitat.

Opie flipped through the comments and saw a slew of the usual suspects. “oh look, JJ Abrams went to the zoo” and “this is what happens when you let your animals go to public zoos” were some of the gems in the sea of “Fakes” and “Firsts”.

The video was pretty fantastic and, had he not seen something similar with his own eyes, he’d have thought it doctored himself.

Opie made a point to bookmark the channel, but when he went to follow @eNZocaligrrl the account had been locked, her tweet deleted. She never responded to his follow request or any of his tweets.

Opie tweeted a link to the Video and embedded it on both his Facebook page and his blog.

“I’m not crazy.” – Opie, to no one in particular.

His phone chirped.

“You said you were looking for a monkey?” – it was another link, this time to a local detective agency’s website.

The front page was dominated by a picture of a Capuchin that had been very poorly colored gold with what must have been Microsoft Paint.

Opie uploaded the picture to his blogpost, which was now titled “what are the Capuchins Hiding under Monkey Island?”

Opie flipped to his photo gallery and flipped through the pictures from the park. He’d been so stoned he was unable to get any good shots the entire time he chased it around. The only upside is that he got a real good picture of that Latina chick he’d met.

Wait. What was that?

In the last picture he took, or rather the first he’d taken of the day, a picture of the lovely Latina, he caught a glimpse of the monkey reaching up out of the foliage and picking a large woman’s fanny-pack, its back quite blatantly to the camera and yet, somehow the little monster was staring directly at him, its face split in a blatant roar, its eyes obscured by twin lens-flares.

Opie uploaded the picture to his blog, turned his phone off and concentrated on his work for the rest of the night.

An Hour Later
Alegria’s Suite
The Fairbanks

“I think I’ve found something, some guy called “Chef Boyardee” posted a video in…oh, like an hour ago.” – Levi, showing Alegria the video

“I wonder who he is.” – Alegria

“Let’s…you gotta be kidding me!”

Levi knew that sallow, narrow face anywhere, the squinty eyes, the wild, unkempt black hair, it was the stoner from the zoo.

“Huh. So do you think he’s been tracking this for a while then?” – Alegria

“Maybe, the video’s from the San Diego Zoo, should we call Nick?” – Levi

“Yeah… have you seen my phone?”

“Funny.”

“No really, I left it right here.” – Ali, pointing at her charging station.

“Check your purse.”

“It’s not in my purse!” – Alegria, reaching for her purse.

“I’ll call Nick, you find your phone.” – Levi, lifting the pizza box next to him.

“what is it?” – Alegria, dropping her purse, no such luck.

“I… thought I left my phone right here.” – Levi, double checking his pockets and his belt clip.

“I left it right… there it is.” – Levi, reaching down to grab his phone out from under the couch.

He looked again, the phone was gone.

“What the?” – Levi, dropping to his knees to look under the couch.

Two reflective golden eyes glared at him. The monkey, clutching his phone, howled menacingly.

Levi fell backward, slamming his back on the coffee table.

“Holy mother of Jay Adams!”

“What is it?” – Alegria, rushing to help him up.

“I reached for my phone and my phone wasn’t there but the monkey was and he was like RAWR!” – Levi

Alegria tentatively looked under the couch. The monkey was gone, and so was the phone.

“Maybe we should contact Mr. Chef Boyardee?” – Alegria

“How, the monkey stole our phones.” – Levi

“Doesn’t he have an email?”

_Dear Mr. Chef Boyardee,

You may not remember us but we met at the zoo today and we encountered the monkey you wrote about. It has stolen our phones. If you could get back to us at your earliest possible convenience, it would much appreciated.

Love,
Levi Ryder and Alegria Zurita-Sanchez_

“There, hopefully he’ll get back to us quick-like.” – Levi

“What do we do now?”

“Let’s go find a store that sells burn phones.”

The Magnolia St. Valero
The Park District

Levi and Alegria had asked the concierge the best place to by pre-paid cell phones and after some argument over the price of the hotel’s own small supply the lady told them that the Valero on Magnolia Street was the closest, and that it had a pretty good deli, which was good, because Levi could use a sandwich.

The gas station was one of those big ones you usually only saw at the on ramps of interstates, with a deli, a beer cooler and a coffee station.

“Hey guys, I’ll be right with you.” – A nasally voice from the back of the store.

“No prob, we’re just looking for phones.” – Levi, looking at the deli selection and wondering exactly what a “Muffuletta” was.

“I know you! You’re Chef Boyardee!” – Alegria

Levi turned around to find the stoner they’d just e-mailed.

“Do I know you?” – Opie,

“You were pretty gone the last time we saw you.” – Alegria

“Yeah, you almost got hit by a truck…nothing?” – Levi, off of the confused look.

“Is this about money? Do I owe you money?” – Opie

“No.” – both, together.

“Oh, cool, I’m Opie.” – Opie, flicking his name tag.

“I’m Alegria, this is Levi Rider”

“Like the jeans?” – Opie

“No.” – Levi

“We actually wanted to ask you about the monkey.” – Alegria

“Oh? You like that? Yeah, I did some digging. Weird stuff.”

“Well, that monkey stole our phones.” – Levi

“How’d that work?” – Opie

“There was one hiding under my couch.” – Levi

“Well I’m sure it’s not there, now.” – Alegria

“Well, yeah, but it could be back.” – Levi

“Okay.” – Opie

“He doesn’t believe us, Ali.” – Levi

“We sound crazy, Levi.” – Ali.

“Not especially. I’ve been doing some research, there are numerous references to mischievous monkeys across the globe.”

“Like the monkey king from those movies?” – Levi

“Yes, Sun Wukong, though I doubt that we’re dealing with a Chinese folk-hero-cum-deity, probably something closer to Louisiana, possibly West African or Central or South American.”

Levi looked at Alegria who only shrugged.

“I was thinking about doing more research, and to be honest I could use the company.” – Opie

The Next Morning
Monkey Island
The Zoological Gardens

Remy didn’t see the big deal about these monkeys. Yeah they’re cute and all, but they were also foul, smelly angry little bastards that have absolutely no problem using their feces as projectiles.

He’d done a little research on the monsters the night before and was surprised to learn that there really was such a thing as a golden capuchin. But these weren’t them.

Remy made some calls, threw his dad’s name around and bullied an animal control prick into giving him a capture gun, which was currently holstered inside his cotton short-sleeved button-down shirt, and out of site.

“Which one of you shit slingers did it, huh?” – Remy, pointing a finger-gun at each monkey in turn.

The monkeys stared back at him accusatorially; their intensity forced the detective to reevaluate the chances of any of them getting to him.

“Yeah, if even one of you get anywhere near me, I’ll dart you so quick you’ll drop before your crap gets close.” – Remy, sure that there was no way for a monkey to cross.

“Excuse me sir, you seem to be frightening the monkeys” – some shrill pipsqueak of a man was standing behind Remy.

“Screw ‘em. If they wanted my respect they’d have stayed on the evolution train a few more stops.” – Remy

“Why are you so mad at them?”

“One of these mothers tried to take my wallet last night.” – Remy

“The golden one?”

Remy turned and gave the hipster a long hard look. The guy was definitely on something or somethings, and his hair definitely needed to see the business end of a comb, but he knew something.

“Yeah, the golden one.” – Remy

“There isn’t a Blond Capuchin in there, though. I’m Opie.”

“Remy, and they’re related, that’s close enough.”

“Well, the “golden one” if there is one, is at large.”

“Why not just call it what it is? It’s a God-Monkey.” – Remy

“If it were a God-Monkey, wouldn’t it send one of its Angel-Monkey’s to do its bidding?” – Opie

“When you want something done you have to do it yourself. The Godfather taught me that.” – Remy

“The Godfather never got his hands dirty though.”

“Yeah, truth be told, I never actually finished it.” – Remy

“Touché.” – Opie, sidling up next to him.

Elsewhere

Alegria and Levi tracked down the zookeeper they’d met the day before at the tiger cage. He was currently loading boxes onto the utility vehicle.

“Hi, remember me?” – Alegria, embarrassed that she couldn’t remember the young man’s name.

“Yeah, hi, phone girl, right?” – Eddie.

“Right! Yeah, I was just wondering if you noticed that the monkeys seem agitated.” – Alegria

“What? Oh yeah, they’ve been like that on and off for a few weeks, we don’t know why, but they don’t seem too bad, so we figure it’s just a phase.” – Eddie, whipping flop set off his forehead.

“We were just wondering if they could be afraid of anything.” – Alegria

“Yeah, like I said, we don’t know the cause of their agitation. Can I ask you, are you a reporter?” – Eddie.

“We think one stole our phones.” – Levi

Eddie smiled toothlessly.

“Uh, huh.” – Eddie

“I’m just saying, we had ‘em until we walked past the monkey exhibit and now? We don’t got ‘em.” – Levi

“Didn’t you say that one stole the phone out of your purse yesterday? Didn’t you find it?” – Eddie.

“I don’t have it anymore.” – Alegria

“But you had it when you left?”

“No I didn’t… well…” – Alegria

“Well… according to the report I filed yesterday, and to your boyfriend here, you had your phone when you left. I’m sorry, but there’s nothing I can do for you. But you know what; I’ll amend my report see if I can get people on the lookout for you.” – Eddie

“The phone doesn’t matter nearly as much as the monkeys’ wellbeing, though. And we’d much rather you concentrated your efforts on helping the poor things.” –Alegria, noticing Eddie’s watch as he once again wiped the sweat off his forehead.

Levi nudged Alegria, and glanced down at Eddie’s watch. It was nice. Really nice. In fact it was a Cellini Rolex Prince. She’d bought a similar watch for her father the year before for $12,500. America was a wealthy country but that seemed wrong.

“Who’s in charge of the Monkey Island enclosure?” – Levi

“Uh, me, actually.”

“When you were in there last did you see anything weird? Like maybe a watch, a wallet, a stack of cell phones? Do monkeys sometimes get food or other things they aren’t supposed to have?” – Levi

“Well if they somehow do get food it’ll get eaten before I find it, obviously. We do go in there three times a week and clean out any litter, scat and if we can, anything that might have been thrown in by our visitors. Of course the Capuchins aren’t exactly friendly, so… what’s this about?”

“So you don’t find anything weird? Things of value, I mean.” – Levi

“Why would there be anything of value? Okay, look, we did an inspection after the first accusations of larceny, but there was nothing in there.” – Eddie.

“Okay, so what you pullin’ round here? The job looks like fun.” – Levi

“$15 an hour.”

“Hmm, nice, might wanna put in a application.” – Levi

“Are you sure there’s no way for a monkey to get over the wall?” – Ali

“No, there’s no way.”

“And where is the golden monkey? These all look the same, why do you have a golden monkey?” – Ali

Eddie looked utterly baffled.

“Blonde Capuchins aren’t uncommon but we don’t actually have any here, I’m sorry. The different breeds don’t exactly get along.”

“Well I saw one here the other day, and I’m not alone.” – Ali

“Do you have a picture?” – Eddie

“I do. Hey, guys, sorry I was talking to a guy about the monkeys.” – Opie, flipping through his phone.

He handed it to Eddie.

“Was this doctored?” – Eddie

“No. I’ve checked it multiple times.” – Opie.

“That’s unreal… the video’s gotta be doctored this Capuchin is staring directly at the camera, as a rule monkeys don’t care about cameras, especially when jumping…just unreal.” – Eddie.

“there you are.” – Remy, clapping Opie on the shoulder.

“Well, I have to get back to work, that video’s really weird, man.” – Eddie.

Eddie threw the litter bin onto the back of his utility vehicle and drove off.

“He’s a liar.” – Levi.

“Ya think?” – Remy.

“Who are you?” – Levi.

“Oh, I’m Remy, did you see his boots? They had to have been worth at least $500 bucks.”

“Is that outside of his means?” – Ali

The three men turned to look at her. Levy threw his arm over her shoulder and planted a big wet kiss on her cheek.

“You’re adorable.” – Levy

Ali smiled.

“You a cop?” – Levy, looking Remy over.

“Not quite.”

“I’ll be back tonight.” – Opie, to no-one in particular, before wandering off.

“See ya then.” – Levi

Remy was already gone.

Much Later

Opie slipped into the zoo unseen, dressed in a black fedora and long jacket. He felt like Dick Tracy. He slid from shadow to shadow walking on the outside of his feet to better mask the sound of his sneakers on the pavement. The monkey exhibit was in sight when he saw someone patrolling the area. They must have increased security after all the complaints.

What was he going to do.

“Whachadoin?” – a voice from behind him.

Opie turned to see Levi and Ali looking at him. Ali waved, she was eating what looked like a red vine, and was wearing a black mini-dress and a pair of thigh-high black boots. Levi didn’t seem to have changed at all.

“How’d you know I was here?” – Opie

“The theme song you were humming kind of gave you away.” – Levi

“It was very catchy.” – Ali

Opie’s head sunk.

“What about the guard?”

“What guard, that’s your friend Remy, he’s been pacing over there threatening the Capuchins since before we got here ten minutes ago.” – Ali.

Opie looked over the hedge again, sure enough, it was the odd man from that morning, only this time he had what looked like a dart gun.

“Oh, yeah, you’re not so big now that I have the gun, are you, you sons of bitches.” – Remy

“Where are the guards?” – Opie

“What guards? They lock the front gate and have a guard posted there, they’re not going to guard an exhibit in the middle of the park.” – Levi

“Then why are you hiding?” – Opie

“You’re friend seems a bit crazy.”

“I heard that.” – Remy, standing over them.

The others jumped.

“Who are you people and what’s your stake in this anyway?” – Remy

“I’m Levi, you might recognize me, I’m kind of a big deal…okay, not that big of a deal, this is my girl Ali.” – Levi.

“Cool, careful of where you step, okay guy, I kinda sorta shot the roving guards and they’re gonna be cranky when they wake up in 2-3 hours.” – Remy

“I guess they DO have patrols.” – Levi

The others followed him out into the open, there really wasn’t a point to hiding anymore.

Walking around the zoo at night in the dark was surprisingly calming. Most of the animals were either asleep or used enough to people to not react too loudly.

“Was there a gold monkey on the Island?” – Alegria

“Not that I saw.” – Remy

“guys, a light just came on over the maintenance office.” – Opie

Everyone hid behind one of the information kiosks.

Doo dee doo doo/ doo dee doo too doo

The chime was impossibly loud in the quiet of the night.

“Oh, my bad guys.” – Remy, checking his phone.

“I really should take this, hold on. Sup, buddy” – Remy walking off.

The light turned off and the door opened to reveal Eddie Moreno, looking like he was heading out, and was in need of some sleep.

“Look around his neck.” – Ali whispered

Sure enough, around Eddie’s neck was a large golden medallion.

“That’s some bling.” – Levi

“Is someone there?” – Eddie into the darkness.

They couldn’t help but notice that what had looked from the shadows like a baseball cap, was in fact some sort of small furry headdress, a tarnished brass band fastening it to the employee’s head. At the top of it was a mummified blond capuchin’s head.

“That’s messed up.” – Levi

Remy appeared out of the shadows next to the oddly dressed zoo employee and raised his dart gun, shooting the kid between the eyes.

“What did you do!?” – Opie, coming out of the shadows.

“Oh come on, its pretty obvious, the guy wears the headband, the headband controls the monkey, the monkey’s not really evil… dibs on the watch.”

“We’re not looting the guy! This is not a video game!” – Levi

Opie unceremoniously dropped the brass and fur cap.

“It was a joke, kids.” – Remy, flipping the unconscious Eddie over and cuffing him.

“We should go inside.” – Levi.

He and Remy grab Eddie by his shoulders and drag him into the office and handcuffed him to a swivel chair.

Opie picked up the headdress, and followed them in, talking “through” the mummified monkey head. It was clear that he was still under the influence of something.

Levi threw a glass of water in the unconscious man’s face.

The zookeeper sputtered.

“What happened, where am I? what am I doing here?” – Eddie

“We’re PETA.” – Remy

“No, you have to let me go, I have to go Right Now!” – Eddie

The man began straining against his hand cuffs, it was clear that he was going to hurt himself.

“Why do we need to let you go, Eddie?” – Alegria

“Where’s my head dress? Where is it?” – Eddie

Opie spun it around a finger.

“put it back on me, please!”

“No.”

“You have to or it’ll get free!” – Eddie

“Wait… what?” – Levi

“Okay, I was at Michigan State University on scholarship for their Ag program and my scholarship fell through and I needed money so me and my friends were reading about this South American culture, I don’t which, but they worshiped this monkey god. And if you caught him you could make a wish. Well it turned out that the vestments were there at the school in the museum so one of us had to wear the vestments while the rest of us had to catch him. It made sense after a few dozen shots. I drew the short straw and had to wear the vestments, if they caught me they’d each get one wish, if I was able to stay away until dawn I’d get the wish. So we played and I stayed away until dawn and then suddenly there he was, this golden howler monkey and he had with him a bag of money. But then my friends started losing things, and then the guys that chased me… well, they kind of died.”

“And so you’ve pissed off the monkey king and he’ll kill you without your headdress.” – Remy

“You guys are buying this?” – Opie

“I’m dead se –“ Eddie began to choke

A large bulge formed in his throat.

“No, no no no, I can’t handle this, man, I’m out of here.” – Opie, running.

The bulge began to glow with a soft golden light, the same light that was now starting to come out of his opened mouth.

A single monkey-hand thrust its way out of the man’s mouth, soon followed by another, and they flailed until they found purchase on his nose and chin. After only a heart beat the monkey pulled itself out of Eddie’s throat.

It looked at them, its eyes like lens flairs even in person and it howled hideously.

Ali was hiding behind Levi who was himself backing up against the wall.

The monkey turned and looked each of them in the eye before bounding out the door.

Hours later
Somewhere in New Calais

Opie was running for his life, he’d run and hidden in turn, but the golden capuchin was still on his tail.

Why didn’t he just throw the headdress away?

Because that’s what the little monster wants, he thought to himself.

Opie decided he had to destroy it.

Up ahead he saw the light of a fire. He must have run into Green Lawn or West Clay. Either way that was a burning barrel.

He heard the monkey hiss from above him and looked up to see its golden eyes glaring at him.

“Damned Monkey!”

Opie ran at full tilt, his lungs burning, his legs a bundle of knots and raw nerves.

He saw the burn barrel. He was almost there.

Something heavy landed on his back and slid down until it grabbed his leg. He felt the little monster bite into his leg.

He felt himself falling, and with one last heave, launched the headband into the fire. He felt excruciating heat on his leg as the Monkey God burned to ash, even as the burn barrel erupted in golden flame.

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"Pilot" - Meet Cute
Falling Scales Episode 1.1

Thursday, March 13, Early Afternoon
The Fairbanks Hotel
Park District

The Hotel’s lobby was filled with hipsters, skater-punks and journalists. It had to be some sort of convention. Alegria didn’t understand why Americans insisted upon dressing so absurdly, but that was why she was here, in New Calais, to learn American customs.

“Is this your first time in the states, Ms. Zurita-Sanchez?” – The clerk

“Si, I mean to say yes. Why is there all these people? Are the vestibule always this busy?” – Alegria.

“I’m sorry? Oh, no, this is for the XCON, the extreme sports convention that’s going on this week.” – The clerk, gesturing towards the pavilion that had been built in the park across the street.

“Ah, thank you.” – Alegria

“Any time, ma’am. You’re in the Garden Suite, Malcolm will show you up. I hope you enjoy your stay with us.” – The clerk

Alegria was only partially paying attention to the clerk and was more interested in the good looking kid in the too-tight jeans and odd little hat who was surrounded by fans.

“Is he a movies star?” – Alegria, to the security detail her father had insisted on.

The men shrugged.

“… and remember, this is a nice place, and we don’t want to get kicked out of another nice place, do we? Now if you’ll excuse me, there’s someone I have to meet” – the boy.

The large group of fans laughed sheepishly as the boy made eye contact with Alegria. With a wide grin the boy seemed to glide through the parting sea of bodies. It was only after he’d cleared them that she realized that he was standing on a skateboard. Alegria tried really hard not to blush, she didn’t know who he was, but he was obviously someone famous.

“I’m Levi, who are you?” – The boy, slipping between her and the elevator.

Alegria didn’t know quite how to react. She barely understood what he’d said, the English language was still pretty new to her.

“This is the part where you tell me your name.” – Levi

“I know… I am uh… Que?” – Alegria.

The boy smirked.

“Y’all heard the pretty lady agree to be my girlfriend, right? She said “K”!” – Levi, toward the crowd.

The crowd laughed again. She did too.

“Sí, pequeño hombre, voy a ir con usted.” – Alegria

“Oh, no, no, no. None, of that, I heard you speaking the English.“ – Levi

One of the girl’s bodyguards stepped between the two and Levi instinctively slid back, kicking the board up between them.

“Whoa, whoa, whoa, Jeeves, I got this, you take the pretty lady’s bags up to her room and leave the rest to me.”

Alegria tapped the guard on his shoulder and he stood down. He looked at her as if to ask her if she was serious and she nodded. He’d worked with her before, and knew she wasn’t asking him not to keep close.

“Come on, Bae, we’re going for ice cream. Hey everybody, I’m gonna get cream with my Bae!” – Levi, putting his arm around her shoulder.

Getting ice cream evidently meant waiting ten minutes for a giant bowl filled with at least a dozen scoops of chocolate ice cream and covered with every kind of candy she’d ever seen.

“See, Ali, This is ICE CREAM.” – Levi, gesturing with both hands toward the bowl being sat down between them.

“Yo sé lo que el helado es, idiota, sólo que no me gusta. Por favor, no me llames Ali” –

She didn’t actually mind being called Ali.

“Come on, have some. It’s got chocolate, and all women love chocolate, its science! Mmmm.” – Levi, between bites.

She tried a bite, it was good ice cream.

“See, it’s not so bad, now if only I could get you to talk to me. I know you know how to speak English.” – Levi

Alegria smiled around the spoon.

“You are that skateboarder, yes? I read an article about you at the extreme-games, you did very well for an amateur.” – Alegria

“Yeah, the X Games, that was pretty cool. Though, I’m not an amateur anymore. I’m here to compete in the XCon, they got a Street League thing going on at the park that’s going to be pretty sweet. You wanna learn? I’ll teach you.” – Levi

“No, no it is okay.”

“I’m’a teach you.” – Levi dropped his spoon into the empty ice cream bowl.

Before she could protest again, he had her by the hand and was dragging her out of the restaurant and into the city.

Alegria looked back at the bowl forlornly; she’d only gotten two bites.

A Few Hours Later
Skate Park
Dulac Park

Alegria loved how a boy so utterly nervous and so awkward as he was could move with such grace and power while riding the board. The way he and the board moved together, like they were a part of one another, the ease with which he slid across rails and flitted over the barrier.

“You hungry?” – Levi came to a stop next to her

“How can you still be hungry?”

“What do you mean? You ate all the ice cream, man I never knew how true the whole girls and chocolate thing was.” – Levi

Alegria glared at him and he smiled, showing all of his teeth. He knew she was smitten.

Dammit.

“I’m thinking enchiladas, you like those right?” – Levi

“I do not know what that is.”

“How can you not know what enchiladas are? Aren’t you Mexican?” – Levi

“… I am from Ecuador.” – Alegria

“… That’s not in Mexico?”

“It’s in South America.”

Levi blinked blankly.

“… I would love to try enchiladas.”

“Sweet! There’s this cart up here that sells the best Enchiladas in town.” – Levi

Alegria followed the manic skater-boy across the park, enjoying both his athleticism and the dark beauty of the park in the magic hour.

“Do you hear that?” – Levi, pointing at a gazebo a few yards away.

“What?”

The boy only smiled as he changed course and only as she followed did Alegria hear what he was talking about, it was the sound of someone kissing passionately.

“Levi, no, let’s go.”

“Ah, come on, maybe we’ll learn something.” – Levi, wiggling his brow mischievously.

The sounds coming from the gazebo grew more passionate and Alegria couldn’t help but look inside.

It was dark, but she could make out a woman with hair that fell in long ringlets wearing a slinky dress that had been pulled up around her waist so that she could straddle the unseen man. The man’s hands were clutching the bench while she writhed upon his lap, they were both moaning loudly and –

Alegria stepped on something and there was a sharp snapping sound.

“Oh, shit!” – Levi as the woman’s head snapped up.

The woman turned her head and Alegria’s mind buckled. her skin was ashen, weathered and cracked, her eyes were nothing so much a black orbs flecked with crimson light but Alegria only saw her mouth, a vast bloody wound that split her face and was filled by dozens of jagged translucent black teeth.

The thing hissed.

Levi was saying something but all Alegria could think about was all of those teeth.

He grabbed her arms and shook her, hard, stepping between her and the monster, wielding his skateboard like a shield.

“Ali! Run!”

The thing moved to stand up and give chase, but hesitated. Alegria ran, hoping that Levi followed but didn’t dare look back.

She only realized that she was screaming when her bodyguards appeared, running toward her. One of them took her in his arms protectively while the others ran past her.

Alegria turned instinctively to see Levi running while looking over his shoulder, oblivious to the guard’s presence as they slammed into him, tackling him to the ground.

“No! He was saving me!” – Alegria, in Spanish.

A Few Hours Later

Levi sat in the backseat of the police car, the door open, and described, for the fourth time, what he’d seen in the Gazebo. The officer asked more than once if he’d been drinking or was on drugs, but he assured them that he wasn’t.

He told them about the showing off and the gazebo and the thing that was eating the guy’s face. He knew it sounded crazy but he couldn’t tell them anything else.

It was the truth.

The Officer, Holbrook according to his nametag, told him that there was, indeed, a dead man in the gazebo, and that his face and neck had, in fact, been horrifically mutilated; his jaw was gone along with much of his neck, but Levi already knew that, he’d seen it before when the thing with black teeth turned and looked at him with those eyes like dead stars.

“Mr. Ryder, did you hear me?” – Officer Holbrook.

“Yeah?”

Holbrook grunted in frustration as he made a note.

“I asked if you could remember anything else.” – Holbrook.

Levi smirked.

“No I… Wait. Wait, there was another guy… yeah, he was older, really thin I think. He was holding a camera, you know like the ones paparazzi use? I saw him after Ali’s guards put me to the ground.”

“Can you describe him?” – Holbrook.

“I think he had black hair, maybe it was gray… he looked… thin. I’m sorry that’s probably not useful.” – Levi

Officer Holbrook made another note.

“It’s more useful than nothing at all.”

Levi didn’t believe him.

“I’m sure we’ll be contacting you in the next day or so will we be able to contact you at the hotel?” – the Officer

“Yeah, for the rest of the week at least.”

“Okay, then I think we can let you go. We’ll be in touch, Mr. Ryder.”

“Thanks, hey do you know where Alegria went?”

“Yeah, she left a few minutes ago with her security, sorry, I thought you knew.”

“Yeah, no, it’s okay, I’ll catch her tomorrow. Thanks.” – Levi.

Late the Next Morning
The Fairbanks Hotel
Park District

Levi knocked on the Garden Suite door with three quick wraps like he saw the bellhop do a thousand times.

“Hey, Ali, wanna get breakfast? They got waffles and strawberries! Have you ever had Waffles? I bet you haven’t! You’ll love ‘em.”

There was no answer.

“I got you coffee – It’s Columbian!”

He heard movement on the other side of the door. Quick words in spanish, and then the sound of the door unlocking.

Levi pumped out his chest and struck a pose, the tray of food in his right hand above his head, the coffee pot in his left, head in front of him, and a goofy grin plastered across his adorable face as the door creaked open.

“Sup, ba – you’re not Ali.”

It was one of her guards, a particularly gigantic variety of security whose neck had been lost to time.

“No.”

The door slammed shut, cutting off Levi’s whimpering.

The skater-boy spent another half a minute or so of banging on the door announcing his intentions of feeding her to the whole of the floor, Levi finally gave up and was walking away when the door began to open again.

“You’re the guy that tackled me last night, you got nerve man, I didn’t see you coming last – Heeey, girl.”

Alegria stood in the doorway wearing pajamas and a big robe, it wasn’t the negligee he’d imagined… actually his grandma used to wear the same night gown, but it never hung on grandma like that… at least he hoped not… why was he thinking about his grandma at a time like this?

“I got you breakfast.”

“I heard.” – Alegria

“It’s not from Equanor, though.” – Levi

“Equanor?” – Ali

“So, how’d you sleep?”

“I dreamt of sharp things.” – Alegria

Levi didn’t know what to say so he gave her a cup of coffee.

Afternoon
The XCON Extreme Sports Park
Dulac Park

“You know, everyone did their best out their today and you know, it was a close thing. Wally D., SUP WALLAY, he came really close today, probably should’ve been him, because he really was super good today… You know, I’m just humbled to have been able to do my thing, you know… Hay, Ali! You made it, girl!” – Levi

He’d won, it’d been close, so very close, but he’d won just the same. Seeing that Ali had made it meant it was even cooler.

He wondered if she’d like watching him work, or if she was hungry, she’d barely touched her waffles.

“That was amazing!” – Ali

She was smiling.

“You know, It’s what I do.”

She was smiling because of him.

“Can I help you, senor?” – the smaller of Ali’s guards.

Levi and Ali turned toward the voices to see a small man with matted black hair and dark, nervous eyes.

“yeah – yeah, hi, I’m Nicholas? Nick Holcomb.”

“Let him through, dude, can’t you see he’s a reporter?” – Levi

The little man squeezed past the bodyguards and tumbled toward Levi.

“Yeah… thanks…about that, I’m not actually here to talk about your win. Congratulations on that, really, it was amazing… but I’d actually like to talk to you about last night – I’m not a reporter! Not a reporter! I have credentials but only because I know a guy who owed me a favor. He let me take his place. Could I please, please, please have a moment of your time?”

Ali was hurting Levi’s arm.

“Relax, relax, relax, I got this baby, its good, its good, I’m good, I got this.” – Levi

“Look, I’ve been through what you’ve been through, I’ve seen them too, the

“Yeah, Bae ain’t cool with this conversation so I’m gonna tell you what I’m gonna do, I’m gonna take her back and we can meet in Doug’s, that restaurant in the Fairbanks, and we can talk about this man to man because we ain’t gonna upset my lady, know what I’m saying?” – Levi

“I do, believe me, Mr. Ryder, but what I have to say might help her too.” – Nick

Doug’s Cafe
The Fairbanks Hotel
Park District

Levi was digging into a Po’ Boy while Ali moved fries around a plate, her men sat two booths away watching intently, Nick had allowed them to pat him down before he’d taken his seat.

“The man who died last night was named Marshal Greel. Sadly he was survived by his ailing mother, Marisa, who is in a nursing home. I’m not telling you this so that you feel bad. There’s no reason you should, I’m just stating a fact. Someone died last night and that was just last night.”

“This town is crazy.” – Levi.

Ali nodded listlessly.

“But, it’s not just this city. I belong to an organization called the People for a Free and Honest America. Our organization has a lot of money and influence not just here, but all over the south, from Miami to Atlanta to New Orleans to Austin and even Dallas. Our influence is growing and we use that influence to search out and catalogue the supernatural; ghosts, werewolves, witches, weirder things… vampires.”

“This is a pretty lame joke, man.” – Levi, he’d stopped eating.

“No, no, no. That’s just it, most of the things we’ve found are completely harmless…relatively speaking. Some’ve even helped people.”

“Like Casper?” – Levi

“No. That’s not the point. The point is that the problem with all these things, the reason we fear them is because they hide.”

“Well, I’d be hiding too if I was eating people.” – Levi.

Ali laughed even as she teared up.

“So, what, Frankensteins are running up all around the country solving crime?” – Levi

“Uh… I don’t… probably?” – Nick

“What do you mean “probably”?” – Ali

“The appropriate answer to that question, Nick, was “no, that’s crazy”. “Probably.” Who says “Probably” to something like that?” – Levi

“All those poor children with flowers.” – Ali

“Look, Frankenstein was a specific piece of fiction, I can’t be sure if the Monster was real, who knows? Maybe? Here, look” – Nick, opening his phone.

“You said you’d make me feel better, Senor Holcomb, but all you are saying is that that thing we saw yesterday, those things my father said could not be, are real.” – Ali

“But that’s why the PFHA exists, Ms. Zurita-Sanchez, we are here for mutual protection. We have members from all walks of life. Doctors, lawyers, um, gang members, a former Mayor of Miami, Florida; I don’t know if that’s actually true, I’ve never met the guy, but I’ve heard that. Oh, police officers! We exist to protect our own. Rent money, bail money, medical care, we’re here to help.”

“Take care of your own?” – Ali

“Those who know the truth! Not every member knows what’s really out there, that would be cruel. To many it’s a, uh, social club, a place where you can meet likeminded people. And then there are the people like me and you, those of us that have seen and know the truth about the dark places. We can help you. Any help you might need. We can make sure you’re safe.” – Nick

“So… this is some Illuminati type stuff, here, you guys get all these people to pay in for this or that and then you go looking for Crocodile ladies to make us and them safe? How does that work? How does the government not have anything to do with this?” – Levi

“We feel that the government at large would ask too many questions. Our goal is to reach a point where we have collected enough information and evidence that we can eventually go public with all of this. There are a few members of our organization in various posts within government, the mayor of Miami, a few FBI agents out of New Orleans, for example.”

“You want people to know? There would be a panic if you told people that their nightmares are real. People would not want to know this. I didn’t want to know this!” – Ali

“We would not just broadcast this out, we would supply this information to the Government.” – Nick

“You think that your government doesn’t already know about it? If they don’t it is only because they do not want to.” – Ali

Nicks phone, which until now had been poised so that he might show them something went off suddenly in his hand.

Ali saw that it read simply “Church”.

“I have to take this. Please, I’m sorry.”

Nick walked a few feet away and mumbled into the phone, while cradling his head in his free arm.

“Había demasiados monstruos en el mundo cuando sólo había gente en ella.” – Ali

“Huh?” – Levi

Levi was distracted. Someone was yelling at Nick, and he wasn’t taking it well.

“I’m sorry, I’m sorry, Yes sir, I’m sorry. I know. I’ll… yes sir.” – Nick

Nick returned to the table, Levi tried in vain to appear as though he weren’t eavesdropping.

“I’m sorry for upsetting you, Ms. Zurita-Sanchez, Mr. Ryder, I’ll go. I’m very sorry for wasting your time.” – Nick, dropping a pair of twenties on the table.

“How can you just drop a bomb in our lap and then run?” – Levi, but Nick was already leaving the Restaurant.
_
Later
Levi’s Suite
The Fairbanks Hotel_

“So what would you like to watch?” – Levi

“Anything but horror.”

“No Sandra Bullock, got it.”

Ali laughed.

“Or Twilight. Or crime stories.” – Ali

“Cartoons it is!” – Levi

“You could at least sound like it wasn’t what you wanted to watch.”

“Oooh, Despicable Me.” – Levi

The next couple of hours seemed to slip by very quickly for Ali. At some point Room Service came in with pizza and some brownie-like dessert, and the two of them fought over the spoon. Alegria was finally feeling safe.

Knock

“Did you hear that?” – Alegria

“Its your boys outside the door.” – Levi

“No. It was coming from back there.” – Ali pointed at the bedroom.

“Ms. Ali are you trying to seduce me?” – Levi

KNOCK

“Could you please go look?”

“Fiiine, but only because I’m getting a soda; pick another movie, Despicable Me ended 10 minutes ago.”

Levi hoisted himself over the back of the couch as if to remind her of his physique.

Ali grabbed his skateboard and held it up like a shield. Levi suddenly realized that he himself had nothing to protect himself with and grabbed a lamp.

Levi slipped over to the door and opened it to find Ali’s men standing their looking down at him.

“Sup.” – Levi, shutting the door.

“Hey, bae, you hungry? Want some chips? Candy? I got some subway…”

There was definitely a sound deeper in the suite, now. But Levi couldn’t put his finger on it.

He had the lamp’s cord tied around her forearm now.

“Alright, I’m gonna get something to eat, hmm… maybe some M&Ms.”

Levi opens his bedroom door carefully, quietly.

“…Beautiful / beautiful boy!” – John Lennon warbled over his iPod.

“Son of a gun.” – Levi

“Hey, Ali, it was just my iPod, I forgot to take my Flintstones. Be right back!”

He heard Ali laugh and he relaxed.

“… a little prayer / Every day in ever…” – Levi shut off the iPod and tossed it on the bed.

Something heavy landed on him when he turned toward the master bathroom.

“Ali! Get help!” – Levi, as he reeled.

Whatever was on him was squeezing his chest and hadn’t secured his arm and Levi instinctively swung his fist towards his own head, shattering it against the thing’s head.

The thing was too heavy and Levi fell to his knee as he tried desperately to get a handful of the thing’s wet and sticky hair.

Shifting gears, Levi rolled to the left and away from its head, somehow breaking free and ending up on his feet. He turned and saw the bloody mess that he’d made of the thing’s head.

Even with the bloody mass of hair and the poor light he knew that face anywhere.

The Crocodile Lady’s maw of snaggleteeth opened her gray, weathered face wide, and Levi should have been thinking about that impossibly large mouth, but he couldn’t turn away from her eyes, the dead black orbs flecked with bloody starlight.

She charged him, slamming into Levi and sending the boy tripping over the corner of the bed and onto the floor.

Through the stars and the pain Levi could see only one thing as he stared under his bead

It was an important thing.

It was a stainless steel T-tool.

Levi reached out and gripped the tool by the crossbar, rolling the post out between his fingers.

The thing straddled him and he was dimly aware that she had the body of a 70 year old woman and that she was wearing sundress with a surprisingly bright floral pattern.

It seemed strange that something so hideous would wear something so new.

The Crocodile lady was bent low, her massive jaw splayed wide when poised at his throat when he drove the T-tool home, right into where her shoulder met ribcage.

He let go without thinking and saw that he’d perfectly punctured some strange glyph on her chest.

“Is that a butterfly?”

The thing howled and leapt to its feet, using his head for leverage.

By the time she was up on his elbows she was at his bedroom door.

Suddenly the room was filled with lights and sounds. A dozen explosions all happening seemingly at once.

Levi covered his head, convinced that the thing had killed him. But then he felt her weight again, she’d dropped her shoulder into his groin.

“Claro! El objetivo es abajo!” – it was Ali’s bodyguard, the one that’d tackled him.

“Is Ali okay?” – Levi, rolling the thing off of him.

The bodyguard was helping him up.

“What happened, here?” – The bodyguard.

“That thing attacked me.”

Levi pointed but even as he did he found himself bewildered. There was no hag, no crocodile mouth. Just a girl. A woman, really, but a young one. Her hair was full of blood and her eyes, a chocolate brown, were sightless. She might have been pretty had her face not been shattered by a bullet.

Her body was similarly destroyed. In a moment Levi counted no fewer than six bloody marks on her dress and a number of places where here skin was just a bloody mess.

His T-tool was still imbedded center mass in what was now, very clearly a butterfly tattoo.

“Who is that?” – Levi, to no one in particular.

Later

“I’m glad you got them, Ali, I’m glad you didn’t try to come in here. Don’t get me wrong, I could-a taken her, but I’m glad there was a plan B just in case. Your boys did all right in there.” – Levi

Ali was holding a cold compress to the back of his head. He almost certainly had a concussion and would probably need stitches from the impact tear where he’d slammed into the floor.

“What do we do?” – Levi

“Don’t worry about it, Levi, we’ll take care of everything” – Nick

Tuesday, March 18, Late Morning
PFHA Headquarters
Old Calais

The Townhouse was the picture of southern gentility. Its lavender paint and porches were practically out of a storybook. The inside was no less beautiful

Nick had offered them a seat in the lounge when a woman joined them, she was older but still beautiful, with golden hair and a smile that seemed to lighten the room, she wore a daisy-yellow sundress.

“Oh, you must be Alegria and Levi; it’s such a pleasure to meet you. Nick has told me so much about you. I’m Anna Christopher, would you care for some fruit tea?” – Anna, offering them glasses of tea from a silver tray.

Her voice was high and oversweet, like the tea and Levi couldn’t help but think that her accent, while blatantly southern, seemed ill placed in the Bayous of Louisiana.

“I’d heard what happened to the two of you and I told Nicholas that I’d like to meet you just as soon as you were able!” – Anna.

“Thank you, Mrs. Christopher.” – Levi

“Oh, please, Mrs. Christopher was my mother. I’ve never had the fortune of marrying, please call me Anna.”

“All right, thank you, Anna.”

Alegria nodded.

Anna sat the silver tray, still carrying a glass of Fruit-Tea, a pitcher of the same, and a manila folder on the coffee table before taking a seat next to Alegria.

“What that creature did to that poor man, and almost did to the two of you is just frightful.” – Anna, picking up the Folder

“The Crocodile woman, you mean?” – Levi

“Just so, though, I’m told by my associates in the know that they prefer the term “Aswang”, they’re Filipino in origin, the poor things just keep coming into the States in droves.”

“Poor thing?” – Alegria

“Oh, yes, that’s the rub, the poor girl didn’t even know what she was, not really. She’s a normal girl most of the time, her true nature only asserting itself on certain nights of the year. Its dreadful.”

Anna took a drink of her tea.

“Nicholas told me that he’s explained a great deal of what we do here at the PFHA.”

Levi noticed Anna shoot the mousy man sitting in the corner a look.

“How did it find us?” – Alegria

“We don’t know for sure. Many of the Night-Folk seem to have a keen sense for their prey, which you most certainly became once you interrupted her feeding. Werewolves have been known to track their prey across incredible distances, for example. Vampires though, and Aswang are, at the end of the day, vampires, have a particularly keen sense for those they mark. That being said, she might have simply followed you. Mr. Rider is a celebrity athlete and you, Ms. Zurita-Sanchez are known by many across South America, or at least your family is, for your philanthropy.

Alegria laughed nervously. Levi didn’t seem to notice.

“What happened to the Crocodile Lady?” – Levi

“The Aswang has been disposed of. Nicholas tells me that you’ve been rattled by your experience and I can assure you that that is completely understandable. My own brother was taken from me by these monsters but our little community has been a boon in helping me cope with my loss, as we can be for you.”

“So…you hunt monsters?” – Alegria

“Oh, no, we don’t want to destroy them. Quite the opposite, so many of them have family and friends of their own, they live relatively normal lives, some even act as particularly dangerous shepherds to us that we would be just as monstrous as we perceive them if we were to kill them.”

“Oh.” – Alegria

“Nicholas also tells me that you’re afraid of these things might be found out. Please understand that we don’t want them to be revealed to the world so that they might be forced into the light. That might actually do more harm than good.”

Alegria nodded.

“We want to embrace and learn from them, and should the day come when we can reveal the true nature of the world to the masses, we shall Unmask them to a more accepting world.”

“But to what end?”

“Because once we’ve embraced them they’ll be forced by societal pressure to act according to societal norms. Take the vampire for example: A vampire might kill a victim with impunity because there is no check on their behavior. The police cannot touch them because the police don’t even know they exist. But imagine if every police department in the country new that a body found drained of blood in an alley was probably the victim of a vampire? What if there was a vampire working for the police department? Vampires need sustenance, its true, but couldn’t they get that without murder?

“Likewise, we’re beginning to understand that werewolves have their own societal construct. What’s to say that our societies are mutually exclusive? Why can we not have Werewolf lodges in every city, right next to the Knights of Columbus and the Free Masons?”

“This is all very hard to understand.” – Alegria

“I’m sorry, dear, my accent is atrocious.”

“No, that all the pain and suffering that humans cause, that we do to one another, to learn that there are others out there, literally feeding on that pain, that is unconstrained by simple morality is utterly … I just don’t understand why you would want to add to that.” – Ali

“We are not helping these creatures, Ms. Zurita-Sanchez, we are simply studying them and mitigating the damage they do when we can.”

“But Imagine if we can not only shine a light on the deepest shadows of the world but also show these poor creatures that they do not have to be the monster scaring children under the bed, they can be your friendly neighborhood monster.”

Levi laughed.

“Your foot’s already in the door, Alegria, come on in and see the good work we’re doing! You came here because you wanted to distance yourself from the world you were born to, you wanted to be safer and that’s all we want, we want everyone to be safer. That creature only came after you because we didn’t know it was there. Had we known we’d have put a stop to her spree before it ever began. We will not tear off the blindfolds with abandon, we’ll continue to wait and watch and help people take off their own blindfolds, their own masks in their own time, and we believe that the two of you could help us do that. You have a keen mind for understanding people in power. And Mr. Ryder, you’ve a voice that people will listen. He has over ten-thousand twitter followers and he doesn’t even post.” – Anna

Levi nodded.

“And what would you have us do for your organization? Would you like a donation?” – Alegria

“We are a charitable organization so any money is more than appreciated but I was hoping that, with your experience and your background y’all would help us to Unmask this world of darkness that we seem to live in.”

“I’m in if you are, babe.” – Levi, squeezing Alegria’s hand reassuringly.

With him by her side, Alegria felt she could do anything.

“Where do we sign?”

View
Invasive Species pt 2
Lawn Dogs - Pilot

Monday, October 15, 11:00am
Skemp Park, Green Lawn District

The Apothecary had stood on the edge of Skemp Park since the late 1950s when it was established by Ed Lake as the Skemp Park Drug Store. Back in the seventies his son, Rick, had changed its name to the Apothecary during the height of the new age movement. He was the one who began to sell holistic and alternative medicines alongside more traditional medicines.

Mina had taken over from her dad eight years ago when he retired. Unlike her father she’d gotten a medical degree. He often complained at how much the business had changed. In fact she was on the phone with him talking about just that when she left work for her lunch break.

She was walking into the park to have lunch at her favorite spot, the chess table under the willow by the pond when she saw that someone had already taken it.

“Hey, dad, I’ll call you back.” – Mina, seeing that the girl was obviously a teenager.

“Besh-I-Lesh-I-Lu / what are you / I got to know how to kill you.” – the girl sang

“Excuse me, miss, but shouldn’t you be in school.”

The girl turned toward her and gave Mina a puppy dog look. Her brown eyes wide.

“I’m homeschooled.”

Mina glanced at the table where the girl had a number of books that look like old journals and a tablet.

Suddenly the wind picked up flipping the page of the open journal and revealing unmistakable First Tongue script in the margins.

“What are you doing around here?” – The girl.

The girl, the Wolf was glaring at her, she must have caught her scent on the wind that moved the page. She was trying to look relaxed but her body language was dangerously tense.

“This is where I live and work.” – Mina.

The girl was coiled like a snake ready to strike – or bolt – she closed the book.

“Don’t you have someplace to be?” – The girl

“You’re sitting in it.” – Mina, showing the girl her lunch box.

The girl’s expression changed.

“This was your territory? Your pack’s territory I mean. Doesn’t anyone know you’re here?”

“Was? I mean, I might just be one girl, but the park’s still mine. I watch it, I spend most days with it. This is my home!” – Mina.

The girl broke eye contact.

“I grew up here, my family’s shop is right over there… I can be an asset. I know the territory, I know its people and I know its shadow. I lost my pack and I don’t know why or how. We aren’t immortal, we’re not…” – Mina

“We’re not exactly what you call a pack, but yeah, I’ll talk to them, I’m Chelsea.”

“I’m Mina, Ithaeur and Bone Shadow of the… heh, never mind I guess. Do you need some help with that?” – Mina

Chelsea looked down at the bag full of books and unzipped it.

Later, at the Duplex

Georgia was overseeing the men who inexplicably showed up that morning to start doing work on the duplex, which Satch had somehow purchased in less than twenty-four hours. Satch was talking to the foreman, looking over plans of some sort when the door burst open.

“I know what it is!” – Chelsea, before coming to a sudden and complete stop.

“Hi sweetie, you’re home from school early.” – Georgia

“Uh, yeah whatever, we need to talk, uh, mom?”

Satch excused himself and the three sequestered themselves in the small downstairs bedroom.

“I know what it is, the Beshilu, I know what we’re dealing with.”

“The Rat Host?” – Georgia

“You know what they are?” Chelsea

“Yes and no, I know that they’re the prey of the Hunters in Darkness. I never ran into them myself.”

“Yeah, well they’re the children of the Plague-King, he was to rats what Urfarah was to wolves. Our ancestor tore him to shreds and the Host are all that remains, essence infested rats that can become sentient–”

“Oh yeah, they’re kind of like physical spirits and they merge together and they infest people… oh jeez… all those bodies.” – Georgia

Chelsea nodded.

“And they’re driven by their nature to burrow through the Gauntlet.”

She showed them the entries she found in the various books.

“How did you find this in two days?” – Satch

“About that…”

Later still

Nelly was just heading out, leaving Mina to finish closing the Apothecary when she heard a tapping on the door.

It was Chelsea just like she promised, and she had the others with her. Mina immediately understood when she said that they weren’t really a pack.

While Chelsea wore second hand clothes that were nondescript and comfortable, the man she was with wore a ridiculously expensive pinstripe suit while the woman looked like a bike messenger.

And now they were adding a doctor to the mix.

They all had one thing in common though. They were all orphans. So maybe they were more alike than she gave them credit for.

“Hi, thank you for meeting me, I’m Dr. Mina Lake, welcome to the Apothecary.”

“Georgia Meyers, this is Satch Francetti, you’ve already met Chelsea of course.” – the woman.

She was smiling and warm but Mina knew immediately that the woman was protective of the other two.

Mina locked the door behind her.

For a moment she was sure they were being watched.

“What?” – Satch

Mina turned but the face was gone.

“Nothing. First thing you learn about this part of town, sometimes it plays tricks on you.” – Mina

Getting coffees from the Starbucks down the block, they wandered the park, taking turns telling stories and asking questions.

Mina was a relatively young wolf, only having gone through the First Change nine months before. She was away on business when her pack, the Quiet, simply vanished. Their Totem, Sorrow Wing, had been discorporated by unknown means before they vanished and refused to speak on the subject.

She was also a healer and impressive shaman for one so young, even for a Bone Shadow, showing wisdom well beyond her years.

“Do you need a business partner? I’ve been attempting to seed some money in the local economy and I could help you with any renovations you might want to make.” – Satch

Georgia sighed audibly.

“Not at this time, Mr. Francetti, though I’m grateful for the offer we just renovated last year.”

“That’s too bad; it would have shown trust in any other endeavors we might take together.”

“What Satch is trying to say is that you can run with us. We’re not exactly a pack, but we’ve been watching each other’s backs.” – Georgia.

“Pretty much.”

Georgia furrowed her brow.

“Do you guys smell that?” – Georgia

The others sniffed the air.

“You’re going to have to be a bit more specific.” – Chelsea

“I smell cigarettes.” – Georgia

“So?”

“Do you see anyone smoking?” – Georgia

The others shrugged.

“Like I said, this park can play tricks on you.” – Mina

Even as they moved on, Georgia couldn’t shake the feeling they were being watched.

“Anyone else hungry?” – Chelsea

They made small and went back and forth about what to get for dinner before deciding on a small Chinese restaurant called the Seven Dragon. The dumplings were delicious, the noodles less so, everyone thanked Mina for insisting they order the Peking Duck.

“So Chelsea says these things infest people, does that mean that when we kill the host and rats start pouring out will we have to kill them all or do we have to kill just the one?” – Satch, after the server finished carving the duck.

“Are you asking if it’s it like if we kill the head vampire all the baby vampires die?” – Georgia

“Do you know the answer?” – Satch

“I don’t know enough about them. The Quiet never dealt with the Beshilu and Chelsea’s mentor describes a number of strains, everything from the legendary Rat King to rats the size of wolves to anthropomorphic swarms.” – Mina shuddered.

“Could we be a little quieter while other people are present?” – Georgia

“What are you talking about? The waiter left already, we have the dining room to ourselves.” – Chelsea

Georgia looked again, perplexed. She was sure there had been someone sitting at the bar playing with their phone.

“Are you okay, Georgia?” – Satch, putting his hand on her shoulder.

She shrugged.

Chelsea opened her backpack and pulled out one of her journals that had been marked by dozens of different colored post-its along with her tablet.

“We’re having dinner.” – Satch

“And? I just remembered something, gimme a sec.” – Chelsea, flipping through the old book.

“Right here, the Rat Host are cowards by nature, hiding away while they gnaw through the gauntlet… once they successfully winnow it away it begins to collapse, creating a verge… the spirits that were drawn by their violent burrowing are able to come across unbidden…” – Chelsea stopped reading aloud and turned the page

“And?” – Satch

“There is no surefire way to kill the Rat Host. Even the weakest is of ancient origin and of a cunning unseen outside the Shadow.” – Chelsea, reading aloud again.

“The Gauntlet’s already all but gone, at least on the top floor of the hotel.” – Georgia

“What about the Harvesters?” – Mina

“I’d be too weary of them seeing a request for help as weakness and trying to take back the territory by force.” – Georgia

“I don’t like it either. We don’t need to fight a war on two fronts.” – Satch

“The Harvesters’ll keep their distance, they’re glory hounds, but they refuse to put in the work.” – Mina

“Besides, they were willing to give the territory up with little more than me keeping eye contact during our conversation. I think they know somethings very wrong and don’t think they can handle it.” – Chelsea.

“I think we can clean it out ourselves. Either way, we don’t need to be too sneaky I bought the property this morning.” – Satch, flipping a pair of keys on a key ring.

When they finished eating Satch paid, leaving an exorbitant tip.

None of them noticed the smell of cigarette smoke when they left.

Just after Midnight

The El Dorado seemed all the more menacing now that they knew what they were dealing with.

“Someone else came through here.” – Georgia, opening the window at the top of the fire escape.

“The Beshilu?” – Chelsea

Georgia sniffed the air; cigarettes, again but mixed with gun oil and the chalky odor of unspent gun powder.

“I don’t think so.” – Georgia, becoming a wolf.

Satch stepped into the corridor behind her, a small flashlight in hand.

She followed the smell of cigarettes to abattoir door, and then on to the staircase at the end of the hall. The cigarette smell was fresh, but she didn’t recognize the brand.

Mina took the Dalu form as she slipped through the window.

Chelsea followed after, blocking the moonlight with the sheer size of her shape in Urshul form.

Her footfalls were surprisingly quiet for her size.

Georgia’s posture told them that they were not alone.

She saw the corridor in the gray undertones of a wolf’s vision at night. She saw the stairs up ahead as she approached the staircase.

Then she saw him, his hair was loose but cut short, the way her father had worn his. He wore a dark suit with a skinny tie. He was young and thin and handsome and if it weren’t for the cigarettes and the shotgun she wouldn’t be able to smell him at all.

Surprised, Georgia grew into the Urshul only for the boy to literally vanish just before Satch’s flashlight fell on him. It was only her keen hearing that told her that somehow he was downstairs running down the corridor.

“What was it?” – Satch

Georgia, unable to respond in a way that he would understand chased after the boy. The others followed, spoiling for a fight.

“Was it the Rat-thing?” – Satch, pulling his own gun as he let Mina and Chelsea pass him.

When he reached the bottom of the staircase Georgia was sniffing the ground looking for something.

“It was a kid or something.” – Chelsea, once again a sixteen year old girl.

“It wasn’t a spirit, I say we ignore it.” – Mina

Georgia growled at the idea, her opinion was clear.

“The floor’s creaking under your weight, Georgia.” – Satch

The giant wolf vanished into the shape of an athletic young woman, in part to be quieter, but also to better fit down the next staircase, which was cluttered with old broken furniture.

Chelsea bound toward the middle of the heap, having become a wolf, and cleared the entire staircase.

“Dammit, girl.” – Georgia

Chelsea stalked through the corridor and soon found herself joined by Georgia.

Chelsea licked the black-furred wolf.

Georgia grumbled. She couldn’t smell anything, not even the cigarettes; somehow their scent was fading as they tracked it.

What could do that?

As if to answer they heard the sound of a shotgun being fired farther down, closer to the ground. The pack as one charged across the corridor and down the staircase twice more.

What they saw was the young man in the dark suit opening fire on what looked like a six foot tall rat standing on its all too human legs.

By the time they reached the bottom Chelsea, Georgia and Satch had gone Urshul once again.

Georgia sprung toward the rat, bounding over the mysterious shot-gunner and clamping her jaws onto its head, her teeth biting deep into the bone. The hot dirty oil taste of its blood coated her tongue.

Its body crumpled to the floor, headless.

She dropped it.

“Is it over?” – Mina

“Jinxed it.” – the young man.

As if on cue the Beshilu’s body seized, arching its back up onto its shoulders as its skin erupted like a great, petulant boil. Brown rot burst forth in an unsettling cascading skittering.

“Oh god…its rats.” – Mina

And it was. Dozens of them, far more than sanity would say was possible, roiling and fighting over one another, each one no less than a foot long.

There were at least a hundred of them.

The man opened fire on the swarm, blasting away with what looked like buck shot.

Chelsea yipped in what seemed to be wolfish glee as she dived into the hoard, taking two or three of the diseased rodents in her monstrous jaws. Satch took a more measured approach, the largest of the dire-wolves used his jaws in tandem with his dagger-like claws to shred as many as possible.

Georgia was there with them, slashing and chomping as many as she could.

Mina seemed a little weary, raising Satch’s forgotten Pistol and blasting at them.

By the time swarm dispersed, the young man’s shotgun was spent, as was Satch’s pistol, but the nascent pack and their mysterious ally had killed nearly all of them, with only a handful or so escaping their wrath.

The young man was paler up close; his eyes were bright in the absolute darkness of the room, as though he had no problem perceiving them as they darted from wolf to wolf to woman and back again.

He dropped his shotgun and a switchblade danced in his hand.

Satchel laughed a wolf’s laugh, going so far as to yip and roll onto his back and to his feet again, his tail wagging wildly.

“I’ll cut you up." – The man, backing toward the staircase.

Chelsea sniffed at him and smelled nothing but cigarettes and gunpowder.

Satch was still laughing when he stood into his human form.

“What are you?” – Mina

“I could ask the same.” – The Man

He was calm, cool, collected.

Georgia and Chelsea joined Satch and Mina as people, though they all continued using their wolf eyes to see in the dark.

The man grinned knowingly.

Satch darted forward, suddenly in the man’s face, he was no longer laughing.

“You’d best put the knife down, son, it doesn’t matter how cool you are or how many jabs you get in, you can’t beat me and you won’t survive the attempt.” – Satch

The man smirked dismissively as if he were going to say something but instead the knife flickered. It was just gone.

“Now that we got that out of the way– “ – Satch was interrupted by the man flickering, followed by the hotel’s long boarded up front door suddenly bursting open in a crash of broken wood.

He turned back but the man was gone.

Mina tucked the gun into her belt behind her back as they all rushed out of the hotel.

“God Dammit, man! I just wanted to talk! Come back!” – Satch.

Georgia sniffed at the air and then bent down to sniff the ground, melting into the wolf-shape as she did.

She followed her nose to shadows behind the front stair, away from the street lamp.

“Hi.” – Georgia, suddenly a woman again.

The man, cornered as he was, smiled resignedly.

“We just want to talk, sir.” – Satch, having followed Georgia.

“So long as you don’t try to make me puppy chow.”

“You won’t be puppy chow. Ladies, ladies, please, can we all be people right now so we don’t frighten our young friend?” – Satch.

Chelsea acquiesced grudgingly, before walking off. Mina was nowhere to be found.

“No puppy-chow.” – Satch.

The man adjusted his tie and smoothed his tailored suit. The lines were antiquated, like something Satch had seen in a Tom Cruise movie back in the eighties, but it was most definitely high quality.

The guy pulled a cigarette and lighter out of nowhere and lit up.

“You’ll forgive me, old habit.” – The man relaxed.

“Not bugging me. Quick question though, why were you in my building?” – Satch

The man took a long drag.

“Killin’ a monster.” – the man blew the smoke as if to punctuate his thought.

“And how did you know there was a monster?”

“It killed some people. Things like that get noticed.”

Georgia knew he was dissembling.

“We only noticed yesterday.” – Satch.

“Connected some dots, figured out what needed to die, killed it. Thanks for the assist, champ.” – The guy, tapping Satch’s shoulder with his fist.

Satch looked at him, hard.

“I’m so full of shit right now, it’s hard to walk, all you need to know is that I’ve been watching you, I came here to see what you’ve been up too and found a seven foot tall rat.” – The man.

“You want to watch us? All you need know is that we’re fixing up the neighborhood, buying some property to better put down roots and that it’s best if you leave us to our work. If you want to know how serious we are just look me up, I’m Satch Francetti out of Miami.”

“And you’re werewolves?” – the guy.

“…Duh?”

The woman snorted.

“Let’s get back in there, Satch, Mina’s still in there.” – Georgia, patting the man on the shoulder.

When Satch turned back the man was gone.

Satch was already bored of that trick.

Mina studied the third floor of the run-down hotel in gob smacked horror. The barrier between flesh and spirit within the El Dorado was almost non-existent. If the Beshilu had been allowed to work any longer than it had the hotel would have become a verge of the worst variety.

What was worse was the fact that there was no way they got all of the rats, which meant that the shard was still out there, still alive.

“How could I have let this happen?” – Mina

She caught movement out of the corner of her eye and turned to see the ceiling begin to weep black blood.

She recognized the resonance of a murder spirit when she saw it.

It seemed the Charnel house upstairs spawned all kinds of critters.

“That’s not good.”

All the while the black puddle of murder oozed ever closer.

Two Days Later
The Apothecary, Green Lawn

Mina was waiting for Nelson to arrive for his 4 o’clock shift, she’d warned him that if he were late again, she’d document him and was kind of hoping he wouldn’t call her bluff. Nellie (no relation) was busy clearing the scripts that had been up for more than 72 hours to make room for any new scripts that would be placed during the rush hour.

Something moved at the corner of her vision. The wolf rushed to the surface, ready to run if necessary.

There was no one there. Then she heard the sound of someone on the other side of the shelf. It was just another customer.

When had a customer come in?

Mina smelled the air expecting the normal smells of sweat, blood and perfume.

She couldn’t smell anything.

She walked around the shelf. There was no one there. What was going on?

Mina went back to work, but she kept her eyes open. She was behind the counter, having just taken care of Mrs. Wilkerson when something touched her shoulder.

Mina spun, the wolf pleading with her to run.

“Did you learn anything new about the, oh heck, what did you call that rat thing?”

It was the man from the hotel. He was wearing the same, or a very similar, suit.

“Beshilu? We haven’t learned anything else, yet. There only seemed to be one and as far as we could tell we didn’t get him.” – Mina

The figure grunted.

How had she not realized he’d been there the whole time? It was like he was just coming into focus.

Just looking at him in the light of day, he had fair, ashen skin that stood out against his chestnut hair handsomely. But it was his eyes that stood out, they were a shade of agate she’d never seen and reflected the light of the room like glass. Those eyes weren’t human, at least not entirely. His shadow too, now that she really looked, didn’t seem quite right in the light coming through the storefront windows, seeming too defused despite the western exposure to the afternoon sun.

She listened closely but once again heard nothing as he stared at her. No breath. No heartbeat.

No scent save cigarettes.

The man turned and began perusing her holistic wares.

“How much of this actually works?”

“All of it works.” – Mina

He shot her a cynical look before smelling the contents of a glass jar filled with dried St. John’s Wort.

“It just depends on whether or not you use it properly and for the right reasons.”

He smiled and put the glass back.

“Can any of this stuff be used recreationally?”

“No.”

“No?”

“No.”

The bell over the front door chimed and Mina turned unthinkingly.

“Sorry I’m late; I couldn’t find a sitter for Duffy.” – Nelson

In the second it took for Mina to turn back he was gone.


Satch hung up the phone. It would be another 3 weeks, minimum, before the police were done with the hotel and probably a month after they were done for cleaners to go in and clean it out further.

The newspapers were having a field day with the revelation of the “El Dorado Larder”, which was a stupid name but seemed to be sticking for now.

Of course some good came out of this debacle; Satch had made good inroads with a couple of cops who were willing to look into their mysterious visitor. He gave them the best description he could but with no fingerprints, gun or evidence and a broad and ill-defined description there wasn’t much the police could do.

He almost broke his phone.

He drove over to the property anyway.

They’d taken turns watching the place at night to make sure nothing came through the nearly breached gauntlet but after just a few days the familiar haze of a healthy barrier were starting to appear and there hadn’t been any crossing that they could see.

Chelsea and Georgia were due back from their shift, which they spent across the street looking like a girl and her large, black dog that looked too much like a wolf.

Satch parked a half a block down and shed his human form for that of a wolf as he stepped into the building through the back entrance. The police had opened the back door the morning of the “grisly discovery” and it was easy enough to slip in unnoticed while the cop took a leak.

The place had a peculiar odor during the day, like the mold was reacting to the heat outside.

He’d come to take his frustrations out on the hotel’s still numerous rat population and was making good work of them when he smelled the familiar herbaceous scent of Mina.

Satch stood to his full height, trading fur for the designer jeans and t-shirt he’d worn over as he turned toward the back entrance.

He didn’t expect to see the kid from the other night.

“You?”

The kid shrugged and approached without making a sound.

“What’s happening, Satch?” – The kid, watching something in the recesses of the still dark hall.

“It’s been quiet the last few days.”

The kid’s head jerked up suddenly and for a moment Satch was confused before he heard it; voices, human voices, and footfalls on the staircase.

How could he have been so stupid? He hadn’t even bothered to check with the girls to see if there was someone in the building.

“Room 15.” – Satch, pointing at a door he’d been in with one of the detectives when he’d called in the bodies.

The lock was broken, they could easily sneak inside and just pray that the cops were too distracted to notice the creak of the ancient hinges.

The hinges practically screamed as the kid opened the door wide for Satch to run in after him.

“Who’s there?” – One of the cops.

The door closed with a solid thud. Evidently the Louisiana humidity had warped it enough to allow it to announce their exact location.

“Check the doors. They went into one of them.” – The same cop

They listened as the cops went from door to door. Satch let out a low growl in frustration, he’d grown more than a foot since entering the room, preparing for the cops to open the door and meet their deaths.

“These ain’t budging, I don’t think they’ve been opened in years.” – the other cop, rattling a knob and giving the door a good shouldering.

Footsteps approached the door. Satch readied himself for murder. The Herd Should Not Know.

“One of them was opened.” – The first cop

The cop walked right past the door.

What the hell? Satch looked at the kid and then at the door again, except he couldn’t, not really, it was as if his eyes were sliding off of it.

“Are you sure? I didn’t hear anything.” – the second cop.

“What? Really? That was loud.” – But the first cop wasn’t so sure anymore.

“These are all locked and warped shut, there’s no way one of them opened.”

“Guess so. Let’s just go… I need a coffee and you’ve been away from your post for too long.”

They listened to the cops leave and Satchel wasn’t sure to be confused or impressed.

“That was a neat trick, kid.” – Satch

But when he turned, he was alone.

Just past dusk, somewhere in Green Lawn

Chelsea had been tailing Tree for about an hour when she lost him around a corner. She’d been careful, keeping her distance and doing what she could to blend into the herd, but it was clear that he’d caught wind of her.

It was also clear, though he thought he was clever, that he was directly behind her, dropping silently from above. She was impressed.

Chelsea turned, her flowered sundress twirling about her.

“Hyah.” – Chelsea, smiling and waving

“Why are you following me?” – Tree, towering over her.

“Do you remember me? I’m Chelsea, we met the other night near Skemp Park?”

“Why are you following me?”

“Well, you know, I’m new in town and I don’t know anybody and I was just thinking that it’d be great if, you know, we hung out and stuff.”

He looked around, wary of an ambush.

“Are you flirting with me?” – Tree

He seemed completely flummoxed.

“Not necessarily, I was just, you know, looking for someone to show me around.” – Chelsea, blushing

“Fine, but we’re leaving my territory. Now.” – Tree

“Okay.” – Chelsea, trying to take his hand.

He pulled away.

They got three blocks before she tried again.

It turned out that they had a lot in common, they both loved online gaming and crappy food, and they both loved a good book and history. She was surprised when he said he followed Black Wolf.

Before she knew it an hour had gone by as he showed her his favorite dive, a small hole in the wall that sold what he claimed were the best enchiladas in Louisiana and though he refused to talk about anything that could be construed as “pack business” he was eager to swap stories about rites he’d tried and the local spirit ecology.

For the first time since George’s death, Chelsea was having fun.

Later, The Duplex

It seemed that the werewolves were busy sprucing up the joint.

Roy found a stack of paperwork on the new dining room table that included an invoice for plumbing, electrical and general repairs that had all been done with priority for a hefty sum.

It also appeared that the big guy, Satchel, had purchased the other apartment and had the tenants relocated on his dime. It was clear that Mr. Francetti had the chicken to scratch. Enough to put pay for this house, the rat-infested hotel from hell and pay for a storefront two blocks down over the course of only a few days.

That was serious juice.

Roy slipped upstairs and into the main bedroom, which looked like it was being prepped for a renovation. He found the gun, a custom .44 Desert Eagle that had had been fired but not cleaned. It had the same blood on it that the kid had smelled downstairs.

There were a few suits in dry cleaner bags.

He also found a few burner phones that had already been pre-programmed though, and found that very useful. He recognized a few of the numbers, those of a local real estate agent that had brokered the various purchases for Mr. Francetti, a high end accountant, a lawyer at Cohen, Garber and Swan.

It seemed that Mr. Francetti was very well connected.

Someone came through the front door; it seemed that it was time for him to go.

Roy slipped out of the bedroom and down the stairs. The girl, Chelsea, was standing in the doorway while she talked to one of the tallest people he’d ever seen and it was clear to him that whoever he was, he was like her and her friends.

How many werewolves were there in the city?

“Thank you for the night, T.”

“I had fun too.” – T.

“Do you want to come in?”

Roy rolled his eyes.

“I gotta get back. Jack’s been blowing up my phone.”

“Yeah…” – the girl.

The girl even whimpered like a dog. She stepped backward into the house and just like that Roy was outside, loose in the glorious darkness of the Louisiana night.

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Invasive Species pt 1
Lawn Dogs - Pilot

Saturday, October 13, 1:00pm
New Calais, Louisiana

Stupid fucks!

Silky smirked as he drove his pimped out baby-blue Escalade past a row of fast-food restaurants, mini-marts and boarded up shops.

Green Lawn, what a laugh.

Most of the neighborhood was paved over and what little wasn’t, people’s yards and the parks, were muddy and weed-ridden.

They said that the gangs and drugs were bringing the Lawn low, but the neighborhood, hell the whole city of New Calais, had been dragged through the mud way before the gangs showed up.

Hell, dealing drugs for the Sangres Azul was probably the best job you could get on the Lawn, at least he wasn’t a chump like those assholes working at Mickey-D’s or the Dollar General.

Silky pulled up to the duplex still patting himself on the back for his business acumen when he saw the “For Sale” sign.

“The fuck?”

It wasn’t the sign itself that almost caused the dealer to drop the blunt that currently hung on his lip, it was the bright orange spray paint that covered half of the sign that didn’t belong.

The gray siding of the duplex was marked by the same bright orange spray paint, the sidewalk too.

“Motherfucker!”

Silky put the car in park and grabbed the bucket hat off the seat next to him, pulling it down low over the oversized sunglasses he wore and utterly obscuring his blonde-tipped brown hair.

The tags were strange; he’d never seen anything like them. One looked like the head of a fork. Another like someone got lazy drawing a lightning bolt, the third was just four or five lines sprayed deliberately into a blobby sort of shape.

Silky pulled the desert eagle out of the glove compartment and tucked it into his baby-blue track pants. He didn’t bother using the matching jacket to cover it up. He wanted whoever was in there to know he was packing.

He’d scared some squatters out of the run down duplex a month ago and sure as shit wasn’t going to take them coming back onto Sangres turf and tag the fuck out of it.

The front door was wide open.

“If those strung out freeloading motherfuckers got into my motherfucking stash I’ll fucking kill them.”

Silky wasn’t sure who he was talking to as he psyched himself up before charging into the living room.

The first thing he noticed was the giant naked dude standing in the living room talking to someone in the kitchen.

“I’m telling you, piss is the best way to mark, it’s less conspicuous than bright orange spray paint and it sends a message.” – The naked dude.

The naked dude was gigantic, at least six foot four and built like a monster truck, his muscles had muscles.

Tattoos covered the man’s shoulders and back.

The man’s clothes sitting neatly folded on an upside-down cardboard box.

Why the fuck was the guy just standing there when his clothes were right there waiting for him?

Silky was having a hard time concentrating on the task at hand.

“Who the fuck do you fucks think you is?”

The naked dude turned around, his face was stern, but his eyes showed only confusion.

“What the fuck are you fuckers doing in my fucking house?!”

The naked dude’s face broke into a big grin.

“We’re trying to clean this cesspool.” – The naked dude

He just stood there naked, not even reaching for his clothes.

Silky heard the sound of footsteps on the stairs and turned to see a sixteen year old girl coming down the steps; she didn’t seem fazed by the naked dude.

Freaks.

“Who’s there?” – A woman’s voice came from the kitchen.

“It looks like some sort of Pimp; I think he’s looking for his stash.” – the naked guy called back.

“Why the fuck you naked, Motherfucker?” – Silky

The naked dude gestured as if to say “Why not?”

“You can have the stash, take it.” – Naked dude

“We left it all piled up for you in the first floor bedroom.” – The girl on the staircase.

“Don’t tell me what to do you naked motherfucker, I’ll fucking take it over your dead, motherfucking, body is what I’ll do!” – Silky

The naked dude started laughing.

Silky pulled the gun from his belt and holding it sideways, in fact he’d tilted the gun so far that it was nearly upside down.

The naked dude quit laughing.

“Take it and get the fuck out!” – The man growled.

Something about the way the guy growled scared the shit out of Silky. He didn’t just say it with a deep voice, he actually growled and suddenly Silky knew that the naked dude was dangerous, scary dangerous.

Silky stepped back and tripped over his own foot, before he knew what had happened the gun in his hand went off.

The recoil nearly broke his wrist.

Silky watched a hole appear in the guy’s chest, just below his left shoulder.

He saw the wall behind the guy turn bright red.

He heard the sounds of tearing cloth and something heavy hit the ground.

In front of him though, he saw the guy react to being shot.

He saw the naked dude’s eyes go wide and his brown eyes suddenly flash cold blue. Instead of falling backward, the guy lunged forward. Silky felt a sudden burst of icy wind as the guy disappeared, replaced by a gigantic gray wolf the size of a bear with the teeth of a lion.

The next part was harder to explain.

He remembered feeling those gigantic teeth on the sides of his head, he remembered the hot breath of the monster, but suddenly he was flipping end over end, weightlessly.

He saw the source of the loud thud from before, another giant bear-wolf thing, this one with reddish fur, was standing, ready to pounce at the foot of the stairs. The girl’s clothes, now shredded, were scattered all over the staircase.

He landed, impossibly, in the arms of a pretty black woman wearing rubber gloves and a do-rag and smelling like Lysol and moldy food.

She was holding him like a baby, which made no sense because Silky was over six feet tall himself.

But then she dropped him and as he fell, Silky saw the naked dude, a big-ass hole in his shoulder, standing over a body wearing a baby blue track suit.

In that instant Silky understood that he had been killed and as his head, severed from its body, hit the floor all he could think was:

“Fu–!”

37 Hours Earlier

The station wagon had seen better days.

Even before Chelsea broke out the driver’s side rear window and hotwired it the thing was a thirty-year-old rusted out piece of shit.

She’d been driving for 14 hours with an impossibly large man called Satch in her backseat covered in blood and impossibly deep wounds. If he were human he’d have been dead, hell, he should be dead anyway if Georgia hadn’t done everything she could to staunch his bleeding.

She didn’t know either of them well, they’d only met a week ago, when their packs were brought together to fight off a horde of Pure.

They were all that was left now, and they were driving west out of Florida as fast as they could.

  • * *

It didn’t take long for Satch’s wounds to heal over, only a couple of hours really, but he still hurt all over as they crossed the Louisiana state line.

Georgia sat in the back of the wagon, her eyes locked on the road behind them, as if she was waiting for the monsters to come rushing out of the darkness behind them.

The Storm Lord couldn’t blame her.

He turned his head to face the driver and felt a sharp pain run down his back. Even though he was no longer battered or bruised, the cramped car had done little to alleviate his pain.

Chelsea was her name, couldn’t have been more than 16. She’d come out of the fight relatively unscathed, more battered and bruised than any truly serious damage, despite how she’d fought, but now he couldn’t help but see her as just a scared little girl.

“You okay?”

She nodded but didn’t say a word; she hadn’t spoken at all since they’d fled the carnage behind them.

  • * *

“We’re here.” – Chelsea

Georgia opened her eyes and realized that she’d been asleep.

“What time is it?” – Georgia

“Just after three a.m.” – Chelsea

Georgia looked up to see a sign that said “Welcome Home to New Calais”.

“Why here?” – Georgia

“It’s where we’re supposed to be.” – Chelsea.

Georgia grumbled. She hated it when Dreamers got cryptic.

“We need to go to ground, maybe hold up in one of these abandoned buildings.” – Chelsea.

“That motel seems like a good place to go to ground.” – Georgia pointed further down the street.

“The hell with that! I got us covered.” – Satch, holding up a duffle.

It was filled with money, ridiculous amounts of it.

“Hell yeah! Where did you get all of that?” – Chelsea.

“Past life, kid, past life. Now, let’s go get us a suite!” – Satch.

“No, there’s no way we’re doing something so stupid, we need to stay off the grid, we don’t know who’s claiming this territory or their views on outsiders. We just lost our packs, I don’t want to die too.” – Georgia.

“Staying “off the grid” isn’t going to keep them from noticing us. If they find us they find us, the trick is to keep our heads down on the street level, I figure the best way to do that is to that is to get off the street, and there is no reason why we can’t do that in style and comfort.” – Satch.

“How are we going to walk into some ritzy place looking like this? The girl and I look like hell with these clothes you got us and we’re still covered in blood and dirt!” – Georgia

“She’s got a point, we don’t exactly look like we’re high class.” – Chelsea.

“No, we look like we got ran through the garbage disposal.” – Georgia.

“The way we look doesn’t matter nearly as much as how our money looks and since it doesn’t look like you have any money I’ll be paying which means I get to decide where we’re going.” – Satch.

“I’ve never seen such a pretty boy Rahu in my entire life!” – Georgia.

“Enough! If you want to stay in that shit stain of a motel fine, but don’t be surprised when you wake up in worse shape than you are in now!”

“You uptight prissy son of a –”

Georgia stopped mid-sentence, cut off by the utterly inhuman growl, his eyes flashed blue as he glared at her.

She realized, quite suddenly, that she’d over stepped. That she’d gone too far.

“Fine, we’ll go to the hotel.” – Georgia, quietly.

They were driving past a strip mall when Satch told the girl to pull over.

“Why?” – Georgia

“There’s a clothes store, I can run in and get us something to look presentable with.”

Georgia couldn’t argue with the logic and evidently neither could Chelsea, because they were already pulling into the parking lot.

Satch stepped out of the car, still wearing his leather jacket despite the fact that it was bloody and shredded from the battle.

As he stepped out of the car he grew a full two feet, his short hair grew thicker and longer and though she couldn’t see it, Georgia knew he’d become unrecognizable.

Satch, now nearly nine feet tall, trudged off into the darkness. A minute later they heard the sound of glass breaking followed by silence.

“God knows what kind of alarm he set off.” – Chelsea, after they waited another few minutes.

“What do you think was in that duffle?” – Georgia

They’d stopped at the Florida/Georgia line and then still broken Satch had disappeared for ten minutes only to return covered in dirt and carrying a large duffle bag.

“Drugs.”

They both laughed.

“It’s not drugs.” – Satch, growled.

Chelsea jumped.

He was still wearing the Dalu and was carrying a lot of shopping bags.

“Bags, really?” – Chelsea

The giant shrugged, reverting to the Hishu as he did.

“It was easier to carry everything this way.” – Satch

One of the bags was filled with water bottles that they used to clean themselves up before getting dressed.

The clothes were off the rack and loose fitting, not so bad should they need to take on the Dalu again.


The blocks of abandoned buildings, decrepit homes and urban death that made up the neighborhood of “Green Lawn” slowly gave way to businesses and apartment complexes and skyscrapers as they reached the city’s business district, what the signage called “Dulac Park”.

The Fairbanks Hotel stood twenty-one stories tall, a shining white tower that spanned the length of a city block.

When Satch stepped inside he felt like he’d stepped back in time, the lobby spanned the entirety of its first floor, with gleaming marble floors and gilded columns. The expanse was dotted with luxurious leather sofas, tables and chairs and even a grand piano.

The woman manning the front desk was named Sherry and had blonde hair tall enough to remind him of the eighties.

“Welcome to the Fairbanks New Calais Hotel, do you have a reservation?” – Sherry.

“No, Sherry, I don’t but I was wondering what the largest suite you have available is.” – Satch.

“We have a two bedroom suite available, sir, for $788 dollars a night.” – Sherry, cheerfully.

“Wow, hmmm. Well, that is steep. I would like to pay for five nights, though I only plan on staying for two. Meanwhile, if the money spent on the other three nights disappears, obviously no one would know about it, or me or my friends, who would, of course come in through the back, completely unseen by the cameras.”

Sherry looked at the large stack of money he placed on the desk in front of her.

“Welcome back to the Fairbanks Hotel Mr. Romano, it’s so nice to see you back so soon after your last visit.” – Sherry.

“It’s good to be back, Sherry.”

“A flea bag motel. Really, Georgia, you should be ashamed of yourself for even suggesting it.” – Satch, once the door was closed.

“Oh. My. God!” – Chelsea squealed as she ran into the living room and jumped on the sumptuous couch.

“I’ll admit this is nice, Satch.”

“Well, now that you can admit that, I’ll leave the two of you to fight over who gets the second bedroom. I got the master!”

Georgia ignored him; she was too busy staring out the window, her hands pressed against the glass.

“You’ve got to see this.”

“What?” – Chelsea, rolling off the couch, she was already starting to fall asleep.

“The view can’t be that good.” – Satch, following after.

But it was.

It was a park, and it was huge, like a wetland central park smack dab in the middle of downtown New Calais. There were baseball diamonds and a carousel, there were vast fields and creeks and ponds and all lit up by the light of the half-moon set in clear sky.

“Wow.” – Satch.

“If only the wild could be so peaceful. Look at the rose garden!” – Chelsea, pointing east.

Georgia laughed at the girl’s naivety.

“Come on, kids, let’s get some sleep. It’s been a hell of a night.” – Satch.

The morning after next

After a long and very hot shower, Georgia left on foot, slipping out of the hotel quietly and found a thrift store as quickly as she could.

They’d laid low in the hotel for two days, just like Satch insisted, but if she’d stayed inside any longer she’d have turned on the both of them. They were already starting to feel like a pack, and Georgia didn’t like it. Somewhere out there her pack’s bodies were still warm. Hell, there was even a chance that they were still breathing.

Of course that was a lie.

The wise-guy had given her a couple of bundles of twenties worth about $500 total and three burner phones that he’d picked up earlier in the morning. The guy was loaded but was playing a little too loose with his cash.

The burner phones were a good idea.

She bought a cropped T-shirt and a pair of track pants along with a messenger bag and a light weight jacket and some shoes and then, stuffing everything including the shoes into the bag went for a run.

It didn’t take long for her to get a feel for the city. She was an urban explorer and a free runner since before the Moon called her and her new senses and instincts made her all the better at it; before she knew it she was subsumed into the flow.

Soon she was running down allies and leaping over fences, letting her instincts and intuition take her where they may.

Where they took her was far from the gleaming towers of the Dulac Park and Calais Proper (who calls their downtown “Calais Proper”) and back to the run down streets of Green Lawn.

She found herself atop a smallish square building, a machine shop or garage by the smell of it. She slipped her water bottle out of the bag and took a long pull as she stepped to the building’s edge. Sure enough, it was a repair shop, and a well tagged one too. Some of those tags showed the telltale signs of being territorial marks, but they were old and faded, some even covered.

“I need some paint.”


Chelsea hit the streets with a map of the city and all the energy that a teenaged girl could muster. She brought the duffle of books given to her by George Sky-Seeker, her pack’s rite-master and lore-keeper. She had made a promise to keep it safe should anything happen to him and she was going to keep it.

There was a hotdog stand two blocks away from the hotel and Chelsea bought two. George used to go on and on about how evil hot dogs were. All Chelsea knew was that they were delicious.

She took her hot dogs and her map and headed due south-east into the city, painfully aware of the fact that she looked like a tourist.

That was okay though, because she was.

She quickly found herself back in Green Lawn. Chelsea figured that with all the buildings she’d seen abandoned last night there was a good chance that they could find a block or two of unmarked or poorly guarded territory for them to carve out, at least until they were able to get back on their feet.

Why was she thinking of them as a unit? They weren’t her pack. Her pack was dead.

It didn’t take long for Chelsea to spot the first set of marks. These were tribal; Talon and Lord to be specific, and they were on opposite sides of the thoroughfare which meant that the packs were at least smart enough to not make travel hell between territories. She put the map in her bag and began following the marks, careful to stay off on the sidewalk and not to turn down the wrong alley.

There was something else too. A smell she just couldn’t shake, like mildewed clothes after a few clean washes.

Chelsea looked up at the building across the street. It was one of four, all spaced so closely together that they didn’t even have proper alleys between them. This one was on the far right though, bookending the block. Most of the buildings on the block were abandoned or run down, but this one seemed to want to be left alone.

It had a large metal sign going down the front of it, from roof to door reading HOTEL in long broken neon lights. It didn’t seem to have a name.

The door was locked with an accordion-like gate and she looked at it for a long time while making a note to learn how to pick locks.

Maybe there was an open window around back.

Unfortunately the windows were all boarded up all around the building, forcing her to walk nearly the entire way around block to find the service entrance. A small placard read “The El Dorado Hotel”. The service door, too, was locked. It was metal too, meaning that it was unlikely that she couldn’t even get in if she took up the Urshul.

Luckily she found the fire escape.

Taking the Dalu, Chelsea jumped and grabbed the bottom rung with ease before returning to the Hishu as the ladder rolled down toward the ground. She’d assumed she was going to have to break a window when she found one unlocked on the fourth floor.

“I’m going in.” – Chelsea, to no one in particular.

She was climbing through the window anyway when she noticed the handprint on the windowsill. It was black against the faded gray paint, and it was small, smaller than hers, but with too long fingers.

Chelsea scratched at the black print. It smelled sticky-sweet with just a hint of metal. It was old, but it was still unmistakably, blood.

“Fun.”

Her phone chirped and Chelsea let out a small yelp as she nearly fell back out of the window.

It was Georgia with an address.

“Thank God.” – Chelsea as she closed the window behind her and fled.


It turned out that the two of them had been on the same track, The GPS said that Georgia was only a mile or so away, and only a block east of a neighborhood park.

Chelsea’s high hopes were almost instantly dashed by the state of the neighborhood. Half the homes had been boarded up and two businesses had recently caught fire.

“This is…”

“Not bad for unclaimed territory, it’s even got a branch of the New Calais Library two blocks north. The Territory covers about nine blocks east to west and four north to south, more than enough to carve out of if we don’t decide to keep the whole thing.” – Georgia

“That’s huge, how can it be uncontested?”

“We’re going to find out. Whoever claimed it is long gone. Their markers were literally scratched out in some places.”

“Where’s Satch?”

“I texted him at the same time as you, he’s meeting with an accountant. No, seriously. He says he’ll be here as soon as he’s done.” – Georgia

Chelsea nodded sagely before stopping dead. Across the street was a duplex with a For Sale sign posted in the tiny strip of grass that counted as its front lawn.

On the sign, in bright orange spray paint was the unmistakable mark of the Hunters in Darkness.

“Subtle.” – Chelsea

“It’s not my fault that the building foreclosed and it’s been empty for more than six months.” – Georgia

Chelsea couldn’t argue with that logic, Georgia took her inside the duplex’s left apartment and showed her around, it seemed that they weren’t the first to squat here, though judging by the state of the place, the others had long moved on. Chelsea dropped her bag in the kitchen, where Georgia showed her that the copper plumbing had been torn out of the walls.

“It just doesn’t smell right.” – Chelsea

“Beggars can’t be choosers, girl.”

“No, the neighborhood, it smells wrong… like… I can’t place it.”

Georgia sniffed the air, but didn’t notice anything.

“let me show you something.” – Chelsea, taking her outside.

In the front yard was a phone-pole. It had been tagged once by whatever pack had called this home, but the tag was faded, just like the others.

“Yeah, like I said, whoever ran this territory’s long gone.”

“No, look at the scratches.” – Chelsea, pointing

Sure enough, someone had scratched at the tag with a small blade.

“Is that a Swiss Army knife?” – Georgia

“Maybe.” – Chelsea wasn’t so sure.

Chelsea told her friend about the Hotel she’d found.

Later

Satch pulled up on the duplex in as non-descript of a sedan as he could find. It was rented of course.

He saw the twin marks, one marking the Hunters in Darkness tribe, the other belonging to the Iron Masters Tribe.

“Classy.”

Georgia was heading around to the back of the property with a massive, overfull black trash bag.

“Looking good.”

“Nothing says we have to be filthy.” – Georgia yelled over her shoulder.

Satch was sporting a simple polo shirt and jeans; he’d picked them up before meeting with the accountant his own accountant in Miami had set up for him.

Satch saw the foreclosure notice and noted the number. He’d always been interested in owning property outside of Miami.

“This is foul.” – Satch.

“You think this is bad, stay out of the bathrooms.” – Chelsea, coming downstairs wearing a pair of kitchen gloves and a breath mask.

The Living room was long, leading to the back of the house which is where Satch guessed he’d find the kitchen. The stairs were to the left of the front door and he was pretty sure that there was a bathroom underneath them. He opened the door to his right and saw a very small bedroom.

“What’s in the duffels?” – Satch

“Someone’s drug stash.” – Chelsea, from upstairs.

“Huh. If they don’t come back soon we’re getting rid of them.” – Satch

He pulled out his phone while standing in the doorway.

It took an hour of checking but according to the guy his new accountant got him in touch with, there was nothing keeping him from buying the property for a song.

“Do we really want to buy it though?” – Georgia

“Why not, it’s not like we have much to go home too.” – Satch

Georgia looked down.

“Sorry, that was… uncouth.” – Satch, picking up one of the largest cardboard box they’d found.

When Georgia came out of the kitchen to talk to him, Satch had already kicked his shoes off and was currently folding his shirt carefully against his chest.

“What are you doing?”

“Changing.” – Satch, his teeth clenched on the shirt’s collar.

“You can do that with your clothes on.” – Georgia

Satch laid the shirt down on top of his socks.

“Are you crazy? What if I get hurt? I just bought this shirt; I don’t want blood all over it. What am I, some kind of animal?” – Satch, unbuttoning his shorts.

Feet barreled down the stairs.

“Oh my god you’re naked.” – Chelsea, she didn’t avert her eyes.

Satch went wide eyed before vanishing, replaced by a very large gray wolf.

“Now you see what you did? She’s a child, Satchel!” – Georgia

The wolf groaned before skulking out the front door.

The women broke into laughter.

“That was mean.” – Chelsea

“See what I mean? If I’d been wearing my clothes they’d have been covered in blood right now.” – Satch, standing over the dead gangbanger’s head in Dalu.

“Calm down big guy.” – Chelsea

“I’m good, I’m good… I just gotta breathe for a second.”

“You’ve been shot.” – Georgia

“Yeah. I got that.” – Satch grimaced as he turned to look at the spray of blood on the wall.

The bleeding had stopped of course, but it still hurt so very much.

“You stupid son of a bitch, let me look at it.” – Georgia, coming from having shut the door.

The damage was extreme. The gun had been loaded with hollow points and even though the entry wound was relatively small, the exit wound took up most of the Mafioso’s back.

If he were human he’d be dead, or in shock.

“I’m going to get a cleaning crew.” – Satch.

“No! how would we explain the bloodstains on the wall and carpet?” – Georgia, grabbing her first aid kit. She’d just bought it.

Satch looked nonplussed.

“I’m talking about a Mob cleanup crew, sweetie. I got connections that’ll make sure you wouldn’t even recognize the place.” – Satch.

“I like hard floors.” – Chelsea, having once again taken the Hishu.

“See, she’s in.” – Satch, putting his good arm around the girl.

Chelsea didn’t take her eyes off his groin.

“Clothes, man!” – Georgia, stopping just long enough to throw his shorts at him.

“How am I supposed to put these on right now?” – Satch.

“I can help!” – Chelsea

“No!” – Satch and Georgia together.

“You can at least cover yourself until I’m done wrapping you up. This is ugly, Satch.”

“It doesn’t feel particularly good either. Honey, can you get my phone?” – Satch to Chelsea

“You’re going to have to shrink down if I’m going to make the bandage tight.” – Georgia.

Satch did as he was told, making the pain almost unbearable.

“Don’t worry; you’ll be fine in no time. Be glad that you’ve already stopped bleeding.”

Satch’s contacts gave him the number for something called O’Dell Farm’s Salvage, a cursory google maps showed him that it wasn’t so far away, just near the southern tip of the city. Evidently the guy to talk to was “the Rock”.

“This is the Rock, how can I help you?” – the voice on the phone.

“I got a messy situation here that needs some…uh… old carpet disposal?”

“Understood, we’ll be stopping buy in a bit to pick it up.” – The rock hung up the phone.

Sure enough about a half hour later a 10 year old pickup with O’Dell Farms plastered on the side of the door. The girls had only just taken off to get more cleaning supplies.

The guy barely opened the door before Satch smelled it. This kid was a wolf.

He was tall and lanky, his hay colored hair stuck out of his hat in all directions. He smelled like diesel, oil and blood.

His overalls were open to show a black t-shirt advertising some band Satch had never heard of.

What he did recognize was the patch with the company name on it. It was made to look like a simple design, all straight lines and circles, it was a pack mark.

“The fuck are you?” – The wolf, his nametag said his name was mark.

“You first.”

“I’m Mark O’dell, Cahalith of the Dogs of Woe, who the fuck are you and who do you run with. You don’t look like a Harvester, which means this ain’t your territory.” – Mark

“We weren’t aware of anyone’s claim, the markings were inconclusive.” – Satch.

The wolf laughed.

“Well. If that’s how you wanna run it. You got some carpet you need moving?” – Mark

“Yeah, its inside, so this is claimed? All the marks are faded. I’m Satchel Francetti, by the way, me and my friends just got into town night before last.”

“Oh yeah, all this’s been watched by the Harvesters since… they’ve been keeping an eye on it for a while. They’re set up just south east of here on Willow.” – Mark, shaking Satch’s hand

“Beer?”

“Please!”

“What can you tell me about them?” – Satch, handing the kid a beer.

“Well, they’re the big players around these parts since Blackdog got ganked a few months back in a robbery. Shotgun to the back of the head, man, not even we can come back from that.”

“That’d do it.” – Satch, nodding.

“Yeah, anyway, since then his pack has been running in smaller circles and the Harvesters have been picking up the slack – God damn, but you made a mess! But it looks like he got a piece of you too.” – Mark

“Who are the Harvester guys?” – Satch

“They’re young, but their run by a half-moon named Jack. Rumor has it she’s got ties to the Sangres… like this guy here. The pack’s only four strong right now and they’re young, so you got that going for you, but they know the area too, that and they got that fucking half black swede, Tree. He’s a big fucker, twice as tall as this house. Probably cheats at cards too.” – Mark

All the while Mark talked he was moving boxes and other things out of the way. He jotted down notes too, especially while looking at the spatter on the wall.

“Got you really good, didn’t he? You’re lucky you didn’t go the way of Blackdog.”

“Yeah, there’s less pain now, I can even feel my fingers again.” – Satch laughed.

“Can I ask you something, Mark? Would you take it and keep it?” – Satch, following mark out to his truck for a small metal tool box.

“Nah, we dogs cover the south end of the Lawn.”

“But if you were looking?”

“I don’t know, three wolves covering as much land as they cover? They ain’t no Blackdog’s Pack with generations of contacts. I might try to keep it peaceful like, maybe take over by working it before they took notice.” – Mark, pulling a box cutter out of the tool box.

Satch watched as the smaller wolf cut out the carpet and rolled up what was left of the dead thug. He commented more than once that it was lucky that he was headless because it looked less obvious on the street. He through the head into a big yellow bucket and clamped the lid on tight.

He dealt with the wall last, bringing out a number of nasty smelling chemicals and spraying it down before mopping it.

Afterward, they discussed the fee in more detail and Satch through in an extra five bills.

“For the information.” – Satch

“Much obliged, Mr. Francetti, if you ever find yourself in a situation like this again, be sure to give us a call. And good luck with the Territory, it’s classy.”

By the time he left it was six o’clock and the sun was already starting to go down, setting the sky on fire.

His back was still stiff, but by the time the wolf left the pain had become the dull ache of a bruise. Satch pulled the wrap off and called the girls, if there was another pack nearby they’d better get ready.

Later

The ladies came home with pizza and beer, and coke for Chelsea. The pizza was good, nothing to write home about but not bad seeing as they had no idea what else to eat.

With no running water or electricity they were eating by electric lantern and had already decided to sleep as wolves, not for any defensive purpose but because they’d be at their most comfortable as wolves.

Georgia was working on her third beer when they heard a knock at the door. Satch had warned them about the other pack but they also had to worry about the gang that little boy blue belonged to. Either way, she was ready for a fight.

Not that ready though.

The man in the doorway stood at least seven feet tall, and he was definitely a wolf.

Without thinking Georgia took up the Dalu, not that that closed the gap much.

The human shaped tree wore a green tank top and camo sorts and his giant blond bearded face was framed by a large green bucket hat.

“Hi!” – Chelsea, poking her head around the door.

“So you’re the squatters.” – a woman’s voice

It came from behind the giant blond black guy.

Georgia pushed Chelsea back into the house as a petite woman with a mane of black hair that reached down to her waist stepped around the man in the doorway. She was dressed in skinny jeans and a Five Finger Death Punch t-shirt under a tight fitting black leather jacket. Despite her small size her demeanor screamed alpha. Her jacket had a set of red patches that marked her as both Storm Lord and Half Moon.

“First rule about keeping house in Green Lawn? The “rock” is chatty as hell, I’m Jack, this is Tree, I figured we should have a quick chat.” – The woman.

“I’m Georgia. How can we help you?”

Jack stepped into the house.

“Well, see, this is our neighborhood. Really, most of the Lawn is ours, we let the Dogs of Woe have the dump because, really who gives a fuck? But the Lawn’s ours.” – Jack

“We didn’t mean any harm, the markings were all faded and scratched out, we assumed it was open territory. We’re just trying to get back on our feet.” – Satch stepping around the corner.

“Yeah, we got a vandal.” – Jack

“Sounds like you’ve got issues beside us than.” – Georgia

Jack smiled stiffly.

“Yeah, I used to live in a neighborhood with a lot of vandalism too. You work so hard to get your yard looking just right and some ass comes by and toilet papers your trees and throws eggs at your front door.” – Chelsea

Tree was in the house now too, though he had to hunch to get all the way in.

“Even if it is a vandal, he hasn’t had to do much to cover those marks in a very long time. It’s pretty obvious that you’re not keeping up. Besides, those marks don’t match your patch there.” – Chelsea continued.

Jack walked up to Chelsea, the two were close enough in height that they could look each other dead in the eye.

“Are you really trying to call squatter’s rights on our territory?” – Jack

By the time she was done talking, Jack had grown more than a foot.

“Yeah.” – Chelsea, unflinching.

Satch bristled, matching the stranger shape for shape. Tree, finding himself in the odd position to be too big for anything but his human shape still stood ready to protect his alpha.

“Your vandal is doing more than defacing your year old marks, they’ve also set up shop in an old hotel not far from here. So I’m assuming that, since you own the lawn, you’re totally cool with something tainting it.” – Chelsea.

Jack’s amber eyes went wide and she was once again just a young woman with too much hair.

“If you want to play house in here, that’s fine, hell we’ll even give you some space. What do you think, Tree? Six blocks?” – Jack

Tree grunted in agreement.

“Yeah, six blocks’ll do you just fine, you can run the area from Skemp park south to Wickham and west to Jackson. That way we got a nice buffer between your territory and ours.”

Chelsea smirked.

“Come on, Tree, we’re done here.” – Jack

Chelsea heard a truck’s engine turn over outside when the door opened, she and the others followed them outside.

“Hey, Tree?” – Chelsea

The big guy looked up at her warily.

“Call me!”

Later

No one was on the street to notice three wolves running single file down the street due east, towards the back entrance of the old El Dorado.

Despite Chelsea being the one that initially knew the way, it was Georgia that reached the fire escape first, shifting effortlessly from wolf to the near-human Dalu mid-stride.

“Where’s the open window?” – Georgia

“The window to the left, top floor.” – Chelsea, panting slightly from trying to keep up with the runner.

“What is that smell?” – Satch.

“I haven’t been able to place it all day.” – Chelsea

Georgia flew up the fire escape at a speed that was dizzying and was waiting for them in the wolf shape when they reached the window.

Chelsea scratched between her ears absent mindedly as she passed her.

The Interior of the El Dorado was at least 40 years out of date. The wallpaper that had once been a garish “harvest yellow” had mildewed into a nasty papier-Mache gray and the shag carpet was green and slimy with decades’ worth of damp and rot.

The part of Georgia that was still the woman was having a hard time coping with the onslaught of the odors but the wolf was in control, and she was analyzing the various scents and tastes.

She growled a warning to the others when she found a too-soft spot in the flooring and she was sure she smelled a disproportionate amount of vermin excrement through the nutty scents of the various molds and fungi.

“You’re braver than I am, babe.” – Satch

babe?

That moment of distraction was all it took for her to get a snout full of mold spoor and quite suddenly the black-furred wolf couldn’t stop sneezing and snorting.

“So much for the element of surprise.” – Chelsea

The sixteen year old was rolling her eyes as she stepped past the still sneezing wolf and opened the door that Georgia hadn’t yet come too, though the door had long since swollen shut, forcing her to put her shoulder into it.

It was the smell that hit her first. All of the mold and mildew and rot had masked the charnel smell of rotten meat and blood. The next thing that hit her was more literal as an arm, separated from whatever body it had once belonged to, and slick from decay and the wet Louisiana heat, flopped down onto her sneaker palm up.

The entire room was filled with body parts. Dogs, cats, rodents and people all torn apart and tossed together and left to stew in their own enzymes.

Chelsea kicked the hand back into the room and slammed the door, doing everything in her power not to retch.

“What was that?” – Satch

“Bodies. Rotting bodies. Dozens of them.” – Chelsea between ragged breaths.

“Step aside. Let me look.” – Satch.

The Warrior let his nascent pack-mate get some distance before he opened the door and stepped in, shutting the door behind him. Chelsea had moved all the way back to the window.

He was gone a long time. Long enough for Chelsea to get worried that maybe something was in there with him. She’d heard Truth-Seeker tell tales of spirits of murder and violence who would create horrors like that in which to feast, maybe one had grown strong enough in that pit to fully manifest in the world.

When the door opened Chelsea steeled herself for whatever might come out but it was just Satch.

His face was cold and hard like stone and in that moment she saw why the Moon had chosen him as her killer.

“They were butchered, obviously; necks broken, heads caved in, throats cut. The only thing they all have in common are their abdomens, they’ve all been gutted by something with very long, very thin fingers. Whatever it is, it’s not human and it’s not one of us.” – Satch

“Did they look like the scratches on the Territory marks?” – Chelsea

Satch nodded. As she got closer she could smell the saltiness of his sweat mixed with something that smelled a hell of a lot like fear.

It’s pretty damned close.

“So are we in this thing’s den or dumping ground?” – Georgia, suddenly human again.

“I’m more concerned that it might be here now.” – Satch.

“I think we might want to warn the Harvesters.” – Chelsea

“Why? They didn’t warn us.” – Satch

“We should blow this place.” – Georgia

“You want to blow it up?”

“Well, no. But we should burn it to the ground.” – Georgia

“Would you mind maybe finding out what, exactly, we’re dealing with first?” – Satch

He didn’t wait for a response and simply started walking down the hall towards the stairwell gaining mass as he took on the Dalu to better see in the lightless hotel before coming to a sudden stop.

“Uh, guys, have either of you tried to look across?” – Satch

“No, why?” – Chelsea, blinking as her eyes adjusted to the Shadow.

The Rahu didn’t have to answer. Though it was nearly pitch black in the World, the shadow was usually filled with the muted light cast by motes and ribbons of floating essence generated by the resonance of so much death, violence and decay.

But that just made what she saw worse.

The corridor’s walls and ceiling were seething with ichorous blackness, with the ceiling occasionally dripping the bilious effluvia; the sight was so horrific that it took Chelsea a moment to realize that she was seeing this without any trouble, as if she had already physically crossed over.

It was as if the Gauntlet wasn’t there at all.

“I think we should go guys. I think I know what this is. I need to look at Truth-Seeker’s books.” – Chelsea, slipping through the window into the blessed light of the half moon.

She remembered her Lore-Master telling her about something like this before. He’d only told the story once and she’d yet to realize the importance of his old stories.

She couldn’t remember much about it, except one thing. A word or a name in first tongue, one that made her hair stand on end, she whispered it like a word of power all the way home, racing through the dark in the dire-shape.

Beshilu

To Be Continued…

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