Read Monster Hunter Alpha-ARC Online

Authors: Larry Correia

Tags: #Urban Life, #Fantasy, #Fiction, #Contemporary, #General

Monster Hunter Alpha-ARC (3 page)

BOOK: Monster Hunter Alpha-ARC
5.56Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

Earl could tell there was more. “And?”

Conover studied the tabletop, mulling over his answer. “Sharon used to have bad nightmares, all the time, our entire marriage. And it was always the same thing. Golden eyes and white fangs…The Russian would come for her, and he’d take our kids, too, just out of spite. She never had closure. He killed most of the task force. She always felt that he’d come back to finish the job.”

. Earl didn’t have nightmares. He gave them.

“That son of a bitch stole years of Sharon’s life, and I couldn’t protect her. Now that I know he’s alive, I need you to destroy him, Earl, absolutely
him. I want him to feel how she felt. I’ve seen what you can do. Do it for the task force. Do it for her. And when you’re finished…Then I can go to Sharon’s grave and tell her it’s finally over.”

Earl raised his bottle. “For the ones that didn’t make it.”

They clinked their beers together. “To lost friends and a shitload of dead communists.”

Earl Harbinger could drink to that.

Chapter 2

The morning after the first night I changed I woke up naked in a pool of blood. None of it was mine. I was in a farm house, a little pueblo on the river. The flimsy door had been ripped off the hinges and was lying in the yard surrounded by pecking chickens. The farmer’s family was spread from one end of the place to the other, splattered on the walls, dripping from the ceiling, and turning the dirt floor into mud. I could still taste them in my mouth. Bits of them were stuck in my teeth.

It’s a hard thing to explain. The memories while I’m changed are different. They’re difficult to put into people words. It was like waking up from a dream, one that I could only partly remember, but I knew exactly what I had done to them. MHI hadn’t known much about werewolves back then. It was all a mess of myth and old wives’ tales, but now I understood how the curse was transferred. A simple bite one month before. That was all it took to end my life.

I found the farmer’s old navy Colt tossed halfway to the well. Though I could still feel where a slug had punched through my ribs under the caked-on blood, there was no wound now. The hazy memories told me that the bullet had just driven me into a frenzy. The Colt hadn’t done the farmer a lick of good, but under that bright morning sun, I prayed to God that it would work for me now. I destroyed monsters. I would not become one. I put the muzzle under my jaw and angled it to take the back of my head off.

The others would surely find this place soon enough. They’d probably already seen the gathering vultures. Hunters would learn from what happened to me and not make the same mistakes. That was the last thought I had before I dropped the hammer.

I came to later with a splitting headache. Like I said, back in those days we hadn’t known much about werewolves.

* * *

Heather Kerkonen didn’t have to work the night shift. She had enough seniority to claim days, but had always been a night person by nature. Working nights ruined any chance she had for having a social life, but excepting the occasional accident, bar fight, or somebody doing something stupid, nights were usually quieter, almost peaceful.

Last night had been an exception. It had been one call after another. The state police had found some drifter wandering around a campground, screaming about the end of the world, and had put him in the closest lockup, which happened to be Copper Lake, where the nut had promptly bit a chunk out of the jailer’s hand when they’d tried to restrain him. Heather had just come on duty and took care of the problem with a liberal dose of pepper spray and an ASP baton. After that she’d gotten a call about two hikers who hadn’t made it back to their camp yet, but that turned out to be Baraga County search and rescue’s problem. Then she’d had to check out a missing-person call because Mr. Loira had never gotten home from work—probably passed out drunk again somewhere—but all that had been interrupted when she’d heard that Joe Buckley had been mauled by a bear.

Sure, they had bears in northern Michigan—wolves, too—but nobody could remember the last time one had actually attacked someone. Heather had been incredulous when she’d heard the panicked call over the radio. It had to be a mistake. She’d driven like a madwoman to get out to Cliff Road, but by the time she’d arrived they’d already loaded Buckley into the ambulance. The early prognosis was grim, and when she saw the deep red of the puddle they’d lifted him out of, she knew that her friend was surely going to die.

Nancy Randall had found him. The poor lady was in shock. She’d been telling the other deputies about how she’d heard howling, but that was absurd. No wolf could do something like that. There were claw marks that actually pierced the metal of the patrol car’s hood.

She and the other deputies had been joined within half an hour by two representatives from the Department of Natural Resources and some volunteers with a few good hunting dogs, but they’d found no sign of the bear. The dogs wouldn’t cooperate. They’d sniffed around Buckley’s damaged car only to retreat with their tails between their legs. No amount of coaxing could get them to go back.

Heather had grown up hunting in those woods, less for fun than because they’d been poorer than dirt and the only meat that ended up on the family table had come from things that she had shot herself. However, she had no idea how to track an animal. Sitting in a tree stand and waiting for a deer to walk by doesn’t exactly make you Davy Crockett. She’d taken the Winchester shotgun from her cruiser, loaded it with heavy-duty slugs, and set out anyway. The wet ground had been so churned by clumsy footsteps at that point that she couldn’t spot a thing with her flashlight. Sunrise hadn’t helped either, and though more volunteers had arrived, the damn bear had gotten away.

The place was covered in fish cops, and the sheriff himself had taken command of the scene by the time Heather returned. Kai Hintze had been sheriff since Heather had come back to Copper Lake from Minneapolis. He was fifty years old, fifty pounds overweight, and a hardcore sci-fi nerd, so Heather hadn’t expected much from her new boss, but Sheriff Hintze had turned out to be a good leader who watched out for his men and his county. He kept getting reelected because he honestly cared about the people, and compared to his incompetent predecessor, the county loved him.

The sheriff was talking to one of the DNR men. The game wardens weren’t very popular amongst the independently minded types that lived in places like Copper Lake. She’d had a few run-ins with game wardens back in her teens, when she hunted game regardless of season—the squishy environmentalist types were the worst. But this particular one conducted himself like an old pro and seemed to know what he was talking about. Heather approached from behind and didn’t want to be rude and interrupt.

“I’m telling you, Sheriff. There is something seriously wrong here. Colleague of mine out of Washington State, Terril Erion, he had a case like this a while back. Animal attack that didn’t seem to fit, just like this.…A particular government agency got involved. Do you
the agency I’m talking about?”

Sheriff Hintze was nodding his head. “Every sheriff in the country gets a vague briefing and a number to call in case of something weird. You really think there really are…Naw. That’s ridiculous.” He realized Heather was standing there and abruptly stopped. The DNR man looked away, sheepish, like they’d been caught talking about something naughty. The sheriff coughed. “Deputy Kerkonen. Any luck?”

“Nothing, sir. Any word on Buckley?”

“Not yet.” He took in her soaked and muddy appearance. “How long have you been out here?”

“Since we got the call.”

“You look beat, and your shift was over hours ago. There’s really nothing else you can do here.”

“Sir, I—”

“I understand. Joe is my friend, too, Heather. Why don’t you go see him?”
Before it is too late.

She waited until she was a mile down the road before she screamed in frustration, swore her head off, and punched the steering wheel until her hand hurt. Her department had lost people before, but to things that made sense, like a meth head or a car wreck.…Who got killed in the line of duty by a damned
? This wasn’t Alaska. This was

It didn’t make sense. Winter was coming. She was no zoologist, but shouldn’t the stupid thing have been hibernating? The attack had occurred during a freezing rain: why was it even out and about, and why would it attack a car? Heather had no idea, and now her hand was sore, and she chided herself for the tantrum. She had always struggled with her temper.

Why couldn’t she have been the one to take the call?
Maybe if it had been her instead of Buckley, he wouldn’t be dying right now. Maybe she could have done something different.…She knew it was stupid to blame herself, but Heather had always been protective of anyone she deemed to be
her people.
That attitude had always made her popular amongst her coworkers, but had gotten her into trouble a few times with her superiors in her last department. Copper County was different. This was her town, her people, and this department was
Only now one of them was dying, there wasn’t a damn thing she could do about it, and it was really pissing her off.

It had been several hours after the Buckley call that she had finally made it back into Copper Lake. Half the staff of their tiny department and several family members had gathered in the hospital waiting room. Buckley was a popular and beloved man. By some miracle he was alive, which had absolutely amazed the doctors, but they said that it was too early to tell what would happen and too risky to airlift him someplace better. Heather didn’t like hanging out, nervous and emotional, in hospitals. She had done far too much of that in her life already, and though her shift was over she had volunteered to head into the office to see if she couldn’t help out for a bit. She was still too fired up to go to sleep anyway, and it wasn’t like there was anyone waiting for her at home except for her dog.

Back at the station, hungry and cranky, Heather had not been surprised to find that nobody had bothered to put on more coffee. She bought a Diet Coke and a package of expired chocolate doughnuts from the office vending machine instead. She didn’t think that doughnuts were supposed to be crunchy, but they had sugar, and that was the important thing. She knew that despite religiously hitting the treadmill every day, if she kept up her junk-food addiction she ran the risk of turning into another Upper Peninsula “snow cow,” but that was a risk she was willing to take.

“Did you see Joe, Kerkonen?” asked Chase Temple, one of the new road deputies from days. Heather didn’t know him that well yet, just that he had recently gotten out of the Navy and was taking correspondence courses from Northern Michigan University toward a political science degree. His youthful enthusiasm made her feel ancient. She had just turned thirty-six. “I’d heard he was bad off.”

She had to pause to not talk with a mouth full of doughnut. She didn’t really know what to say anyway; it wasn’t like she knew any more than anyone else. “I didn’t see him myself, but yeah, the doctors said it was bad. Broken skull, massive lacerations to the abdomen, a lot of blood loss, missing a few feet of intestines…” Even if Buckley lived, he would be crippled and miserable the rest of his short life, and that left her feeling even more depressed. She changed the subject and pointed in the direction of the holding cells. “How’s our favorite guest?”

The Copper Lake station was a small building, so Temple knew whom she was talking about right away. “Bill was ticked after that nut bit him,” he said, referring to the deputy that had been manning the station last night. “He needed five stitches. But I heard you really walloped the guy for it. Pow! Right in the face! That how you guys did it in the big city?” Heather didn’t respond to his idiotic grin, so he quit smiling and tried to be professional. “Didn’t mean anything by it. I’ve just heard you’ve got a reputation is all…Keeping it together when the shit gets real.”

Heather shrugged noncommittally. “I just did what I was trained to do.”

“Whatever. I heard about—”

“Kid needed protecting. I was the only one around to do it. No big deal.” One crazy case involving a sex-slavery ring could get you quite a rep. One sloppy gunfight later, she’d been publically cited for bravery, privately reprimanded for stupidity, and been on the fast track to a promotion to detective until her family’s health issues had brought her back to her hometown. It didn’t matter now. Copper Lake was a much quieter place than Minneapolis. She made sure to change the subject so obviously that Temple would know better than to bring it up again. “We got an ID on our biter yet?”

“Every time we ask for a name, he just stares off into space and mumbles about something humming. Still no idea who he is yet, but we’re still checking.”

One of her friends had just been eviscerated. She wasn’t in the mood for dealing with random stinky lunatics, but the U.P. was virtually the edge of the world. Lots of crazy people ended up here for some reason. It’s like they wandered out of Chicago or Minneapolis and walked through the woods until they hit Lake Superior, where they became
problem. “Anything else going on?”

“Those hikers down in Baraga are still lost.”

“Probably eaten by the same bear,” she muttered. Lost hikers weren’t any sort of surprise. Except for a few clusters of small townships and farms, northern Michigan was thickly forested hills. It was easy to get turned around if you got off the trails. The locals loved the tourists’ dollars, but finding lost suburbanites got old quick.

“Other than that, well, some federal agent called from Washington, wanting to know about the bear attack.”

“Who?” Heather asked. That was fast. The Department of Natural Resources guy must have passed it up the chain to whoever it was he’d been talking to the sheriff about.

“I don’t know. The guy was named something Jefferson, real snooty type, but I kicked it over to the sheriff. They were asking if there had been any other animal attacks or any unexplained disappearances, that kind of thing. They said they wanted to send some people to interview Buckley if”—he corrected himself—“
he wakes up. I told him he better hurry if the weather reports are accurate. Huge storm coming in tonight. He was real adamant that we call if anything else unusual happens.”

BOOK: Monster Hunter Alpha-ARC
5.56Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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