Read Monster Hunter Alpha-ARC Online
Authors: Larry Correia
Tags: #Urban Life, #Fantasy, #Fiction, #Contemporary, #General
“Damn, Earl. Who’s this dickhead?” asked the other local.
“Somebody who’s about to get his ass beat,” said the first old bastard in a thick accent. He got off his stool but only came up to about Stark’s neck. “You got a problem, fatso?”
“Easy, Aino,” Harbinger said, putting one hand on the man’s arm. The guy had to be in his sixties, and he was ready to throw down at the perceived insult, but at least the grizzled old man returned to his seat, glaring the whole time. “Me and Stork here have met before. He’s just a little high-strung is all.…So, how’s life been since you were released as Franks’s jockstrap carrier?”
Mosher had heard the raised voices and come over. The junior agent had no idea what was going on. Stark pointed one thick finger right between Harbinger’s eyes. “Funny guy, huh? Well, funny guy, one of these days you’ll screw up, and then we own you.”
“Uh-huh…” Harbinger took a long, nonchalant drink. “And when that day comes, I’ll make sure that whatever I did was absolutely worth it.”
Stark may have been angry, but he was smart enough to know that Harbinger was just goading him. Besides, slugging Harbinger’s drunk hillbilly friend in front of witnesses would probably cause him some trouble. “Come on, Mosher. Let’s get out of this dump. Remember, Harbinger, stay out of my way, or you’ll regret it.”
“See ya’ round, Stork.”
“Better keep walking,” said the one with the accent.
Fists clenched, Stark made it back to the Suburban, Mosher asking him the whole time what that was all about. Stark was fuming, but the sudden cold air had helped clear his head. He’d made up his mind. “Get us back to the hospital,” he snapped. Briarwood better get here soon, because he’d shoot the deputy himself and deal with the paperwork before he gave MHI the satisfaction of stealing
Since I had been bitten, I had learned about the obvious physical changes. I was stronger, faster, more agile, though at that early stage I hadn’t realized just how much better I’d become. My hearing and sense of smell were more acute. I could see better at night. But the main difference was that I could heal at a phenomenal rate.
It made sense. Since my body was now capable of completely breaking itself down and reforming into a new shape in a matter of minutes (it was minutes then; it is seconds now), reforming broken pieces of my anatomy was an excellent side effect. Though exhausting, injuries caused by anything other than silver mended themselves almost instantly. Though it wasn’t until I fought that
that I really discovered what I was capable of.
I grabbed the first tentacle hand as it snaked in close. The fingers had the consistency of a thick crab leg. I snapped one off and stabbed the
with its own claw. For some reason I laughed as it tried to bite me in half, but I moved out of the way faster than the
could react. It followed me up the beach, farther onto the sand, tentacles swinging like crazy past its big shark head, cracking like bullwhips. Each time a barb hit, it cut right through my skin. Regardless of how fast my skin knitted back together, it still hurt like a son of a bitch, every single time. But once I caught one of the big tentacles, I ripped it right off and beat the monster over the head with it.
For being so damn heavy,
are lightning quick. It finally caught up and overwhelmed me beneath its body, crushing me right into the sand. I can still smell the rotting fish. Dragging me out with a tentacle around my leg, it swung me around to its jaws and bit me. Teeth punctured halfway through my body, from my shoulders, through my ribs, through one lung, through my stomach, and cracked my pelvis in half. It shook me back and forth like a terrier with a rat until my spine broke. When I finally hung limp, it slithered back down the beach for the black water.
Then I got really mad.
That was back in the days before I’d learned how to hold off the change. Now I only change when I let the Hum take over, or on the full moon when I have no choice. Back then, if I was in enough pain or anger, I couldn’t help but change.
had just reached the crashing surf when it realized that the thing in its mouth had suddenly gotten a whole lot fiercer. My spine popped back together as every fiber of my body twisted toward a new shape. I reached up with one rapidly lengthening thumbnail and scratched one of that
’s little red eyes in half. The jaws unlocked, and the teeth pulled free of my body.
The next few minutes were blurry, but as I changed, I managed to reach down the
’s throat to tear out great bloody chunks of meat. That disoriented it. I shoved its jaws apart until the bones broke. I ripped into it, spraying monster all over the beach. I bit and tore and clawed until the monster flopped and rolled away, trying to escape. So I grabbed on to one of the big tentacles and dragged the thing that was at least five times my size back up the sand. Confused and losing blood, it sprayed me with ink, but that just pissed me off more.
The holes in my flesh sealed. The blood loss weakened me, but fury filled the gaps. The holes in the
squirted red blood, and that just egged me on. The beast was terrified now, bellowing in pitches that human ears could never hear, warning the others of its kind to avoid this island.
Finally I remember crouching on top of the mighty body, dripping black ink from my fur, claws sunk deep into blubber, as I howled at the moon in triumph. I ripped the creature apart, needing to feed, to replace the mass and energy that I’d just burned.
tastes kind of like ahi tuna, only chewier.
* * *
After Jo Ann had gotten the call from Agent Stark, Horst had told Lins to step on it. They were already speeding, but Horst wasn’t going to pass up a free shot at a werewolf.
“I don’t know. The roads are getting nasty,” Lins said.
The driver was right. The snow was getting heavier. But they were in a Cadillac Escalade with good tires, were almost there, and he wasn’t about to let those Alabama pricks come into his neck of the woods and start moving in on his business. Not that this part of the country was anything at all like the Chicago streets he was used to. All those trees made him uncomfortable. There was something wrong about all that land, just sitting there, completely unpaved.
“Don’t be such a punk, Larry,” said Kelley from the backseat, where he had been loading magazines the entire time. By this point Horst wasn’t even sure how many mags he had stacked back there, but whatever kept the bearded brute distracted was fine by him, because he was hard to shut up once he got going. “Have faith, and put the hammer down.” Kelley was a strange combo, a devoutly religious hooligan criminal. Horst’s first clue was when he’d noted the many prison tattoos on Kelley’s thick arms were all biblical verses, but he had come highly recommend.
“Jesus isn’t going to tow us out of a ditch, Robb.” Jo Ann was looking for a fight, as usual.
“Zip it, cow.”
Horst just held up his hand, indicating he wasn’t in the mood. They both shut up. Robb Kelley might have spent a lot of time breaking the knees of people who’d picked the wrong people to owe money to, but Horst knew that Jo Ann Schneider actually had more useful experience than anyone on the crew except for Horst himself. She had served the most time, run every con imaginable, probably offed the most people, and she was certainly fine in a voluptuous kind of way, which came in handy when working with the public.
Loco was in the front passenger seat, staring quietly out the window as usual. As talkative as Kelley was, Loco was quiet. They didn’t call him Loco because he was crazy, though Horst thought he might be, at least a little. Loco was just short for Lococo. Jason Lococo was huge, ugly, with a shaved head and one glass eye that never pointed in
the same direction as the other. The giant also bench-pressed close to five hundred pounds and had served five years of hard time for killing someone by accident. He’d punched the dude
. The reason Horst had hired him was pretty obvious.
“Hey, it’s slick,” Lins insisted. “I’m doing my best.”
He didn’t have time for this. Lawrence J. Lins, or Larry to his friends, was the oldest man on the Briarwood team and had been a major hitter for some gangs out of Cleveland. His uncle had also recommended Lins because of his reputation. He looked like a gray-haired biker, no-nonsense-take-care-of business type, and was not the sort to get jumpy just because they were facing something supernatural.
Horst hadn’t been at MHI very long, but long enough to see that the kind of people they recruited were too soft for this kind of business. Sure, they’d survived a monster attack, and got all high and mighty, but they weren’t nearly as bad as they thought they were. MHI’s Hunters were just regular Joes pretending to be heroes. After monsters ate the wannabes, they were left with a decent-enough crew as far as he could tell, but the core of MHI was still soft. Instead, Horst had surrounded himself with hard cases. This bunch would kill anything without hesitation. He was the only one on the team without a record, and that was only because he was smart enough not to get caught.
But right now Lin’s caution was going to cost Briarwood a bunch of money, so it was time to take charge. Horst’s response was cold. “Listen. This is our shot at the big time. Killing a werewolf gives us money, a name, and a line of clients a mile long. I told you about those people I used to work for. They own fucking
. Helicopters! That’s the kind of scratch I’m talking about. You want to go back to knocking over liquor stores?”
“No. I’m done with that,” Lins said.
“Then quit being a bitch and drive
,” Horst ordered.
Lins just grunted and gave it more gas. Horst prided himself on his management skills.
* * *
The hospital was one of the newer buildings in Copper Lake. It wasn’t the biggest in the region, but it was a decently capable, bland, two-story concrete square, and it served all major needs of the many small towns in the rural area. They’d decided that Buckley had been too injured to risk transporting him to the bigger facility in Houghton until he’d stabilized, which everyone doubted would actually happen. Then Buckley had surprised everyone by not dying. Word around the office was that Dr. Glenn had been speechless when he’d seen how well Buckley was doing. Heather figured that the initial severity of his injuries must have been exaggerated.
Heather decided to poke her head in for a visit. Buckley was single, no girlfriend, no close family. They had actually eaten Thanksgiving dinner together just a few days ago in the station’s break room. As usual, the
had volunteered to work on the holiday so their coworkers could be with their families. He was an affable guy, but kind of a loner. Heather had always liked him. He was a straight shooter, friendly to everyone, and an all-around good guy you could count on in a tough situation. It broke her heart to come here.
There was a waiting area for friends and family on the second floor. Heather knew it all too well. She’d slept many nights on that couch right there. Her mom had died here, sick but never alone. Then her grandpa had spent his last days here after his stroke. Shortly after that her dad had ended up here. She’d gotten to know this particular couch during all their stays. Yep, she and that couch were old friends.
It was late, and there was no one else in the waiting room. The nurse on staff recognized Heather and waved her through to go straight to Buckley’s room. Sure, it was after normal visiting hours, but small towns could appreciate when rules needed to be applied and when they needed to be overlooked. Buckley had gone through another surgery this morning, and normally they wouldn’t have let anybody other than immediate family stay with him, but they were making an exception for the sheriff’s department.
Buckley was lying there, covered in bandages, looking terrible. His normally handsome face seemed sunken, and his broken skull was wreathed in white. His torso was covered, but one arm was wrapped in a giant bundle where they’d tried to piece his hand back together. There were flowers everywhere. The people of Copper Lake loved Joe and had tried to show their support the best way they could. Heather had debated picking up some flowers but had decided that it seemed kind of silly. It wasn’t like Joe was the kind who appreciated flowers. Anything else at this point would have just been a waste. They would all be wilted and dead by the time he woke up anyway.
There was nothing official about it, but the entire department had rallied to make sure that there was always somebody with Buckley, and the sheriff, being a good and kind-hearted man, had decided that one of his people had better damn well be there when Buckley woke up. Tonight it was Chase Temple sitting in his regular clothes on the recliner in the corner of Joe’s room.
Temple put down his political science textbook and stretched. “Hey, Kerkonen.”
“How’s he doing?” she asked quietly.
“Same. Hard to tell…I don’t know.” Temple stood. “If you’re going to be here a minute, I need to step out and grab a smoke. That smell’s killing me.”
“Smell?” Heather asked. “The flowers?”
“No, the hospital antiseptic. Can’t you smell that? This place smells like sick people.”
She shrugged. It was a familiar smell. She hadn’t noticed. “You hungry?”
“They usually leave some sandwiches out behind the counter. There’s a coffee can for you to put money in. It’s on the honor system. Bring me a doughnut if you don’t mind.”
“You and your junk food…” Temple cracked a smile. “That stuff will kill you.”
* * *
Ethan Pedde huddled in terror on the floor as the thing that looked just like a petite, young, naked woman squatted next to him sucking the marrow out of the end of a human femur. His flashlight had rolled across the floor, and in the shadows her eyes seemed gold.
The girl was half his size, but her grip had been like iron. She had backhanded him to the ground, tossed him around like he weighed nothing, and dragged him screaming by one leg down to the bone and meat pile, and left him there, quivering. The things in the shadows were hairy. The steam rising from their bodies warmed the space. They didn’t bother to look up from their meal. The naked girl seemed at home with the terrifying animals. Ethan turned his head far enough to see that what was left of the body was wearing jeans and running shoes.