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Iron Angels: Chapter Fourteen

       Last updated: Monday, August 7, 2017 21:25 EDT



    The wail subsided, but the goose bumps on his arms remained.

    The group of people, perhaps a half dozen, stood on the cracked sidewalk in front of the house on Ivy Street, a drab aluminum-sided number with a screen door hanging askew and a crumbling brick walkway — pretty standard for this section of town.

    “Any of you the owner?”

    They all shook their heads. “What’s going on?” a reedy Hispanic man asked.

    “We don’t know yet,” Temple said. “Anyone know the owner?”

    “He’s some crusty old white guy,” the Hispanic man said. “Yabutski or something.”

    “A get-off-my-lawn sort of fella?” Jasper asked.

    The Hispanic man smiled, revealing a bit of gold in his grill. “Yeah.”

    “Do me a favor, you all stay back a bit while we check this out.”

    “You cops or something?”

    “Or something.”

    Jasper nearly yanked the screen door clean off and rapped on the door.

    The door whisked open and he was met by a whiskery old man, peering at him with one eye squinted almost shut and wild white hair resembling a bird’s nest. “And what do you want?”

    “Uh, are you Mr. Yabutski? Didn’t you phone in a complaint earlier?”

    “Yeah,” the old man said, “to the no-good cops around here. Who in the hell are you two? The mod squad or something? And it’s Yablonski, goddamnit.”

    Jasper rolled his eyes. “You want us to check out the disturbance or what?”

    “Don’t you have some identification?”

    Temple flipped open her credential case and thrust it in the man’s face.

    The old man pulled back. “Hey, what is this? I asked for the cops, not the goddamned G-men, err, G-women. Oh, never mind.”

    “We’re FBI, and interested in a few other goings on around this area. Mind if we check out the animal attack?”

    “Pfft, ain’t no animal attack if you ask me.”

    “Then why did you phone in a complaint?”

    “Because no one would have taken me seriously if I told them my real thoughts, and don’t think I’m not aware you all maintain a crazy file.”

    Jasper grinned — the old man wasn’t wrong. “Okay, so what do you believe? Take us back.”

    “Come inside. Come inside. Can’t have all those people,” he nodded toward the crowd on the sidewalk, “nosing about my business. As it is, they think I’m off my rocker. But I’m not that far gone, not yet.”

    The interior was about as Jasper expected — an old man’s idea of freedom. Dirty dishes on a TV tray next to a recliner, and another stack on an ottoman not used as a footrest for quite some time. Thick dust covered much of the available surfaces save for the recliner. Pictures on the wall were off kilter and faded from sunlight, and cobwebs laced the room nearly as much as the drapes covered all the windows. Mustiness mingled with rotten food and body odor created a miasma making Jasper want to head for the backyard and confront the danger rather than breathe in and taste the nastiness inside.

    “It’s little green men,” the old man blurted out. “Or a chupacabra, all those Mexicans around here, you never know.”

    “For crying out loud,” Jasper said.

    Temple sighed.

    “I’m not crazy,” the old man said. “You go.”

    “We will, but first put on your tin foil hat, that’ll help protect you from the rays of Uranus.”

    “I’m not crazy. There’s aliens, I tell you.”

    “Yeah, or a chupacabra, I heard you.” Jasper took a deep breath and regretted the exasperation as he’d allowed all the foulness of the air to penetrate his lungs.

    “The wailing ceased as you two walked up, now you gonna check it out or what?”

    Jasper motioned for Temple to follow him. He flicked the back light on, a bright spotlight that could burn the hairs off the healthiest head of hair and peered through the back door’s grime-caked window. “I got nothing. Gonna open the door.”

    He cracked the door and listened.

    “Still nothing.” He crouched, lifted his left pant leg, and removed his baby Glock from the ankle holster. “You packing?”

    “Already have mine out, you ready?”

    Jasper stood and opened the door. He performed two quick peeks, but saw nothing along the walls on either side of the door.

    “What else is out back?”

    “A shed and a few lines for hanging laundry.”

    Temple snorted. “This guy probably only gets around to doing laundry once every couple of months.

    A slurping noise got Jasper’s full attention.

    “Hold on, I hear something.” He held a finger to his lips, but kept his focus on the back yard. He reached over and flicked off the interior lights — no point in giving whomever or whatever roamed back there a glimpse of them before necessary.

    Jasper hesitated. Temple’s hand found his shoulder, as if at once providing both comfort and a nudge to exit the house.

    He eased open the door and took a hesitant step out, scanning the areas of danger for any movement, but saw nothing. The wood step beneath him creaked under his full weight. He winced.

    The slurping ceased.

    “Must be behind the shed,” he whispered.

    Temple squeezed his shoulder.

    Crimson haze enveloped the ramshackle shed. That was perhaps a trick of the light, but the haze was nowhere else. A strange odor — not exactly putrid, but definitely not pleasant — smacked him in the face. He imagined a dead deer on the side of the road for a few days along with a sickly sweet twist, as if someone had dumped a bottle of cheap perfume on the poor animal.

    “There’s something behind the shed.”

    The slurping erupted into a sloshing, squishy noise.

    Jasper ran for the shed, flashlight and Glock at the ready to expose and deal with whatever horror lurked.

    “Wait!” Temple cried after him.

    He slipped on the wet grass and slid into the front of the shed. The old man must have run his sprinklers recently, even though there hadn’t been any shortage of rain over the past couple of weeks. The grass was pretty slick.

    The haze congealed alongside the shed, but then disappeared behind.

    Jasper scrambled to his feet.

    Temple cried out something inarticulate, halfway between a warning shout and a scream.

    He glanced back at her and his body chilled. Her eyes and mouth were wide and her hands shook, causing her Glock to wave about wildly. Jasper spun back for another look at the shed and was met by what appeared to be a rather large beast — but strangely ephemeral as if occupying two worlds at once, not fully in one or the other. He shook his head, and stepped back, raising both Glock and flashlight.

    The shape before him was similar to the dragon shape outside the Euclid Hotel. The dragon’s crimson tendrils extended from the broad snout and reached for him, groping the air, but yanked back when Jasper thrust his Glock forward. The dragon’s shape morphed, now resembling a giant sea creature, something prehistoric. Then, abruptly, it vanished.

    “Holy shit.” He hadn’t smoked in years, but the habit suddenly appealed to him again. A stiff drink sounded better, though — too bad he didn’t carry a flask.

    “I told you,” a voice said from behind him, and coughed. “See?”

    “Sir, you need to get back in your house.” Temple’s voice trembled, all her fierceness vanished.

    The door rattled.

    “The old man’s back inside,” Temple said.

    “Let’s check this out.” He took a step, but hesitated. Stopping now was out of the question — he was charged with protecting others — but he felt so inadequate at the moment, as if the beast stole his courage upon vanishing. He turned toward Temple. “Did you see the strange shape?”



    “That depends,” she replied.


    “You saw my face when you turned around, right?”

    “I did,” Jasper said. “We need to clear the shed. What if the animal went in there — ”

    “Animal, huh? More supernatural — ”

    “Let’s discuss the particulars after we peek into the shed. That okay with you?”

    “Lead the way,” Temple said. “Oh, and your back is covered in a wet substance, by the way. I don’t think it’s water.”

    “Blood?” Jasper cracked the wooden shed’s door, shining the flashlight in. He saw nothing, but two blind corners remained uncleared. He’d poke his head in and out.

    “No,” Temple said. “I wouldn’t describe the substance that way. Not red, but it resembles ectoplasmic whatever — you know, Ghostbusters, but with a pinkish hue.”

    “What are you getting at?” Jasper paused before stealing a peek into the blind corners. His face crinkled as he imagined his backside covered in wet and sticky goo. The situation reminded him of the yearly blood borne pathogen training and admonishment the nurse at the field office used to give: If it’s wet or sticky and not yours, don’t touch it. He shivered. Hopefully the stuff didn’t seep through his clothes and touch his skin.

    “My reaction by the way, was horror at what you slipped and slid around in almost as much as the creature we’re both trying real hard to not discuss.”

    “Oh.” Jasper’s face warmed, but he wasn’t sure why. Should he be embarrassed if Temple admitted she too witnessed something out of the ordinary? “Tell me, what did the beast we encountered look like to you?”

    Jasper heard no scurrying or rustling from within the shed, so an animal was likely out, but a person remained a possibility. He knelt, pulled the door open and poked both head and flashlight inside the shed for a second. He breathed in the scent of damp wood, like fallen trees in the woods after a rainstorm. Old saw dust, kicked this way and that, covered the floor. A wooden workbench covered with tools in varying states of disrepair ran from one blind corner to the other. A rusty old gas can and a spout were on the floor before the bench.

    “Nothing inside except a bunch of junk and gardening tools.” He glanced at Temple, and stood. “So, describe the thing we’re not talking about? You never answered.”

    Temple licked her lips. “A winged beast, something out of the Bible. A — a demon or devil of some kind, since you’re asking.”

    “A what? I have no idea what you’re even talking about. Wait, don’t tell me, the beast sported a cloven hoof or two — ”

    “Really?” Her head spun toward him and her dark eyes regained the fierceness he’d come to know and expect in the short time they’d known one another. “Mocking my opinion of what I witnessed? This is how you’re going to approach the incident? You asked me what I saw and I told you.”

    “All right, I’m sorry, I’m tired.” He held up his hands. “That shit wasn’t real — I mean, how can a crimson haze attack anything?”

    “Explain the substance all over your back. The goo is like something coating the floor of a butcher shop. And what if the goo is a harmful or toxic substance? I think we need to check behind the shed.” Temple pushed past Jasper, flicked on her flashlight and faced the back of the shed.

    Temple’s chest heaved and the rate of her breathing increased, accompanied by a slight gasping sound. Her eyes widened with the same fear Jasper had seen seconds earlier.


    “It’s — a person, though I’m not sure of anything beyond that,” she said.

    Jasper swallowed involuntarily, and a moment of intense doubt and unease passed through him. “Like what we found near the animal control facility?”

    “Sort of. You better take a look for yourself.”

    Jasper took careful steps toward Temple, and upon reaching her spun and flicked up his flashlight.

    A pile of pink and white with traces of red littered the small path behind the shed, some of the matter pressed against a weathered fence about five and half feet high. Only black existed behind the shed, and the yard on the other side of the fence was dark. No one could have observed the ruckus going on, but the wailing from a few minutes ago had drawn a crowd out front of the old man’s house.

    “You think the body back here made the wailing sound?”

    “I think so,” Temple said. “I’m going to get Vance over here for some samples.”

    “But the wailing noise happened only minutes ago, how could anything — and I mean anything — do such a thorough job of turning a human into a pile of meat? It isn’t like we’re chasing some sort of living sausage grinder, for Christ’s sake.”

    “What if we are?” Temple pulled on his shoulder. “Jasper, if this really is something out of the Old Testament… or Revelations…”

    Jasper shrugged off her hand. “I’m taking a closer look. Call Vance if you like, but there’s got to be a natural explanation for this.”

    He heard a click behind him and two seconds later Temple was speaking with Vance and pacing the backyard.

    “What’s going on back there?” the old man yelled from the back door.

    “Get back inside,” Jasper yelled.

    “It’s my property, isn’t it?”

    “Yeah, but there’s been a death of some sort and we’re going to need to seal off the yard. In fact, we may need to search the residence.”

    “I’ll call the police. That’ll fix you feds. Damn G-men,” the old man said, his verbal remonstrations replete with a figurative shaking of a fist. The back door rattled as the old man attempted a slam.

    Jasper frowned at the space behind the shed. It was quite small, perhaps a few feet across. How did such a large beast fit in such a tight space? The creature he’d laid eyes on was at least the size of a horse, but the form resembled that of a sinewy dragon — and Asian-style dragon, like what had materialized before him and his cop buddy, Pete, outside the Euclid Hotel. He didn’t believe in dragons, though. Even Komodo dragons were exotic to him, and this hadn’t been one of those. This dragon flew off or vanished or had been a simple trick of the light. He wished Pete were here now — why not call him, anyway? Just because Jasper was assigned to assist Temple didn’t mean he shouldn’t utilize all the available resources at his disposal.

    He stepped back from the space and hit up Pete on his cell. The conversation was mercifully short. Pete refused, wanting nothing to do with the strange deaths and certainly didn’t want to come within a few blocks of the Euclid. He’d begged off responding to the accident scene, even though he’d been close by, and he’d take a lot of heat for that in the morning.

    Jasper hung up, pressed the phone to his forehead and closed his eyes. He was stalling. Admitting he faced bizarre circumstances beyond his ken was difficult.

    Jasper took a deep breath, and either he’d gotten used to the scent of rotten meat, or it’d dissipated. He approached the back of the shed and directed the flashlight’s beam over the pile of meat and bones and skin. Under the scrutiny of the flashlight, the pile cast a greasy sheen punctuated by a bone jutting from the meat here and there. Jasper’s cheeks involuntarily puffed and he swallowed down creeping bile.

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