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Monster Hunter Vendetta: Chapter Two

       Last updated: Monday, May 3, 2010 19:19 EDT



    “Do you know what the penalty for having illegal firearms in Mexico are, Senor Pitt?”

    “Like a million years per bullet?” I responded. The police interrogator shook his head sadly, nodded at his subordinate, and my head snapped back as the junior policeman hit me. He was wearing some sort of weighted leather glove, and it hurt pretty bad. I leaned my head forward and spit blood on the plastic table. Somehow I had managed to cultivate a hobby of being beaten up by law enforcement officers. On the bright side, this guy was a featherweight compared to my old buddy Special Agent Franks. Now that guy knew how to beat a confession out of somebody.

    “You are being held on suspicion of murder, Senor Pitt. I have over seventy bodies to explain, and somebody will be held accountable. I assure you that our justice system is not as lenient as your own.” I didn’t think that that many tourists had been bitten, so they must be charging me for the original zombies too. I suppose the fact that they had obviously been dead for months wasn’t going to help me.

    I had no idea where I was, or how long I had been out, having woken up in the back of a truck with a sack tied over my head. Since the air tasted like burning tires, I was guessing that I had been taken inland, and if I had been unconscious long enough, I might even be in Mexico City. The interrogator’s English was excellent. He was short, pudgy, with a bad comb-over, but his manner indicated that he was not a man to be trifled with. “Now why did you have multiple firearms and illegal military equipment in your room?”

    “About that, any chance I can get some of those guns back? The shotgun and the matching set of .45s? Those have sentimental value...” I went back to the question before he had the chance to signal the other cop to hit me again. “Really, like I already said, contact the consulate. We have written permission from your government. I’m here as an independent security consultant. Our weapons were allowed per the terms of the contract.”

    “And what exactly was your duty in Mexico?”

    “I already told you I’m not at liberty to disclose that.” The Mexican government had a policy similar to the United States’ official position. Monsters Do Not Exist. The rules are idiotic, but for those of us who made our living cashing in on these governments’ bounties for unnatural creatures, we always had to be careful to tiptoe around the truth with the general public. It may have been evil, it may have been stupid, but it was policy. And the people who enforced that policy had no problem shooting people like me if we talked too much. “Just call your superiors. This is all a misunderstanding.”

    He nodded at the other police officer, and I braced myself for the impact. This time he hit me above the kidney. I grunted. It hurt, but he didn’t really drive the fist in there. When you’re hitting somebody in the body, you need to punch through the target, not at it. Amateur.

    “We already contacted them.” The interrogator took out a pack of cigarettes, shook one out, and lit it with a gold plated Zippo. “Sadly, they said that they had no knowledge of you, your organization, or why you are here.”

    It sounded like MHI had just been disavowed. Not good. “Well... there’s been a mistake then.”

    “Certainly, merely just a, how would you say? Clerical error.” He nodded, and this time I was pelted across the back of my head. At least the guy hitting me was getting some variety. This was bad, very bad. There was no way that the Mexican government had just forgotten about a team of American Monster Hunters. They were going to deny that they had ever contacted us. Better that than to admit there were supernatural creatures on their soil. They were probably already spinning some story to cover up the zombie outbreak and I was willing to bet that my team wasn’t going to fit in with the official version of events.

    “I can show you our copies of the contract, signed by your state governor. All I need is one phone call.”

    “I think not. My superiors and the governor’s office have already confirmed that they have signed nothing. You are a liar and I’m tiring of this game.”

    Options were starting to run thin and I didn’t want to spend the rest of my life in a Mexican jail. So I guess that meant it was time to see if the interrogator could handle the truth. “Okay, I’ll talk.”

    “I’m waiting.”

    I gestured with my head at the other cop. It was the best I could do since my forearms and ankles had been zip tied to the sturdy chair. “Does this guy speak English?”

    The interrogator held up his thumb and forefinger. “Pequeno, a little.”

    My whole body ached. At least if I could get rid of Cop #2 they’d quit hitting me for awhile. “You might want him to wait outside. You don’t want what I’m about to tell you to get out, if you know what I mean.”

    The interrogator slowly exhaled a thick cloud of smoke. The three of us were in a small, plain room. The only furniture was my chair, his chair, and a cheap plastic table. There was a bloody phonebook, a pair of needle nose pliers, and a five-gallon bucket of water sitting in the corner. I didn’t want to guess what those were for. Finally he gestured for the younger cop to leave. I heard the snap of a crisp salute, and then the opening and closing of the door behind me.

    “Any chance we can settle this with some good old fashioned bribery?” I asked. “My company’s very generous.”

    “Mordida? Maybe if I only had one or two bodies. But this many? And half of them Americans? I’m afraid not. You see, someone must be executed for this. Tell me what I want to know, and it might not be you.”

    “Gotcha. Figured as much, but you never know until you ask. I didn’t think you had the death penalty here.”

    He shrugged. “There is the unofficial death penalty. So let us continue, Senor Pitt. Who are you?”

    “I work for a company called Monster Hunter International. We’re based out of Alabama. We specialize in discreetly handling monster related problems.” He stared at me blankly. “Monsters… For example we were paid to come here to deal with a pack of goat suckers.”

    “Chupacabras?” he asked slowly.



    “Yes. A few weeks ago, some hikers were killed at the resort, and once those things taste people, they don’t go back. We were hired because it was thought more deaths would be detrimental to tourism.” I suppose a massive zombie attack rendered that a moot point. “The company I work for is considered the best in the world when it comes to dealing with things like this.”

    “I see... and the reason that I have never heard of this is…” His voice betrayed no emotion.

    “Government mandated secrecy. Those of us who have monster experience are usually warned by the authorities to keep our mouths shut. That has been the policy for forever. If the regular population were to know that all of the stuff from the myths, and the fairytales, and the bad movies was real, well, you can imagine the panic and the trouble it would cause.”

    “And you believe this?”

    I paused. I didn’t know if he asked if I believed in the government’s policies, or if I believed in what I was just telling him. I decided to run with the first option. “No, I think the policy is stupid. People should know the truth. Instead, to keep the problem in check, most governments have some sort of system to keep the unnatural populations down. In my country there is a bounty system administered by the Treasury Department. It’s called PUFF.”


    “Perpetual Unearthly Forces Fund. It pays money to any private citizen who kills a monster on the PUFF list. My company specializes in working the PUFF list, and also in private contracts from municipalities, companies, and private individuals, like your wealthy resort owners. See, lots of important people know about monsters, but they have to keep it on the down low, if you know what I mean. So they call people like us. Let’s see, PUFF was started by Teddy Roosevelt, uh... he was our president back in--”

    “I know who Theodore Roosevelt was. I attended UCLA.”

    “Go Trojans,” I said.

    “You’re thinking of the wrong school,” he sighed and rubbed his temple with his fingers. “Please continue…”

    “I guess you don’t want to hear the history of professional Monster Hunting…”

    He casually examined the end of his burning cigarette. “No, I really want to know about last night.” He glanced absently at his watch. “Fourteen hours ago. What happened at the hotel. There were many deaths, and I wish to know why.”

    “That was not our doing.”

    “I have witnesses that saw you chopping people up with a machete.”

    “Those weren’t people. Those were zombies.”


    “Yes. The walking dead. The man who created them, the man you are looking for is an Englishman.” I proceeded to give him a rough description of the real villain. I didn’t know what the Englishman was, but he’d been there for me, which meant that the carnage at the hotel was partially my fault. “Bastard works for the Old Ones,” I muttered under my breath.

    “What is an Old One, Senor Pitt?” The interrogator casually reached under his chair and pulled out a manila file folder.

    Screw it. It was obvious he thought I was nuts, might as well give him a good reason. I just needed to stay in one piece long enough for my team to find me. “They’re a race of ancient creatures. Evil and ugly.”

    He pulled an ornate pen from his pocket and began to make notes in the folder. “And how will we know when we find these Old Ones.”

    My father had always warned me that I didn’t know when to shut up. “The real thing? They’re hard to miss. The ones you have to worry about are their servants. Last summer...” I caught myself.

    “Last summer what?”

    I shrugged. He already thought I was a complete whackadoo, so what did I have to lose? Crazy prisoners probably got their own cells. I was guessing that you wouldn’t stick them out with the regular population. “Remember last summer, with the missing five minutes?”

    “Yes,” he replied. Of course he did. Everybody on Earth had experienced it. Five minutes of time had been erased as if they had never existed. It had caused a global panic. People had instantly found themselves where they had been five minutes before, but with the memory of what had transpired during that missing time still intact. Pandemonium ensued. Thousands had been born twice, others had died twice, and others still, like myself, had died, only to have those moments erased to be given another chance.

    “That was caused by the Old Ones. Last summer, one of their minions arranged for them to break into this world.”

    “And did these... Old Ones... succeed?”

    I snorted. “Of course not, if they had, you would have known it. But that rift in time, the missing five minutes, was caused by somebody screwing around with one of their ancient artifacts.” I didn’t mention that that had been me, or that apparently I was the only human in the world with the ability to do so. They had manipulated me in the hopes that I would open the door for them, and they had almost succeeded.

    The interrogator leaned back heavily in his chair. “Scientists are now saying that it had something to do with solar radiation. Increased activity causing a distortion in the atmosphere, along with psychological delusions of missing time caused by imbalances in our brain chemistry.”

    “Yeah, I saw that on the Discovery Channel too, but I’m telling you, it was the Old Ones. That was no delusion. Those things are out there, and they are some bad mothers. This guy with the zombies, he works for them, and if he works for them, then we’ve got a serious problem on our hands.”

    “Do we?” He continued writing. From my zip-tied vantage point, I couldn’t see what his notes said, but I was sure that it was something to the effect that I was totally screwed and was going to be enjoying a long stay in the Mexican penal system.

    “Yes. They’ll stop at nothing to get what they want. Those undead you had crawling all over that resort were a joke compared to what these things can whip up.” He cocked his head to the side and studied me intently. I could tell that I had lost him, but at least they weren’t hitting me with that phonebook. “Talk to a doctor, take a look at those bodies. They’ve been dead for a lot longer than a day, but they were moving around. I’m sure you have plenty of witnesses to that. You do a little looking, and you can probably find the cemetery where all those bodies were stolen from.”

    He clicked his pen and dropped it back in his pocket. “I don’t know how you dug up all of those corpses and spread them out like you did, but let me assure you, Senor Pitt, pretending to be insane will not get you off in this country. I have had enough of your nonsense. You disgust me, and your fairytales will not save you. You are nothing but a filthy murderer, and you think that you can come here and spin these ridiculous lies? Do you think we are stupid?” He stood, adjusted his tie, and spit in my face. I could not move my arm to wipe it away, and I could feel it slowly drip down my forehead and into my eyes. The beating was one thing, but that was too much. If I hadn’t been tied to the chair, I would have broken the interrogator in half. The door opened behind me and other policemen entered the room. The interrogator switched back to Spanish, but I could understand him relatively well.

    “I’ve had enough for today. We’ll work on him again in the morning. Put this piece of shit in Section Six with the other animals. Let them teach him some humility.”




    Section Six was one large room, subdivided into a bunch of ten-foot square pens, each enclosed with thick iron bars and chain link fencing. There was a path between the pens where the guards patrolled with truncheons ready. Small naked bulbs dangled in each alley. There were two sets of cots in each cell, with anywhere from five to seven prisoners shoved into each. My cell had all of the comforts of home, including a bucket, and not much else. You can guess what the bucket was for.

    It was dark, and it stunk of sweat, and fear, and violence. I don’t think that Amnesty International ever spent much time in this place. I sat cross legged in the corner of one of the cells. The four other men that shared my tiny space sat across from me, glaring sullenly. Section Six seemed to be where they kept all of the bad asses, lunatics, and that general selection of humanity that you just didn’t invite to the church picnic. There were incoherent cries and shouts all across the large space. It was not exactly pleasant.

    A stocky man with one milky eye, and missing an ear, whispered to his buddy in Spanish. “You think he understands us?”

    “I don’t know... he don’t look too smart,” answered the prettier of the two, an obese man with a spider web tattooed across his face. “Look at him. He’s got to be messed up in the head. He just keeps staring at us.”

    The reason I was staring at them was because I had to really concentrate to understand what they were saying. I had practiced up on my Spanish before taking this trip. I have a gift for languages, but the gutter slang these guys spoke was terrible by any standard. I could keep up, barely. Strangely enough, having magically learned archaic Portuguese last summer was really helping.

    “They said he was an American.”

    “He ain’t one of us, so I don’t care,” said the third, a skinny guy who sounded like he had tuberculosis. “Soon as he goes to sleep, I’m gonna shiv him good.”

    “Jorge, now why are you gonna go and do that?”

    Jorge shrugged. “I like stabbing people.”

    “I don’t know, man. He’s one big dude. Look at him. That ain’t no regular American who got drunk in some whorehouse and wound up here. That dude is gonna tear you up, man. He’s got muscles like a luchador.”

    I just kept glaring. I figured my best bet was to appear as mean as possible. A wise old gunfighter had once told me that if you looked like food, you were going to get eaten, and I really didn’t want to end up as prison food.

    My body ached, and I was in a really foul mood. They had not even treated my cuts from when I had jumped off the balcony, and they were now big grisly scabs that I was sure were going to end up infected. My left ankle was badly swollen, the little puncture in my heel was driving me nuts, and most embarrassingly, after I had been squirted down with a fire hose and had lice poison dumped on me, the biggest set of prison clothes that had for me were about two sizes too small. Not a lot of 4X convicts in Mexico, apparently. The last thing you want to do when you are already in a bad mood is try to wear pants that are too tight.

    “I’m telling you, man, I think he understands us. Look at those eyes. He’s crazy pissed.”

    “See, that’s why I need to hurry up and shiv him.”

    “Jorge, he’s gonna rip your balls off.”

    “Shut up, Mateo, quit being such a wimp.”

    My options were rather limited. I was in jail. The Mexican government was denying that they had given me permission to be here with enough munitions to arm a small rebellion. I had no idea where my team was, or what shape they were in, or even if they had all survived the outbreak. There was some sort of crazy shadow freak out looking to snag me for the Old Ones. I hadn’t been offered a lawyer or a phone call, so I doubted that MHI knew where I was either. And the lice powder really itched.

    “What do you think, Esteban?” asked Spider Web Face.

    The last man looked up from his bunk. He was older, and had obviously been through some rough times. He had scars all along his face and arms, his hair was grey and long, and his skin had the texture of leather. I knew that he had to be somebody special, since he got his own bunk, and none of this band of thugs messed with him. He studied me silently, and the others waited for him to pass judgment.

    Finally he spoke, not to them, but rather to me, but loud enough that everyone could hear. “I heard from one of the guards, you hacked up like a hundred people with a machete, arms and legs and heads everywhere, even ate some of them. Killed some cops too. Burned a hotel down. Took twenty Federales to take you out... You speak Spanish?”

    “Un pequeno.”

    “I figured you did,” he put his head back down.

    “Oh shit, man,” said Jorge. “I was just kidding about the shiv thing. You know, mess with the new guy and all that.”

    I gave Jorge my most menacing look. He cowered back into the corner. Now most people would not react well to being put into the ultra-violent, dog-eat-dog world that was a prison full of murderers and psychopaths, but hey, I’d killed a werewolf with my bare hands. I figured that I would fit in just fine here. 

    “Say, Esteban,” I asked over the shouting from the next cell. “Where are we?”

    “You don’t know?” his eyes peeked out from under his mane of hair. I could tell he was a sharp one.

    “Nah... I was pretty wore out from chopping up all those people. You know how it is.” If you have a rep, you might as well run with it.

    “You’re in Tijira Prison. This, my friend, is a very bad place.”

    “I’ve seen worse,” I lied.

    “I’m sure you have. Me personally, I’m here because I avenged my wife’s honor against the filthy tyrants, but alas, I failed. May God rest her soul,” he said solemnly. Some of the thugs crossed themselves.

    “Sorry to hear that.”

    Without skipping a beat he switched to English. “Naw, just pulling your leg. I’m from San Diego. I was flying coke across the border, got back to TJ, didn’t have enough to pay the right people, and they stuck me in here rather than just shooting me. Some days I wish they would have just killed me and got it over with. These morons here think I’m Zorro or something so they leave me alone. If a Yankee wants to survive in here, you need a reputation, so I’ll back you up, you back me up.”

    “Good deal.” I held out my hand. He reached over and shook it with a firm grip. “Owen Zastava Pitt.”

    “Zapato? Like a shoe?”

    “No Zastava. It’s Serbian.”

    “You don’t look Serbian.”

    In other words, I was way too brown. “I’m a little bit of everything.” That much was true. I always checked the Other box on any official type forms. “Look, Esteban...”

    “You can call me Steve, the Esteban thing is for these guys,” he nodded his head at the other criminals. “The story is that I shot it out with the cops and the army to avenge them burning my village or something. If you don’t get respect in here, you don’t last long.”

    “Okay, Steve, my company will get me out of here. We’re worth a lot of money, and can get the best lawyers. I just need to survive long enough for that to happen, so I appreciate the help. You scratch my back, I scratch yours, know what I mean?”

    “That’s cool. I’m still waiting for trial myself. I haven’t even been arraigned yet. I’m hoping I get my turn in front of the judge before too long.”

    “How long have you been here?”

    He looked up at the ceiling as he gave it some thought.

    “Three years come June.”

    A cold weight settled into the bottom of my stomach. “No kidding?”

    “No kidding. Welcome to Tijira.”




    They had taken my watch, but I guessed that it was about 9 pm when the guards killed most of the lights in Section Six. Steve, or Esteban, as the local fauna knew him, and I were still talking quietly, me to pass the nervous time, and him because I was the first other American he had seen in several years. The previous guy had lasted all of thirty minutes before somebody had decided they didn’t particularly like gringos in their jail. Steve said that it had taken weeks for the blood stains to fade. He was a nice enough guy for a prison-hardened drug smuggler, and talking to him sure beat talking to One Ear, Jorge, or Spider Web.

    “So, Owen, you got a wife?”

    “Nope, but I’m engaged.”

    “That’s great. What’s she like?”

    I tried to make myself more comfortable on the bug ridden cot. Since I was now the new boss of this cell, I got the luxury accommodations. Sometimes being a muscle-bound behemoth paid dividends. Poor One Ear had to sleep on the floor now. “She’s awesome. Smart, funny, tough, brave. Her name’s Julie. Julie Shackleford.”

    “Is she hot?”

    “Dude... Please.”

    “Sorry, but I’ve kind of been in jail for awhile,” he explained. “It’s been so damn long since I’ve seen a woman...” he trailed off. I just hoped that MHI hurried up and found me soon. I did not sign on to this gig to end up spending my golden years in a place like this. “So what’s she look like?” he asked as he lay back on his bunk and closed his eyes. I admit, I could have been offended, but more than anything, I just felt pity.

    “Well, she’s pretty,” I answered. That was an understatement. I had been infatuated with her since the day that we had met. Julie was the best thing that had ever happened to me, and almost losing her had been the worst. “Real tall for a girl actually. Kind of buffed, she works out a lot. Long brown hair, has the prettiest brown eyes I’ve ever seen, wears glasses...”

    “Chicks with glasses are hot.”

    “I’m with you there, bro, I’m with you there. In fact she’s probably out there looking for me right now.”

    “Here? In Mexico?”

    “Of course, she’s a Monster Hunter too.”

    “Look, I already said that I would back you on the whole crazy machete killer thing. You don’t need to keep up the monster movie shtick.”

    I laughed out loud. Tubercular Jorge grumbled at me from his corner. “I wasn’t joking. She’s a Hunter, and she’s good, real good. On the business end, she does most of our contract negations, and she’s a real expert when it comes to monster lore. On the operational side she’s our team sharpshooter. I’ve seen her plug a lindwyrm through the eye stalk from a moving helicopter. And tell you what, she can run a pistol like you wouldn’t believe. Anyways, I’m a lucky guy. Somehow I’ve got a southern belle, sniper, art babe to fall in love with me. I don’t know how I pulled that off.” That much was true. I still couldn’t figure out exactly how a blundering schlub like me had managed to impress somebody like her.

    Julie had been one of the first Hunters that I had met. She had come to my home to recruit me while I was still recovering from my initial monster encounter. It had been love at first sight. For me at least. Thankfully, she had come around eventually. All I had had to do was take on all the armies of evil and save the world to impress her.

    “Sounds like you guys make a... interesting couple.” Steve sounded slightly nervous.

    “In fact she’s been doing this way longer than I have. The company is a family business, her grandpa is the CEO. They’ve has been into this for over a hundred years now. She was born for it. Killing monsters is what the Shacklefords eat, sleep, live and breathe.”

    “Sounds like you have some psycho in-laws.”

    There was a long uncomfortable pause as I thought about what to say. I rubbed the huge welt on my forehead from the shotgun butt. How would I describe my soon to be relatives?

    “Oh, touched a nerve, I see.”

    “You have no idea,” I muttered. If there was an international award for who had the worst mother-in-law, I would be a sure winner. “Her parents used to be Hunters too, really good people from what I understand, but... ah hell, you wouldn’t believe me if I told you.”

    “Oh come on, like I believe any of your crap anyway.”

    “Never mind them. Let’s just say that they’re pure evil now.”

    “They can’t be that bad. I’m sure over time you guys will be able to work out your differences.”

    “I wouldn’t bet on it,” I responded. I rolled over on my side as something that felt suspiciously like a centipede crawled between my shoulder blades.

    The few remaining light bulbs flickered a few times then died. A murmur rose from the prisoners. “Power’s out again,” Steve stated the obvious. There was an electric wailing sound in the distance, high pitched and whiney. It sounded three times and then died abruptly. “Guess not. That’s the alarm.” Steve rose from his cot and went to the bars. All the other men were moving as well. Anything that broke the monotony of Section Six was a major deal for them. “Something’s up.”

    I sat up. “What’s going on?”

    “I don’t know, man.” He turned to rapid fire Spanish and ordered the thugs to quiet down. They sullenly obeyed.

    The room was very dark. I felt a tinge of fear. Maybe the shadow man had come back for me. There were only a few small windows set high in the walls of the large space, but the moon was fat and bright tonight, so some pale light was spilling down in beams. I scanned the bars. I could see the movement of men in the other cages, stalking, curious, nervous.


    I stood. If I knew anything in this world, I knew guns, and that was the sharp crack of a high powered rifle. Then another, and another, then the gun was silent.

    “Somebody trying to break out?” Jorge asked as he absently scratched himself. “Don’t sound like he made it too far.”

    It was quiet. Even the crazies who had been blubbering constantly had shut up.

    “Man, nobody makes it over the wall here. Poor fool,” One Ear said.

    More gunfire. Now there were other rifles, some of them crackling through long bursts of full-auto, and the thumping of shotguns. A flashlight briefly illuminated the cell and then swung wildly away as a guard sprinted past us. The prisoners began to yell at him, but he just kept running until the flashlight disappeared as he left the room.

    Could it be Julie and my team, come to rescue me? No way. Not like this. We killed monsters. We tried real hard not to hurt people. If they knew I was here, the rescue would involve lawyers and bribery, not guns. Something else was going on. It had to be the guy from the hotel.

    “Anybody got a light?” I shouted. “A lighter, a flash light, anything.”


    “Something that can make light. Sparks, fire, I don’t care. Anything.”

    Jorge held up a lighter. “It’ll cost you.” He smiled maliciously.

    I was across the cell in an instant. He tried to move his hand back, but I locked onto his wrist. He tried to struggle so I wrapped my other hand around the precious lighter. I broke his thumb as I yanked it free. He squealed.

    “Shut it!" I shouted. Jorge quit his whining. I turned to Steve. His eyes were very wide in the moonlight. “Whatever happens, stay calm. If you see some freaky shit, stay calm. If a great big shadow comes to get me, use this.” I pressed the lighter into his hand. “Wait ‘til he comes in our cell. His attention will be on me. Just flick it on. Then I can hit him. Understand?”

    “What are you talking about?” The gunfire was tapering off now, becoming more sporadic, as if there were fewer guards left able to shoot. There were several pops from a small caliber pistol, seemingly just outside in the hallway leading into Section Six. Somebody in the hall began to scream. I snapped my head in that direction. The scream tapered off into a gurgle and then nothing.

    “Just do it.” I stepped back from Steve and oriented myself toward the entrance, preparing for battle. There was no way I was getting taken to the Old Ones. I rotated my head and cracked the vertebra in my neck. My adrenalin was beginning to flow, my breathing unconsciously quickening, filling my blood with extra oxygen. My vision tunneled in on the grey shape of the door, and the sounds of the room seemed to become muted. Outwardly I was calm. Inside I was terrified. If the shadow man came for me here, I had nowhere to run.

    The others were worried now. They knew that something was horribly amiss. I heard prayers coming from men who looked like they had not spoken to God in a very long time. The temperature began to drop. Section Six had been warm and humid. It came so suddenly that it took precious seconds for my mind to recognize the brutal, unnatural cold. My breath hissed out as steam in the moonlight. The other men in my cell began to unconsciously crowd in the corner away from the entrance.



    The heavy iron door that secured Section Six creaked open on rusted hinges. A hush fell over the room. A lone figure stepped into the blue moonlight. High heels clicked on the concrete floor. I could make out a familiar feminine shape silhouetted in the faint light, and for a split second I thought it was Julie. Tall, perfectly proportioned, shapely, but the supernatural cold told me I was wrong. A larger figure entered the room behind the woman. A broad shouldered man, almost as tall as me.

    “Oh no,” I said with much greater volume than I intended.

    “Owen, what the hell’s going on?” Steve was terrified, and he was hard to understand over the chattering of his teeth. The temperature had dropped near freezing.

    Approaching, they passed directly under one of the windows. I was right. It was them. The woman started toward my cell, walking delicately down the path between the cages. She was achingly beautiful, perfect. But sex appeal to a vampire was like one of those deep ocean fish with the bioluminescent light bulbs dangling over their jaws, just an efficient way to catch their prey. The heels continued to click. The brute glided silently behind her. I didn’t take my eyes off of the approaching pair. “Remember when I told you about my in-laws?”

    Steve nodded quickly in the dark.

    “They’re here.”

    Some poor idiot who hadn’t seen a woman in decades made a horrible mistake. Unable to control himself with the ethereal beauty passing before him, he opened his big stupid mouth. The language was such profane slang that I couldn’t have translated it even if I had been able to understand the lowest level of gutter Spanish.

    Susan Shackleford paused before answering the man. “You’d like that, wouldn’t you?” Her southern accent was obvious, her voice perfect. When she smiled I could see the white of her teeth. Chills ran down my spine.

    “Yeah, puta, I show you good time!” Some of his buddies whooped for him. These guys must have already forgotten the hundreds of rounds of gun fire that had just been expended. Well, it wasn’t the cream of the intellectual crop that ended up in places like this.

    The big figure stopped. “That’s my wife you’re talkin’ about, asshole.” In the poor light, it was hard to tell what happened next. The prisoner was standing in the center of his cell, well out of reach from the bars. Yet somehow Ray Shackleford reached through the tight barrier, grabbed him by the neck, and pulled the prisoner through the bars. Iron bent and bones shattered. The man screamed in agony for a few brief seconds before his heart exploded as it was jerked through the two inch gap. He ended up dangling a few feet above the ground, mangled top half in the alleyway, pelvis and kicking legs still inside the cell. A puddle began to widen under the twitching corpse.

    “Thank you, honey. That was downright chivalrous.”

    “You’re welcome, dear.”

    The population of Section Six exploded. Everyone surged against the far corners of their cells, pushing against bars or chain link. Dozens of voices rose into the night air, panic, confusion, terror.

    “Ya’ll be QUIET!” Ray bellowed. I involuntarily covered my ears as the shockwave hit. His voice shook the building. Dust fell from the ceiling.

    Now there was only whimpering and crying. The prisoners knew that something terribly inhuman was in their presence. The vampires approached slowly. “Owen. Good to see you again.” Susan smiled at me. Her eyes seemed to glow pale in the dark.

    “Heya, kid. How’s it hanging?” Ray waved.

    “Susan... Ray...” I nodded at them. Every joint in my body ached with fear. I was a dead man, or worse. Much worse.

    I had fought Susan twice before. Both times I had been lucky to escape with my life. She was a Master vampire, strongest of all the undead. The first time we had squared off she had taken a twenty second burst from a flame thrower and a direct hit with a grenade, and had walked away. The second time she had only been turned aside by the faith of Milo Anderson. Compared to Milo, my faith sucked. She could move faster than the human eye could track, tear a man’s head off with her pinky finger, and I had personally put half a dozen silver shotgun slugs through her skull with no effect. If Susan wanted to kill me, there wasn’t a damn thing that I could do about it.

    Steve began to flick the lighter.

    “What, you want an encore or something?” Ray laughed. “Free bird! Whoo!”

    “If you’ve come for me, I’m not going down without a fight,” I snarled.

    “You’ve got cojones, kid,” Ray said. “I’ll give you that. See, dear, I told you he was a good match for Julie. She always had the best killer instinct of our kids.” He gestured at me. I had only known Ray for a brief time, and that had been after I had sprung him from an insane asylum. The last time that I had seen Ray he had still been human, barely alive, and rapidly bleeding to death from the savage wound Susan had inflicted on him, so I had to admit that he looked a lot better now. “If we wanted to off you, we would’ve done it already.”

    “Wrong. You can’t come into a home if you aren’t invited. And this is currently my home,” I said as I gestured around my cell. Though many of their limitations were a mystery, I knew that at least some of the vampire legends were true. “So back off!” I ordered with a lot more confidence than I felt.

    Susan sighed. She approached the bars and leaned against them. It was shocking how much she looked like her daughter, only Susan was inhumanly perfect. Her fingernails were painted bright red and showed up like beacons in the dark. I took an involuntary step back. “Owen, honey, don’t lawyer up on me now.” She absently flicked one finger towards Jorge. Her piercing eyes didn’t waver from mine. “Can I come in?”

    The prisoner gasped as she invaded his mind with all the subtlety of a battering ram. His eyes rolled back into his head and he began to convulse violently. I started toward him, but I was too late. “Si!” he sputtered, then toppled over, dead.

    “See? If you weren’t so damn obstinate he’d still be alive. No great loss, weak mind, easily controlled, and so disease ridden I wouldn’t have drank him if I was starving.” She drew her long fingers away from the bars, and then slowly pushed her face against the iron. She seemed to compress into the space. The gap was only a few inches across, but Susan slid through easily. She stepped into the cell and then casually brushed the dust from her skin-tight dress.

    One Ear screamed like a little girl.

    I waited for her to make her move, though realistically if I even saw her coming it was only because she wanted to play with her food. Susan looked down at one of the cots in disgust, shrugged, then sat on it. She crossed her legs, briefly showing off entirely too much thigh, and placed her hands on her knees. Ray frowned.

    “Sit. We need to talk.”

    I looked at her stupidly.

    She gestured at the other cot. “I ain’t here to hurt you. I’m here with a business proposition.”

    “You’ve got to be kidding me...” I said.

    Susan’s gaze did not waver. “Ray, you told me he was smarter than he looks.” She began to absently drum her fingers on her knee, impatient.

    “He is, but it takes him a minute to warm up.” Ray folded his arms and leaned against one of the other cells. The hardened prisoners huddled in the far corner. Ray assessed them like I would size up steaks in the meat department. “Hey, honey, how about Mexican for dinner?”



    “Sure, just pick a good one... Look, Owen, I promised a truce, and I’m good for it. You didn’t come looking for me, and I can respect that. I’m prepared to leave you and my precious daughter alone, just like I said before. That isn’t why I’m here. Please sit. We don’t have much time before their reinforcements arrive and you don’t want to force me to kill a bunch more innocents. Do you?”

    I backed up and slowly sat, careful to keep my eyes on her the whole time. Susan Shackleford emanated predatory danger. Every instinct in my body screamed for me to fight or flee. I tried to steady my voice. “Okay...”

    “So how’ve you been?” she asked, trying to sound casual. Was it possible that this was awkward for her too? I never really wondered if the undead had societal niceties. Apparently southern politeness really did die hard. “Wedding still on for August?”

    “Yep. We’re fine. So how are you guys? Still dead and evil? Ray still insane?”

    “No, he’s much better now.” She uncrossed her long legs and leaned forward, pouting. “So much for being pleasant.”

    “Pleasant would be you doing us all a favor and going for a long walk on a sunny day.”

    “Kid,” Ray growled. “Your terminal smart-assitude is starting to piss me off. You better show a little more respect.”

    He had a point. “It isn’t anything personal. We don’t want anything to do with you. Leave me alone.”

    Susan sighed. “Fine. Let’s cut to the chase. I want to hire MHI. I’ve got a job for you to do.”

    My mouth dropped open. “Serious?”

    “Duh. You think I came to this shit hole for fun? I’m serious. Not hiring MHI as much as hiring you in particular. And this is a mutually beneficial arrangement. The man, or used to be a man, that attacked you yesterday, I want to help you destroy him.”

    That didn’t make sense. “Why?”

    “He’s your enemy. He’s trying to suck up to the Old Ones, so he means to deliver you to the Dread Overlord itself.”

    I licked my lips. “Susan, last time we met, you were a servant of the Old Ones.”

    “Wrong. I owe no loyalty to those things. Jaeger forced me to serve Lord Machado. I was as much of a pawn as you were. When you killed Jaeger and his boss, I was freed from their servitude. I serve only myself now. I hated those crusty ancient bastards.”

    “Right… You’re no ordinary vamp, Susan. We both know that. You’re too young to be a Master, but you are. Somehow you became way stronger than you should be, and I think I know how.” From my own experience with the Old One’s magic, I knew the kind of gifts and curses that it could bestow.

    “Owen, you’re an idiot. Don’t strain yourself thinking so hard.” Just for a moment, the turn of her head, the sound of her voice, it was almost as if I was speaking with Julie, but with a hiss, it was gone. She waved her hands dismissively. “Sure, I’m powerful, more powerful than the dusty old vampires that came before me. The decrepit coots should never have turned a Monster Hunter into a vampire. The source of my power is my business, but I give you my word that I’m not with the Old Ones. My offer is to help you... and in so doing, help myself.”

    “Why? What’s in it for you?”

    “That guy after you? He’s a necromancer, a wizard with powers over the undead,” Susan said.

    “Even you?”

    “Perhaps, but I’m not in a particular hurry to find out. I’ve been a slave before, and I don’t intend to let that happen again. He’s building an army, and I don’t feel like getting drafted. Basically, this necromancer is a threat to me, to all the independent dead.”

    I snorted. “Even more than MHI? If I recall correctly, we kicked your ass pretty good last time.”

    “Wrong again. Goody two shoes Milo banished me last time. If we tangle again, I’m taking him out first, and he won’t see me coming. So don’t push it unless you want his blood on your hands too.”

    That made me furious. I clenched my teeth. Nobody threatens my friends.

    “Just so you know, when you get angry, you broadcast your thoughts like you had a loudspeaker. Try anything stupid and I’ll just kill you and save the necromancer the trouble. Relax, Ray,” Susan said soothingly to her husband. Ray must have heard my thoughts, as he had silently moved up to the bars. He moved just on the other side, like a lion at the zoo. He didn’t look as disheveled and crazy as when he was human, but now his square face was drawn, angry, and extremely dangerous. He was as protective of his wife in death as he had been in life. Whereas Susan was cold and calculating, the newly undead and far less powerful Ray was barely restrained crazy bottled in room-temperature flesh. I forced myself to calm down before Ray pulled me through the bars like the earlier prisoner.

    “That’s better. Now listen close,” Susan ordered. “After our little altercation last summer, you drew the attention of the boss king of the Old Ones itself. That’s quite a feat for a mere blood bag. You’re a marked man now. This guy trying to kill you? He thinks popping you will score him big points. If he brings you in, he’ll be rewarded with all sorts of power. And that’s bad news.”

    She’s scared of him. “For you and me both.”

    “As much as it pains me to admit it, yeah.”

    This whole thing was unsettling. Only a fool would trust a vampire.Ray was still glowering at me.The other prisoners were whimpering and trying to hide. What she was saying made sense in a way. If she was working with the shadow man, it wasn’t like she needed any elaborate hoax to catch me.“How about you tell me who he is and where to find him?”

    Susan shook her head. “I’m still working on that. I’ve got some suspicions, and you’ll be the first to know if I’m right. But you ain’t ready to face him yet. His magic makes him untouchable.”

    “So how do I beat him? I’m all about killing stuff.”

    “What? I’m supposed to do all the work?” Susan’s sultry laugh was creepy. “I don’t know exactly. You’ll need to figure that out yourself.”

    “Well, fat lot of good you vampires are.”

    “Stuff it.” She reached into the fold of her dress and produced a small white handkerchief. “As you surely know by now, since you survived Koriniha’s little test, you’re a very special man, Owen. Only one human born every five hundred years has the gifts you do. I know more about you than you do about yourself. Ray has been doing research again...”

    “Last time he did that he almost sucked Alabama into another dimension. You sure you want to let him do that?”

    “Hey, I’m a pro,” Ray said, in mock embarrassment. “I was still learning then.”

    Susan ignored us. “He thinks you’ll be able to destroy the necromancer. You have abilities beyond your understanding.” She unwrapped the small package and dropped a tiny object into her palm. Her bright red nails curled around it like a Venus flytrap. “I’m going to give you a present, a little something to unlock your true potential. That way when you face the Old One’s pet magician again, you’ll be able to finish him and do us both a favor. Understand?”

    “What is it?” I asked hesitantly. I knew a little bit about my abilities, and though I didn’t understand them, I knew enough to be deathly afraid of them.



    She opened her hand. There was a tiny sliver in her palm, a rock chip. It began to emit a faint glow, reflecting on her pale skin. Then it seemed to pulse as a bit of living darkness flashed across it. Recoiling away, I fell off the bed and crashed into the bars. I pushed against one of the prisoners and whoever it was scurried away from me.

    “Keep it away!” I shouted. I don’t know how she got a piece of Koriniha’s artifact, but I recognized it immediately for what it was. I felt it. The Kumaresh Yar. It existed before our world. It exists to destroy our world, but to be used to its full potential, needed to be activated by someone like me. And now a piece of it was here, dangerously close.

    I was shaking. “You don’t know how dangerous it is, to everybody, everything. I can’t use that thing. I’ll kill us all.”

    “Don’t worry. This is only a small fragment. Ray’s worked some spells on it, so it should be safe… mostly. I’m gonna use this to help you,” Susan said. I blinked and she was standing, hovering over me, the tiny shard of the dreaded artifact of the Old Ones held out like a talisman only inches away. “Ray’s research says that this probably won’t kill you, but it will put you in touch with a little bit of that power you experienced before. The last thing I want to do is make a Hunter stronger, but you’re my best bet to get rid of this necromancer.”

    Ray suddenly twitched, looking at the ceiling. “Better hurry, dear. We’ve got company coming. Sounds like the Feds.”

    “I hear them,” she answered. She pushed the shard toward my forehead. I tried to swat her arm away. I might as well have been hitting the bars of the cell. I shoved as hard as I could, but she was far stronger than I was. She ignored the flying fists, intent on her mission. “Don’t worry, honey, this won’t hurt a bit.”

    “No!” The tiny chunk of the Kumaresh Yar touched my skin. The world exploded in pain. Black lightning crackled across Section Six and sparked across the chainlink. It was as if someone had driven a glowing hot ice pick through my brain, and then twisted until it pierced out the base of my skull. I screamed as a cascade of strange visions tore through my mind, pummeling me with disjointed alien memories.

    Something inside of me woke up.

    Fueled by the artifact, I struck Susan. This time it had the desired effect. She flew back and crashed into the bars. The pain and pressure subsided. I rolled onto my side, limp, eyelids heavy, barely able to breathe.

    “Hot damn!” Susan exclaimed. She had left a human-shaped impression in the iron. Most of the prisoners were openly crying for their mothers now. The last of the rampant black electricity dissipated, but left a smell in the air like a chemical fire. Susan rotated her neck and arms as the bones knit back together. “That was unexpected.”

    “Told you it would work,” Ray said smugly. “Now let’s go. Feds are almost here, and I ain’t up to taking on somebody like Agent Franks.”

    Susan held up one hand to silence her husband. She rewrapped the shard and put it away. I no longer had the strength to hold up my head, and it slowly flopped to the concrete. I watched as her high heels clicked toward me. She stopped and squatted down. I felt her nails caress the back of my neck. She bent down and her cold lips pressed against my ear. Her voice was barely a whisper. “One last thing. The thing that saved Julie, the Guardian’s mark on her neck. You know that it’ll eventually kill her, don’t you? It’s from the other side, where everything comes with a price. When that time comes, my earlier offer stands. When either of you is ready for immortality, call my name and I’ll be there. That’s what family is for.”

    I struggled to keep my eyes open. So weak… So very cold. I could barely move. Susan kissed me gently on the top of my head.

    “So what about dinner?” Ray sounded petulant.

    “This one here smells disease free. Grab him. Let’s go.”

    The last thing I heard before the darkness came was Steve screaming for somebody to help him.



    My strength gradually returned. Feeling tingled back into my limbs. Fighting back waves of nausea and dizziness, I pushed myself to my hands and knees. What had Susan done to me? The bars of my cell had been bent wide open so Ray could extract Steve alive. Perhaps if I hurried, a part of me thought, maybe I could save him. The logical part of my brain already knew the truth. He was long gone. The temperature was already returning to normal.

    One Ear grabbed me by the arm. “The devil took him! Poor Esteban. You brought this on us!” He cocked one meaty fist back to pummel me. I was too weak to defend myself. The prisoner flinched as a shot rang out. Plaster dust rained down from the ceiling. One Ear raised his open hands over his head as multiple flashlight beams converged on us.

    “I may not speak the language, but I’m assuming a 10mm into the ceiling is pretty universal for cut it out.” The voice spoke in clearly pronunciated English.

    Squinting into the super bright weapon mounted lights, I could make out several dark shapes. “Myers? Is that you?”

    “I’m afraid so. You’re coming with us, Pitt. Consider yourself extradited. Okay men, fall back. Watch out, vampires on premises.”

    Gloved hands grabbed me by each arm and dragged me out of the cell. Flashlight beams stabbed in every direction as more armed men formed a perimeter around me. Their uniforms consisted of black body armor and every bit of high-tech tactical gear known to man. Feds. Not Federales, but rather United States federal agents, specifically the men of the Monster Control Bureau of the U.S. Justice Department. Deadly professionals, every last one, and you would be hard pressed to find a bigger bunch of assholes.

    “Pitt, what’s your status?” Special Agent Myers snapped. Unlike the other Feds, Myers was wearing his standard uniform of a cheap suit and skinny tie. No matter how important of a lawman he was, and last I had heard, he was the interim director of the whole top-secret agency, he would always look like a junior college English professor to me.

    “Susan and Ray Shackleford are here,” I gasped. Myers and I had a bit of history. He and his partner, Agent Franks, had been the representatives of the government who had visited me in the hospital after my very first monster encounter. They had threatened my life if I didn’t keep quiet that day, and they had come very close to fulfilling that promise on a few other occasions. I suppose you could say that I did not have a very good working relationship with the government.

    Myers spoke into his radio. “We’ve recovered the target, all teams return to extract. We have at least two vampires. One Master. Repeat one Master. The dark haired female Caucasian is the Master. The large white haired male is the lesser, but is still very dangerous. If you see her, do not hesitate, because she sure won’t.” He stepped past the corpse that Ray had pulled through the bars. There was still some residual twitching. The agents pulling me along slipped as their boots lost traction in the spreading puddle of blood.

    I never thought that I would think of these guys as a sight for sore eyes. “Glad to see you too, Myers,” I said cheerfully.

    “Shut up. You have no idea how much trouble you’ve caused me.” Myers sounded frustrated. My legs were starting to wobble less, so I tried to walk rather than be baggage. The Feds just kept on pulling. “I was sent to find you at the resort, but when I arrived, there had been a zombie outbreak. I found your team, but they had no idea where you were. It took a lot of diplomatic work to track you here. And then we roll up to find this mess. You’re not an easy man to find.”

    Why had Myers been looking for me?

    The hallway outside Section Six was splattered with the bodies of dead guards. Even as jaded as I am to this kind of thing, I had to look away. These people had done nothing to deserve the vampires' wrath. The Feds kept Myers and me in the center of a protective diamond formation as we hurried outward. The Fed on point led us quickly through the maze of winding passages. There were many confused survivors, guards, loose prisoners, and staff all wandering around in the dark, but nobody challenged the squadron of well armed Americans. Good thing too, because I had seen how trigger happy the Monster Control Bureau was.

    The courtyard was engulfed in chaos. One guard tower was on fire. The main truck gate was wide open, with one of the heavy gates lying broken and splintered in the road. Denim-clad prisoners were running out the opening and fleeing into the dark. Torn shapes sat in the moonlight or dangled from the razor wire fence. Those must have been the men that had tried to stop Susan.

    Three black Suburbans were parked directly in front of the exit, engines running. A large man in drab black armor was waiting for us, a stubby FN2000 rifle looking tiny in his massive arms. The man was broad and muscled like an NFL linebacker. He was a frightening apparition. Something about this particular Fed emanated a nonchalant capacity to deliver unbelievable pain. His dark face scowled from under a pair of night vision goggles when he saw me being dragged out of the building.

    “Franks, my brother, what’s up?” I shouted. Special Agent Franks of the Monster Control Bureau particularly seemed to hate my guts. On the day that it becomes expedient for the government to end my life, I somehow know that it will be Agent Franks who’d get the job.

    “Too bad,” he muttered.

    “What’s too bad?” I asked as the Feds shoved me through the open door of the waiting Suburban.

    “We got here in time.” He slammed the door after me.

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