“Oh my God! What the hell is that thing?”
I whirled around, hand flying towards my SIG. The gun cleared leather as I came face to face with the thing Odette had spotted.
“Woah there Steve! Kinda jumpy, aren’t you?” I just stood there looking like a complete idiot. Shannon was heading down the path towards us, the rest of the team plus Owen, Julie and, to my surprise, Milo Anderson.
“Shannon, what’s going…” I started, then saw what she was cradling in my arms. “What the… holy crap! Holy crap! Is that… that’s a Warhammer!”
“What’s a Warhammer?” Odette asked.
“It’s made by Crusader Weaponry, the same guys who made my Partisan,” I said, “It’s basically an AR-15 on steroids, chambered for 12-guage shotshells.”
“Wow.” Odette wasn’t much of a gun nut, but the rest of us were slowly working to convert her. Stupid Chicago gun laws.
“Yeah, looks like Milo’s done some custom work on it, too.” I said. The massive shotgun had been fitted with a MagPul UBR stock, EOTech Holosight, a strange-looking muzzle break on the end of the cut-down barrel, and some sort of custom oversized fore-end that featured an integrated vertical grip.
“Got that right,” Milo said proudly as the rest of the group reached us. “I modified the selector so it’ll run semi- and full-auto, tweaked the gas system so it’ll cycle low-power specialty loads, chopped the barrel down to just in front of the hand guards.”
“And the muzzle break to tame recoil?” I asked.
“It’s not a muzzle break,” he explained, “It’s a duckbill spreader.”
“Ah, right.” The duckbill spreader was designed to spread a shotgun pattern out in an oval shape, rather than a circle, allowing the pattern to spread over a wider area at closer range.
“Milo says it’ll help me hit better,” Shannon explained.
“Why don’t we find out if it works?” Jon asked. Like the rest of us, he was just itching to see this monster in action.
“Sure thing,” Shannon said, then turned to us, “Is the range hot?”
“You bet it is!” I said, “Rock and roll!” Shannon was more than happy to oblige. She stepped up to the line, raised the huge shotgun to her shoulder, and fired off a ten-round magazine. She dropped the mag, reloaded, flipped the selector to full, and held down the trigger. The gun ripped through the magazine in about a second. She dumped the mag and Milo handed her a big drum magazine. She loaded it in three seconds and dumped it just as fast. By now, Jon, Chris, Scotty, Milo, Owen, and I were giggling like idiots, and everyone else had huge grins plastered on their faces. Even Odette was enjoying the display of controlled carnage: her zombie target had been completely obliterated.
“Dude, Milo, that is incredible!” Owen said.
“Yeah, I don’t think I’ll ever convert another Saiga again,” Milo said wistfully, “That Warhammer is an incredible gun.”
“You can say that again,” Shannon explained, “Milo, this thing is incredible! Thank you so much!”
“Don’t mention it,” Milo said modestly.
“Yeah, Milo’s always happy when he’s working in his evil lab.” Owen said. Milo laughed and gave him the finger.
“What’s with the handguards?” Odette asked, “They seem a little… um… big?” An evil grin suddenly spread across Milo’s face.
“I was hoping you’d ask,” he said, “Shannon, wanna show ‘em?”
“Oh yeah.” Shannon raised the Warhammer again and moved her hand back to the vertical foregrip. She flicked open a small panel that I hadn’t spotted before, revealing a small red button. She smiled an uncharacteristically wicked looking smile, then jammed her finger down on the button.
Everyone except Milo jumped back as a fifty-foot long pillar of flame shot out from under the Warhammer’s muzzle.
The fireball snuffed out a second later, but we all stared in awe at the spot where it had been. Chris recovered first.
“Fuckin’ … what the fuckin’ fuck … who the fuck … fuck this fuckin’ … how did you fuckin’ fuck … fuck!”
“Well, uh, that certainly illustrates the diversity of the word,” Scotty replied absently, still awed by the fireball.
“Holy freakin’ crap!” Jon said, “Milo, that was… was that… a flamethrower?”
“Yep,” Milo said, beaming with pride, “Pressurized napalm, my own custom mix. You can light that stuff underwater and it’ll still burn. There’s two tanks of the stuff in the handguard, half-gallon each. That’ll only give you about six seconds of burn time, but I set it up so you can hook it up to an external fuel source, and you can run it for however long it takes to deplete that.”
“Milo, you’ve really outdone yourself this time,” Julie said. Milo blushed from under his beard.
“Don’t thank me, ‘cause now I think Owen wants one.” She was probably right; Owen was still staring at the spot where the fireball had been, a huge, manic-looking grin stretching across his face, and I think I heard him start to giggle.
“Shannon,” I said, “you gotta give that thing a name.”
“Milo?” Shannon asked.
“Doesn’t have one yet,” he said, a little bit embarrassed, “I couldn’t think of anything cool enough.”
“How ‘bout Abomination Mark II?” Julie asked.
“It’s not a Saiga,” Milo pointed out.
“Doombringer?” Chris asked.
“Nah, that’s way too dark,” Shannon replied.
“How about Mutant Flamethrowing Shotgun of Death?” Scotty asked.
“You’re kidding, right?” Chris asked.
“What’s wrong with it?”
“Way too long.”
“How about Firefly?” Odette asked.
“Ooh, no, call it Vera!” I exclaimed. Nine blank stares rewarded my suggestion.
“What’s a Vera?” Shannon asked.
“Jayne’s customized Callahan Full-Bore Autolock from Firefly.” The blank stares continued. “You mean you guys have never seen Firefly? None of you?”
“Guess not,” Dominique said, “And I like Mjollnir.”
“What’s that?” Shannon asked.
“Thor’s hammer,” Dominique explained, “Kind of appropriate considering it’s based on something called Warhammer.” Before anyone could respond, her cell phone began to ring. She quickly fished it out of her pocket and took a step back from the group as the debate resumed.
“What about Excaliber?”
“That could work…”
“That sounds girly.”
“Dude, he was the leader of the 300 Spartans!”
“Don’t care, still sounds girly. Howsabout Devastator?”
“Enough with the dark names, Chris.”
“How’s Devastator dark?”
“I still like Vera.”
“Which none of the rest of us get.
“You really should call it Mutant Flamethrowing Shotgun of Death.”
“Boudica.” All conversation ceased, and we turned as one to look at Owen. It was the first time he’d entered the debate.
“What’s Boudica?” Shannon asked.
“Celtic warrior queen from the First Century AD. Lead her tribe in an uprising against the Roman Empire in what’s now England. Burned three cities to the ground, including London, and rounted and entire Roman Legion. The IX Hispania, I think it was. Nearly got the Romans to abandon Britania.”
“Boudica,” Shannon said, trying out the name, “Boudica… Boudica… Yeah, Boudica. I like it!”
“And the trivia king strikes again,” Julie replied with a roll of her eyes.
“And so Boudica it is,” Milo said.
“Pack it up, guys,” Dominique said as she pocketed her cell phone. “That was a friend of mine in the State Police. We got a crisis.”
“Zombies?” I asked.
“No. Said he’s got some kind of creature holed up in an office building down in Blue Bell.”
“Did he say what kind?” Chris asked, all business
“He’s not sure. All he knows is that it looks like a mountain lion, and that it was real big. So load up everything, just to be safe. Milo, you want to join us?”
“Dominique, you know I’d love to,” he replied with an apologetic shrug, “But I gotta get back to Cazador. Earl said to deliver the Warha… uh… deliver Boudica and then get my ass back to Alabama right quick.”
“Oh, come on Milo,” Odette said, “It’s not like he’s gonna eat you if you don’t turn around and run back to headquarters right away, right?” Strangely, no one laughed at that.
“Yeah, I really should run,” Milo said awkwardly. “Shannon, I want a full field report.”
“You got it.”
“So,” Dominique said, “Pack everything. Rifles, subguns, shotties, specialty loads, grenades, explosives, and some white oak stakes just in case… hey, Steve, you okay?” I realized my face felt flush and my hands had started to shake.
“My father works in Blue Bell.”
The ride down to Blue Bell was uncomfortably silent. It was my father’s office that we were heading to. Dominique had told me that her State Trooper friend had assured her that the building had been evacuated and that everyone had been accounted for and was okay, but I was still pretty worried. Okay, I was about ready to have a nervous breakdown. Until I saw him with my own eyes, I couldn’t shake the feeling that the creature, whatever it was, had gotten him.
As our little convoy pulled into the all-too-familiar parking lot, I felt my heart sink. The entire lot was cordoned off with yellow Police Line tape, with several Pennsylvania State Police cars and SUVs parked in the middle. Over a dozen troopers were forming a line at the far end of the lot, working to keep back a sizable crowd. The people who worked in the building, I realized. As we drove past, I scanned the crowd for my father’s face. I didn’t see him.
One of the troopers broke away from his comrades as we pulled to a halt. He jogged over to our SUVs as we disembarked and, to my surprise, waved at Dominique.
“Domino!” he called as he drew near.
“Lou!” Dominique replied. She walked over to him and, to the team’s shock, pulled him into a tight embrace. “Damn, Lou, it’s great to see you! How’ve you been?”
“Doin’ pretty good, I guess. Made Sergeant last year.”
“You’re kidding? I didn’t realize they’d let their standards slide so much.” Lou broke into a fit of laughter at that, “How’s Steph and the kids?”
“They’re all good. Rita’s in second grade now.”
“Really! Damn, Lou, you’re making me feel like an old woman.”
“Wait, wait, hang on a second,” Owen said, “You two know each other?”
“Uh huh,” Dominique said, “This here’s Lou Profaci, the sorriest excuse for a Trooper in the history of the PA State Police. We worked in Troop J together for five years.”
“Yep, until we had us a nasty run-in with a ghoul out near Strasburg. MHI tried to recruit both of us afterwards. Dominique took the offer, obviously, but I enjoyed being a State Trooper too much.”
I listened to the exchange with half an ear; I was desperately scanning the crowd of onlookers for any sign of my father.
“Stephen?!?” I looked over to see a tall, lanky man in a gray suit push past a state trooper and start running over. The rest of the team all turned to look as he approached me. “Stephen, what are you doing here?” I suddenly went from feeling relief to very, very much on the spot.
“Uh… hi Dad.”
“What’s going on?” he asked, “I thought you had a job in Alabama.”
“Uh, yeah about that…”
“What are you doing up here?”
“I… uh… It’s a long story, but the short version is that we’re here to deal with the thing in your building.”
“They said it was a mountain lion and they’d called Animal Control.”
“I saw the thing,” I heard Sergeant Profaci mutter, “It wasn’t no damn mountain lion.”
“Well, I am animal control,” I said, “Sort of.”
“What is that supposed to mean, and what are you doing here?”
“Look, Dad,” I said, “I can’t talk right now. I gotta go into your building and kill the thing that’s in there. After I do that and you get threatened by a pair of Federal Agents, I promise I’ll explain everything.”
“What do you mean, ‘threatened by Federal Agents?” I looked over and, to my absolute embarrassment, saw my mother and two younger brothers running towards us.”
“Uh, Mom, Terry, Jake, what’re you all doing here?”
“They’re on summer vacation so we decided to come out here and have lunch with your father,” Mom explained, “So now what are you doing here, and… what are you doing with those assault weapons?” she pointed at my FAL and Mossberg, the latter of which was slung across my back in a quick-draw scabbard.
“Okay, first, there’s no such thing as an assault weapon. I told you guys, that’s just a term invented by hoplophobic politicians to scare people. Second, I’ve got to go to work right now, but I promise…”
“Hey, Steve!” Dominique shouted, “Feel like joining us anytime soon?”
“I’m coming!” I shouted back, “Hang on a second! I’ll explain everything as soon as I’m done.” They started to protest, but I ignored them and jogged back over to the team, who’d assembled next to one of the State Police Crown Vics. “Sorry about that,” I said.
“Anyway, now that we’re all here,” Dominique said sarcastically, “Lou said the initial call was for a mountain lion in the building. He went in with a shotgun, saw the thing in the basement, realized it wasn’t said mountain lion, got the building evacuated and called us.”
“Did he say what it looked like?” Julie asked.
“Really big cat, about the size of a smallish horse, with two heads and a snake for a tail.”
“Chimera,” Shannon said immediately.
“Sounds like it,” Dominique agreed, “So we either take all three of the heads off or pump enough lead into it until it stops.”
“How much lead are we talking?” I asked.
“A lot,” Jon replied.
“Any questions?’ Dominique asked. We all shook our heads ‘no.’ “Okay, good. Jon, find a position that’ll give you overwatch on the northeast corner of the building, just in case this thing makes it out. Julie, same thing on the southwest.” The two sharpshooters nodded and jogged off while the rest of us checked over our gear. I quick ran back over to the truck and grabbed my Katana, clipping its sheath to the webbing on my left hip. A few minutes later, Jon and Julie reported that we were in position. “Let’s go,” Dominique shouted, and we all rallied back on her. “Shannon, you and Boudica get on point. Scotty, behind her. We’ll breach the front, work our way into the basement. If it’s there, we kill it. If not, we work our way up and clear floor by floor. Understand?” We all nodded. “Good.”
“Guys, I’ve got movement on the fourth floor,” Jon said over the radio. We all glanced at each other. The police said everyone was accounted for. If there were still people inside…
“Is it human?” Dominique asked.
“Can’t tell, it’s back away from the windows… looks like maybe two or three people… oh shit! Guys, you’ve got income—”
Jon’s words were cut off as one of the fourth floor windows exploded in a shower of razor shards.
Screams erupted from the crowd as the creature sailed through the air. It landed in the center of the parking lot, crushing one of the Police Crown Victorias. For a minute, time just stopped. We stared at the creature and it stared at us.
It was massive, at least the size of a horse. Muscles rippled under every inch of its golden-brown fur. Two heads jutted out from the front of its torso, one above the other. The lower head was surrounded by a thick mane of fur, while two long horns jutted from the top of the upper head. It’s tail was upright, the tip of it darted back and forth. The tip, I realized, was another head; two long, wicked looking fangs hung from the upper jaw. After an eternity, all three mouths opened as one, and the creature let out a bellowing roar.
The sound snapped everyone in the parking lot back to reality. The crowd erupted into screams, the cops drew their sidearms, and eight hunters snapped their weapons to their shoulders. For a long second, no one moved. Then the chimera lunged towards us, and we unleashed hell.
The beast was slammed to the ground as a virtual wall of hot lead and silver slammed into it. I rapid-fired my FAL, keeping the Trijicon scope’s amber triangle centered square on the beast’s chest. On either side of me, Shannon and Owen had flipped their shotguns to auto and were both holding the triggers down, dumping dozens of slugs and buckshot pellets into the creatures. The State Troopers were firing their .45 GAP Glocks as fast as they could pull the triggers. A high-velocity round from Jon’s SR-25 snapped past my ear and screamed into the chimera’s lower head, shattering its skull and blowing brain matter across the windshield of a Hyundai Sedan. The noise, even through my headphones, was deafening.
It was beautiful.
Owen fired Abomination’s grenade launcher, lobbing a 40 millimeter blob of high explosives into the pavement in front of the creature. Even over the gunfire, I could hear it scream as a gout of fire, smoke, and shards of asphalt ripped into the air.
“CEASE FIRE! CEASE FIRE!” Dominique screamed into the radio, holding up her fist as a signal to end the carnage. We all complied, some more reluctantly than others. There was a huge cloud of dust where the chimera had been standing. Nothing moved within it. My FAL’s bolt was locked back on an empty magazine. I stripped it out and reloaded, my eyes not leaving the gray fog.
“Is it… is it dead?” One of the State Troopers asked as he tried to reload his Glock, his hands shaking so bad that he couldn’t get the magazine to line up with the pistol’s mag well. Another bellowing roar answered him.
“I think that’s a no!” Odette replied. A second later, the chimera slinked out of the cloud. The top of its second head was completely gone, destroyed by Jon’s precision shot. Its body was covered with countless wounds, but few of them seemed to be bleeding badly.
“How the hell is that thing still standing?” I asked.
“Really, really thick hide,” Dominique explained, “And it’s got triple of everything. Three brains, three hearts, six lungs. Respiratory and circulatory system backups and redundancies up the Ying-Yang. That’s why you gotta take the heads off: destroys the central nervous system.”
“But we already took out one brain, shouldn’t that slow it down?” Odette asked.
“Nervous system’s completely interconnected. It can still function with only one. It’ll be slower, but it’ll still be lethal.” As if to prove Dominique’s point, the chimera’s two remaining heads let out another roar and the beast charged us again. A hail of lead again erupted into the creature, but it was less intense this time: not everyone had remembered to reload. The beast lunged at a State Police SUV, batting aside two troopers with its massive paws. One hit a nearby cruiser with a sickening thud.
Odette unloaded her UMP into the creature, but it barely seemed to register the hits. Then Shannon tried the same thing with Boudica. It felt that; stumbling under the onslaught of ten one-ounce deer slugs. My FAL locked back on another empty magazine, so I dropped it, letting the sling catch it as I pulled the Mossberg from its back scabbard. I racked a shell into the chamber and fired, the silver buckshot blowing a chunk of flesh out of the thing’s shoulder. It whirled towards me with a roar, and began to slowly advance, limping as it came. I racked another shell and fired. The shot slammed into its chest. It barely slowed down. I started backing up, firing as fast as I could work the slide. The chimera stumbled, but didn’t stop. Then Scotty popped up from behind one of our SUVs and fired his Benelli into the creature’s second head.
The FRAG-12 is basically a miniature high-explosive grenade loaded inside a shotgun shell. The round was originally designed to disable and destroy lightly-armored vehicles, but it’s also a very effective anti-personnel weapon as well: it’ll blow a basketball-sized hole through a man’s chest. They’re also incredibly effective against monsters. The chimera’s head exploded in a blinding fireball. Everything nearby, including me, was showered with blood and chimera brains. The blast actually knocked the creature off its feet, spinning it around in midair. It landed on its feet, stumbled, and went down, only to spring right back up. Its one remaining set of eyes locked with mine, and then it charged me.
I raised my shotgun and squeezed the trigger. Click. Empty. I dropped it, drew my SIG P220, and emptied the pistol into its head. Or at least, I tried too; its tail bobbed and weaved around, causing my shots to miss wide. I dropped the pistol and drew the 220 compact from behind my back, backpedaling as I went. Rounds from the rest of the team slammed into the creature, but it didn’t stop. I emptied the little .45, again to no avail. I let it fall. The Chimera was right on top of me. It cocked it’s long tail/neck back, preparing to strike. And all I had left was my katana. I wrapped my hand around the hilt, my eyes locked on the beast’s bobbing head. I heard someone, I don’t know whether it was Odette, Shannon, or my mother, screaming my name.
Then the chimera struck.
Its head lashed out towards me in a blur, jaw wide open, fangs extended like spearpoints. I sidestepped and drew the katana. The blade flashed through the air. An ancient battle cry echoed on my lips. The beast staggered forwards and collapsed. Its neck/tail, now missing the third head, thrashed around for a moment, then went still.
The silence that filled the parking lot was deafening.
I realized that I was holding my breath, and let sweet oxygen fill my lungs again. My shoulders sagged with relief, and I started to turn back to the rest of the team.
A woman screamed. I saw a blur out of the corner of my eye and turned towards it. The severed snake-head was leaping towards me, fangs extended in a final effort to kill. I spun on my heels and thrust the katana out like a spear. The blade went straight down the snake-tail’s throat, and the beast impaled itself on the tip.
I stood there for what felt like hours, staring at the snake-tail’s now-lifeless eyes. I’d just done something straight out of Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. Woah.
“Hey, you all right?”
“Huh?” I turned to find Sergeant Profaci slowly walking towards me, the rest of the team and a few civilians trailing after. “Oh, uh, yeah, I’m good.” I looked down at the snake-tail impailed along the length of my blade, then held the sword over my head.