The aftermath of the shootout was predictable. Julie made it back to the parking lot right about the time that the MCB showed up. The contingent consisted of three dozen agents dressed for war led by none other than Agents Willard and Simpkin. While Julie bitched about how she’d missed all the fun, Willard began “strongly encouraging” the civilian witnesses to keep their mouths shut about the incident, which was already being labeled as a mountain lion attack.
I just sat on the hood of one of MHI’s trucks, wiping chimera guts off my katana. The rest of the team gave me a round of pats on the back (Owen’s nearly knocking me over), and a few civilians wandered over and nervously stammered their thanks. That caught me off guard; I’d never expected to get thanked for what we did, considering the whole Monster Hunting bit had to be kept secret and all. Plus, I was kind of distracted too; I still had no idea how I was going to explain to my family what my new job really was. I’d told them I was taking a job as a technical writer for a defense contractor down in Alabama, which they’d just discovered (rather dramatically) wasn’t exactly the truth. And, shit, I realized that I hadn’t even told them I’d been moved up to Scranton. I found myself dreading that inevitable conversation even more.
“So…” I looked up from my katana to find Mom, Dad and my two brothers standing over me. I couldn’t help but cringe: the moment I’d been dreading had arrived. “Would you like to tell us what’s going on now?” Dad asked.
“It’s kind of complicated,” I said, “And you guys are probably going to think I’m insane.”
“Dude, we just saw you kill a three-headed monster-lion thing with a samurai sword,” Terry said, “Insane just took on a whole new meaning for us.”
“Just tell us the truth,” Mom begged, “we don’t care how crazy it might sound.”
“Okay…” I said sliding the katana back into its sheath, “What do you want to know?”
“Everything,” Dad said.
“Especially when you started this whole monster killing thing,” Mom added.
“Okay, well, uh, you remember that crackhead I killed at the library?”
“Let me guess, he was really a werewolf,” Jake said.
“Vampire, actually,” I replied. I spent the next few minutes telling them everything that had happened to me over the last few months, from my encounter with Robert’s brother to the job offer from Dominique and Jon to the four months of brutal training down in Alabama (I left out some of the more disgusting parts) to the sheer chaos of the last couple of weeks. I even told them about Robert, though I conveniently forgot to mention that he was hunting me; I just told them he was Odette’s ex-boyfriend and let them make their own conclusions. Throughout my entire story, all four of them just stood there, absorbing the truth. My brothers looked like they were taking it pretty well; Jake was a huge D&D nerd (much to our parent’s chagrin) and Terry had always been something of a sci-fi nerd, so they weren’t completely dumbfounded by my story. I wish I could say the same thing about my parents: Mom looked like she was going to throw up, and even my normally impassive father had gone pale.
“This isn’t real,” Mom started mumbling when I’d finished, “This isn’t happening. You’re having a nightmare, Maria. This is all just a bad dream. Wake up. You need to wake up. Wake up, Maria.”
“It’s not a dream, Mom,” Terry said, “It’s really happening. Steve’s a Monster Killer.”
“Monster Hunter,” Jake corrected, “He works for Monster Hunter International, so that makes him a Monster Hunter.”
“But he kills ‘em when he finds ‘em,” Terry protested, “That makes him a Monster Killer.”
“He’s a Monster Hunter!” Jake insisted.
“Killer!” Terry shouted.
“Hunter!” Jake retorted with a shove.
“Killer!” Terry shoved Jake back.
“Boys, please don’t fight,” Dad said absently. Wow, he was definitely having a hard time coming to terms with my new career: normally he’d jump down their throats when they started fighting like that.
“But Da-ad…” the twins whined as one, “He started it!” I cringed a little bit: that whole twins-both-saying-the-same-thing-at-once bit always freaked me out a little.
“What the hell is going on here?!” We all looked over to see Agent Willard storming towards us, eyes burning with anger.
“It’s called a family reunion,” I replied, voice dripping with sarcasm, “but I guess you wouldn’t know, seeing as how you probably don’t get invited to many.” Willard ignored the barb, instead sweeping his jacket aside and reaching for his Glock.
“You’re all in violation of the Unearthly Forces Disclosure Act!” He sounded almost happy when he said that.
“What? How?” I retorted, “What exactly is there to disclose? I know about monsters, they know about monsters, I know that they know, they know that I know, I know that they know that I know, they know that I know that they know, and you know all of that.”
“Just… just…” he stammered, struggling to decipher what exactly I’d just said. I figured that I’d stumped him enough so he’d leave us alone. “That doesn’t matter!” he finally spat, “You’re all still in violation!” Or maybe not. He grabbed his pistol and flicked the holster’s safety strap open.
“I wouldn’t do that.” I said.
“Really? Why not?” I slowly dropped into a fighting stance and wrapped my hand around the katana’s hilt.
“Because if you do, I’ll chop off your arm and shove it so far up your ass that you’ll choke on it.”
“Stephen!” My mother exclaimed, probably more horrified at my using course language and actually threatening someone than the fact that said someone was threatening to kill her entire family. Willard smirked.
“Then call,” I replied, “If you think you’re fast enough.”
“Yeah, fast enough to clear leather and kill me before I draw my katana and take your hand off.”
“That’s enough!” Agent Simpkin shouted as he skidded to a halt between the two of us.
“Simpkin, arrest him,” Willard demanded.
“Threatening a Federal Agent and violating the UFDA.”
“Bullshit, Willard,” Simpkin snapped, “I watched the whole thing. You know that UFDA violation is bullshit, and you were deliberately escalating the situation. My report’ll say you were dangerously close to entrapment, and any action undertaken by Mister Andrews was justifiable self-defense.” Willard whirled to face his subordinate, face suddenly flush with rage.
“You wouldn’t dare!”
“The hell I won’t! Last I checked, you’re on thin ice with the Director as it is. The last thing you need is another mark in your file.” Willard’s face turned beet red as he deliberated whether or not to turn his sidearm on his fellow agent. I could tell he was very tempted.
“Uh, Steve?” Terry asked, “Sorry, I know this sounds kind of random, but what do goblins look like?”
“Uh, humanoid, about five feet tall, stocky build, green scaly skin, long pointy ears, sharp teeth, wicked claws.”
“Green scales? Not gray and leathery with red eyes?”
“No, those are wights,” I replied automatically, then paused as what he’d said finally clicked, “Uh… why do you ask?”
“Oh, there’s some standing over there.” He pointed to the rear of the lot. I followed his gaze. A full three dozen wights locked eyes with me. An unearthly scream shattered the darkening sky.
“CONTACT!” Simpkin shouted, sidearm appearing in his hand like magic, “WIGHTS TO THE SOUTH!” Screams anew erupted from the remaining civilians as the wights charged down the lot. I rolled over the hood of the SUV as gunfire erupted from the Feds’ positions and the rest of the Hunters scrambled for their weapons. I’d tossed the FAL and Mossberg into the back of the truck. The rear hatch was still open. I lunged inside and grabbed the first weapon I could reach. It was my FAL. I snapped it to my shoulder, racked the charging handle, drew a bead on the nearest wight, and pulled the trigger.
I looked down at the FAL in disbelief, then mentally kicked myself when I discovered what had happened. In my haste to join the fight, I’d forgotten to load the rifle! I quickly snatched a magazine from one of the pouched for my armor and jammed it into the receiver. Racking the charging handle, I snapped the rifle up again and drew a bead on the nearest wight.
BOOM! “That’s what I was looking for!” I shouted in excitement as my bullet exploded the top of the wight’s head. The wight dropped. I drew a bead on yet another and double-tapped the trigger, blowing out its spine. It collapsed in a heap and started dragging itself towards me. I shifted my aim and double-tapped it again, blowing its head apart like an overripe cantaloupe.
A hand clamped down on my shoulder. I turned and found myself face-to-face with Dominique. She said something, but I couldn’t really make it out. Something about one of the civilians’ rings?
“FALL BACK AND FORM A RING AROUND THE CIVILIANS! KEEP THE WIGHTS AWAY FROM THEM!”
“OKAY!” I started to fall in behind her, then realized why I hadn’t heard her: I’d forgotten to put my earplugs back in. “WAIT A SEC!” I shouted, “COVER ME!”
“WAIT, WHAT?” Dominique asked, but I’d already slung my FAL over my shoulder and was fishing through my pockets for the earplugs. A few seconds later, I found them and they were in my ears. Much better. Dominique rolled her eyes and began backing towards the knot of terrified civilians, coolly pumping round after round into the advancing wights. I tucked in behind her, putting one wight down for the count and sending two more to the ground before my FAL ran dry.
As I snatched another magazine from my web gear, I caught a glimpse of my family out of the corner of my eye. Dad had thrown himself over Mom and the Twins. Mon looked like she couldn’t decide whether to wet her pants, vomit, or both; Dad wasn’t looking much better. Jake and Terry were looking out from under our parents, hands clamped over their ears, drinking in the whole scene. They were fascinated, amazed, almost like they were enjoying it, and I realized that I was probably looking at a pair of future Monster Hunters.
Mom and Dad were not going to be happy about that.
“Guys, I think I need some help here!” Jon’s voice snapped me back into the fight. I looked over to see him standing behind one of the State Police Crown Vics. A pair of wights had made it past the perimeter and were right on top of him. He emptied the magazine of his big SR-25 point-blank into one, turning it into undead paste. He released the rifle and went for his sidearm. He never made it.
Time dilated as I watched. The big rifle appeared to hang in mid-air as the wight cocked its arm back and batted the weapon aside. The blow shattered the gun’s receiver, sending pieces sailing through the air. Jon started to stumble backwards, desperately trying to draw his custom-built 1911 from its holster. He’d barely cleared leather when the wight slammed its fist into his chest, sending him to his knees. I locked the magazine into the FAL and let the bolt fly home as the wight grabbed Jon around the neck and lifted him off the ground, bringing his face closer and closer to its gaping, razor filled maw. I dialed my rifle’s scope to maximum magnification and saw Jon’s eyes were wide with terror. I centered the crosshairs on the wight’s ear and pulled the trigger. The creature’s head exploded, showering Jon with black blood and undead brain matter. He collapsed to the ground, unmoving thanks to the wight’s paralyzing touch. He was laying square in the line of fire and, more importantly, in the path of the onrushing wights.
“Give me cover fire!” I shouted into the radio to no one in particular as I charged out of the perimeter towards him. Two more wights launched themselves over a parked SUV. I snapped up the FAL and emptied it into them, sending their broken bodies slamming to the pavement. I let the rifle fall away as I reached Jon. Its sling caught it and held it fast to my armor.
“Hang on, buddy,” I said as I crouched next to him, “I’m gonna get you out of here.” Jon managed a weak croak as I grabbed the drag handle on the back of his armor and began to pull. “Geez, man, you way a freakin’ ton! What have you been eating, bricks?” Even paralyzed, he managed to roll his eyes at me. Another wight came at us. I drew my pistol and emptied it one-handed into the creature’s face. “I COULD USE SOME COVER!” I shouted again.
“Got it!” I looked over in surprise as none other than Agent Simpkin came charging into the fray, emptying a German-made G36K assault rifle into a pack of wights. He slid up to me and pulled his sidearm; a heavily-customized Colt Delta Elite. “You got him?” I nodded. He wrapped his arm under Jon’s shoulder. “Move!” I needed no second bidding. The two of us drug the limp Jon across the pavement, firing our pistols into the crowd of wights.
“Where’s that fire support?” Simpkin shouted into his radio as we reached the perimeter. I couldn’t hear his reply, but he nodded a second later and smiled.
“Fire support?” I asked.
“Yeah, there.” He pointed to the entrance to the parking lot. A moment later, a lone Chevy Suburban sped up the street and into the lot.
“One SUV?” I asked in disbelief, “Your fire support is one lousy SUV?”
“Just watch,” he said with a grin. The Suburban skidded to a halt between us and the rest of the wights. Then a hatch I hadn’t seen before popped open, and then a second later…
“That’s a damn minigun!” Shannon exclaimed as the M134 emerged from inside the SUV. I had just enough time to clamp my hands over my ears before the monster gun opened up.
The M134 is one of the latest incarnations of Dr. Richard Gattling’s famous design. Powered by an electric motor, it fires the same 7.62mm NATO cartridge as my FAL, but at a rate of 6,000 rounds per minute. That’s one hundred bullets every second. Even with MHI’s noise-blocking earplugs, the sound is still deafening. The gunner on the MCB’s minigun held the trigger down for less than twenty seconds, but by the time he ceased fire, not a single wight was still in one piece. Far from it; most of them had been completely shredded by the hail of hot lead.
I looked down at Jon. His arms and legs were moving a little. “You okay?”
“Yeah,” he replied weakly, “Yeah, I’m good. Thanks.”
“Hey, I owed you,” I replied.
“Everyone okay?” Dominique asked. We all checked in affirmative.
“Thanks,” I said to Simpkin. He just nodded in reply before jogging off to rejoin his fellow Feds. I helped Jon to his feed and over to where the rest of our team was gathering around one of our trucks.
“So,” Dominique said, “Wights again. Looks like Robert’s back to his old tricks.”
“It would appear so,” Chris replied, “I’m gonna call Earl once we get back to the compound.”
“Call him now,” Dominique said.
“He’s probably gonna be pissed,” Scotty said.
“Well, right now I’m kinda pissed,” Dominique replied, “Call him anyway. Odette? You okay.”
“Yeah,” she said, “I’m good.” She sounded anything but.
“First time I’m out of the compound in a month, and look what happens,” I said absently.
“Yeah, that’s why we need to tell Earl.”
“What’s he going to do with me?”
“I honestly have no idea.”
“Wait, excuse me, I’m sorry,” but what does my son coming out of your compound have to do with those… things… attacking us?” We all turned to find my mother standing next to us, hands on her hips. The rest of the team looked at me. My stomach tied itself into a not.
“Mom,” I said with a lot more confidence than I felt. “I think you better sit down…”