Authors: Ekaterina Sedia
The barn was barely more than a sharp-shadowed shape, squatting low and square along the ground. Within it, a few odd bleats of curiosity gabbled and small hooves shuffled back and forth. The smell of straw and shit wafted from underneath the locked and barred-up door.
Kilgore held his head against it. “Everyall right in there?”
And something else answered, too—from over in the gully. First it was just the sharp, out-of-place pop of a branch, and then there was another rattling, the hard clack of two rocks coming together as if they’d been stepped on.
Kilgore pulled his head away from the barn door and reached for the gun that hung under his left armpit. He was a practical man, and he saw no good reason to ramp up slowly.
Another big twig broke, and another knocking set of rocks sounded like footsteps to The Heavy. “Josh, Mark. That’d better not be
” But the pace of the motion told him it wasn’t made by anything two-legged. There were four feet . . . moving at a sharp and regular clip.
He revised his guess. Not feet, perhaps. “Four . . . hooves?”
He listened for the firm, approaching patter. The creature was tracking around back, to the right. Kilgore tracked around to the left, keeping the barn between him and the thing that was crawling out of the gully.
The Heavy kept his eyes on the ground and his ears on the edge of the property, at the line where the creek run-off turned and flowed through a row of trees. His squint told him where to tiptoe past the building’s corner and how to miss the watering trough. His ears detected a wet snuffling sound and the hard, knocking clatter that, yes, sounded like hooves.
As Kilgore circled the barn, the thing circled too, intrigued enough to follow but not bold enough to charge.
“Here, critter-critter,” he called softly. “Come on out and get me. I’m just a slow, fat man. I’m easy pickings for a bad old thing like you, and I’m a
hearty meal. Are you hungry?”
He narrowed his eyes and peered through the night.
“Come on, now. Come out and let me get a look at you.”
Around the back of the barn there was a covered storage area that came up to Kilgore’s thigh. He put his left hand down on it and tested the wood. It might hold. It might not. But he was running out of barn and he was going to have to make a stand someplace. The platform was as good a defensive position as any.
He stopped his retreat and lifted one large leg. “Shit,” he mumbled, and he said it a couple more times as he hauled himself up. But then he stood, and the storage lid held. It didn’t want to. It bowed and creaked underneath four hundred and fifty pounds of man plus all his supplies.
Kilgore dropped the duffel bag and unzipped it, all the while trying to keep quiet so he could listen.
Around the corner, something big was tracing Kilgore’s scent trail.
The Heavy pulled out his Bible. It was way too dark to read so he stuffed it into his belt, and the book bent against the strain . . . but he liked feeling it close. He held up the gun and aimed it down at the corner where the inquisitive snuffling was coming up fast. Mark had been right. Its head was low to the ground.
He shouldered the bag again.
It was too dark to see anything with real certainty, but near the earth there was motion in the nighttime blackness. Something blocky congealed, creeping snout-first from behind the edge of the building.
One dull red eye sparked into view. It blinked and the scarlet dot flickered, and focused, and turned to face the man on top of the storage box lid.
The second eye came around, and behind it came a high set of peaked shoulders.
The eyes locked on Kilgore and they brightened with greed.
“What . . . a werewolf?” he asked, knowing this guess couldn’t be right. The shape was all wrong, the joints and muscles were strung together differently.
It snorted and scraped its hooves beneath its body.
The suddenness of its momentum almost took the Heavy off guard, but not quite. This wasn’t his first rodeo, so to speak, and his trigger finger answered the charge with three rounds fired quickly and directly at those vicious little eyes.
The thing screeched a piercing objection. The bullets knocked the creature away from its path and it shook itself like a dog but it didn’t go down. Instead, it went forward—head set low and set barreling—into the storage bin.
Two boards busted outright, and combined with Kilgore’s exceptional weight, this was enough to buckle the whole structure.
He tumbled down and off, falling and rolling over the edge and onto the creature, which grunted and tried to turn around in time to bite.
But once he got rolling, Kilgore was hard to stop, especially when he tucked his head down, pulled up his knees, and let the momentum take him. There was too much mass and too much inertia; nothing short of a gorge or a brick building could slow him down.
As it turned out, he happened to be rolling toward a thickly overgrown gully.
His steamrolled over tall grass and skinny sapling trees. It bounced where appropriate and jolted to a rough and terrible pitch over the edge of the gully and down only a couple of feet to the V-shaped bottom . . . where he wedged himself to a stop.
He lowered his arms and shook his bullet-bald head.
Above, and around the curved path he’d mowed or flattened with his accidental retreat, the clattering quick clop of four hard feet approached. It wouldn’t be long before the creature saw the man or smelled him, or simply followed the trail of the trampled foliage.
At least, thank God, Kilgore thought, wasn’t stuck. But his leg was pinned underneath him, and his ribs were aching from the turbulence. He sat up and retrieved his leg. He’d dropped one of the guns, but he had both hands free—and he used them to pat himself down for a damage check.
His ass was numb. His knee was torqued. His right wrist was starting to swell. A dozen other assorted bumps, bruises, and scrapes made themselves known with a low-grade hum of pain.
None of it was so bad that he couldn’t get up.
The twisted knee made a loud pop when he bent it, but then it felt better so he kept on crawling to his feet. Somewhere along the way, his bag had come unzipped and the contents had scattered; he’d lost some of the stakes, and the water gun had broken, leaking its contents all along his path. But he still had a light he was afraid to use, and he still had that second gun, which remained in its holster.
And his Bible was still stuck in his belt.
When he placed his hand on the rocks at his waist in order to make that final pull to bring him upright, he found his machete.
Something in the way the blade shifted caught the moonlight and gave him away. No sooner had he snared it and braced himself for trouble, than trouble came galloping between the trees that remained.
The creature knew these woods, too. It knew where the gully was, and even though it couldn’t see much of the man who was standing in it, it could see that enormous knife glittering in the skim-milk glow of the half-covered moon. And it wasn’t much afraid of knives.
Then again, it had never been struck with a knife that was flung by a man who weighed nearly a quarter of a ton.
The blade sank deeply into the soft tissue between the beast’s jaw and shoulder, and again Kilgore’s ears rang with the monster’s ferocious squeal; but now the squeal sounded wet. Something was broken, and something was bleeding. No cry should sound so choked and damp.
The beast turned away from the edge of the gully, not quite fast enough to keep from dropping one leg over the edge. It scuttled and scrambled, and it did not fall over the edge—for which Kilgore offered up a quick prayer of thanks. Whether or not the creature was injured, The Heavy didn’t want to end up trapped in a trench with it.
With a labored groan and another pop of his knee, Kilgore heaved himself up over the gully’s edge and flopped down onto the low, angled ground.
The skittering scuff of the monster’s hooves limped out ahead of him, back toward the barn.
“Sure,” Kilgore said to himself. “Sure, you’re hurt.” If this monster was anything like others he’d encountered, it needed to feed and feed quickly if it was going to recover.
Running was damned hard, in the dark, on a trick knee—but The Heavy got a slow trot underway, and he hated it. He hated chasing anyone, or anything. Over the years, he’d developed a tactic for monster fighting, and that tactic did
involve a whole lot of dashing around.
He was big and he knew it. It was easy to look slow and soft and vulnerable. It was easy to draw the predators out to him.
But the damned monster was loping toward the barn, and toward the frantically chattering goats locked within. Kilgore did his best to lope faster.
He burst out of the vegetation with his remaining gun held firmly upraised and cocked. The object of his chase beat its head against the barn door, ramming it again and again, and squealing with each impact. The machete was still protruding from its neck, being farther jammed with every head-butt.
Kilgore tried to roar, “Oh no you don’t!” but he was winded, and it came out in a raspy cough.
The creature turned. It scratched one front hoof into the dirt like a bull preparing to charge.
And Kilgore didn’t waste any time unloading three more shots into that rolling, bucking shadow the size of a bear.
While it shuddered and shrieked, The Heavy drew his Bible with his free hand. It snapped up out of his belt, and he held it up over his heart like a shield.
He approached the creature with swift and measured steps. It was dying. Nothing man, beast, or other made a noise like that unless it had glimpsed the light on the other side and felt the Goodness of it burn like lava. It writhed and whimpered, and it splattered Kilgore with hot, gushing sprays of blood as black as oil.
“In the name of the Father,” it spun around in the dirt, throwing a death tantrum. “And the Son, and the Holy Spirit,” Kilgore told it as he came up close and brought the gun down.
“I unmake you.”
One of the hateful red eyes glowered up from the paste-like mud.
Kilgore fired into the eye because it was the only thing he could see well enough to aim for, and the fire there winked out.
The creature quivered. One of its legs twitched, scraping a mindless reflex.
The Heavy exhaled a huge breath and backed away. He knew, and the deep-bitten scars in his calf could attest, that there was no such thing as “too careful.”
Keeping one eye on the carcass, he rifled through his bag and pulled out his flashlight. “Now let’s see exactly what the hell you are, Mr. Goat-killer.” His thumb caught the sliding switch and the bright white beam cut the night so sharply that for a moment, the man was blinded.
When his eyes adjusted, he followed the circle of light down to the gruesome mass of bullet-broken bones, torn hair, and hooves. And that’s when he saw the tusks. “Tusks? This is . . . ” He used the edge of his steel-toed boot to nudge the pulpy skull. “A goddamned were-pig. Were-boar. Were . . . son of a bitch.”
The corpse shifted by slow, nearly imperceptible degrees, sliding around in the muck and losing the edges of its hulking shape. Kilgore reached back into the bag and whipped out the digital camera. He readied the flash and framed the shot. He caught the image just in time.
A moment later, the thing collapsed into an unrecognizable pelt.
TUSK AND SKIN
The research station was just as Peter had imagined it: small, cozy, remote, bright. The snow reflected in all the windows in the daytime and cast a glittering pall on the night. The station was immaculately clean, except for the lab, which was filled too full of instruments and computers.
“There’s a lot to keep track of,” Jens Olafsen, the research head, told him. “We send backups off every night. Can’t afford to lose the data. Temperature, acidity, salinity—” He grinned, teeth white in a sunburned face. “But you know all that.”
, Peter did. He had never been to Greenland before, but environmental scientists were much the same in the Sahara and Katmandu. Different flora and fauna and weather, same recycled-fiber, isolated good cheer. Peter felt he already knew Jens and his wife and partner, Lotte. Even their sled dogs felt familiar crowding under his hands.
Their servant was unexpected, and strange. “Anna is Tuniit,” Jens explained. “Maybe the last one. Certainly one of the last. They were an ancient people when the Inuit first arrived here, say nothing of white men. The Inuit think they’re frightful primitives, but Anna’s bright enough, civilized.”
Bright enough, Peter noticed, to handle the sweeping and the laundry, but Jens had forbidden her to go anywhere near the lab equipment. Perhaps that was unfair—perhaps the giant, sallow woman was incurious, uncomfortable with novelty. She was the only native Greenlander whose eyes had not widened at the sight of Peter’s dark skin. But perhaps Jens or—more likely—Lotte had prepared her.