Authors: Kendra C. Highley
ARCHER: MONSTER SUMMER
Kendra C. Highley
Copyright © 2012 by Kendra C.
Highley. All rights reserved.
Kindle Edition: October 2012
Cover Design: Streetlight Graphics,
The characters and events portrayed
in this book are a work of fiction or are used fictitiously. Any similarity to
real persons, living or dead, is coincidental and not intended by the author.
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Great Victoria Desert, Australian Outback
The wake-up call came early. It always did.
“Yo, sunshine, time to get up,” Master Sergeant Schmitz
called from the tent’s entrance. “No more sleeping in.”
I groaned and rolled over on my cot, wincing at the bruises
I’d racked up the day before. A quick glance at my watch turned my groan to a
growl. “It’s oh-six-hundred. That doesn’t count as sleeping in.”
“Does in this man’s army,” Schmitz said. His grin looked
wolfish in the thin sunlight shining through the canvas walls. “Major wants to
see you in twenty. Consider yourself warned, Archer.”
I stood slowly. Schmitz was tiny compared to the rest of the
team—only about five-eight and wiry with crazy-short hair to match. After my
last growth spurt, I’d hit six feet and I probably outweighed him by at least
twenty pounds. I wondered briefly if I could drop kick him for being so full of
energy this early in the morning but, short or not, the guy
Beret. And I was only fifteen. Chances were good I’d find myself flat on my
back with a boot planted on my stomach for my trouble.
So instead I said, “Yes, Master Sergeant. On my way.”
That didn’t mean I had to be cheerful about it, though.
After Schmitz let the tent flap close, I glanced my best friend’s cot. It was
empty and neatly made. Will must’ve left, or been summoned, long before I had.
I pulled on my BDUs, which were stiff with dirt and carried
a funk that I could only describe as Gym Locker Cologne. In the eight days we’d
been on the ground there hadn’t been time to do laundry. The monster
infestation in the Outback was worse than expected, and sleeping whenever I had
a spare minute was more important than smelling good.
When I finally made it outside, a chill wind blew straight
through my camo jacket and I hunched my shoulders against the cold. Our camp
backed up to a large bluff; it provided us with good cover but also created a
wind tunnel between the tents. Shouted commands rang out in the distance.
Someone was being run through drills—so that’s where Will was. I’d been through
a modified boot camp before we came here, but Will had to pull double duty. He
trained whenever we had downtime and watched my back when we didn’t. I glanced
across the plain of reddish dirt just in time to see him drop and start a set
of pushups. Schmitz was counting them off. He got to twenty, with no sign of
stopping, by the time I reached the command tent.
I paused before entering. Last time, I barged in without
thinking and caught Major Tannen—aka my Uncle Mike—macking on his fiancée,
Julie, who also happened to be second-in-command for our team. How they
convinced the general to station them together was anyone’s guess, but the list
of people on a “need to know” basis about the monster program was very short,
so the general probably didn’t have much choice.
I pushed down a twinge of annoyance just the same. I’d kind
of wanted to spend some time with Mike on this trip, especially since he’d just
gotten back from Afghanistan, but with Julie here…well, there wasn’t enough
time to go around.
Yeah, so far I wasn’t doing such a good job of squashing
that thought. I squeezed my eyes shut for a second, willing myself to act like
a soldier and not some kid vying for attention. I’d told Mike for years he
needed to find a girlfriend, partly because his fridge was a disaster, but
mainly because the dude was thirty-eight and seemed a little old to be alone. I
should be happy for him and, besides, whiners didn’t last long in the Army.
Deciding I better report for duty before they wondered if
I’d gotten lost during the forty-yard walk from my tent to command, I shook off
my funk and tried to make my expression as bland as possible. Just another day
at the office, right?
To avoid accidently walking in on another make-out session,
I cleared my throat loudly and said, “Permission to enter, sir?”
“Come in, Matt,” Uncle Mike called.
I pushed my way through the tent flap. Uncle Mike and
Captain Hunter (she told me call her Julie, just not on ops) were sitting at a
long metal table, going over the daily intelligence reports. Their heads were
close together, but there wasn’t anything going on. My lucky day.
Julie looked up, her nose wrinkled. “Do you smell
time to do laundry. “No, ma’am.”
The corner of Uncle Mike’s mouth twitched, but shook his
head at Julie. “Me, neither. Must just be you.”
“Uh huh,” Julie said, giving me a long stare. I shrank a
little under her gaze; she intimidated the crap out of me. Julie looked like a
supermodel with her long brown hair and great body—even wearing camo—but she
also was Military Intelligence and supposedly able to kill a grown man with one
hand. I wasn’t sure I wanted to find out how.
Finally I broke eye-contact. Man, she was good. “Okay,
okay...I’ll try to air out my BDUs or something.”
That made her smile, and Ms. Scary-Pants disappeared. “You
want to know a trick? Sprinkle them with baby powder and hang them up outside.
Because of course I packed baby powder in my gear. What
self-respecting guy didn’t? Seriously, reeking of gym socks was better than
smelling like a nursery. “Uh, yeah. Thanks for the tip.”
I settled down at the table across from Mike, waiting to
find out why he’d called me in. He didn’t say anything right away, engrossed in
the reports. Every once in a while, he’d make a mark on an aerial map of the
desert. I watched him work. For a long time, I thought I’d look exactly like
him when I got older, but today I was struck by the differences. Sure, we were
both tall, and I was on track to be almost as broad in the shoulders, but my
hair had turned a darker shade of brown than his and my build was longer and
leaner. In a way, that disappointed me. Growing up, I’d always wanted to look
like, and be like, Uncle Mike. My siblings resembled him—and Mom—a lot more
than I did, and it bugged me some.
Uncle Mike was watching me, a puzzled smile on his face.
Crap, he caught me staring. “Yes, sir?”
“Just wondering where you drifted off to.” Uncle Mike
stacked his papers into a neat pile, lining the corners up square with the edge
of the table. “The drones picked up something interesting last night. They
spotted a pack of Dingoes eighteen miles due west of here. This may be the
break we’ve been looking for.”
He pushed a grainy black and white picture across the table.
I could just make out a group of five dog-like creatures huddled together in a
patch of scrub-brush. Even in a picture taken from a distance by a drone
flight, there was no mistaking what they were, though. “Definitely looks like Dingoes.”
The Dingoes—our code name for the particular breed of
monster we’d been called out to hunt—were a sight to see. The Wookiee-like
Bears I’d fought in Montana last winter had their own kind of weird, but the
Dingoes really took it to another level. They had canine ears, elongated
muzzles with pointed teeth, and reddish-brown fur that allowed them to blend in
with the sand and rocks of their native terrain. But that’s where any
resemblance to an actual dog stopped. The rest of a Dingo’s body could be mistaken
for a barrel-chested pro-wrestler—ropy muscles, thick neck and all. Well,
except for the tail and giant paws.
I handed Julie the picture and crossed my arms over my chest
against the chill seeping into the tent. “So are we going after them?”
Uncle Mike frowned and I could practically see the wheels
turning in his head. Risk his fifteen-year-old nephew’s life by making him
fight off five monsters with only backup support, or wait to call in an
additional knife-wielder and risk losing the pack.
Tough spot, but I didn’t sympathize. After being chosen to
wield one of five supernatural knives created to hunt down things you only
heard about in horror stories, I’d worked my butt off to prove I was as good a
fighter as the adult knife-wielders. Most of the other team members had
accepted my place, but Mike still struggled with it. Part of it was the fact
that he’d help raise me, and it was hard for him to let go. The bigger problem
was that he hadn’t told Mom about my extracurricular activities. She thought I
was in Sydney on a school trip, not in the Outback hunting monsters.
Finally Mike blew out a breath. “I want to gather some intel
before we mount a real assault. Julie’s going to take an advance team to scout
the area today. In the meantime, I want you here.” He pointed to a spot about
four miles southwest of camp. “We had a report that a lone Dingo might be
prowling around here. Schmitz will take you and Cruessan to check it out.”
I held in a sigh. This was busy-work while Mike decided what
to do. A goose-chase to keep me out of the way and safe. “Yes, sir.”
Julie gave a knowing, and surprisingly sympathetic, smile.
“Once we know exactly what we’re dealing with, we’ll call you first, okay?
You’re on point for this one since the other team is engaged on the far side of
I nodded. “You think this is it? Are we almost done?”
“Should be close,” Uncle Mike said. “If our count is right,
and we take out these six, we should be down to the last one.”
The count was right; monsters always showed up in packs of
thirteen. Down to the last one, huh? That would be great, but the thought of
finding a single monster in an area twice the size of Kansas made my head hurt.
“Hopefully the other team will find the last one. We’ll have enough to deal
with, looking for our six.”
“No doubt.” Uncle Mike stood and stretched. His biceps
strained against his sleeves, and I caught Julie checking him out.
I looked away before they could catch me rolling my eyes.
“Anything else, sir?”
“Not until we have the intel,” Mike answered.
“I better get going, then,” Julie said. She turned to leave,
but smiled at Uncle Mike over her shoulder. “Back by six, honey. Have dinner
warm for me.”
Then, with a wink, she was gone.
Uncle Mike shook his head. “I’m going to have my hands full,
“Yep.” I reached across the table to whack him on the
shoulder. “Good luck with that.”
“Wouldn’t have it any other way.” Mike flashed me a cocky
grin. “The good news is that we’re going to be stationed at the Pentagon
together after we’re done here. I’ll be able to keep my eye on her.”
Wait, did he just say he was moving? My stomach lurched.
The smile slid off of Uncle Mike’s face. “Matt, I’m sorry.
That wasn’t how I planned to tell you. It just slipped out.” He sighed. “The
general wants Julie to run intel for the whole program, and I’ll be his liaison
for the main operations until we’re needed out in the field.”
“You’re moving to D.C.?” I asked. He was leaving Billings
again? And from the sound of things, this move might be permanent instead of a
“It’s orders, Chief,” he said quietly. “We’ll miss you
“Captain Hunter doesn’t know us well enough to miss us,” I
snapped without thinking, then immediately felt like a jackass. “Sorry, man.
That was…I didn’t mean it.”
“It’s okay. I sprung this on you at a really bad time.”
Uncle Mike stared at the maps on the table, but I could tell he didn’t really
see them. “Look, we don’t have to be in D.C. until September, so we’ll be in
Billings until after the wedding. Besides, we’ll stay in touch. Just like