Sunday, October 21, 2012

Homecoming Queen: Chapter 8

It was a less than ideal situation for CC Tucker.  Her first "field trip" since joining Lazlo University’s secret society of occult specialists was supposed to be a milk run.  Instead, she found herself facing a thing which may have been a man at one point, and had just snapped a man's neck in front of her.  It had followed it up by knocking a very large and angry werewolf across a clearing.  To make things worse, she knew exactly who she dealing with. 
"Mmmmmine now." The wretched thing said as it stared at her taking a step forward.  The appendage coming from its stomach waved around in a manner that CC found completely disgusting.  She glanced quickly to Cole who was trying to pull himself to his feet.  She then glanced at Gabe and Steward, who were trying desperately to gain control of the remaining enthralled mob.  She knew it would strike at her.  It knew why it would strike at her.  She was the one who got away.
The backpack she had been carrying slid from her shoulders.  CC caught the shoulder strap in her hand, and as she took her first step forward she threw the pack straight at the wretch.  The thing's chest appendage swatted it out of the way as it stopped moving forward.  It was CC who was closing the distance now, and as much of a wreck that thing's face was it was impossible to miss the surprise written upon it.  The tentacle swung back around aiming straight for CC's head.  She dove under it, still advancing.  The forward roll was something she had learned in a tumbling class as a child, and it got her closer still.  She was on the soft, dirt floor of the clearing at the feet of the wretch.  She could hear Gabe screaming for her to run way.  She looked up and saw the thing looking down at her, looking pleased to finally be able to get its hands on her.
She was not sure it would have any effect at all, but that did not stop her from kicking upwards and driving her foot right into the thing's crotch.
It wailed in pain and grabbed her.  CC knew it wanted her to suffer.  She knew she had enraged it.  It had to be blinded by rage, for as it grabbed her shoulders hard and hauled her to her feet, it had completely missed that she had pulled her car keys from her pocket.  It missed the canister of pepper spray on the key chain too.  CC doused its eyes and it reeled backwards, screeching.  CC wanted to punch it straight in its disgusting face, but the tentacle swung wildly with the pain its host felt.  It hit her flush in the side and knocked her clean off her feet.  She landed several feet away.  She did not hit her head, but the pain in her side was so sharp she saw stars.  She wanted to get up, but the four broken ribs protested greatly.  All she was able to do is roll onto her back, clutch her injured side and watch what would happen next.
The thing staggered around and covered its face with its hands.  The pale appendage waved and thrashed wildly.  It continued screeching horribly, only to be stopped by the massive werewolf form of Cole Buchannon punching it in the head.  The punch was strong enough to snap a person’s neck, but someone the wretch kept standing.  Cole immediately followed the punch with a swipe of his powerful claw, raking down the wretch’s body.  The dark fluid that oozed from the wound may have been blood. 
The wretch lashed out blindly with the tentacle while still covering its face.  This time Cole was ready.  He caught the tentacle, with a grunt from the impact.  He managed to keep his feet this time and twisted, pulling harshly on the disgusting appendage.  Cole yanked the wretch off the ground and brought it crashing back down to the ground.  He immediately pounced upon his opponent.
“Take him out, Cole!”  Yelled Gabe as he slammed his forearm into an enthralled woman’s cheek.
“You’re dead!” Cole snarled as he raised his clawed hand to strike.

“Kuroskos!” CC called out, and the strain of yelling shot a jolt of pain straight through her.  The wretch turned its head and glared at her with its chemically burnt eyes.  CC was not sure if it could even see, but the hate in its eyes was evident.

Cole’s blow came down and sunk through the wretch to the dirt below it.  A harsh blast of air exploded from the thing, and if Cole had been any lighter it would have thrown him off.  The blast of air caused Cole to close his eyes momentarily, but CC saw everything.  The thing evaporated, and at the same moment every last one of the enthralled fighting Gabe and Steward fell to the ground unconscious.  Travis Kinkaid and the other two that had been mindlessly shuffling around stopped and straightened up.

“Where am I?” Travis asked looking around.

Cole bounded into the trees to transform back into his human form before Travis or the other two victims that were still awake spotted him.  Gabe hurried to CC side.  He knelt next to her.  Steward was checking the other people.

“You OK, kiddo?”

“No.  I just got my ass kicked by a freak.”  She answered a bit weakly. 

“Not from what I saw.”  Cole answered as he joined Gabe at her side.  “Thanks for the assist.”  He smiled down at her.  It was a nice gesture, but CC appreciated it much more when Cole picked her up and carried her out of the woods later saving her a long painful walk.

Other searchers arrived soon after the action was over drawn by the yelling and gunfire.  The searcher that had been taken down by one of the enthralled was dead, his windpipe was crushed.  The enthralled mob slowly began to come around.  Their memories were all very hazy on what happened.  Many remembered coming into the woods, but after that they drew a blank.  The entire time people milled around the clearing, Sheriff Steward kept a close eye on Gabe, CC, and Cole.

By the time people were getting back to the field where the search had started night had fallen.  Lights of trucks and emergency vehicles were all that illuminated the area.  Families lost loved ones that evening, but altogether eight victims had been rescued.  Unfortunately, more than that had lost their lives.  CC found herself on a stretcher ready to be loaded into an ambulance to tend to her broken ribs.

“I better get serious extra credit for this.”

“I’ll make sure Rogers gets the memo.  You called it a name.”  Gabe heard CC in the fight.  It became clear to the young co-ed that the former Army man did not miss much.  “You did know it.”

“Kuroskos.  It was the same thing that tried to take me over in the dorms that night.*  No idea what it was doing here.  God.  I could have become that thing.”  The tremble ran through her at the thought.

“Sounds like you made yourself an enemy.”  Cole said as he leaned against the side of the ambulance.  The paramedics mistook him for a victim and he was currently wrapped in a blanket even though the cool night air did not bother him in the least.

“Sounds like.”  CC dreaded the notion of possibly facing Kuroskos again considering how much pain both experiences had given her.  At the same time, she really wanted to hurt that horrible thing.

“Well, let me know when he comes back around.”  Cole said calmly.  CC looked at him.  The implication was clear.  She had made a dangerous enemy that evening, but had made a powerful friend as well.

Sheriff Steward approached the three of them.  Despite the cool air, he was sweating.  He looked confused and more than a little angry.

“Did you people know what was going on out there?”  There was gravel in his voice.  The kind that came from trying not to yell.

“No.  Still not entirely sure, but we will find out.”  Gabe answered him. 
I’m sorely tempted to arrest you.”


“But… you saved my life in there, and I’m still not sure what all that was in there.”

“What you saw wasn’t meant for people to see.  I’m truly sorry you had to go through it, and I’m very sorry about your friends.”  The sheriff nodded gravely, and Gabe produced a card from his wallet.  “Unfortunately, things like this happen.  If they happen again, you call, and we’ll help in every way possible.  We’ll be in contact when we have more answers as to what happened in there.”  The Sheriff was not completely satisfied, but he knew local news people were going to be descending on the area at any moment and he was going to be asked questions he could not answer.  Steward gave the three of them a nod and walked away silently.  Gabe turned back to CC.  “As for you, you rest up, you’ll be fine.”

“No I won’t.”  She responded and Gabe cocked an eyebrow.  “We missed dinner and my parents are going to kill me.”

(*Note: see “The Learning Curve” for details.)

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Homecoming Queen: Chapter 7

CC's idea of how to get the mob out from under the Soul Eater infection was shaky at best.  As such, she did not offer any objection when Gabe and Cole decided it would be best to go after the thing responsible.  Cole had transformed into his "other" form as soon as they started into the woods.  CC tried not to watch the transformation, but could not help but hearing the cracking of bones and the wet friction of the process.  It looked agonizing, but Cole did not let on if it was. 
Cole led the group through the woods.  He had quickly picked up the scent, and bounded through the forest easily.  It was almost too easy for him as Gabe and CC had to hurry to keep up.  Gabe was surprised that something with Cole's massive size could move so fluidly through the trees.  He and CC were actually making more noise while running.
As for CC, she was trying to keep processing the entire affair.  She did feel much better with Gabe and Cole there, and was confident that they could handle their prey.  She replayed the events through her mind and something suddenly jumped out in her mind.    It had seemed odd before, but with everything going on she finally was able to place it.
“It knew me.” She said as they ran.
“I caught that.”  Gabe answered without looking back at her.  “What was that about?”
“I have no idea.  It said something about me not escaping again, but I think I would remember being attacked by a freak like that.”  CC spotted Cole stopping.  She and Gabe did likewise, coming in right behind their fur covered ally.
“What’s up?”  Gabe asked softly, looking about through the woods.  He did not spot anything out of the ordinary. 
“People.”  Cole’s voice was guttural and hard to understand.  He kept his responses short, as forming words in that form was difficult to do and actually painful.  “Fifty yards that way.”  Cole pointed, but Gabe and CC could not see anybody through the woods. 
“Part of the search party.”  Gabe noted.  “This could get ugly if our guy finds them before we do.”  Cole nodded, and took off without another word.  Gabe and CC hurried after.  The pace was quick as Cole seemed quite sure he was on the right trail.  CC had long given up any notion of trying to figure out where they were in the woods.  She could not hear anything but their movements, and they daylight was quickly fading.  She was starting to feel a bit of dread again.  It was to the point that she gasped when Cole suddenly stopped again. 
“We’re circling around.”  Cole shot a look at Gabe.
“We’re going in circles?”  CC asked while trying to maintain control of her breathing.  The jogging she did daily was paying off, but her endurance was starting to wane.
“A circle.  It drew us away from the clearing and doubled back.”  Gabe answered as the three of them broke into a sprint.  The place could have been of some importance.  It looked like a regular clearing, but there had to be something there that they had missed.  The hostages could have been the key factor.  The three of them could only silently speculate to themselves as they ran. 
As they approached the clearing the three of them were running on adrenaline.  Cole and Gabe were used to the feeling, but CC’s legs felt shaky.  When she heard the screams, she felt her stomach drop. 
It was men yelling and screaming.  A gunshot was heard, and then more yelling.  CC wanted to slow down, but Cole and Gabe seemed to pick up speed.  She struggled to keep up.  She could start to see the clearing and saw movement there.  People were fighting.  Gabe barreled out into the clearing as Cole hung back a bit not wanting to bring a werewolf out into the open without knowing exactly who was waiting for him.  CC followed Gabe.  The first thing she saw was the body.
A group of the searchers had found the enthralled people, and they were attacked.  A man lay upon the ground, limp and life less.  His head had been burst open, and the sight of it made CC nearly gag.  CC looked at the fighting in time to see another man’s neck get snapped by one of the enthralled.  He fell without a sound.  There was another body.  One of the mob had been shot in the chest and lay flat on his back with his shirt stained crimson.  Sheriff Steward was there with two other men.  Steward had his sidearm out and was yelling at the mob to back off.  The two men with the sheriff were not armed, and likely were regretting the fact.  The three of the enthralled, including Kinkaid, that had previously been just milling about were still doing that and seemed uninterested in the whole thing.
Gabe rushed forwards and shoved one of the mob hard into the others.  He managed to get a few of them to stumble.  He quickly spun around to punch the closest one in the face, it stumbled backwards.  The three searchers took this as a cue and attacked.  The sheriff kicked one of the enthralled as one of his cohorts punched one of the women.  The third searcher grabbed one of enthralled men but was quickly overpowered and tackled to the ground where he tried desperately to get out from under his assailant.
“Gunther!”  Called out Sheriff Steward as he punched a woman trying to grab him directly in the face.  He regretted doing it, but his resolve to get home to his wife in one piece overrode his reservations.  “You have any idea what’s going on here?”
“They’ve been drugged!” Gabe answered quickly, narrowly voiding a woman lunging at his reaching for his neck.  “The person who did this to them is out here somewhere.”
“Who in the hell has drugs like-“ The other searcher who had actually been holding his own quite well against the mob did not get to finish his question as his head was suddenly twisted one hundred and eighty degrees.  The twisted man had emerged from the woods and snapped the man’s neck like a twig.  His body fell to the dirt.
That was more than enough for Cole who sprang from the woods into the clearing the moment he saw the twisted man.  He cursed himself for not picking up on horrid person sooner.  It had cost a man his life.  He rushed past CC so fast she barely saw him.  Gabe and the Sheriff were barely aware of everything that was happening with the rest of the mob attacking them.  Cole launched himself into the air, prepared to strike down the wretch behind everything.
CC’s jaw dropped as the twisted man turned towards Cole and a massive appendage shot out from beneath his shirt and struck the massive werewolf out of the air.  The appendage looked like a tentacle and it waved around.  The size of it did not seem to cause the twisted man any trouble with his balance.  Even as Cole came crashing to the ground at the edge of the field, CC watched in horror as the thing looked right at here and started walking towards her.  The tentacle waved in the air as if it was ready to strike at her.
“Guys!  Help!”  CC called out as she backed away slowly unsure of what to do next.
“You.”  The wretch spat rather than said.  “You willll be mmmine….”  It seemed like it was getting difficult for the thing to talk, but the voice sounded very odd to CC.  It was as if there were two voices speaking.  Suddenly everything fell into place.  She knew that second voice.
“Oh, you son of a bitch.”  CC’s face changed from fear to anger.  She knew this thing.  “I owe you big time.”  Her fisted clenched.  The fear was still there, but so was the chance for payback.  This thing had just easily killed a man right in front of her, but despite that, CC Tucker was ready for a fight.

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Homecoming Queen: Chapter 6

CC's finger was firmly on the trigger of the pistol when she locked eyes with Gabe.   The situation was a heartbeat away from going completely horrible.  It was right then that she knew the weapon would be more useful in his hands.  The unspoken message between the two of them was clear.  Gabe was still between the mob of attackers and the monstrous werewolf that had just entered the clearing.
The motion all started as if on cue.  The mob and werewolf all bolted forward towards Gabe.  Gabe dove towards CC, hand outstretched, reaching for the 9mm Glock that CC was tossing towards him.  Her teeth were clenched as the pistol flew through the air.  She regretted her decision as she did not see how, even with the gun, Gabe would be able to get clear.
There was a blur of motion as the werewolf's massive fur covered arm lashed out and took the head clean off one of the men that was nearly upon Gabe.  Gabe caught the gun and rolled, coming around to face the grisly scene.  CC heaved and struggled not to vomit.  The werewolf had moved between the mob and Gabe and was backhanding another attacker sending them flying.  Gabe kept his gun pointed at the fight and moved to CC's position in the clearing.
"What the hell....?"  CC muttered watching in horrible fascination as the werewolf struck down another of the mob, this time a woman.   The body fell limply to the ground.  "What do we do?  It’s killing them!"  The panic was obvious in her voice.  Still Gabe stayed silent and kept the gun pointed at the dark beast in front of him.  With another swing of its arm it knocked most of the mob flat of their backs.  It didn't snarl, growl, or even howl as CC expected it to.  "Shoot it!"  She ordered.
"How about you don't."  The guttural voice came out as the monster backed away from the mob that was starting to get up.  The werewolf twisted a bit as if in pain.  It continued to back up towards Gabe and CC.  CC grabbed the sleeve of Gabe's shirt.  Gabe felt her hands trembling, but kept his eyes on his target.  The werewolf contorted, and hunched forward a bit.  The pair watched as the dark fur began to recede and the creature was actually becoming smaller.  When it straightened back up the fur was gone.  The only dark hair was visible on his head.  What turned towards Gabe and CC was no longer a monster.
"Gabe, what the hell are you doing out here?"  The man was very tall, at least six and half feet.  He wore only jeans which were now a bit loose on him.  He was massively framed and thickly muscled, which was obvious even under the dirt and dried blood which were all over him.  Stubble on his face showed he had not shaved for nearly a week, and the mess of hair on top on his head gave the impression that it had been nearly as long since it had last been combed.  CC quickly spotted a black crescent moon tattoo on his shoulder.  The man had an easy smile and his dark eyes shown with excitement in the dim light of setting sun.
"I could ask you the same question."  Gabe safetied the weapon and holstered it as he advanced on the man and gave him a hearty handshake.  Gabe gave the man a quick look over.  "You hurt?"
"Got knocked into mob of hunters by the whatever it is behind this mess.  You probably heard the gunfire."  The big man looked down at his side which had quite a bit of dried blood caked there.  "Fortunately, they weren't packing any silver bullets.  I do think one of them lit my ass up with a cartridge of rock salt.  Burnt like hell."  The mob was now back on their feet but were back to milling instead of attacking.  Gabe eyed them and the big man looked back over his shoulder at them.
“They seem to have lost interest.”
“The two I had to kill were the worst gone.  Without them and no sign of… whatever that thing was… the rest probably won’t try to attack.”
“You killed them.”  CC said flatly stepping forward.  She was confused and a bit angry.  This man had come upon them as a monster and violently cut down two people right in front of her.  To add to her frustration, Gabe seemed completely alright with it. 
“Those two were already gone.”  The big man turned to her.
“CC, this is Cole Buchannon.  Cole, CC is a new addition to our little community.”
“Ah, in that case you probably haven’t come across a soul eater.”
“A what?” CC raised her eyebrows.  The name itself sounded horrible.
“I’m sure there’s a much more technical term for it.”  Cole continued.  “It’s like a spell or infection or something.  Burns the soul right out of a person.  The good news is that it can take a few days to fully work, so there’s some hope for the rest of these folks.  Those two I put down were fully gone.”
“How can you possibly know that for sure?”
“Animal senses.  Animals get real skittish around the soulless.  I was able to pick out which of these poor folks were completely gone in my other state.”
“I didn’t know it was Cole when he came out.” Gabe chimed in.  “But with no full moon, and more so it still being daytime, I knew that whoever it was had to be in control of their wolf form to be able to transform.”
“What?  You’re an authority on werewolves, Gabe?”
“Meet enough of them and you learn a few things.”  Gabe said with a nod.  CC threw up her hands in exasperation.  She was sure the pair of them were being purposefully obtuse, and she suddenly felt like a third wheel.  “What got you out here, Cole?”
“I was actually on my way to Lazlo to check in with you guys.  Caught a story in a local paper about some folks going missing, and it sounded funny to me.  Got on the trail and came across our twisted friend, whatever the hell he is.  We’ve been after each other for a few days now.  He’s a nasty one.”
“He looked it.  There was a ley line flux yesterday.  That’s what got us out here.  We joined up with a search party that was looking for that kid over there.”  Gabe gestured towards Travis who had been shuffling around in a circle since Gabe and CC had spotted him.
“That would be the same search party that likes to shoot werewolves?”
“They probably thought you were a bear.”
“Not after I called one of the guys who shot me an ‘asshole’.”
Gabe’s palm met his face with an audible smack.
“So what do we do with these people?”  CC chimed in.
“That’s a good question.”  Gabe looked them over.  “We probably should go after the culprit before his trail gets cold.  Taking him out should release them.”
“I dunno.”  Cole rubbed his stubble covered face.  “Some of these guys are pretty far gone.  We may not have enough time to catch our boy before the soul eater takes full effect and kills them.  That and the search party you mentioned may find them and someone could get hurt.”
“We don’t have a sure fire way to release them though.  We’d need Amethyst or Rogers for that.”
“I might be able to help with that.”  CC said, almost sheepishly.