We interrupt this posting to tell you about upcoming posts.

It’s Halloween! Yay!

Usually (as in, the past 3 years), I do Halloween/horror/serial killer-themed posts. Since the latest “The Werewolf and . . .” story stretched out waaaaaaaaaay longer than I expected (thanks, Life!), I’ve been a bit behind. I do have a couple of posts, and I’ll put them up later, but I have to unfortunately run repeats as well to meet my personal quota of 10 Halloween posts.

First off, The Buddy Holly Curse, which proved to be one of my more popular posts. It even got me Freshly Pressed.

I actually already posted it, before writing this.

Guess I should have done that differently . . . oh well. Enjoy.

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The Buddy Holly Curse

Originally posted on grafiklit:

I don’t think you could definitely say that there is a curse associated with 1950s rock-n-roller Buddy Holly; you could probably safely karaoke “Peggy Sue” or “That’ll Be the Day” and not wind up dead the next day. (Note the  definitely and probably. Those adverbs clear me of any liability if you sing any of his songs and get stabbed by a crazed karaoke hater.) However, there have been a number of unfortunate incidents associated with Holly, so let’s sprinkle a ring of salt around us and get started, shall we?

I suppose some background is in order. Buddy Holly was born Charles Holley, on September 7, 1936, in Lubbock, Texas. I spent almost two years in Lubbock. It’s dusty, windy, and full of dirt. There’s a Buddy Holly statue in a park, and you can see his grave in, uh, a graveyard. Buddy was his longtime nickname; Decca Records, who first…

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pizzahut

The Werewolf and the Pizza Hut – 15

Around midnight, we ventured into the back of Pizza Hut to check for water and food. We hoped that the staff hadn’t cleared out the walk-in freezer prior to the evacuation, and that the product inside it would still be edible. David had visions of pepperoni slices sandwiched between more pepperoni slices; I was hoping that the hamburger meat they used was raw and not the pre-cooked, flash frozen variety.

David found a gallon jug of spring water on top of the pizza oven. The cap was still sealed. We drained half of it, then tucked it away for later. Until the water hit my tongue, I hadn’t realized how thirsty I’d been.

We sloshed on to the freezer. I was in the lead with the flashlight while David stayed close behind me with the gun, keeping a hand on my shoulder. The flashlight threw crazy shadows everywhere; by the time I put a hand on the freezer door, I’d spotted the man-shark crouching on top of a rack of pizza pans, inside the pizza oven, and beside a shelving unit full of keep-warm delivery pouches.

The door was ajar. There was also a sadly familiar smell radiating from inside the freezer. I knew what was inside, but I forced open the door anyway, and sighed when David squeezed my shoulder.

“Safer than the roof, huh?” I said.

We’d found Marco the Man-Shark’s food cache. He’d stashed the torn remnants of the clowns from the pharmacy, and the two cryptozoologists on the freezer’s shelves. The boxes of pizza dough and meat products that had been on the shelves now bobbed in the water.

BJ the firefighter and Evan Jarrett were missing. He’d eaten them already, I guessed.

“We need to get out of here,” David whispered.

“We can’t go outside,” I said. “He knows we’re in here.”

“We can’t stay, Elizabeth.”

I rubbed my eyes. “I feel safer inside. Let’s stick to the plan and make it to morning.”

We made it back to the front counter. The water had receded a little; by the time morning came, the tabletops in the dining area would be visible.

We hopped up on the counter and sat back-to-back. David took the first watch over my protests, but I was asleep a few minutes after griping.

- – – – – – – – – -

Meanwhile, Bobby Beggs, having checked that his place was relatively undamaged, made his way to first David’s house and then mine. Finding us at neither residence, he decided that maybe, just maybe, we really were still on-duty, although in Bridge City and not Riverside.

He drove to Bridge City, a trip that took almost two hours. He reached the collection of RVs, canopies, and tents that housed the first responders assigned to the town, along with a few news crews, around three in the morning. They were spread out across the high school baseball field; it was one of the higher areas in the town. The rest of Bridge City was underwater.

Beggs spent another hour looking for us, and eventually discovered we weren’t there, that we had never been there, but there was a male and female deputy duo from Orange County with a TCNN crew. In a rare moment of clarity, he deduced there had been a mix-up, and that we might be in trouble.

- – – – – – – – – -

Around the time Beggs found the ball field, I came to and found I was inside the freezer, holding some guy’s arm.

I started, uttered something that sounded like “Gurrk!” and dropped the arm into the water. Ker-splash.

I backed out of the freezer, desperately trying to decide if the taste in my mouth was from sleeping or from scavenging. I had never had the urge to snack on a corpse before, but I had also never gone so long without eating, and what were those rib-eyes and pork chops I enjoyed so much but corpses of animals, really, when you came down to it?

“Not the same thing,” I muttered. I tried to spit, but my mouth was too dry. I thought about poking a finger down my throat, but then I heard David call my name. He sounded scared.

I splashed back to him, found him crouched on the counter, the gun and flashlight pointed at the empty buffet table. The water had dropped down a bit more. I climbed on the counter next to him.

“He’s here,” David whispered.

“Shit. Where?”

“I saw his fin. Right over there. I don’t know how he got in here, I’ve been watching the front.”

We watched the salad bar for a few minutes. Nothing. Finally, David said, “Where did you go? You never told me.”

“I . . . I think I was sleepwalking. I just woke up in the freezer.”

“The freezer? What were you doing–“

Saved by the man-shark. He chose that moment to pop out of the water in front of David, like Jaws in that old Universal Studios ride. David flung himself backward, which saved his face, but put him into the water. I managed to grab Marco’s arm, but wound up in the water too.

I bounced to my feet; the water barely reached my chest now. I couldn’t see shit in the water. The windows in the restaurant let a little light in, but the water was black.

Something bumped my leg.

“Elizabeth!” David had climbed atop the counter again.

Another bump against the other leg.

Enough of this.

I snarled, dropped under the water, grabbed where I thought the man-shark might be. My fingers touched something rough that was vaguely arm-shaped, and wrapped around it, squeezed hard.

Marco thrashed and sank his teeth into my shoulder, but I held on, managed to stand and haul him out of the water.

“Shoot!” I screamed at David. “Shoot!”

“You’re in the way!” he yelled back.

I tried to shift the man-shark around and got a chunk torn out of my shoulder. I punched him in the jaw and got my knuckles scraped down nearly to bone.

The white membranes on his eyes blinked back, revealing those human brown eyes. “You hit hard,” he whispered.

I swung again. He ducked. I lost my grip on his arm. He stayed low and tackled me, went for my stomach while we both went down into the drink.

I felt his teeth press against my belly, and I went for his eyes. My right thumb punched through his left eye.

He let me go, and I clumsily backed away and broke the surface. My back hit the counter. I saw his fin head for the front of the restaurant and then disappear.

pizzahut

The Werewolf and the Pizza Hut – 14

My back scraped against the Pizza Hut’s parking lot. Marco had wrapped his arms around my legs. I tried kicking him off, and he sank his teeth into my right side. I swear I felt his teeth scrape against a rib.

He shook his head, ripped free a chunk, and let me go.

The pain was intense, spiraling from my side down to my legs. Adrenaline took over and got me standing, hands clasped to the ragged hole just below my rib cage. I gasped once I breached the surface. I was standing in water clouded with my blood, barely hearing David screaming my name. I was healing, but way slower than was normal. Lack of food and water, I guessed, right before Marco took me down again.

He had me around the legs again, and this time he went for my stomach. I felt his head dart forward, and managed to sock him on the fleshy bump that passed for his ear. His grip loosened a little, but not long enough for me to do anything with it. My lungs burned. I’d gotten jack shit for air before he’d pulled me under the water.

Then he was back at me, his teeth finding my arm. He crunched down, breaking my forearm. I hit him again with my left fist, got him to let go of my arm. Not my legs though, and I realized that in addition to bleeding to death, I was drowning.

Then he did let go, and I bolted up, sucked in air. My legs were weak and shaky. They lasted long enough for two lungfuls of precious O2 before giving way.

Something grabbed my uninjured arm before I plunged all the way under. Not Marco again. I couldn’t take another round. I tried a roundhouse with my broken arm, despite the burst of agony. I totally missed what ended up being David’s head.

“Whoa,” he said. He changed his grip, wrapping his arms around me and hugging my back to his chest. “Come on, I got you.”

“You’re in danger,” I panted. We moved closer to the restaurant; during the attacks, Marco and I had ended up almost at the trailer.

“Then move faster,” he said.

I tried. The pain in my side had lessened, and I could feel the bones in my arm knitting back together. It was a sensation that I still hadn’t gotten used to, the way my skin and bones felt like they were being physically pulled together.

“Where are we going?” We’d passed the air conditioning unit that led up to the roof.

“Inside,” he said.

“What? No–“

“Well, you know, the roof turned out to be not so safe.”

We reached a side door marked EMPLOYEES ENTRANCE ONLY. David asked me if I was okay to stand on my own. I nodded. He tugged, then pushed, on the door’s metal handle. “Locked, come on,” he muttered.

“High-value pizza dough inside,” I said. “Try shooting the lock. It works on TV.”

“Yes, let’s check injury by ricochet off our bucket lists,” he said.

Under normal circumstances, I’d just kick the door open, but I knew I was too weak. I leaned against the brick. Marco could come back at any second, and we’d never know it until we were under the water. “Try the front,” I said. “The windows.”

We splashed our way around the restaurant. David broke one of the large panes of glass with the butt of his gun, and after clearing a path, we climbed inside. It was just as wet inside, but I felt a little safer with four walls around us.

We made our way to the ordering counter at the front of the dining room. It was the only surface that would keep us out of the water, not that that had proven to do any good.

“How are you?” David asked. My undershirt was bloody and torn, but that really wasn’t an uncommon occurrence with me. He clicked on his flashlight and pointed its beam at my side.

I lifted my shirt. Most of the blood had washed away, and the skin was whole and bright pink. There was a faint pale outline of Marco’s jaws, but that would fade in time. My arm was sore, but it too was healed. “I’m okay,” I said. I dropped my shirt. “Just really tired.” And hungry, I wanted to add, but I knew he was too. It was just that my hunger was dangerous.

We sat in the dark, back to back. We were soaked, filthy, and shoeless. It was quiet, save for crickets and the occasional bullfrog.

Then there was a splash, and I jumped. David said, “That was a fish.”

“You sure?”

“Nope.”

“I hate this.”

“It’ll be light soon. I think it’s brighter already, actually.”

I looked at my watch. “I have ten at night. Brighter, my ass.”

He sighed. “I tried. Get some sleep. I’ll keep watch.”

“I can’t sleep. David, what are we going to do?”

“Make it until morning. The S.O. has to have noticed we’re not back by then. They’ll send help. And BJ, remember him? So the fire department will be looking. And CNN will be missing their crew. It’ll be okay.”

“I hope you’re right.” I scrubbed my face with my hands.

Outside, there was another splash. Fish, I told myself. The man-shark doesn’t splash.

The thought was not comforting.

The Werewolf and the Pizza Hut – 13

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That evening, while David took first watch and I closed my eyes and pretended to sleep (and tried to ignore my increasing hunger), Bobby Beggs stormed around the Oak Forest Middle School gym. He was convinced that David and I were holed up at either David’s place or mine, enjoying the comforts of home via a generator and generally being derelict in our duties.

But since as far as Lieutenant Harris knew, we’d ended up in Bridge City instead of Riverside, she refused to send anyone to check on us, at least until morning. And maybe not even then, since the sheriffs of the affected counties, plus all the mayors and other lesser bigwigs, were on their way back from their safe haven in Nacogdoches. As it turned out, she would be too tied up with them to do that, leaving Beggs to take matters into his own hands, and leading to the only time in my life when I would be happy to see that redneck, racist, misogynistic dipshit.

Until that time, I fake-slept curled on my right side, my back to David. I had my arms pressed against my stomach, and I could feel it rumbling against them. This was not optimum. I had never gone so long without food. I’d always had the feeling that do so would be bad. I didn’t have these razor-sharp choppers to eat Pop-Tarts.

My stomach bellowed. David touched my arm. “Are you okay?”

I rolled on my back. “No. I’m hungry.” I sat up. “Starving.” I still had the protein bar in a pouch on my gun belt; I’d taken it off shortly after climbing back onto the roof, along with my boots and socks. I had a feeling that my feet would never be dry again. I reached for the belt, unsnapped the pouch, and took it out. “This is stupid,” I muttered. “I was right there. I could’ve gone into that meat place. Hell, I could’ve snagged us some water from inside the pharmacy.”

“Stop,” David said. “It’s not your fault. Come on, eat up.” He pulled his legs up to his chest and hugged them.

I unwrapped the bar and offered it to him. “Half,” I said. He shook his head. I hesitated a second, then ate it. I could almost feel it hit the bottom of my stomach. It didn’t help. I might as well have swallowed air.

“Fuck this,” I said, a bit louder than I intended. I glanced over at the other end of the roof, where the cryptozoologists had bedded down. They were vague dark shapes in the gloom. They didn’t stir. I sighed and scrubbed my face with both hands. “I can’t take this, Mercy. I need to get to that meat.”

“Wait until daylight.”

“No. No, I . . . I’m scared what will happen if I wait much longer.”

“It should be light in four or five hours, just wait.”

“You’re not listening–“

Screams. Then a splash. David and I shot to our feet. He aimed his gun and flashlight at the cryptozoologists’s end of the roof. The cameraman, Luther, was gone. Todd was on his hands and knees, bent over the edge of the roof. When David’s flashlight beam hit him, he turned his head toward us. “He’s gone! Marko took him!”

“Get away from the edge!” I shouted. I took a step to him, then the man-shark grabbed him around the head.

David fired his gun in their general direction, in an attempt to scare the shark away. It didn’t work. Todd was pulled down. I ran, skidding to my knees when I neared the edge. I kept sliding.

“Shit!” My legs went off the edge. I twisted, got my fingers in the metal of the roof, and prayed for purchase. No go. I continued to slide.

My hips, then stomach, left the roof. Of all the times not to be religious . . .

I heard the screeching of metal. I began to slow. My fingertips ached, and that ache was familiar. My claws had come out.

Way to go, werewolf, I thought. Way to go

I landed in the water. Sploosh.

It was too warm and too dark. I shot for the surface, gasped while my head whipped around for Marco the Man-Shark’s stubby fin.

“Elizabeth!” David hit me with the flashlight beam. “Hold on! Give me your hand!” The light left me. I looked up. He was on his belly, his arms outstretched. His hand was in easy reach. I lifted mine.

Then Marco pulled me under.

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The Werewolf and the Pizza Hut – 12

6a00d8341bf67c53ef0167678f4aaf970b-800wi-3 As I’ve stated before, I’m scared of sharks. It strikes me as a much more reasonable phobia than a fear of the number 13 or of peanut butter sticking to the roof of your mouth.

What I was facing right then was every selachophobic’s nightmare: a real damn landshark in–I had to pop my head up twice to make sure–a silver Speedo.

My third peek over the aisle shelves, the man-land-shark tossed Jaxson Abshire over the pharmacy counter. After splashdown, he hopped onto the counter, and I decided to split while his finned back was turned.

I tried to be quiet, but I also had to be quick, so I made noise. Still, I kept going, my ears pricked for the splash that meant Jabber Jaws was coming for me. I was in arm’s reach of the shutter door when he spoke.

“Goodbye.”

I expected a raspy gravel voice, but what I got was a pleasant tenor. I turned. His back was still to me. Had he even spoken to me? “I’ll see you and your friends later tonight,” he said.

I drew my gun. My hands shook. I doubted I could hit him, but I felt better with it in my hands. He dove forward. At his splash, I made for the exit.

I slipped under the door and popped up on the other side, nearly banging into David. “Shit!” I grabbed his shirt. “What are you doing here? Go! GO!”

He talked while I shoved him. “We heard gunshots, then I saw those two guys leave the pharmacy–where are the others? What were those shots? Sounded like a shotgun–“

“Yes, yes, all that, just go Mercy please, here, get up on this car, come on–“

He let me boost him up onto the car closest to the trailer. Once I’d climbed aboard, he resumed his questions. Finally, I raised my hands. “All right, okay, just be quiet a second, okay?”

He gave me exactly a second before asking me, “Did you kill those two guys?”

“No. It was the man-shark.”

He looked over my shoulder, at the pharmacy. “Is it still in there?”

“I don’t know. Look, I’ll tell you more once we’re back at the Pizza Hut, all right?”

So back we went. Once we’d sat our dripping asses on the hot metal roof, I told David and the cryptozoologists what happened inside the drug store. I expected questions, but all I got were grunts and the occasional head shake. The crypto guys already knew the man-shark talked, and they seemed excited by the prospect of a visit from him.

By the time I finished, it was late evening, and it didn’t seem like help was coming. We were thirsty, sunburned, and, most important to me, hungry. I had no idea what would happen if I went much longer without food, but I didn’t think it would be good.

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The Werewolf and the Pizza Hut -11

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(Yes, it’s been a while. Sorry about that . . . I took a class in small business management in June, and it turns out that writing business plans is more work than I thought. But I have July off, pretty much, so here we go. And in re-reading the past posts, I’ve come across a few glaring errors. 

Anonymous Blog Person: About damn time. I need to vent my spleen. 

Me: Vent away. 

ABP: Okay, first off, don’t cops carry back-up guns? I’ve seen enough episodes of Generic Cop Drama to know that this is true.

Me: Yeah, okay, I forgot about the back-up gun . . . BUG, in the cop lingo . . . ummm . . . disregard. Disregard! Suspension of disbelief! They’re not allowed to carry secondary weapons. Yes. That’s it. Next.

ABP: Wow. Okay, the last post. The 10th installment. Anderson is worried about attracting the attention of the . . . man-shark, good lord . . . yet she has no problem with cannonballing into the water? 

Me: . . . . 

ABP: Hello?

Me: . . . . Shit.)

 

————————————————————————————–

I ducked. The bat whiffed over my head. I shot up, rammed the palm of my hand into my assailant’s face. He staggered back. I grabbed the bat. He lost his balance and fell back into the water. I wrapped both hands around the bat and prepared to swing for the fences like Joe DiMaggio.

“Holy shit, what’s going on? What are you doing?”

The voice came from the back of the pharmacy. I turned. The speaker was behind the counter, next to the guy with the backpack. The speaker was, if I wasn’t mistaken, the one who’d opened the metal shutter. On my left, the fellow I’d pancaked sloshed to his feet. I backed up a little. “What are you doing?” I asked.

The speaker shook his head. “No, I meant them, what are y’all doing? She’s a cop. I didn’t want any rough stuff.” He spoke to the backpack holder, who shrugged.

“Silas kinda goes his own way,” this guy said.

Silas. I took another look at the guy I’d smacked. His eyes were spaced far apart, his chin was weak, and his nose was a small bump, a blackhead-covered afterthought. Mr. Backpack had similar features.

Shit. I had stumbled into a nest of Abshires. They lived on the outskirts of Riverside, on a weedy plot of land surrounded by a fence constructed of stolen sheets of tin and plywood. They were drug-dealers, shoplifters, high school dropouts, connoisseurs of the Texas penal system.

Silas touched his nose. “Let’s go,” he said.

“I’m sorry,” the guy who looked like his family tree actually had branches said. “They live next to me,” he said. “They said their grandpa was sick. I told them I’d help them get medicine.”

I tried to remember the name of the pharmacy.

S & L Drug. That was it.

“So are you S or L?” I asked. Silas twitched to his left. I snapped my head in his direction. “Don’t move,” I said, wagging the bat for emphasis.

“Neither,” he said. “I’m a pharmacy tech. Kevin. My name’s Kevin. Mr. Leeds gave me the keys because I usually open, and sometimes he or Mr. Sanders is late, and–“

“Shut up,” I said.

“Okay,” Kevin said.

“They know you’re here stealing from them?”

Kevin shook his head. “I’m not stealing! I’m keeping track of what I’m taking, and I’m gonna return what I don’t use. Jeremy said he’d pay for the rest.”

Jeremy, the inbred with the backpack, smirked.

“Awful lot of stuff for one sick grandpa,” I said.

“He got the diabetes,” Silas muttered.

“Shut up,” Jeremy said. He slid the backpack on his back.

I tossed the Louisville Slugger aside and put my hand on my gun. “Take the pack off. Leave the drugs and get out of here. And give me the keys.”

Kevin blinked. “The old man’s sick,” he said.

“With what?” I said.

Kevin swallowed. “What Silas said. Diabetes.”

“Right. Type 1 or 2?”

The pharmacy technician’s eyes flicked to the ceiling for a second. Then he said, “Type 2.”

“So when I check that pack, I’m gonna find metformin and stuff like that, right?”

Kevin clenched his jaw. “Why you being a bitch? I’m trying to help an elderly man.”

“Fuck this,” a new voice said.

The remaining two looters splashed into view. The taller one shoved Kevin aside. He held a sawed-off shotgun, which made my stomach drop to somewhere around my boot laces. The other carried a baseball bat. He was the one who’d spoken, and he spoke again: “We gonna let you leave, Deputy Dumbass, cause we feelin’ charitable.”

Wow, a whole four-syllable word. This must be Franklin Abshire, the one who’d made it past the tenth grade and was considered the leader of the bunch. The shotgun toter was Jaxson; he had his name tattooed across the front of his neck, with a small Confederate flag subbed in for the X.

I didn’t doubt that Kevin was telling the truth about being employed here and how he had the keys. It was everything else that was utter bullshit. The Abshire family’s compound was in a part of the county known for meth labs and crack trailers; it was debated among us Deputy Dumbasses which had come first, the Abshires or the meth labs. Were they drawn to the places of ill repute, or did they cause them, like a white trash peckerwood virus?

Totally moot, at this point. I didn’t care that I was outnumbered. I cared about that shortened scattergun in the hands of Jaxson Abshire, who was wanted by three counties for a long list of felonies and misdemeanors. Every family has an overachiever, and Jaxson was theirs.

I stared at him, almost able to read his thoughts. I was alone with no radio dangling on my shoulder. Even if there was another cop out there, he could duck out the back door. He could gun me down and get away with it.

“Just go, all right?” Kevin said.

A corner of Jaxson’s mouth twitched up.

“Yeah, go, Deputy. Suffer some amnesia, whyn’t ya, and forget what you saw,” Franklin said.

Jaxson lifted the shotgun. The twin barrels were huge.

Jeremy stood up on the counter. The bottles in his pack rattled.

I calculated the distance between me and those two black holes. The long muscles in my thighs jumped.

Kevin screamed. Jaxson spun in his direction.

I dove to the left, in front of Silas. Even underwater, I could hear the shotgun blast. I popped my head up, saw Silas running to the back, lifting his legs out of the water in big cartoonish movements.

There was an aisle of shampoos and soaps between me and the Abshire bunch. I pressed in close to the aisle and drew my gun. I could hazard a pretty good guess what made Kevin scream.

I raised my head a bit, enough to see what was going on. Three of the Abshires were crowded on the pharmacy counter. Jaxson had the gun pointed at the water. Silas was trying to climb aboard.

“What was that? The fuck was that thing?” screamed Jeremy.

“It got him, fuck it, let’s go,” Franklin said.

“The cop–“

“Ah, maybe it’ll eat her too. Come on, let’s go. Fuck’re you doing, Silas? We’re leaving. Get the door.”

They joined Silas in the water. Jaxson swung the gun toward my aisle. He stopped when he saw me. “There she is.”

I ducked down. The gun boomed. Bottles of coconut-scented Suave shampoo exploded overhead. My ears rang. Through the ringing, I heard Franklin tell his brother to save his shells.

There was another scream, a lot of splashing. The shotgun went off again, not at me this time. My ears were still ringing, but I still heard Franklin yell for Silas to get the door.

I saw Silas wade to the door. He was pale. He yanked open the door and ducked under the half-drawn shutter. Franklin was next. Jaxson backed up to the door, keeping it open with his elbow while his shotgun was pointed toward the pharmacy counter. His white T-shirt was spattered with blood. Then his mouth opened, his eyes widened. He screamed and pulled the trigger. The shotgun was silent.

A second later, I finally saw the man-shark, a gray, man-shaped blur that slammed into Jaxson, driving him into the shutter. It vibrated. The man-shark’s head snapped back, then darted forward. Razor-sharp teeth tore out Jaxson’s throat. He dropped the gun.

The creature had a short, stubby fin-like projection on his back, and what looked like gills on his neck. He was bald. His eyes were dirty white, until he blinked. Then they were human, with brown irises. He had a membrane over them, like an actual shark. He dropped Jaxson’s body into the drink, then bent down and fished around until he found Jaxson’s leg. Then he started dragging him back toward the pharmacy counter.

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The Werewolf and the Pizza Hut – 10

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“This is a horrible plan,” David said.

“I had a better one,” I reminded him, zipping up his uniform shirt over my still-damp tank top. The sun had dried it, and it was pleasantly warm on my skin.

David was sitting on the Pizza Hut roof beside me, his knees pulled up to his chest, his elbows propped on his kneecaps. He rubbed his cheek against his upper arm. “Yeah, well. I didn’t care for it.”

My plan had been for me to go after the looters while David went for the patrol car and got help. Luther and Todd refused to go with him, or in his place, after he refused to go without me.

“We’re cryptozoologists,” Todd had explained. “We spent way too many weeks with that asshole Jarrett waiting for this moment to give up now.” And then he and his buddy had started scrounging through their satchel again.

I strapped on my gun belt and stuck David’s Glock in its holster. He’d insisted I take it. The both of us going for the car hadn’t been discussed. Leaving those guys to die, even though they were looters? That was chickenshit.

I carefully slid to the edge of the roof. My plan was to minimize my immersion as much as possible. I’d swim for the trailer, then climb up and run along its roof until I had to get into the drink to reach the pharmacy. Without the flood waters, the lay of the land was this: the Pizza Hut, a parking lot, the trailer, an empty lot (a trailer park, actually, until it closed down, leaving the lone trailer), then a three-way intersection, then the pharmacy, which was part of a strip mall. The pharmacy was sandwiched between an antique store and a meat market.

So, all right, my reason for the rescue wasn’t wholly selfless. I wanted to check out that meat market and see what they had left in stock. A few ribeye steaks, even if they were close to spoiling, sounded very good to me.

Just the thought of it made my mouth fill with saliva. I spit into the water. The shark fin had disappeared as soon as we’d seen it, and it hadn’t reappeared. We were assuming that the man-shark, if that’s what it was, was still hunting those five men, who were now inside the pharmacy and out of sight.

I took a deep breath. I was terrified of sharks. Blame Jaws. I rolled my head, felt my neck crackle and pop. This is ridiculous. Jump in the water, Anderson. Jump in. Come on.

“Try the radio in the boat,” David said. “While you’re over there.”

“Oh. Yeah. Sure.” I leaned out. Go. Go, you big chicken.

“Want me to do it, while you go for the–“

“No! You get off this roof, I’m gonna throw you right back on it, Mercer.”

“Okay, okay.”

Jump. Come on, legs. Move.

“Elizabeth?”

What?

“Did you change your mind, or . . . ?”

No . . . um, can you . . . push me?”

“Push you?”

“In the water. Just push me. I can’t . . . just fucking push me, okay?”

“Wow.”

“Shut–“

Shove

 

 

Splash

 

–I shot to the surface, sputtering. The water had gone down a little, but it was still unpleasantly warm. David whispered-asked if I was okay.

I nodded and crept forward. I worried that swimming would make too much noise, but walking, such as it was, was too slow, so I dove forward, reached the capsized boat, and ducked under. The water was murky, but I was still able to see that something had been under here before me. The boat’s control panel was chewed up. The radio was gone.

I popped out, turned to David, gave him a thumb’s down. He nodded. I continued to the trailer and jumped, grabbed the edge of its roof and climbed aboard. I didn’t care if Todd and Luther saw me.

The roof was flat and coated with tar. I ran across it, eyes scanning the water. So far, so good. When I reached the end of the roof, I didn’t give myself time to think: I cannonballed off, my eyes closed, my heart beating somewhere near my molars, and–

 

BANG

 

–landed on the roof of a submerged car.

I felt the roof buckle and my right ankle break, along with my tailbone. I was too shocked to scream. All I could do was groan and tilt to my left side, eventually coming to rest on my left shoulder. The water lapped at my cheek. At least I was out of the water a little while I healed up.

When I finally did, I looked down. Hard to tell what sort of car I’d hit, other than it was dark green and camouflaged perfectly in the murk. My ass still stung, but I sat up anyway. Stupid, stupid, stupid.

Muttering, I slid into the waist-deep water. Homeward stretch. I could see the closed glass doors that the shutters protected, and a little of the pharmacy. It was almost three in the afternoon. I drew the gun.

I waded across the street, stumbling here and there as my boots fetched up against random debris. A tire. A stop sign. Part of the traffic light system that still dangled over the intersection.

When my left thigh hit something, I lurched to a stop.

Please tell me I didn’t get bumped by the shark.

No, I’d walked into it.

Hadn’t I?

Yeah, I had.

Definitely.

My teeth ground together. Slowly, so slowly, my hand went to the gun and slid it out of the holster.

Slowly, so slowly, I moved my left leg forward again.

And connected with whatever it was I had previously connected with. It was hard and metallic. Not a shark at all.

I blew out breath I hadn’t been aware I’d been holding. I inched to the right, around what turned out to be a riding lawnmower (John Deere). I tripped again, this time on the curb of the strip mall’s parking lot.

Finally, I made it to the pharmacy. I pressed against its brick side, to the left of the doors. Now I had five armed thieves to contend with, along with the possible man-shark. I raised my head and sniffed the air, turned up faint whiffs of their sweat, nothing more. The water was still fouling my nose.

I heard faint murmurs, chanced a glance inside. From what I could see, there was no one guarding the front.

I slid along the wall, the bricks scraping my back. I paused at the doors, decided to holster the gun. I was here to rescue, not arrest. The gun would only aggravate things.

I ducked under the shutter and pushed open one of the doors, straightened up and took a few seconds to let my eyes adjust to the dimness. There was a check-out counter on my left. Make-up counter on my right. Six aisles ahead of me, the pharmacy area beyond that. I saw one of the men, perched on the pharmacy counter under a sign that read DROP OFF HERE.

A bottle was tossed to him. He checked the label before dropping it into the backpack that sat between his feet.

I opened my mouth, intending to simply yell “Hey!”, when I heard splashing behind me.

I turned in time to catch something across my abdomen. My knees buckled as the air was knocked out of my lungs. I went underwater, came up sputtering and choking in time to see the baseball bat that had struck my gut coming for my head.

Victorian-Freak-Show-Posters-Kohl-^-Middletons-The-Dog-Faced-Man

The Werewolf and the Pizza Hut – 9

Victorian-Freak-Show-Posters-Kohl-^-Middletons-The-Dog-Faced-Man

The notebook Todd showed us had a photocopy of an old carnival sideshow poster pasted in it. For a nickel, you could see Jasper the Dog-Faced Man, Frank Melton the Human Skeleton, and Marko the Man-Shark.

“This is from 1931,” Todd explained. “From Bigby’s Carnival and Circus of Wonders.”

I rubbed my forehead. “Forget what I said about being open-minded.”

The illustrations were like something out of a comic book: Jasper had a hairy face and wore spectacles. Frank Melton was stick-thin, clad only in a pair of boxer shorts held up by suspenders. Marko the Man-Shark had gray skin and a fish clenched in his teeth. The artist had given him small, sharp shark teeth.

Todd flipped a page. “They toured mostly along the eastern coast. Maine, New York. See, this is a clipping from a newspaper in Maine. A small boat was found beached along the coast near Shawpawtucket. The man it belonged to was never found. But there were teeth marks along the bottom of the boat.”

“Let me guess, made by a shark.” My stomach rumbled. Great.

Todd nodded. “Just so happens, though, that Bigby’s Carnival was in town at that time.”

He flipped pages. More clippings, more disappearances near water while the carnival was in town. He also had first-hand accounts of people who went to the freak show, who saw Marko, gray-skinned and in a pair of trousers and a wife-beater, eat whole fish and chew through pine boards. His teeth were reported as being unnaturally sharp, and he was said to have a small triangular hump on his back, between his shoulder blades.

“Guys, seriously,” I said. “This is from 1931.”

“I know,” Todd said. “But listen, okay? Bigby’s was asked to leave town several times. The locals didn’t like Marko. And then the carnival ran out of money, and the performers scattered. Marko settled in Florida. And here we go, more disappearances.”

He was questioned by the police. Body parts were being found, washing up on the beach not far from his little cabin. In 1942, a mob of concerned citizens went to his house. They chased him to the beach and into the water. Two of the citizens followed him into the drink. They never came back. Marko was never seen again.

But suddenly that stretch of Florida Gulf Coast was a hot spot for shark attacks. Signs were posted. People stopped swimming there. Legend had it that Marko the Man-Shark prowled the currents, searching for prey. Time passed. People forgot, started swimming at that spot again. Disappearances still happened, but they were rare. The Man-Shark became a legend, a weird footnote in sideshow history.

My stomach growled again. I pressed my hand against it. I eat a lot, at least eight times a day. It doesn’t have to be meat, although that satisfies me for longer. I had packed some protein bars for our trip to Riverside, and although I had stashed one in a pouch on my belt, the rest of them were back at the patrol car. And one bar wouldn’t hold me for very long.

Todd was still talking. Sightings of sharks after tropical storms and hurricanes, in water sharks shouldn’t be found in. Swimming pools, ponds, lakes. More vanished people. The shark’s fin sighted was deformed, shorter and stubbier than an actual shark’s, but more pronounced than Marko’s had been. Todd’s theory was that either Marko had evolved, or he’d reproduced.

Todd and Luther were cryptozoologists. They worked with Evan Jarrett because he was trying to make a name for himself by being the network’s go-to storm chaser. The shark sightings were occurring immediately following hurricanes. They theorized that the man-shark was tracking the storms, using them to as cover to eat people to get him through the winters.

I held up a hand. “Wait, so, this guy what, rents a Ford Escort and drives to hurricanes?”

Todd blinked. “Well, sure. He’s a man-shark.”

“Oh, right.” I looked at David. “He’s a man-shark.”

Luther said, “You said you were open-minded.”

“I didn’t know you could talk,” I said.

“Guys, hey, everybody just calm down, okay?” David the peacekeeper said. “Something’s in the water, we know that, so we–“

Shouts interrupted him. We all turned in the direction they’d come from: near the trailer with the decapitated head in it. From the pharmacy, to be exact.

I counted five guys, wading through water that came up to their waists. Two of them brandished baseball bats and two others hauled brightly colored packages. The fifth man was in the lead and appeared to be unarmed.

I squinted. Those packages were backpacks. The guy in the lead stopped at the metal shutter that had been lowered over the pharmacy’s doors. He dropped under the water. A few seconds later, he popped to the surface and started rolling up the shutter.

“Looters,” David said. “Son of a bitch.”

“They might not be a problem for long,” Todd said. He pointed. “Look.”

A fin was slicing through the water toward them.