True Slayers: A Girl’s Song, Part 3

A lot of slayers have told me how lucky I am to have found out so early. It has its advantages but the problem is that a five year old slayer is still a five year old. I remember very little of what I was taught then. Several things had to be explained to me again later – a few of them more than once.

There is one thing though that I remember as clearly as if it were yesterday; meeting the Mistress. Now, understand, not all slayers ever meet her. Some, oddly enough, don’t want to and others just don’t ever get the chance. Nyota had traveled around the world just for the opportunity and as it turned out, I was lucky enough to live just a little more than a hundred miles from her home.

Mama says she came a few days later. Nyota had called her from our house and told her about me. She told Nyota to stay with us and that she’d come to our house. I’m kinda glad I was only five – I’d have died if I’d realized then what an honor that was.

It was mid-morning and Nyota and I were waiting in the parlor. Mama made us – Nyota was almost as antsy as I was. We both jumped when the knock came at the door. Daddy answered it – it was pure torture having to wait for him to bring her in. Then suddenly, there she was. I ran to her as if she were my best friend. She scooped me up and smiled at me. I was the happiest I’d ever been – up until then, I mean.

I know that makes no sense to those who aren’t slayers. Being a slayer means we have a lot of power and to control that power we have a lot of instinctive talents, like being able to recognize a creature even in human form or being able to sense them even when we can’t see them.

Right now, white – that’s the good guys, I guess you’d say – has a female head. She has a lot of different names and titles, almost one from each culture. The one she prefers is ‘true born daughter of the night’ but the one most of us use is ‘mistress of the night’ although some use ‘mistress of the hunt’ instead. Anyway, just as it’s instinctive for us to react certain ways to creatures, we also have instinctive reactions to her. Those of us who are white usually crave her presence when we get close enough to her. Some of us will crave it enough to travel to meet her, like Nyota did. Some find that scary and actually avoid her – which still sounds weird to me but I know a couple slayers like that so I know its true. All of us respect her – it’s kinda like her birthright.

Slayers can obey her commands almost as instinctively as creatures do but with a big difference: slayers don’t have to obey her – creatures do. When she’s around we become even more powerful than we are normally. Maybe that’s part of the instinctive attraction. Whatever it is, most of us would chose to meet her over our favorite rock star. It’s a really big deal for us.

Here I was, in her arms and I haven’t even emerged yet! I have to admit, that does make me one incredibly lucky slayer. And I can still remember everything so clearly. She introduced herself to my family and to Nyota then sat down with me on the couch. Mama went to get tea for everyone and the Mistress turned to talk to Nyota. She bounced me on her knee while chatting with Nyota. It was funny – Nyota is so elegant and poised but she was blathering like a school girl. I learned much later that that’s kinda normal on a first meeting – the Mistress didn’t seem to mind at all.

Everyone asks what she looked like. She’s about average height with brown hair and hazel eyes. To us, she’s gorgeous, but most other people describe her as pretty enough but kinda average. She had her hair up in a pony tail and was wearing a nice blouse to go with her jeans. She had on riding boots and smelled like she’d been horseback riding that morning – in other words. wonderful.

Once Mama got back and settled, the conversation turned to me. The Mistress still had me in her lap and she tousled my hair as she spoke, "No, she hasn’t emerged, I’m sure of that. The wolf probably just got close enough to sense her. Nyota and I will make sure there aren’t any more around this evening but I honestly don’t think there are."

"So, will other… wolves.. sense her?" Mama asked tentatively. From Mama’s point of view the whole thing was surreal so it was taking her some time and effort to come to grips with it.

If the Mistress noticed, she didn’t let it show, "No, at this stage a creature would have to get very close to realize she is a slayer. There’s a pack in new Orleans and that one was probably from it. I think it was just happenstance but I will make sure."

"What do we need… I mean, to raise her… I mean, what will she need?" Daddy stammered as he sometimes does when he’s anxious.

She smiled, "You won’t have to worry about that. She won’t emerge for another ten years or so. There’s no special training or education that she needs that can’t wait until then. She’ll likely have questions much earlier than a normal slayer…" The Mistress turned to Nyota, "I know it’s inconvenient but I think you would be the best choice for her guide…"

Nyota smiled back, "I am honored."

The Mistress nodded and turned back to my parents, "Nyota will stay in touch and be able to answer Crystal’s questions as they arise. You’re more than welcome to call me but my schedule tends to be insane so it could be a long while before I respond."

"We appreciate that." Mama said in a strange tone of voice. I had looked up at the mention of my name. Now I looked around at Mama. She didn’t seem happy. I remember wondering why. "The way Nyota was talking we thought you were a queen or something… no offense."

"None taken. No, I’m not a queen or anything like that. Forget the titles and nonsense – I just have an important if weird job to do, that’s all. Your little one here will probably never react so strongly to me again; most slayers don’t after meeting me the first time. They can’t help that – it’s part of the price they pay for possessing so much power."

Daddy fumbled with his pipe, "What about the other night? Will things like tha start to happen and how do we protect her if they do?"

The mistress shook her head, "Creatures won’t be attracted to her until just before she emerges and by then she will be more than able to protect herself. Slayers have a sixth sense about where they need to be and when they need to be there. They don’t usually realize it but they will often arrange schedules or travel or whatnot so that they end up where they need to be when a creature appears. It’s not coincidental that Nyota was here to deal with that wolf. If they’re needed, a slayer will usually show up."

Daddy made a funny noise, "I’ve never even heard of all this and these people are just going to show up as needed when no one has ever seen them before."

The Mistress smiled, "You have met slayers before. They’re far more common than you think. Crystal and Nyota are probably the only true slayers you’ve seen but there are other slayers and you’ve most certainly seen them before."

"Then she is a true slayer, Mistress?" Nyota asked.

"Most definitely. And from what you told me, I strongly suspect she’s a sword singer. That is probably how she knew about the broken spear."

"Gunda." I told her.

"Hmm?" she looked at me.

"His name is Gunda." I informed her. "He got hurt but Nyota promised to get him fixed."

She nodded as she hugged me, "I’m sure she will, very soon." She turned to my parents, "Oh yeah, she’s a sword singer, without a doubt…"

Mama looked crestfallen, "And I tried so hard to keep her from playing with knives…"

True Slayers: A Girl’s Song, Part 2

Mama tells the rest of this story better than I do, mostly because she remembers it. I toddled off to the kitchen as Clifton tried to explain what had happened. Mama invited our guest into the parlor as she tried to understand what the heck Clifton was babbling about. At some point, Daddy came in and Clifton launched into yet another, somehow even more confusing, account.

Essie, the lady who cooked for us on the weeknights, had given me a cup of iced tea and sent me toddling back to Mama. Sucking on my sippy cup, I climbed into our guest’s lap. She and I waited patiently for the chaos to settle down. I suspect she was waiting for that – I seem to recall enjoying the spectacle of two flustered adults trying to calm and understand an excited eight year old.

I next remember being in the dining room trying to get someone to pass the biscuits. I was sitting between our guest and Daddy. Clifton was hogging the biscuits and our guest was explaining to my now thoroughly confused parents what had actually happened. I strongly suspect that had she explained earlier my parents would have kicked her out and called the cops. But once sitting at our table she was unquestionably a guest, no matter how insane.

Daddy finally settled the biscuit issue by putting two on my plate. I finished everything green as required then ate the first one. Bored with the grown up stuff, I excuse myself and toddled off with my second biscuit.

I remember wandering out on the porch and looking out over the pasture at the moonless night. I finished off my biscuit and went back to the door. I found the most wonderful looking thing – it was a huge spear leaning beside the door post. I don’t remember knocking it over, although I must have. My next memory is of sitting on the porch cradling that poor blade in my lap like a baby and crying.

Mama scooped me up and searched every inch of me. Our guest grabbed the spear but then looked confused as she announced there was no blood on it. Mama had put me down for a closer inspection and I squirmed away. I pointed at the spear and yelled, "Broken! It broken! Fix!"

Our guest looked even more confused as Mama grabbed me again. By this time Daddy had realized that I hadn’t been cut which confused him even more. I was inconsolable, crying for the broken spear.

Finally, Mama put me down again and I went back to our guest. She held the blade well away from me but I kept pointing at the shank. "Broken! Fix!"

She seemed to understand and slowly began to unwind the binding that held the head to the shaft. Just as I’d said, the spear head was broken at the shank, well below the binding and not at all visible with the binding in place. Our guest promised to get the spear fixed as soon as possible.

I don’t remember any more after that. Mama says if it hadn’t been for that broken spear they never would have believed Nyota when she told them I had a special talent. Nyota says the spear wasn’t what she was talking about since she suspected even then I might be a slayer. Gunda, the spear, only remembers breaking as he was used to slay the werewolf that was attacking Clifton and telling me to tell Nyota so she wouldn’t rely on him while he was broken.

I guess I should explain. Our guest, Nyota is from Africa, either Kenya or the Congo, I forget which. She has family in Arkansas and Texas. She was traveling with her cousins from Dallas to Montgomery when she started sensing the wolf a couple days earlier. Her cousins waited for her at the motel while she went hunting. You have to understand – she couldn’t very well ignore a creature like that under normal circumstances but certainly not when she had come all the way from Africa to met the Mistress. She used the trip to visit family, too, of course but the main purpose was to go to Montgomery. She would have been ashamed to do that if she’d passed a black wolf by – so she says. Truth is, Nyota couldn’t let a creature like that get away – it’s not in her. She’s a Huntress, which is a type of True Slayer.

I know, it doesn’t make a lot of sense yet but it will. That’s how it is with slayers – we find out at the oddest times and usually only in bits an pieces. If you think it’s confusing to read, you ought to try living this way!

True Slayers: A Girl’s Song, Part 1

My name is Crystal. Until a few weeks ago, I lived in Tyler, Mississippi, where I grew up. Tyler is a nice sleepy town between the state line and Meridian. Far enough in the country to be country but close enough to town to not be isolated.

Our place is an old farm complete with a hundred and twenty year old house. It was built over an old log cabin which was built when Mississippi and Alabama were part of the same territory. When they drew the state line it went just to the east of the cabin. Several expansions over the years resulted in the house being partially in Alabama and partially in Mississippi – a fact that drove Daddy nuts at tax time. The fun part is that my bedroom is in Alabama so my friends would kid me that I was really an Alabamian, since I went home to sleep there every night.

But truth be told, other than my unusual sleeping arrangement and the occasional trip to the neighbor down the road, I seldom set foot in Alabama. I’m a Mississippi girl, head to toe.

I’m like other girls. I like horses, shopping for new clothes and can talk your ear off about boys any day of the week. I’ve almost always known I was different in one respect but it never seemed to matter – at least not until I started to date.

But I guess I should start at the beginning. My very first memory is of Mama rocking me to sleep in our huge old rocking chair. I was maybe three. My next memory is from the same age. I was in the kitchen and Mama dropped a knife. I picked it up before she could. That spooked her, I guess, because she snatched it away, accidentally cutting my hand. I remember Mama hollering for Daddy as she saw the blood but what I remember most clearly was that the knife, as it went into my hand, apologized.

I still have a tiny scar from that. Mama didn’t believe me and for the longest time, she wouldn’t let me near anything sharp. It was hard because I wanted to hold that knife – any knife, really – and she wouldn’t let me. I think it scared her, that I was so attracted to blades. But I really just wanted to talk to it.

Needless to say, no one understood what I meant by that. I don’t rightly think I knew, not then, anyway. But for a couple years, all I was allowed to touch were plastic knives. Plastic knives rarely talk, so it was really disappointing.

For the most part, my family overlooked that one oddity of my personality. Otherwise, I was like all the other girls my age – My Little Pony and Barbie occupied most of my time and I didn’t realize that there was anything really different about me. That changed when I was five.

My cousin Clifton was visiting from Biloxi. He’s a couple years older than I am. His parents would send him every summer for a few weeks so Daddy could teach him to ride. Daddy rode in show competitions when he was young and Clifton wanted to do that, too. Daddy taught him to ride on my pony, Mildred. I didn’t mind; Clifton was the kind of kid that didn’t mind playing with a younger kid. It was nice having him around so sharing Mildred was no problem at all.

Clifton had put Mildred out to the pasture for the day and we went to the swimming hole. It’s really a hole in the creek bed barely deep enough to lay in, but it was the closest thing to a place to swim we had on the farm. I splashed around and he showed off just for the heck of it.

We left before dark but it falls quickly in the early summer. We were walking across the field, trying not to stumble in the darkness when I got the worst feeling I’d ever had. I spun around, falling because I was still too clumsy for that. Clifton tried to pick me up but I wouldn’t let him. I knew something was in the darkness – something bad.

It came at Clifton. I knew where it was even in the pitch black of the new moon. I grabbed the only thing I had, a stick I’d been poking the ground with, and thrust it with all my might at the thing. I heard a noise, not a whimper, not a cry. I realized it wasn’t hurt, just startled. I grabbed Clifton’s hand and cried for him to run, but a toddler can’t elucidate like an adult and he didn’t understand me.

That thing was coming back. I knew it but I couldn’t make Clifton understand. I started crying in frustration as the thing got ever closer. I felt it there, looming in the darkness. I wasn’t scared; I just knew I couldn’t stop it.

It jumped or ran toward us – I don’t know which. I tried to pull Clifton toward the house but I wasn’t strong enough. I turned toward it, faster than any toddler should be able to move and waited for the inevitable. But it didn’t come.

I heard footsteps behind us, running fast and then there was a breeze as something went past, jumping over us both and straight at the thing. I heard a swishing sound and felt the thing die. Someone was standing there.

“Mama?” Being five, I suppose that was the most logical first guess.

“No, Child, but I will take you home now.” a voice answered, a woman’s voice with an accent I’d never heard before.

Clifton started and yanked me behind him, “W-who’s there?”

“Don’t be afraid. I’m a friend.” The voice told him.

I grabbed my cousin’s hand, “It okay. She’s nice.” I told him.

My eight year old cousin decided that meant I knew this disembodied voice and we followed it all the way home. As we reached the porch, I saw her for the first time. She was tall and slender, and as black as the night. In the porch light as she knocked on the door, I realized I’d never seen clothes like hers before. And she was awfully pretty.

Mama opened the door and I trotted on in, completely unfazed by the strangeness of the night, “We have guest. What for supper?” I asked.

True Slayers: A Boy’s Tale, Part 16

I’ve never gone from my parent’s apartment to mine so fast before. In minutes, I’d changed from my work clothes to casual, made three phone calls, and jogged back to my parent’s apartment to get my brother’s car keys. I promised Momma I’d eat when I got back and dashed out to the car.

My first call had been to Crystal but she didn’t answer her phone. Then to her parent’s house only to have her father tell me she wasn’t there. Don’t ask me how, but I’d already known she wouldn’t be. I tried the only place I could think of that she might be, the deli down the street I’d told her about but hadn’t had a chance to take her to. As expected, not there, either.

I got in the car and forced myself to drive carefully. Tim didn’t need a wrecked car and I didn’t need another trip to the ER. But it was a struggle. I knew full well she’d gone to the grave – knew it like I knew my own name – but why? I had that vaguely disquieting feeling again – the one where it seems I know something but I don’t want to know I know it. Yeah, it sounds stupid but I had the gut feeling that when I understood life would never be the same. I wasn’t sure I was ready for that but at the same time, I couldn’t let it go.

I parked at the funeral home and hiked up to the grave site. The tiny roads are so rutted that they’d damage Tim’s suspension and my pocketbook. Not that I cared, it was just habit to not wreck my brother’s stuff. That, and I was suddenly not quite as eager to get there. I knew what I’d find and with each step, I was less sure I wanted to find it.

It didn’t matter, really. I had to know why she’d come here, now, in the dark. The moonless night and the haphazard lighting should have made finding the grave a hopeless task but I knew where the split oak was – Tim and I had climbed it during Mrs J’s funeral and I never forgot the hooping we got for it. I could always find that tree.

Tonight was no exception. I saw it in the distance. As I got closer, I could make out a figure perched on one of the headstones in the hazy light of the street light from the tiny road. Slender and graceful, I knew that figure on sight.

I was about twenty yards away when she turned and hopped off the headstone. She met me halfway, carrying what at first looked like an oversized baseball bat in the gloom. As we met, I realized it was a three foot long sword that looked like something out of Excalibur. She had it propped over her shoulder casually, as if it were just a handbag or something. She had on a little, white jacket over her black shirt which was tucked neatly into her jeans. Even in the dark, carrying a huge sword, she was the prettiest thing I’d ever seen. It made it hard to be mad at her, but not that hard.

"What are you doing here?" I demanded.

She looked at me with a kind of patient exasperation, "If you knew I’d be here – and you obviously did – then you know why."

I glared at her, wondering how she knew that. "Obviously?"

She glanced at her watch, "It’s 7:30. Why else would you follow me out here at this time of night?"

She had me there, "Fine, but that doesn’t mean I know why."

"Yes, it does. You just don’t want to – no one does when they first emerge."

It was hard to say which of us was making less sense right then. I decided it was her, "What? Emerge?"

She gave a little sigh, "Jack, go home. Tomorrow I’ll come over and explain it all but tonight just go home."

I shook my head, "No, not until you tell me why."

She looked at the sky, "You know why – it’s instinctive."

Something about the way she said it made me blurt out the first stupid thing that came into my head, "You’re waiting for him to come out, aren’t you?" I shocked myself with my own stupidity. That was the dumbest thing I’d ever said in my life.

"I’m waiting to see if he does, yes. I’m hoping not. Now, go home. You don’t want to be here if it happens."

I just stared at her, trying to make the world make sense again. Did she just agree with me? Yeah, so she’s crazy, too. Crazier still, I knew she was right. I didn’t want to see if anything happened. But sanity prevailed – nothing was going to happen. Dead people stay dead. Mr J was dead and gone; he wouldn’t be climbing out of his grave tonight or any night. That was crazy.

"You’re nuts." I told her.

She didn’t bat an eye, "You’re emerging. It’s a scary time for us. I know. But don’t be an idiot about it. You fought off five ghouls and four pseudo-modern werewolves yesterday. You’re past the denial point."

"I.. what?"

"I was there when you told your family, remember? I admit, I had to check to see if they were vampires or ghouls but they were obviously creatures. You said yourself they didn’t look human to you. You stabbed one in the heart – would you have done that thinking they were human?"

My head was spinning. "Emerging?" I asked.

She nodded sympathetically. "You’re coming into your full power – that’s what it means to emerge. There’s a lot you need to know but not now – you absolutely should not be here."

"You think Mr J is a ghoul?" I barely managed to utter the sentence, it sounded so insane.

Crystal shook her head, "No, I think he might become a vampire. This is the first new moon since the death so if so, this is the night he’ll emerge. But not all exposures are successful – he might not. Either way, leave this to me. I’ll tell you later if you really want to know but do yourself, and him, a favor and don’t try to see for yourself."

I’m standing in a graveyard with the girl I want to be mine who is toting a sword bigger than a ball bat and we’re talking about ghouls and vampires. I grew up in weirdness but this is beyond the pale. And yet, a part of my soul was screaming for me to listen to her. My brain was screaming for me to prove her wrong. The rest of me just stood there in numb shock.

Then something changed, I got a feeling up my spine like the one in the parking lot. Something was approaching but not from Mr J’s grave.

Crystal grabbed my hand, "Relax. It feels different, right? Not like a threat. He’s a white and he’s with me."

"He?"

She nodded, "Settle down, he’s coming. Don’t attack him – he’s a lot more dangerous than those pseudo-moderns and besides, he’s on our side."

I was still processing the idea that we had a side when something stepped from the gloom into the flicker of the street light. It was a dog – a wolf really. A really, really big wolf – the thing was taller than the Welsh ponies they have every year at the fair. It was impossibly big. Worse, its eye glowed a blood red as it slowly approached.

Crystal was still talking, not that I’d heard a word. "…so you have to understand."

I caught that much and stopped my self from assuring her that I did not have to understand any of this.I just watched as the wolf walked up beside her.

It stopped and I realized that this really was different. I didn’t feel the need to attack this thing or even to prepare. This thing that could probably eat me in a couple bites didn’t seem to be a threat, unlike the shadow thing I’d seen the night of Mr J’s death.

Crystal held onto my had but spoke to it, "Hi Tres."

"Good evening, Mistress Crystal. This is the new master?"

It’s impossible to describe the booming, grainy voice that came from that wolf’s mouth. I decided that if this was a dream, it was one I was never telling anyone about.

"Yes," Crystal replied, "This is Jack. Jack, this is Tresmayne."

Tresmayne bowed his head in greeting, "Good evening, Master Jack. You must have many questions. Come, let us take a walk and let Mistress Crystal return to her duty. It may be that I can answer some of your concerns."

I didn’t budge. I only had one question, no matter how crazy it sounded, "What am I?"

"Come, and I shall explain." He replied and began to walk up the hill

Crystal released my hand and turned to go back to the grave. I was numb but I turned to follow the huge wolf, half wondering if I was insane for believing this or for following this thing. I figured that if feeling ever returned, I’d decide then.

Once over the top of the hill where I could no longer see Crystal or the split oak, Tresmayne began to speak, "You are a slayer, a True Slayer, to be specific. You are one born to maintain control of the forces that create creatures like myself but more importantly, you are one born to protect the people of our world. Slayers come in many types but you are one of the special ones. You are a True Slayer."

We walked for hours. I asked questions but I mostly remember his answers. Things began to fall into place. The weird way I would know things I couldn’t possibly know; the times I had been faster and stronger than I should have been; heck, the mere fact that I was talking to a pony sized wolf and not freaking out – all the weird things about me now made sense.

None of the weird things that had been happening made sense but I saved those questions for Crystal. As for all the stuff he told me, I’ll tell you all about it another time. For now, there are two things you need to know.

In the pre-dawn hour, Crystal joined us at the crest of the ridge. I didn’t even remember coming back here. The first thing I noticed was that her blade was sparkling clean. I found that comforting.

She smiled warmly, understanding my unspoken question, "It was a quiet night."

I nodded, understanding her cryptic answer. Mr J had been spared that indignity. I silently thanked God.

Tresmayne said his good byes and departed. I’d known he was about to – after all, werewolves don’t come out in the daytime. I gave Crystal my arm and we started back to the parking lot. I had been up all night which meant that today was gonna be rough, but for once it didn’t concern me. I felt pretty alright for the moment.

The other thing you need to know is that my name is Jack Henry Scarlotti and I am a True Slayer.

True Slayers: A Boy’s Tale, Part 15

I went to bed that night assuming Chester would be gone when I woke up.

Despite being up late listening to my normally taciturn brother Tim read me the riot act, I woke up much earlier than usual. I went to the kitchen for a drink, careful not to wake Tim as I went by. Evidently, not careful enough because he was sitting up and fumbling with his phone when I got back.

I started to walk on by but he flagged me down. I sat on the love seat and waited as he made his call. I wasn’t really paying attention but I didn’t need to – the only person he’d call this early and want me nearby for was Gina.

I can’t say I’m good at praying but I’d gotten in some practice the night before and did a little more as I waited. I finished my juice slowly, listening to my brother’s occasional ‘uh-huh’ and the sounds of the early morning traffic outside.

I had finished my juice and had leaned back, just listening with my eyes closed when Tim finally spoke to me.

"He made it, Jack. The second surgery went great and he’s doing a lot better this morning."

I silently thanked God before sitting up, "Serious?"

Tim nodded, "Gina says the doc said that nothing’s certain but it looks good right now. They found the bone and it wasn’t as deep as they’d feared. They’ll just see how he does for the next few days then decide from there."

I drew in a deep breath and let it go slowly, "Good."

Tim rubbed his head, "I was too hard on you last night. Mike was out of line and…"

I shook my head, "No, don’t do that. I shouldn’t have gone off that way. No excuses – we never accepted any before, I won’t have you making them for me now."

Tim brushed back his hair, "No excuses, and I was still too hard. I guess you spooked me a little."

I looked at him quizzically. "Me?"

He nodded, "You should have seen your face. I half expected you to come across the table at Mike. I have never seen you so mad before in my life."

I settled back, "Not excusing it, I was just so fed up. Mike wasn’t that out of line – he was just the last straw."

"We gotta get you some more straws. I never want to see you that mad at me!" Tim grinned, trying to lighten the mood.

I grinned back, welcoming the change, "I would be more worried about Momma if I was you. She’s gonna find out eventually…"

Tim sighed, "I know, I know…"

For once, I wasn’t the first at work. Marta and Mr Salvador both beat me there. Mr. Salvador had already talked to Chester’s wife that morning and was telling Marta the good news when I got there. Most of the morning was spent bringing everyone up to speed and talking the whole thing to death. The guys only asked my version once – fortunately they’d already had Marta’s.

The day passed quickly. Mr Salvador left before noon, going upstate to see Chester and taking along a card we’d all signed. Marta had brought it and already sent flowers from the crew. I had a short fight with her when she didn’t want to let me help pay for the flowers. I won and my pocket felt better for being ten dollars lighter.

I finished up some of the small tasks from the Task Sheet. I went to get another and found a new one written in: straighten arrows. I pretended not to see that one and went to get the next job. Gino hadn’t asked me about them and I was not gonna mention them if I didn’t have to. I slammed down my mask and went to work spot welding a bracket.

I left just before five and before Gino was done with his last task of the day. He’d ask eventually, of course, but I didn’t have to like it.

I found my youngest sister, Jane, sitting on the stoop with a couple of the girls she went to school with. I spoke to be polite as I trotted up the step. I got to the top when Tina called to me.

"Jack, did you know Crystal plays trombone?"

I stopped. Weirdness is normal in a large family like mine but that was a little too weird. I turned to look at her, "What?"

She nodded enthusiastically, "She came by earlier to talk to Momma. She had this huge case and when I asked her if it was a trombone, she said that was a good guess."

I paused to process that for a moment. Teen age girls think only slightly more rationally than teen age boys sometimes. This wasn’t one of them. "No, Honey, a ‘good guess’ means you got it wrong."

Tina looked a little miffed at that, "Really?"

I nodded, "Yep, but you must have been close for her to say that."

"Oh." my sister sighed. "Then what was it?"

I shrugged, "No idea. Why don’t you just ask her next time you see her?"

Jane nodded, losing interest in talking to me and turning back to her friends.

I grinned as I went in the house.

Momma was busy in the kitchen. Kevin was pawing through the address book by the phone as I walked in.

I play punched Kevin as I passed. He tagged me back, distracted by the address book. I turned for the kitchen as he hollered past me, "I can’t find it Momma, but Jack’s here, maybe he knows."

I looked at Momma expectantly as she turned from the spaghetti sauce she was stirring, "It was Serenity, wasn’t it?" she asked me.

I’d been expecting a question about someone’s phone number. I had no idea what she meant. "Huh?"

"The section of the cemetery they laid Daniel in. Serenity or Peaceful Grove?"

"Serenity, Momma. Mr J is right next to that split oak, on the other side from Aunt Viola."

She smiled warmly, "Oh good. that’s what I told her but then when she left I wasn’t so sure and we couldn’t find Mary’s number."

"I put it in the new book. Kevin was looking in the old." I informed her. "What girl?"

"Your Crystal."

Ignoring the fact that I couldn’t yet call her my Crystal, the whole thing seemed suddenly surreal. Why on Earth would Crystal even want to know that?

"She’s a lovely girl." Momma chatted on, stirring the sauce again. "She has such nice teeth. And wanting to go pay her respects enough to come just to ask, now that’s a girl you should…"

I didn’t hear the rest. That was beyond weird and it set the hairs on the back of my neck on end. But more than the weirdness of it, there was this feeling in my gut. My stomach felt like it was trying to digest nails. Something wa very wrong about this. How I knew, i couldn’t say, but I knew. D____ I knew.

I turned and bolted out of my parents apartment.

True Slayers: A Boy’s Tale, Part 14

I made a point to look upbeat as I walked in to my parent’s apartment. The last thing I needed was to upset Momma again. Preparations for dinner were in full swing so the only person to actually walk up to me was Crystal – everyone else was occupied with their various tasks.

Normally, Tim and I would have had chores as well but tonight those jobs were already done by others. I’d have felt bad about that but it gave me a few moments alone with Crystal, an opportunity I intended to make the most of.

I steered her to the comfortable couch – the one with stuffing that wasn’t all crushed – and we sat. I told her funny stories as they came to mind and she laughed in all the right places. I knew full well I’d be expected to tell everyone what happened this afternoon and it was the one story I didn’t want to tell again. Yes, that meant I was avoiding having to tell it more than once.

I really didn’t want to tell it at all. Lying to the cops when I didn’t have much choice was one thing; lying to my family, that’s another and one I didn’t want to do. But how could I tell them the truth? Heck, the more time that passed the less I believed it. Maybe I’d imagined the whole thing. If Chester weren’t upstate fighting for his life, I could have convinced myself it was just a stupid dream.

I had just finished telling Crystal about the time Marty, Kevin and I tried to build a skate board ramp out of an old car hood and the hysterical way Kevin and Tim ended up with broken bones as a result. The thing over turned with Kevin on it (breaking his ankle) and sending his board flying (into an unsuspecting Tim, breaking his arm) when Tina appeared to tell us it was time to come to supper. The last time I’d dreaded suppertime so much I’d been twelve and had to explain a broken window to Poppa. I managed to walk into the dining room with more dignity than I had when I was twelve – but just barely.

We all sat down and Poppa blessed the food. I was careful to snatch the ham first and offer it to Crystal who had not yet learned how to navigate among so many. Once plates were full and some chatter had died down, Momma turned expectantly to me.

Resisting the urge to crawl under the table, I stifled a sigh and began my thousandth retelling of the day. By the end, Crystal was the only one not looking at me like I was out of my mind, and I think that was just her Southern way of not being impolite. No one believed that gang bangers had run away from just me – including me, of course.

Mike shook his head as he forked in more mashed potatoes. Swallowing fast, he looked at me in blatant disbelief, “That sounds like a load of crap, Jack. What’d you really do, shoot ’em?”

“Yeah, with a 80 pound gas canister, sure I did.” I snarled at my youngest brother.

“Well, you did something!” Mike insisted, “Bangers wouldn’t just run for no reason.”

Momma wagged a finger at Mike, “Don’t you talk to your brother like that. He’s had a big day. My sons aren’t liars.”

Mike was protesting but I didn’t make out what exactly he said. I felt two inches tall. Momma had stood up for me but I was lying and I didn’t know what else to do.

Mike wasn’t done. I suppose Kevin digging his elbow into Mike’s ribs was probably having the opposite effect from what Kevin intended. Momma taking my side would have been enough, however. Mike never could stand to be thought wrong when he was sure he was right, which was usually more often than he was actually right. Predictably, Mike turned back to me, “Bangers don’t just run.” he restated even more emphatically.

I shrugged and took a bite of the cracked corn. Maybe if I just didn’t answer he’d settle down.

And maybe he would have, had Jane not decided to come to his rescue. “Did you get hit on the head or something, Jackie?” For the record, Jane is the only one who can get away with calling me ‘Jackie’.

I swallowed. I realized Jane was trying to rescue me but I also knew it wouldn’t work. I shook my head, “No, I didn’t get hit anywhere by anything.” I lied again.

Mike found his second wind, “Just fess up already. That story is total…” Mike shot a glance at Momma and decided to rephrase, “I mean, it just doesn’t add up.” He paused but no one spoke up. The silence was too much for him, “Everybody knows it!” he exclaimed, a lot hotter than he should have.

I’m normally fairly patient but I’d had enough. One long day of trouble and exasperation took its toll on me. I lost what was left of my mind and tore into my little brother, “So, you don’t like that story, do you? Well, how about this one?!” I growled at him as I launched into the full, true account. In the back of my head a voice screamed for me to stop but I was too raw and too angry to listen to my better nature now. I gave it to them straight, just exactly as it had happened. I left nothing out, including the super fast rotting bodies. I stopped only when I ran out of story to tell, paused for a second then added, “Well? Is THAT good enough for you?”

Mike had a fork full of beans halfway between the plate and his mouth, just hanging there as he stared at me. Tina started to sniffle, threatening to cry as she often did when things got tense. Tim and Marty were staring at me, both half out of their chairs, evidently afraid of what I might do. Actually, everyone was staring at me. It was the longest silence that table had ever known as they all stared, trying to decide what to do with their obviously insane brother.

Finally, after nearly a minute of silence, Poppa burst out laughing. He laughed so hard that he started beating on the table. “That was a good one! You had us all with that one, Son!” He managed to choke out the words between guffaws.

Slowly, others joined in, tentative at first then stronger and stronger until the whole table was roaring with laughter. I buried my face in my hand, thanking God that somehow the storm was past. Crystal squeezed my arm reassuringly, I peeked at her, offering a wane smile in return and noticing that we were the only two at that table not laughing.

I honestly couldn’t read her face. Not disbelief and not irritation, just something cool and detached which I’d not seen her do before. It was gone in a moment, replaced by a polite smile.

Tim and Marty turned the conversation purposely toward baseball – the one topic likely to keep Mike from doing anything stupid again. I sat back, wondering when I’d so completely lost my mind. I knew Tim would wait until later to talk to me – my guess was that for once Tim would be on my couch instead of Marty. He’d dress me down just as I would have him for doing something so utterly stupid. That didn’t worry me. That look in Crystal’s eyes – something about it worried me quite a bit.

The rest of dinner passed peacefully. Crystal helped once again with putting up the dishes as Marty goofed around trying to make us laugh. When it was finally late enough that she had to go home, I walked her across the street, knowing full well half my family was looking out the windows watching us. Momma would allow it to make sure I didn’t drop dead or something; the rest wanted to see if I’d kiss her.

Given a nice time and place, and the right mood, darn straight I’d kiss her. But not for my sibling’s amusement and certainly not when her daddy was waiting behind her front door. I settled for a warm handshake again and a demure good bye.

I whistled quietly as I walked back. Whatever that look was at dinner, the one I’d just gotten I understood perfectly well. The lady would welcome another call from myself and she would most certainly be getting one.

True Slayers: A Boy’s Tale, Part 13

Our family owns three cars between us. The family car which Tim had driven. Marty’s car which he had driven and Donna’s car which was at the garage for a tune up, and had been since last Wednesday. Poppa and I had hopped the bus since it was only a few blocks from the station. Getting my family into the parking lot was hard enough; the real battle was over who would ride with whom.

I had no say in the matter. Momma and Poppa would be in the family car and so would I if I knew what was good for me – and I did. Normally everyone wants to ride in Tim’s car – mostly for the novelty. Not today, of course. All the squabbling was over who got to ride in the family car. I sat silently beside my father waiting for my mother to select the winning contestants and get in. There was no point trying to convince anyone to just get in already – when you are a big family who’s in what car is a big deal. Had I been less tired, I’d have been more understanding. After all, I’d had my fair share of those arguments, too.

Ten minutes and one small fistfight later, Donna, Lisa and Jane piled in the back with Kevin as Momma slid in beside me. Bucket seats have never been an option on any vehicle our family has owned for obvious reasons. Kevin kept rubbing his eye and Momma started fussing over him, much to my relief. For myself, I figured it served him right for yelling at Mike like he did. Mike is the runt of the family and he fights like it. Kevin knew better and is bigger. As eldest brother, I had no sympathy for his black eye at all.

I sat back and closed my eyes, listening to the cacophony that is my family life. It’s soothing, in a way. because it’s so normal to me. I decided to just enjoy it and try not to think about what had happened. The bangers, whatever they really were, and those dogs didn’t scare me even now; what I’d done, however, very much did. It was easier to just drift off to the music of my ever noisy family. Easier, and less terrifying.

We were nearly home when Momma woke me, terrified that I had a concussion. I felt a bit better so it wasn’t as much of a strain to convince her that I was really okay. Momma has never been a hypochondriac; she rarely even goes to the doctor for herself. But let a kid sniffle and we’re on the way to the ER. Not sure what that’s called, but whatever it is, it makes for an interesting time with Momma anytime something’s not right.

I had just gotten Momma to calm down and was combing back my hair where she had been feeling for lumps – with Tina’s help, the little brat, when the house finally came in view. Several neighbors were out on our stoop but only one caught my eye. Crystal was sitting on the step talking to Mr Myers. I grinned. Today wasn’t a total loss, after all.

Most of the neighbors were satisfied with seeing me on my feet and saying a word or two to either me or Momma – which was just fine with me. They quickly wandered off. The family, on the other hand, could barely wait for the expanded version of my story. I had just enough time to ask Crystal to join us for dinner before they began to clamor around me again.

This time, I had a way out. No one in my family, and precious few guests, had sat down to my Momma’s table in coveralls in my twenty-one years of life. I would not be the first, mostly because it seemed pointless to survive this afternoon’s ordeal just to have Momma kill me. I refused to start telling them again and insisted on going to my apartment, with Tim in tow for Momma’s benefit, and getting changed. After making sure Crystal would be joining us, I trotted up the stoop and headed for my apartment, my brother Tim on my heels.

As I closed the door, Tim flopped on my couch, "Are you trying to get me in trouble with Momma?" he demanded.

I grinned, tossing my keys on the dresser, "You ran track, not me."

He leaned back, "Yeah, well, you’re getting faster. I had to run to keep up."

I rolled my eyes, "Sure, sure…" I headed for my bedroom.

"Seriously, you are. What have you been…" Tim stopped as his phone rang.

I smiled at my brother and went in to change. As I closed the door he called after me, "Get a quick shower, man…"

I was already undressing. Any of my other siblings would have been just giving me a hard time but Tim probably had a point. I normally wash up after work – welding is hot, sweaty work at best and occasionally very smelly from the various metals and chemicals we use. I hopped into the shower, hoping it wasn’t bad and mostly that Crystal hadn’t noticed.

I felt better after the shower. Tim had been right, of course. Dressed and presentable, I walked into my living room. Tim looked up from the phone.

If I had been smiling, I wasn’t now. He ended his call and turned to me, "Chester is in surgery again. One of his ribs punctured a lung and evidently a part of the bone broke of in it and they didn’t realize at first. They’re going back in after it. It’s not good, Jack – they’ve told the family to expect the worst."

I sat on the nearest chair and just stared into space. Chester was the father of two, married forty-three years and had taught me more about welding than any instructor ever had. No nonsense and quiet spoken, he wasn’t much like Mr J at all, but the idea of losing them both cut like a knife.

Tim gave me the minute I needed before speaking again. "Gina said to thank you. No matter what happens, they know you did your best to help him. Gina said her mom wanted you to know that."

I nodded. I’d met Chester’s wife a few times before so I knew who she was but didn’t know her well. I only knew Gina because she had dated Tim in school. I had met Chester’s boy Bobby only once when he stopped by work to talk to his dad. They were a nice and, compared to us, quiet family. I cursed myself – why hadn’t I realized sooner? What didn’t I do that I should have?

Tim swatted me lightly with a rolled up magazine. I looked at my crazy brother, "What?"

"Stop blaming yourself. It’s stupid. Besides, you have to go to dinner, remember? You don’t have time to be an idiot now."

I swear, Tim should have his own mind reading show. He did that sort of thing all the time – he was even worse than Donna who might at least occasionally be wrong. I wanted to argue with him but he was right. I really didn’t have time. I sighed and got to my feet. "You mind telling the folks?"

Tim shook his head, "No."

Trying not to look as dejected as I felt, I headed for the door.

True Slayers: A Boy’s Tale, Part 12

There was no need to call anyone – Marta had called Momma as soon as she got off the phone with the 911 operator (Emily, a very nice girl, according to Marta). The ambulance was a few minutes behind the cops and I watched them load Chester as the officer grilled me about what had happened.

I’d put up the now horribly bent arrows and didn’t mention them to the cops. Who’d believe that, anyway? I explained the mess of rebar and wood by saying I’d panicked and tossed things. Well, that was believable right up until they asked what the bangers did. Real bangers would have just shot me and been done about it. I knew that and the cops knew that so telling them that they ran away made no sense at all. But telling them the truth made less sense so I stuck to the story.

They politely requested that I accompany them downtown. I didn’t see where there was a reasonable alternative that didn’t make them mad or me look even less credible so I went. Spent the next hour and a half retelling the same stupid story and shrugging my shoulders until they were sore. I knew better than try to explain why the bangers supposedly ran off – better to let the cops scratch their heads than give them the chance to catch me in a lie. Since I couldn’t explain, I just shrugged my shoulders – a lot.

Poppa was waiting for me when I got to the lobby. Officer O’Malley, God bless him, had come along, even though he was actually off duty. He’d managed to convince Poppa that I wasn’t under arrest and wasn’t on drugs. From the way Poppa hugged me, you’d have thought I’d have just finished a ten year stretch instead of a couple hours being interviewed. I groaned inwardly. My family has always been excitable and if Poppa was this bad…

Sure enough, Momma was waiting when we reached the hospital. Poppa wanted me checked out and I wanted to see about Chester so running by the ER was a good way to solve both problems. I would like to say I was surprised Momma was already there but this is the same woman that once took me to the hospital because I sneezed while getting decorations out of the dusty attic for Christmas. She was the one that told Poppa to bring me here, beyond a doubt.

My brother Tim glanced up from his magazine to see if I had all my limbs still attached while Momma fussed over me and the poor clerk tried to get my name. Satisfied that I was mostly in one piece, Tim went back to his reading. Having driven Momma here, his job was done. Tim was the most implacable of us all.

I didn’t have time to chuckle at my brother. The poor clerk was still trying to do her job while Momma was trying to make sure I wasn’t going to drop dead before the doctor got to me. Lisa, Tim’s twin, Marty, Donna, Jane, Mike and Tina all rushed in. Kevin must have been parking the car. I sighed as Poppa tried to wave them down so the poor clerk could talk to me.

It didn’t work. I took over, trying to convince my family that I wasn’t hurt, wasn’t dying and wasn’t even feeling bad. I finally got them to go sit down. I turned to find the clerk chatting with Momma. I admit, an eyebrow went up at that but I soon realized that the poor clerk was a smart cookie. She’d gotten most of my information by simply asking my Momma about me. She was also getting the year I graduated as I sat down – Momma tended to give you a lot more information that you wanted when talking about her kids. I chuckled, impressed at the poor clerk’s resourcefulness.

I filled in the blanks Momma hadn’t and we soon left the nice clerk to go sit with my now somewhat less excited family. Tim was still reading but everyone else wanted all the details. The last thing I wanted to do was tell that stupid story again but no wasn’t a possible answer. I sighed and gave them the highlights along with a promise to tell the whole thing at supper.

It took forever but things finally quieted down. Donna had enough sense to grab some games before she left home so there was something to do as we all waited for me to be called. I managed to get Tim away from his magazine and sent him to the main lobby to check on Chester. Since his family wasn’t in the ER I assumed he was on a floor already.

Tim came back fairly quickly and pulled me away from Momma. No mean feat, Momma was still half-convinced I was going to topple over any minute now.

Once we were out of immediate earshot, Tim sighed, “He’s not here. The main desk didn’t know where he was but there’s a TV in that sub waiting room near the lobby. The news was talking about a guy being air lifted to a trauma center after a beating this afternoon. I’m thinking that was Chester.”

I nodded, knowing Tim was probably right, “Don’t tell the folks until we know for absolute certain.”

It was Tim’s turn to nod, “Right. No sense worrying them. Want me to make some calls?”

“Yeah, Mr. Salvador might know.”

“I had his daughter Gina in mind.”

I rubbed my face with my hand, “Right, right, I forgot you dated Chester’s daughter in high school. You still have her number?”

“Yeah, we still talk some.” Tim admitted. I speak ‘Tim’ well enough to know that he was seeing the girl. As taciturn as Tim can be, it’s no surprise I didn’t know he’d started seeing her again.

I was going to ask if Momma knew, knowing full well she didn’t otherwise everyone would have known, myself included, but the nurse picked then to call my name. I gave my brother’s shoulder a firm squeeze to thank him and sighed as I turned to go.

I am twenty-one years old, have a job and pay full rent on my own apartment. I am perfectly capable of seeing the doctor all by myself and I don’t even need a lollipop afterwards. Never mind all that, my Momma was going with me. I suppose I could have tried to stop her but it really, really isn’t worth the resultant fuss. The nurse looked at me funny as Momma led me through the door. I sighed again.

Two hours later, the nurse had a much more sympathetic look on her face as she led us back out. The exam took five minutes for the doctor to pronounce me fine. Most of the remainder was the poor doctor answering all of my mother’s questions. I had felt fine when I got here; now I was completely drained just from trying to calm Momma down.

As we reached the family, Tim caught my eye. He mouthed the name of a trauma center upstate. I looked at him expectantly and he nodded. Chester was there and still alive, for now at least. I nodded my thanks and turned to the task of calming my family and getting them out of here.

True Slayers: A Boy’s Tale, Part 11

Since the feeling hit again I’d been moving fast, faster than I’d have thought I could. But the instant I hit that doorway, I was moving faster than I should have been able to. I knew it but it didn’t matter to me. I had work to do.

That’s kind of weird, too. I’m the oldest of nine and I grew up in a part of New York where you learn to fight if you like to keep living, but I am far from an expert. Sure, I’ve defended siblings and been in more than my fair share of my own fights but I also lost more than I’d like to admit. Honestly, I would normally talk my way out of most fights – fewer bruises the next day, as Poppa would say, and I’d never so much as taken beginner karate. Batman, I’m not. I knew I was being stupid – five to one does not bode well for my continued good health – yet I wasn’t running in to get myself killed – I had every intention of winning this thing.

It’s hard to describe what happened next. Everything should have been a blur but instead it was crystal clear, in perfect focus. I was moving inhumanely fast but it was like time had slowed to a crawl. I noticed everything I needed to and ignored everything unimportant. Each position, what each banger was doing, the way the dogs were drooling, I saw it like I was examining a photo, not running into a hopeless fight.

The angle iron was in my left hand and the little arrows in my right. It wasn’t accidental – I meant to do that but I couldn’t have told you why. The angle iron was obvious enough – to get those guys off Chester I was probably gonna have to get past a few of the others. The arrows? They were for the dogs and yes, it sounded stupid to a part of my brain then, too. But the part in charge at the moment knew exactly what it was doing and those arrows were going to be put to good use.

I expected someone or at least a dog or two to get in my way but none did. Suited me just fine as I slammed the angle iron into the side of the guy I reached first. Still moving, I whirled around and brought the angle iron crashing into the second guy’s jaw. That sent them both flying in opposite directions, exactly as I’d planned.

I glanced at the others who were finally getting into the act. Again, it was like time stood still even though we were in fact moving insanely fast. I tossed the angle iron skyward and grabbed some rusted rebar out of the dumpster – I’d noticed it when I first looked out the door. I threw the whole bundle out into the parking lot. It scattered like pick up sticks but that was what I wanted. I noted the position of each bar as I caught the angle iron and brought it down on the head of the first guy to reach me.

There was a bunch of scrap wood sticks further in the dumpster. I bashed the next guy as I reached for them. I grabbed the bottom one and used it to force the rest out of the dumpster and onto the ground. Without letting go of my arrows, I smashed the remaining stick into the dumpster wall to break it. The third guy slid to a stop and back pedaled fast, eyeing the broken stick in my hand.

The first dog made its move, It leapt high enough for me to be looking it in the eye. I rammed the stick and both arrows into its throat as the huge paws hit my chest. I knew instantly it was dead. The momentum pushed me back into the dumpster but I just rolled on in and came back out the top. I lost the stick but still had the arrows. Insanely, I grinned as I jumped out of the dumpster and onto the back of the next dog. The arrows found its throat and it crumpled into a lifeless heap.

I grabbed the collection of sticks and tossed them around just as I had the rebar. Now it was my turn. I charged after the nearest guy, dropping the angle iron and snatching up another stick instead. He literally jumped over me. I slid to a stop and threw the stick like a knife. It caught in his jacket but didn’t have enough heft to go through all the way. Nevertheless, the guy jerked the jacket off like it was on fire.

The next guy decided to team up with one of the dogs. Dog to the left and him on the right. I took off, diving between them. I snatched up a rebar and put it through the guy’s leg. Without thinking, I threw myself into a one handed cart wheel, and came around with the arrows. The dog dodged just barely. It stopped growling and started to whine as it dashed away from me. I ignored it, grabbing another stick and scanning for my next target.

The first guy I’d hit was back on his feet and had evidently had enough. He whistled and ran. The two guys still up and the remaining two dogs ran after him. I took a step to chase them when Chester groaned.

I watched one guy stumble as he hit the loose rebar and the other limping from his wound. It would have been so easy to catch them but I stopped. Chester needed help and whatever those guys were, they were no longer my top priority. A siren blared in the distance, reaffirming that decision. The cops shouldn’t have trouble finding a bunch of idiots that didn’t even get the gang colors right – presuming real bangers didn’t get them first. I waited for the last one to disappear from sight then finally knelt to check on Chester.

He was in a bad way. At least two ribs busted – don’t ask me how I knew because I don’t have the slightest idea – I just knew. I was examining his head when I noticed the worst smell. It was like someone had just opened a crypt. I looked around to see the guy who’s head I’d bashed up and walking away, none too quickly. The other guy was crawling off. Neither made a sound despite the obviously grave injuries.

I was deciding if I needed, or cared, to do anything about that when I realized the bodies of the dogs were bloating – they were rotting at an incredible rate.

Once again, everything came into sharp focus. The guy with the head wound was bleeding – but the blood was so dark that it looked black. The other guy had a rib sticking out but no blood came from the wound. He was beginning to bloat just like the dogs.

What the … What were these things?

I acted. There was no decision, just movement. I dropped the arrows and grabbed a piece of the wood. I snapped it in two like a tooth pick and flew after them. No rage, no anger – I had to finish my job. It was a simple as that. The head wound began to run. I slowed just long enough to ram one half of the stick into the other one’s heart. It was dead instantly, I knew, even if I wasn’t interested. A second later, I caught the other one. It turned toward me, screaming in terror like nothing I’d ever heard before. I drove the stick into its heart and turned back without even bothering to watch it crumple to the ground in death.

Trotting back to Chester, another thought occurred to me. What the heck did I just do?

I had fetched a blanket and pillow for Chester and had gotten him into a position better for his breathing by the time the cops finally got there. There was nothing left of the dogs or the two ‘bangers’ by then but dust. The official version would be that the bangers ran off when they realized the cops would be coming. The cops never would have believed the truth. I wasn’t sure I did.

As I knelt by Chester, wondering when the heck the cops would finally get here, another question hit me hard. What am I?

 

 

True Slayers: A Boy’s Tale, Part 10

I woke up before the alarm went off the next morning. Despite my midnight jaunt, I felt fine – good, even. Weird because I usually drag if I don’t get my full eight.

Figuring that there was probably a pile waiting for me at work, I got up and started the day. Once squeaky clean and well groomed, I jogged into the kitchen and tossed a pastry into the toaster. While it warmed, I pulled my sack lunch out of the fridge. Momma had made her chicken salad Sunday so she had popped a couple chicken salad sandwiches into the bag.

My Momma has made my lunch since I was in grammar school. Just because I moved across the hall was no reason for her to stop – at least in her opinion. I gave up trying to fight it long ago. If she knows I’m working she’s gonna put a sack lunch in my fridge. Nothing shy of changing the lock would stop her and I’m not sure that would do it. I know it’s not an extra effort – she has eight other kids to make lunches for, after all – but for a long time I felt like I was being a burden. Then I realized she did it because she wanted to and got over the whole thing.

The toaster poked up my breakfast finally. I looked out the window toward the fire escape as it cooled enough to eat. I wasn’t sure what to make of the night before. After a moment I decided I didn’t have time to think about it now and grabbed my breakfast from the toaster. I downed it in a couple bites as I headed out the door.

I work as a welder at Gordon’s Welding which is just off 15th street. It’s a short walk to the bus stop and a short ride to the shop so I was there by seven. I’ve worked at Gordon’s on and off since high school. I fell in love with welding in shop class and managed to cajole Mr Salvador into letting me work odd jobs around the shop back then. Eventually I worked up to doing preliminary work for the welders and finally to welding. I have my basic certification and am working on becoming a commercial welder. Working at Gordons these three years has made a big difference – at the risk of sounding smug, I’m a better welder than most of the guys my age with the same level of training.

I’ve had a key to the place since I became an actual welder so I let myself in. Bernie greeted me with a wag – for him, that’s enthusiasm. Bernie is an ancient German Shepherd Mr Salvador keeps at the place as a guard dog. I suspect the old boy would just wag at a burglar and go back to his pallet just as he did for me. Grinning, I trotted into the break room and shoved my lunch into the fridge. I went to my locker and changed into my work clothes. A few minutes later, I went into the shop and headed for my station.

The only thing on my table was a wrought iron gate I’d been working on the last time I was at work. I looked at my box but there were no work orders. I smiled, realizing the guys had taken my load while I was out.

The gate was done when Mr Salvador walked in at 7:55. Mr. Salvador had bought the place twenty years ago from Mr McCall who had bought it from Mr Schmidt. The best anyone can figure, Mr Gordon was two owners ahead of Mr Schmidt. None of the owners had changed the name over the years since everyone they did business with already knew it as ‘Gordons’.

Mr. Salvador came over to my station as I put the gate into the finished bin. "Jack, my boy, why so early?"

I grinned, "I figured I’d get an early start on the huge backlog here…"

He smiled, "I told them leave all the work for you. See? I was right. You come back and get it all done before time to start!"

He patted me on the back and headed for the office. Guys were filing in and the work day began in earnest.

There was a lot of explaining to do during break as I filled the guys in on my absence. I didn’t fill them in on the new red head in town – no way was I going to risk competition in that field!

I ate alone at lunch. The guys had tried to talk me into joining them at Guido’s down the street but I had my lunch and I like Momma’s chicken salad. It was the same most days so I actually enjoyed the normalcy. Sometimes I would tell Momma the night before that I planned to go with the guys so she wouldn’t fix lunch for me but only rarely. I like my Momma’s cooking and I enjoy a few minutes of rare solitude in my family filled life.

Bernie was standing by the break room door as I came out. Weird, he rarely comes out of the office during the day.

I scratched his ears, "What’s with you, fella?"

He was tense and kept looking around. Really weird now – he usually just lays on his pallet like a lump and even when he’s up, he’s never tense. Having never had my own dog I’m hardly an expert but this didn’t seem right.

Thinking he might need to go out, I grabbed his leash and took him out to the back lot. He kept looking around but otherwise acted okay. He finally decided to do his business and we wen’t back in. Mr. Salvador was already back from lunch and I told him Bernie seemed tense.

He watched the dog for a minute and decided to lock him in the back office until he settled down. Bernie actually stopped moving as we got to the door. For a second he looked around at the shop door and bared his teeth. Then he dutifully walked into the office and Mr. Salvador shut the door.

"He no like that." Mr. Salvador commented.

I nodded. That was the first time I’d ever seen Bernie show his teeth like that. Weird.

I’d finished the few small projects Mr Salvador had had for me that morning so I got started on a new one. It was a simple repair to a broken couch frame but of course, the frame was huge and I had to wrestle it out of the in bin and over to my table. I had just convinced the stupid thing to quit warping as I tried to clamp it to the table when I felt something down my spine. I shot a quick look at the outside shop doors but nothing was there.

I was beginning to question my sanity. I’d have sworn something was there. Not that shadow thing, this felt different, but something. I went back to clamping the frame down. The feeling didn’t stop, it got stronger.

I kept looking at the door. In the back office Bernie had begun to growl. Maybe it was a coincidence but I wasn’t inclined to believe in coincidence at the moment. I took another look at the outer doors and headed to Mr Salvador’s office. I might be crazy but what were the chances Bernie and I both went insane on the same day.

None of the other guys were back yet. That was normal; Mr Salvador took lunch earlier than we did and I’m a fast eater. But Mr. Salvador wasn’t in his office where he’d normally be.

Marta, our secretary, said hi as she walked in the lobby. I nodded at her absently.

"You sick?" she asked, probably because i was at the boss’s door.

"No, no, I was looking for Mr. Salvador. He was just here."

She smiled, "He go to the bank today. Big meeting, he say. I see him leave just a minute ago. You might can catch…"

I shook my head. The feeling was leaving and Bernie was no longer growling. I was starting to feel silly. "No, I’ll catch up with him later. Thanks, Marta."

She smiled as I waved and went back to my table.

I wasn’t there five minutes when the feeling hit me again, this time like a ton of bricks. A split second later, Bernie was barking his head off and Chester, the shop foreman, was screaming in anger from the parking lot outside the outer doors to the shop.

I couldn’t see him until I got closer to the door. He was backed up against the dumpster and was surrounded by what looked like gang bangers. Wrong colors and I didn’t recognize any faces, but more than that, they looked fake to me – like they were not only not gang members, they didn’t even seem human to me.

I couldn’t have given a reason why – they just didn’t look like humans. As I got to Vinnie’s station, I saw the dogs. Huge, shaggy and mostly teeth, even the dogs didn’t look right. I counted four and ran to Marta’s window. Marta’s office has a window that opens to the shop. I banged on it and yelled for her to call 911.

Turning, I passed Gino’s station. Gino does fine metalwork – decorative stuff and often, plated stuff. He had a couple silver arrows for a finial he was working on. Don’t ask me why but I grabbed both. Little silver bars when I had a bin of rebar a couple steps away, but that was what I grabbed. Still not thinking, I snatched up a three foot section of angle iron as I rounded the corner to go out the outer doors.

The situation was worse. Chester was on the ground with two guys kicking him. I counted five guys and four dogs instinctively. I knew full well I was about to commit suicide but it didn’t matter. I’d lost Mr J, I wasn’t gonna lose Chester, too.