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Chapter 2

I could tell I was dreaming. Everything had that fuzzy, disjointed dream feel to it. First I had flashes of dragging myself toward the elevator, my belt being used as an improvised tourniquet on my leg. However, in my dream it didn't hurt a bit. Movement was slow as though I were underwater. There were glimpses of an ambulance and men sticking me with needles and pounding on my chest.

The next scene was weird, since I usually dreamed in a first person perspective. I floated weightless as I looked down and watched people in masks shock my heart with a defibrillator.

Back in the first person again. Now I stood in a field. A good, strong, green crop of some kind. My feet were bare and I could feel the wetness of the dew as I wiggled my toes. The sky was dark blue and the air smelled fresh and clean like after a summer rainstorm. A herd of cows grazed in the distance.

A man stood nearby. He was old and bent. His white hair was wild and he had a kindly smile, but hard eyes behind small round glasses. He leaned on his cane and waved.

"Hello, Boy." The old man had some sort of heavy Eastern European accent.

"Are you God?" I asked.

He laughed hard. "Me? Ha! Is good one. 'Fraid not. I just friend."

"Am I dead?"

"Almost. But you need go back. You have work to do. Yes, much work."


"A calling. Is hard, but is good."

"A calling?"

"From before you born. How you say?"


"More like you get short straw. Now go. No time. I send you back."

"Will we meet again?"

"Only if you are slow-witted boy and get dead again."

The nice dream ended and my world exploded in pain.


There was a steady beeping noise. It matched pace with my heartbeat. Bump-bump. Two black shapes stood over me.

"I say we waste him now."

"Not yet."

"No way he's clean."

"You know the rules."

"The rules are wrong. I could smother him with his pillow and nobody would ever know."

"I would know."

I went back to sleep.

* * *

I awoke to the smell of hospital antiseptic. My eyes were matted shut, my mouth was horribly dry, and my tongue was stuck to the roof of my mouth. I had that weird, tingly, high on painkillers feeling, which I had not felt since the last time I had surgery years before. Forcing my eyes open and gradually adjusting to the muted light, I could see that I was in a hospital room. Hospitals make me nervous and uncomfortable, though right now it sure beat the alternative.

Trying to sit up, I realized that I had an IV running into my arm, bulky bandages placed on my chest, legs, and back, and my left hand was in a cast.

Wincing at the tightness in my scalp, I gingerly reached up and touched my forehead. There was no bandage there, and I counted at least fifty prickly stitches that ran from the crown of my head, right between my eyebrows, across the bridge of my nose, and ended on my cheek. I was thankful that I did not have a mirror. Being naturally curious, and of course fearless on a morphine drip, I lifted up the edge of the big bandage on my chest. They had used staples to close the deeper lacerations there. In my drug-induced stupor, it struck me as funny that the doctors had shaved my chest. That would probably itch bad later.

I did not remember how I had gotten here, or even how long I had been out. My watch could tell me what day it was, but it was missing, as were all my clothes. All I had on was a flimsy gown and a medical supply store's worth of bandages.

As my senses gradually returned, I started to remember what had happened to put me here. I had to admit that at first I blamed my strange memory on the drugs. Killer werewolf boss? Yep, whatever they gave me, it sure was some good stuff.

You imagined the whole thing, the logical part of my brain told me. You must have been in some sort of accident, and woke up here. There's no such thing as monsters. Mr. Huffman didn't turn into a werewolf. You didn't push him out a window. Those can't possibly be claw marks. They're from a car wreck or something. The whole thing is a bad hallucination. Everybody at work will laugh when they hear your crazy story. Huffman is probably there now, complaining that you are out and running up workers' comp.

Screw you, logical brain. I know what I saw.

There was one way to find out what put me in here. There was a call button attached to the IV. I pushed it and waited, trying not to dwell on the image of Huffman's face turning into an incisor-filled muzzle. Finally, after what seemed like an eternity, the door opened. Unfortunately, it was not a nurse.

"Mr. Pitt. I'm Special Agent Myers and this is Special Agent Franks. We're with the government." The two men flashed their credentials in my general direction. One agent was a dark brooding type, obviously muscular and grim of attitude. The speaker was older and looked more like a college professor than a Fed. They were both wearing off-the-rack suits, and neither looked very happy. They pulled up chairs. The professor crossed his legs, steepled his fingers, and scowled at me. The younger one pulled his gun.

"Move and I'll kill you," he said, and I did not doubt him for an instant. It was a Glock, and it had a sound suppressor screwed onto its muzzle. I did not know what caliber it was, but from where I was sitting the bore looked freaking huge. The suppressor did not waver. I did not move.

The professor spoke. "Mr. Pitt. Would you care to tell us what happened at your office?"

Speaking was difficult with my bad case of cottonmouth. "Msssph umm suh . . ." I told them. "Wah um fa?" They could probably tell that I was either asking for water or speaking in tongues. The professor hesitated and then obliged, taking a cup off of the dresser and pressing the straw to my lips. The cold wetness was the best thing in the world. The agent called Franks leaned slightly forward so he could still shoot me if necessary. That guy obviously took his job very seriously.

"Ahhh . . .  Thanks," I croaked.

"You're welcome. Now tell us what happened before Agent Franks here gets cranky."

I paused, not really wanting to tell the FBI that my boss had transformed into a monster and tried to eat me, before I managed to snap his neck and shove him out the window. They would lock me up for sure if I said that, so I improvised.

"I fell down the stairs." Hey, I was on morphine. It was the best I could come up with on short notice.

The professor frowned. "Cut the crap, Pitt. We know what happened. We watched the security tapes already. Five days ago, your supervisor, one Cecil Huffman, transformed into a lycanthrope, a werewolf in this case, and attempted to kill you. You fought him off, and pushed him to his death."

I was shocked. The FBI agents seemed to not have a problem with the idea that my boss had turned into a werewolf. I was also surprised that I had been out for five straight days. But mostly I was surprised that Mr. Huffman's first name had been Cecil.

"It was self-defense. I'm the good guy here. Why the gun?"

"You know how people become werewolves, don't you, Mr. Pitt? That's one thing that the movies get right. If you're bitten by one you, too, will be infected. The DNA-altering virus lives in their saliva. If you're clawed there is a smaller chance that you can be infected, but it's still possible. If we had found a single clear bite mark on you, we would be disposing of your body right now. Under the Anti-Lycanthrope Act of '95 we're supposed to terminate all confirmed were creatures immediately. I'm sorry."

"I don't think he bit me," I squeaked. But I felt a lump of dread in my gut. He had mauled me pretty badly. Was I going to turn into a werewolf? Or was the FBI just going to shoot me first?

"Silver bullets," grunted Agent Franks. He kept the Glock centered on my head. I don't know what kind of Jackie Chan move he was expecting me to pull, but I wasn't planning on going anywhere. I could barely move. "Just in case."

"So now what?" I queried.

"We wait. A sample of your blood has been sent for testing. If it comes back positive you will have to be put down. If it comes back negative, you're free to go. We should be getting a call shortly."

He said "put down" like I was some sort of dog. This encounter was just strengthening my already strong anti-authoritarian tendencies.

"You'll just let me go?"

"Yes. Though if you ever speak of this in public you will be in violation of the Unearthly Forces Disclosure Act, and you'll be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law."

Franks nodded and muttered, "Lead bullets." His conversation skills seemed rather limited.

Myers' eyes betrayed an emotion that I thought might have been pity. "Look, Mr. Pitt, this is for your own good. If you're infected, we're doing you a favor. Otherwise in three weeks you'll be eating little old ladies and babies. Hopefully the tests come back negative, and we forget this ever happened."

"So what now?"

"Just chill for a while," Agent Franks said.

"Easy for you to say."


A doctor came in and took my pulse and blood pressure. A nurse changed my IV and checked my bandages. The staff seemed intimidated by the Feds, and left without talking. Flowers were delivered. They were from Hansen Industries, with a card wishing me a speedy recovery. Along with the card there was also a letter on Hansen Industries stationary that informed me that I was fired for violating the Official Workplace Safety Code No Weapons in the Workplace Rule. If I did not want to risk an interruption to my Workers' Compensation, I had best not protest the firing. Hugs and kisses, Human Resources.

I pushed the button on the motorized bed so I could sit upright. Myers turned on the little TV and we watched Jeopardy. Watching television kept my brain occupied, and more importantly kept me from dwelling on the possibility of ending up dead, or even worse, like Huffman. Myers was pretty good, but I was destroying him. I'm a Trivia King. Franks kept the gun in his lap and sipped a Diet Coke. I tried not to think about the fact that the nice men from the government were here to shoot me in the brain with silver bullets. The feeling of helplessness was horrible. Alex Trebek had all of the answers. I just had questions.

"What is Constantinople? So, Myers, how bad was I injured?"

"You lost a lot of blood and technically died on the operating table for two minutes. No brain activity at all. You have about three hundred stitches and staples in you and some broken bones. If we don't have to shoot you, you should heal up just fine. But you won't ever be pretty. What is the Great Wall of China?"

The thought that I had actually been dead was interesting. That was kind of cool. I wondered if I could use that as a pickup line.

"Who is Ghandi? What happened to Mr. Huffman?"

"He landed on a Lincoln Navigator. The desk landed on him. He was pulped. Nobody else got hurt." He was frustrated. I was tearing him up in the Famous History category. I could tell the professor was used to winning. Ha ha sucker, eat hot trivia death! "What was the Magna Carta? Huffman didn't pull back together or anything did he?"

"Damn, you're fast. Nope. Lycanthropes can regenerate from just about anything other than silver, but it takes energy to restore tissue. There's only so much energy stored in one body, so if you inflict enough damage on them, they die."

"Fire," grunted Franks.

"Indeed, fire works great. Wait, I know this. What is uranium!" he shouted.

I made a buzzing sound. "Wrong. What is beryllium? Damn, Myers, I thought you had to have an education to be a G-man. You suck."

The senior FBI man changed the TV channel to CNN and sulked. Well, at least I had the satisfaction that if they were going to kill me, I had defended my honor on the field of useless knowledge. The news was saying something about a huge pipeline explosion in a remote part of Russia apparently caused by Chechen terrorists. I tuned it out and went back to harassing the Feds.

"Does this kind of thing happen all of the time? How did Huffman become a werewolf? Are there many more out there?"

"You ask too many questions," Franks said.

"My associate is correct, Mr. Pitt. This subject's on a need-to-know basis. You just need to know to keep your mouth shut." Fine. I figured I would just go back to sleep. Stupid Feds.

There was a knock on the door. It must have just been a mere courtesy knock because whoever it was immediately barged in. Franks barely had time to hide his Glock under an issue of Martha Stewart Living.

The man was of average height and lean, with short-cropped, sandy blond hair, probably in his mid-forties. With no really remarkable features, he was not a memorable-looking guy, but emanated an old-school toughness when he strutted into the room, an attitude like a Bogart or a Cagney from the golden age of movies. A cigarette hung lazily from the corner of his mouth in clear violation of hospital rules.

Myers grimaced and it looked like Franks gave some serious thought about pointing his gun at somebody else for a change.

"Well, if it ain't the junior danger rangers. How's the murdering witnesses business?" the man asked, reaching into the pocket of his leather bomber jacket and pulling out a business card. He stuck the card into the edge of my wrist cast. It stuck there, vibrating slightly.

"Screw you, Harbinger," Franks said.

"Situation's under control. No need for you here," the professor stated in a cold voice.

"I'll be ice-skating in hell before I believe that you federal weasels have anything under control."

"You better shut up," Franks growled.

"Or what?" the man said with calculated belligerence and just a touch of a southern accent. "Gonna arrest me? You might not like it much, but we're a legitimate business again. If you Feds hadn't booted us out of Yellowstone, that werewolf wouldn't have gotten away, that fat guy wouldn't have gotten bitten, and this guy never would have gotten attacked."

"National parks are our jurisdiction. Your people can't legally be armed in them, so you were out of luck. So you just need to calm down," Myers stated in a manner that suggested he was used to being obeyed.

The new guy sneered. "I need to calm down, Myers? Your bureaucratic nonsense caused this trail of bodies. You could have let us break a couple of stupid laws and you wouldn't have two dead people and this one." He jerked a thumb in my general direction.

"The rules are there for a reason. Not obeying the rules is what got you shut down the first time. I think it was a mistake to ever let your kind back into business."

Needless to say, the atmosphere in the room was very tense. I was pretty much forgotten in my heap of bandages and bedpans. Myers and the interloper were locked in a staring contest. Franks looked ready to escort our guest out, preferably headfirst down the stairs. Anybody who made these guys that uncomfortable was all right by me.

"Umm . . . Not to interrupt this love fest or anything, but who are you?"

Finally Myers must have blinked and ended the stare off. The stranger looked at me as if he was sizing me up. His eyes were cold, blue, and intimidating. After a long unblinking moment he finally must have decided I passed muster, since he held out his hand to shake mine. Franks removed the Martha Stewart magazine to display his gun, just to remind me not to try anything.

"Name's Earl Harbinger. I'm with MHI."

"Owen Pitt. CPA." His grip was like iron. "MHI? Is that like some top secret government agency or something?" I asked.

Agent Myers snickered. "Not even close."

Harbinger just scowled at them. "No. If I worked with these idiots I would kill myself. We're a private organization. We're a for-profit business, and if I do say so myself, we're the premier leader in our field. One which I would say that you would probably be pretty good at. You did good back there."

"Thanks, but I don't think it's going to be good enough. These guys tell me that I'm probably going to end up turning into something like my boss." It was an ugly thing to say, and I could feel a great cold weight in my chest as I said it. "I don't want to end up like that."

The stranger shook his head. "Don't worry about it."

"Recruiting some fresh cannon fodder, Harbinger?" Myers interrupted. "Right now Mr. Pitt is in our custody, and he doesn't go anywhere until I say so."

"I'm not recruiting, Myers, but if you're looking I hear Wal-Mart needs a new door greeter," he responded. Turning back to me, he continued speaking as if he had never been cut off. "Have you asked yourself why every one of your injuries is bandaged except for that great big slash on your head?"

Subconsciously I reached up and touched the nasty pile of stitches that snaked down my face. All I knew was that it was going to leave a horrible scar.

"It's uncovered so they could watch it. If you had started to heal unnaturally fast, they would have dropped you dead in a heartbeat. From the amount of damage you sustained, I'm sure they were positive that you were going to make the change. I don't think anybody has ever been that torn up by a were creature and lived. I'm also guessing that since you haven't started to heal yet, they've sent out for a blood test to be sure, because they're probably itching to finish you. But they don't dare, just in case you're still human."

"They said they were waiting for a test."

"Damn right they are. But let me tell you something. I wrote the book on these monsters. If you haven't shown any signs after five days, I give you my word that you ain't infected."

"Really?" I felt the first real surge of hope since I had woken up in this antiseptic dungeon.

"You're going to be fine. Look, when these jerk-offs get their test back negative, and you get out of here, give me a call. You have my card. We need to talk. Get some rest." Strangely enough, I believed the stranger's promise. He did not strike me as the kind of person to sugarcoat an ugly truth.

Harbinger stalked out, rudely bumping into Agent Myers on the way. The senior agent appeared ruffled but he did not speak until after the door shut and our guest was gone.

"You'd best stay away from that bunch, Pitt, if you know what's good for you. They're going to screw up some day and every last one of them is going to end up in prison or dead. They don't respect governmental authority."

Well, neither did I. I flipped the agents the bird. "You know what, I'm going back to sleep. I've had a crappy day. If your stupid test comes back positive, just shoot me and get it over with. If it comes back negative, get the hell out and leave me alone. Either way you don't need to wake me." I pushed the button to lower the bed back into a sleeping position. It wasn't as dramatic as a good door slam, but it would have to do.

It actually only took me a few minutes to fade out. My body was still wracked with painful injuries and the painkillers still hummed through my system, but I was careful to first safely cradle the business card in my hand.

The Feds went back to watching TV.


I had a strange dream. It was hazy and blurry, jerky and disjointed, violent and quick. Not like a normal dream at all.

There was a battle. I did not know when it took place, but somehow I knew that it had occurred in the past. Details were obscured by billowing clouds of snow. Huge numbers of soldiers defended against a single unnatural being, trying in vain to keep him from his goal, and dying by the score. The only thing that mattered to him had been taken, and he had come to reclaim it. He was the Guardian.

There was an evil thing in the dream, even more sinister than the Guardian. It too was old, cursed and blighted, and seething with rage and hate. It was weakened by failure, and retreated as the Guardian approached. Its final minions fell before the immortal killer as the cursed thing fled into the ruins.

The last soldier waited for the Guardian. He had been the leader of the blood-drenched, elite force. He stood defiant in his black uniform, towering over the body of a frail human sacrifice, proudly shouting that his lord would return to finish what they had started. The soldier placed his pistol against his temple and ended his life.

The final moments of the dream had a small bit of clarity to them. I was able to finally see the Guardian. He was a giant of a man. Every inch of his skin had been covered in strange tattoos. The ink lines moved like living things. He looked right at me across space and time. His eyes were solid pools of hate-filled black.

"Thou shalt die by my hand."


I woke up with a start. What a freaky dream . . . I had no idea what that had been about. Weird shapeless evil things, tattooed killers fighting in the snow, and a bunch of soldiers screaming in German. I blamed it on the drugs.

A cell phone was blaring an annoying downloaded ring tone. I think it was "Take Me Out to the Ballgame." I kept my eyes closed and pretended to be asleep. There was some fumbling and then Agent Myers' voice. "Myers." I eavesdropped intently, hoping to get an early clue to my fate. By nature, I'm not a particularly religious man, but I found myself praying that the stranger had been right. Twenty-four was too young to die. I would miss my parents and my brother, and I wished that I had more time to fix my relationship with them. I wished that I hadn't wasted so much time on the little things. It was too late for that now. My life came down to the contents of a single phone call, and the trigger pull of a Glock.

"Uh-huh. Yep. Uh-huh . . . Okay . . . Sure . . . Bye."

Well, that end of the conversation sure didn't help much. I stiffened up and waited for the bullet to blow through my skull and mushroom in my gray matter. For a long moment I wondered if Franks was a good shot. The last thing I wanted was to end up as a vegetable. Would it hurt? I bit my tongue. There would be no begging; better to end it this way than twisted into something inhuman at the next full moon.

The wait seemed to last an eternity. There were a few whispers and a small rustle of movement, but no flash of gunpowder, no crack of muzzle blast. The only constant was the quiet beep-beep of the machine matching my heartbeat. That particular pulse was noticeably faster than it had been a moment before. It was hard to pretend to sleep when electronic devices were so ready to betray you. My lungs ached from holding my breath, and my stomach muscles were clenched painfully tight. Some sick part of me hoped that my exploding head would make a real nasty mess on their cheap suits. Dry-clean that, you jerks.

Finally I heard the agents move. The door opened slowly. I risked a quick peek as the two FBI men walked quietly from the room. Franks looked dejected, deprived of his chance to legally kill somebody, and surprisingly enough Myers appeared to be politely trying to keep the noise down. The door closed and they were gone.

Slow minutes passed as I made sure they weren't coming back, but all was still. The call had come. The stranger's promise had been true. I was not infected, was still human, and wasn't going to die. I laughed until I pulled something in one of the many lacerations in my back and then I cried in pain and then in relief. As I said earlier, I was not normally by nature a pious man, but on that night I sure was. I sobbed and heaved as all of the stress left me spent and wasted.

There were two final things to do before I went back to sleep. I grabbed the bouquet of get-well flowers from Hansen Industries and hurled it across the room. It had been a stupid job anyway. Then I pulled the business card out, brought it up close to my face, and tried to read it with my blurry eyes. I couldn't focus well enough to read the fine print, but I could read the heading.


Monster Hunter International
Monster Problems? Call the Professionals.
Established 1895


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