“I smell you, little spider. I smell your sweat and your tears and the blood running through your veins. I smell your breakfast digesting in your guts. You smell like your father. You smell like your grandmother. You smell out of place down here. Why have you come?”
I was asking myself the same question. Mother Hungry was a horror but, as monsters go, not a very active one. In recent years her children had come up to kill and terrorize but she, herself, stayed down here in the dark, a forgotten whisper. She was no longer even a threat to naughty children. Finally I said, “I have come to pay my respects. I have come to listen to stories from one who knew life before my father was born.”
I heard Mother Hungry suck in her breath. I heard her momentarily drum her claws on the hard granite floor. She said, “What trick is this? No one comes to me for history. They come to fight and die.”
I said, “I have had nearly two centuries of fighting. I am very good at it but, not, perhaps, as good as you. I have no interest in dying. So why fight? I would rather fill my ears with tales from one who is older, craftier and wiser than I will ever be.”
I heard her sniff, once, then again. She said, “I do not smell a lie.”
Lone Crow floated three feet above the rooftop. His expression was the smug amusement of a child who feels he is untouchable. “Was it there?” he asked, clearly already knowing the answer.
“Yes,” I said. “The sword was right where you said it would be. I would have appreciated a warning about the … goblins. Or whatever those things were.”
Lone Crow laughed. “I figured you could handle them. If you couldn’t, you shouldn’t be carrying the sword.”
“I do not like surprises, Lone Crow. If you have future ones planned I would appreciate you setting those plans aside.”
Lone did a slow aerial pirouette, laughing as he turned. “You are so old. Only old people don’t like surprises!”
Levi Malkovich consulted his map again. He frowned. He said, “I think we must have passed it.”
Donovan turned her flashlight on his face. She said, “I thought you knew where you were going. Isn’t that your map?”
Malkovich shrugged apologetically. “The map is a collaborative effort. We try to confirm the new additions but it often takes weeks before that happens. It’s not like urban archaeology is a paying gig. Most of the time the city actively works to prevent us from being down here. I racked up a few hundred in fines last year for my so-called trespassing. NYC is expensive enough without having to deal with that shit.”
Donovan pointed her light back the way we had come. The tunnel’s walls were so pocked and crenulated that it was possible that we had passed a branch without realizing it.
There was only the sound of dripping water and Malkovich adjusting the maps. Then, for a moment, we heard the sound of a baby crying. It was just a distant echo but it was clear enough to send centipedes down our spines.
I looked at the children. I felt very old. None of them had twenty years. Not all of them would survive the night. I said, “You do not have to do this. I have put out a call. There are other Sheriffs coming.”
Moe took a drag from his cigarette and smiled. He said, “Great! They can clean up the mess. Let’s leave them a big one.”
The dumpster shuddered. It began to rock back with a spastic motion, like a sick dog attempting to expel a rotten meal. The lids rattled and we could see a sickly light emanating from within. The metal seemed to momentarily ripple and expand and then it regained its shape and all became still. The air smelled of lilacs and bile, perfume and rot.
The lids exploded open. The angel had incarnated.
Brother Entropy barely paused for breath. “I saw it! As the dawn rose and the sun filtered through the smog and haze, the vision came clear! The end, the cure for the cancer of civilization was possible. Nay, not simply possible but forthcoming. And like a cancer of the flesh can be cured by radiations and poisons so can a cancer of the soul like human civilization be crushed by the very pollutants that it brings forth. Sewage, refuse and plastic are not our enemies! They are the accelerants that will bring forth the fires to sweep away the rots of humanity. And like the cures for cancer that oft kill the patient along with the disease we must expect mankind to die. It has fed too long on the fertility of nature and left only shit in return. It is simply shit, not the good clean fertilizer that nurtures and grows. Its stench is upon us all. We cannot scrub it off. We should not try. Those of us who revel in it will last until the end. It will be through our filth that the Hounds of the Horseman will find us. It is our disease that will bring forth our transformation into Hounds ourselves. And as Hounds we will hunt down all who attempt to keep themselves pure. We will run them to the ground and tear out their throats!”
The boy laughed. “No, he’s not a pet. He’s his own thing. He plays a mean harmonica. And he’s not bad with a trumpet. We’re working on him playing a flute but him having only one hand makes that difficult.”
I nodded. I could not think of anything intelligent to say.
Cyclone squared her shoulders and thrust out her chin. “I’m ready,” she snapped. “I’ve killed five of these fuckers. One more will be a piece of cake.”
I looked at the sway in her stance and the gray beneath her eyes. The smell of rum was faint but unmistakable. I said, “Eating cake would be dangerous enough. The fork might miss your mouth and find your eye. I will hunt this beast by myself.”
The determination in her face faltered. “I’m still good,” she whispered. “I just have a little so I can sleep. It’s no big deal.”
“It is three in the afternoon Cyclone. I have lived as long as I have by being careful.”
Her face tightened. She snarled, “You’ve lived so long by being a fucking witch.”
I nodded. “That also has its advantages.”
Lockridge studied at his notes. He seemed to be having trouble reading his own handwriting. He finally said, “The four known victims were all missing their right arms from just below the shoulder. Three of them; Arthur Hollings, Leland Dubois and Ethan Parker were all dead when found. The last one, Victor Allbright, lasted long enough to make a raving confession that no one believed. He claimed that he been possessed by an arm and that the arm made him do it.”
I shrugged. I said, “And?”
Lockridge looked pained. He was clearly used to a more rational world. He said, “And, the chainsaw that Allbright used in the murders would have been really hard to hold with just one left hand. It was a heavy son of bitch. And Allbright? He lost his right arm in Korea. He normally wore a prosthetic but it was still at his house. Even then, it couldn’t have been used to operate the chainsaw. He couldn’t lift more than ten pounds with the thing.”
All conversation stopped. Joe put his huge hands upon the table. Scars and callouses added a surprising dignity to their appearance. Those hands had seen much use and strife and still moved with grace.
Leroy tested a cautious smile. He said, “I didn’t mean nothing, Joe. I was just joking. Sometimes my mouth works before I think and say stuff that ain’t really funny.”