Awkward

From last post:

Leticia stopped fighting and had the same blank stare she did when Pickman first showed up. Then, with a look of fury, she ran toward me.

Leticia grabbed Pickman and flung him. She raced to where he landed and threw him again. Ella, Ingrid, and Pike stagger-jogged over to me and we followed Leticia.

After a couple minutes we came across her at the edge of a gully, with her back to us. She was tossing aside the crossbow bolt previously lodged in her back. Her head turned slightly as she approached.

“I really wish you guys would stay back,” she said. “I got a little, ah, carried away.”

Ingrid borrowed Ella’s flashlight and shined it into the gully. “Whoa-ho!” she said.

“So he’s dead,” said Ella. She sounded almost irritated.

“Hey, um, Leticia, what happened with you back there?” I said.

“I don’t know,” she said. She still wasn’t looking at us.

“Was he controlling you?” asked Pike.

“Not exactly,” Leticia responded. “Out of nowhere I had this urge. No, it was way stronger than that. It was like I had to…”

I waited for her to finish but she didn’t. “Do you suppose Pickman did something when he took our memories?” I asked.

“Maybe,” she said. “I’ve got people I can ask.”

“Miriam might know,” said Ella.

Leticia turned around. She looked at Ella for a few moments. I thought would be a good occasion for Ella to apologize for shooting Leticia but she just looked back.

“I think,” said Leticia, “I should probably…keep my distance for a while. Until I know for sure what happened.”

“You’re fine now,” I said. “Getting rid of Pickman is probably all you needed to do.”

Leticia sighed. “Maybe. But still…I guess I need to work out whether it’s safe for me to be around, you know, regular folks.”

“That’s a good idea,” said Ella, without much trace of anything resembling sympathy. I looked at her with a little annoyance and she did the same with me.

“All right,” I said, “Well, um, don’t take too long.”

Leticia smiled. “I should probably clean up,” she said. She went in to the gully and hoisted Pickman over her shoulder. She leapt to the edge opposite us.

“Hey Ella,” she said. Ella raised an eyebrow. “Nice shot,” Leticia said. It was too dark to see Leticia’s expression from where I was standing and I couldn’t really read her tone. She sped away.

We went back to the scene of the fight, where we retrieved what gear we could find. Pike was willing to wait until daylight to see if he could find his knife, and was pretty excited about finding Pickman’s camera. I asked Ella why she was less than pleased about Pickman’s death.

“He must have had some astonishing information that we’ll never know,” she said. “But I didn’t think someone I shot with a crossbow would be in a mood to accept criticism.”

We did consult with Miriam the next day, who said that Pickman probably implanted the magical equivalent of a post-hypnotic suggestion in Leticia, one that required his concentration to work.

Come back soon, Vampire Fangirl.

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The bride of darkness

From last post:

Leticia was standing in front of Pickman, her shoulders perpendicular to his. She was holding her right arm straight out and in her hand was what I guessed to be the dart Ingrid had fired. Leticia looked over her shoulder at us, eyes wide and fangs bared.

“Oh crap,” said Ingrid. She got her crossbow ready. “Does silver work on vampires?” Pike said he thought so and that’s what his knife was made of.

“But is it, like, an allergy?” asked Ingrid. “If I hit her foot am I going to kill her?”

Pickman laughed. “You must be Ingrid and Pike. Mr. Pike, surely you appreciate the opportunity to give your life for visual art.”

“Die for an art film? Never. Your wolfman’s going to be cake.”

“I’m afraid my associate doesn’t do requests,” said Pickman. “Anyway, I prefer the smaller, more emotional drama of a fight between friends.” The creature growled something at Leticia and loped off.

“OK,” said Ingrid. “So, Leticia, I don’t know if you can hear me or what’s going on, but I’m really sorry that I might have to…”

Leticia charged at Ingrid, checking her with her shoulder and knocking her against a tree. Ingrid collected herself and raised her crossbow, but Leticia grabbed her and threw her into Ella, bouncing the pair of them off another tree. They fell to the ground.

Leticia whirled around in time to see Pike approaching, with the knife instead of the sword. They circled each other briefly, but Leticia put an end to that with a kick to Pike’s temple, knocking him down. She then kicked the knife out of his hand.

I could see why Pickman referred to the situation he created as art: Leticia was a visually stunning adversary, performing incredible feats of strength with elegance, her coat twirling dramatically around her. My awe overcame my common sense, causing me to stand still when she approached me, though I don’t see how flight would have been an option. She grabbed me by my neck and lifted me.

“Poor little man,” Leticia whispered. “Wanting what you can’t have.”

That statement may seem strange now. But looking at her face, whose beauty was weirdly enhanced by an almost feral exultation, the meaning was clear to me.

“Now that’s just the influence of the evil warlock talking,” I responded.

Leticia laughed softly. “I haven’t truly feasted on a human since I was first turned.”

She opened her mouth but instead of approaching my neck, she shrieked and dropped me. She spun around and I saw, sticking out of her lower back, a crossbow bolt.

Crawling to my right I saw Ella, holding an empty crossbow pointed at Leticia. Her head was angled over the weapon, so her hair hung over her face. She looked kind of hot.

Leticia ran at Ella but Pike and Ingrid intercepted her, grabbing her and tackling her to the ground. I saw a light approaching them: Pickman with his camera. I approached the light, walking in a wide curve. Leticia, meanwhile, was on her feet, but her three opponents were putting up a good fight. Soon I was close to Pickman. Close enough to Taser him.

Pickman dropped his camera with a yell. Leticia stopped fighting and had the same blank stare she did when Pickman first showed up. Then, with a look of fury, she ran toward me.

Pickman’s model

Two weekends ago Ingrid notified me that, as promised after our Twilight trip, she was ready to hunt the creature in Pickman’s video. She had been doing some searching over the last several weeks and discovered tracks that she thinks it left. The party would be Ingrid, me, Ella, Pike and Leticia, and we would be tracking it at night.

As with the werewolf hunt, we first gathered at Ingrid’s. Ingrid was bringing her machete again but was using a pistol instead of a rifle for tranquilizer darts. She also had her crossbow slung over her shoulder. She gave Tasers to Ella and me. Pike had the sword he brought to the cabin and a knife in his belt. “I guess you don’t need anything, huh?” Ingrid said to Leticia. Leticia responded by assuming a fighting stance and saying “Hwa-cha!” All of us were bundled up but she was wearing a simple black overcoat.

Ingrid had night vision goggles and Leticia had her natural version, and the moon was bright enough so that the rest of us didn’t need our flashlights to follow them. The local university operates a laboratory farm that includes a horse barn and rodeo arena, and it was there that we parked and made our approach to the wooded area that the amphitheater also borders.

The werewolf hunt had kind of a thrill but for this one the feeling of danger was stronger. It was kind of funny, trying to think of why hunting a werewolf wasn’t as big a deal as hunting a wolf Bigfoot or whatever it was we saw in Pickman’s video. Ingrid assured us she found only one set of tracks, which gave us some slight relief.

Leticia picked up on the creature’s scent before Ingrid spotted fresh tracks. As we mere humans followed the trail we too detected an odor like decaying meat. So we weren’t surprised when Leticia soon held up her hand and Ingrid raised her crossbow. We moved forward slowly.

We saw it in profile as it was digging in the ground near a fallen tree. After I had been looking at it for a few seconds it turned its head toward us with a smooth movement and stood. It was at least six feet high. I knew what it looked like from the video but seeing it in the flesh I saw that its face was more expressive than I thought, more like an ape’s than a dog’s. It growled in a way that sounded like it spoke a word. I thought it sounded like “gadara” but Ella says it was “garuda.”

“Whoa,” said Ingrid, “Ella! Should we, like, talk to it?”

“You’re asking me?”

“Well, yeah, you’re into weird stuff.”

“You hunt werewolves!”

“Shhh!” It was Leticia. “There’s someone else here.”

We heard footsteps on the snow and then a light shone on us. The surprise made the light seem larger and brighter than it was. Once I collected myself I saw that it was a light attached to a video camera. I heard a man’s voice murmuring. Then he spoke.

“So pleased to see you again,” the man with the camera said. “Though of course you don’t remember our first meeting.”

“Pickman,” I said. I looked at Leticia, who had fought Pickman in our first encounter, but she was just staring blankly. The creature hadn’t moved.

“That’s Pickman?” said Ingrid. “Should I put him to sleep?”

Ella and I agreed. Ingrid fired her pistol.

And then Leticia was standing in front of Pickman, her shoulders perpendicular to his. She was holding her right arm straight out and in her hand was what I guessed to be the dart Ingrid had fired. Leticia looked over her   shoulder at us, eyes wide and fangs bared.

The zombie herd

Continuing the hunt story from last post…

Astrid closed the door and looked at her sister. “Well, I wasn’t expecting a herd,” said Ingrid. “We can still take ’em though.” She went to her duffel bag and withdrew a gun case. “Got a shotgun here,” said Ingrid, “Pike’s got his sword-on-a-stick thingy, and Astrid’s got a carbine. In the back of the truck I’ve got a chainsaw. I figure Astrid takes out a couple from here, we go outside and take out some more on our way to the truck, and carve up whatever’s left.”

Pike was all for it, enthusiastically informing us that the naginata was used against four-legged as well as two-legged adversaries. I asked Ingrid how I could help the operation. She told me that since we didn’t know if we had seen the entire herd, I should go out on the porch with Astrid and watch for attacks from directions other than the front of the driveway. Since I had no weapon, Ingrid gave me her bowie knife.

Astrid opened the door again. The cows were now halfway up the driveway, but they were motionless except for their swishing tails. Astrid and Ingrid looked at each other, and they both nodded.

Astrid, Ingrid, and Pike ran out the door. The cows charged.

Astrid placed herself at the corner of the porch, crossing in front of the cow from last post, which was sticking out of a window. She took aim and fired at one of the six, dropping it. The other five chased Ingrid and Pike.

Ingrid took out the closest pursuer with the shotgun. Pike placed himself in a firm stance and swung the naginata low, severing the front legs of the beast chasing him. He directed a downward stroke at the head of another animal, but only cut off its ear. By now Ingrid had reached the truck. She jumped into the bed, retrieved a chainsaw, and fired it up. Astrid took another shot with the carbine, and the one-eared zombie cow that was confronting Pike fell down. Ingrid felled a cow that leapt at her where she stood in the bed.

I didn’t see what happened with the one remaining fully mobile cow, because there was a commotion in the house behind us. I looked through the open door and saw another cow charging through the living room. I gave a holler to Astrid and pulled the front door of the farm house shut. But instead of hearing the advancing bovine strike the door, I heard and saw it crash through the remaining front window of the house. The front railing of the porch halted its trajectory. It quickly squared itself and glared at me, who was between it and Astrid.

The creature snapped at me while I jabbed at it with Ingrid’s knife. Neither of us connected. After a few seconds I saw a snowball strike the left side of the cow’s head. The cow looked in that direction and I heard Astrid’s voice telling me to cover my ears. I kept the knife pointed at the cow and covered only my left ear, which muffled the sound Astrid’s carbine made when she shot the creature.

Looking in the direction of the sound, I saw Astrid at the stairs leading to the porch. Pike and Ingrid joined her there, Ingrid having switched off the chainsaw. Pike was pointing a video camera at me.

“Guess that’s a wrap, huh, Pikester?” Ingrid said. We took a walk around the house to see if there were any remaining adversaries. We found none and Ingrid took the opportunity to quiz Pike about the naginata. Ingrid and Astrid determined that the hunt was over for that night, and we returned to Ingrid’s home.

Ingrid invited us in and we stayed in her living room for a while, discussing the hunt and wondering about how the zombie herd had been created. The two sisters didn’t have any leads, since it had been a few years since they had encountered zombies and those were the human variety. So we were either dealing with a spontaneous paranormal force or a supernatural mastermind with a strange sense of humor.

Farm animals

Ingrid’s house was the starting point for the hunt last night. Both Pike and Astrid were there when I arrived. Astrid was dropped off by her husband, who also brought their daughter with him. I said hello to Astrid’s daughter and asked if she remembered telling me “see ya, shorty” the last time I saw her. Instead of responding she smiled at me with only the right half of her mouth, making her look a little saucy.

Astrid rode in Ingrid’s pickup and I rode in Pike’s car, and we followed the sisters to an empty farmhouse. We crossed the porch and entered the two-story home, Ingrid and Astrid each carrying a duffel bag and Pike carrying a video camera and a wooden pole with a curved blade on the end, which he called a naginata. He also had a sword at his waist.

Inside there were four folding chairs, a card table, and a camp lantern. Astrid explained that she and Ingrid had deposited them there when they checked out the house earlier in the day. From her duffel bank she removed four flashlights, a pair of binoculars, night vision goggles, and a sound amplifier. Before she could tell us what the plan for the night was, however, we heard a sound from the front of the house: a metallic ca-clang clang.

We each took a flashlight and went onto the porch. At the far end of the long driveway our lights illuminated something that wasn’t there before. It was a cow, looking at us and swishing its tail. Around its neck was a cowbell.

I was about to ask whether cows were normally nocturnal when the cow plodded down the driveway toward the house, its bell making the ca-clang clang sound. As it approached we saw that something was wrong with it: its skin appeared diseased. When it got closer we saw that it wasn’t disease: it was decay.

ca-clang clang

“Huh,” said Ingrid. “Let’s get inside.” She and Astrid entered the farmhouse but Pike and I stayed on the porch. Pike was filming the creature. “Wow,” he said, “This is…horrifying and hilarious.”

ca-clang clang

“You guys!” snapped Ingrid.

“What?” I said. “We’re in a hurry to get away from zombie cow?”

ca-clang clang

“Yeah,” said Pike. “It’s not like it’s one of those 28 Days Late-”

ca-clang-clang-clang-clang-clang

The cow was charging at us.

We ran back into the farmhouse and closed the door. “OK, tough guys,” said Ingrid. “Going to listen to Ingrid now?” We were. “Now,” said Ingrid, “I think we’ve got the right tools for…”

CRASH! The cow had smashed its head through one of the windows at the front of the house. It jerked its head up and bellowed a grotesque moo. Pike drew the sword from his waist and Ingrid reached into her duffel bag and took out the club hammer she used in the duel with the frog statue in Verona. She strode over to the undead bovine.

“Time to get tenderized, Bossy!” Ingrid cried, and smashed the creature’s skull. Pike struck at it with his sword. Bossy was still and silent.

“Well,” I said, “This hunt took less time than I thought it would.”

ca-clang clang

The sound was coming from the same direction we had first heard it. Astrid opened the front door and we looked outside. Her flashlight illuminated a single cow wearing a cowbell, standing at the far end of the driveway. The other five cows standing in a line next to it were not wearing bells. All six were looking at us and swishing their tails.

“Huh,” said Ingrid.

The next hunt

I got a call from Astrid explaining the hunt Ingrid was referring to in her comment on Tuesday (the story of the first hunt I went on with the two sisters begins here). Ella isn’t going to be able to make this one but Pike will be going and so will I.

Astrid informed me that over the last two weeks, deer carcasses had been discovered in the woods northeast of town with smashed skulls and wounds that didn’t resemble those that would be caused by known predators. The most bizarre aspect of the attacks was the absence of the deer’s brains. A close second was the bite marks, which looked like they were caused by an animal that attacked only with its lower jaw.

The carcasses were found in a roughly circular pattern, and during a daytime investigation Astrid and Ingrid discovered an abandoned farm at the center of the pattern. The plan is to station ourselves at the farmhouse at sunset and observe the area, and perhaps “take action,” as Astrid said.

Just another werewolf hunt – 2

From last post:

I asked what our cover story was going to be, in case our pursuers weren’t on board with the we’re-curing-a-werewolf concept and we needed to buy Astrid some time. But before any of us could figure one out, they were upon us. A light shone in my eyes, so I couldn’t see who was behind it.

And then I heard a full-bodied yet cautious feminine voice say “Arthur Ormand?” It was my pastor. You know, the hot one?

“Pastor Jill! Hi!” I said, as if we had just met on the street. The light moved from me to Ella, and I could see that Pastor Jill was the one holding it. I could also see there were three or four people in their late teens with her, and I remembered seeing something in last Sunday’s church bulletin about a youth retreat at the home of one of the members.

“Is that Ella from the bookstore?” Pastor Jill said. “It’s me,” Ella responded. She continued, “Did you get my message about that Douglas John Hall book coming in?” “I did, thank you,” said Pastor Jill, in the same cautious tone she used when she first addressed us.

“Hey, I’m Ingrid,” said Ingrid. One of the people in Pastor Jill’s group was already illuminating Ingrid, her rifle, and her machete. “Oh, my,” said Pastor Jill, before introducing herself.

Pastor Jill said something to the guy standing closest to her, who backed up a little and started calling a number on his cell phone. “So, um, yeah, we were just…um…yeah, it’s good to see you,” I said to Pastor Jill. “Is this that youth thing I read about last week? You’re out here youthin’ it up?” I heard a sound that could have been Ella sighing.

“That’s right,” said Pastor Jill. She lowered her flashlight but tilted it upward, so it was illuminating her face. She moved closer to me. “You must have heard that strange animal sound that we did,” she said. “Uh-huh,” I responded. I think I mentioned before that she had a pleasant voice. But now she sounded downright mesmerizing.

“We came out here to investigate and were surprised to see someone else on this property,” she continued. “I don’t mean to sound unfriendly, but may I ask what brought you and your friends here?”

“You heard about that wolf, right?” I said. “Killed the cows? Yeah. We were, you know, going after it.”

“I had no idea you did that kind of volunteer work,” said Pastor Jill. She was moving the flashlight left and right slowly. “Yeah, well, you know,” I said, watching the shifting pattern of light on Pastor Jill’s face. “Sounds dangerous,” she said.

“Oh, It’s not that dangerous,” said Ella, moving closer to me and giving me an uncharacteristically jovial punch to the shoulder. “Not with Ingrid here.” “You’re being modest, Ella,” said Pastor Jill, still looking at me.

At this point I heard a howl close behind me, similar to the one the creature made when Ingrid shot it. But this time the timbre of the sound changed, so that when it stopped it was unmistakably a human cry.

“What the…what was that?” said Pastor Jill. I was seriously tempted to say. “Um…the wind?” just for the sake of amusement.

“OK,” said Ingrid. “See, my sister’s a doctor and she’s got a guy back there who she’s, um, helping.” “Helping out with what?” asked Pastor Jill. “We can’t tell you,” said Ingrid, “It would violate confidentiality.”

“Yes, I believe the HIPAA laws apply in this situation,” said Ella. “HIPAA?” said Pastor Jill, aiming her flashlight behind us. Fortunately, Astrid came forward at that time, supporting a man wearing sweatpants and a hooded sweatshirt. Even luckier, one of Pastor Jill’s group was also a patient of Astrid and could confirm she was a physician. This gave Astrid instant authority and credibility as she explained that she was treating someone attacked by the wolf, which was still at large so everyone should probably get out of the woods.

Pastor Jill assented and Ingrid, Astrid, Ella and I went with her and her group, separating when we were within sight of the house where they were holding the retreat.

“Well, that was an adventure,” Pastor Jill said to me. “Yeah,” I said, “Maybe you can use it as a sermon illustration.” “Oh?” she responded, “Is there a moral to this story?” “Um… keep on keepin’ on?” I said. Pastor Jill chuckled. “See you in church,” she said.

=====

Ingrid approached me on the way back to her truck. “Hey, you were right about Martina Luther there being a hottie,” she said. “Yeah, I suppose,” I said. “You suppose?” chortled Ingrid, “Is that why you and Ella aren’t an item yet? Holding out for a little ecclesiastical action?”

“I’m not looking for action with my pastor,” I said. Ingrid chortled again, saying, “Yeah, she’s probably a little too much woman for you to handle.” “I can handle plenty of woman,” I said rolling my eyes.

At this Ingrid giggled. “Dude – are you hitting on me?” she asked. If you want to be polite, you can’t really give a negative answer to that question without qualification, and if you’re not careful with the qualification you may need to qualify the qualification, so I spent the way back to Ingrid’s truck amusing her, Ella, and Astrid by explaining that no I wasn’t hitting on her, not that she wasn’t attractive, which wasn’t to say that I was planning to pursue her, which didn’t mean she wasn’t worth pursuing, etc.