TW: Swearing, guns, monsters.
Rain hammered down on Esme’s night black Lamborghini Diablo.
“First stop is the woman who gave the interview to the news,” said Merl. He sat in the passenger seat, polishing his favourite revolver.
“Are you sure she’s not just a nut job?” Esmerelda asked.
“If she wasn’t, she probably is now. That don’t mean mothmen aren’t real. First spotted in Point Pleasant, West Virginia. That was back in ’66. Since then, they’ve been seen before disasters all over the world.” His words were a whiskey-soaked drawl. Merl’s grizzled hand spun the cylinder and flicked it into the gun.
“And they were in the shitty film with Richard Gere.” She smiled, slowing around a corner. Waves of water sent up by the car sprayed clear over the other lane on the tarmac.
“Don’t mock the man, he put in the time.”
“You’re a Gere-head?”
“That’s what fans of him are called.” Esme’s smile seemed to stretch beyond the limitations of her cheeks.
“Since the internet.”
“Whatever, you’re getting me off track with your ADHD shit. Point I was trying to make is that they’re real. We had one nailed to the wall of a hunter clubhouse in West Virginia.” The hunter ghillie scratched his hairline with the muzzle of the gun. He then frowned and polished the muzzle again. “Looks a bit like an angel if someone didn’t know how to make them. Brown wings like a butterfly, but big enough to get them off the ground.”
“Or like a moth,” she said, words dripping sarcasm. “Like a butterfly. They’re called mothmen, Merl.”
“None of your sass, girl. I’m the one holding the gun here.”
“Yeah, but it’s not loaded. Why was this the case that got you back out? You said you were done.” Esme took in the circus of police, fire crew, and lookie-loos. Easing off the accelerator, she pulled off the main road into the small town.
“Good luck parking in this mess,” said Merl. He tucked his gun away. “Didn’t realise it was this bad from the news. Must be two hundred idiots getting in the way of the emergency crew.
Mothman was supposed to have hovered over the silo last night. Next hour it went up. They always show up before the disaster. Then they harvest the misery and fear they’ve caused. Can’t tell if they cause them somehow or they just know.
They like to nest somewhere nearby. Has to be abandoned. Somewhere with a roof. Usually somewhere that had its own disaster. Could be murder, suicide. Something like that. Asylums work for them as well.” He leaned forward to look at the crowd that stood in the rain watching emergency workers sift through the rubble of the oil refinery and silo. “Vultures. I hate folks like that. Hanging around to feel the excitement of other people’s misery. Not much better than mothmen.”
“You write about urban myths?” Asked the woman in the diner. One eyebrow rose. Her pen hovered over her notepad. Her red and white chequered dress uniform gave Esme pangs of sympathy.
“Yeah, pancakes and coffee, please.” Esmerelda looked at Merl.
His leg was bouncing nervously. “Got anything stronger than coffee?”
“Sorry,” no liquor licence. “Our caramel pumpkin pie might get you drunk on its delicious taste alone.” Cathy was written in block capitals on her name badge.
“Sure, one slice o’ that. Thank you, darling.”
Esme gave her mentor a gentle kick under the table when the waitress left them. “You alright? You didn’t have to come. I know it’s weird for you leaving the bunker now.”
“I’m fine kid. Just rememberin’ the last time I went after one of these things.”
“Back in good ol’ ’66?” Esme ran a hand over her buzz cut. A shiver as the diner door opened made her pull her pleather jacket tighter. “Look at us, like the worst biker gang ever.”
“More queasy rider than Easy Rider?” Merl smiled; his scarred face was awful when he smiled. “I was in a biker gang back in the day.”
“Pancakes, coffee, caramel-pumpkin pie, and water.” One by one they were place down on the laminated table.
“Thank you, Cathy,” said Merl.
“My name is Julie,” said the server. “I lost my badge, and we get docked if we’re not wearing one.”
“Thank you, Julie,” the ghillie corrected himself.
“You know anywhere around here that’s spooky?” Esme asked. She poured sugar into her coffee three at a time, a habit perfected at rest stops all over America.
A bell rang.
“One moment. I’ll be right back,” said Julie. She hurried off to deal with another customer in the packed café.
“You really think it’s still around? Red eyes watching the town?” Esme stirred in the sugar and sipped. When the caffeine and sugar hit her tongue, she smiled the grin of a purring kitten.
“Sorry, what was it you asked me?” The waitress straightened her uniform. She rolled her ankles.
“Anywhere creepy round here, abandoned buildings, asylums, old churches. Anything like that?” Esme asked.
“What for?” Julie asked. She piled the hunter’s empty plate and cup onto a tray loaded with empties.
“We like to get a dramatic photo, but it feels tacky to take a shot of the ruins across the road. That would be ghoulish.”
“Plus people wouldn’t be happy with you. Everyone here has family at that plant. Heavens know what they’ll all do for jobs now. There’s the old Morrison house at the end of Guile Street. Other end of town. Nothing else empty here.” A bell at another table rang. “Ring if you want anything else.” Stowing the tray in a window to the kitchen, she rushed to the table by the window.
“She wasn’t wrong about the pie.” Merl forked the last of it into his mouth. “Don’t beat whiskey though. At least I’ll be able to shoot straight.” He pulled on an army surplus jacket. A wad of cash appeared from a pocket and disappeared beneath his empty plate.
“Big tipper huh?”
“That girl needs it. Fuck this country. Why should her minimum wage be less than anyone else’s. It’s bullshit.” He stood with a groan, then cracked his knuckles.
“My theory is mothmen came from World War Two,” the ghillie said as the car pulled up outside the Morrison house. “Maybe somethin’ the Nazis cooked up. Maybe our side. Maybe you just can’t have something so awful without it giving birth to evil.”
The abandoned house was a two-story antebellum era mansion. White pillars had been picked down to the wood over time.
“Nice house,” Merl said.
“Yeah. I bet the slaves loved the view of it from the fields.” Esme hated the way people talked down the horror of that time. Slavery had birthed monsters for sure.
“Got a machete to get through the ivy?”
“Of course. If it shoots or cuts, I have one in the trunk.” She pulled two folding umbrellas from next to the driver’s chair.
Merl took an umbrella, looking at it like proof of alien life. “What do I do with this?”
Esme unfolded the canopy, which was awkward inside the confines of the car. “Open it outside, alright?”
“Where’d you get this contraption?” The old man said, still eyeing it suspiciously.
“You don’t buy American?” The disappointment in his voice was palpable.
“I buy the best. It was you who recommended the FAMAS for the bandersnatch hunt.” She laughed. “Bandersnatch.”
Vines were no match for the sharpened blade of Esme’s machete. Merl’s knuckles were white on the grip of his Smith and Wesson. Creaks and gasps from the old house teased the hunters.
“Get your gun out,” said the ghillie. “From what I remember, these things are fast.”
“How do they attack?” Asked his protégé.
“It’s not that they attack. Bad things just kinda happen to you. Best to get ‘em before they see you. Those red eyes.” Merl shook his head.
“What kind of bad things?”
“Accidents. Same as the silo.” The old man’s eyes flitted about as they trod lightly on rotten boards. “Guns misfire. One kid fell off a roof chasing one.”
Creaking louder than the background noise of the house drew their gaze upstairs. The pumpkin pie lover and the pancake inhaler eased their way onto every new floorboard. Some betrayed them with threats of creaking. Finding a silent path seemed to take forever.
Darkness beneath the dripping roof was almost absolute. Esme flicked on the torch beneath her rifle. Merl held one in his other hand, supporting his revolver on that arm. Beams of light bit into the darkness. Spiderwebs and graffiti were everywhere.
Balancing on one foot, Esme tested the next step. Silent. Squishy. Her sneaker sank into the soft remains of what had been a wooden plank. Easing up onto it, she felt it sag. Rushing to the next step, the scream of one board scraping against another echoed off every wall.
FUCK, she thought.
Every hair on her arms, legs and the back of her neck stood on end.
Esme turned around.
Merl was two steps behind her looking straight up.
It hung from the ceiling, looking down at them with the ease of a bat, and the creepy gaze of a bat watching someone with chiroptophobia.
Red eyes shone with hellish bioluminescence.
Esme aimed and fired.
The old hunter screamed and fell between collapsing stairs. His gun clattered down the steps.
“Kill it, girl.”
It was gone.
The humming sound faded.
The house creaked and screamed.
A drip of filthy water hit Esme’s eye. Jerking away, she lost her balance. Tripping over her mentor, she fell down the stairs. The railing gave way, splinters of wood piercing her leg as she spun down and hit dusty floorboards.
Shadows flickered above.
“Die!” Esme fired. The suppressed shots echoed in the hateful house. Each blast gave the sound of spitting in anger. Plaster rained down from the old ceiling. She wiped the algae from herself, shaking off the cobwebs.
“Merl, are you alright?”
“I’m fucking dandy. Did you kill that thing yet?”
“It’s a work in progress.”
“Expedite that shit then.”
The buzzing grew louder.
The face hovered in a beam of light. It had a visage that would haunt her nightmares as much as having to kill her son’s father did. The torso, arms and legs were human. The face was something between a man’s and that of an insect. The wings moved at the pace of a hummingbird.
The muzzle of her gun faced the enemy. The rifle jammed as she fired. Pulling her sidearm, she aimed again and fired. With the reflexes of a Matrix Agent, it dodged the bullet.
“Esme, use this.” Merl was at the bottom of the stairs with his revolver in hand. He skimmed it across the floor to her. She saw him clutch his gun arm as she picked up the Smith and Wesson.
Aiming and exhaling, she fired.
The mothman twitched.
She fired again.
It flew sideways into the wall.
She fired again. A chunk of its neck hit the woodwork behind.
Esmerelda’s fourth shot hit it between its giant red moth eyes.
It slapped the floor hard. A dusty round of applause from the wooden beams around it danced into the air.
Stepping over the body, she aimed for the head at point black range. Firing twice, she turned the head to mush.
The wings buzzed, unable to lift it. The grey, human looking fingers clenched and relaxed.
“Uglier than I remember,” said Merl. He limped over, dragging his left foot.
“He was a real looker before I put the bullets in him,” Esme said. She pointed to the monster’s crotch. “They breed?”
“I fucking hope not. Damn those would be ugly babies. We need to burn this place, Esme. These things feed on fear of themselves. Seeing a body will put the fear hell in people. We can’t have that or there’ll be more of them.”
Lighter fluid anointed the pyre for the unholy beast. Built with broken furniture, that it caught fire was a minor miracle.
Merl had an arm around her shoulder as she helped him to the car. Watching the smoke in the rear-view mirror, she was thankful for the snoring in the seat beside her. The thought of his death had haunted her for years. Hunters quit or died fighting. He wasn’t a quitter, no matter how hard he tried.
Trying not to think about the mothman’s face, she put her foot down.