Dog Walker II – Chapter One

Dog Walker II – Chapter One

posted in: Dog Walker II, News | 0

The landlady took a long drag from her cigarette. She leaned against the windowpane and watched the sun set over the funeral home across the street. There was a chill in the air. She held her matted yellow robe closed. Behind her, Shrek and Donkey each raised one eyebrow and flashed a smug grin.

Every inch of the storefront window was covered in faded movie posters, mostly for kids movies and big-budget sequels from a decade earlier. The small sign on the glass door read:

EAST WEST VIDEO
CLOSED
THANK YOU
FOR 22 YEARS

A brown Cadillac pulled up to the curb. Det. Sarah Martinez stepped out of the driver’s side. She gave the store the once-over, then pulled her badge from the inside pocket of her sportcoat and flashed it at the landlady.

“Ma’am.” she said. “You called about strange noises?”

Det. Jake Bolland, Sarah’s partner, went directly to the store window without acknowledging the woman. He peeked in-between the posters, stroking his neatly-trimmed mustache.

“Repeatedly. I live upstairs.” The landlady glared at Jake. “The other two have been in there for three hours.”

Sarah pulled a walkie-talkie off her belt. “Adam four, code four. Respond.”

“I can’t be doing this all day,” the landlady said. “I work the night shift tonight. I’m supposed to be asleep right now.”

No response on the radio. Sarah shook her head.

“They’re in the store?” Jake turned to the landlady. “Have you checked on ’em?”

“After the sounds I heard this morning?” She tossed the cigarette butt into the gutter. “I’m not going in there.”

She went in the door next to the video store entrance and up the stairs to her apartment. Sarah and Jake exchanged a look.

 

– READ MORE –

Chapter Two.

Chapter Two.

posted in: Serial Chapter | 2

Det. Jake Bolland had a look of defeat as he took down the landlady’s statement, which involved the words “private property” and “gross negligence” and “sue your ass” at an alarming frequency. The firefighters hosed down the last of the flames. The video store was now a hollowed-out, charred husk. No sign of the spiders remained.

Ben sat on the curb, swiping at his phone, looking for a car to drive him and Toby to class. The nearest one was ten minutes away. Toby was curled up in a ball next to him, napping. Sarah sat down on the other side.

“Is he gonna be ok?” Ben nodded to the cop he’d rescued, drinking coffee under a blanket on the back of an ambulance.

“He’s alive. I think you got him out before the spiders got into his guts, but we should probably have him looked at.” Sarah pulled out an envelope. “I’ve got something for you.”

“No,” Ben shook his head. “Sarah. We talked about this. I can’t take money.”

“It’s not taxpayer money,” Sarah said. “Me and the other cops who can see this shit put it together.”

“This is all my fault. The demons have been running rampant since I yanked Toby out of Hell. I left something open. They’re here because of me.” Ben pet Toby. The dog glanced at him then continued sleeping. “I shouldn’t get paid for that. You guys do most of the work, anyway.”

“Cool, you’re right. But also, shut up. Take it.” She forced the envelope into his hand. “Buy a vehicle. You’ll be more useful. What are you doing Friday night? My cousin sells used cars, I can bring you there, get you a deal.”

“I can’t, I have a, uhh…” Ben found it difficult to make eye contact with her. “…date.”

“What?!” Sarah smacked him. It hurt. He rubbed his arm. “Look at you! Who is she?”

“She’s a dog walker.” Ben smiled. “We work together.”

“That is your type. Are you sure you want to go down that road again? The last dog walker you fell for stabbed you and Toby to death.”

“She was nice to me after that.” Ben said, shrugging.

“Do you like her?” Sarah said. “This new one?”

Ben thought about it for a moment. Toby got up and stretched, yawning.

“I have no idea.” Ben said. Toby walked past him, heading for something on the other side of Sarah.

“You know how I know if I really like a guy?” Sarah pulled out her phone and messed with it. “I text him something funny and then, the moment I zone out, I look at it again to wait for the dot-dot-dot that says he’s typing back. It has to be unconscious. That means I can’t think about anything else. Shit, I’m calling you.”

She hit the End Call button. For an instant, she saw Ben’s phone screen change in his hand.

“Did you make a Batman signal with Toby instead of a bat and set it to show when I call you?”

“No.” Ben said, quickly pocketing his phone. “Yes. Whatever. I’m allowed to enjoy this a little.”

“You dweeb.” Sarah laughed. “You should’ve made it the Onislayer. The dog makes it look like I’m calling Toby and you’re his sidekick.”

A car horn honked right next to them. Toby was in the front seat of a dinky blue hatchback, paw on the steering wheel, standing on the lap of a very confused driver.

“Certainly no truth to that.” Ben said.

 

Out in the Northwest Suburbs of Chicago, in a building that used to be a Pizza Hut, a class had begun. The door was propped open to let some of the heat out, and a small fan blew cool night air in. The floors were lined with gym mats. The far wall was covered in mirrors. A big banner above the mirrors read, in red-and-green block letters:

DRAGON MASK LUCHA DOJO

“Niños! Niñas!” Sensei Tatsuya paced back and forth, hands behind his back. Dragon tattoos poked out of the sleeves of his shirt. “You have come here at a momentous time! Great evil has embraced these lands. But times of darkness bring opportunity for warriors! Are you ready to be warriors?”

“Si, Sensei!” The dozen children lined up along the mirror shouted in unison. They wore baggy white pants and black t-shirts with a little “DMLD” logo. They had their hands behind their backs just like Tatsuya.

“Are you ready to be samurai?”

“Si, Sensei!” the kids repeated.

“Dragon stance!”

They all got into position, knees slightly bent, right foot in front, left foot in back, dukes up.

“As samurai,” said Tatsuya, “you must adhere to the code of Bushido. You must always hold in your heart the Eight Virtues! Justice!”

“Hyah!” The kids punched the air with their right arms. A samurai knows when it is right to strike.

“Courage!”

“Hyah!” They punched with their left arms, because true courage is doing what is right. Toby laid in his little bed on the counter, dozing. Behind him, Tatsuya’s Dragon Mask mask observed the proceedings from its protective glass case, surrounded by photos of the old luchador’s greatest victories.

“Compassion!”

The kids each took a step forward and blocked an invisible punch with their forearms, because a samurai also knows when to defend. “Hyah!”

“Integrity!”

The students all returned to their starting positions, standing tall and proud.

Respect!”

The kids bowed politely.

“Ha ha!” Tatsuya laughed. “Bueno. Honor!”

The young samurai turned away to face the wall of mirrors. They stared into their own eyes and reflected on their past mistakes. With honor, they could not hide from themselves.

“Loyalty!”

“Hyah!” The kids spun back and karate-kicked the air in their sensei’s direction. This one didn’t really have a  deep and philosophical explanation. Tatsuya had just wanted a kick in there.

“Self-control.” Tatusya looked at the inugami. Toby opened one eye and glared back.

The kids froze, each keeping one leg up over their waist. Ten seconds passed. Twenty. A few kids wobbled.

At the far end of the line, Ben Carter struggled to stay upright. He was twice as tall and at least twice as old as the other students, and the extra decade of pizza and video games had taken its toll. With a grunt, he fell onto his side, slapping loudly onto the mats.

“Ben fights first. Again.” Tatsuya sighed. “Everyone get your pads.”

The children headed over to the pad racks to get their head guards, mouthguards and wrist pads. Tatsuya helped Ben up.

“Listen,” Ben said, quietly so the kids couldn’t hear. “I just came from a job. It’s been a long day. These fingers are new.” — he wiggled them — “Maybe we can just have the kids fight this time?”

Tatsuya nodded. “I understand. Ash!”

A short, thin girl with a long black ponytail turned while putting on her head guard. She slapped the side to make sure it was on tight.

“Go easy on him.”

Ashley Ocampo smiled, revealing her bright pink mouthguard. The other kids giggled. Ben heard rhythmic thumping and saw Toby wagging his tail against the counter. It was the dog laughter that hurt the most.

The kids all lined up against the mirror again, wearing their pads. Ben and Ash stood at the center of the room, facing each other. They got into their Dragon Stances. Ben didn’t have any pads. He was the only adult student, so Tatsuya had neglected to order grown up sizes.

The old luchador raised one hand, paused.

“Begin!”

Ash took a step forward. Ben stepped back.

“What’s the matter, Big Ben?” Ash said, her words slurred by the mouthguard. She bounced from foot to foot. “Afraid to fight a girl?”

“No,” Ben said, moving more slowly. “I don’t want to hit an eight-year-old.”

Ash snorted. “I’m ten.”

“Oh. Well. In that case.”

He punched at her, way too high. She grabbed his wrist and spun, ducking down as Ben flew over her head and landed hard on his back behind her. The other kids cheered.

“Boom!” Ash said, “Just like the real Big Ben!”

“The clock?” Ben wheezed. He rolled to his feet. “In England? That didn’t fall down.”

“Yeah it did!” Ash said. “A spaceship smashed through it! The alien inside turned out to be a mutant pig!”

Ben frowned. “…What?”

She swung at him. He blocked it with his forearm and shoved her away. Ash spun, kicking him in the side. She tackled him while he was off-balance and pinned him to the ground.

Bueno!” Tatsuya said, kneeling, ready to slap the mat three times and count Ben out.

Ben laid there for a moment on the mat, defeated, embarrassed, before remembering that he was a grown man, with the proportionate size and strength of a grown ass man. He stood, easily, with the girl’s arms still wrapped around his neck.

She kneed him in the stomach before letting go. He stumbled backwards towards the crowd of kids, who dove away to avoid him. He flopped up against the mirrors and slide down.

Bam! A small fist clocked him in the cheek. Bam! Bam! Ash punched him two more times. She went to do it again but this time, he caught it. She spun and kicked.

“Yamate!” shouted Tatsuya.

Ash’s foot stopped less than an inch from Ben’s face. He leaned away from it. Ash smiled.

“Self-control.” Tatsuya said. “Good.”

Ash backed up a few paced and bowed to Ben. He nodded to her. Something dripped down his chin. He wiped it. His nose was bleeding.

Over on the counter, Toby stood, stepped in a circle, and laid back down, facing away.

 

Later, when class was over, the kids goofed around by the changing rooms as they waited for their parents to pick them up. A severe-looking woman in her 50’s — thin face, pointy cheekbones, red hair that was unquestionably a wig — stood by the exit. She kept checking her watch. When Tatsuya passed her, she gave him a very fake smile then went back to scowling. Tatsuya handed Ben a vitamin water. Ben had a cotton ball stuffed in his nose.

“I am told you burned down another building.” Tatsuya said.

“You gave me a sword that starts fires.” Ben said, “It would be more surprising if I didn’t- Ow!”

Ash slugged him in the arm. She held out her hand for shaking. “You’ll get me next time, Big Ben.”

Ben shook her hand. “Take it easy, L’il Ash.”

“Ashley!” said the stern woman by the door.

“Bye Sensei! Bye Toby!” She gave Toby a quick pat on his head, which only annoyed him mildly. Ben rubbed his arm. Ash punched him right where Sarah punched him earlier. Why did girls keep hitting him?

“Ashley! Let’s go!” The woman pointed at her watch. She noticed Ben and Tatsuya looking and flashed them a false smile. She led Ash out the door. They were the last to leave. Ben and Tatsuya were alone.

“Tough kid.” Ben said. He took a drink of vitamin water then set it on the counter by Toby. It tasted like a pop that all the ice had melted in.

“She lives in that group home on Higgins.” Tatsuya turned off the light in the changing room. “Her parents died in a car accident. Very sad.”

Ben went over to the window. He saw the stern woman close the door on a white van. St. Felix Children’s Home was printed on the side in black letters. The women glared at Ben. He closed the blinds.

“I found her beating two teenagers senseless at the park and offered her free classes.” Tatsuya said, closing the changing room door. “That kind of anger needs a healthy outlet.”

“Like my face?”

“If you cannot beat a little girl in a fight, what good are you against yokai? I’m not making you fight children for fun, gringo. That is a bonus.” He put his hand on Ben’s shoulder. “I’m trying to teach you. You cannot do this with half of your ass.”

Tatsuya cracked open a vitamin water — his second — and chugged the whole thing down. Ben helped Toby off the counter. The dog felt extra heavy, probably from all those spiders he ate.

“Hey, how come you never put the mask on?” Ben pointed at Tatsuya’s Dragon Mask mask. “Do some of your Dragon Mask moves.The kids would love it.”

Tatsuya crushed the vitamin water bottle between his hands.

“I never wore that mask sober.” he said. “Only a madman would.”

 

Ben and Toby trudged up the stairs to Ben’s apartment. The light in the hallway flickered. The smoke detector beeped sporadically, as it had been doing for a month. They stopped in front of Ben’s place.

“You know, you could just stay with me if you want.” Ben said, unlocking the door. “I got you a bed.”

He opened the door. A red cushion sat at the foot of Ben’s bed. It was on the smaller side of what a dog Toby’s size would need. Ben had still had to save up for it in order to get the quality and craftsmanship the inugami demanded. He gestured to it like Eh? Right?

Toby trotted two apartments down from Ben and scratched on the door. It opened.

“Toby!” said an elderly woman excitedly, “There you are! Let me fry you up some bacon.”

The dog looked at Ben, then followed the elderly woman into her apartment. The door closed.

“I can make bacon.” Ben muttered.

Chapter One.

Chapter One.

posted in: Serial Chapter | 3

The landlady took a long drag from her cigarette. She leaned against the windowpane and watched the sun set over the funeral home across the street. There was a chill in the air. She held her matted yellow robe closed. Behind her, Shrek and Donkey each raised one eyebrow and flashed a smug grin.

Every inch of the storefront window was covered in faded movie posters, mostly for kids movies and big-budget sequels from a decade earlier. The small sign on the glass door read:

EAST WEST VIDEO
CLOSED
THANK YOU
FOR 22 YEARS

A brown Cadillac pulled up to the curb. Det. Sarah Martinez stepped out of the driver’s side. She gave the store the once-over, then pulled her badge from the inside pocket of her sportcoat and flashed it at the landlady.

“Ma’am.” she said. “You called about strange noises?”

Det. Jake Bolland, Sarah’s partner, went directly to the store window without acknowledging the woman. He peeked in-between the posters, stroking his neatly-trimmed mustache.

“Repeatedly. I live upstairs.” The landlady glared at Jake. “The other two have been in there for three hours.”

Sarah pulled a walkie-talkie off her belt. “Adam four, code four. Respond.”

“I can’t be doing this all day,” the landlady said. “I work the night shift tonight. I’m supposed to be asleep right now.”

No response on the radio. Sarah shook her head.

“They’re in the store?” Jake turned to the landlady. “Have you checked on ’em?”

“After the sounds I heard this morning?” She tossed the cigarette butt into the gutter. “I’m not going in there.”

She went in the door next to the video store entrance and up the stairs to her apartment. Sarah and Jake exchanged a look.

 

Thin strips of sunlight bled through between the posters, blanketing the video store in an uneven grid of dusty illumination. Along the walls on either side stood white bookcases lined with empty cardboard VHS covers. Each movie had a little orange sticker in the corner with a handwritten number on it. At the center of the room, two smallish metal racks full of DVDs. At the back of the store, a  wooden counter, with a cash register and an old tube monitor. Darkness loomed beyond. Since the sun was shining in that direction, the back of the store seemed darker than it ought to.

“Police!” Jake didn’t get a response. He and Sarah crept deeper into the store, watching that back area. “What do you think?”

“Something ain’t right.” Sarah pulled out a flashlight and scanned around the ceiling. “Posters in the window are from the mid-2000s, right?”

“What, Shrek?” Jake picked up the box for a horror movie called Ghoulies, frowned at it, and put it back. “Probably. I guess so.”

“Seems like a lot of spider webs.”

“What spider webs?”

Sarah looked at him. “You don’t see-“

“Welcome to East West Video.”

The two cops jumped, reaching for their guns.  A pale woman stepped out from the shadows behind the counter. Long, straight black hair covered most of her face. Sarah aimed the flashlight at her.

“If you need help,” the woman said, “Let me know.”

“God damn, lady,” Jake relaxed, fixing his shirt. “What are you doing in here? You scared the-“

Sarah grabbed him by the collar and yanked him towards the exit. Once they were safely outside, she leaned against the door, panting.

“What are you doing?!” Jake said.

“You can’t see the spider webs.”

“What spider webs?!”

Sarah put her hand up, calming him. “What did you see behind the counter?”

“Skinny woman. Long black hair. Seemed to think the store was still open.”

“Did she have a body?”

Jake started to answer, then stopped. He sighed. “Is this one of those things?”

“It is.” Sarah pulled out her phone. “Let me call my guy.”

Jake closed his eyes and pressed his forehead on the glass door. “Not him…”

 

Ben Carter, pet care specialist, struggled to free himself from the tangle of leashes. The four gray miniature schnauzers at his feet — Rosie, Josie, Posie and Rex — were in a state of chaos. Rex, the only boy, was doing a handstand while peeing on the apartment building next to him. Rosie tugged hard on her leash from the other side of a tree, unable to comprehend why she couldn’t move forward. Josie circled Ben, wrapping her leash around his shins. Posie was pooping. As Ben knelt down to pick up the poop, the dogs all turned and yapped at him.

“Yep. It’s me.” Ben muttered. “I’ve been here this whole time.”

The mini-schnauzers had been yard dogs for years, having just started going out in the world a few weeks ago. They were used to hanging out on the lawn and barking at everything that went past. Their walking skills were negligible. It took forty minutes just to go a few houses down. These were also, it should be said, not usually Ben’s dogs. Kaylee, another walker, had an interview. Or audition. Improv show? Something. Ben was covering for her. He was actually a little surprised she’d asked. Kaylee didn’t like him very much. She was always kind of cold and rude to him.

Ben stood, flipped the poop bag closed and checked the color-coded leashes in his hand.

“Rosie, Josie, Posie…” There were only three. He looked up. “Rex!”

Rex cheesed it down the sidewalk, leash dragging along behind him. Ben tried to follow but the other three dogs were all facing different directions, oblivious.

“Son of a-! REX!”

Just as Rex reached the end of the apartment building, two arms scooped him up.

“Hey, you! Where are you going?” Kaylee held the small dog. Rex’s nub of a tail wagged as he licked her face. “Did Ben forget how to do his job?”

The other mini-schnauzers swarmed Kaylee, silently wagging. She set Rex with the others. Her reflective bracelet flashed. She always wore reflectors on night walks. It was a perfectly practical choice, but very dorky. Ben handed her the leashes.

“I don’t know how you do this every day.” He fished the key to the mini-schnauzers’ house off his key ring. “How was your thing?”

“Terrible.” She said, giving Ben zero hints as to what she did. She pulled her hand away as he went to give her the key. “Let’s go on a date this weekend.”

“You and me?” Ben said. “With each other?”

She laughed. “Yeah, playing hard to get clearly doesn’t work on you. This is the direct approach.”

Ben thought, then smiled. “Ok. Sure.”

Kaylee plucked the key out of his hand. “I’ll text you.”

“Text me.” he repeated, slightly dazed, as Kaylee led the mini-schnauzers back towards their house. His phone buzzed in his pocket. The screen showed a Shiba Inu silhouette in a yellow circle projected on a dark night sky.

“Oh, hey,” Kaylee said, turning back, “Did you give them-“

Ben was gone.

 

“Alright.” Jake checked his watch. “It’s been long enough. I’m going in.”

He started towards the video store. Sarah tried to stop him.

“You can’t go in there!” She said. “This is beyond our capabilities! You can’t even-“

“We have a job to do! There are police in there!”

A cherry red Hyundai stopped in front of them. Ben got out of the back seat. He had what looked like a cricket bat strapped to his back.

“Sorry I’m late!” He ran around to the front passenger door. “I had to wait for someone that would drive a dog.”

He opened the door. A chubby Shiba Inu looked up from licking his crotch and regarded the cops with a blank expression.

“Toby!” Sarah said. “Who’s good?”

The dog gave her a slight wag. For Toby, that was a lot.

“What’s the situation?” Ben said.

“Spiders.” Sarah said. Ben made a yuck face. “And a lady. I only know it’s a yokai problem because Jake can’t see anything. There are two unresponsive cops in the back somewhere. You still don’t have a car?”

“I’ve been busy.” Ben drew his weapon. Small ebony blades dotted the edges of the flat wooden bat, which was engraved with holy symbols from a wide variety of religions.

Toby hopped out of the car. He trotted over to the video store door and peeked in through the video return slot.

Jake crossed his arms, glaring at Ben. “What does that do?”

“It’s the Onislayer, Jake.” Ben swung it around a little. “Demons burn at its touch.”

“Uh-huh. The landlady complained about noise. Can you do…whatever it is you do quietly?”

Ben smiled. “Quiet as a clam.”

He knocked over a rack of DVDs immediately upon entering the store. Plastic cases clattered to the floor. Dust clouded into the air. The sun had gone down since the cops were in here, and the streetlights outside provided much less light through the cracks between the posters. Ben aimed the Onislayer at various points in the room. He saw shelves full of VHS boxes and an empty counter at the back.

“Hello?”

There was no sign of immediate danger. He lowered his weapon. Toby sniffed the dust-filled air and sneezed.

BAD SMELL. Toby’s thoughts bounced around in Ben’s mind. BUG STINK.

“Your nose works a lot better than mine, buddy.” Ben stepped a little further into the room, carefully avoiding fallen DVD cases.

USE EYES.

Toby was looking up. Ben followed his gaze. The surface of the ceiling was covered in a thick mesh of spider webs, which held three globular web pods the size of beach balls aloft.

“Shit. Are those eggs sacs?” Ben exhaled through his teeth. “I’d better take care of those.”

He turned to the bookshelf next to him, found a good place to grip, and climbed up a level. The bottom shelf groaned under his weight. Toby turned to the VHS cover next to him and sniffed at it.

Ben swung the Onislayer upwards through one of the pods. It crackled, glowed slightly, and fluttered to the ground like tissue paper as it turned to embers. It was empty.

“We’re too late.” Ben said.

The VHS cover Toby was sniffing shook. He growled.

Suddenly, all the VHS covers in the store started rattling in place. Ben hopped down from the shelves and clutched the Onislayer tightly in front of him. A shadow formed around Toby in the shape of a bigger, meaner Toby. The dog hovered at the shadow’s center, a few inches off the ground. Tentacle-like shapes grew from the shadow’s surface.

The VHS covers stopped. Ben held his breath.

At once, the covers tipped over and thousands, millions of tiny black spiders skittered out. A shimmering wave of arachnids poured onto the dusty carpet and quickly encroached on the boy and his dog.

Ben swung the Onislayer into the bookcase. Flames kissed the spiders in its path. The boxes around it started on fire. Ben went to pull it back, but the ebony blades were jammed in the wood. Ben put his foot on the shelf for some leverage and tried to yank it loose. Spiders wriggled up his pants leg. He could feel them crawling around in there, biting his shins. Ben screamed, jerked the Onislayer free, and pressed it against his leg. The spiders burned through his pants. When he pulled the blade away, there were scorch mark on his jeans where the spiders had been.

Toby hovered above the floor, encased in his larger shadow form. The tentacles of pure darkness growing off his back whipped around, swatting clusters of spiders en masse. When a clump of spiders near him got large enough, he turned and gobbled them up like kibble. As he did, Ben’s leg felt better.

Ben slid his Onislayer on the floor around him, drawing a flaming circle of sizzling spiders. He kept hopping from foot to foot, always keeping one off the ground, so the spiders inside the circle didn’t get him. The next line of arachnids just climbed over the burning ones. This wasn’t nearly as effective as Toby’s method.

“I’m gonna find those cops!” Ben said. He headed towards the back of the store. Toby kept doing what he was doing.

As Ben approached the counter, a woman’s face shot out from the darkness and got up in his grill. The woman had long straight black hair, parted in the middle, covering her eyes.

“I’m sorry, sir.” she said. Ben glanced down. Sarah was right. This head had no body. “This area is for employees only.”

Ben swiped at the floating head. The woman snarled. Her long black hair whipped up in two thick tendrils — for a brief moment, Ben saw solid black eyes and pointed teeth — and sliced the fingers off Ben’s Onislaying hand. His weapon dropped to the floor.

Ben screamed, clutching his wrist, gaping at what remained of his hand. Toby noticed this and started eating spiders at a furious rate. Ben’s fingers grew back: bones, then tendons, then veins, then meat, then skin.

“Ah. You have the kakawari.” the floating head said.

“Complicates things, don’t it?” Ben said, wiggling his fresh fingers.

The head drifted back into the dark. In an instant, the wooden counter smashed to splinters as a ten-foot-tall spider creature pounced upon Ben, crunching him into the fallen DVD rack. Its eight thick hairy legs stomped around, slipping on DVD cases, avoiding the growing flames. Ben held its huge pincers back as they snapped at his throat. He saw his own panicked face reflected in eight tiny, asymmetrical eyes. A curved stalk grew from the giant spider’s forehead, like the glowing bulb on a deep sea angler fish. The woman’s head bobbed at the end of it.

“Complicate? No. Not really,” said the head. “I’ll just have to eat you first.”

Toby hovered next to Ben. The shadow form around him pulsed and solidified into coarse black fur. What stood there now looked like a cross between a wolf and a bear, with glowing red eyes, massive teeth and a tangle of fur tentacles whipping around on its back. Toby the dog was gone. Only the inugami remained.

“Better do it quick.” Ben said.

The inugami howled, a piercing shriek that made the windows rattle. Ben covered his ears. The spider staggered back, releasing him.

Outside, four different car alarms went off.

“Landlady’s probably going to complain about that.” Jake said without looking up from his phone. Sarah shook her head. She headed for the store.

The inugami leapt upon the giant spider, biting at its neck. The spider managed to catch two of its back legs on counter rubble and it slipped, briefly giving the inugami the upper hand. Ben stood and ducked to the side, avoiding a spider leg and then an inugami tentacle. He picked up the Onislayer.

The inugami rammed the spider into the bookcase nearest to the exit. The wooden case collapsed around them just as Sarah went to open the door. She found it blocked.

“Ben!” she shouted.

“Keep her busy!” Ben said, heading into the dark. The spider rolled, the inugami rolled with it, and they slammed into the opposite wall. The pockets of flame around them slowly grew larger.

As the battle raged on behind him, Ben tread carefully past shelves full of actual VHS tapes in clear plastic cases. There were empty cases strewn about the floor and tapes cracked open like eggs. Bits of black plastic crunched under Ben’s feet. The magnetic tape had been unspooled and removed. There were a lot more spider webs back here. The air felt hot and wet.

“It’s ok,” Ben whispered to himself. “You chose this. This is what you do.”

At the end of the tape racks, Ben turned a corner to the right. He gasped. Hanging from the ceiling, less than a foot from his face, were two human-sized cocoons made from a mix of webs and tape. Viscous fluid oozed between the webs. The tape rippled. One of the cocoons moaned.

Ben leaned down. Each cocoon had a human head poking out the bottom. Their skin was pale, their lips were blue, but one of them made a noise, which meant these cops were alive. Ben climbed up the nearest shelf and sawed at the top of one of the cocoons with the Onislayer.

The giant spider charged at the inugami, hissing, pincers pinching rhythmically. The inugami lunged to the side and clamped its jaws onto one of the spider’s legs. The beast twisted its head and wrenched the leg from the spider’s abdomen. The woman’s head, still bobbing up and down on its stalk, wailed in pain.

Ben cut the root of the second cocoon, and it dropped to the floor with a wet sclorch. Ben knelt down beside it. He pressed the Onislayer up to the webs right beneath the cop’s neck.

“I hope you’re not fatter than you look.”

He sliced down the center. A foul stench filled the air, earthy, like rotten cabbage. Ben gagged. As he got close to the end, the cocoon split open revealing the cop’s body. The guy was pretty goopy but not visibly harmed. He didn’t move. Ben grabbed him by the vest and winced at the warm, slimy wetness.

“Hey! Wake up!” He shook the cop. “You’re being rescued! Wake-“

The cop shot up, gasping. His panicked eyes darted around the room until they settled on Ben.

“You alright?” Ben said.

The cop felt around, shook off some of the slime. He nodded.

“Good.” Ben said, “You can help me with-“

The other cocoon began convulsing. That cop’s mouth opened and another guttural groan escaped his lips.

“Shit.” Ben said.

The cocoon burst, splattering Ben and the cop next to him with webs, tape, slime and blood. A mass of tiny spiders flowed out from where the second cop’s body should have been. The awake-cop’s eyes rolled back in his head and he flopped into his cocoon.

Ben dove at the spiders, stabbing with his Onislayer, shouting obscenities.

 

The inugami and the giant spider were still fighting hard as Ben dragged the unconscious cop back into the front of the store. The flames had grown into a full-blown fire. Smoke filled the room. Boxes and shelves burned. Everything reeked of melting plastic.

“Toby!” Ben said. “Time to go!”

The woman’s head swung into view. “You! Human! What have you done?! Where are you going with my din-“

Slice! Ben severed the head’s connective stalk. The head tumbled through the air and landed, bounced, and rolled over by the counter.

The spider, orange mush now leaking from its stalk, slumped onto the inugami, dead weight. The inugami wriggled out from underneath it, bit through the spider’s exoskeleton and started eating its guts. Ben felt the rush of energy he got when the inugami ate. He shook it off, then coughed.

The smoke was getting thicker. Ben couldn’t see the exit. He grabbed the cop and tried to drag him further, but couldn’t. He fell onto his butt, coughing.

“Toby!” he shouted. “We gotta get out of here!”

Laughter emanated from across the room. The woman’s head propped itself up with spider’s legs made from its own hair. It wobbled on its hair legs, which couldn’t quite handle the weight, then headed towards the back of the store. The inugami turned and dove to attack it, missing, catching only rubble.

“Help!” Ben got up. “Toby! I can’t move this guy!”

BEN GO. Toby snarled in Ben’s brain. His thoughts were always angrier when he was in Full Inugami mode. TOBY KILL.

I can’t go! Not without the guy!”

He got between the inugami and the escaping head. The inugami growled at him.

BEN GO! TOBY KILL!

“No!”

The inugami barked in Ben’s face. TOBY KILL! TOBY KILL!

“No! Damn it! Help-” Ben coughed. “Help me save that cop!”

The smoke was completely blinding now. The severed head with the hair legs faded from view. Ben went into a full on coughing fit and collapsed.

 

Jake tried to calm the landlady, who was outside again, shouting in his face. Sarah waved the approaching fire engine towards the store.

“You burned down my building!” the landlady said. “I’m going to sue the city! I’ll have your jobs for this!”

“Ma’am.” Jake said, hands up, “Ma’am. If you’ll just-“

The glass storefront shattered. Ben, Toby and the cop rolled out onto the sidewalk amongst the broken glass.

Toby, back to normal, shook like a wet dog. Glass tinkled off his fur. Ben stood, screaming, wriggling out of his flaming hoodie and tossing it onto the sidewalk. He stomped on it until the flames were out. He saw Jake, Sarah, the landlady and several firefighters staring at him.

“Hey,” he said.

The landlady pointed at him. “Who the hell is that?”

 

COPYRIGHT © MMXVII by JACK McGUIGAN
ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

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