in Pomona, of all places. I don’t mind regular zombies—not
that you’ll ever see many these days—they’re strong but slow
and the zombie-master’s usually close by. Drop him and they
all fall over dead. As opposed to standing around dead. Flesh
eaters are another matter. They get everywhere, you’re never
sure exactly what’s animating them, and it takes forever
to ferret them all out.
Sometimes I wish
George Romero had never made that movie.
At least we got
the jump on them this time. It still took a dozen of us all
weekend, but Pomona, and the rest of Southern California,
was safe again tonight. Monster Fighters of America had things
well in hand.
It’s a dorky name,
I know. I’ve been an active MFA member since high school.
I guess that’s when most of us join. It was kind of like
a TV show, except instead of a bunch of brain-trust geeks
and rich soc-types in designer clothes hanging in the library
we were a bunch of stoners, rockers and car-geeks who hung
out in auto-shop.
There could have
been another group in the library, I guess. I wouldn’t know,
I never spent much time there.
Other than that,
and the weapons—I mean, crossbows? Come on. Otherwise it
was pretty much the same, a bunch of kids who went out and
fought monsters nobody believes in. Most of the old gang
drifted after graduation, but the bug bit me harder, I guess.
I’ve been at it ever since.
I was looking
forward to a shower and a long snooze when, ten minutes from
home, my phone rang. I screwed the Bluetooth into my ear
and answered. It was Gene, MFA’s dispatcher for my area.
“Hey, kid. I got
something for you.”
“Gene, I haven’t
got home from the last one. I’m low on supplies, sleep and—”
than anyone else by more than an hour. Relax, its just an
observe and report. It won’t take long and it’s probably
nothing. Reports of some sort of cult activity up in the
hills, I’ve got an address. You still full up on recon gear?”
It wasn’t like
hunting zombies had used up the batteries in my night vision
gear. “Yeah, I’m full up on recon gear, such as it is. I’m
damn near out of standard ammunition and I haven’t eaten
since Friday, but I have my recon gear. Where is it?”
The address was
close, at least on a Sunday night. Monday morning rush would
be a different story, but that was at least eight hours away.
Twenty minutes and I was pulling over to the side of the
road in roughly the right neighborhood. Loading the zip full
of topo-maps for this area into my lap-top, I started planning
It looked like
I could get closest working up a ravine running behind the
strip of multimillion dollar homes that clung to the mesa’s
edge. You could almost assume any cult dabbling in the dark
arts would be operating out of a big place with no close
neighbors and this one had chosen an ideal place. Big house
on a large lot well up on the mesa so it mostly looked down
the ravine at the neighbors’ backyards, rather than the other
way round. I drove to where I could get into the canyon and
got my gear out of the trunk.
provided their own gear. We get together and swap some, and
send out e-mail alerts on deals we run across, but mostly
it comes out of our own pockets. There’s one guy down in
Burbank who has the whole James Bond/CIA covert ops set up—state-of-the-art
night vision, boom mikes, infra-red cameras—all packed into
the back of a hundred grand worth of Mercedes. He’s a money-guy
in Hollywood, arranging financing for movies and shit. Rolling
I work at a truck-stop
as a diesel mechanic. I’m doing good to have a second-generation
night vision monocle and a real classy pair of high-powered,
low-light field glasses with an electric camera built in.
Which I swapped some engine work on that guy’s Mercedes for.
Throw in a set of black mechanic’s overalls and my web-harness
and that’s my recon gear.
a minute considering my shotgun—too bulky for the job and
I only had a partial box of ammo left after Pomona—I loaded
up with my shock-baton and USP-45. They would have to do,
and I still had two extra magazines for the pistol.
An arsenal wasn’t
really required for an O&R anyway. I was just twitchy after
a weekend of zombie-slaughter. The first time I’d done an
O&R in these hills, right after graduation, the ‘cult activities’ had
turned out to be a professional porno-company making a movie
in someone’s backyard pool. The memory made me smile—I still
had a few of the pictures I took. I even tracked down a copy
of the movie, later.
Of course, the
second time I’d come out here…
The house had
a high wall around the back, stuccoed white. The place would
be imposing in my neighborhood; it was bigger than the rec-center
at my trailer park. Here it was just another house on the
lane, a little larger than most. With the house set-up at
the front of the lot and the back stepped down into the canyon
behind it, the house wasn’t likely to go mud-surfing down
the canyon—as so many places do up here—though the pool-area
might, someday. The layout meant you could just get a peek
at the back from behind the up-mesa neighbor’s place, though
not from that neighbor’s house itself.
I checked the
ravine with my night-vision gear but didn’t see anything
resembling a sentry. That was a good thing in that I wasn’t
likely to get caught, but anyone up to real evil mojo activity
would probably post some kind of guard, so the whole thing
was probably going to be a wash. Of course, that’d be a good
thing as well, so I huffed my way up the canyon to take a
Before I’d gotten
anywhere near the top I started to have suspicions of my
own. The back of the house was reflecting an eerie glow,
which isn’t that unusual when you filter light through a
swimming pool, but this glow was raising the hackles on the
back of my neck. I was too far away, and too far below, to
get much sound from the target but there was sound, that
much I could tell.
I got up to the
top of the incline, more of a climb than a hike, and crouched
behind the neighbor’s wall to get my wind back. There was
sound, I could hear it even over my puffing—a sort of muffled
bass chanting that set my spine on edge. I leaned around
a corner and looked in. The light was low enough and the
angle bad enough that I couldn’t make out much by eye. That
was why I’d lugged my field-glasses along. Sixty-X light
gathering binoculars brought in more detail than I really
It was an orgy
alright. Not a bunch-of-high-school-kids-out-skinny-dipping-who-got-carried-away
orgy or even a porno company letting off steam orgy. Porno
people are mostly in shape, the girls anyway. Body-waxing,
silicone implants and all that. This was more like a bunch
of middle aged swingers gone horribly, horribly wrong. They
were doing things in the writhing poolside pile that no sane
human being could find pleasurable.
Look, I grew up
in California, and like any healthy wide-band connected young
man more often between girlfriends than not, I’ve surfed
through a lot of porn-sites. I’ve seen a lot of sick, disgusting
shit people get off on, but very little of it involved live
fish, octopi and blood. In fact the blood alone set this
apart—no one in these days of condoms in elementary schools
engages in unbridled skin-breaking activities for recreation.
I took pictures.
Once I got past the spectacle of the fish- and octopi- assisted
orgy I got a better feel for the layout. The people were
all on one side of the pool in a wide patio area, about forty
of them. The pool itself was large and rectangular—maybe
fifty feet by twenty. I couldn’t see where the light was
coming from, other than somewhere in the water. The water
was scummy green. The far side of the pool was obscured by
a massive form of some sort—an idol of their fish-god, I
supposed. From the back, in the dark, it didn’t look like
I switched to
the IR monocle. The poolside pile stood out clear, no other
people that I could see, none beyond the pool, none patrolling
beyond the wall or on the canyon slope. This was real cult
activity, so I turned on my cell phone to call in for back
As much as I’d
like to curse my service provider, the signal might have
been blocked by the mystic ceremony. Maybe. I’ve heard about
it happening, in bull-sessions after a mission. It didn’t
matter why. I could either press on alone or go back down
the ravine until I got a signal. It was seventy feet down
and another sixty or so back up to the back wall of the place.
I had no actual supernatural manifestation to deal with,
the mission was still observe and report. I decided to get
a scrub-filled ravine is a romp for a twenty-year-old. I
know, it’s how I spent my days when I was a twenty-year-old.
A dozen years later and on the tail end of a long, hard weekend,
it felt more like a day trip on the Bataan death march, but
I got up to the wall behind the place without breaking anything,
or making enough noise to get noticed.
Up close brought
details I could have done without. The patio area was set
off from the house by a wall of screens painted garishly,
as if by children. Disturbed children, with an unwholesome
fascination with sea-life. The chanting came from men with
painted faces. They were seated right down with the orgy
but took no part in the orgy, instead controlling its tempo
with the rhythm of their chant.
had stepped up in tempo while I repositioned myself, taking
on a frantic air. The light pulsed in time with the chanting,
and the scum on the top of the water stirred. I started working
around the wall, trying to get a view of the idol. That would
give me a better idea of what I was dealing with.
The wall wasn’t
uniform in height, at least not on this side, but the ground
rose up nearer the house. That put me closer to the ceremony
than I liked, almost too close for the binoculars to focus
for my camera but I made the move.
The idol was hideous,
but I’ve seen worse. Fins, scales and tentacles over a form
only vaguely man-like, carved as if seated on the edge of
the pool, its lower half obscured by the scummy water. It’s
back sported two sets of overlapping, bat-like wings that
had obscured the rest of it from behind. The image sent alarm
bells chiming in my hind-brain.
Images from the
MFA’s bulletin—I downloaded the PDF every quarter—I tried
to recall everything I’d ever read about dark rituals, diabolic
summoning, I couldn’t put a name to the idol but I knew it
was bad news, and the ceremony itself…this wasn’t some ongoing,
weekly fish orgy. This was the cumulative ritual of a major
Which meant I
was going to have to try to disrupt it.
One of the orgists
wormed her way out of the pile and stood on the edge of the
pool. My field glasses brought her into focus in time for
a picture—she looked seventy but was probably a hard-used
fifty, her body awash with fish-slime, blood and other bodily
fluids, her eyes rolled back in ritual-induced madness—then
she stepped into the water and slid under the slime with
hardly a splash.
She never came
up, but the water started to boil with motion. From behind
the screen there was motion, two of the cultists were pushing
a large object across the concrete to the edge of the pool.
It was an anchor—not a boat anchor but a large ship’s anchor,
four or five feet long and maybe a couple of hundred pounds.
They brought it
right to the edge of the pool—the surface of which trembled
with movement below the scum, now. The cultists withdrew,
the orgy spread out into a semi-circle facing the pool. The
chanting increased in both tempo and volume. I put aside
my field glasses and rolled over the wall.
I landed behind
a low bush of some sort, unseen or at least unremarked on.
I drew my pistol. I had ten rounds in the magazine, two more
magazines on my hip—but how to use them to stop this and,
hopefully, cover my escape?
The huskies who’d
dragged in the anchor returned. This time they had a girl
between them. She was woman-sized, with a woman’s shape,
but she hadn’t had it long. She was naked and scared, they
had to drag her, stiff legged, to the anchor. She wasn’t
resisting so much as she was just paralyzed. Perfect skin,
no droop in her full breasts—if she was in high school she
was a freshman, probably a virgin. A virgin sacrifice.
They stood her
astride the anchor’s shaft and began fixing her hands to
the cross-piece with cable ties, and I got up and moved.
I reached the far corner of the pool area, next to the idol
and across the roiling, scummy water from the cultists.
I’d drop the huskies
when they went to push her into the water, and then unload
into the crowd. I wished I’d brought a grenade, I wished
I’d brought a tac-team. She was just a kid, California gorgeous
with white-blonde hair and coppery skin showing white with
tan-lines—junior high jail bait. The girl I’d wished I was
dating in eighth grade.
The huskies drew
the ties tight and faded back into the crowd. Maybe they
weren’t going to push her in after all…
up out of the pool, purple shafts with yellow suckers like
a Harryhousen movie on acid. Trailing scum over the pool’s
edge, uncurling in a graceful semi-circle that mirrored the
cultist’s perches. They weren’t going to push her in…
The gun in my
hand barked twice. From sixty feet away a two-hundred-forty
grain copper-jacketed slug intersected the tan line that
bisected her cleavage, another found her mouth open in its
silent scream, bypassing her pink tongue and perfect pearly
teeth to spray her brains across the gibbering filth that
ringed the obscene tableau.
Instead of an
unblemished virgin sacrifice, their God would eat a hundred
pounds of dead flesh. I sprinted for the back wall, certain
the thing in the pool would not appreciate the meal. I’d
disrupted the ceremony.
across the top of the wall, I tumbled over it and down the
nearly vertical slope of the ravine. Behind me voices screamed.
I lost my gun on the first roll, and then my arm broke. White
noise drowned out the screams, and the sky lit green.
three hundred feet before the ravine slope leveled from the
steep climb of fill below the houses to the normal, Manzanita
covered ancient run-off cut. My neck should have broke a
dozen times, my ribs practically did by the time I came to
a stop in the middle of a bush. My monoscope and my pistol
somewhere on the slope above, my field glasses smashed as
flat as I was.
I saw the house
go. The whole place, house, wall, idol and cultists as well
as six feet of California hardpan, into what was described
by the TV news that evening as a “freak sink-hole”. A sink-hole
to the nether reaches of hell, and good riddance to bad rubbish.
team found me, got me to a hospital. They even got my car
and most of my gear out, nothing left to connect me to the
place at all. I have medical coverage through work, and a
good thing, too. I was in the hospital for three days and
off work for two months. Hard to turn a wrench with busted
Story is I got
clipped while standing by the roadside, a hit and run. The
MFA had a fund-raiser to replace my gear—they recovered the
pictures from the remains of my field glasses, and they found
my pistol. Not that I’ll ever use that gun again. I’ll probably
trade it for another.
par for the course for a Monster Fighter. I never see the
tentacles, or that awful idol. Just a flash of white-blonde
hair, a whiteand-copper tan line. She’s probably on a milk
carton somewhere; I could find her on the internet. They
have databases for missing children; I could put a name to
Instead I’ll light
a candle Sunday mornings, and pray for understanding, if
not forgiveness. I don’t take solo O&R’s anymore, and never,
ever take a job in those hills. Not if I can help it.