The old Itasca came to a lurching halt in the center of the street. The halogen streetlamps threw a pale aqua light over the low-income neighborhood and the one-story duplex with the curtained bay windows.
Yanking the parking break and remembering to set the flashers, Paulus flew from the driver’s seat and pushed past Goltry to the narrow closet south of the kitchenette. Pushing aside the dirt brown drapery, Paulus reached into the shallow alcove and pulled out the biggest sledgehammer Former Coroner Ron had ever seen. Turning with the weighty piece of iron in his right hand, Paulus gingerly dipped his left into the space and came away with an equally thyroidal hatchet.
“Cudgel or axe, Brother?” Paulus said with mounting enthusiasm.
“Neither, we’ll be in tighter confines. Grab me the katana.”
And grab the katana Paulus did. An elegant blade with an ivory handle detailed with carved inlays and filigrees applied by a master’s hand centuries before the earth beneath the motor home’s wheels was named on any map. Paulus released the sword into the air and Castro snatched it by the scabbard. Squeezing past Former Coroner Ron’s sizable mass, Castro threw open the motorhome door, kicked out the folding stairs like a miniature gantry and charged onto the quiet street with his brother fast on his heels.
The cautiously emerged from the motor home. Within seconds of setting his foot on the pavement, Former Coroner Ron heard the screams issuing from the right-hand unit. They were the high-pitched wails of a woman and child. Oh my God, he moaned, we got here too late.
His heart pounding fit to split open, Former Coroner Ron drew up short and watched the huntsmen of the Gods charge for the doorstep like two schoolboys hell bent for recess. Before either could set foot on the concrete walkway, the duplex front bay window exploded outward and from a bloom of fluttering curtains and winking glass hurtled the tattered and bloody form of a man. He hit the front lawn like a burlap sack of drowned kittens and lay still.
Devoting barely half a glance over his shoulder, Paulus hefted his cudgel in both hands and forcefully applied it to the front door. The frail wood exploded inward to the degree the front window did out and the brothers charged into the little home to a rising chorus of female screams.
Kneeling beside the motionless man, Former Coroner Ron applied the tips of his fingers to the other’s neck and found the shadow of a pulse. From beneath a makeover of blood, the man’s eyes flickered open. “Lop Lop…” he muttered, his voice drifting further away with each syllable.
“What?” said Former Coroner Ron truly befuddled.
“Painter. Max Ernst. It looks like his paintings…of Lop Lop,” the wounded man whispered and commenced to shudder. The pupils of his blue eyes turned to black pinpricks and what little life was left in him after he exited the window, fled.
Rising slowly, Former Coroner Ron could see large silhouettes in motion from beyond the smeared curtains. Dare he go inside? Would he find his companions once more reduced to so much round steak?
Moving for the door, the sounds of manly grunts and whistling weapons met Former Coroner Ron’s ears. Halting at the shattered jam, Former Corner Ron’s heart lifted with relief. He saw Paulus and Castro standing tall, their weapons bared. All relief vaporized when he once more set eyes on the horrid hybrid of ape and reptile.
The brothers circled wearily about a squat creature as it hovered in the center of the room. Seeing it in its entirety for the first time brought a twist of loathing to Former Coroner Ron’s stomach. Its torso was tapered and bulbous like a gourd, its apelike arms so long its bloody knuckles rested on the floor; their long and blade-like talons turned up to the ceiling. It cocked its long head back and forth like a prehistoric bird, watching its opponents from piercing irises of white adrift in a sea of pure black. Pivoting on stumpy legs, the creature moved with a sinewy grace that belied its compact frame.
The Razor Baby was seldom so dumbfounded. It was accustomed to the moment of surprise and now quite befuddled when, seconds after passing through the wall of the tiny hut of wood and plaster, it was set upon by a male. The females never had companions. The pattern was all wrong.
The recipe was always the same: pick up the scent of the nasty females, the mothers and the daughters, find their abode, taste the air and upon finding them helpless–no feathers or beaks or talons? Kill them anyway. They were usually alone; sitting down to a meal or in front of that glowing box and then it was all “Sniff, sniff. Slash, slash. Scream, scream and time for a nap.” That’s the way it always went. There was never any resistance.
This time it was different.
True, dispatching the male took little effort—a slice, a stab, a backhand blow and off the man flew. And glass makes such a satisfying sound when it shatters. Though killing the man was a treat, his presence gave the Razor Baby pause before he advanced on the women.
For so very long his senses readily drew him to his prey, the pairings of mothers and daughters. It was a rare magic suspended between them and he knew the flavor well. The taste was off, however, if there was a third or fourth party in the mix. More than a duo and he’d simply move on. The Razor Baby had always been able to trust his senses until now.
The Razor Baby’s rhythm was further thrown by the sound of the portal shattering inward and the sight of those two oafs it had so nicely sliced before. The Razor Baby was not surprised to see them reassembled. They were Godlings, after all.
Sadly, this time they came bearing weapons and their teeth were gritted and there was fire in their eyes. The Razor Baby hadn’t seen that kind of fire since…well, since the flying women tried to drag him into the sky, and that made the Razor Baby nervous. The Razor Baby knew he should wink away, but so many things were out of sync and he needed to know why.
Former Coroner Ron hovered before the shrapnel of the broken door, watching his companions stalk about the squat creature like two wolves on a wolverine. Equally matched in weaponry, yes, but guile and ferocity were still in question. At any second the magical killer could wink out of existence and reappear seconds later to pierce a throat or unzip a bowel. Strangely, it held its ground, rotating that long snout back and forth, tracking the demigods with those eightball eyes.
Feeling impotent and helpless in the doorway, Former Coroner Ron spied the mother and daughter cowering just beyond the kitchen door. My God, he choked, they’re still alive.
Leaning over at the waist, he gestured to the woman with the little girl wound up in her arms. “Come on—over here,” he said in a desperate whisper. The woman looked up, her eyes wide and doe-like. She was frozen; her mouth hung open, her face a tidal plain of tears. She shook her head. Dare he charge into the room and snatch them, or would he end up with that monster’s claws in his chest?
In a heartbeat the decision was made for him. Swinging his long silver blade in a clean arc, Castro took a slice at the twisted little beast. Instead of winking away, it made an anemic dodge. As it ducked, Paulus took the advantage and putting all his weight behind his cudgel, slammed the steel mallet into the beast’s trunk, sending it hurtling into the drab olive couch.
The doe-eyed woman was terrified, but far from stupid. Without releasing the grip on her child, the two ran for Former Coroner Ron’s open arms. As soon as they entered his ever-vacant personal space Former Coroner Ron did a most uncharacteristic thing, he gathered them up in his arms, held them tight and kissed them wetly upon their shaking heads. Without a pause, he hoisted them up into his substantial arms and bore them from the living room turned battle zone.
Struck, the Razor Baby had been struck. What kind of sorry state of affairs was this? Righting itself upon the cushions of the late 80’s era sofa, the creature brought up both mighty paws to slash at the enemies, only to feel the bite of ancient Nipponese steel across the pads of its digits. When the Razor Baby shrieked it was like the sound of a dozen dying lambs. Blinking back the pain, it dove from the couch and lashed out at the slighter man with the sword.
Castro feinted and leaned back into his heels. The Razor Baby lashed out at the smaller man, it’s claws whistling through the air with one slice, two slices and then came the sound of a mountain landing upon it’s head.
Paulus brought his mallet down upon the skull of his adversary with a satisfying crack. Thanks to the impact, the gray creature’s limbs all but collapsed beneath it.
Castro and his brother shared a wide triumphant grin. With a slight nod, Castro raised the hand-forged blade made of a thousand tissue-thin folds of steel and cocked the pommel astride his ear like an executioner preparing for the coup de grace.
With a throbbing head lolling about over its shallow neck, the Razor Baby struggled to lift its mismatched limbs from the floor. A wave of agony washed over its elongated cranium and it found thinking very difficult. One moment of awkward rhythm and all was lost. The Razor Baby sniffed back blood from its nostril slits and didn’t care much for the taste. Glancing up and spying Castro’s offer of a speedy decapitation the Razor Baby sniffed, blinked and was gone.
Intent on dragging his two charges to the questionably safe confines of the Itasca, Former Coroner Ron paused just long enough to look over his shoulder. Beyond the blown out window all was suddenly quiet. He saw slow movement beyond the billowing curtains and seconds later Paulus and Castro, arm in arm, exited the ruined duplex.
Both men shared grins that stretched nearly ear to ear and Former Coroner Ron felt an upwelling of joy. The Godlings triumphantly threw their weapons upon the lawn, turned to one another and raising their hands in the universal gesture of success, clapped the other in a high five. At that moment, Paulus’s beleaguered arm succumbed to the evening’s stress and tearing free from its tender moorings, spun counter-clockwise like a pinwheel. Fumbling with clownish glee, Paulus caught his dangling arm before it could fly free of his coat sleeve.
“Is it dead?” said Former Coroner Ron.
Chuckling at himself, Paulus wrestled his limb back into place. “Oh no, Doctor. The Thelema Child is still very much alive.”
“Escaped, in fact,” said Castro.
“But what a sizable victory!” crowed Paulus.
“Beaten into flight, Doctor, beaten into flight,” added Castro.
“Never have we lingered with the beast in actual combat!” barked Paulus.
“Aye, with each of us laying a sizable wound upon the little bastard,” said Castro.
“And we owe it all to you, Doctor,” Paulus beamed.
Castro stepped forward and clasped the larger man’s shoulders in both his hands. “Your powers of mystical detection were just the break we needed to gain the upper hand. The hunt has turned to our favor, Doctor.”
Former Coroner Ron could only look down at the shorter demigod in dumb silence. That creature was still loose. Even now it could be circling back around to slice them to shreds, or worse yet, speeding to some distant part of the globe to waste even more innocent lives.
Former Coroner Ron had no response save to turn from Castro’s grip and look down at the young woman and little girl where they hunkered over the body of the dead man.