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Night moves, p.1

Night Moves, page 1

 part  #5 of  Spells, Saly, & Steel Series


Night Moves

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Night Moves

  Night Moves

  Spells, Salt, & Steel Vol. 5

  Gail Z. Martin

  Larry N. Martin



  Chapter 1

  Chapter 2

  Chapter 3

  Chapter 4

  Chapter 5

  Chapter 6

  Chapter 7

  Chapter 8

  Chapter 9

  Authors’ Note

  About the Authors

  Falstaff Books


  Night Moves

  Spells, Salt, & Steel #5

  By Gail Z. Martin and Larry N. Martin


  Northwestern Pennsylvania, where the men are men and the sheepsquatch are…deeply respectful.

  Except when they aren’t.

  I slogged through a wooded area near Tamarack Lake, slapping at deer flies and gnats, and cursing under my breath. I’d had a quiet Friday night in mind, binge-watching a few movies, drinking some beer, and hanging out with my pet doberman, Demon. Then the call came, and so here I was, up to my balls in scrub grass, chasing a wooly cryptid through the woods.

  Unfortunately, nothing about that scenario was the tiniest bit unusual.

  The red filter on my flashlight hat supposedly made the light harder for my quarry to spot, but I just thought it gave a cheap horror movie effect to the whole thing. I bent down and peered at some fibers caught in a pricker bush. They looked like strands of dirty white wool, which told me I was on the right track.

  Up ahead, I caught a glimpse of a pale hunched figure, and I picked up my pace. I had a modified harpoon gun with a grappling hook-tipped shaft attached to a heavy-duty rope, and a secret weapon about to be deployed as soon as I had a better visual on the creature.

  And there he was, in all his sheepish glory. This particular sheepsquatch stood about six feet tall on his hind legs, with a coat of matted wool. It had a head like a big horned sheep, and a muzzle like a husky dog and a yeti had a mistaken night of passion and birthed a love child. Not to mention, the thing smelled like ass.

  My buddy, Officer Pat Carmody, had called me in because the critter had been gnawing on people’s landscaping, and he was afraid someone would call in the media and we’d have a monster all over TV, which would draw all of the wrong kinds of attention. Things could get ugly.

  And they definitely could, especially if the sheepsquatch was indeed a male because those things are hung like a squirrel—proportionally, I mean. Not a pretty sight, when it stands up nekkid on its hind feet. Not to mention those big horns, and when they butt like a billy goat, someone’s going flying. Sheepsquatch also have a temper and a nasty overbite.

  I’d checked out the area earlier, trying to be prepared. Not that anything I ever planned went the way it was supposed to, but I figure it’s the thought that counts.

  “Hey ugly!” I shouted, and the sheepsquatch stopped. I hefted the harpoon gun to my shoulder and shot. The grappling hook shaft sailed through the air and caught like a burr in the creature’s thick, wooly coat. The other end of the rope was attached to a water ski handle, and I grabbed hold and slung my harpoon gun over one shoulder.

  At the same time, I could hear the yapping of a border collie, which had been let loose from its kennel and crashed through the scrub toward us.

  The sheepsquatch stood to its full height and let out a baleful bleat. It turned its beady eyes on me, then swiveled its head toward the collie—and took off running.

  The whole idea behind the harpoon and grappling hook had been to “steer” the creature toward the cage that Pat and my other friend, Officer Louie Marino, had helped me set up earlier in the day. Instead, I found myself sheepsquatch-skiing across the slick grass, skidding and stumbling and trying to keep up.

  “I’ve got him!” I shouted, although it was a toss-up over who had whom. The border collie was on the job, nipping at the monster’s heels, hedging it in so that it lumbered in the right direction. The sheepsquatch tried to bolt, and I threw my weight in the opposite direction. At six foot two and about one-ninety, I’m not a little guy, but Sheepy was solid muscle and probably had at least seventy pounds on me.

  “Get the shot!” I yelled to Louie, as I lost my footing and tumbled along like a tin can on a string behind a Just Married car. “Tranq him!”

  At best, I slowed the sheepsquatch down a bit. Mostly, I probably just annoyed the fuck out of him, as he tried to swat at the place where the hooks were lodged in his fur. Louie fired, but the dart hit the creature in the arm, not the ass. That just pissed Sheepy off, and he started to run.

  The border collie yipped and barked, trying to keep Sheepy headed toward the cage. I stubbornly held onto the grip, skidding on my dupa and then managing to get on my feet, trying to make sure the creature didn’t get away from us.

  “Shoot him again!” I yelled. “It didn’t take.”

  Both Pat and Louie were local cops, but they weren’t park rangers, and roofie-ing cryptids wasn’t in their job description. I heard two shots, and Sheepy jerked when the darts hit. One was center mass in his chest, and the other stuck out of his big hairy backside.

  Sheepy bellowed and swatted at the darts, managing to knock the one in front away, but he couldn’t reach his butt. The dog nearly had him to the steel cage filled with yummy treats like clover and slices of bread. Almost on the threshold of the cage, the creature stopped and glared at Louie, who was closest, then took a roundhouse swing at him. Sheepsquatch aren’t the most graceful creatures even when they haven’t been pumped full of tranquilizers, but this one punched like a drunk. His fist went wide, but Louie stumbled getting out of his way and fell down, landing on the remote for his police cruiser. He hit it just right, setting off the strobe lights and sirens.

  Sheepy stiffened, bleated in alarm, and wobbled. I knew he was going down, and I didn’t want to have to haul a couple hundred pounds of rank sheepsquatch ass into the cage, so I plowed into him from behind. He fell forward into the cage and didn’t move. The border collie ran up, wagging his tail, taking credit for the whole thing.

  “Does that count as sheep-tipping?” Louie asked as he got to his feet and surveyed the unconscious monster.

  “Maybe it’s like those fainting goats,” Pat said, coming up to join us. “Only bigger.”

  I sighed and moved just close enough to untangle my grappling hook from the creature’s matted wool. I’d have bruises tomorrow, and I felt like I’d been dragged by a truck. The night was still young, and I still had to get Sheepy to the new cryptid preserve we’d set up in the Big Woods.

  “All right,” I said. I bent down and put an ankle monitor on the capture and locked the door to the cage. “On to Stage Two.”

  Pat went behind a nearby tree and pulled the camouflage netting off of the forklift he had borrowed from his brother-in-law. I jogged up to the road, wincing at already-sore muscles, and backed my big black Silverado truck closer. Once Pat got Sheepy loaded, Louie and I threw the netting over the cage and strapped the whole thing down.

  “Go ahead and take the forklift back,” I told Pat. “Louie and I can handle it from here. Thanks for the help—I owe you a beer.”

  Pat grinned. “Thank you for taking that thing off my hands. He’s eaten enough people’s shrubs that someone was going to end up shooting him, and then we’d have to explain it.”

  Louie and I loaded into the truck and headed north, keeping to the back roads because not all cops were as accommodating as my buddies.

  As Friday nights go, this was pretty much par for the course.

  I’m Mark Wojcik, mechanic and monster hunter. I didn’t get into the business for fame or glory—and sure as hell not for the money. People become hunters because th
ey lose someone they love. In my case, it was because my father, uncle, cousin, and brother were killed by a wendigo when we were out deer hunting. I survived. My penance lies in hunting the creatures that go bump in the night, to try to keep the same tragedy from befalling some other sorry sumbitch.

  Louie and I go back to elementary school, so he and Pat are two of the relatively few people who know about my monster-hunting gig. They help me out as cops by looking the other way on occasion, and I help them out with problems that are my kind of weird.

  “You ever fight a sheepsquatch before?” Louie asked as we headed toward Kane. We’d have a couple hours in the truck on the way up and back, and radio stations were for shit once we got out in the boonies.

  “No, but I figured he couldn’t be too much worse than a big zombie,” I replied. “Smells almost as bad, but at least the sheepsquatch doesn’t fall apart.”

  “I’m thankful for small favors,” Louie said drily.

  We spent the rest of the drive talking about normal stuff—poker, sports scores, beer, and the ever-popular “what the hell is going on with the Pirates?” debate. Remarkably, we even managed to ignore the big, smelly cryptid in the back of the truck that had started snoring like a chainsaw about an hour into the drive.

  By the time we got to Kane, I had started to wonder how long the tranq would keep Sheepy sleepy. I didn’t really like the idea of a full-grown sheepsquatch throwing himself around the cage while we were still on the highway. I also wasn’t fond of the idea of getting him back out of the cage when he was in a pissy mood. Then again, without the forklift, I wasn’t sure Louie and I could get Sheepy out of the cage by ourselves. Gus wouldn’t be much help with that part.

  “You think your guy up here can handle that critter?” Louie asked.

  “Gus is good at his job,” I replied. “He’s held up his end of the bargain so far.”

  I felt a little wistful as we drove past the exit that led to downtown Kane. Sara runs Bell’s Retreat, a bed and breakfast, and it’s a mighty fine place to stay. We’ve been seeing each other for several months. It seems a little juvenile to think of her as my “girlfriend,” but I guess that’s the right word for it. I’m divorced, and she’s widowed, so we’re going slow. Still, life’s better with Sara around, and I’m glad to have her in my life.

  “You just sighed. Thinking of Sara? Man, you’ve got it bad.” Louie chuckled.

  “Says the guy who’s been married forever.”

  Louie rolled his eyes. “Not exactly forever. But…coming up on ten years. So almost forever.”

  After I lost four people I loved to that wendigo, I didn’t work through the stages of grief fast enough for my ex-wife, who dumped me for someone presumably more cheerful. It’s taken me a long time to come up with the nerve to date again.

  “Good for you,” I said, and I meant it.

  “You’re only thirty-six, Mark,” Louie said and rolled his eyes. “Plenty of time to settle down and get in your fifty years of wedded bliss.”

  Hunting monsters might work against the idea of longevity, but I liked Louie’s idea, even if I wasn’t sure it was in the cards for me. “We’ll see,” I hedged. “Have you heard about any other disturbances that might be friends of the big guy?” I asked, with a jerk of my head to indicate Sheepy.

  “Nothing that can’t be blamed on white-tailed deer. Why? You planning to go all Bo Peep and find your sheep?”

  “Jeez, you make this job sound like way more fun than it is,” I replied. “I just haven’t seen a sheepsquatch get that close to suburbia, and then to stick around for a few days? Seems odd.”

  “Maybe he talked to a trash panda and a possum and discovered the bounty of dumpster diving,” Louie said. “There’re a lot more ‘wild’ animals mooching off garbage and handouts in the ‘burbs than most people realize.” He gave me a side-eye. “Not to mention your kind of weird stuff.”

  “My kind of weird stuff usually eats the pets or the people, not the leftovers in the garbage bin,” I reminded him. “The thing is…most cryptids are shy. Even the predators prefer places without motion-sensor spotlights, car alarms, and traffic. Sheepsquatch usually steer clear of people.”

  “Maybe he’s rabid. Don’t they say that wild animals that act too friendly usually have rabies?”

  “Just what I need—a three-hundred-pound rabid cryptid.”

  We eased my black Silverado down an old access road that had been deliberately left unkempt to discourage trespassers. A corner of the Allegheny National Forest—what locals called the “Big Woods”—had been commandeered by official powers and deemed off-limits for hunting. That land held an odd attraction to supernatural creatures and had long ago been considered sacred by the tribes that had lived in these parts. It also created a place where I could safely stow critters like Sheepy that were more of a nuisance than a threat and assure they’d stay out of my hair.

  “We really are hell and gone from anywhere out here, aren’t we?” Louie said, looking out his window.

  “That’s kinda the point.” I parked the truck next to the gate to the off-limits area that was really a cryptid preserve. The fence had been designed not to look like anything special—mostly wooden with a strand of electric wire across the top. In reality, the choice of rowan and oak for the wood, the voltage of the electric wire, and the trench filled with salt and iron filings that ran under the fence were all calculated to keep things like Sheepy on the inside.

  “He’s still out cold,” I said, pausing to take a look at the creature when I climbed down from my seat. “You keep an eye on him, and I’ll go find Gus.” I glanced to Louie. “Seriously—tranq his ass if he looks like he’s waking up. I don’t want to fight him again.” God knows I’d be feeling the bruises for days as it was.

  I grabbed a six-pack of beer out of the back of the truck and walked a ways into the woods. My heavy-duty flashlight lit up a path, but it was still damn dark out here, and we were a long way from everywhere. Bears, mountain lions, and coyotes posed a real threat, and I thought about how not-funny it would be to get killed by a plain-old-regular bear while I was trying to humanely relocate a cryptid.

  Gus’s tree wasn’t hard to find. I set the six-pack down at the bottom of the trunk and looked up into the branches. Sixty-some years ago, Gus had fallen out of a tree stand and died here. For reasons of his own, he never left. He’s helped me out on several hunts, saved my ass a few times, and since he wasn’t interested in moving on, I figured he might like a part-time job as a game preserve warden for things that go bump in the night.

  He’d been happy to help, which left one question—how to pay a ghost. That, fortunately, was easy. Gus’s taste for beer remained strong, and he’d figured out a way to drain cans, so I just brought him six-packs, and we called it even.

  “I’ve got a new one for you,” I said, even though Gus hadn’t made his appearance yet. “Thought you might want to be part of the welcoming committee.”

  Gus appeared out of nowhere, in the blink of an eye. He still wore his hunting jacket, canvas pants, boots, and cap like he had on his final hunt. But while some ghosts lacked the ability to interact with the living, Gus definitely saw and heard what went on around him. He just couldn’t talk.

  Gus pointed to the beer and nodded his head in a silent thank you. I wasn’t surprised when he didn’t drain it right away. Although I doubted ghosts could get snockered, I appreciated that Gus wanted to keep a clear head for dealing with our latest addition.

  “He’s over here,” I said, motioning for Gus to follow. As we walked, I caught him up on the trouble Sheepy had caused and gave him a slightly abridged version of the struggle to get the creature into his cage. Gus raised an eyebrow, probably figuring out that I’d left out a few of the less flattering parts. Then again, one glance at my backside would make it clear I’d been dragged all over the grass on my ass.

  “Hey, I’ve still got a little pride,” I defended. Gus grinned, and I figured he didn’t get a whole lot of convers
ation up here, so if I could give him a chuckle—even at my own expense—it was worth it.

  When I got back to the truck, I dug in my bag for the ankle tracker that Father Leo had obtained for our little excursion, then remembered I’d already put it on the sheepsquatch. Leo had gotten the Occulatum to send out a specialist who could rig up a barrier that would carry some extra oomph to keep creatures like Sheepy inside, where they’d be safe, and the people outside would be none the wiser. The tracker was part of that mix of high tech and magic, combining elements of both. I didn’t want to know how it worked, as long as it did.

  As I double-checked the tracker around Sheepy’s ankle, I noticed an odd bit of blue stuck to his matted fur. Curious, I leaned closer, and then when I realized what I was looking at, I grabbed a pair of pliers from my toolbox so I could remove the item without touching it.

  “What’s that?” Louie asked, looking over my shoulder.

  I shone the flashlight directly on the piece of cloth. Dried sticks and leaves stuck to the fabric. “It might be nothing,” I admitted. “But I think it could be part of a hex bag.” I tucked the remnant into a plastic bag, then stashed it in a lead container inside my toolbox, planning to deliver it to Father Leo.

  “Who’d want to hex a creature?”

  I shrugged. “The hex might have controlled him, rather than giving him bad luck. And maybe it’s just something that got stuck in his fur. We won’t know until it gets checked out.” The idea of someone putting a spell on Sheepy made me nervous, because if that really was the case, then the sheepsquatch wasn’t the bad guy here—whoever controlled him was.

  I don’t like magic, and I really don’t like it when a bad guy uses someone else to do the dirty work.

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