This is a series of short stories, detailing the adventures of Chelsea Childling. You can start with her origin story or pick any story from the index.
The door to the haunt both attracted and repelled Chelsea. She hunted monsters and needed to talk to others who did so. But she didn’t have too many positive experiences with other hunters.
Dead boyfriends and broken hearts don’t make for return customers.
A whine came from the seat beside her, before Bentley rested his huge head on her shoulder. She patted the dog’s long neck. “Thanks, buddy. Wish you could come in with me.”
Sighing, Chelsea forced herself out of the car and over to the barred door of the squat, gray building. She’d only been to one other haunt, but it also had kept the front door locked. She pushed down her utter revulsion and knocked.
A rusted speaker zinged to life on the dirty concrete as a security camera squealed to look at her. “What’s your business?”
“Booze and talking shop.” There was no secret password that she had found online. She just had to convince the doorman that she was a hunter.
“You a… carpenter?” A faint curiosity colored the voice.
Chelsea smiled, winked, and took a chance. “Killer.”
The door buzzed, then unlocked. She took a deep breath and headed inside. The doorman’s wink gave her some courage.
Boney’s haunt had squatted on a patch of gravel. Dirty inside and out, with a decor scheme of “sturdy enough to hold a drunk,” it had been only occasionally seen a broom and mop, let alone bleach.
Crossroads could have been the back room at Boney’s. The place not cleaned because no customer would see it.
Chelsea couldn’t bring herself to lean on the bar, and she’d been showering at truck stops. “Give me any beer that comes in a bottle.”
The small, dark woman gave her a once over before grabbing a beer from the fridge. “You want a glass.”
Chelsea shook her head. “No, but I could use an introduction to someone who wants to hunt a nightling with me.”
The woman blinked, clearly taken aback. “A nightling?”
Fear coursed through her. Had she come to the wrong bar after all?
The bartender shook her head. “Fucking newbies. You aren’t hunting a nightling without a skilled team. So unless you are financing one…?” She glared at Chelsea until she got the head shake she wanted. “You aren’t hunting a nightling. How new are you at this?”
Shame lit up her face. “Less than a year.” She took a deep breath. “And my first hunt was a nightling.”
The bartender’s eyes popped. “Seriously?”
“Yeah.” Chelsea swallowed. “I guess I didn’t realize how good my team was.”
“Guess not.” She laughed. “I’m Nina, by the way.”
“For real? You made that one up didn’t you?” Nina’s chuckle warmed the air.
A flash of annoyance coursed up Chelsea’s throat, but she swallowed it. Hunters made up names all the time. “It’s what’s on the birth certificate?”
“Who the hell named you? Stan Lee?”
Chelsea laughed and oddly found herself smiling. Memories of her dead parents didn’t always hurt these days. “No, mama promised her best friend that she’d name her daughter after her. She told Theodore Childling that he could change his last name to Fletcher if he had a problem with it.”
“So, did he think you were going to be a superhero?”
“Sort of.” Chelsea sipped at her beer. “He taught me to fight, just in case the call found where I lived.”
Nina gestured around the bar. “And here you are.”
“And here I am.”
Now minus the good money I thought was coming.
Her annoyance surged. The people who ran haunts were the best source of leads, but this woman seemed far more interested in talking. “Any word on something I can handle on my own? I got a bottomless pit to feed.”
A familiar chuckle came from behind her. “Don’t tell me Amber managed an immaculate conception.”
“Keegan!” Shock had her spinning around to throw her arms around her friend. She pulled back and simply stared at a known face. Keegan seemed the same, despite the new scar on his jaw. She had a few new ones as well. “I can’t believe it’s you.”
He sat at the filthy bar. “What are you doing out here? And what bottomless pit do you have?”
She pulled away, the last few months crashing back. “Amber took off on me, and I didn’t see why I should stay in town. So I left.” She cut off whatever he was about to say. “The bottomless pit is my dog, Bentley. I found him a few weeks back.”
Keegan sat up, eyes eager. “A dog?”
“Yup.” Chelsea smiled. “He’s big and super smart. But he was seriously underfed when I found him. He’s packing on weight, but clinics for shots, flea meds, food…”
Keegan nodded. “Yeah, I feel you. Well, we aren’t up for fighting nightlings, but I have a few people together. We think we can take out a chupacabra.”
“No.” She shook her head. “There is not a chupacabra. This is a snipe hunt, right?”
Nina chuckled from behind the bar. “There is no one chupacabra, it’s a classification. Like vampire for anything that feeds on people. Chupacabras feed on larger animals, generally livestock. If you go to Europe, they call them goblins, but it’s the same family of monsters.”
Chelsea blinked. “Family?”
Nina waved a hand. “Broad classifications, usually based more on superficial characteristics than genetics.”
Eyebrows raising, Chelsea gestured to the woman. “That’s some very technical talk for a bartender.”
Nina’s brown cheeks stained a touch darker. “My ex-wife was a crypto-zoologist.”
Keegan coughed. “Ladies, as titillating as this might be about to become, Chelsea and I have a hunt to plan.” He tugged on her jacket, an expectant look on his thin face. Chelsea caught Nina’s eye, grinned, and then grabbed Keegan’s wrist. She ducked under his arm, twisting as she did.
A rumble of dark laughter ran across the dirty bar. Chelsea released Keegan, sliding back out of his reach as she crossed her arms over her chest. “I don’t respond well to being railroaded.”
Keegan rubbed at his arm. “You and everyone else in this bar.” Still, he smiled as he gestured for her to follow him. He lead to her table with three other hunters, two men, and a woman. They grunted and nodded at her as Keegan made introductions. She tried to forget their names as soon as Keegan said them.
Chelsea sipped at her beer. “So how do we kill a chupacabra?”
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