This is a series of short stories, detailing the adventures of Chelsea Childling. You can start with her origin story or pick something from the index.
Twilight brought twinkling lights and absurdly suggestive slogans at the roadside attraction. The place was famous for its risque name, and fudge, and lived up to the touristy promise of the billboards. All of of four stores and bawdy signage; the sheer over-the-top nature of the “town” overloaded Chelsea’s sense of maturity and she giggled as she contemplated buying a t-shirt.
Bentley yipped from the passenger seat, a doggy smile splitting his jaws wide.
“This is where Rita told me to meet our client. No begging for food.”
Bentley sighed before curling up in his seat, facing the door, and letting drool drip. Chelsea resigned herself to rest-stop-food dog farts for the next day and exited the car.
Her client wasn’t expecting them yet, so Chelsea and Bentley wandered about. He sat happily leashed to a tree outside the “general store” while she bought her t-shirt and the famous fudge. She came out to the usual group of kids and people who like dogs surrounding him. He didn’t appear to be eating anything, but she was sure he’d had at least one snack.
She gathered him and wandered around, eventually finding herself behind the “town”. There were no bright lights or funny signs here. Here was cigarette butts, dumpsters, and a few sad, splintery picnic tables for the staff. She picked her way through the weeds to the nearest table. Carved in epithets for the “town’s” owners, the wood she sat on was still warm from the day’s sun. She wondered who had carved the stick figure of a creeper. It was fairly well done.
“Are you Chelsea?” The voice hesitated.
She jumped to her feet, hand on her ax handle. “And you are?”
The voice belonged to a woman, maybe in her mid-thirties, with a small bag slung over one shoulder. Her hair was dark, untouched by grey, but the face was worn and worried. “Rita told me to look for the coat… and the dog.” She held out a hand, and Bentley bounded towards her for pets.
The magic words of “Rita told me” finally calmed Chelsea enough to let go of her ax. “You Cheryl?”
A faint blush stained the woman’s pale cheeks. “Yeah, sorry. It’s been a rough few weeks.” She stood upright. “We’ve been plagued by vampire bats, and I’m not up for that hunt.”
Chelsea felt her sarcasm rise with her eyebrows. “Why not?”
Cheryl gave a small, vicious smile with too many teeth before attempting to lift her right arm. It was stiff and obviously swollen, even though her flannel shirt. She couldn’t manage to keep it up for more than a few moments before tremors started. “Hedge doctors say it’ll be a little while before I can do any fighting.”
“Sorry.” Chelsea sucked in a deep breath. “You wouldn’t happen to have a game plan for these fuckers, would you? I’ve never fought them before.”
Cheryl gave a genuine smile and a laugh. “Bat bombs.”
Chelsea took a step back. “Bombs?”
“Like a bug bomb, not the exploding kind.”
“Oh.” Relief warmed her.
“You’re gonna have to walk through some nasty shit, literally, to set them off, and hope the guards aren’t awake.”
Chelsea adjusted her coat, trying to not to start twitching. “Guards?”
A warm laugh escaped Cheryl. “Bat guards for the colony. And then you have to get the copper mesh up in their cave, but I have help coming for that part. They’ll get the back entrance. You just have to worry about the front.”
“Okay…” Chelsea sighed. “So I fight the guards, plant the bombs, run back to the entrance, and then put up the mesh?”
“You got it. Your help will meet you there. They have the bombs and might send someone to watch the front, too. They aren’t sure how much help they can bring in though, so don’t count on any backup.”
Chelsea snorted a laugh and scratched at Bentley’s ears. “I have all the backup I need.” Cheryl smiled and gave the co-ordinates for some place called the Devil’s Elbow and the name Miguel as a contact.
Chelsea kept to the back roads, going deeper and deeper in the forest off the highway. Eventually she came to a bridge and a few tourist traps, but her GPS pointed her deeper in the forest. So she parked at the restaurant and followed the river into the trees.
After nearly a mile, the banks of the river rose around her, steep cliffs of thinly layered rock. Her GPS finally stopped her at a narrow crack in the cliff side. “This is a cave?”
Behind her a deep voice rumbled in the growing dark. “Tu hable Espanol?”
She turned around and had to take a step back and look up. The man was huge. Perhaps the single biggest person she had ever seen. Not just tall, but broad, and heavily muscled under his flannel. A long, black braid of hair hung over one shoulder, and small, obsidian eyes studied her from the stratosphere.
She shook her head at the question as Bentley bounded over to him for pets. “J’ai appris le français au lycée.”
The big man chuckled and tapped his chest. “Miguel.”
Despite his size and sudden appearance, Chelsea realized she had no fear of him. “Chelsea.”
He held up a single finger and then disappeared into the trees again. Moments later, the cracking of sticks announced his return. He was followed by another man, maybe in his thirties.
With dark brown hair and eyes, this man was utterly unremarkable in his flannel and jeans. “Hey Chelsea, I’m Tony. The big guy says you need a translator.”
She nodded. “Unless he’s also Catholic and we want to try to fumble through Latin.”
Tony chuckled and then translated for Miguel.
The big man smiled at her as he scratched at Bentley’s ears. “Hoc iam multis annis ex quo ad ecclesiam.”
Chelsea rolled her eyes. “Oh good Lord, the nuns would have a field day with this.”
Miguel and Tony both laughed before Tony spoke up again. “So Cheryl told you the plan, right?”
“Yeah, neither of us can fit in that crack, and we left the smaller folks at home.”
It took a moment for Chelsea to register Tony’s height. He was significantly taller and broader than she was, but next to Miguel, she just hadn’t noticed.
He handed her three small silvery capsules and a stretchy headband with a light on it. “These are the bombs. Get to the big cavern and just twist and throw. You only need one, but you have extras just in case. Try not to breathe this in if you can help it. It’s not good for humans. Don’t use the light on your way in unless you absolutely have to. It’ll wake them up early, and that’s a whole ‘nother problem. These guys should stay asleep until well after midnight, unless things go real bad. Miguel will be ready to put the mesh in place when you get out.” He hesitated for a moment. “You might want to leave the coat here.”
“Right.” She shucked off her fringed leather duster and carefully hung it from a tree. The tight elastic of the headband felt silly, but she was also thankful for the light. Damp night rose gooseflesh on her arms as she contemplated the crack in the cliff face. She ducked down and a enormous hand grabbed her arm, stopping her entirely. She glanced up at Miguel. “Yes?”
Once he’d finished his obvious objection in Spanish, Tony translated. “What about the dog?”
Chelsea sighed. “He’s coming with me. You can try to stop him, but I’ve only managed it a few times.”
Miguel nodded at her words, barely waiting for Tony to translate before speaking again. “Glad you have some kind of backup in there, then.” With that, Tony smacked her on the back and yanked on Miguel’s arm. “She’s fine.”
The crack was small and tight. She had to squeeze and push her way along in the dark, barking her shins or head occasionally. Only Bentley’s breathing kept her fear at bay. Eventually, the dark settled a bit and she could distinguish one bit of black from another. Enough that she stopped hitting her head, anyway.
After some interminable time, the crack widened into a larger room and Chelsea breathed deeply, only to immediately regret it. A sharp, acrid tang coated her tongue. She was trying not to gag when the squeaking started. She froze, trying to place the noise. Luckily, Bentley didn’t.
The big mutt slammed into her legs as he bowled past her. She slipped and fell hard on the rock. The darkness left her only with a muddy impression of Bentley leaping into the air. But the crunch that followed stopped the squeaking.
“Bentley, drop it.”
A muted thud calmed her a bit, and she eased herself to her feet. “Thanks, bud.”
The dark shape in front of her gave a soft whine.
Her instructions had been vague, but she had to assume that this was the big cavern. The presence of the guardian bat gave her some assurance as she whispered, “Get ready to run, Bent.”
Once she was more or less steady on her feet, she twisted the giant pill-shaped bomb and chucked it as hard as she could. “Heel, Bentley!”
Her flight back to the entrance was cut short, when she slammed into the wall of the cavern and subsequently the floor. Bright white stars blinded her for a moment, but Bentley’s whining started her adrenaline. She turned on the light. A white haze rolled towards her. “Shit. We gotta go.”
Bentley took point, heading away from the smoke. Chelsea followed, praying she didn’t fall again. The crack in the wall came up suddenly. The lesser darkness of the trees called to her, and she sped up despite the slippery floor. “Get that mesh ready!”
A sudden heat on her neck brought out a shriek, but she kept running. As she scrambled out of the cave entrance, a large, warm hand grabbed her arm and swung her around.
Her feet left the ground, but Miguel kept her upright as he swatted at her neck.
“What the fuc–” Her cry cut off at the squeaking.
Miguel stomped, crunching bones and stopping the noise. Then he grabbed the copper mesh screen next to the crack and jammed it into the opening. A few bats, bright red and bigger than house cats, hit the mesh. It quivered, but held.
Chelsea put a hand to her neck and felt the blood for the first time. “Thanks. Didn’t realize I had one on me…, um, wait, I mean, gracias?”
Miguel chuckled as he inspected the mesh and the bats. “Welcome.”
She stared at his broad back for a moment, confused, and then she had to laugh as well.
After a few moments, Tony emerged from the woods. “Nosotros buenos?”
Despite a sarcastically raised eyebrow, Miguel let loose a torrent of Spanish. Tony sighed. “Slow down. One thing at a time.”
Miguel huffed and went back to his inspection.
Tony rolled his eyes. “The big guy wants to know if you have any more bites.”
Chelsea shrugged. “I don’t think so. Is it a problem?”
“It can be. These fuckers mark prey for the whole colony.”
She rubbed at the wound on her neck. “Great.”
Tony chuckled. “It seems to be a scent marker. Should wear off in a day or so. However, it slows you down a little bit as well. Just be careful at night for a few days. This isn’t the only colony around here, just the biggest one.”
Miguel immediately started speaking again. “He also wants to know where you’re eating tonight. Food and water help flush the mark out of your system.”
She flashed the big man a smile. “If you wanted a date, you could have just asked.”
His laugh was as big as he was. Something kind of like a goose and kind of like a donkey. It roared into the clearing. The sound was so odd, so unlike any other laugh, that Chelsea froze for a moment and then had to join it.
Once the big man was done, he said something to Tony and then slipped into the darkness so quickly and quietly that Chelsea couldn’t follow him.
“He wants to you know that you aren’t his type, but you are a skilled hunter. It sucks you had a bad first impression of us.”
Frowning, she turned to Tony. “Huh? You guys were great.”
He snorted a laugh. “James and Yvonne wanted to say hello and apologize again.” Then he too disappeared in to the darkness.
“James and Yvonne?” Chelsea stood stupid for a moment until the memory of the rock troll surfaced. “Oh, you motherfuckers!”