Secret Santa
Page 16

 Sierra Dean

  • Background:
  • Text Font:
  • Text Size:
  • Line Height:
  • Line Break Height:
  • Frame:

To be perfectly honest, though, I would have jumped anyway. I have a bad habit of leaping before I look.
As luck would have it, I landed next to my lost weapon. With my eyes still adjusting to the pitch-black space, I dove for the sword, but something kicked it out of the way.
“Ewww rune its,” the thing hissed.
I froze in place. The voice speaking to me was so cold, so inhuman, it made me marvel at how most fae managed to pass themselves off as people in this world. No one in their right mind could do anything but piss their pants when hearing a voice like that. I was not entirely of my right mind so my pants stayed dry, but the rest of me broke out in a cold sweat.
“Ewww cants beee here.”
It took me a moment to realize it was trying to speak English.
“Secret,” Holden called from above.
“Sort of busy here.” My gaze darted to the left, searching the ground for where the thing might have kicked my sword.
Though I could see in the dark, it wasn’t quite the same as seeing with the lights on. I could tell there was a creature standing about five feet away from me with its arms limp at its side, but I couldn’t make out any distinctive features. The darkness was too complete for that. Like night-vision goggles, my eyes needed at least a tiny bit of light in order to show me the full picture.
“Heads up!”
I sidestepped in time, avoiding Holden’s landing. He’d had the presence of mind to grab the lantern, and when he straightened up, the room was filled with a dim yellow light. We stood side by side, so close our arms brushed, and took a good look at the monster I’d been hunting all over Manhattan.
Beady black eyes blinked at us, as if the minimal amount of light cast by the lantern was too much for it to bear.
“Ayyy eww deww thaaaa.”
Holden held the light higher and thrust the lantern towards the creature. It was hard to refer to it as a creature once I could see it properly. It looked more like an accountant. The thing stood about two inches taller than me, on the shorter side for a man, and had a rounded potbelly and cue-ball head. Its skin had the pallor of a desk jockey whose only tanning option was low-watt office fluorescent bulbs.
“This is our monster?” Holden asked.
“Owwwwt,” it demanded. It had fleshy lips that flapped awkwardly as it tried to speak, giving our tubby accountant the appearance of being a drunk tubby accountant rather than just a boring one. “Git owwwt.”
Get out. That much I understood, though more from the rage in those charcoal eyes than any of the pseudo-words it was speaking.
“Not without them,” I replied, jutting my chin towards the hole in the wall.
With the extra light I could see my sword against the wall, but there would be no way to get to it without passing the fae. Behind him I could see a hole with bars and a lock. A pair of hands was wrapped around the bars and a boy’s face was trying to wedge through the space to get a look. It obviously wasn’t Penny, but I recognized the cinnamon skin tone and big brown eyes from one of the school pictures.
We weren’t too late.
“Not fur ewww.” The slurring, smacking sound of its big lips moving in an awkward, unnatural way made it hard to understand the words, but I could make out the gist of it.
“They’re not yours, either.”
“Mine,” it said, and shuffled towards the door. The pale, dirty face darted back, and I could hear mewling cries from inside the hole.
What had this thing put these kids through? Had they watched it eat the others and tear them apart? I hoped they’d been spared that nightmare.
It continued to move farther from us and closer to the teens. I grabbed the knife lashed to my thigh and hoped Desmond had the good sense to buy one suitable for killing, because I wasn’t going to get a second shot at this. I held the knife by the blade with a firm pressure, thanking my werewolf boyfriend for not getting a silver one, then I threw it at the monster.
Being unfamiliar with the weight of the blade I hit lower than I’d aimed for. Instead of clipping the thing in the eye and penetrating to its brain, the knife sunk hilt-deep into its throat. After that, nothing happened the way I anticipated.
It didn’t raise its hands to grasp at the knife. In fact, it seemed to take the thing almost a full minute to realize I’d struck it. A minute is an excruciating amount of time when you’re waiting for something to die. Holden and I stood perfectly still, watching it sway and waiting for it to do something about the weapon in its neck.
Finally it cast its beady eyes downward and noticed my knife.
“Uhhheww guh.” The lips still moved like it was trying to form words, but with the fresh hole in its larynx the effect was just garbled sucking noises. I couldn’t understand what it was trying to say anymore, but when it started to flop its arms around I was sure I’d managed to piss it off.
The fae had to use its whole torso to get its arms to flail in the right direction, and that was when I understood it didn’t have any particular control over its limbs. In fact, it didn’t seem like the accountant body was working too well for the fae, which made me wonder if it was a glitch in the thing’s magic, or if the body wasn’t right somehow. Or maybe in forty years under the sludge of the river it had forgotten how to move like a person.
I edged forward and grabbed for my knife before its puppetlike hands could latch on. I’d barely gotten the handle between my fingers when one of its hands grasped me by the wrist. The hold was tenuous at best, and a good jerk backwards would free me and the knife, but I was so shocked by the coldness of its touch I was stunned into immobility.
The weight of its useless arms started to drag on me, and before I knew what was happening my new Christmas gift was slicing down the front of the creature’s body like a fish knife filleting a rainbow trout. I jerked back on instinct, stumbling backwards with the knife in my hand until Holden caught me, but I’d begun something that couldn’t be stopped.
The new seam in the front of the man’s body peeled apart and ripped open more, exposing the red, meaty interior of the body. The skin broke apart inch by inch down his torso all the way to his pelvis, opening like a fleshy jumpsuit. The inside of him was all wrong, though. I’d killed enough things to know there should be guts and gore inside an open human body. The fae had none of that, just a man husk with no fun fruit filling.
“What the fuck?” Holden held my arm tighter and pulled us back as far as we could go in the tiny space. This room wasn’t meant for three adult bodies, even if one was peeling apart in front of our eyes. That Holden had sworn at all was enough to tell me he’d never seen anything like this before.
“Guess the old Irish moms in Dorchester never included this part in their story.” I tried to laugh, but it came out as a high-pitched, frightful sound.
Something inside the husk was having no such difficulty laughing at us. A tinny, breathless cackle emerged from the sloppy shell of the portly accountant, and it was all I needed to hear to know the fae had been acting as a puppet master, controlling the empty skin-suit.
It took the cake as far as creepy, fucked-up monsters went. And that was saying something considering I’d once been choked by the decaying hands of a vampire ghost. Again I measured our proximity to the sword, but as I debated making my move, the fae decided to make his.
The husk of the body fell to the floor in a boneless heap, and we were left staring at a three-foot-tall tidal fae in its true form. It was a brownish-green like muddy moss and stood on two legs that looked too goat-like to be good for swimming, but the feet were webbed, as were its hands. The fae grinned at us with crocodile teeth in a wide mouth that crossed its whole face. It had two small slits for nostrils and its eyes were amphibious with dark vertical slits set against a topaz iris. It blinked and its eyelids fluttered side to side instead of up and down.
“Eesss tiiiime.” The black tongue that flicked between its pointed teeth was forked like a snake’s. No wonder it had so much trouble forming human words.
On my back, Holden’s hand twitched. I squeezed the knife handle until I worried it might crack. When the fae stepped away from the heap of skin it had once inhabited and moved towards us, its webbed feet slapped on the floor. With each step I shuddered. Every fiber of my being begged me to run away, but there was nowhere to go and I wasn’t about to back down from an enemy whose head didn’t even come as high as my cleavage.
Instead of retreating, I stepped to the left, edging closer to my sword and making sure the creature’s attention stayed on me. I wanted to look back to Holden to see if he understood what I was doing, but I couldn’t take my eyes off my quarry. The fae blinked, its eyelids clicking with each pass. It snapped its teeth at me and hissed.
“Ewww noooo moooove.”
“Try and stop me, gremlin.”
In such close quarters I shouldn’t have been surprised at how easily the thing could reach me, but when it slapped my hand with one of its rubbery, webbed mitts, I was so startled I lost my grip on the knife. It danced across the floor and came to a rest next to my sword. Without a weapon in hand, and needing to ensure it didn’t notice Holden moving in the opposite direction, I leaped for the sword. If I got the knife first, I wouldn’t complain. I just needed something pointy in my hands.
I hit the floor a foot away from the weapons, and the fae tackled me an instant after I landed. For such a small creature it was shockingly heavy, like a sack of bricks pressing my upper body into the stone floor. Clumsy fingers were digging through my hair, and I didn’t have the luxury of figuring out what it was trying to do. I needed a weapon and I needed one now.
Digging my forearms into the floor, I dragged myself forward, scraping all the skin off my elbows. I got a good grip on the sheath of my katana in the same instant something sharp punctured the skin at the base of my skull. I’d never felt a tongue under my scalp before, but it was impossible to mistake the slippery tingling sensation as anything else.
A shudder convulsed through me and I bucked against the fae. I didn’t want to jerk too much and have it pierce the bone. I might have supernatural strength, but I doubted I was immune to paralysis if the creature gained access to my spine. That said, it was after something in my head, and I didn’t want to give it a chance to reach its target.