Chelsea sipped her coffee as the usual morning sprinkle splattered against the window. Snug, warm, and dry, she felt content. A feeling her dog shared if Bentley’s sonorous snores meant anything. For the first time in days, they had slept under an actual roof.
David, her host, one naked, hairy leg hanging off the bed, had yet to awaken. He’d been part of the team that had rescued her from a man-eating tree.
She smiled at the memory of his protesting that she’d been too hurt to spend the night in his bed. Proving him wrong had been fun.
She fully intended on waiting to say goodbye, but as the morning drizzle faded away, he showed no signs of waking up. And she had a job to get to.
He’ll probably be out until this afternoon.
Unlike David, she hadn’t been living on hunter hours for a while; something that was about to change. She checked her phone once more, confirming her client’s location.
Sighing softly, she kissed David’s greying hair. “Sleep well. And thanks again for saving me.” He didn’t so much as bat as an eye.
The half-inch of goddamned yellow dust on her car killed her good mood. While she had a visceral love for the South from her youth, a similar pollen situation had driven her North for her education.
Chelsea dusted the handle of her car before opening it. “Bent, it might really be time to leave the Pacific Northwest.”
Bentley gave a whine as he hopped in the front seat.
“I agree, it’s beautiful here, but the landscape literally wants to eat me.” She pulled out of the parking lot. “And they need to build a few more roads. I get the conservation of the forest, but bridges are a thing.”
Bentley just stared at her, bright blue eyes begging.
“And while I appreciate grunge as a musical genre, there are no oldies stations out here. I can’t live without Motown.”
The big mutt gave a yip and sat up straighter.
“We’re agreed then. We kill Batsquatch and then we get the hell out of here?”
His thumping tail made her smile, as always.
Morning drifted to afternoon while they headed south. The mountains loomed in the distance as she pulled into the river town.
Small and unassuming, like most of the hamlets in the area, Chelsea thought the woods held all the personality. She drove through the streets, eyes and GPS on the gas station on the other edge of town.
There sat the SUV described in the ad. A woman, maybe close to forty, with long blond hair and wearing a flannel, stood with folded, tight arms as she glared at the mountains in the distance.
Bentley beelined for the trees while Chelsea sauntered over. “Christina?”
She nodded. “Chelsea?”
“Yeah. So you want me to kill Batsquatch.”
Christina sighed. “Look, I know how it sounds.”
Chelsea rolled her eyes. “It sounds like nobody can think up an original name for a monster.”
A chuckle escaped the woman despite her swollen and red eyes. “I didn’t come up with the name.” She pulled in a deep breath. “But that thing is real and killed my brother.”
Chelsea swallowed a suddenly thick throat. “I understand.”
“I’m glad someone does,” the woman muttered. “I sure as hell don’t.”
A flitting desire to hug her client passed over Chelsea, fluttering away in the wind. “I’ll take care of it.”
The older woman stared sightlessly at the towering trees. “Thanks. I pay over the website, right?”
Chelsea rubbed at Bentley’s soft ears. “Yeah. I’ll post the pictures, you send the cash.”
“Can I see it for myself?” A dark hunger stained the woman’s voice.
Understanding filled Chelsea. “If you want, you can come with me.”
Christina’s eyes grew wide with shock. “No. No, I’ve never been one for violence. That’s why I had to use the website.”
“Me either.” Chelsea pushed down her annoyance. She could respect a true pacifist, but not this wishy-washy, bullshit pseudo-pacifism. “Keep an eye out for that picture.” She headed for the car, Bentley at her heels, the cool breeze blowing through the black wool of her beanie, cooling her head and her temper.
“Wait!” Christina ran a few steps forward. “Um, what if you don’t post a picture?”
Chelsea stared at the woman, torn between amusement and utter disbelief. “Then you don’t have to pay.”
A laugh escaped her. “I know what you meant.” She and Bentley hopped in her car and headed north and west.
Her mountain destination presided over the lesser hills she drove on. The snow capped majesty in front of her belied the lack of a peak. A thin plume of white extended towards the sky.
If the boards are right, that means my monster is about.
She found the access road suggested on the website and napped, waiting for the exodus of the park rangers that came with dusk. Once they had left, she and Bentley ducked under the gates and headed up the mountain.
The constant rain slicked the forest, but no more than normal. Chelsea had spent several days in another branch of this rain forest. She was well acquainted with the soft loam that defied traction and swallowed feet.
Trees and cloud cover made a velvet darkness that hemmed in her flashlight. She couldn’t see much beyond her toes. But that didn’t matter in this well-kept wilderness with it distinctly defined paths.
A shriek sounded above her, freezing her muscles and kick starting her adrenaline. Chelsea pulled her ax.
A large shape blotted out the glory of the stars, before it was swallowed up by the clouds.
“Looks like we found Batsquatch, Bent.”
The dog gave a menacing growl that warmed Chelsea’s heart. She waved her arms and yelped.
The dark shape shot out of the clouds, aiming for her and Bentley. Chelsea braced herself, but still had the wind knocked out of her when Batsquatch slammed them into the ground.
Her breath came back with the rush of pain in her arm. She let out a yelp as she struggled against the monster. Batsquatch gave an answering shriek when Bentley sank his teeth into one of the thin wings and yanked.
The monster turned on her dog, and Chelsea found her feet. She buried her hatchet into the dirty neck.
Batsquatch shrieked again, but now the sound came out strangled. Chelsea yanked out her ax and backed up a few steps. The monster tried to take off, but the rips in its wings kept it grounded.
Grinning, Chelsea struck again. This time the ax went clean through.
For a few long moments, she stared at the pointy ears and bloody tendons, then she reached for her phone.
Pain stopped her. “Dammit, Bent. Bastard got me good.” A quick flashlight examination showed her shirt sopping with blood. “Fuck me. I think I need a hedge doctor.”
Sighing, Chelsea used her right hand to snap the picture before heading to her car.
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