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.
In honor of returning to one of my favorite story settings, I want to introduce readers to my main source of Steel City inspiration, Dave Dicello. Dave takes amazing photographs and has been hit hard by the pandemic. He had to close his gallery this spring. However, his prints are available online for purchase. I’ll be adding them to story-links for this chapter.
Now, here’s your story.
Chelsea sat at the bar, beer in hand, enjoying the quiet hum of hunters gearing up for the night. She had no plans to fight tonight. Last night, she’d joined a crew in thinning out the reaver population, a dangerous job that paid well. She was done for a day or so.
But her current hunting partner’s newest deep funk at made it impossible to relax at their apartment. Chelsea had left Morgan with Bentley. The big mutt wasn’t allowed in the bar and often seemed to bring Morgan at least a little comfort.
At least something does.
An old man with greasy, grey hair stalked up to the bar, a snarl on his wrinkled face. “Dammit Rita, them kids you set me up with didn’t show.”
Rita rolled her eyes and pulled the man a beer. “Sorry ‘bout that, Bart. I thought they could use some experience. Didn’t know they was so green they wouldn’t show.”
He flashed Chelsea a glance. “You were good against the squonk. Wanna take out a chupacabra?”
Chelsea shrugged. “I fought a water-based chupacabra before in South Dakota. I think I can handle this.”
Bart nodded. “Your partners around?”
Chelsea shook her head. “We can pick up Bentley and Morgan before we head out. But what kind of chupacabra is this?”
Bart’s grin stretched across his face. “It’s pain is what it is.”
“Sounds like fun.”
Morgan was more than amenable to hunting. By the looks of the clothes and detritus strewn about the apartment, staying home had been less than soothing. Chelsea worried for her partner. There was obviously something bothering Morgan. The other hunter liked talking less than Chelsea did though.
The pot and kettle, or the rock and the hard place?
Bart lead them to part of the city Chelsea had not seen before. The buildings stood mostly abandoned. Glass and garbage littered the broken and often upended sidewalks. Yards were weeds and dirt. The old man navigated it with barely a sound. “Chupacabra in the country feed mostly on live stock, but youngsters; Lambs, calves, small stuff, helpless. City chupacabra ain’t no different, and no city is free of strays.”
Rage coursing through her brain, Chelsea snatched the back of the old man’s shirt, “You let me bring my dog on a hunt with a creature that eats strays.”
Red suffused Bart’s face. “Sorry. Wasn’t thinking.”
Morgan’s hands trapped Chelsea’s free fist. A good thing as she was about to punch the sorry old man in the face. “If anything happens to him, I’ll have your scalp.”
Bart slunk through the streets. “Really am sorry. But I’m thinking that big old beast will be too much for a chupacabra. They don’t want a fight.”
“You’d better be right.”
“Anyways, this little bastard is crafty. And like most chupacabra, they reflect their environment.”
“What do you mean?”
“Well, that water one you took out. Looked like water right?”
Chelsea nodded. “Yeah, we flash froze it with liquid nitrogen.”
Bart chuckled. “Damn smart. But this one, it’s a city critter.”
“Sooo…” Morgan drawled, examining the buildings. “Are we talking concrete skin?”
Bart nodded. “‘Xactly. Tough, but small.”
Chelsea gripped her ax. “I don’t think–.”
Bart smirked. “Oh, we’re not using axes.” He wandered to one of the sturdier abandoned buildings. “Been camping out here fer days.” Inside the cracked walls lay a sleeping bag and kerosene cook stove as well as three heavy duty sledgehammers. Bart lifted one and rested it on his shoulder. “Don’t know how much experience ya might got with these, but against a little rock monster it seemed like the best tool.”
Morgan hefted one. “Like a baseball bat right? Choke up on the bottom?”
“And swing from the hips.” Chelsea lifted the final hammer.
“I like you two. Don’t know why I didn’t just ask you in the first place.”
Chelsea grinned at Morgan and was relieved when her partner’s smile came, uncomplicated by whatever was rolling around under those messy brown curls.
Bentley lead the way, nose to the ground. Chelsea had no idea if he was tracking the chupacabra or just sniffing. She had no doubts he’d give them a head’s up on any monster, though.
The huge mutt wandered between buildings. Glass and weeds crunched under Chelsea’s black boots. A skittering from above had her breath coming fast and hot as she looked up. The rat they had startled scurried across the eaves and back into the building.
Bentley continued his steady, ground eating pace. Bart didn’t stay with the dog. He zigzagged, poking around in weeds, and kicking aside piles of garbage. It was Morgan who found the dead cat though. “Do these look like bite marks to anyone else?”
Bart hunkered down. “They do.” He poked at the corpse. “Still warm, too.”
Chelsea adjusted her grip on the hammer, eyes darting around in the darkness. The squeaky growl came suddenly and lifted the hair on her arms. “Bentley, go lay down.”
Growling, hair on end, the dog backed up until he leaning against her legs.
“Get out of here. Now.”
Still growling, Bentley backed up a few more steps. The chupacabra, all long ears, long limbs, and long claws, landed on his back. Bentley’s yelp unlocked rage. Chelsea lashed out with a foot. It was like kicking a small, light concrete block. The impact ran up her leg, vibrating her joints, but the long limbed animal went flying.
Bart hurried over, planted his feet, and let the hammer fly. The chupacabra scurried away, avoiding his blow. Morgan tried to corner it, but the small monster skittered out of reach. Chelsea checked to make sure Bentley was still out of the fight, before rushing over to swing. She whiffed her stroke as well.
The chupacabra darted past all three of them, heading right for Bentley. Morgan let the hammer drop and, faster than Chelsea, put hands on the monster. The chupacabra screamed, twisting and flailing. It wrenched it’s way out of Morgan’s grip and jumped. Long claws dug into the walls of the house. the monster jumped again, landing on Morgan this time.
Morgan cried out as the concrete claws raked through cloth and found skin. Chelsea wrench the monster away and flung it against the ground. Bart was there, hammer in hand. This time the creature was too stunned to move. The old man connected with a crunch. He continued as Chelsea knelt by her partner. “Let me see.”
Three long, deep cuts ran up Morgan’s skinny arm, blood gushing onto the buckled sidewalk blocks.
Chelsea heaved a sigh. “You know this means hedge doctors, right?”
Morgan winced. “Really?”
“Really.” Leaning over to kiss her partner’s head, Chelsea held back tears. “Thank you for saving Bentley.”
“He would have done the same for me.” Morgan’s good hand gripped Chelsea. “Let’s get me sewn up.”
Chelsea didn’t wait for Morgan to stumble. She wrapped an arm around her partner, taking on as much weight as she could. “Bart, Morgan needs a hedge doctor.”
The old man muttered as he tapped at his phone. “Let me git this picture and I’ll take ya to the clinic.”
Keep the Adventure Going!
Any donations would be appreciated!