As Chelsea parked her car in front of the weathered dock, a sense of deja vu washed over her. This was how the whole mess started. Heading out to fight a river monster without Bentley.
She wasn’t alone this time, though. Next to her sat her newest friend and hunting partner. Andy Washington had forsaken his silk pajamas for a hunter’s denim and cotton, but not his eyeliner. He had also tamed his curls into several tight braids, and his manicure bore blood red tips.
He sighed as he examined the dock. “I am not a woodsy person.”
“Thank you for coming.” Her voice shook a little, upping her anxiety.
Dark eyes studied her, though Andy kept his face towards the dock. “We took out that cropsey faster than I expected, and I promised Jackson that I’d take care of you.”
Irritation overtook anxiety. “And here I thought you wanted to hunt with me.”
Andy laughed. “Oh, honey, it can be both.” He dropped a wink. “Don’t box me in.”
She found herself laughing with him and her nerves settled into the normal prefight jitters. With her equilibrium restored, they headed for the dock.
Julie was already onboard. A cloth headband kept her short hair in place as she examined the gauges on the dashboard of the boat.
When their weight set it to rocking gently, Julie flashed them an exasperated look, but said nothing. She didn’t approve of Chelsea making plans on her own, and had forced her way on to this hunt.
Chelsea had already decided to let the woman’s attitude slide. Julie was a cop, a real job to worry about, and she’d covered for Chelsea at least twice now.
She turned to the two of them, hands on her hips. “I did some research on fighting nixes, and I have a plan.”
Chelsea grabbed a life jacket and focused on moving with the slight rhythm of the boat. “Good. I was stumped.”
Julie closed her eyes. “So you were just going to show up and kill it… somehow?”
The thread of Chelsea’s temper frayed just a little. “Actually, I was going to take a few days to figure something out once I secured a boat, but you insisted on doing this today.”
Andy snickered as he stepped on board. “And hello to you, too. My name’s Andy.”
Julie opened her eyes with a sigh. “I’m Julie, as well as sorry. Chelsea, you have been surprisingly level-headed for a new hunter. I shouldn’t be giving you shit. I just really don’t like this.” She gestured toward town. “Will a single shotgun blast raise an alarm? Nope. But a bunch of them will. And while I have three solid alibis lined up if we get caught, I hate lying to my co-workers.”
Chelsea shared a confused look with Andy. “Shotgun? I thought we were fighting a mermaid.”
“We are.” Julie sucked in a deep breath. “But when I talked to some other hunters, they suggested that we anchor the boat and wait, then shoot the nix with a shotgun when it surfaces.”
Andy shrugged. “Sounds like a good plan to me. But I’ve never used a shotgun.”
Chelsea fiddled with her life vest. “I’ve used a rifle, but it was years ago.”
Julie’s lips thinned, and then she relaxed. “For this fight, the difference between a shotgun and rifle is minimal. There’s more kick, but you’re not out in left field here. We’ll go over basic shooting protocol once we get to the spot.” She flashed them a stressed smile. “You found a good place to settle in and wait. But nixes mess with the mind through sound and ear plugs only work a little. We’ll have a radio playing too. It’s supposed to help, but we’ll have to be on our guard.”
Anger bubbled in Chelsea’s stomach. She was aware that her own precarious mental condition was pinning an unusual anger on this monster, but she couldn’t rationalize it away. Her leg shook as they headed upriver.
The hunting spot sat flat and calm as the sun touched the tops of the hills. Daylight would linger a while longer, but dark was coming.
Once the anchor dropped, Julie pulled the guns and ammo from the case strapped to her seat. She tried to explain something she called a “push-pull” technique to help with the kick, but without actually pulling the trigger. Chelsea couldn’t quite grasp it.
Andy seemed equally unsure. “I thought you just jammed it against your shoulder and accepted that it sucked?”
Julie closed her eyes and seemed to collapse a little. “It’ll do. Just… Just try not to go nuts. Let me show you how to load it.”
Once they had the weapons sorted out, Julie turned on the radio. The music barely registered through their ear plugs. She gave an apologetic smile. “Only thing we get out here is the oldies.”
As the silk and velvet of Motown echoed down the river, Chelsea foundered into nostalgia. Her father had loved this music and passed it on to her. After a long, hot day, this river mimicked the damp heat of her youth in Georgia. She could almost imagine she was out with her dad, fishing pole in hand. There was no stopping her from singing along, off key as usual.
Andy and Julie started chuckling as the fourth song started and Chelsea kept singing along. Her toes tapping along the deck, she smiled as she searched the water. When lyrics took a break she asked her question. “So there’s no bait?”
Julie didn’t look away from the river. “We’re the bait.”
Chelsea took a breath and ignored the ice reforming in her stomach. “Again?”
A warm chuckle from Andy thawed her, and she refocused on the music. As the sun dipped further behind the hills, Julie turned on a few lights. Chelsea still sang along, letting her eyes adjust, and never looking away from the river.
When the next song started, someone joined Chelsea. A soft voice, but perfectly on-key, and the tone seemed to mock her. She darted terrified eyes at Andy; who nodded, shotgun raised, as he hurried to her side. Julie guarded the other side of the boat.
The lapping water picked up its pace, and Chelsea had to fight to keep her feet. She didn’t stop singing, though.
She raised her voice, missing more notes than usual. The boat rocked harder. “I think I’m pissing it off.”
Andy nodded, eyes on the water. “Keep it up.”
The song blended in to the next, and Chelsea sucked in a deep breath before belting out the words as loud as she could.
Water sloshed over the sides of the boat and a brownish-green arm clutched for purchase. Andy and Julie rushed over together, and the sounds of both their shotguns drowned out the radio as the boat rocked.
Chelsea lurched over to them. What bobbed in the slow water seemed only vaguely human, but the blood and obliterated features proclaimed it most definitely dead. She took a deep breath and flicked the safety on her gun before flopping to the deck. “Finally.”
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