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May 20, 2024

The Black Volga

By Paul Lubaczewski

One thing all children learned here is to mind their own business, it was the only way to keep people from minding yours. Some of the people who might mind your business would end up minding it for the rest of your short life if they didn't like what they found there. Little kids learn from their parents, and the parents were the children who had lived long enough to breed. Children in this city learned, keep your eyes down, especially when you saw black cars, and if you saw some black cars, run like your little life depended on it. You had to have a lot of power in this city to have one of those. The kind of power that made sure nobody questioned what you did, the kind of power that made people keep their eyes down and caused little children to run away.

This is not Nowa Huta, the new architectural showcase of the ruling party. This part of the city is where the people waiting for a chance for an apartment in those shiny new tower blocks live. The streets are dirty, there is still some damage showing here or there from the war scarring the walls. The new steel mill the government has forced on the former intellectual city has turned the skies gray and foreboding. It is a city awash with unhealthy vapors, but not a place that will die until the party decress it.

In theory, Justek is playing with his cousin Patek. The reality is they are currently not playing together, as they have gotten into a vicious argument over the fact that Justek had been hiding a Wedel that he had gotten from his mother and didn't want to share the treat. Now both boys were avoiding being within fifteen feet of each other as they walked disconsolately down the street in the same direction, occasionally one, then the other, picking up a rock and throwing it at nothing to have it clatter off of walls and wet stones down the road.

The distance between them has grown considerably. Justek stops to yell at his cousin to hurry up. He sees the car, it is black, the windows in the rear and in the rear doors have black curtains hung in them, to prevent anyone seeing inside. He recognizes it as the kind of car that powerful party members and celebrities are allowed. Irritation overrides annoyance and now he prays that Patek would hurry, he wants to dodge down an alley and out of sight before the thing gets here.

Patek stops to look at the car as it stops next to him. He is listening to someone inside talking to him. A hand extends from a black sleeve reaching out of the car. It is pale and white, more bony claw than hand swimming in a sea of darkness. A finger extends and beckons the boy closer. Justek wants to yell to his cousin not to. He is trapped between conflicting emotions. He has been told to never contradict a man in a party car, yet, every emotion is twanging sensing danger for his cousin. His nerves are throbbing, his knees are quaking as he stands glued to the spot, struck mute by fear and indecision!

His cousin's dark eyes are wide with curiosity as whoever is inside speaks to him and beckons him closer. He walks slowly over to the car trying to peer inside, his face intent but lacking any suspicion. His little foot splashes briefly in a puddle on the street. The whole scene is in slow motion as Justek stares on powerless to intervene. He sees his little cousin look up at whoever the hand belongs to, standing right outside the door. A smile lights up Patek's little face for a moment.

The hand flashes forward like a striking serpent and seizes the boy's collar. In the space of a moment he is hauled upright and halfway through the window! There is a brief squeal of terror that is muffled almost as it was exiting the boy's mouth. His tiny legs kick against the door momentarily, then, he disappears the rest of the way inside as fast as a street corner magic trick.

Just like that, he is gone. The car engages its drive and quickly pulls away.

Another little boy is left behind staring in shock. A stain running down his pants is becoming a puddle at his feet. He begins to scream.

Patek is never seen again, alive, or dead. His parents weep, as all the other parents had before.

Justin Kowalski was a mechanic. He had learned his trade in his native Poland, it was a good safe trade to get into when the Communists controlled things, so his parents had always encouraged his interests in how things worked. When the Iron Curtain fell, it opened up all kinds of new opportunities. The one Justin had wanted most, was to leave Poland, to go anywhere else but there. Luckily they had relatives in the US who eased his way and once he'd had enough saved and his name finally came up for a green card he almost sprinted for the plane to leave.

He was the only member of his family to leave, but then again, more than anyone else, he had his reasons.

He never talked about his childhood these days, he never talked about Poland. He went to classes to improve his skills as a mechanic and to learn American cars. He took another course to improve his English while living with cousins. Almost as soon as he graduated he had gotten an entry job in a good garage where he worked hard and steady to make himself indispensable. After that, he met a nice woman, whom he was sure he loved, whom he married and had two kids with. One adult out on their own and one right on deck in college. He had achieved the all-American dream, all it cost him was his past. His past was something he was more than willing to pay.

Sometimes, the past comes back to haunt.

At first, it was just something he considered a "weird story" in the local news, something that catches your eye but you brush off as soon as they switch to another story. There had been disappearances in the area, it had become a series of them, and the news had begun to get more strident as the total rose. A few of them coincided with a "weird foreign car, maybe french" being noticed in the general area by one of the witnesses interviewed on TV. The Police had said basically, "It was a populous state, near a major sea port, and black was a popular color." In other words, they needed something more concrete to go on. What had finally caught his ear and had made him pay closer attention was when one of the witnesses in a report, another immigrant, this time from Russia, had identified it as "A black party car, a Volga."

Justin didn't mention his interest in the story to anyone. He especially didn't mention it to his wife Susie. While she was part Polish, her family had immigrated here before World War I and since then had married non-Poles and intermingled until they had met. Her connection to the old country and the entire Soviet era was incidental really, she was more American than she was Polish, her most Polish aspects involved Kielbasa and being able to pronounce his Polish name correctly. She had not heard the rumors he had heard back home, and if she had she would have written them off as an "urban legend."

The vanishings were spaced out, over time, until the theme of the car had been leaked to the press, the press itself hadn't even realized that they might be connected. Authorities said, that other than the car, there was nothing to tie them together in any way, but the car had been enough for the local news to jump on. This had continued for a year after the story broke until one day, they stopped. One week there were follow up stories, the next week, there was nothing. Or so the media had told everybody. For another year the story itself had vanished, no longer news and no longer interesting, until even that had changed, one day they said now that another set of more recent disappearances might be connected to the earlier disappearances, even if there were no longer reports of the car.

Swearing to himself that this meant nothing, Justin emailed a nephew still living in Poland, Anatol. Anatol had grown up in the new Poland when IT and hacking were all the rage in the former Soviet satellites and had fallen right into the bright new cyber-world. Justin knew if the information he wanted could be found, his nephew could find it, if Anatol couldn't, well this was just to satisfy his own curiosity anyway, he'd leave it be. The kid was apparently very good at what he did, he did not get hacked himself, so Justin's questions were sure to stay between the two of them. He promised himself as he sent it off, that one day he would have to visit the old country just to meet the young man in person. Of course, Justin had been saying that for years now, and so far he'd never even priced the tickets.

The email was simple, "Need list of all black party limo Volgas to come to the US and current locations. Long story. -- Uncle Justek"

It was only a few days later when an email arrived back from Anatol. Underneath the greeting in stilted English was the list Justin had asked for. It was not very long, not a lot of Americans really want a Soviet cold-war era car they were not known for either looks nor reliability, they made up for that by handling poorly as well. But there were more than he'd expected, he could only assume that it must be a collector thing. He ran into those people all the time at work, guy with some oddball car, just to be different, needing a part nobody had made in twenty years that would end up having to either be retrofitted from another car or hand machined. There was probably even a Yugo club out there somewhere. Even Anatol had been puzzled, "Why on earth would you want one of those wrecks?"

It took him a while to narrow down what he was looking for specifically. There were three in the potential area that he was concerned with, where the disappearances had occurred. After some research of his own online, he had found that two of them were owned by car enthusiasts, they had been easy to find. Guys who had happily displayed them online with pictures of themselves with their odd little pride and joy at car shows and what have you. The third though, he could find nothing on, just an owner's name that Anatol had included.

He emailed Anatol back, "Not for buying, looking for someone. Please give me any information you can find on a Wiktor Mazur-Justek"

His next email back from Anatol was in Polish. Normally they tried to email in English, it helped both of them improve their skills with the complicated language. Emails in Polish were reserved for more abstract or personal thinking, it allowed them to explain themselves more naturally. The email he received from his nephew read, "Uncle, something about this man worries me. You may want to leave off with this. Any actions you may wish to take may not be considered safe. Nothing I can find about him in the files looks right. But according to as close to the record as I can get, this man is either 59 or 116, his files have all been tampered with, and often. Is the name just a code name or an honorarium? Enclosed is his address and phone number, my first hope is that you forget I sent it to you. If not, my second is that I hope you know what you're doing there -- Anatol"

Childhood terrors came to him, not to frighten him, but to give him strength. The fear he had felt then, the surety as to the nature of evil and what it looked like made him feel that he knew what needed to be done now. His failure when confronted with evil had been a load-stone weighing down his life, a force that had driven him away from everything that he had ever known to live in this foreign land. If he told his family they would think he was mad, but to Justin, it felt almost like the Blessed Mother had taken pity on him and handed him his chance for redemption from the memory of his cowardice all those years ago. If he was successful now, maybe he'd make the long trip to Czestochowa to light a candle at her shrine. His family could think what they wanted. They hadn't been there.

Justin knew, in his heart, this was the same car. For him, it just had to be the same car, at some level he needed it to be. The nightmare in the inky black of midnight that had dogged him his whole life was as real as anything else. Now, it was here in America, and doing exactly what it done before. He had found out later, after growing up, that there had been rumors of the Black Volga all over Poland and other vanishings tied to it just like there were stories now about a black car tied to vanishings here. The similarities were too much to be ignored. There were other famous tales from Poland that he learned as he got older. Ones about monsters. But he hadn't seen those monsters with his own two eyes one damp day, had he?

Maybe, what he had to face was just a man, it was entirely possible that the hand that reached out for his cousin had been human despite its ghastly appearance . A sick, and warped man, who had a sick and deadly job to do for a dying empire. One that he had learned to love, one that he had brought with him to America and made a pastime. Or, maybe, it was something they told stories about in books, ones he had read when he was a child, others he read as he got older. It didn't matter now what it was, he needed to be prepared for both.

The idea of telling someone what he thought was going on crossed his mind, but it departed quickly. Who would believe him? That some urban legend had followed him across the ocean to New Jersey? That he was worried that it might be more than a man? Who would believe a superstitious eastern European about the viper that hid in their nest? He loved his American life, he would love nothing more than to pass it along to someone else with the authority of the law to deal with it. But he knew in his heart, if he went through the proper channels, even if they even checked this beast would be gone from his den before the light ever hit it.

Justin wasn't a fool though, he intended to go in to this with the tools that he'd need to eradicate this menace. He needed weapons mostly, and he needed to be good with them. If you pull a knife on a man, any man, you'd best be sure that you're going to be able to stab him with it, with him doing everything in his power to stop you. If not, you are carrying the weapon of your own demise for surely he'll take it. And since you've already told him at that point you intend to injure him, he will have no moral qualms about using it on you. Getting weapons and training with him without anyone knowing is not an easy accomplishment for a happily married middle-aged man. Too many late nights, too many gaps in your timeline, next thing you know, she's convinced you're cheating and you're being trailed by a private investigator. He needed to spread everything out and hope that he had the time to do it before he moved.

It took time, everything seemed to take time he didn't really believe he had until Justin felt as ready as he would ever feel. There had been at least two more disappearances in that time, they were further afield, parents had started to keep their children in locally, but he was positive it was the same mind at work here. Justin knew that he couldn't go before he was ready, that was foolish, but every person never seen again ... that was another nightmare to deal with. Maybe he could excuse what happened before, since he'd only been a child when it happened, but now, he was a man. He was a man who had the name and address of the monster.

He drove by the address attached to the car. Somehow he was not particularly surprised by what he found as he cruised slowly by. A large house situated in an area just a bit past what could still be called a suburb of anything. Distant neighbors, out of earshot, to go along with high hedges all on the sides. If anything, it was anti-climatic. The architecture of not-quite-rural New Jersey did not exactly lend itself to ominous foreboding unless you counted the repair bills that these McMansions would be running up after they were a decade old. Tan siding, brick facade, surrounded by a neatly trimmed and manicured yard, probably done by the same service everyone in the neighborhood used. Nothing about it stood out, the perfect place to do the unspeakable in, the last place anyone would suspect.

He parked the car at a local synagogue a few miles away near a stream his maps told him ran right behind the property. Everything he would need filled the black duffle bag he slung over his shoulder. Justin actually did fish in his spare time and was going to use that stream as his cover story, so he also made a point of grabbing a rod, and his tackle vest. He could always ditch the bag into some bushes and swear he was fishing if he needed to abort the mission once he was following the stream itself. Justin had made it a point to have his fishing license handy, just in case.

It was easy going mostly, there were some sticker bushes to be circumvented, there was some crossing back and forth over stones, but this was still New Jersey, not the wilds of the Amazon. Eventually, angling away from the river, Justin could see well enough to start counting down from a house he recognized from seeing it from the road. Some of these people had children playing in the pool or in the yard on this lazy summer day, a picture of the American dream come to life, right down to Dad at the grill making lunch. All the while not knowing what a monster they had living so close to them. Innocent little faces, that could vanish without a trace into a black European car one day.

When his mental countdown of houses reached zero he stood there in the wooded shadows, looking at the house. Shuttered, every window closed over, blocking out the light of day. Blocking out any prying eyes. Justin crouched back down before he took out binoculars he had brought for just this and began to scan the house. He would wait, he had come this far, now he would watch, and he would wait for an opening before he approached.

Justin had no idea how long he crouched there, staring at the closed blinds. He really wasn't paying attention to the sun as it moved across the sky, he cared even less about his watch. Unless you look right at the sky, the difference between 12:30 and 2:30 were negligible anyway. If he was keeping track of the day at all, it was in terms of mosquito bites the proximity to water was affording him. His knees were beginning to ache from staying still, and he had to keep switching the binoculars from hand to hand as his arms from getting tired. It was the only course of action available; he knew you didn't get to just knock politely on the door and ask if the person had a black Volga out of the blue without arousing suspicions. Patience and a bag full of weapons were the only hope he had to complete this, and Justin certainly wasn't throwing away the bag either.

He had achieved an almost zen-like indifference to the world around him when he heard something from the house. He couldn't be certain from this distance, but it sounded like the garage's door opening. The thought was confirmed a moment later when he heard a vehicle engine roar to life. Justin moved quickly through the trees to the edge of the lawn so he could get an angle to view the driveway. Pulling out was a large black Chevy Suburban, the kind police used as a K-9 unit, or the President had in his motorcade.

There was the explanation for why the Volga may have vanished but the disappearances had continued. The monster had Americanized as well! The same idea, but in a different country, a newer vehicle with the same black windows, something that the public associated with authority. Innocent victims would obediently obey, and approach automatically thinking it was some higher government power, one they had been trained since birth to obey. Even if this monster didn't have authority here in the US, he had learned the value of it back home. He had learned the trapping of power and control here in the United States. He had adapted to his surroundings!

Justin watched the vehicle as it pulled down the drive slowly and carefully. While he feared where it could be going on behalf of the person it would find when it got there, now was his chance to check the house for proof! All he needed to do was get inside the building to find the evidence that proved his theory. He needed to be sure before he did anything that couldn't be taken back. Once he was positive he was right, the things he had brought along had a permanent nature to them.

He crept towards the house the house in a low crouch. Justin was looking carefully for cameras on the exterior scanning left and right as he went, he wasn't so far gone that he didn't realize that the rightness of his cause would be difficult to explain to the police if he was wrong about this. As he got closer, he took out the binoculars and scanned it again trying to find more detail about the place. When he swept them toward the corners of the various porches Justin noticed something that caught his attention. There were brackets, where cameras had been, but, they had all been removed at some point, probably recently. It made sense if you were the biggest monster out there, why would you want a film record of your crimes?

The incongruity struck him, the entire house was a great big American testament to the banality and boredom of new wealth, a cookie cutter creation slapped up by illegal immigrants in the space of a few short months, with one sole purpose, to be big. Built to look like every other big house in the town, with the same siding, and the same glass in the door, the same walkway, the same mailbox, everything indistinguishable from every other one of these collections of empty space. If he went around front, he would see, he was sure, an expensive etched glass door, bought from Lowes or Home Depot or at least from the same supplier. Yet, Justin was crouched here in the midst of this generic Americana to prove to himself that an old world terror existed. In the land of lawn sprinklers and back yard BBQ, he was looking for something that belonged to the ancient dungeons of the human mind.

He scanned over the back of the house again for obvious points of entrance. There was the back door to the garage itself, but he wanted to avoid that if he could. If everything was locked tight and he was forced to break a window it would be the first sight his prey would see when he got back and parked the Suburban inside. That left two other options, a basement door, and a set of sliding glass doors leading to a deck area.

He put on a pair of gloves once he got close to the house. Justin still held out hopes that he would be going home after this was all done, he'd watched enough TV to know that leaving fingerprints was begging to get arrested. He had to believe he was going to go home to continue, that there would be time with Susie to forget about anything that happened today, to make up for his dark turns when this tormented him over the years. He wouldn't be able to do this otherwise.

To his shock, the knob to the rear door to the garage turned freely in his hand!

Breathing deeply Justin slowly cracked it open, careful to make no noise to announce himself. On a moment reflection, he wasn't that surprised to see that it was open. People without an alarm system yelling at them constantly often forgot a door or two. Coming from the old country, the owner of Suburban had most likely found the alarm system to be an annoyance and disabled it. Why bother with one in a neighborhood like this anyway? This was the kind of place that was advertised as "low crime" in the realty ads. If you were going to forget to lock a door, the one leading to the backyard from the garage was an obvious one to forget.

He reached into his bag and took out a flashlight, a cheap one he'd gotten from the store, disposable was the key here. Justin had no way of knowing if any lights were on, or how dark it was in there, he wasn't going to let something as simple as that push him back. He also slid on a little headlamp he'd gotten from the hardware store in the checkout line. Neither light was high tech, and he wouldn't want them long term, they were cheap and disposable and ought to work at least once and for long enough. He also reached in to his bag and pulled out a holster that he slid over his shoulder and buckled it on. Nestled in the leather was a Glock, speaking of things he thought of as disposable. It wasn't the same gun he had at home for protection. As far as Susie and the kids knew, he didn't own a Glock.

The interior of the garage was muffled and cloaked in darkness, the only light was coming from the open door. He swung the flashlight and headlamp in a sweep as he stepped into the inky dusk. As his head swung to the right, the light fell on another car in the garage. Justin couldn't help but gasp, it was THE car! The car from every nightmare he'd had since he was a child! Not just a black Volga, not even one of the party cars, the very horror itself, right down to the windows and curtains. Sitting there, like some figment of terror plucked out of the void of dreamland, and dropped in front of him in a garage in New Jersey.

Justin froze where he stood, fighting his emotions, every instinct told him to destroy the car itself now while he had the chance. It was right there. The huddled black shape almost seemed to be mocking his impotence, just as it had in all of his terrors. He had to keep telling himself that wasn't the point, that wasn't why he was here. The car was just an object, it was a tool that was used by the killer. Out there right now, a large chunk of American manufacturing was being used to create new nightmares and blowing up that Suburban wouldn't mean anything either if the creature responsible wasn't inside.

The door from the garage to the house itself was also unlocked, but of course, the man would have been counting on the garage being locked not realizing that he had forgotten about it. Quietly sliding inside Justin found that the door led into a large kitchen area almost as dark as the garage had been. He shut down the temptation to just turn on the light by the door when it came to him instinctively. He had no idea if anyone else was in the house, lighting up an entire room would draw more attention than a flashlight.

He panned the light over the kitchen slowly, trying to take in every detail. The light from the flashlight only marginally better than the small amount of light that seeped through the drawn blinds and curtains but it was a margin worth having. The kitchen was enormous as most of the kitchens in these houses were, more kitchen space than a small restaurant for a person who probably almost never cooked. Real slab marble counter-tops that if the whole house was left unattended for a hundred years, would be the only thing in the rubble still in pristine and perfect condition, probably the only thing of any permanence at all in the entire place. Looking at the elegant and refined picture in the dark it took him a moment of taking it in to see what was wrong with the picture he was presented. There was nothing there but what had come with the house!

What was wrong wasn't what was IN the kitchen, it was what wasn't. No dish rack, no coffee maker, no microwave, no towels, nothing that showed that this kitchen had even been used once. All of the little things that people bring with them to a kitchen to put their mark on it, that we all expect to see even from someone who mainly eats takeout. The kitchen stood there, perfect, and shiny and completely devoid and empty in the light of his flashlight.

While that was odd, it wasn't the tangible proof he needed, even the presence of the car wasn't he needed something he could show to others. He needed check records, he needed files, a computer, something that he could look through to prove to himself that he was in the right place. Before he confronted the man, Justin wanted, he needed to feel he had some kind of proof. He tried to create a mental map of the house in his head to guess where he needed to go. If this was the kitchen, the dining room would be next door. That would probably lead to a large entrance room and a living room, and then the far house would most likely be a den or a library. A den or a library, that sounded like what he needed, so, across the house then.

As he approached the doorway that led from kitchen to the rest of the house, a smell started to assail his nostrils. Ahead would be the dining room that connected to the front foyer and the stairway leading upstairs. Further ahead would most likely be a living room or a sitting room for entertaining. A family living room and a den should connect to that on the far side of the house assuming the design of this place was similar to all the other homes by the local development firm. He went ahead, he had no real desire to look at the foyer. If he was wrong in his guesses about where the information he needed was, he'd have to see it to check the upstairs anyway, no hurry.

The smell was becoming almost overpowering as he walked into what should have been a well-decorated dining room. Scanning quickly he was surprised to note that was almost empty. There was a chair, a lamp, and a small desk next to where he could only guess the sliding doors outside were hidden behind heavy drapes. Propped against the wall, a coal shovel, it's wide blade staining the white carpet with something dark. A house of almost enormous wealth with a pauper's furnishings? It was curious, it wouldn't be unheard of if it was a normal immigrant family. His own wife and children sometimes made fun of his obsession with making things last that he had brought with him from Poland. The thing was, those that owned those kind of cars back home, they were Party people, they were not the ones who needed to learn to make things last.

The stench was now becoming almost tangible, something you could taste in the air, something you could almost feel on your very skin. A combination of something chemical he couldn't pinpoint as anything he knew, and disturbingly rot, which was something he did. He decided that it smelled like someone was keeping some kind of animal as a pet and was well behind on cleaning its kennel. It seemed like it was coming from behind the doors that separated the foyer from this room.

He decided to hold off on exploring the rest of the house and find out what was causing that stench. Whatever was causing it would most likely confirm his suspicions that something was wrong about this house. Before stepping in through the door he set down his duffle bag and removed one of the weapons he had brought along, just in case it was an animal, specifically a hostile animal. It was a small handheld crossbow, the kind that could be fired as a pistol, he bought the thing in case he needed to be quiet. Along with it was a small holster that contained a series of bolts made from hawthorn wood. There were some legends he was hoping were just legends, but when you go chasing down a legend, to start ignoring another legend, well he wouldn't be fool enough to do it. If they were just old superstitious foolishness, a bolt of solid hawthorn propelled by a crossbow would still do as much damage as a regular bolt and was still a formidable weapon. So was the Glock he had along.

Carefully Justin slid the door back just enough to look, desperate to make no noise; if something was living in there he wanted to see it, before it saw him. His senses were assailed by a sudden increase in heat and stink like a wall erupting through the cracked door. It felt solid and palpable like he was leaving one climate and going to another instantly just by the act of standing there. The room the door entered was far darker than the others, the windows here must be completely sealed off from the outside which made the heat feel all that more oppressive. Motes of dust danced in the beam of his light as he carefully began to peer around the room.

With a gagging noise, he lunged back away from the door after viewing what his light had fallen on. Slowly he got his stomach under control and looked back through the gap to confirm what he had seen. There, lying on the floor were little piles of bones and still attached rotting flesh! The bones had mostly gone yellow, the small amounts of flesh still left on them turned black and rank. In the dark, it was impossible to tell immediately what species of creature littered the place at first. He didn't move forward but kept his flashlight moving across the floor until he could find something he could identify. After a moment Justin saw a head a head of some kind too large to be any animal short of a bear that was native to the area. Training his beam on to the blackened and rank thing he squinted in to the gloom to confirm what he has suspected as soon as he'd seen the bones, an eye looked back at him balefully in it's rotting socket, a human eye.

His hands trembled as he fought to get control over himself. This had somehow managed to be worse than he had suspected all along after all. Of course that meant that the very fact that it was that horrible meant that he absolutely had to end this now. He had to be in control of himself and his emotions to do that, he needed to calm himself. This was not just about doing the right thing for everyone who the monster had hurt, the was personal, this was revenge. This was doing the right thing for little Patek! Finally! Now! After all these years, to finally be able to live with himself.

Justin glanced up towards the stairway leading up to the second floor of the house He could see an outline above him, a darker shape in the Stygian dark, but he was sure he saw something. It had to be the monster responsible for the carnage that littered the floor! Justin trained the flashlight on it to try and make out what this was. What he saw was in no way human at all. It dangled above the room, most likely asleep since it hadn't responded to him at all. Its long matted hair falling down below it in greasy strands and tangles. What he guessed were leathery wings not unlike a bat folded up behind it Claw-like feet holding on to some kind of a perch suspended from the ceiling of the foyer, probably built expressly to hold the monster. Its face made it look almost human in its countenance, at least what could be seen beneath the shaggy fur that covered it everywhere but its scalp. The tools of its feeding, its fangs protruding over its light brown and full lips even in repose.

There was no denying that this was the monster he had sought, maybe a man had helped it, and nurtured it to be sure, but here was the beast itself. A beast he had the weapons to put an end to right here and now. He shouldered his bag and crept slowly into the room hoping it continued to sleep. He was looking for his best shot, he had no promise that he'd have another one on the creature if the first one didn't kill it. For that matter, he had no promises of anything at all if he didn't kill it. A wounded monster might kill him and still survive, nursed back to health by its keeper who was out there somewhere even now looking for more victims most likely. Taking in the lay of the room, Justin decided the stairs would get him closer to having a level shot at it which would be easier to aim for something vital.

Pulling the door shut, he checked the thing's face repeatedly as he began to move across the vile detritus on the floor to see if the movement and light were disturbing it. Not unlike the bat it resembled, it seemed that the thing slept soundly during the day; it didn't even twitch as he got closer to it. His best shot would be from the first balcony on the stairs, which meant finishing his trek across the grisly remains on the ground. Justin took one deep breath close to the door where the air was less vile and started forward.

It took an eternity to cross among the remains and begin to climb the stairs, Justin made numerous pauses, glancing over at the hideous thing dangling there looking for any sign of it becoming conscious. Every noise the house made became an alarm in his mind, someone else being here, a car in the drive, something trapping him where he stood. Every exhalation the thing made sounded painfully loud to him in this fear-heightened awareness he was suffering from, like a rasping echo in a tomb. Justin needed to steady himself once he achieved his shooting platform. He took out a small flask and took a pull to steady his nerves, letting the warmth from the vodka spread calm through his limbs. Normally he'd laugh at the concept of drinking and firing anything, at this moment he needed it just to get the tremor to leave his hands.

Every ounce of his willpower was being funneled into keeping his hand steady as he raised the crossbow and aimed down its sights. He could use the gun, but what hung in front of him was no simple adversary. At this moment, he was more willing to trust the old tales from home, even over something as powerful as his gun. Justin wanted the heart, he had one shot so he had to make it count, he took his time aiming, he needed this to count. God help him if he needed to pull out the gun for a second shot Justin couldn't fully convince himself that a bullet would do a thing to this monster.

Justin pleaded with his body to cooperate for just a little while longer, he mentally made demands of the nerves that wanted to twitch to fire off nervous energy, "Not now!" Slowly, almost gently, he squeezed his finger on the trigger. There was a loud "thwock!" as the crossbow released 80 pounds of torque from its limbs. He barely even saw the bolt as it flew across space between himself and the monster!

The thing's eyes opened blazing with hatred and rage and the pain that had been inflicted upon it. It screeched in a high pitched almost metallic sound alerting the world to its fury at this treatment. Justin's hand was already fumbling to get the Glock out and get it sighted. Dear god! It was starting to thrash about! He hadn't killed it after all! Oh, my god, he had to shoot it with the gun to finish it off, he needed to do it now!

But then, it stopped. Its frenzy ceased almost gracefully, the monster gasped instead of screeching again and its claws released its perch. Its wings opened and unfolded, but not to flap, almost in a spasm of pain, an involuntary twitch that caused them to unfurl. The effect of which was that rather than plummet straight down into the marble floor below, the creature wafted down, almost like a poorly thrown paper airplane, or a kite, when it loses the wind gradually.

The thing came to a rest on the floor, almost softly for all of its massive size.

Justin's head drooped down once the thing came to rest. His body shook slightly and he was panting with his eyes closed for a moment trying to regain control of himself. He was sweating hard, drips were coming off of his nose and chin, he smelled the terror on himself, the normal stench of a man of work cut through with acidic poisons released into his system against his will. With exaggerated care, he took out a water bottle and drank deeply, the water was warm and stale from being carried around all day, but he could have stood there drinking it forever.

Taking another one of the hawthorn bolts he slotted it into the crossbow carefully, thankfully his hands were beginning to obey him more willingly. The thing looked dead, but he needed to be sure of it, he'd have to check the body, no matter how much his instincts told him that he'd done what he'd come for and he should run. There was still a human agent at work here -- Justin needed to ensure the beast was dead and then he'd consider his next step. He was unsteady as he stood up, fighting off a wave of dizziness and nausea his hand snaked out and grabbed the rail briefly. Another deep breath and Justin began down the steps.

The world froze before he set foot on the ground floor. Through the wall he heard a loud click, followed by the whine and rattle of the garage door as it engaged and began to open. The caretaker was back! He slunk back to the landing and tried to think of what to do now. Again instinct screamed at him to flee this horrible place; his mind though, his mind considered that his poor cousin must have been fed to either this creature or one like it all those years ago. His mind decided that this all needed to end, the monster and its master. The beast might have been the ultimate killer, but the man acquired the victims for it, a beast obeys orders a man thinks of them. No, the man who facilitated this needed to be punished, maybe more than his pet.

The gun in one hand, the crossbow in the other he waited as quietly as he could in the shadows of the stairwell. He could hear the doors of the Suburban slam through the wall. Then another door slammed, he assumed the man was getting something, or god have mercy, someone out. A few moments later it was followed by the door to the kitchen opening.

Justin could hear the muffled sound of someone talking, the voice sounded ancient but somehow oily even at this distance, like a salesman for a demon trying to get a mark to sign the contract. "I'm sure my friend will be thrilled to meet you," he heard it say in heavily accented English right outside the door.

The door opened downstairs causing light to suddenly flood the foyer. He heard the sharp intake of breath even from where he was. In a series of quick steps a figure in a dark suit wearing a fedora stepped to the body of the monster. It was a tall and almost-starved looking figure of a man; the suit was cut slim but still seemed to just hang off of his emaciated frame. Justin could see no hair under the hat as it knelt next to the creature, instead there was an almost amphibious sheen on the pail skin. Instinctively Justin began to sight the gun at the man, trying to decide for sure if this was his target.

The man quietly said just one simple word, "Oh." The head stayed downturned, staring at the creature on the floor before he raised a hand and pointed to someone out of Justin's line of sight. "Come here, please. You were to meet him, but I suppose that cannot happen now, so please come here to at least pay your respects," the man said in his heavily exotic accent that hinted of Eastern Europe, but also of something else in there as well.

A teenager stepped to where Justin could see. The boy's hair was lank, his clothes were relatively dirty and of poor quality, probably not from anywhere near here unless his rebellion against his parents was dressing like this. He had dark skin and hair, but as this was New Jersey, a place where people lived while they gained their riches in New York and Philadelphia, that could mean any one of dozens of nationalities. His eyes though, stood out immediately to Justin, they were completely blank and lifeless, his jaw was slightly slack and open as if he was a somnambulist walking over to the man who had commanded him.

"You were supposed to be for him," the man said, pointing at the dead monster. "But I suppose we need to make the best out of a bad situation, yes?" With a flash of movement, he suddenly seized the boys head and thrust it to the side. He maneuvered the both of them sideways almost as quickly, so that the man was staring straight up at Justin now! He could see the face of the thing's keeper at last, the man's skin was like leather stretched over a drum head, translucent and taunt showing the blue veins underneath. He smiled as he stared up at Justin, showing a mouth full of almost canine fangs. His sunken eyes that had been black as coals when he had first looked up at Justin turned a bright red, like a rupture of the blood vessels had occurred and flooded the eye's surface with bright red arterial blood. The creature, the monster, for this could be no simple man, violently slammed his open mouth onto the side of the boy's neck. There was a hideous tearing and the thing's head snapped back leaving a massive gaping wound where the boy's throat had been. The monster dropped the boy who had never uttered a sound except a gasping wheeze escaping as he collapsed in a heap. As the boy's blood pooled crimson rapidly around his feet, the thing snapped his head back. There was a vile and disgusting crunching noise as he swallowed down his grisly meal. The man-creature swallowed in great gulps, much like a lizard ingesting its meal, Justin could see the thing's throat bulge as chunks of flesh were swallowed. The whole time Justin stared in shock, powerless to do anything about what he had witnessed. "Potwór!" he gasped in his native Polish.

"Ah, yes, the other loose end," the creature responded also in Polish while smiling up at him. "I suppose this rather ruins your triumph, yes? Hooray you shouted, the monster is dead, yes? You have caused me a great inconvenience. I will have to go back to the homeland to get another one of these magnificent beasts."

Justin thought to turn and run but he was rooted to the spot gawking at what looked like a man, but had just proven that it wasn't. His mind demanded he flee, maybe just from an upper floor window, but his muscles refused to even twitch, he was trapped in his own body at the top of the stairs. The monster smiled seeing the look of terror come over his face once Justin realized that flight was no option at all.

"Ah yes," he said with a smile, "one of the side effects is control over 'lesser creatures.' It would appear that description encapsulates you quite nicely. I don't seem to be entirely human anymore, isn't that interesting? I suppose you being from the old country, you noticed the reports of the car, yes?" The creature began to move along towards the stairs, his long legs reminding Justin of nothing so much as a spider stalking along its web. "It is a failing of old men you see, to not like to change things. So, I suppose I retain some humanity after all. I have gotten quite used to the Volga, so why should I change? Then I saw in the news reports, that it was distinctive, it was recognizable ... better to get something more American and authoritarian, don't you think? Every new era brings its own challenges, and I am so, so, very old ..." the thing said with his voice trailing off for a second its eyes losing focus as it considered the years stretching out behind it.

Then the man-thing's head snapped up his eyes clear again, "How old I suppose you're asking in your head, yes? Well, I cannot say for sure, but suffice to say, I discovered the creatures, like the one you just killed, on expedition for the Tsar. All kinds of interesting side effects can be derived from them, especially their blood. Like the fact that I am still alive at all, yes? That is an interesting side effect, don't you think? You being forced to sit there, the hero, frozen to his spot, that is another good one, yes?"

This former man turned monster's feet were now on the bottom step, "Have you ever watched a hunt? Sometimes the prey just freezes still, it awaits death, it does not flee, it does not bite, it just stays very still accepting of its place in the world. You are the prey, young man, see how you hold so very still, the higher hunter overrides the mind of the weaker prey. You have accepted your place in the cosmos, to be a meal."

Justin's eyes bugged out of his face as he watched his own death approaching him. He was screaming inside as he tried to get any of his limbs to do anything, even a twitch that would allow him to do something. He tried to think of his wife and his kids, tried desperately to find some trigger that would break him free and relieve this tension that held him rooted to the spot. Death was staring him directly in the face, it wore a smile as it began to mount the stairs.

"If it's any consolation, you know more about what is about to happen to you than most of my victims, the great and the small, they usually go like ignorant little children to the great beyond. At least you will know why you needed to die," the thing said as he stepped forward, coming in for the kill. The thing was already close enough Justin could smell its rank breath which stank of corruption and rot.

CHILD! That was the key! He wasn't here for any other reason, at the heart of it all but to avenge a CHILD! He was here to ensure that there were no more little Pateks, he could see his cousin in his mind being dragged to his death. The anger that returned to him overrode any animal desire to bow down to the predator, he was here AS the predator! Justin had his hands back again in an instant, he didn't even jolt with the shock, instead he put his new found freedom to use. The Glock and the crossbow came up almost simultaneously, firing at the demon in human form below him!

The bolt sprang from the crossbow, the air was filled with the report of the Glock and the smell of gunpowder. In an instant, Justin was completely free again. The man who had threatened him with sure death only moments before lay slumped at the bottom of the stairs. His one eye was wide open, it most likely it saw nothing anymore, the other was missing altogether. A massive dripping stain behind where he had landed further attested that the bullet had been a head shot!

He slotted another bolt into the crossbow and slowly made his way down the stairs to where his handiwork lay. There was no sign of any respiration, there was no movement whatsoever. Justin still wasn't taking any chances on this, MAYBE the bullet in the head had killed the thing, or maybe the old tales were right, he hadn't seen if the crossbow bolt had struck at all.

Moving the dark coat the man had been wearing aside, he saw that the white shirt underneath was already deeply stained with a deeper crimson than he'd ever seen come from a human. The color was so dark and deep as to almost be black. The hawthorn bolt was protruding partially, but it had gone deep enough. Deep enough to pierce the monster's heart.


It was finally over.

He let himself fall to a knee in relief. Patek had no more reasons to haunt his nightmares. No more other families would sit and wonder if they would ever see their child again, never knowing the brutal end their loved one had come to. Justin could leave here feeling cleansed, despite the stench of rot all around him, he was cleansed.

Cleansed. The very earth needed to be cleansed of this. Justin got to his feet, he wasn't done yet.

Once he got to the garage he carefully set his bag down and grabbed two bottles of water for the walk back and tucked them into his rip-stop camos. There were a couple of cans of lighter fluid in there as well. Carefully, to conserve the amount, he ran a line of the fluid from the garage to the foyer and covered as much of the drywall as possible before the fluid ran out with a squelching noise.

Stepping back into the garage Justin went directly to, and opened up the hated and despised car. The Volga. He put his bag into the back seat and pulled out something else. It had taken him a lot of hard work, and a lot of unrelated purchases to get this together, along with knowing a guy who knew a guy who ... well, no telling how far that rabbit hole went. One explosive. Nothing major, there was nothing in it to alert Homeland Security, it didn't have to do a lot, it just needed to blow a hole in a gas tank and start a fire, the fire would do most of the heavy lifting after that. He was smiling beatifically as he placed it carefully on the gas tank of the Volga and set the digital timer. He left his weapons in the duffel bag and left the bag under the Volga to ensure its immolation in the explosion.

Justin was actually humming by the time he was back in the woods. He was covered in sweat and grime, but he felt clean and unburdened. He was thinking that he should really spend more time with Susie and the kids. Now, while he had the time to do it. He was getting older, and so were they, days and weeks just managed to vanish somehow. If anybody understood that you didn't have forever to be with the ones you love it was him, he should learn to act like he understood it.

Maybe he'd take them on that trip to Poland he'd always talked about, maybe see the castles along the Trail of the Eagle's Nests. They could visit Anatol as well, like he'd always promised the boy. It was important for his family to discover their roots, and most importantly, there were no more monsters in the homeland for little Justek anymore.

Article © Paul Lubaczewski. All rights reserved.
Published on 2021-11-22
Image(s) are public domain.
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