“Mister, hey mister. Wake up…”
Waking up was the last thing I expected to be doing. I felt like about fifty miles of bad road. I tried to open my eyes but only one of them complied. The other was swollen shut. I tried to sit up but my rib cage let me know lying down was simply the better choice. I assessed my injuries based on the pain each caused.
Right arm, possible fracture, three ribs, hairlines, two dozen serious contusions, head injury, possible concussion but nothing I would die from right away. This mission had been a disaster so far. Now all I can smell is a trash can that is two weeks past a good time to empty. I focused my attention on the man speaking to me and realize it’s Ben Fisher, the host of the Barghest. “Mr. Fisher, pleased to make your acquaintance. My name is Clifford Engram.” He knelt down beside me and began gingerly washing the blood from my face. He gave me another towel to wipe my hands free as well.
“I had the strangest dream and you were in it. There were these monsters with tentacles who grew nine feet tall and they were attacking me…” His voice got softer as he tried to reconcile his dream with this apparent reality.
“Mr. Fisher, that was not a dream. Those creatures were real. They are called the Daughters of the Dust.” The answer came to me while I was being flung around the battlefield, too late to help me win the day. Our guesses and brute force had worked well enough, for the moment.
“What about the fiendish dog? What do you call that?” He took the towels back to the sink and I looked around his modest apartment. It lacked a woman’s touch. Clothes strewn everywhere, dishes piled high in the sink, garbage filled to overflowing, this room showed the signs of complete neglect. This was depression in inaction. I guessed I should have considered myself fortunate. There was only one thing I couldn’t figure out….
“How did I get here?”
“That’s the part I am trying to figure out myself. I woke up after that nightmare and found you on the floor in my flat, bleeding all over my carpet. As soon as I tried to clean your injuries, you woke up.” He started back with another round of towels and I waved him away. The towels didn’t smell too fresh and I figured I had soaked up enough tetanus in his flat already, no need to rub it into the wounds. With some meditation, I would be able to close up the smaller wounds and speed the healing of the others, but there was no way I could handle this level of infestation alone.
“You still haven’t explained the dog…” He went to his fridge and took out a beer, some low-budget brand I never heard of. He brought one back for me and popped the tops and handed me one. Thank the gods it was cold. Cheap beer never has the bite of the good stuff. After spending the evening being bounced around like a pinata, any beer went down smoothly.
I tried to figure out how to tell this man he was cursed with an affliction he would never be rid of…unless he died. “It’s not a dog. It is partly a manifestation of your depression and part a possession by an entity needing a place to live. Depressed humans are the perfect host for these spiritual entities. It is called a Barghest. Local legends call them….
“The Black Dog. Winston Churchill was said to have been afflicted by it.”
I continued, “The Hounds of the Baskervilles were supposedly another manifestation of the phenomena documented in 1889 and written about by Sir Conan Doyle. The truth was altered so it appeared to be a fiction not worthy of pursuing. The Agency I work for does that kind of work. We investigate and reveal the horrors of the world, destroy them, confine them, dispel them, banish them or kill them, as a last resort.
“Are you here to kill me?” Ben Fisher’s brown face had a look of resignation about it, as if he had finally heard the other shoe dropping after the death of his wife. He figured things couldn’t have gotten much worse.
I looked around his flat and noticed a phone cord. My cell was still in my pocket, its pieces rattled around in a way that let me know, it wasn’t going to be making any calls for a while. “No, but after tonight I think we are going to need some help. Can I make a call?” Ben roots around the apartment, finding the cord for his phone first and dragging it around, he revealed the phone beneath a pile of paper on the table in the bedroom.
“Haven’t had much use for it.” He handed it to me and sat back down across the room from me. The light in the room must have been playing tricks with my mind. I thought I saw a pair of red eyes sitting at his side, in the shadows, squinting menacingly at me.
I called my office. My coded serials bounced my signal around preventing me from being traced. “I expected your call forty-eight hours ago. What do you have for me? Did you secure the property?”
“What, no how are you? No, do you still have all your limbs? Engram, your expense accounts look padded again?”
“That bad, huh?” Carol knows when I joke like that, it’s more than serious.
“I’ve secured the Barghest. I believe he will be an asset with some training. Do we have anyone local we can task to this? I will need some real backup. The suspicions were correct, we have an outbreak of the Daughters of the Dust.”
The line crackled with static for a moment. This meant she was thinking. “I will send the closest agents to your location. They will be there at dawn. Get some rest.” She hung up without saying goodbye.
“Mr. Fisher, I suggest you get some rest as well. You are now, for the duration, a member of the Agency. I will need you to do one more thing for me. Do you remember a dream you had a few days ago which included some policemen?” I sat down on the sofa, too tired to be concerned about what might lurk within its folds.
“Yes. Did I do something?”
Explaining to people that they have become a monster is part of the job description. It’s always best to just tell them straight. “The Barghest is a supernatural entity. A dangerous one. Even a casual interaction with it can be lethal to the uninitiated. The policemen it attacked, while it didn’t kill them, they are now dying slowly. They are alive right now, because a priest stands over them fighting its influences. You have to release them. Whatever it is you believe they have done, you have to forgive them.”
“Or?” He raised his head across the room and the eyes of the Barghest appeared right next to his, as if it were sitting up like a loyal puppy.
“Or they’ll die.”
“So. They didn’t save her. They deserve to die.”
The accident where his wife died. The reports said she was struck in a hit and run. The police arrived on the scene and bystanders had managed to drag the driver from the car. When the police arrived, the man had transformed and battled the officers as a Creature of the Dust. The CCTV video showed them getting thrashed before the creature ran off. He’s held them responsible.
This must have been when the Barghest formed as part of a confluence of forces. “Don’t blame them. They didn’t know what they were dealing with. If you want to blame someone, blame me. I was investigating the earlier indications of the infestation but I was a day or two behind the creature that killed your wife. Let the policemen go. I am far more responsible than they are.
Tears rolled down his face and he turned toward me. “She didn’t have to die?”
“No. If I had been faster, maybe she would never have had to have an encounter with the Dust in the first place.” An unpleasant truth but true none the less. The Barghest stood, slowly growing. The window darkened for a second as a strange blackness suffused the room. Then it was gone.
“They’ll be fine. If we don’t find the thing that killed my wife and kill it, I’m gonna satisfy myself with your death, do you understand me?”
“Perfectly.” I couldn’t have asked for a better response. I needed him to be crazed with rage. It was the only chance we were going to make it out alive assuming our help came through. He got up and went into his bedroom. The door slammed behind him and I sank into his aging sofa, trying to find what sleep would come.
Dawn arrived too soon for my tastes. I woke him up and we went downstairs after a beer for breakfast. Our help had arrived. Three of the craziest Agency operatives known.
One was behind the wheel of a large black van of indiscriminate pedigree, but the purr of the motor told me there was more under the hood than it appeared. The driver was a white-haired blond whose right eye had a long cut over the flesh. She was ghostly pale, an albino. It did not stop her from being beautiful. She draped her hair over that eye so the scar was less noticeable. The Redhead, over six feet stood smoking a cigarette in a long black coat and combat armor underneath it. She wore an outfit similar to my own before it was chewed on yesterday. The side door opened and a tiny dark-haired woman got out. Two machetes handles were visible over her shoulders. Small throwing knives covered her extremities, and even her teeth were sharpened. Her smile gave me chills. She wore her hair long and braided in the back. Something sharp glinted in the ball at the end.
She sent me Rock, Paper and Scissors, three of Europe’s deadliest Agency operatives. Now, we might have a chance. Might. I’m tempted to tell my boss to just bomb London. It would be more merciful.
The redhead, Rock, blew a smoke ring as she turned around and gave me a grin that reminded me why I was happy to be a man. “You need something killed?”
I hobbled into the van. Scissors gave me a hand. I counted my fingers after she let go. Ben climbed in behind me. “Daughters of the Dust.”
Her smile faded.
Paper gunned the engine. We raced toward oblivion in the early London morning.