Table of Contents
Chapter 4 – You are here!
4. Dates in Sewers
Nick rolled the car window down and savored the ungodly stink of Midway as they flew through the streets. Damp air passed through his fingertips as Cass careened through the city streets at near suicidal speeds. Danger was secondary to the overwhelming sense of freedom he felt. Sure, the brown, plastic bottle in his right hand helped, but that wasn’t all of it. The first drink after a detox was always one of the best. With a slightly waned tolerance, each sip hit like a lovely little landmine. “God, I love this city.” A familiar slur crept into Nick’s words. He didn’t fight it. Things were how they should be.
“No one loves Midway,” answered Cass, slamming on the gas to catch the tail end of an orange light.
“It’s home.” The juxtaposition of tall buildings owned by corporations dwarfing the camps of unhoused people taking shelter beneath them was almost nostalgic. Midway was sick, a dying, bleeding animal, and it always made Nick feel better by comparison.
“It does provide plenty of interesting things to kill.”
That it did. Nick reached around for his monster manual before remembering that James was hanging on to it until he got back. The dusty old tome had been classified as contraband. Nick didn’t blame them. Half the musings that Henry managed to write in it were drink recipes or him waxing about truly vicious benders. It’s amazing I lived through that apprenticeship. Nick shook his head trying to rid it of its newfound introspective nature. Weird, you were taught by a merciless drunk and you became one yourself. Almost like it’s a cycle of abuse? Nick’s speech might have been fuzzy, but his thoughts were clear. They came in Sean’s kind, understanding voice; the voice that took the edge out of Nick’s thoughts and brought out vulnerabilities he hadn’t accessed in years.
“You alright over there?” Cass pulled off the main drag and onto one of Midway’s many dingey side streets. Skyscrapers towered on either side of them, blocking the moon from view. Steam rose from the pavement where the rain hit, a remnant of the midday heat that had barely faded.
Nick wasn’t sure how much time had passed, but he was relatively certain it had been around ten miles of it. “Fine, just wishing I had some of my own gear.” It wasn’t all a lie. He did desperately miss his harpoon gun, currently sitting locked in a gun safe in his apartment.
“Don’t worry, that’s why we stole Sean’s car.”
“This is Sean’s car?!”
Cass smiled and got out.
Nick followed suit, feeling the heavy, warm rain falling on his face. The street stunk with the soup of humanity that came together after a good storm. Each of the city’s collective mistakes from the past few days were brought together by a horrible drainage system and left to stew in the gutters. Meanwhile, below, the sewers bubbled ever closer to the surface, threatening to overrun society at the behest of one bad flush. Nick followed Cass around to the back of the car.
She popped open the trunk, revealing a truly staggering level of armaments and ammunition. Nick wasn’t sure why it surprised him. Sean ran a rehab for monster hunters, surrounded by all manner of beasts trying to get in at all times. He probably had a stash in his office as well, but the trunk was nearly overflowing. Custom straps had been fitted to the top of the lid holding an array of medieval implements and an assortment of grenades. The compartment that housed a spare tire in most vehicles split in two to form a tiered drawer system with weapons and ammunition. At the bottom of the compartment, multicolored bullets were arrayed in a rainbow, adorned with tiny labels describing their function.
“It’s beautiful.” Nick had never seen anything quite like it and felt a pang of guilt. Sean seemed soft and like every other rehab coordinator, but underneath it all, he’d been hiding a badass. It’s not too late to turn back. Nick pulled the plastic bottle out of his side pocket and finished the contents in a single gulp. Yes, it is. His throat burned and took his mind off the guilt and shame.
“Alright, pick your poison and load up. That riot at the rehab facility is only going to last so long. I imagine we’ve got about an hour to handle this and get back.”
Nick picked up an automatic crossbow. It was surprisingly light despite the bulky drum housing ten arrows beneath it. He grabbed a bandolier of extra cartridges and slung it over his back. Turtles, what don’t turtles like? Nick pulled out his phone and did a quick search. This would have been easier with the big book. There were several pages on box turtle pet care and what not to feed them, but unfortunately nothing that would have realistically been in Sean’s monster hunting toolkits. As awesome as it was to be fighting mutant turtles, they were far from common and more of a once in a lifetime opportunity.
“Hey, smart guy, looking for something like this?” Cass held up a large bag of avocados. “I lied earlier; I didn’t have to pee.” She split the bag down the middle and poured the contents into the trunk.
Nick put his phone away. “So, hipster turtles? Because I don’t have any toast.”
Cass laughed, genuinely laughed, and it filled something inside Nick that he didn’t know needed filling. “If we’re ever fighting millennial turtles, I’ll make sure to bring some. No, avocados are poisonous to most reptiles. Causes heart failure. She picked out a few of the avocados and threw them into a shoulder sling. Next, she grabbed a gas-powered launcher from the trunk. “And here I thought Sean was going to stiff us.” She hefted the launcher on her shoulder and looked down the holographic sight with reverence. “You could load just about anything into this bad boy.”
Nick took a mental note. There were many times a launcher like that would have helped him out. Wanting to seem productive, he took some of the avocados and began spearing them on the crossbow bolts, coating the projectiles. They would likely gunk up the mechanism after a few shots, but it was too late to back away from his choice without seeming weak. You brought a crossbow to a mutant turtle fight…
Cass looked at him sideways.
Nick tried to hide is discomfort. “I’m a damned good shot.”
“Ah, is that why they call you The Great Nick Ventner?”
“About time someone called me The Great something. That prick Manchester has been dead for a while and someone needed the title change.”
A flicker of something crossed Cass’s face, but it was gone as quickly as it appeared. “Alright, most of the sewers are going to be running full of shit and rainwater tonight. But, lucky for us, the turtles need somewhere to ride out the storm.” Without waiting for a reply, she took off down a back alley and past a row of steaming manhole covers.
Nick followed, holding the crossbow at a loose angle. It was more likely to start a fight on the street than end one. They passed several darkened shops with metal gates blocking their entrances. Nothing good happens after midnight. It was a lesson he took from the movie Gremlins and never forgot it. As it turned out, the depictions of cutesy cryptids being sold in underground shops and suddenly transforming weren’t that far off the mark. There were plenty of Christmases that had gone wrong from cheap dads trying to make a last-minute impression. The only inaccuracy was finding them in China Town. In general, Chinese shop owners weren’t dumb enough to sell bargain bin mythical creatures that could so easily backfire. China Town was where you went for the high-end shit.
Nick was so lost in his own reminiscence that he nearly stepped through the sewer cover Cass pried open. It was a rectangular service entrance with a long ladder leading to a concrete platform below. The hot stink of the sewer rose up to greet them in nauseating waves. Nick had always wanted to fight mutant turtles but had never considered the stench that would go along with them. “Why are these things always so disgusting?”
“A tradeoff for indeterminate growth I suppose. Hold this.” Cass tossed Nick the launcher and he caught it in his free hand. The weapon was surprisingly light given its size. Cass stepped down and gripped the ladder with one hand. With her free arm, she pulled an elastic headlight on. “Game time.” She slid down the ladder with ease, disappearing from sight. A clack echoed through the hole as her boots hit the floor.
Nick looked down at the crossbow and launcher in his hands and wondered just how the hell he was supposed to descend the ladder.
Cass whistled from below, giving him his answer.
Nick looked down and saw her standing with arms open. He lowered the launcher down as far as he could and dropped it. She caught it with ease. Not wanting to risk it with something as delicate as a crossbow, he attempted to descend the ladder one-handed. The result was an awkward shuffle where he often braced himself against the opposite wall for support. Eventually, one of his feet slipped and he fell the remaining distance. There was a brief moment of panic followed by a sharp pain splintering through his shins as he hit the concrete and tumbled backwards. Oh hell, what have you gone and done now?
Nick lay on his back, sucking in the fetid air of the sewer and slowly opened his eyes.
Cass was stared down at him with a mix of amusement and pity.
Nick moved his body and felt the crumbled mass of a crossbow drum on his back. He pulled it out and found damned near every arrow snapped. Real smooth. “Not my best impression for a first date. I blame the quality of booze.”
“Oh? Are my libations not good enough for a drunk of your stature?” She knelt beside him.
Nick was about to say something saucy when a shuffling noise caught his attention. He turned his head quickly to get a look around the room. They were in a small antechamber surrounded by six circular concrete tunnels fanning out in all directions. A shadow moved at the end of one of them, but Nick couldn’t be sure. “I don’t think we’re alone down—”
Cass kissed him suddenly and with passion.
Nick’s misgivings melted away in an instant as he put his arms around her. Despite the sewer, it was a damned good kiss. Feeling the press of her body on his reminded him that there was a reason for dating after all. When she finally pulled away, Nick wished she wouldn’t. Sewer creatures and interlopers be damned, he just wanted to spend more time in her embrace.
“Something about men falling on their asses always gets me.” Cass looked into Nick’s eyes with incredible warmth.
Just two addicts down a drain at the end of the world. He wouldn’t have traded it for anything. “Sounds like something we should explore deeper.”
“Maybe later.” She winked. “First, we have some turtles that require attending to.”
Disappointment and growing attraction battled in Nick’s gut. He got to his feet, brushing off the various aches and pains. I’m getting old. The simple fall was enough to shake loose deep soreness in his ribs and back that never truly seemed to go away. There had been a time when getting tossed around like a ragdoll by some horrifying beast would have been an ordinary day. Now, Nick wondered if his body could survive.
Cass tossed Nick a small, elastic headlamp.
Nick strapped it on, realizing that if he didn’t, he would be entirely dependent on her light. The sewers were nearly pitch black, with the only light coming from the grates above. He clicked on the small headlamp and followed Cass as she started moving down one of the tunnels. A powerful stink overwhelmed the baseline rot of the sewer almost immediately. Reptiles and reptiles carried a unique stench with them no matter what part of the world they were existing in. It was different from the rotting decay of a predator. The smell was something older, more primal, signaling that whatever process produced it was necessary and ancient. To a good monster hunter, it said: whatever creature lies ahead has been here since long before you were born and, in all likelihood, will be here when you are gone.
Nick fingered the trigger of his crossbow with a surprising degree of nerves. He scanned the floor, looking for any sign. They were traveling on a flat concrete path around five feet wide, leading to circular concrete walls that domed above them. In the small space, Nick was starting to feel cramped and claustrophobic. Turtles often lived in large groups. In such an enclosed space, it was a recipe for disaster.
“You’re awfully quiet.” Cass was calm. The beam of her headlamp stared straight ahead, and she held the launcher loosely at her side.
She doesn’t think there’s a threat. Nick sniffed at the air again, wondering if he was imagining things. Through the haze of human waste, he smelled it. If it wasn’t giant turtles, it was something worse. “I’m fine, just don’t like tight spaces.” It was mostly the truth. At that moment, he spotted a black pile adhered to the side of the tunnel wall.
“The consummate monster hunter. Let me guess, snakes are a pass as well?” Cass continued ahead, not noticing that Nick had stopped.
He shuddered at the memory of a massive serpent rising from the depths of The Amazon river and eating men alive. “Trust me, you haven’t seen the snakes I have.” He approached the wall and jabbed at the black pile with the tip of his crossbow. It didn’t take long to discover that the pile was indeed shit. At least we know we’re going in the right direction. He looked up to tell Cass, but her headlamp was already rounding the corner ahead. Why the hell is she so calm?
Nick scrambled to catch up to her. The sound of running water echoed around him. Ahead, the tunnel emptied out in a massive square pool where several pipes converged. Rainwater gushed through a struggling grate in the ceiling. Green neon lights from a bar above gave the chamber a strange, radioactive-looking glow. At least, Nick hoped it was from the neon. If not, they were in significant danger for far more mundane reasons than he liked.
Cass was standing on a platform at the edge of the water. “Well, we made it!”
Nick emerged from the tunnel and looked around. The pool at the room’s base was likely deep enough to hold a massive turtle or two, but he saw no sign of them. “Not sure this is the lair, Cass.” He hated contradicting her. Things had been going so well and monster hunters were a notoriously sensitive group.
“Well, maybe not the lair you were thinking of.” Cass grinned. Malice filled her eyes and her posture changed.
Nick’s mind pinballed between arousal and fear, unsure which was the right emotion for the situation. A hiss followed by a searing pain in his right ankle let him know. Ah shit. He tried to move, but his leg refused to cooperate. Looking down, he saw the shaft of a crossbow bolt running clean through it. He fell forward, and in a last-minute calculation, fired his own crossbow, aiming for the water. The enemy of my enemy is my friend. The ground rushed up to him with a wet and painful slap.
A boot caught Nick in the ribs, flipping him over. Cass smiled down at him and kicked the crossbow out of his hands. “Sorry, guess I’m going to need to cut our date a little short.”
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