The dust lay heavy on every surface in the room. Yellow light filtered in through windows covered in ancient newsprint. It was hot, the kind of heat Mother Hovec would call “muggy”. Nothing living had walked the floorboards of the room for more than a decade when John Plug kicked the front door from its hinges. Splintered wood burst the silence, and worm-eaten shards rattled off of the walls. The light that streamed in through the shattered doorway was bright white, and it carried John inside like the breath of angels.

What John lacked in height he made up for in girth. Even though he was often the shortest man in the room, you would never mistake his presence. As he stood over the broken threshold, his legs splayed wide and his fists balled at his waist, he looked as solid as a statue.

“Clear,” he said.

Elias Walker entered the room behind John and swept a strange gadget back and forth as though shooing flies. Hair-thin tentacles of fiber optic cable sprouted from the thing and sniffed at the air. Elias pushed his thick glasses up his nose and peered at the device’s glowing screen. “They’ve been here,” he said, “and recently, by the looks of it.”

“You sure?” someone asked from outside.

“As sure as I ever am with these cocksucking things.”

“That ain’t very reassuring.” The third member of the party poked her head into the room. She wore a dark beret that struggled to contain an unruly mess of curly hair.

“If you want reassurances, Simone, you’re in the wrong line of work,” John said. He dropped to a squat and peered at the floorboards. “Elias is right. They been here.” He plucked a finger-long iron nail from the ground and held it up to the light. For the briefest moment it glowed a dull red, as if fresh from a forge, then it crumbled to dust. “Old ones, too. You feel that?” He fished his silver lighter from a pocket and snapped out a long tongue of flame. It quivered and danced in his hand.

“A lair?” Elias asked. “Here?”

“Could be,” John said. “Could also be lousy insulation. I don’t smell nothing.”

“You wouldn’t,” Simone said. “Not with ones this old, and not in a place like this. They probably haven’t fed in forever. If we’re lucky, they’re dormant. Deep asleep in the basement or attic.”

“Basement,” Elias said. “No elder would risk lairing anywhere that could open directly to the sun.”

John stood up, and his knees cracked like walnut shells. “Let’s find the vermin. Daylight’s a-wasting and we ain’t getting any younger.”

2020.11.03 – 2023.11.09

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