by Timothy Miller
Rooter’s was a dark hole of a bar located miles from the nearest town. It was the kind of place whose patrons owned Buck knives and referred to anyone with a full set of teeth as a “city fella.” It wasn’t very busy tonight. There was only a rusted jeep and a couple of Harleys in the gravel parking lot.
Collin parked his pickup next to a jeep. Killing the engine, he rested his chin on the steering wheel and asked himself again why he’d come.
“Because someone left five hundred bucks and a map to this place in your mailbox,” he answered aloud.
There had been a note too, promising another five hundred if he showed up here tonight. Of course, the money wasn’t the real reason he’d come, not all of it anyway. The truth was that he was bored. Bored with a second rate job playing security guard, bored with the dating scene, bored with daytime television and going out to the clubs. He was twenty-three years old, single, gainfully employed, and bored to death.
Why wouldn’t he follow a mysterious map to a rundown and potentially dangerous bar in the backend of nowhere? It was the first interesting thing to him happen in a long time.
Slipping on his jacket, he got out of the pickup and headed for the entrance.
“Mr. Blacksong,” said a deep voice. “I’m glad you accepted my invitation.”
Collin whirled, his gaze searching the parking lot. “Who’s there?”
A man stepped out from behind the jeep.
“You may call me Jericho, Mr. Blacksong. Sorry if I startled you.”
Collin took a step back. He could have sworn the lot was empty a moment ago, and someone like Jericho should have been impossible to miss. The man was a giant. Dressed in a long grey trench coat, he was seven feet tall and had the shoulders of a sideshow strongman. His eyes were dark under a heavy brow. The rest of his facial features remained largely hidden beneath a bushy black beard. In one massive hand, he gripped a green duffle bag.
Jericho raised a bushy eyebrow.
“You are Mr. Blacksong, I presume?”
“What… Oh, yeah. That’s me.” Collin swallowed down on the sudden dryness of his throat. “Sorry. You kinda caught me by surprise.”
Jericho smiled, displaying a yellow wall of oversized teeth. “Don’t mention it, Collin. May I call you Collin? I prefer to be on a first name basis when I can.”
“Call me whatever you want,” Collin replied. “You want to go inside? We could have a beer and then maybe you could tell me why I’m out here.”
“I’m afraid we don’t have time.”
Taking a white envelope from his pocket, Jericho tossed it over. Collin caught the envelope on the fly.
“The five hundred dollars promised you. In return, I would like five minutes of your time.”
Collin opened the envelope. Inside were ten fifty-dollar bills, more than he made in a week.
“How much do you know about the company you work for, or about what goes on in the building you guard?”
Collin shrugged. “Trimax is a German sporting goods and clothing manufacturer. They make hunting clothes, and tents – stuff like that.”
“Indeed,” Jericho said. “They also hold a multibillion dollar research and development contract with the military to create the ultimate camouflage material, completely undetectable by infrared, sonar, or even the human eye.”
“Multibillion, huh?” Collin scowled. “And those cheapskates are still paying me minimum wage.”
“How tragic for you,” Jericho said dryly. “I brought you here because Trimax has recently stolen sensitive optical technology from an organization I represent. I mean to retrieve the stolen technology, and will pay handsomely for your assistance.”
He opened the duffle, revealing several bundles of hundred dollar bills.
“Holy mackerel. Is that real?”
“As real as death,” Jericho said, closing the bag. “One hundred thousand dollars. Yours, if you agree to the job.”
Collin frowned. “You don’t want me to whack anybody, do you?”
Jericho’s laughter was so deep it sounded as if it were coming from the bottom of a well.
“Hardly. I simply need access to the Trimax lab. To that end, you will disengage the security fencing tomorrow night.”
“That’s it?” Collin stared hard at the duffle as he considered the offer. One hundred thousand bucks. “You promise no one will get hurt?”
Jericho handed him the money. “Trust me.”
The scar-faced man wiped the blood from his knuckles with a small towel, and then tucked it under his belt next to his holstered pistol. Stepping past a table stacked with Collin’s wallet and security badge, he reached over and flipped on the light switch by the door. The lights flickered.
Strapped to a metal chair in the center of the room, Collin arched his back and screamed as electricity travelled from a dismantled wall socket, down a pair of wires to the chair.
“That’s enough, Joe,” said the room’s only other occupant, a grey-haired man with a thin face and a white lab coat. “We need him to be able to talk.”
“Whatever you say, Dr. Jordan,” replied the scar-faced man. He flipped the switch off. Collin stopped screaming and slumped against his restraints.
Dr. Jordan ran a finger across Collin’s bruised brow, and then flicked away the sweat.
“This can end, Mr. Blacksong. Just tell us how long have you been working for them. What do they know about the project?”
Collin spit blood from his mouth and shook his head.
“I told you everything,” he rasped. “I only met this Jericho guy last night. He paid me to turn off the security fencing so he could get a look at the Trimax labs.”
“Which you did,” Dr. Jordan inserted.
“Right,” Collin said. “That’s when a bunch of you guys came running out of the Trimax building with guns pointed at my head. That’s it. I don’t know anything about any project.”
“Perhaps he’s telling the truth, Joe,” Dr. Jordan said. “He has all the makings of an expendable resource, gullible – and not very inquisitive.”
Collin would have taken offense, but he was in too much pain.
“Why do you think we hired him?” Joe touched his chin thoughtfully. “We did give him a pretty good beating, but let’s be sure.”
“Yeah.” Joe pulled a small set of bolt cutters from his back pocket. “Nothing gets a man talking like losing a couple of fingers.”
Collin’s heart skipped a beat. He’d been afraid he was going to prison when they caught him messing with the fence. That fear soon turned to terror when they brought him to this cell, beat him to a pulp, doused him with water, and turned up the juice. Now they wanted to cut off his fingers?
Sudden rage, pure unadulterated fury, swelled inside him like a rising tide.
Joe knelt down and grasped Collin’s right hand, pushing the cutters over his thumb.
“Wait,” Collin said. “I have something to say.”
Joe smiled evilly. “See what I mean, doc. What do you got for me, tough guy?”
“Just this.” Collin’s foot shot up, catching Joe under the chin and knocking him back from the chair. The bolt cutters flew free, clattering into the corner of the room.
His chin already beginning to swell, Joe leapt to his feet and slugged Collin twice in the mouth.
“Easy, Joe,” Dr. Jordan warned. “If you break his jaw, he can’t talk.”
“Yeah,” Collin said. “Easy, Joe. This place doesn’t even give me dental.”
“You think you’re pretty funny, don’t you?” Joe said. Shaking the blood from his hand, he walked to the corner and picked up the bolt cutters. “Let’s see who’s laughing when your new nickname is Stumpy.”
Just then, someone knocked on the door.
“See who that is, Joe,” Dr. Jordan said. “If it’s that windbag, Keller, tell him we need more time.”
Joe clicked the cutters as he moved to the door.
“Hold that thought, kid.”
Collin bared his teeth at the man.
“When I get loose, I’m going to kill you and Dr. Torture over there. Then I’m going to find the grizzly bear that hired me for this job and put a handful of bullets in his cranium.”
Joe laughed. “You’re delusional if you think you’re ever getting loose.” He opened the latch, and the door swung outward. “And in about two minutes, you’re going to be a few body parts less of a man.”
An enormous hand reached in from the hall and closed around Joe’s neck, lifting him from his feet.
“Sadly,” said a deep, rumbling voice, “you don’t have even that much time.”
Gasping for air, Joe clawed at the fingers on his throat. The huge hand clenched and something gave with a crunching snap!
Tossing Joe’s limp body aside, a bearded giant in a grey trench coat stepped into the room.
“Good evening, Collin.”
Dr. Jordan pulled a pistol from his coat and pointed it at the intruder.
Ignoring the command, Jericho moved over to Collin.
“It would seem I owe you an apology. Our plans have gone somewhat awry.”
Collin looked down at the leather straps holding him to the chair.
Jericho smiled and reached for the restraints.
“Touch that and I’ll kill you,” Dr. Jordan threatened, thumbing back the pistol’s hammer. “On your knees, Yeti. Do it, now!”
“Um… I appreciate the rescue, Jericho.” Collin said. “But maybe you better do like Dr. Wacko says. He looks serious.”
“I’m sure he is,” Jericho said. “Brother, if you’d be so kind.”
A disembodied and extremely hairy arm swept down from the air behind Dr. Jordan, striking his back. The doctor hit the wall head first, staining the concrete with a brilliant splash of red before sliding to the floor like a broken doll.
The air shimmered and a ten-foot tall biped covered in shaggy brown fur materialized to join the arm. Opening its jaws to reveal three-inch incisors, the monster gave voice to a throaty roar.
“That will be enough of that,” Jericho said.
The monster’s jaws snapped shut mid-bellow. Lowering its head sheepishly, it issued a guttural grumble under its breath.
Jericho rolled his eyes. “Don’t be such a baby. You did very well, but we’re in a hurry right now.”
Collin’s jaw dropped. “Is that… Is that Bigfoot?”
“Please. How would you like to be called Littlefoot or Tinyhand?” Freeing Collin, he gently drew him from the chair. “His name is Byorn. But if you insist on lumping us all together, we prefer the term yeti.”
“We?” Collin echoed, taking a wobbly step. “You’re a friggin’ Bigfoot, Jericho?”
“Yeti,” Jericho corrected. “And yes. On my mother’s side, anyway.”
“How did that happen?”
Jericho shrugged. “Father liked hairy women, I suppose. However, this is hardly the venue to discuss genealogy.”
Byorn looked toward the hall, and then issued a series of huffing grunts.
Jericho nodded. “I smell them, too. Go ahead.”
Byorn faded from sight.
“How the heck did he do that?” Collin asked.
“I told you. Trimax stole invisibility technology from my associates, and by associates, I mean other yeti. Why do you think no one has managed to capture one of us yet?”
“You’re telling me that all Bigfoots are invisible?”
“Yeti, Collin. And yes, we developed the shroud generations ago,” Jericho said. “Now, there is a large force of men heading this way, and we still have to find the Trimax lab.”
Moving to Dr. Jordan, he picked up his pistol and tossed it to Collin.
“Can you use one of those?”
Collin grimaced. The gun’s handle was sticky with blood.
“You said no one would get hurt.”
“Yes, but I think we can agree circumstances have changed somewhat since our original arrangement.” Jericho spread his hands. “You may stay here if you wish. But given the treatment you’ve received, I wouldn’t recommend it.”
Collin glanced at the bolt cutters still clutched in Joe’s stiffening fingers.
“Okay,” he said, working the pistol’s slide. “Let’s rock.”
Jericho smiled and headed for the door.
Collin followed the giant out of the room and down the hall. High on the walls, red security bulbs flashed at them as they ran.
The Trimax building was a maze. Doors lined the hallways, and the corridors branched continuously. There was no sign of Byorn, but twice they passed the shredded bodies of men bearing automatic rifles.
Collin made Jericho stop while he claimed one of the heavier weapons.
“Hurry,” Jericho said. “There’s a security team just a few turns behind us.”
Sticking the pistol in his right front pocket, Collin shoved a spare clip for the rifle into his left.
“There are two guns here,” he said. “You want one?”
Jericho waggled his sausage-sized digits.
“Can’t fit one of these in the trigger guard. Let’s move.”
Collin hefted the rifle and the mad dash resumed. Ten minutes later, Jericho came to an abrupt halt ten feet from the next intersection.
Collin skidded to a stop.
“What is it?” he whispered. “Another security team?”
“Yes. And it’s one we can’t avoid, I’m afraid,” Jericho replied quietly. “Around the next corner is the lab. It’s fifty feet without cover. There is security inside the lab, Collin. They have guns.”
“Are you sure?”
Jericho nodded. “Byorn says there are more than thirty.”
Byorn’s shaggy head materialized in the air an inch from Collin’s nose. He jerked back in surprise, banging the back of his head into the wall.
Byorn grinned hugely, and then his head disappeared.
Collin rubbed vigorously at the swelling lump on his skull.
“Well, I say screw the stupid project thingy,” he hissed. “We should go back. Find another way out of here.”
Jericho shook his head.
“Why do you think it took us this long to get here? They’ve locked down everything behind us. The only way out of this place is through the lab.”
“Well, that’s just peachy,” Collin growled. “What the heck are Bigfoots doing running around a laboratory, anyway? Shouldn’t you be hiding in the Alps, or maybe shooting a beef jerky commercial somewhere?”
A woofing grunt came from the air ahead.
“Byorn really likes those commercials,” Jericho said. “Seriously, Collin, we had to stop Trimax from replicating our technology. Our people are scattered and few. Invisibility is all that’s kept us out of the zoos.”
“I suppose you’re right,” Collin admitted. He sighed. “Oh well. At least I’m not bored anymore.”
“Nothing. What’s the plan?”
“No plan. We charge,” Jericho said simply. “Byorn will go in first. We’ll follow.”
“Sounds like suicide.”
“Don’t be a pessimist,” Jericho said. “Byorn and I are pretty durable, and you seem to have an unnatural amount of luck.” He opened his trench and removed a thick bundle wrapped in brown packaging paper. “Oh, and Byorn will be partially visible while he attacks. It will make him vulnerable.”
“I’ll try not to shoot him,” Collin promised.
“Don’t. It’s liable to upset him.”
“We don’t want that,” Collin said. “So when do we send in Byorn?”
Byorn’s roar echoed through the hall. Someone screamed, and a rattling staccato of automatic weapon fire shattered the air.
Collin ducked instinctively.
“I had to ask.”
“Let’s go,” Jericho said. Bundle in hand, he ran toward the intersection, turning his head to give one last piece of advice.
“Whatever happens, don’t stop running until you’re out of the building!”
Rifle pressed tight to his shoulder, Collin rounded the corner running full out. Ahead of them, a pair of double doors of Trimax’s lab hung from their hinges. Random bullets zipped through the smashed portal, pinging from the walls around them. While inside the lab, dozens of men in black security gear fired desperately at a half-visible monster raging among them.
Swinging his massive arms, Byorn crushed men’s skulls or ripped limbs from their sockets. Red gore stained the laboratory tables, and smoking bullet holes riddled computer screens and towers.
Collin and Jericho were almost to the room before someone spotted them and swung his stuttering rifle around.
Twin puffs of crimson erupted from Jericho’s shoulder, and a line of fire seared Collin’s cheek. Swearing under his breath, Collin returned fire. The rifle rattled against his shoulder, and their attacker fell with a line of holes stitched across his abdomen.
Once in the room, Jericho pointed to a door on the far wall. “There’s the exit,” he shouted over the gunfire. “Run for it!”
As they sprinted toward the door, Collin spied Byorn’s half-visible outline ripping into a security team on their left. Swinging his rifle, he peppered the men on the right side of the room, sending them ducking for cover.
One brave soul broke cover to cut them off .
Picking up a nearby table with one hand, Jericho threw it like a discus, knocking the man from his feet.
“Enough, Byorn,” he called. “We are leaving!”
Byorn sent a man flying, and turned toward them. That’s when a man fired a shotgun into his chest at pointblank range. Byorn fell with a pained howl, collapsing atop a table stacked with glass test tubes and microscopes.
Men rushed forward to circle the wounded yeti, and the one with the shotgun clacked a fresh round into the chamber.
“Byorn!” Jericho swerved away from the exit.
Collin skidded to a stop just a few feet from the door.
The man with the shotgun looked up at the shout. His eyes went wide, and then Jericho’s ham-sized fist connected with his chest, catapulting him into the crowd.
Collin’s rifle clacked empty, and the men he’d been keeping pinned down on the right jumped up and opened fire. Whining ricochets blasted chips from the tile floor around him, and his ears buzzed from humming near-misses.
Bleeding from a dozen bullet wounds, Jericho didn’t answer as he pummeled the men around Byorn.
Collin looked from the door to Jericho. He should just leave. What did he owe a couple of Bigfoots, anyway? All they’d brought him was trouble.
Someone scored a double hit on Jericho’s knee, and the giant stumbled.
Collin swore, and ejected the spent clip from his rifle. A hot hammer struck his upper back, spinning him around. With shaky fingers, he fumbled the clip from his pocket and snapped it home.
“Jericho,” he shouted, lifting the rifle. “Get down!”
Jericho dived atop Byorn, and Collin sprayed the air above them on full auto. Men screamed as hot metal tore into their vitals. Some ran for cover. Others returned fire. The first, Collin ignored. The second, he riddled with dark curses and fast metal.
The last man standing over the yeti fell with a hole in his eye.
His face a thunderhead, Collin whipped the shuddering gun toward the men still firing on him from the opposite side of the lab.
“What are you waiting for?” he shouted to Jericho. “Get your hairy butt off the floor before I run out of ammo!”
“We’re coming,” Jericho called. Tossing the paper-wrapped bundle toward the line of computer consoles, he hauled Byorn to his feet. And together, the yetis began a stumbling run toward Collin.
“Go. We’re right behind you.”
“Shut up and run,” Collin spat.
His rifle ran empty a second time. Throwing it down, he yanked Joe’s pistol from his pocket. A red-hot spike punched into his chest, knocking him back against the door. He tasted blood in his mouth, and his vision blurred. When it cleared, a red-faced man was running toward him with a flashing gun.
Collin’s pistol barked twice, and the man fell back with blood streaming from his neck. Another man was behind the first, but Jericho’s fist dropped him like a brick.
“About time,” Collin hissed through gritted teeth.
“Move,” Jericho said.
Collin moved aside, and Jericho kicked the door from its hinges. “Go,” commanded the giant.
Clutching his wounded chest, Collin ducked out of the building. Jericho and Byorn were right behind him.
The exit led to the Trimax employee parking lot. It was nearly dawn, and a pinkish haze colored the east sky.
“We have to keep going,” Jericho said.
Shouting came from the room behind them, and bullets began to kick gravel from the ground.
Collin pointed to a parking slot marked “security” fifty-feet away.
“There’s my pickup,” he said. “Let’s go.”
They ran for the truck as armed men emerged from the building behind them. Within moments, the windshields of parked cars began to burst beneath a withering hail of gunfire.
Ducking his head, Collin weaved between vehicles until he reached his pickup. Opening the driver door, he realized the cab was far too small for the yetis. “Get in back,” he said. Climbing behind the wheel, he keyed the ignition.
The pickup dipped low on its shocks.
“We’re in,” Jericho called.
Collin hit the gas, and the pickup shot out of the parking slot toward the gate. A chaotic line of sparks rattled off the fender as Trimax security targeted the truck, but they were too late. Tires squealing, the pickup blasted through the main gate and onto the road.
“We made it,” Collin whooped. He coughed wetly, but the pain in his chest and back couldn’t compare to his elation. He smiled as he eased up on the gas. “Jericho, we made it!”
The tiny window behind him slid open.
“Keep going,” Jericho said. “Don’t slow down!”
“Why? We’re way out of range by now.”
“Of the guns,” Jericho said grimly, “not the bomb.”
Collin frowned. “What bom—?”
The world exploded.
Collin lay in his bed and watched the sun through the window as it climbed the white slope of a nearby mountain. Another morning, the eleventh since he’d woken bruised and feverish in the mountain monastery. The monks cared for him with unfaltering devotion, dutifully changing his dressings and bringing him his meals. His only complaint was that they refused to answer his questions, or even speak.
He inhaled deeply, ignoring the twinge in his back and chest as he savored the crisp mountain air. It smelled different today, almost musky.
The light blurred beside the window, and Collin smiled.
“Hello, Jericho. Where have you been?”
“Checking things at Trimax, mostly.” Jericho materialized next to the bed. The half-yeti was wearing a new trench coat, and held a familiar duffle in his hand. “The bomb took out their mainframe as well as the lab. They won’t be copying our invisibility process anytime soon.”
Jericho shrugged. “Cranky from his wounds, but he’ll recover. Thanks for asking.” He lifted the duffle. “I brought you something.”
“You went to my apartment to get the money?”
“Just ahead of the police,” Jericho said. “You’re one of the MIA they haven’t been able to account for since the blast. Sorry I couldn’t bring you to a local hospital. How are the monks treating you?”
“They’re giving me the silent treatment, but otherwise pretty good.”
Collin pushed himself into a sitting position. He glanced out at the new sun and felt guilt settle like an anchor in his stomach.
“So how many people died?”
Jericho cocked his head. “People?”
“In the explosion,” Collin clarified bitterly. “How many people did the bomb kill?”
Jericho gave him a strange look, and suddenly began to laugh.
Collin scowled. “I don’t see what’s so funny about mass murder.”
“I apologize, Collin,” Jericho said, still chuckling. “I thought I’d told you already.”
“Told me what?”
“Didn’t you wonder why I came to you, a security guard, when I could have bribed someone working in the Trimax labs?” Jericho asked. “It’s because no one working inside Trimax would have betrayed their own kind.”
“What’s that supposed to mean?”
“You didn’t notice the greenish tinge to their blood?” Jericho rolled his eyes. “Trimax is a goblin operation, Collin. I came to you because you were the only human on the payroll.”
Collin’s jaw dropped.
“Who else? It’s not as if trolls are smart enough to steal from a yeti,” Jericho said. His expression turned serious. “Speaking of trolls, I have another job for you.”
Collin groaned and pulled the covers over his head.
“Just a thought,” Jericho said, and his booming laugher filled the monastery.
TIMOTHY MILLER has worked at a farm, a meatpacking plant, a pickle factory, a casino, and a rowdy nightclub as a bouncer. Currently employed as a technician for a large telephone company, he writes in his spare time. His biggest fans, his family, spend many frigid Wisconsin nights in their home, listening to his stories and encouraging him, despite the nightmares.