Messenger of fear in sight
Dark deception kills the light
Hybrid children watch the sea
Pray for father, roaming free
“Oh, come on, Cap!” Knut exclaimed, throwing his hands up in exasperation. “It’s not like I’m asking you to do anything illegal! Besides,” he snorted. “I know you want answers just as much as the rest of us!”
“I do,” Cap admitted warily. He stopped his pacing and glared at his older brother. “I just don’t think you’re going about this the right way. I’ve done my research, Knut. This outfit you’re so gung-ho about – this ChimCorp – doesn’t exactly have what you’d call a stellar reputation. They seem to operate just barely on this side of the law, and this Dr. Verres has no reputation. For all that I’m hearing about how he’s such a big shot scientist, none of my sources were able to find out anything about him. It’s like he doesn’t even exist!”
Lamplight glinted off of Knut’s glasses as he stood from the chair he had perched on and walked over to the younger man. He casually draped an arm around Cap’s shoulders. “Listen to me, Cap. I know the records released to the public haven’t exactly been encouraging. I’ve seen the classified reports on this project, though, and well, if they’re accurate, and I have every reason to believe they are, Verres is on the verge of a huge break-through.”
Cap shrugged out from under Knut’s arm and resumed pacing around the room. “I don’t get it. What’s the big deal? If Dr. Verres is the hot shot researcher you’re claiming he is, why do you need me at all? After all, I’m an ecologist, not a biologist!”
“No, but you know the St. Joe better than anyone,” Knut told him. “Besides, if all goes according to plan, and it will, you have my word for it, everyone involved will be amply rewarded. Cap, I’m talking money like you’ve never even dreamed of!”￼
“So that’s what this is all about?” Understanding dawned on Cap’s features. “The money? The chance of making more than you already have?”
“I didn’t want to do this,” Knut said, perching on the arm of their father’s recliner and lowering his voice. “But I’m going to be entirely honest. I do have money tied up in this project. When Dr. Verres came to me, the market was riding high, and I invested more than I probably should have.” He briefly closed his eyes. “Then the market fell. I am glad that I sold those shares when I did, or else, I’d be completely screwed.” He opened his eyes and sighed wearily. “Off the subject, Cap, but when you decide to get married, you better make damn sure that you make her sign a prenup.”
Cap snorted. “Since the chances of me getting married at this point are slim to none, can I just settle for saying, ‘I told you so?’ Family friend or not, I never did care for Gloria.”
“But you see why I need your help, Cap. I’m stuck paying her alimony until she remarries, and since she got the house, too, I can’t risk anything going wrong with this project. Besides, like I said, you’ll be more than set for life, too.”
“You do understand that I have reservations about this, don’t you, Knut?” Cap sighed. “I mean major reservations.”
“I know,” Knut admitted. “But there’s one more thing.” A gleam of excited enthusiasm shone replaced the worry that he had momentarily allowed to shadow his features. “I can’t tell you what it is, though.” He jumped up and looked at the clock. “What time are you supposed to pick CJ up for that costume party you have to go to tonight?”
Cap eyed his brother suspiciously. “Seven-thirty. Why?”
“I want to show you something,” Knut replied, shrugging his shoulders into his jacket. “It’s my ace in the hole. It’s an hour out and an hour back, but if we leave now, I’ll have you home in plenty of time for your date.”
“I don’t know about this,” he protested. “Where are we going?”
“To the lab. You’re going to meet Dr. Verres, and then see what we have so far.”
Cap sighed, but then he nodded. “All right, Knut. Show me what you have. Just remember, I’m making no promises, and if I still refuse after this, I don’t want to hear any more about it.”
“That’s fine,” Knut agreed easily. “Now get your coat; we’re going to have to do some walking when we get there.”
With a final sigh, Cap grabbed his jacket and reluctantly followed his brother out the door.
Thirty minutes later, Knut pulled the old beat-up pickup truck he’d bought as a teenager off of the main road that led into the Saint Joe National Forest and onto what seemed to be an old logging trail. Cap eyed him askance, but he simply shook his head. “We’re almost there, but it’s not easy going from here on out. There’s a reason I didn’t drive my Jeep.”
Cap raised his eyebrows. “Just where is this lab? Don’t even tell me Chimcorp set up on public property!”
“No, it’s totally on private lands,” Knut assured him. “It’s just that due to the nature of their experiments, they prefer to work somewhere where they’re relatively sure no one will interfere.”
“Tell me you’re kidding, Knut. I feel like we’re in that old Hardy Boys’ book where some idiot set up a camp deep in the woods to grow super humans or something.” He snorted. “I swear, that better not be what Dr. Verres is up to!”
Knut chuckled. “No, it’s nothing like that. Do you honestly think I’d get involved in something that shady and unrealistic?”
“Let’s just say I hope you wouldn’t,” Cap replied slowly. “You’re so hell-bent on this project that I’m not even sure anymore.”
“It’s totally above-board,” Knut insisted, even as he drove the truck deeper and deeper into parts of the forest that even Cap had never before explored. Eventually, he pulled into a secluded cove and killed the engine. “Unfortunately, we have to walk from here on out.”
“I’ve got a really bad feeling about this,” Cap protested, reluctantly stepping out of the cab.
Despite Cap’s misgivings, Knut was surefooted as he led the younger man through brush and onto paths that were paths only to those who already knew of their existence. It was a long walk over rough terrain, but finally they came in sight of a small clearing with a couple of log buildings that looked so run down that Cap could have sworn were abandoned cabins. He sighed. “Knut? Remember what I said about the Hardy Boys?”
Knut shook his head. “I swear, Cap. There are no delusional cult members around, nor even any missing campers. And before you can ask, no, you won’t run into Boris Karloff or Vincent Price, either.” He laughed softly and held up a hand. “You know what? You’re starting to sound like Hallie and Trixie!”
“You have to admit that they were usually right,” Cap retorted. “Look, just show me what we came to see, and then let’s head back. If I’m late picking CJ up tonight, I might as well kiss her goodbye.”
“Yeah, well, it might be for the best,” Knut muttered.
Cap smiled sadly at his brother. “Look, I know Gloria was the only woman you ever really dated. They’re not all like her, big brother. There are some good ones out there.”
“You may be right,” Knut said, taking a deep breath. “I hope so, anyway, for your sake.”
A huge crashing sound from within one of the buildings startled them from their melancholy reverie, and they both sprinted towards the farthest of the cabins. Knut reached it first, astonishing his brother by reaching under a rock lying beside the door and exposing a touch pad. He quickly keyed in the code to unlock the door and flung it open.
A long hallway stretched from the front entrance to the back of the building, where another door had once stood. Splintered wood and shards of glass littered the hallway, mute evidence that something had gone terribly wrong.
Knut quickly led Cap towards the room that served as a laboratory, but neither man was prepared for the scene that greeted their eyes when they entered the room. Two frightened wolves whimpered in their cages along side one wall, and a young bear let out a roar from his cage across the room. A cage the size of a jail cell stood empty on a third wall; the bars that were intended to keep its occupant enclosed were bent and broken.
“Holy crap!” Cap whistled, eyeing the wanton destruction of the beakers and test-tubes that had once lined the table in the middle of the huge room. He gasped as he walked farther into the room and winced at the gruesome sight.
“Dr. Verres!” Knut choked, kneeling down beside the bloodied body that lay entirely too still beside the lab table. He reached for a pulse, his genuine grief causing tears to stream down his face when he turned to his brother. His voice broke. “He’s dead, Cap.”
“What happened here?” Cap demanded, not unsympathetically.
Knut swallowed hard. “The nearest I can figure?”
“The sasquatch got him,” Knut choked. “He was supposed to be tame, and the bars were supposed to be unbreakable. This wasn’t supposed to happen!”
“You mean to tell me that you two had a live sasquatch in that cell in there?” Cap asked in disbelief. “That you were experimenting on?”
Knut nodded silently.
“And you expected me to go along with this?” Cap exploded.
Knut stood to his feet. “Ever since we were teenagers, you’ve wanted answers as much as I have, Cap! You’ve known all along that they exist, but how are we to get the facts if we don’t experiment to find out just what they are?”
“Especially when money’s involved,” Cap said, the words slipping out before he could stop them.
Knut flinched. “I swear we did nothing cruel or inhumane, Cap! Hair samples, occasional blood samples. That’s all. The records will prove that!”
Cap forcibly willed himself to calm down. “You do realize we’ve go for the police, right?”
Knut shook his head. “No. Think about it, Cap. Who’s going to believe that we had a sasquatch, let alone that it killed Dr. Verres? What we’ve got to do right now is find him and stop him. When was the last time you heard a report of a vicious one?”
“Never,” Cap admitted. “All encounters have so far been peaceful. That’s why I can’t understand what would provoke this one to kill – if it really was a sasquatch.”
“He is,” Knut insisted. “But he’s already killed once. What’s going to stop him from killing again?”
“And just how do you propose to stop him?” Cap demanded. He waved his arms toward the empty cell. “Those bars look stronger than Fort Knox! Not even a stun gun would faze a creature that could break through that!”
“I don’t know,” Knut admitted reluctantly. “Dr. Verres was the only one who worked with him, who even knew how to attempt to control him. But we’ve got to try, somehow!”
“No, Knut,” Cap said softly, but firmly. “As much as I hate the thought of him falling into the wrong hands, I think he already has. Come on, big brother. Find something, anything, that might buy us some time if we run into this monster on the way back to the truck. Tranquilizer darts or something.” He faltered for a second, then continued. “I don’t care how top secret or classified it’s supposed to be, but if you’ve got any kind of file in those cabinets that can prove we’re dealing with a real sasquatch here, grab them, too. Otherwise, we may be faced with the loony bin – if we’re lucky.”
Knut stifled his protests and did as his brother directed. Using a key from his key ring, he unlocked the filing cabinet and removed two thick file folders which he handed to Cap. “You may as well look through them while I’m looking for the other things.”
“Not here,” Cap said, glancing involuntarily at the still warm body on the floor. He averted his gaze and spied a backpack next to the desk. He walked over to it. “I’m assuming this belonged to your scientist?”
Knut nodded, barely taking his eyes off the contents of the cabinet he had just opened. Cap gingerly picked up the backpack, gratified to see that none of whatever chemicals had been in the beakers before they were demolished had made their way onto it. He quickly stuffed the files inside and walked back out into the hallway while waiting on Knut to finish his search.
Curiosity led him to the wreckage of the door. Tufts of fur that had been snagged by the splintered wood were barely visible, and, on a sudden impulse, he carefully removed the biggest to stick into his pocket. He cautiously stepped outside, stunned to see the tracks leading from the building into the woods. They were clear prints on the mostly barren ground, and when he stepped beside one, it measured twice the size of his own size twelve boot. Unlike the previous sasquatch tracks he had seen with their peculiar shape and double ball, these, however, looked exactly like those of a man’s bare foot.
Cap blinked his eyes twice, not quite believing what he was seeing. He pulled the fur out of his pocket and took a closer look. He could find no threads or nor any other sign that would indicate a possible hoax, and he knew that there was no way any human could have caused the destruction in the laboratory. His skin prickled, and he once again looked at the prints, wondering just what kind of creature had made them.
It felt as though he stood there for hours before Knut finally emerged from the lab, but as Cap glanced at his watch, he realized that only minutes had passed. “What did you find?” he asked.
“A tranquilizer gun with two darts. A lighter and some matches, just in case. The notes that Dr. Verres was apparently working on this morning.”
“Then let’s go,” Cap said. “I hate to leave the animals here alone, but we’ll send someone back to look after them. Their chances are better in their cages.”
Knut nodded, then flashed a brief, sad smile. “We thought the sasquatch was tame, Cap, but we know that bear is vicious. Trust me, we don’t want him running loose, too.”
Cap looked as if he was about to say something, but then he shook his head and safely stored the supplies Knut handed him in the backpack. “All right, Knut. Let’s head back to the truck.”
For the next few minutes, the men were silent as they walked around the building by an unspoken agreement and then started back down the path that had led them into the clearing. They had made it only a few yards before Cap pulled his brother to a stop and hissed, “Listen!”
The cracking of branches and rustling of leaves that they had heard stopped mere seconds after they halted, and even the birds grew silent in their trees. When no further noise came, they once again began walking.
“Oh my God,” Knut muttered when they heard the noise begin again. “He’s tracking us!”
“Yeah, I figured as much,” Cap replied as quietly as he could. “Just keep walking.” He paused for a second. “And pray that he doesn’t get any closer.”
They both tried desperately to remain calm as they walked as quickly as they could through the brush that too closely outlined the so-called path. Eventually, the noises grew fainter, and they breathed a sigh of relief as the path turned towards where they had left their truck.
It was only a few feet, however, before they realized that they had relaxed too soon. Almost as if he were waiting for them to catch up, the gigantic hairy beast stood at the head of the path, blocking their way to the truck. Knut and Cap stopped dead in their tracks, barely daring to breathe as the creature let out a huge roar, saliva glistening off of his monstrous fangs.
Cursing himself for not already having them ready, Cap quickly reached into the backpack for the tranquilizer gun. The monster began to come towards them, and he took one look at Knut’s shaking hands before aiming the gun himself. The dart went wild, and there was no time to reload and aim again before the creature was upon them.
“Cap! Run!” Knut screamed, futilely trying to free himself of the angry beast’s deadly grasp.
“No!” Cap yelled in horror as he saw the creature’s viscious claws sink in his brother’s shoulder. Intent on saving him, he charged forward, stopping in astonishment as a large owl swooped down from the sky and began to attack the beast. With a scream of outrage, the monster threw Knut to the ground and began an attempt to kill the menacing owl. Under the ceaseless onslaught of wings, talons and beak, he succeeded only in throwing the giant bird from him and ran off into the woods.
Cap ran over to his brother, who lay broken and bleeding on the ground. Knut moaned, but he was unable to sit up. “Go, Cap. He’s going to come back.”
“I know,” Cap admitted. “We’ve got to hurry. Do you think you can walk?”
“No,” Knut whispered weakly. “Leave me here to die, Cap. Just save yourself!”
Cap shook his head. “No doing, big brother.” Dropping the backpack to the ground, he yanked off his jacket and shirt, using the shirt as a bandage in an attempt to staunch the flow of blood pouring from Knut’s shoulder. He quickly put the jacket and backpack back on his back, then took a deep breath. “I’m sorry, Knut. I know this is going to hurt, and I know I’m probably doing more damage, but I’m not just leaving you out here.”
Too weak to protest, Knut closed his eyes while Cap carefully picked him up and began to carry him down the path. By the time they reached the truck, Knut had lost his struggle to remain conscious, and Cap very gently settled him into the passenger side of the bench seat, reclining him as much as possible. “Damn it, Knut. You’ve got to hang on until we get to the hospital!”
With the sounds of the ferocious beast’s presence echoing in the distance, Cap frantically cranked the truck and backed out of the cove and raced back over the old logging trail. Knut’s breathing grew shallower as he reached the main highway, and he floored the gas pedal, headed towards the nearest town.
It took them about twenty minutes to reach the closest hospital, and Cap’s breaks squealed as he turned into the parking lot and up to the emergency room entrance. He didn’t even bother to shut off the engine before he jumped out and ran around to lift his brother from the other side of the cab.
All eyes in the waiting area turned to stare at the pair as Cap carried Knut inside, and a nurse rushed over to them. “What’s happened?”
“Wild animal attack,” Cap gasped out. “Shoulder wound. I think he’s got broken bones, too.”
She raced off, and two doctors appeared with a gurney. They gently took him from Cap’s arms and stretched him out. “How long has he been bleeding?”
“Probably about forty-five minutes,” he admitted, preparing to follow closely behind them as they took him down the hall. “The shirt was all I had to try to stop it.”
One of the doctors nodded as he carefully removed the blood-soaked material. “These bear attacks can be brutal. He’s lucky you got him this far.”
“Yeah,” Cap said shortly, not bothering to correct the doctor’s assumption, but looking instead at the nurse who stopped him.
She smiled slightly. “I’m sorry, but I need for you to answer some questions.”
“But my brother…”
“Will need to have proper paperwork on file,” she said gently. “You can help him more right now by helping me.”
“And by staying out of the doctor’s way?” he snapped, sighing when he saw her slight smile. He reluctantly followed her back to the registration desk. “All right. Knutson Oliver Belden. Date of birth September 18, 1975. Our parents are somewhere in Africa on business, and his ex-wife would probably start celebrating if we called her. So I’m the closest you’ll get to next of kin. You’ll probably find insurance information in his wallet.” He paused to take a breath. “And if I can’t stay with him, I need a telephone.”
“Of course, sir,” she told him. “There’s one in the lobby you can use.”
He nodded, ignoring her questioning look as he stood and walked away from her. Back in the lobby, he headed straight to the telephone and dialed a familiar number. Three rings turned into five. Seven rings passed before a somewhat breathless voice answered. “Hello?”
“Ron? It’s Cap,” he said briskly, his voice beginning to break under the strain he was under. “Listen, I know you and Knut have had your differences, but he really needs you right now. I need you.” He paused for a breath. “There’s been an incident, and he’s hurt bad.”
There was a long silence before Ron Duncan spoke, and when he did, Cap had to strain to hear him. “How bad is he?”
“It’s pretty bad,” Cap choked, his eyes closing as he looked down and saw the blood still covering his jacket. “I got him to Falls View, but I don’t know if I was in time. And Ron, there’s something I need to show you.”
Ron’s answer came quickly this time. “Give me fifteen minutes. I’ll bring Hallie with me.”
“Thanks.” Cap took a deep breath as he heard the click on the other end, then dialed another number. “CJ? It’s me. Listen, I’m really sorry to do this to you, but I’m not going to be able to make it tonight.”
“And why not?” Her voice was chilly.
“Knut’s been hurt,” he explained in a low voice. “May be dying. I’m not leaving the hospital, Cyn.”
“Oh my God,” she groaned. “I’m so sorry, Cap. What happened?”
“Wild animal attack out in the woods.” His voice broke. “I just now got him here.”
“Where are you, Cap? What can I do?”
“Falls View,” he answered simply. “I’ll let you know what happens.”
“Please?” she asked softly.
He hung up the phone assuring her that he would keep her informed. He looked up to see a different nurse approaching him with a small bundle. “Sir? I thought you might like to get cleaned up some.”
He managed a weak smile as he took it from her. “Thanks. Where can I go?”
She directed him to the nearest restroom, where he immediately peeled off the stained denim jacket. Without so much as a glance, he shoved the offending garment into the trash can. He quickly washed and donned the scrub shirt she had given him.
By the time he emerged from the restroom and sat down in the waiting room, Ron entered the lobby, followed closely by a very pregnant Hallie. Tears streamed down her face as she threw herself into her brother’s arms. “What happened? Is he going to be all right?”
Cap shared a glance with Ron over her head. “He’s a Belden, Hallie. You know we always come through.”
“That bird-brain better be all right,” she wept. “He’s got to be!”
Ron tenderly rubbed her back, gingerly disengaging her from her brother. “All right, Hallie. Let’s sit down.” He led the way to an empty corner of the waiting room where he gently wrapped his arms around his wife. “Have you heard anything?”
“No,” Cap shook his head. “Not yet.”
“What exactly happened?” Ron asked quietly.
Cap dropped his head into his hands. “Ever heard of Chimcorp, Ron?”
“Yeah.” Ron raised his eyebrows.
“Knut and I ran across what used to be one of their little ‘offices.'” Cap flinched. “It wasn’t pretty. Several animals in cages that they’ve apparently been experimenting on, but one broke free, killed the scientist. Before we could get back to the truck, attacked Knut.”
Hallie sobbed, and Ron tightened his arms around her. “Give me directions. I’ll call the office to get someone to go out there.”
Cap took a deep breath, and looked around to make sure no one was listening. “Knut’s convinced they had a sasquatch.”
“And was it?” Ron asked. “Is that what they’re after?”
Cap slowly shook his head. “It doesn’t add up, Ron. The tracks were all wrong. Way wrong.” He looked Ron in the eye. “I have files in the truck. I haven’t read them, but they should tell us what we’re up against.”
“Hallie?” Ron’s voice was gentle. “I’m going with Cap for a minute. Would you wait here in case the doctors come out while we’re gone?”
She looked as if she wanted to protest, but she nodded silently, and he brushed her cheek with a kiss.
Cap looked to Ron as they walked back out of the building. “How is she doing?”
“It’s been rough,” Ron admitted. “She’s been sick almost since the beginning, and this whole mess with Gloria and Knut hasn’t helped. Right now, I’m just thankful the doctor says they should both be all right.”
Cap smiled weakly. “She may be a Duncan by marriage, but she’s still a Belden by blood. We Beldens somehow always pull through.”
“Where have I heard that before?” Ron flashed a brief grin. It was gone as quickly as it came as they stopped beside the truck that someone had apparently moved out of the way after Cap’s mad dash inside. “Tell me the truth, Cap. I know you have more sense, but is Knut involved in this whole mess with Chimcorp?”
“Yeah,” Cap muttered miserably. “He’s invested almost every thing he has. He’s been trying to get me on board, and so he took me up to the worksite to try to convince me.” He winced. “We grabbed the files in our own self defense. If Sheriff Sprute was still alive, it’d be different, but better the possiblity of being charged with theft and disturbing a crime scene than murder.”
“Who was it? Do you know?”
“It was the man Knut knew as being in charge. A Dr. Verres. I don’t know his first name.”
“Tedd,” Ron supplied soberly. At Cap’s look of surprise, Ron explained. “We’ve been investigating both Chimcorp and Tedd Verres for quite a while, Cap. I’m just surprised to see him playing up the sasquatch angle. Everything we have points to something even more sinister.”
“I figured as much,” Cap admitted. He pulled out one of the clumps of fur that he had pulled from the door frame and put in his pocket. “This was left in the door the beast went out of.”
Ron took a close look. “Looks like bear and wolf, among other things.”
“It was in the door the beast had just shattered,” Cap stated. “Huge monster, managed to bend ‘unbreakable’ steel bars to escape his cage.”
“And you saw it?”
“Yeah. Tracks just like a man’s, but if it were a man, he’d have to be at least twelve foot tall.” He handed the backpack to Ron. “Everything’s in here.”
Ron quickly unzipped it, raising his eyebrows as he pulled out the tranquilizer gun. “You mean to tell me you were going to use this?”
“It was that or nothing,” Cap retorted. “If I’d known we were walking into Dr. Frankenstein’s lab, I’d have taken a gun with silver bullets.”
“You’re mixing up your movies.” Ron’s laugh was more of a sigh as he rifled through the file folders. “This isn’t The Howling. But you’re more right than you realize. Look at this.”
Cap took the piece of paper he’d been handed. “Ursos arctos. Canis lupis. Gorilla gorilla. Homo sapiens. Oh my God.” He looked up in shock. “There’s no way he did this, Ron. It’s impossible.”
“No.” Ron shook his head. “It’s not. Extremely difficult, but it’s exactly what he’s done. What makes it even worse is that it started out as a government project. After a hue and cry from the right-wing extremists in high places, it was cancelled. Dr. Verres disappeared, only to emerge in the past year or so under the auspices of Chimcorp.”
“And he actually created a chimera?” Cap cried out in disbelief and dismay.
Ron nodded. “I’m sorry, Cap. I’ll do everything I can to make sure Knut isn’t held responsible, but I’ve got to get men from my office up there.”
“I know,” Cap nodded miserably. “I think even he will understand you’re just doing what you have to do.”
“I hope so,” Ron sighed. “Look, Cap. I know I said a lot when he and Gloria first separated, when I should have minded my own business, and after this, he’s probably never going to want to talk to me again. But somehow, let him know that I really am sorry for everything, okay?”
“I will. No matter how this turns out,” Cap’s voice broke. I’ll make sure he sees that.” He took a deep breath and gave Ron directions to the illicit laboratory, returning to the building so as to give him time to call his office in private.
Back in the lobby, Hallie shook her head as Cap approached. “Still no word.”
“Hopefully there should be soon,” he replied, sitting down beside her. He wrapped an arm around her shoulders. “He’ll be glad when he finds out you’re here.”
The tears she had finally staunched began again. “If he doesn’t order me to leave.”
“He won’t,” Cap assured her. “It’s been hard for all of us, Hallie. We’ve just got to put it all behind us and look forward.” He patted her hand. “Remember that glue you used to talk about? It’s still there, Hal. Still holding us together.”
She mustered a small, tremulous smile. “I hope so, Cap.” She suddenly winced. “And so does he.”
“So it’s a boy?”
She shrugged. “I think so, but Ron’s convinced we’re having a daughter. As long as it’s healthy, I won’t complain either way.”
“How much longer is it?” he asked.
She sighed. “Two more weeks, according to my O.B.”
“It’ll pass before you know it,” he assured her, looking up as Ron again entered the lobby. He stood. “I’m going ask the nurses if they know anything more.”
Ron sat down in the seat Cap vacated, pulling his wife closer to him. “How are you?”
“It hurts, Ron,” she said softly, a note of fear tinging her voice. “I didn’t want to let Cap know. He’s got enough to worry about right now.”
“Let me call the doctor, baby. I want her to look you over.”
“Not yet,” she pleaded. “I need to know about Knut first.”
“I know, Hal. But you’ve got to worry about yourself, too.”
“I am,” she said. Tears again filled her eyes, and she squeezed her husband’s hand.
Just then, Cap returned, soberly shaking his head. “No news yet.”
“But no news is good news,” Hallie said. She edged closer to the edge of her seat. “Ron? Help me up. I’ll be right back.”
“Wait, I’ll go with you.” He stood and gently helped her out of the seat.
She shook her head. “I’ll be all right. I’m just going over there to the restroom.”
“They won’t let you in there with her, you know,” Cap remarked as she walked away.
Ron rolled his eyes. “I know, but still…,” he trailed off, then changed the subject. “I got in touch with my office, by the way. They’ve got men on the way up there.”
Cap nodded. “And you’ll get them the files?”
“Yeah,” Ron agreed, looking soberly at Cap. “With what’s there, and what I’m sure they’ll find back at the office, Verres is probably better off.”
Cap flinched. “How bad do you think it’ll be for Knut?”
“Like I said, I’ll do what I can. With any luck, he won’t face much more than accessory charges.”
Cap closed his eyes and leaned his head back against the wall. “If he’d had any idea just what the real research was all about….”
“I know.” Ron jumped to his feet as Hallie emerged from the restroom with tears streaming down her unnaturally pale face. “Hallie?”
She clutched on to the back of a chair for support as he ran to her. Her voice was low. “Ron? I’m bleeding.”
A nurse overheard her comment, snapped orders to an orderly to bring a wheelchair, and sprang to Hallie’s side. She looked inquiringly at Ron. “Have you already registered her?”
Hallie sank down gratefully into the wheelchair the orderly brought. “I’m not due for two weeks.” Her voice broke. “My brother….”
“Was brought in a little while ago,” Ron finished for her. He held tightly to her hands as he looked up at the nurse. “Knut Belden.”
“Oh,” the nurse said, casting her eyes downward before she gave Hallie an obviously strained smile. “Who’s your doctor, dear?”
“Dr. Minich,” Hallie moaned. “Thirty miles away.”
“We’ll give her a call,” the nurse assured her. “But we’ll have Dr. Mays look you over while we’re waiting for her.”
Hallie nodded, wiping tears from her eyes. She looked up at her husband. “Please don’t leave me?”
“Never,” he promised her. He looked helplessly at Cap. “Would you….”
Cap nodded. “Just take care of my sister.”
The nurse quickly disappeared through the swinging door with Hallie and Ron, and Cap was once again faced with the same nurse he had been so short with earlier. He quickly filled out the paperwork as best as he could for Hallie and signed more forms for Knut. Just as he finished to the nurse’s satisfaction, a tall willowy redhead appeared and wrapped her arms around him.
He returned the embrace gratefully. “I’m glad you came, CJ.”
“Did you honestly think I wouldn’t?” she asked him in surprise. She sighed. “I’d have been here a lot sooner, but….”
He gave a quick grin. “Don’t tell me you got lost.”
“It’s not like this is familiar territory or anything,” she defended herself. “I’m just glad I finally made it.”
“Me, too,” Cap admitted. He led her back to the waiting room he had so recently left and quickly filled her in on everything else that had happened. It wasn’t long before a doctor appeared, and they both snapped to attention. “What’s going on?”
The doctor smiled soberly. “Come on back with me.” He led them to an empty office, where he motioned for them to sit down. “Your brother’s a fighter, son,” he began. “But I need you to be honest with me. I need to know the truth, and I know it wasn’t a bear that caused those wounds.”
“No,” Cap shook his head slowly. “But why does it matter? He was hurt by a wild animal.”
“Son, I’ve been a doctor for nigh onto forty years, and I have yet to see anything like this.” He looked evenly at Cap. “Simple animal attacks don’t put poison into one’s bloodstream. They don’t inhibit clotting, either.”
“There’s no way!” Cap insisted while CJ gasped. “I saw everything with my own eyes. This beast mauled him, and threw him on the ground, but there’s no way he could have poisoned him!”
“I’m sorry, son,” the doctor reiterated. “But something did.” He sighed wearily, looking as if the weight of the world was on his shoulders. His voice was lower and gentler when he continued. “We’re moving him to a room right now. I’m warning you it’s going to be touch and go, tonight especially. We’ll keep a close eye on him, but you can sit with him if you’d like.”
“I’d like,” Cap nodded. He hesitated a moment, as if trying to come to a decision about something, then grabbed CJ’s hand and stood up. “Is there any way I can find out where my sister is, too?”
“Your sister? I don’t understand.”
Cap tightened his grip on CJ’s hand. “Hallie Duncan. I think she went into labor a few minutes ago.”
“I’ll see what I can find out,” the doctor assured him as he led them back into the hallway. There was silence until they reached the door of the room where Knut lay drifting in and out of consciousness, and then he gently placed his hand on Cap’s shoulder. “Do me a favor, too, son. At this point, any information we can get will go a long way towards helping your brother. If you can think of anything, let me know.”
“I will,” Cap muttered softly, barely meeting the doctor’s eyes before he turned and walked into his brother’s room. He walked over to stand beside the bed, tears coming to his eyes as he looked down at Knut’s pale and still form. He swallowed hard, then asked, “CJ? Would you mind staying with him for a minute? I’ll be right back.”
She nodded as she pulled a chair up next to the bed. “Of course.”
Cap squeezed her hand, then left the room. He soon found Ron anxiously pacing a small waiting area on the surgical floor. “How is she?”
“In surgery,” Ron answered shortly. “We knew it was going to be rough, but I was supposed to be in there with her, damn it!” He sat down and wiped his hand across his eyes. “Thank God her own doctor made it here in time to do the surgery!”
“Surgery?” Cap repeated, sitting down beside him. “What happened? I mean, I thought….”
Ron mustered a small smile. “She didn’t want anyone to know she was having complications with the pregnancy, Cap. We were scheduled for a c-section in a couple of more weeks, but when she started hemorraghing, there was no waiting.” He sighed. “Any word on Knut?”
Cap shook his head. “In and out of consciousness.” He looked over at his friend. “The doctor wants more information about what happened, Ron. Whatever that thing is poisoned him somehow.”
Ron leaned his head back against the wall and closed his eyes. “Mark’s already called me back. They have men standing guard over the lab until the feds can get there in the morning, and others are searching for the creature.”
“But is there any way to know just what this poison is?” Cap persisted. “Knut’s life is at stake!”
“I’m sorry,” Ron said soberly. He was silent for a moment. “Have him come down here. I’ll tell him what I can.”
“Thanks, Ron. I need to get back to Knut,” Cap said, standing. “But I’ll be back in a little while to see how Hallie is.”
Ron nodded, jumping up as Dr. Minnich entered the room, followed by a nurse carrying a small bundle. “Ron, meet your son.”
The squirming infant let out a lusty wail as Ron gently took him from the nurse. “My son,” he repeated in wonder, tenderly stroking the baby’s soft cheek. He looked up at Dr. Minnich. “How’s my wife?”
“She’s going to be fine,” she assured him. “She’s on her way to recovery, and you should be able to see her in just a few minutes.”
Cap and Ron both breathed sighs of relief, but the brief moment was all too short-lived as Cj came running into the room. Tears streamed down her face. “You’ve got to come quick. He’s asking for you.”
The scream was more of a primal howl than a wail, and Grace sank to the floor as sobs wracked her body. It couldn’t be true. He was her life. He couldn’t be gone.
Hours passed as she wept, and when she could cry no more, she stood and slowly made her way to the kitchen. She washed her tear-stained face, then forced herself to drink one of the soft drinks Tedd had put in the refrigerator before he left for the lab that morning.
The telephone rang, but she ignored it as she stared unseeingly out the window. Soon, footsteps sounded on the porch, and she was suddenly grateful that the policeman had insisted on standing guard over her cabin all night. Once this person gave up and left, she would tell him to turn away anyone else before they made it as far as the steps.
She listened closely, but the footsteps never receded. Instead, the only sound she could hear was of a gun cocking close to the front door.
Memories of her childhood flooded her mind, and although a part of her knew that the policeman was there to protect her, not to harm her, she couldn’t shake the feeling that she was in danger. She slipped quietly upstairs, refusing to turn on a light so as to not call attention to her whereabouts. She almost stumbled in the darkness, but caught herself before she could fall.
Tears again filled her eyes as she quickly found the Tesla gun Tedd had insisted she keep in her dresser drawer. She took a moment to familiarize the feel of it in her hands and to turn off the safety feature she had made him install.
A piercing scream sounded outside, only to be overshadowed by an angry roar. Her heart pounded as she rushed back out of her room, and she reached the top of the stairs just in time to see her front door cave in.
“I’m sorry, Tedd,” she whispered, aiming the gun at the beast trying to come inside.
“Ma-Ma.” Eyes that were all too human looked sorrowfully at her, almost like a child seeking forgiveness.
“No!” He was a project, a test subject. Conceived in a petri dish, born in an incubator. He wasn’t a child. He wasn’t her child, even though he bore Tedd’s dna.
For a moment, she faltered, then willed her hands to steady themselves. He was supposed to have only the best characteristics of all of his species; instead, he was an amalgamation of the worst. It was all she could do to speak. “You killed your father, Shade.”
“Ma-Ma?” Confusion and fear replaced the repentance in his eyes as he caught sight of the weapon in her hands. He reached out for her with blood-stained paws. “Ma-Ma!”
“I’m sorry,” she whispered. She closed her eyes. She squeezed the trigger.
Author’s Notes: This story is my submission for the Third Annual Fright Night writing challenge: The Monster Mash. For my carryover item, I used the spooked animal from the Sarah Sligo project (the frightened animals in the lab), and for my song (and title), I used Metallica’s The Thing That Should Not Be.
I owe many thanks to Cyndi, both for not minding when she suddenly appeared as Cap’s girlfriend *g* and for having ready answers to my many questions about both Knut and Hallie’s conditions.
This story is also a cross-over of sorts, although I’m really torn about stating flat-out that it is a true cross-over. I’m going to compromise and simply state that my versions of Tedd Verres and Grace are from a drastically different dimension than the ones that have thus far appeared in El Goonish Shive. Credit for the concept of the human/animal chimera also goes to Dan Shive, and portions of this story were inspired by his Painted Black story arc. Characters – and chimera – used without permission.