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Andy down shifted and screeched to a halt mere inches from the truck ahead of him. Instinctively his feet dropped to the ground, supporting the weight of his motorcycle. Shaking his left fist in the air he yelled.
“Learn how to drive moron!”
The man in the truck flipped up his middle finger and drove away. Any other day, he would have followed that guy and smash a headlight with the chain he kept in the saddle bags. Lucky for him, Andy had more important things to do. He turned onto the interstate.
Dandelions were blooming black in Jasper county. He knew the town would be destroyed without his help. He just hoped it wasn't too late, like last time. His mind wandered back to that horrible day last year. They had all died before he arrived, and it had nearly cost him everything. In the end, he had put them all down. Saving millions of unsuspecting people was small consolation when confronted with the mutilated bodies of an entire town.
He remembered the somber looks on their faces as he rode down the street. Most good folk didn't approve of him or his bike, but he saved them just the same. Year after year he traveled the country, never knowing what it felt like to come home. He had no place to call home, his town had been destroyed much like the one last year.
The wind rushed through his hair as he sped down the open road. Andy wasn't sure if this state had helmet laws or not, and didn't much care. He had given up trying to blend in, it was no use in his line of work. He spotted the sign for his exit and pulled off the interstate. He was so consumed with his memories that the two hour trip had felt like a few minutes.
The town was a ways in along a dirt road, the dust rose up filling his lungs. Fields of dark dandelions stretched out to either side where crops should be growing. It filled him with rage, seeing the unnatural blossoms spread like a plague. Despite his efforts, they were gaining more influence here. He was only able to stall them, never destroy them outright.
Pulling into town, it was quieter than he expected, though not deathly quiet, he mused with relief. He stopped at the town library first, knocking the kick-stand down with the toe of his boot. Shutting off the motorcycle, he swung his leg over and stood up straight. His leg ached from the long journey and he took a moment to rub his thigh.
He began his ungainly ascent of the stairs, a pronounced limp slowing his progress. Something he had regrettably picked up from battling the Torkin last year. He had barely escaped with his life, but the price was heavy. Six months in physiotherapy before he could even walk this well.
Inside, the library was a cool respite from the summer heat. The quiet hum of air conditioners was almost imperceptible. A young woman sat at the counter, her hair tied in a typical librarians bun. Her glasses on the tip of her nose as she peered down at some text.
He cleared his throat to get her attention. The look of surprise told him she hadn't expected anyone in. Farmers didn't have much use for the library he guessed. She was attractive, though she did a good job of trying to hide it, dressed as she was. A flower pattern covered her conservative dress and a thick wool sweater covered her shoulders. She smelled of lilacs and fruit.
“I'm looking for recent newspapers, where do ya keep 'em?”
She pointed towards the many shelves filling the small building.
“They are in the back with the magazines.”
He strutted as best he could, across the room, knowing she would be watching. Everyone watched him as if he were some kind of terrorist or worse. He found it ironic that he was the one stopping the 'worse' from getting those very people.
He grabbed the papers from the past two weeks and sat at a small wooden table. The grain of the wood had been worn smooth from years of use. Searching through the articles ranging from church bake sales to the historical society's plaque dedication ceremony at the old mil, Andy found what he needed.
A couple had gone missing on the outskirts of town. The house was locked and there was no sign of foul play. They had just left one day without any of their belongings. The police had no leads and nobody had seen them for over a week. The paper had come out two days ago, so they had been missing for nine days. Three more days and the gestation would be complete, plenty of time.
He scratched his chin, several days worth of growth crackled beneath his fingers. He was tired from the road, but more than that, tired from battle after battle. This time promised to be different, he could get them before they came through. Food, his stomach demanded relentlessly.
Andy left the library, winking at the girl as he passed by the front desk. She blushed a bright shade of red, which revealed some of her hidden beauty. Walking down the main street, he saw the only diner in town. A bell tinkled as he entered and took a seat in an empty booth. A middle aged woman came over and dropped a menu on the table. She turned to walk away but he spoke before she cold escape.
“Could I have a cup of coffee?”
“Sure thing sugar.” she answered in a gruff, smoked a pack a day her whole life voice.
She walked off, leaving him to scan the menu for something safe to eat. Truck stop food was good, small town diner food was notoriously bad. The dispassionate waitress came back and poured coffee in the mug already on the table.
“What's good here?”
She shrugged, her eyes said 'stop wasting my time.'
“I guess a hamburger and fries then, do you have fresh tomatoes?”
“Hon, you drove in here this mornin' anything in the fields look fresh to you?”
“Just ketchup then.”
“How you want it cooked?”
She hurried off, not wishing to waste another minute working and yelled to the cook.
“Kill a cow and scorch it, drop a spud on the side.”
Faster than he thought possible, a plate appeared in front of him. The meat was tougher than the leather on his jacket and the fries may as well have been boiled, they were so soggy. Still, it was almost warm and it filled the hole in his stomach. He choked down as much as he could stand and ordered another cup of coffee.
Andy had just finished his third cup when the bell alerted him to another customer, now there were two of them. He glanced over his shoulder and saw the librarian. She approached his table and sat opposite him.
“Hey Mable, can I get a cup?”
Mable, formerly known to him as the dispassionate waitress, brought over a steaming mug of coffee.
“My names Jenny.”
She offered her hand for him to shake, he ignored it and looked her in the eyes.
“I noticed the symbol on your jacket, you in some kind of a gang?”
“What's it mean then?”
“Nothing in particular, just like the way it looked.”
The symbol on his jacket was actually an ancient protection symbol. Working alone, it kept them off his back and forced them to face him head on. It had saved his life countless times. Her eyes narrowed as she studied his features.
“What if I am?”
“I can help you, I know about the Torkin.”
“I think you got the wrong guy.”
“I think you're prejudiced against women.”
“I love women. I'm prejudiced against everyone who isn't me.”
“You'll need my help, I know this town better than anyone”
“I'm sure I'll manage.”
“I have books, old books. They talk about the problems we are facing. Nobody believes me, and I was starting to doubt myself until you showed up.”
“These books tell you how to kill 'em?”
“Yes, there are a few ways.”
“No, I mean kill 'em so they can't come back.”
“There might be, I have them at home, if you're interested.”
“And what's in this for you?”
“Aside from saving my town? I want to leave here with you, join up and help you stop them.”
“My life isn't the life of a librarian, you'd be smart to stay here after I'm done.”
“I was raised in these parts and I can handle myself, that's the deal, take it or leave it.”
“No, here's the deal. You show me the books, if they help, then you come along this time. If you live and you're useful, then you can join me.”
The waitress put the bill on the table and waited while he tugged the wallet from his jeans. The long silver chain attached to it glittered in the fading sun as her took a twenty out to pay the tab.
“Keep the change.”
The librarian, what was her name, Janice, no, it was Jenny, lead him to her home, a small house behind the library. She turned on a light and showed him in, stacks of books were everywhere. A lazy old hound dog lifted his head as they entered. He sniffed twice then settled back down, though his eyes followed Andy as he walked around the room.
“You can sleep on my couch tonight, and we'll look through the books tomorrow. You mind Jethrow there, he looks lazy but he'll defend my honor if you try and leave this room.”
“Yes, I can see he's a menacing guard dog, but I only like girls in leather, so you'll be safe enough.”
“Get some sleep, tomorrow afternoon we can take a spin out to the Wheelers and try to find the nest.”
She left him alone with Jethrow the lethargic guard, but instead of sleeping, he set to work reading through the books. Throughout the night he picked through the stacks, finding the books that told of the Torkin. There were half a dozen on the subject, some of them near to crumbling. The musty smell was all over his hands as the sun began to rise.
The loss of a night's sleep was a problem, but it had been worth it. The single piece of knowledge gained was more than he could have hoped for. They feared the symbol so much because it could kill them. Carved into a weapon and pressed against the flesh, the symbol would destroy them utterly. The tide had turned, now he had the upper hand. No longer would he watch them spread uncontrolled, now he could stop them.
Jenny came out, rubbing her eyes. She wore a silky nightgown and her hair was loose, cascading over her shoulders. He now saw her beauty laid bare and it was stunning. His jaw dropped as he stared at her sensuous curves.
“Have you been up all night?” she asked, still a little groggy.
Shaking his head and turning to the books, he found the page and pointed at it.
“I found a way to kill 'em.”
“Great, so we can have breakfast before we go looking for the nest?”
“I don't think I could take another meal at that diner.”
“Help yourself to what's in the kitchen, I'm going to shower, and don't you think of peaking!”
“No leather, no love baby!”
She smirked as she walked into the bathroom. He went into the kitchen, slim pickings in there, bread was all she had.
“Toast it is then Jethrow.”
The dog groaned and rolled onto his side, never taking his eyes from Andy.
Jenny came out after her shower, wearing jeans and a t-shirt. Andy had to remind himself of his leather rule, though he was starting to wonder why he even had that rule.
They ate breakfast in silence, then dug some old baseball bats from the shed and set to carving symbols in them. He painted the symbol on a denim jacket she had lying around. Jenny took Jethrow to her aunts house so he would be cared for regardless of what happened to her.
Armed and ready, the climbed onto his motorcycle. The bats stuck out of the saddle bags, but it couldn't be helped. Jenny gave directions to the missing couples property and soon they arrived. It was silent, even the birds dared not fly here. The nest had to be close to the house, maybe in the cellar.
Together they walked, bats in hand. Jenny was visibly nervous, but she didn't complain once. A search of the house from top to bottom yielded nothing. The barn was equally empty. He scanned the farm, trying to figure out where they could be hiding. It had to be dark for them to gestate.
The well! It was on the front lawn, though the bucket had been torn free and now lay broken on the ground. He tied off one end of the rope, then climbed down.It was difficult with his bum leg, but he managed. Jenny followed closely, her buttocks floating just out of reach. He gave himself a mental slap to stay focused and continued down. The well widened into a vast chamber, much as he had expected it would. The roots of various plants hung loosely from the dirt ceiling. It smelled of mold and fresh earth, not a common combination, and certainly not a pleasant one.
Small stones crunched under their feet as they moved into the dark cavern. The wooden bat felt comforting in his hands, much better than having no weapon. If they got to the bodies in time, they could burn them, preventing the Torkin from entering this world.
Andy pulled out a large flashlight and flipped the switch. The darkness resisted the light, clinging to the edges of the chamber. Two bodies were in the center, he knew what to expect. Books were not the same as seeing something in the flesh, so he watched Jenny to gauge her reaction.
They approached cautiously, creeping over to the corpses. He was excited to see only one had hatched, the other was swollen to bursting with small things moving just under the skin.
“We got one intact, that will make this easier. Pour the gasoline in a circle, then soak the body with the rest of it. She made sure the gas formed a tiny river around the body, so none would escape. Then she dumped it unceremoniously on the corpse.
“Keep your eyes open, when I light this, they'll come in force.”
He pulled a Zippo from his pocket and snapped it open, lighting it in the same movement. Seconds later a fire roared to life, tiny groans came from the body as the fire consumed it. The stench of burning flesh mingled with something more sickening as they perished.
Suddenly, at the outer edges of the firelight, the Torkin amassed. They had already grown to a foot in height, but it was not their size that worried him. It was their numbers. Close to twenty of the beasts now surrounded them. Andy and Jenny stood side by side, knowing the symbols would protect their backs. In an instant, all of the Torkin rushed towards them. Their red eyes and black scales glistened in the firelight. The needle-like noses struck terror in his heart. One stab of the beak and you would be infected. He had seen many people fall victim to these creatures. Alive while they fed on you from the inside until they grew too big. The terror was common, some sort of telepathy to distract the potential hosts. Their small insect legs clicked on the stones while they chirped at each other.
Seconds stretched out to eternity as they braced for the attack. Andy swung his bat and slapped one from the air as it leaped at him. The impact made a loud pop, like a balloon breaking. Slime splattered in the air leaving no other trace of the thing behind. Together they stopped in their tracks, chattering to each other. Slowly the group began to back away. Jenny stood frozen in terror, it was lucky he had killed that one before they had reached her.
“Get them now, before they escape!”
His shout seemed to rouse her from the horror induced paralysis. Jenny lunged at the creatures, swinging the bat with furious determination. She grunted from the effort then a loud pop would follow. He was having just as much luck, they were dying so easily. He had faced these things a hundred times, but always with flames, to drive them out of this world. For the first time in centuries, they were dying, and they knew fear.
He reveled in the excitement of destroying the evil Torkin. So much so, that when they were all dead, he took Jenny in his arms and kissed her passionately. He felt so very alive at the moment, knowing the Torkin were so very dead. She looked into his eyes somewhat shyly.
“What about your rule?”
“I guess we need to find you some leather.”
She laughed as he carried her back to the rope. They climbed out and headed out on the open road.
Deep in the darkness beneath the well, the body of the Wheeler's pet dog lay in the shadows. Quiet chirps began to echo through the chamber as the Torkin burst forth.
Life is better with a soundtrack