A Cal Leandros Novel
When half-human Cal Leandros wakes up on a beach littered with the slaughtered remains if a variety of hideous creatures, he's not that concerned. In fact, he can't remember anything-including who he is.
And that's just the way his deadly enemies like it...
I was a killer. I woke up knowing that before I knew anything else.
There was a moment between sleeping and waking where I swung lazily. The dark was my hammock, moving back and forth. One way was a deeper darkness, a longer sleep. But there was more than darkness there. There were trees past the black, hundreds and thousands of trees.
And an ocean blue as a crayon fresh from a brand-new box. A ship rode on its waves with sails as white as a seagull's wings and flying a flag as black as the seabird's eyes.
There were fierce dark-eyed princesses named after lilies.
Waterfalls that fell forever.
It was a place where no one could find you. A safe place. Of all of it, vibrant and amazing, the one thing I wanted to sink my fingers into and hang on to for my life was that last—a safe place.
But all that disappeared when I swung the other way, where there were sibilant whispers, an unpleasant clicking, insectile and ominous, and a cold, bone deep and imbedded in every part of me. If I'd had a choice, I would've gone with sleep, safe in the trees. Who wouldn't? But I didn't have that warm and comforting option. Instead, I was slapped in the face with icy water. That did the trick of swinging me hard in the wrong direction and keeping me there. I opened my eyes, blinked several times, and licked the taste of salt from my lips. It was still dark, but not nearly as dark as when my eyes had been shut. There was a scattering of stars overhead and a bright full moon. The white light reflected as shattered shards in the water washing up over my legs and up to my chest. It looked like splinters of ice. It felt cold enough to be. There was the smell of seaweed and dead fish in the air. More seaweed was tangled around my hand when I lifted it, the same hand that held a gun—a big gun.
A priest, a rabbi, and a killer walk into a bar…
A killer woke up on that beach, and that killer was me. How did I know that? It wasn't difficult. I slowly propped myself up on my elbows, my hand refusing to drop the gun it held, and took a look around to see a stretch of water and sand littered with bodies—bodies with bullet holes in them. The gun in my hand was lighter than it should've been. That meant an empty clip. It didn't take an Einstein to work out that calculation. The fact that the bodies weren't my first concern—pissing and food actually were, in that order—helped too. Killers have different priorities.
I could piss here. I wasn't a frigging Rodeo Drive princess. There were only the night, the ocean, and me. I could whip it out and let fly. But food? Where would I get the food? Where was the nearest restaurant or take-out place? Where was I? Because this wasn't right. This wasn't home. I dragged my feet up through the wet sand, bent my knees, and pushed up to stagger to my feet to get my bearings. I might be lost. I felt lost, but I needed only to look closer, to recognize some landmarks, and I'd be fine. But I didn't. I didn't recognize shit. I had no idea where I was and I was not fine.
I was the farthest from fine as those bodies on the sand were.
That was when the killer realized something: I knew what I was all right, but I didn't have a goddamn idea who.
I reached for me and I wasn't there. I took a step into my own head and fell. There was nothing there to hold me up. There was no home and there was no me. Nothing to grab or ground me—no memories, only one big gaping hole filled with a cliché. And that—being a cliché? It bothered me more than the killer part. That part I took so much in stride that I'd automatically used my free hand to start dragging the bodies farther out into the water where they'd be carried away—out of sight, out of mind. The killer in me needed no direction. It knew it wasn't Joe Average, law-abiding citizen. It knew it couldn't be caught with bodies—and definitely not these bodies.
They weren't human.
There were monsters in the world, and that didn't surprise the killer or the cliché in me one damn bit either. They both knew why I carried that gun. Monsters weren't very fucking nice.
I looked down at the one I was currently dragging through the surf. It looked like an ape crossed with a spider—not a good look for anyone. It weighed a ton, was hairy with several eyes on a flattened skull, and a thick tangle of legs sprouting below—six to eight at least. The mouth was simian, but there were no teeth. Instead, there were two sets of mandibles, upper and lower. Both were dripping with something other than water, something thicker. At the sight, the base of my neck began to throb with red spikes of pain flaring behind my eyelids each time I blinked. I released Harry—Hairy, Harry, close enough—into the waist-deep water I'd pulled it into and swiped my hand at the nape of my neck. I felt two puncture marks about three inches apart, then held my hand up to the moon. There was blood, not much, and a clear viscous fluid on my palm. It looked like good old dead Harry had gotten one in me before I'd gotten one in him.
The venom couldn't be too poisonous. I was alive and, aside from my neck hurting and a massive headache from Hell, I wasn't too impaired. I went on to prove it by wiping my hand on my jeans and going back for Harry's friends. Larry, Barry, and Gary—monsters I took in stride as much as I did the moon up in the sky. They were just part of the world. I'd forgotten myself, but the world didn't go that easily. The world I did know, it seemed, so I kept doing what kept you alive in this particular world. I towed all the bodies out into the freezing water—Christ, it couldn't have been more than fifty degrees—and sent them on their way. So long, farewell, auf Wiedersehen…
I didn't wave.
When it was done, I slogged back to the beach and stood, shivering hard from the cold. I watched as the last body disappeared past the distant moon-spangled waves—they were nice, those waves. Scenic, too much so for monsters. After they were gone, I spun around slowly, taking in every foot, every inch of the beach, and the empty dunes behind me with suspicion. Seeing nothing moving besides me, I holstered the gun… in a shoulder holster my hand knew very well was there. As I did, my skin brushed more metal. I pulled my jacket open wide to see three knives strapped to the inside, right and left, six total. I felt an itch and weight around my ankle, but I didn't bother to check for what kind of death-dealing device it was.
A priest, a rabbi, and a killer walk into a bar… No.
Four monsters and a killer walk into a bar… That wasn't right either.
A killer wakes up on a beach… The monsters don't wake up at all.
I was wearing a leather jacket, sodden and ruined. Something was weighing down the right pocket more heavily than the left. I put my hand in and closed it around something oval shaped. I was vaguely hoping it was a wayward clam that had climbed in while I was snoozing in the tide. That hope choked and fell, dead as the floating monsters. In the moonlight, I'd opened my fingers to see a grenade resting against my palm. There was a cheerful yellow smiley face on the side. The hand-painted, slightly sloppy circle smirked at me.
Have a nice day!
I looked up at the sky, the beaming moon, and said my first words, the first words I could remember anyway. Baby's first words in his brand-new life.
"What the fuck?"
A killer walked into a motel. Okay, that was getting old fast. I walked into the motel, still damp, but at least I wasn't sloshing with every step anymore. It had been a twenty-minute walk from that beach. There had been houses that were closer, but they weren't vacation houses abandoned in cold weather. People were living in them, which meant I couldn't break in, my first instinct, and squat long enough to get dry and—shit—get dry. I wasn't ready to think beyond that point right now. There were other things that needed to be done. Important things, and while they gnawed at me with tiny sharp teeth to do them, they weren't willing to say what exactly they were. Do. Go. Run. Hide. Tell. But there was no "what" for the "do," no "where" for the "go" or the "run," and no "who" for the "tell."
It was a thousand itches that couldn't be scratched. Annoying didn't begin to cover a fraction of how it felt. It did cover the no-tell motel clerk, however. Annoying covered him hunky-frigging-dory. Wide nose, big ears, enough acne to say puberty was going to last through his nineties, and frizzy blond hair that wanted to be long but ended up being wide instead. He was reading a porn mag with a hand covering his mouth and a finger jammed halfway up one nostril. That wasn't where your hand should be when looking at porn, but whatever. How he got his rocks off was the least of my concerns.
"Room," I said, slapping down four ten-dollar bills on the countertop. Fresh from a wet wallet, which was equally fresh from my wet jeans, the money quickly made a puddle around itself.
The finger descended from its perch and idly poked at the bills. "They're wet."
True that and not requiring a comment. "Room," I repeated. "Now."
He looked past me at the door. "I didn't hear you come in. How come I didn't hear you come in? We got a bell."
Correction—they had a bell. Bells made noise and noise wasn't good. Any cat sneaking around in the shadows would tell you that. It'd probably also tell you talking to a booger-picking brick wall was pointless. I reached past the clerk and grabbed a key hanging on the wall. Lucky number thirteen. I turned and walked back toward the door.
"ID," the guy called after me. "Hey, dude, I need some ID."
I gave him an extra ten. It was all the ID he needed. Zit cream is pretty cheap at any local drugstore, and he forgot about the ID. But it was the first thing on my mind when I opened the warped wooden door to room thirteen, walked through chips of peeling paint that had fallen on the cracked asphalt of the small parking lot, and went into my new home. Hell, it was the only home I'd known as of this moment as far as my brain cells were concerned. I pulled the blinds shut, flipped the light on the table beside the bed, and opened the wallet. The clerk might not need it, but ID would be helpful as shit to me right now. Let's see what we had.
No, not we. There was no we… I had to see what I had. Because it was me, only me. And I didn't know my life was any different from that. The clerk hadn't considered me too social, and I didn't feel especially social, friendly, or full of love for my fellow fucking man. I had a sliver of feeling that it wasn't entirely due to my current situation. If you forgot who you were, were you still who you were? I didn't know, but I thought it might be safe to say that I usually didn't have an entourage of partying friends in tow.
Other than the monsters, the abominations, from the beach.
So… time to see who exactly the nonexistent entourage wasn't swarming around.
I pulled out the driver's license from the worn black wallet and scanned it. New York City. 355 Aviles Street. I was… Well, shit, I didn't know what year it was exactly, so I didn't know how old I was, but the picture that I checked against my reflection in the cracked mirror on the bureau across the room looked right. Early twenties probably. Black hair, gray eyes, flatly opaque expression—it would've been a mug shot through and through if there hadn't been the tiniest curl to his… my mouth. One that said, I have a boot and I'm just looking for an ass to put it up. Okay, social was out the window. I focused on the important thing—my name, clearly and boldly printed beside the picture. My identity. Me.
"Calvin F. Krueger," I said aloud. "Fuck me."
Calvin? A monster-killing, walking goddamn armory with an attitude so bad, even the DMV captured it on film, and my name was Calvin?
Maybe the middle initial led to something more acceptable. F. Frank, Fred, Ferdi-fucking-nand. Shit. I laid the license aside and went back to the wallet. There was nothing. Yeah, a big wad of soaking cash, but no credit card, no ATM card, no video card. Nothing. I had the minimum ID required by law and that was it. That smelled as fishy as I did. I was going to have to get out of these clothes soon and wash them in the bathtub, or the reek of low tide would never come out of them. And right now they were the only clothes I had.
After spreading out the cash on the nightstand to dry, I tried to wring out the wallet. It was worn and cracked, on its last legs anyway, and I kicked those last legs out from under it. It split along the side seam and out spilled two more licenses. I picked them up from the frayed carpet to see the same picture, same address, and two different names. Calvert M. Myers and Calhoun J. Voorhees. That I had aliases didn't bother me—I killed monsters, so what was a fake name?—but the aliases themselves did. How much did I hate myself?
Calvin F. Krueger, Calvert M. Myers, Calhoun J. Voorhees. Seriously, Calhoun?
Then it hit me. F. Krueger, M. Myers, J. Voorhees. Freddy Krueger, Michael Myers, and Jason Voorhees. Three monster-movie villains, and I, a monster killer, was carting around their names on my ID. Didn't I have one helluva sense of humor? I thought about the grenade I'd tossed into the ocean, that cheerful yellow smile on a potentially lethal explosion. A dark sense of humor, I amended to myself, but, hey, wasn't that better than none at all?
The rank smell hovering around me and my clothes was getting worse. The stink was incredible. Good sense of humor, good sense of smell, and neither one was doing anything productive for me right now. I left the ID and the money on the table and went to the bathroom. I toed off black leather boots that were scarred and worn, like the wallet. They'd been used hard. Well-worn, they would've been comfortable if they weren't wet and full of sand. How they'd gotten worn, what crap they'd stomped through, I didn't know. I dumped them in the tub that had once been white but was now a dull, aged yellow. It had been used hard too. I related. I felt that way myself—used hard and put up wet. I threw in my jeans, T-shirt, underwear, and even the leather jacket once I removed the knives.
As I did, a small bubble of panic began to rise. I couldn't remember. I couldn't remember a goddamn thing about myself. I didn't remember putting those weapons in my jacket, although I knew exactly what they were for. Knives and guns and monsters; they were the things I was certain of, but when it came to me, I was certain of absolutely nothing.
Shit. Shit. Okay, I obviously knew how to stay alive; those monsters on the beach didn't just kill themselves. People who knew how to stay alive also knew not to panic and I was not panicking. By God, I wasn't. I was sucking it up and moving on. I was surviving. With or without my memory, at least I seemed to be good at that. Calvin the survivor; watch me in action. I was alive to mock my fake names, and I planned on staying that way.
Turning on the shower, I waited until the water was lukewarm and I stood on top of the clothes. There were two small bottles of shampoo and an equally small bar of soap. I used them all, letting the lather run off me onto the cotton and leather around and under my feet.
I learned something about myself while scrubbing up. I killed monsters, and they tried to kill me back with a great deal of enthusiasm, but not just them. I had a scar from a bullet on my chest, another from what was probably a knife on my abdomen, and a fist-sized doozy on the other side of my chest. It looked as if something had taken a bite out of me and had been motivated when doing it. Man and monster; apparently they both disliked me or I them—could be a mutual feeling. It was just one more thing I didn't know. I moved on to something I did know. Besides the scars, I was a little pale, but that could be from near hypothermia or I could be anemic. Maybe iron supplements were the answer to all my questions—iron and bigger, badder guns.
I had a tattoo around my upper arm, a band of black and red with something written in Latin woven in it. Funny how I knew it was Latin, but I didn't know what it said. Yeah, funny, I thought, despite the lurch of loss in my stomach. There was my sense of humor again.
The rest of me was standard issue. I wasn't a porn star, too bad, but I had proof of a Y chromosome. That was all a guy needed. That and some memories. Were a dick and a mind too much to ask for? That was something every guy had to ask himself at some point, even if I couldn't remember the first time I'd asked it. This time the question bounced back and forth inside my skull, hitting nothing on its way. I guessed that proved it was too much… at least for now.
My head still hurt and trying to remember made it worse. I gave up, closed my eyes, and scrubbed at my hair. I shook from the lingering cold of the ocean, but the warm water helped. It didn't do the same for my damn hair, though. It had been in a ponytail, shoulder length. I'd pulled the tie free, but there was something in it… sticky and stubborn as gum or tar. It could be the blood of one of those supernatural spider monkeys from Hell. It could actually be gum. Maybe I fought bubble-gum-smacking preteens from Hell too. I didn't know and it didn't matter. You didn't have to know the question to be the solution.
The answer ended up being one of those knives I'd taken out of the jacket. The shit wouldn't come out of my hair for love or money, and I finally stood naked in front of the cloudy bathroom mirror, took a handful of my hair, and sawed through it. I let the clump, matted together with a green-gray crap, fall into the sink. The remaining wet hair fell raggedly about two inches past my jaw. I didn't try to even it up with the blade, slender and sharp as it was. I could have, some at least, but…
I turned away from the mirror.
Looking at my picture was okay; not recognizing myself less okay; studying myself in the mirror, not okay at all. I didn't like it. I didn't know why, but I didn't. A quick glance was fine, a long look was a trip someplace and, from the acid sloshing around my stomach, that place wasn't Wonderland. I had guns and knives, scars, and dead things; maybe I wasn't a nice guy. If I didn't like looking in the mirror, it could be I didn't like what I saw. Pictures were only echoes. The guy in the mirror was real.
But it didn't matter why I didn't like it, because I didn't have to look. Problem solved. I spent the next fifteen minutes drying off and doing my best to hand wash the funk out of my clothes before draping them over the shower rod to dry. By then I was weaving, had the next best thing to double-vision, and a wet towel in my hand that I used to cover up the bureau mirror. I didn't ask myself why. I was only half conscious and barely made it to the bed anyway. So to hell with whys. I pulled the stale, musty-smelling covers over me with one hand and slapped the lamp off the table to crash to the floor. I was too clumsy with exhaustion to switch it off. This worked the same. The bulb shattered with a pop and it was lights-out.
I didn't think about it then, but the next day I did, when I had more than pain and drowsiness rolling around in my head. I'd woken up with monsters. I was alone, and I was lost. I didn't know where I was; I didn't know who I was. It doesn't get more lost than that. Wouldn't you leave a light on? Knowing what I knew and not knowing anything else at all, why would I want the darkness where monsters hide?
Because killers hide there too.
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