Gravel crunching under tires roused Orrin Jennings. He looked out the window and saw a black SUV pull up. A well-dressed man got out. He walked with quick, measured steps with his back straight and his shoulders thrown back as he climbed the steel steps two at a time. Orrin put in a bookmark where he'd been reading his Bible, Job chapter 41. Then he adjusted his leather jacket and wiped dust from his cowboy boots before getting up. He answered at the second knock.
"You must be Sir Cedric Harrison," Orrin said, opening the door. "C'mon in."
"Thank you. Please call me Cedric." Harrison wore a bespoke suit from either Savile Row or Hong Kong. It didn't matter which. The effect was the same.
Orrin led him back to his desk and indicated the leather sofa. The office had once been a construction trailer. Orrin kept his desk in the front half and his equipment in the back. The paneling and carpeting were original. Orrin wished he could have replaced them before this meeting.
"How was your flight?"
Orrin sat in the matching overstuffed chair, opened the cabinet built into a side-table, and retrieved a quart mason jar and two smaller jam jars.
"The flight from Heathrow was delayed, but I got a few hours' sleep. Terrible shame they grounded the Concorde."
Orrin poured a quarter-inch into the bottom of each jar. He pushed one across the coffee table to Cedric.
"Corn whiskey." Orrin took a sip.
"Indeed." Cedric tasted some and choked.
"I can cut it with water if you like. I have ice in the back."
"No, thank you," Cedric said.
Orrin nodded and knocked back the rest of his drink. "This is a tough story to tell completely sober. And it's tough to hear sober, too. So, drink up."
Cedric lifted an eyebrow and took the liquor in a hard swallow.
It all started on a Wednesday night last month. I was in church with the missus. The preacher was teaching about the end of the world, the Beast, and the Antichrist. He was chock full of piss and vinegar, going on about the fearsome Day of the Lord.
That's when we heard the screaming. The reasonable thing to do was stop and see what the fuss was about. But Pastor Kingsfield just kept preaching, only louder.
I got up to see what was happening and he shouted at me to sit back down and take heed of the word of the Lord. So I sat.
I heard gunshots and a car crash, but he kept on preaching and exhorting that none could withstand the wrath of God and his sure and just judgment. All the while he was watching to make sure I didn't get up. I smelled smoke as if Hell itself had opened up and figured the Good Lord was coming back then and there. The preacher must have thought the same thing and wanted to make sure he was found doing right by his flock. He was shouting himself hoarse, warning us of sure and deadly destruction to be visited upon the unrighteous.
Being a deacon, I wanted to set a good example. So I was saying "Amen" a little louder than I had to.
Eventually, his voice gave out and we sang the closing hymn. Pastor gave an invitation and most of the congregation went forward to get saved again. We were sure the Lord was coming back, so we stood around waiting and sang a few verses of "Almost Persuaded."
Brother Jubal said, "I don't suppose it'd be a bad thing if we wait for the Rapture outside, do you?" I could tell he was in the need of a cigarette.
"I've never seen the apocalypse before and I confess I'm a little curious to see what one looks like," I said. "Let's go outside. Revelations paints some right scary pictures, but my imagination can't quite fill the gaps."
We went outside and the town was a mess. Cars were wrecked and houses were on fire.
"Will you look at that?" Jubal said, pointing.
There was the First Baptist Church, the new one they built last year, blazing from top to bottom. I had friends that went to that church and I only quit going after I got married and my wife pestered me to join Mount Pisgah Church of the Nazarene.
"You know, Jubal," I said. "I don't think that we were saved from this because we're Christians."
Then I ran into Evie, my steady girlfriend from high school. She was walking around like she didn't know where she was and didn't know who I was.
"What happened?" I asked. She didn't say anything, just looked right past me. I shook her and asked again. It didn't help. I took her hand, led her back to the church--my church--and found my wife.
Azala gave me the stink eye when she saw me holding hands with my old flame. Not that I blamed her. I'd take a dim view if I saw her holding Jubal's hand. But she came around when she got a good look at Evie.
"Can you help? Evie's in a bad way. Stay with her and try to get her to talk to you. Find out what happened."
All Evie did was whimper while Azala did her best to comfort her.
I went back outside and Jubal called me over. He'd found Will Gaspar curled up in a ball across the street from the Baptist church. I've known Will since he played football in high school. He'd been in the Army and saw some heavy weather overseas that he never talked about. Will's a big guy who you'd think was fat if you didn't know better.
There he was just drooling and mewling like a baby. He couldn't sit up or walk, much less put two coherent words together.
"You know, Jubal," I said, "It looks like most of the townspeople are just gone."
"You think the Rapture happened?" Jubal asked. He lit up his third cigarette.
"No, the Rapture wouldn't take the wrong people. The best people I know have been left behind with their brains scrambled and everyone else just walked off."
"What you think we should do?" Jubal blew smoke out his nostrils.
I quit smoking ten years ago. It smelled awful good and I almost asked him for a cancer stick. Instead, I said, "Let's go downtown and see what we can find."
Some men from church figured it was a good idea to come along, but Pastor Kingsfield said he'd stay at the church and hold a prayer vigil--Azala and Jubal's wife, Lydia, stayed along with the rest of the women and all the kids. I drove my pickup truck with Jubal up front and the rest of the men piled into the truck bed.
Robbie Johnson got the idea that maybe we ought to have some guns. We had heard some shooting earlier and I didn't want to get caught with my pants down. So on the way downtown we detoured to my house, Jubal's, and Robbie's, to pick up our hunting rifles.
Robbie lived in a shotgun shack on the poor side of the tracks. On the way back we were surprised to come to a four-way stop sign and see a black Cadillac Escalade stop at the cross street. We both sat there for a full minute. Then I saw the passenger door open.
The first thing I saw was the AK-47. I heard Robbie in the back rack a shell into his pump-action shotgun. It wouldn't do for some hothead to start shooting, so I got out real slow with my hands up where everyone could see them.
Then I recognized the guy holding the AK. Mike MacLaren. We used to be friends before he went to Junior College. He didn't look very happy to see me.
"H'lo, Mike," I said.
"Yeah." He shouldered the AK. "How you been?"
"What's going on, Orrin?"
I shook my head and told him what I knew and that wasn't much.
"How 'bout you?"
"I was doing a 'cook' when I heard the lookout screaming outside and a few seconds later the guards started shooting at something. I figured the Feds were raiding my lab, so I locked up and hunkered down to wait. I hate it when cops don't stay bought and I didn't want to come out with my hands in the air just to get shot 'resisting arrest.'"
I never approved of Mike's meth business and the casual way he talked about corrupting the law made me bristle. But I bit my tongue, swallowed what I wanted to say to him, and instead said, "Then what?"
"I waited an hour for the cops to tell me to surrender or for them to come in shooting. When they didn't, I had Grant poke his head out. It was safe as far as he could tell. Then I found my guards shot dead or run off. I couldn't get anybody to answer his cell phone.
"I drove around until I found someone who wasn't crazy. Got out and when I saw it was you, I knew you wouldn't shoot me out of hand." He looked down, thought for a moment and said, "So, what you think we ought to do?"
"It's been a long time since you wanted to know what I think, M&M"--that was his nickname when he was younger--"much less asked for my opinion."
"Don't rub my nose in it, Orrin. It's been a long time since I've been this scared." He looked around to see if anybody had heard that last part.
The Lord says it's a sin to hold a grudge. And we had bigger problems right now than his meth-cooking business. So, I stuck out my hand for him to shake. "We're in this together M&M." It felt pretty good getting over being mad at him. I figured he'd probably go back to cooking meth, but that was a problem for another day.
I asked if he'd been downtown and he hadn't. So we agreed he'd follow.
When we got downtown I saw a guy sitting on a bench in front of the VFW hall. He saw us drive up and shielded his eyes from the headlights. It was old man Collum. My uncle served with him in Vietnam. I stopped and got out.
"What's going on?" I asked.
Birchard Collum shrugged, "I can't say rightly."
"Why aren't you crazy as a bedbug, Birch?" M&M asked. He'd gotten out when I did.
"I can't figure it. I was in the VFW hall when Mel Chesser's eyes got as wide as saucers and he whispered, 'Do you hear it?' And I didn't.
Then he started shaking and holding his hands up to his ears. Next thing he started swaying back and forth like he was slow-dancing to music. After that he ran for the door, but there was a crowd of other guys clawing at each other to get out. A couple of them fell down with convulsions and they haven't been right since. Mel ran out and that's the last I seen of him."
"That doesn't explain why you're not crazy."
"I told you I can't say rightly."
One of M&M's boys I'd never seen before, a rat-faced fellow with bad teeth, tugged on M&M's sleeve and whispered in his ear. M&M rolled his eyes and pointed to the Quick Shop across the street. "There's a bathroom in there. If anybody tries to stop you, say I want to talk to him."
Five minutes later he was back with Sarah Marlboro leading the way. I couldn't quite tell whether she was scared or relieved. She wasn't mad about Rat-face using the john.
"Sarah?" She and M&M had been friends in high school. "Are you OK? What happened?" he asked.
"When I heard the toilet flush, I pounded on the wall and shouted until he let me out." She pointed to Rat-face with a lot less distaste than I expected.
"No, before that," I asked. "Start at the beginning."
Sarah fussed a bit with her hair, smoothing it back and resetting bobby-pins. I waited patiently as she straightened the smock that the convenience store made her wear over her shirt.
"I was stacking beer in the walk-in when I felt something strange. I heard this piercing whistle, like a flute blown real loud, and it terrified me. I dropped what I was holding and put my hands over my ears, but it wouldn't stop. It got worse. I looked for somewhere to run and hide. I heard Chanel scream outside, and she must have slammed the door shut. I don't remember much after that. But I can see my nails are ruined and I think it was from clawing at the door."
She looked at M&M, then at me, and asked, "What's going on? Where's Chanel?"
"I don't know, Sarah," I said, but I had a vague idea. "Where, specifically, do you cook your meth, M&M?"
"Really ought not say," he replied.
"Just describe the building. I don't want the address."
M&M shrugged and said, "It ain't a building. It's a shipping container."
"Made of metal?"
"Like Sarah's freezer. Mount Pisgah Church of the Nazarene is just a glorified metal pole barn. Only one thing doesn't fit and that's Birch here."
"Must be the plate in my head. I got it in 'Nam," Birch said. "It's a damned nuisance at the airport."
Up to this point, I had attached some religious significance to what had happened and sought a Biblical explanation. But M&M and his cutthroats had been spared when the Baptists hadn't. Sarah was as nice as Birch was ornery. A material thing like metal explained recent events better than the book of Revelations, so I reckoned the Lord wasn't coming back just then.
"Whatever it was that drove people crazy is blocked by metal," I said.
M&M nodded. Birch looked at Sarah before saying, "Yup."
"This ain't the end of the world?" Jubal asked, disappointed.
I shook my head. Then I said, "We also know whatever caused all this was here a few hours ago and it's gone now."
Rat-face asked, "You think there's some UFO or government secret weapon that shot the town with a crazy field? Does it have to recharge?"
Birch shook his head. "UFOs don't leave a trail of green slime. And I ain't seen no black helicopters, neither."
This was the first time anybody mentioned green slime. I gave him a sharp look and wished he'd been less stingy with information. "Why don't you show us, Birch?"
About a block south of Main Street was a wide strip of green slime running cross lots. All the fences and hedges between people's yards had been knocked down along the way.
"That looks like styling gel," Sarah said.
"More like snot," Jubal said.
I didn't say what I thought it looked like.
"Do you know where it goes? Have you followed it?" I asked Birch.
"Nope," he replied. "Have you thought what you going to do if you get shot by the crazy-ray?"
I scratched my head, then stopped. I figured I would need something like a plate in my head to keep my wits about me. "I guess I didn't."
"Neither did the sheriff. I saw him light off following the trail and I ain't seen him since."
"There's tinfoil in the store." Jubal said. "If it stops the government from reading people's minds, it'll stop whatever's putting crazy in 'em."
Rat-face and Birch nodded enthusiastically.
"The government isn't reading your mind, Jubal," I said.
"That's what they want you to think," Jubal said. "I'm going to wrap tinfoil around my head."
"Yup," Rat-face said. "And a motorcycle helmet over top of it will keep it from falling off."
"There's no guarantee that's going to work. Birch is the only guy here who we know for sure is immune. If you're willing to risk it, Jubal and Birch can go follow the slime trail until you find something and report back. But stop if Jubal starts feeling odd or hearing anything like Sarah described. Then you light out of there."
Birch spoke up, "I'm willing, and if Jubal starts acting strange, I'll coldcock him and drag him home."
"Just go slow. Whatever you find, UFOs or black helicopters, take pictures with your cell phone and get back here. Because if the aluminum foil works, we're going hunting."
"I'll go too," Rat-face said.
"No. Birch couldn't handle both of you."
"But I'm lighter than him. I'll be easier to carry if the old guy has to knock me out."
"He's got a point there," Birch said.
Indeed he did. Jubal was over two hundred pounds and Rat-face was just skin and bones. I looked at M&M. He'd know better than me if the man was reliable.
M&M nodded. "Grant's solid."
So Rat-face's name was Grant.
"OK. Jubal, stay with us. Grant, you and Birch go scouting. Meet us back here in two hours. Take longer than that and we'll figure you're lost to us." I shook hands with them both before they took off. Watching Birch, I could see he moved different than before: walking in a crouch and looking every which way. I figured he learned to do that in 'Nam.
I spent the next hour hunting up more guns and ammo--and aluminum foil. We had no idea what we were hunting, so we got the biggest of everything. I figured once we put lead into the green-slime thing, he'd want to hole up in the brush. So we borrowed all the ATVs we could find.
M&M waited with Sarah at the spot where we were to meet Birch and Grant. They looked like they had a lot to talk about. She hadn't approved of his meth business, and he hadn't approved of the guy she'd just got done divorcing.
We got back and it didn't seem the wait was very long before Birch and Grant came up the green-slime trail. They looked shook up, but were safe and sane.
"We found it--a monster the size of a house. Shotguns ain't going to kill it," Birch said. "We gonna need a howitzer."
"We ain't got a howitzer," I said.
"The AK won't kill it, either. We gonna need a rocket launcher," Grant said.
"We ain't got a rocket launcher," M&M said.
I thought hard about what we had that might kill something that size. "M&M, is your dad still in business? Got any stock?"
"Yeah, he just finished a batch. What you got in mind?"
"Molotov cocktails. You can't shoot a house, but you can burn it down."
"I'll be right back," M&M said.
M&M gave Sarah a lingering glance before he drove off. I also noticed that she watched him go. I tried to send her back to the church to tell Azala what we were doing, but she wouldn't hear of it. She knew how to use a shotgun and we had more than enough for everyone.
We started off following Birch and Grant to where they'd seen the thing. The place where M&M's dad kept his still wasn't far so we figured he'd catch up with us. We followed the trail across lots and found the sheriff's car with lights flashing and engine idling at the last road where the trail crossed. The trail led downhill and then got covered up by a confusion of clothing.
M&M caught up with us about the time I got my first look at the monster. It was down in the flat along the riverbank--with all the missing townspeople. They were making this howling sound that set my teeth on edge and swaying back and forth like they were slow-dancing. They'd stripped off their clothes and that included the mayor, all three hundred pounds of him.
I could see them because at the center, glowing a sick green, stood the monster. It was every bit as big as Birch had said, but it didn't look like the dragons you see in stories, though it did have a green-gray scaly hide and bat-like wings instead of arms. It had legs that reminded me of a bullfrog ending in webbed feet. And those legs were nothing like an elephant's legs. This bothered me because animals can't get that big on dry land and support their own weight--not with legs like that. Most unusual was the mouth that had tentacles growing out of it. They reminded me of an elephant's trunk, but thinner. I couldn't understand why that thing didn't fall down.
Then the tentacles reached out for the mayor. He just stood there looking up at the monster like it was his mistress. It grabbed the mayor, lifted him up to its mouth. He didn't struggle or even cry out. He just laughed until the creature bit him in two and swallowed both halves.
I could see my friends down there and imagined them shouting, "Pick me. Pick me next."
"How you want to play this, Orrin?" M&M asked.
"We won't hit anybody if we just shoot at its head. That'll scare everyone. They'll start running. We'll dash in on the ATVs and nail the monster with firebombs. The fire will keep everyone back. We'll just pelt it with firebombs until it's dead."
"That's a lousy plan." M&M said, then asked, "Is that the best you can think of?"
"Yup," I answered, "You got a better idea?"
"Two guys on each ATV: One to drive--the other to throw Molotov Cocktails," I said.
We'd scared up a half dozen ATVs and M&M had twenty quart mason jars full of 190-proof corn whiskey. There was a box of road flares in the sheriff's trunk. We duct-taped one to each ATV where we could light the firebombs and we were set.
Jubal and I knelt to pray the same prayer we give when we go hunting. When we were done I heard M&M say, "Amen."
We started the ATVs and went roaring down the hill. As soon as we got in range we started shooting.
Nobody moved but the monster.
We were hitting it with 12 gauge deer slugs. They were like pinpricks. If there was anything vulnerable on it, we didn't hit it.
A tentacle reached down to a bronze plate on its chest. It lifted off the ground. Its bat-wings started beating and it met our charge with its own. Birch hit a bump and dropped his firebomb. Another ATV flipped over and I heard M&M cry out.
The monster was heading straight toward my ATV. I lit my firebomb and cocked my arm back to throw. Jubal drove straight at it. I stood on the back of the seat and braced myself with my other hand holding the collar of his shirt. I threw it at the glowing red eye closest to me. It missed, splashing burning alcohol across the monster's cheek, if you could call it that. At least the fire kept the tentacles busy beating out the fire.
I saw the monster wore a harness on its chest. I leapt at it, ducked under the tentacles beating out flames, and grabbed hold of the nearest strap. The monster pulled up and I held on for dear life. I climbed hand-over-hand to the device on its chest. The harness was made of straps about a foot wide that went around its body like it was rigged for lifting with its straps coming together at the bronze plate.
A knob sat at the center of the plate. I locked my arm through the harness and grabbed it. Tentacles wrapped around my legs. I cranked the knob all the way to the right. I was pulled up to its maw. It had two rows of shark-like teeth.
Suddenly, it felt like something else pulled down, hard. Wind kicked up and the monster and I were rocketing skyward at a hundred miles per hour and accelerating.
The monster became frantic trying to get at the knob. I blocked it as best I could. The monster inflated as the air grew thinner. It got around my arm and pulled my hand back. Just then I felt what seemed like a little pop from inside its body. Then another. And another. The tentacle spasmed and went slack just enough for me to pull my arm free. I held the knob while it flailed against me.
Then I realized I couldn't catch my breath. The wind didn't seem slower, but it had less force behind it. I turned the knob back and we leveled off at what must have been three miles high. I started shivering from the cold.
Meanwhile, the popping inside the monster kept on going. Faster and faster. Without the rush of wind going past I could hear it, like popcorn popping. The monster had continued to inflate. Then something ruptured inside and a purple ichor spewed from the monster's mouth.
I let it flow until I realized I had a headache and was dizzy. It was so cold I couldn't feel my feet or fingertips. I started backing off on the dial and ever so slowly we started to descend. I hoped the change in air pressure had done some mortal damage, but the only way I'd know for sure was on the ground.
The monster seemed unconscious, but if it started to wake, I planned to go back up to the stratosphere again. When I saw the lights of the sheriff's car below me I got a better idea. Though I had no control of where I landed, I could control how fast I hit. Not knowing what kind of damage a fall would cause the monster, I accelerated downward at the last moment and hit pretty hard. That didn't hurt me any, so I cranked the dial again and went up fifty feet to do it again. I repeated the process a few more times. Finally, I cranked the dial all the way the left to pin the monster to the ground.
It shook the ground pretty hard each time it hit. This in turn had attracted M&M in his Escalade. Sarah was sitting alongside him when he pulled up.
"He's hurt, but I don't know how bad," I said. "If he wakes up those tentacles will be a problem."
Jubal pulled up in my pickup and I knew what we needed to do.
"Go get my chainsaw to cut off its tentacles," I said.
Jubal nodded and raced back to my house.
M&M chuckled then strolled to the back of his Escalade. He pulled out a samurai sword, walked up to the monster and lopped off a tentacle as sweet as you please. Then he lopped off another. By the time Jubal was back, all the tentacles were piled up alongside it.
I borrowed a tire iron from M&M and went to work trying to pry the bronze plate from the harness without breaking it. I figured it was an anti-gravity device and worth something.
"Hey, look out, it's starting to wake up," Sarah said.
I used the chainsaw to cut off the wings. Birch and Grant walked up and watched me work.
"He's looking at you, Orrin," M&M said.
I felt a chill go up my spine. "I'm sure it's still dangerous."
"Why? It can't move." Jubal asked.
"It can control people's minds," I said. "We got to destroy its brain."
M&M walked up and drove the samurai sword as hard as he could into the monster's head. It hit bone and went no further.
"You'll need thermite," Birch said.
"We ain't got thermite," I said.
Grant looked up. "But I know where to get aluminum powder," he said looking at M&M.
"Let's mix up a batch. He's not going anywhere," M&M replied. Sarah and Grant piled into the Escalade to get the fixings. M&M was always good at chemistry. When we were friends he helped me mix ANFO to blow up a stump.
I waited with the monster. It had its eye open now and the baleful gaze emanated hatred that I could feel. It was like an oppressive weight despite my aluminum headgear.
Birch noticed. "You want me to poke that eye out? It's giving me the creeps looking at me like that."
"That's probably a good idea," I replied. "But no."
The sky started to get gray in the east. I hadn't realized how long I'd been awake until I saw that. I shook off the fatigue as best I could.
"You look beat," Jubal said. "You want to take a nap? We can watch."
I shook my head. "Not safe with that thing alive." I could feel something was getting through the aluminum foil and I didn't want to let my guard down.
"They used to give us goof balls in 'Nam. It helped on long patrols," Birch said. "It was legal then. I suppose M&M can give you something when he gets back."
"No thanks," I replied. It was good that M&M wasn't there because I didn't want to be tempted. I struggled to stay awake.
With the sun up, I could see the monster clearly and noticed the iridescent quality of its hide. The color seemed to shift depending upon the angle of the light.
In the daylight I felt the hate coming off the monster change to fear. For the first time since it had come to Earth the monster was feeling fear--not causing it.
If this had been a human, I might have been moved to pity. But this monster had no point of correspondence with humanity. In its fear it would bargain or cajole me into helping it. I remembered Evie and Will who'd been driven crazy with terror. If it couldn't control a mind, it would wreck it. I remembered the way it had popped the mayor into its mouth. A thought came into my head unbidden. It had probably slaughtered countless millions on a hundred worlds over a thousand years. And it would have done the same with everyone in town. It consumed with no regard merely because it could.
I reflected upon these facts and grew angry.
M&M finally showed up with a five-gallon plastic pail. "Hey, Orrin. Penny for your thoughts."
"Kill it. I'm thinking of killing it. This beast is guilty of crimes beyond imagining."
"Chill out, Orrin. That's the plan." M&M poured the rust-brown powder onto the top of the monster's head in a neat pile and lit a handful of sparklers. "Shield your eyes, when the thermite catches."
The thermite caught and it flashed as bright as the morning sun.
I felt the monster's fear turn to anguish and then terror. It burst in a crescendo as the molten metal burned through its skull. I saw the light leave the monster's eyes and felt the power of its mind ebb.
I don't know what possessed me to do this--well, that's a poor choice of words. I don't know my exact reasons. But I remembered a Bible passage where Job talks about Leviathan. I took off the motorcycle helmet, then the aluminum foil beneath it.
And I saw. The monster told me its name--and its history. It begged most piteously for its life. It spoke with gentle words confiding in me all of its secrets and plans. As I listened I walked to M&M's Escalade. There I found a mason jar of moonshine.
Returning to the monster I placed a hand against it to steady myself. Then I dropped the jar into the foot-wide hole burnt into the top of the monster's head. When the jar hit the thermite it exploded and the monster's voice was no more.
"You smell that?" Jubal asked.
"Hm. That's not bad," Grant replied.
M&M got his sword out and cut a slice off one of the tentacles. He stuck it on the end and roasted it over the fire. He took some and handed the rest to Sarah.
"Oh, that is tasty," she said.
I felt a rumbling in my stomach and remembered how long it had been since supper the night before. "M&M, would you cut some steaks so I can fry them up proper? Jubal, would you remove the legs?"
We filled the back of my pickup with meat and went home for breakfast.
Cedric eyed Orrin closely before finishing his drink.
"Would you like to see some physical evidence?"
Orrin went to a cupboard and opened it. Instead of shelves and dishes it held a circular metal device that resembled an oversized bronze-colored hubcap with a knob at its center. He flipped an electrical switch and eased the knob clockwise.
The floor shuddered underfoot.
"Please direct your attention out the window. The whine you hear is a cable unspooling from the underside of the trailer."
Cedric looked out to see that they were a few hundred feet up.
"I believe you."
Orrin nodded and turned the knob back. After a second he flipped an electric switch. "The winch is to bring us back down."
"What can I do for you?"
"The Old One came to Earth using a weak point in the space-time continuum. There are others waiting to cross over and I want something better than moonshine to throw at them when they do. I want RPGs, LAWs rockets, and recoilless rifles. Proper incendiaries and breaching charges will be handy, too. Quite frankly, my military tactics suck and I want some of your SAS alumni in the fight when I do a summoning."
"You intend to summon another monster?" Cedric asked.
"I'd rather go hunting at a time of my choosing. I want another anti-gravity disk. There's a kid who grew up in the church up in Huntsville who wants one to study.
"But mainly it's the meat. We tanned the hide, but we couldn't get the monster cut up and in the freezer before most of it spoiled. If we can get a steady supply coming through, we'll reopen the canning factory."
"What about your government?" Cedric asked.
"A while back the tree-huggers got Congress to pass the Invasive Species Act 'officially encouraging the exploitation of invasive plants and animals as a food source.' We filed the paperwork and the Fish and Wildlife Service approved it last week. We can package and sell all the invasive mollusks we can catch."
Cedric started chuckling. "Why us? Have you talked to other private military companies?"
"No. You've got a background in electronic warfare and friends in GCHQ. NSA might have the know-how, but they can't legally work in the USA. I want to understand how that thing messes with minds and how to turn it back onto itself. You'll find this job more interesting than any third-world kleptocrat's revolution.
"Are you ready to start talking numbers?"
Cedric nodded and before the month was out, Orrin's freezer was full of meat.