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Header by ShelVy

At six o'clock in the evening of a late Autumn day, a man strolled down an almost empty street, and an automobile rolled up to the curb beside him. He seemed to pay it almost no attention.

The car was a sedan, four doors, tinted windows. It stopped. The rear doors on either side opened and two men got out. Walking briskly, they went to the sidewalk, came up behind the strolling man. The man barely noticed them as they each took him by an arm, turned him around and guided him back to the car. It was not necessary to force the man into it, though his captors would have been more than willing to do so if they had to. The man said nothing and offered only token protest.

"Aren't you even the least bit curious, about this?" said the taller of the two as the car pulled away from the curb.

"Or worried?" said the other.

"Should I be?" asked the prisoner.

"Oh yes," said the taller man. "Very much so."

To demonstrate his point, he brought a blackjack down hard against the man's head, knocking him out.

When he came too, the man, whose name was Harris Buckley, was in an apartment, certainly a high rise somewhere in or toward the center of town, because he could see the spires of tall buildings out the window.

The room he was in was a living room, well furnished with expensive furniture. The three paintings he saw on the walls were tasteful, even elegant, and might not have been copies.

The man sitting across from Buckley was Albert Rollins, the most prominent and feared gangster the city could boast.

Thank God, Buckley thought to himself. At last I've found him.

He was lying on a sofa, and four men were sitting nearby, watching him. With some difficulty, he swung his legs around and managed to get into a sitting position. None of the other men present offered to help him, which didn't surprise him. Buckley looked at Rollins and said, "You took your sweet time about finding me."

"You sound like you expected us too."

"I've been expecting it for the last week and a half."

"We didn't even figure you had anything to do with it until yesterday," Rollins said.

"Which brings us," Buckley said, "to why you grabbed me."

"It sure does," said Rollins.

"You want to know how I did it."

"We sure do. You've killed off some of my best men. They were killed by some kind of animal, and you're the famous hunter. You've been in town about a month. Just over three weeks ago, I have five of my chief guys over, it's a regular meeting, no big deal, two guards out in the hall, we're splitting up the cash receipts for the month. A lot of money is piled on that table. A lot of money."

"I had no idea," Buckley said. "That was just luck." He was rubbing the back of his head. "Do you have any idea how hard your gorillas hit me? I think the bastards might have cracked my skull."

"Too bad. They might crack it again, if we don't get the right answers."

"Oh, you'll get the answers you want, all right. You won't like them, though."

"As long as I get them, it don't matter what I like. I got the feeling tonight's going to feature some stuff you won't think is so hot, either. Where was I? Oh, yeah. "

He cleared his throat and continued as if he was giving a lecture. "There's a lot of dough on the table. Two of my toughest, smartest bimbos out in the hall. Business as usual, right?"

"I hope this doesn't offend you," Buckley said, "but I haven't spent a lot of time thinking about how you might conduct your business. Just that you do conduct it and I thought I had the means of stopping it."

Rollins glanced around at his henchmen. "Jesus, he ain't even trying to deny it?"

"What would be the point of that?"

"There wouldn't be any point of it. So my security is pretty good. This is over on Denning, where I had my old apartment. I'm sure you recall it was on the third floor."

"I suppose I do."

"We're splitting up some money. When suddenly there's this ruckus outside. It's a hell of a ruckus and everyone reaches for a gun. That's when the lights go out. And then the wall comes down. Almost, the ceiling comes down, too. It's too dark to see anything, but something flies by my head. We later find out it's one of the guys we posted outside. All that's left of him is a jelly like smear on the wall, as well as some bits that slid down to the floor. Something bursts in. I get a wallop and fly across the room. It's why I got these bandages on my head and foot today. The noise is awful. In addition to the sound of things breaking and smashing and my men screaming like little girls as they fly around the place and crash into walls and things, or go out the window, there's this loud growling. It's almost like a motor, but I can tell the difference. It's like an animal growling. I can even smell it. It has a musty, heavy stink to it, like something that runs around in the woods. Is any of that accurate?"

"It ordinarily runs around the jungle," said Buckley. "But I suppose it's sticking pretty much to the woods here. There just aren't any jungles this far north, are there?"

"Which woods. Where can I find it?"

"Why the hell would I know? Or care? The damned thing followed me up from South America. All the way to here. I've been trying to get the hell away from it."

"Is it trying to kill you or something, Mr. Buckley?"

The suggestion seemed to offend him. "Of course not, you fool. It likes me. That's the damned problem. It it likes me."

"Likes you?"

"I saved its life." He gave a shrug and tried to explain everything with a gesture. The gesture explained nothing.

:"I was in an area of South America that's never been visited by white men before. I'd heard stories about an animal that had never been seen. I was intrigued. Let me make it short, however.

"I organized an expedition to search for the thing. I visited a village where it's known to have been seen. Actually, to have killed a number of the village's warriors. I get there, just as the natives are getting up parties to hunt it down, trap it and kill it.

"By that time, I've talked to a lot of natives who're familiar with the stories that have built up about the thing over the years. I've started to figure out a lot about it.

"My guess is, the thing is going to avoid them. It's pretty good at that. But the village's headman is as well-informed about it, and as shrewd as I am. He's figured out the same thing. And he's talked the military of the local so-called government into giving him a semi-automatic rifle, so he can kill the monster.

"And monster is right. The thing knows just how dangerous people are. It's learned to avoid them. But the headman is damned smart and he sets a trap. It's a pretty good trap and for once the animal falls into it."

"You keep saying 'animal'," Rollins said. "Is it really an animal? Because it's starting to sound like it might be some kind of missing link or something like that."

Buckley nodded. "That's a good point, because while it lives and acts like an animal most of the time, it certainly doesn't live and act that way all the time. But it fell into a trap and it was on the verge of being killed.

"I found out about the trap and managed to get there after the thing fell into it but before the natives had killed it or even injured it. I fought them off. I released the creature, and I left the country to come back home. Normally I would fly, but I wanted to do some more exploring on my way up. I bought two jeeps and drove up with three men so we could do some mapping."

"And these guys were Mexicans or something?" asked Rollins.

Buckley scowled. He was beginning to lose patience with Rollins and his stupidity. "Two of them were Guatemalans, the other an Englishman who's lived in South America for twenty years, exploring out of the way places. We started northward up the coast."

"What about this ape or whatever it was?"

"I never called it that, though I have to admit it looked enough like one. None of my companions ever saw it; I was the only one. I doubt they would even have believed my story -- if I'd ever told it to them. I had three sightings of it, the last after we had reached Yucatan. I don't know how it kept up with us that far, but I figured it wouldn't be able to after we reached the States. I was wrong."

"How do you mean, wrong?"

"I mean, I think it followed me all the way up here. I think it's right here in this city."

Rollins watched him a moment, then said, "Have you ever thought of telling this story to a psychiatrist?"

"Oh, many's the time I've thought of that. But so far I never have."

"Maybe you better," said Rollins. "And frankly, you need to come up with a different story to tell me."

"I don't think there's time for that," Buckley said. "The thing still follows me, you know."

"In the city? It follows you by your smell or something?"

"Oh, better than that. When I say it's more than an animal, I mean that. I know it's here. I've seen it. Twice. It's right here, keeping itself hidden from everyone but me."

"Because you took a thorn out of it's paw."

"Because I showed it kindness, maybe. Look, this is something different from anything you've ever experienced. It has feelings, like us. But it has instincts, the way a dog might. No one was ever kind to it, until I was. So it feels close to me, to the extent that it can feel closeness to anything. It probably doesn't really trust me. But it feels a connection because it's intelligent enough to realize that what I did was a conscious choice I'm probably the only creature in its experience that ever did anything like that for it."

"Animals don't think like that."

"Creatures as closely related to humans as that thing is might."

"You're crazy," said Rollins.

"You mean, my story doesn't convince you."

"I mean, I'd really like to know how you killed my men. Physically, you don't seem big enough to do much more than swat the occasional fly. We suspected you had a gang, but of you do, we have no proof of it."

"I don't have a gang."

"It would take another gang to do what was done to my gang."

"Or an army division, preferably with tanks."

"Jesus, this is getting tiresome. Boys, I think he's going to need some persuasion."

Buckley lifted his hands, palms outward. "Now, hold on. It might be a good idea to take a look out that window."

One of Rollins' gang had moved in front of Buckley and swatted him. For a moment it seemed Buckley's head would turn all the way around. It didn't, though. Buckley spilled out of the chair, falling over the right arm of it, onto the floor. Buckley gave a cry. The same man grabbed the front of his shirt and hauled him to a standing position, and hit him once more.

Buckley's head lolled forward and wobbled back and forth on his neck.

Rollins said, "Not so hard, Billy. Wake him up before you hit him any more."

Billy pushed Buckley into the arms of one of the other strong arm men. He found a glass, filled it with water at the sink, threw it into Buckley's face.

Buckley sputtered and coughed and his head went up. He blinked, but didn't wipe his eyes because his arms were being held behind his back.

"You want some more?" asked Rollins, or you want to tell us what you really used to kill my men."

"I didn't use anything. I'm telling you the truth."

"And so am I, when I tell you if you don't come up with a story I believe, I'm going to let my guys break every bone in your body."

"I think it's too late."

"It's never too late, pal."

"It is now."

As if on cue, there was a crashing sound, and part of the outside wall fell in.

The thing that climbed in through the hole in the wall really did resemble an ape sort of. It was cover with something gray it wasn't quite fur or hair, but neither was it scales or anything else Rollins had any knowledge of. The thing was over eight feet tall and had to bend over to climb into the room. The floor actually buckled under its weight. This thing didn't live in trees. It would have broken too many limbs, too many tree trunks, if it had tried

When it roared, it was like a freight train coming to life, and cutting loose with a yell of pure hatred.

The two men who were holding Buckley let go of him. One of them yanked out his gun and emptied the clip into the thing.

Rollins saw one of the bullets slam into the side of the creature's snout. It sort of veered along the side of the creature's face and flew off through the hole the thing had so easily battered through the outer wall of the building.

The next two bullets slammed into the monster's enormous chest, and they bounced off too. The monster reached forward with an arm the length of a broom handle, grabbed the human arm that was holding the gun and and snapped it like it was a whip.

As loud a scream as it was, Buckley barely noticed the man's yell. The arm came off in a cloud of blood and the man struck the ceiling, bounced back to the floor, and rolled across the floor like a wheel that had come off a car. He reached the hole in the outside wall and went out of the room, still screaming. A moment later something splatted against the sidewalk, three stories down, and the screams stopped.

Buckley slumped to his knees and looked up at the thing with a look more of resignation than fear. "I told you this would happen," he said. "I told you."

More men had come into the room from outside and the gunfire was like the roar of dynamite. The howls of the beast were even louder, though the bullets seemed not to be doing it much harm.

Rollins had emptied his gun at the thing, registering no damage. He fired it seven or eight more times before it sunk into him that his gun was empty.

He turned toward the door, still pulling the trigger again and again. He got two steps before the creature reached out a hand almost the size of a trashcan lid, and closed it over Rollins' head.

The head burst like a ripe tomato.

That was the end of the fight, though much else was happening.

Bits and pieces of the ceiling were chipping off into flakes that dropped to the floor. Everyone was dead, now, except for Buckley and the monster.

The creature reached for him. It did so with great gentleness. It picked him up and cradled him in its great arms, like a mother with a baby. Did it think of him as a mother thought of a child? He hoped not.

He didn't try to struggle free. What was the point? If it wanted to, the creature could crush him with one squeeze. Only it didn't try. It didn't want to.

It carried him to the ground, across the street, through a maze of back alleys and out of town.

He passed out, eventually.

When he came to, the city was far away. He was lying in a grassy area, The creature was nowhere to be seen. Even its stench was gone.

It was quiet. He couldn't even hear any birds. The birds had been scared away, of course.

He looked up at the sky and decided it was mid-afternoon. He ached all over. His coat was torn off. His shirt was ripped.

There were bruises on his arms that he could see. Others on his body he could feel.

He had no idea which direction he was moving in. He hoped he wasn't heading back toward the city. He kept moving; the need to run was all that motivated him. He did not stop even when it finally grew dark.

The thing was following him, of course.

He had no idea how closely. He knew now that he would never get away from it.

Would it catch up with him? Would it tear him limb from limb as it had done to Rollins and his men?

Of course not.

He could never be that lucky.

The End

CONTENTS


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