Jose scraped his ribs on the side mirror of a gold car as he squeezed between it and a silver mini-van. The blow slowed him a step. He pressed on, knowing that if he paused for more than a breath he would lose sight of his prey.
He could see the top of the tiny monster’s head in front of him weaving between cars in the parking lot. He could hear its high pitched laughter. The thing was ten paces ahead of him. Jose ducked under the side mirror of a pickup. The beast darted to the left. Instead of maneuvering around a red VW bug in his path, Jose planted his foot on the back bumper and ran across the top of the car then down the front of a hood. The quick move caught him up three paces.
Jose’s lungs burned and his knees ached. He’d been chasing the small creature, through traffic and parking lots, for at least two mile. He and Chris had caught sight of the tiny thing while patrolling the Belair-Edison neighborhood on the north east side of the city. They’d been tracking the monster’s scent for a few blocks when, to their shock, it jumped from behind a minivan, pointed at Jose, and then ran in the opposite direction. Both Jose and Chris had given chase, but Chris had fallen behind when the beast took a detour through a crowded store.
Ahead of him the creature emerged from the full parking lot. Without slowing its pace, the monster sprinted across the busy street. It seemed to time its run perfectly, crossing the street in a straight line as cars whizzed passed.
Jose pulled up at curb, watching the cars speed by, trying to time his cross. He put his hands on his knees and sucked in air, struggling to catch his breath.
Just before sliding through a space in the rod-iron fence that surrounded the city cemetery, the beast paused to face his pursuer. The pause gave Jose his first good look at the monster. It was short, about the height of a five-year old child, and thin like a marathon enthusiast. Unlike the other monsters Jose had encountered, it was shockingly human in appearance. In fact, it took like a perfectly proportioned, small man. The thing wore a flawlessly tailored, charcoal black, three piece suit, and recently polished, black dress shoes. In the pocket of the suit was a small, blue, silk pocket square. Attached to the beast’s vest was a gold pocket watch chain. The things jet black hair was impeccably parted down the middle, and waxed tightly to his head. Above his lip was a tightly rolled, thin, handlebar mustache.
Jose looked over his shoulder for his partner. Chris was nowhere to be seen.
Once on the other side of the bars, the small thing turned to face Jose again. Reaching into its small vest pocket, it retrieved a pocket watch and checked the time. Pointing at Jose through the bars it yelled in a quick, shrill voice, “The little beastie must cross the street. It must use its feet and cross the street. Come, come little beastie. Come, come. Use its feet to cross the street. Come, come. Don’t have all day. Don’t have all day. Slow little beastie must come. Don’t stop now. Almost there. Almost there. Come, come slow beastie. Almost there.”
The light at the intersection up the street turned red, giving Jose the break in traffic he needed. Gathering his energy, he sprinted across the street, toward the gate. The tiny man-thing laughed with glee and ran deeper into the cemetery. Unable to squeeze through the bars, Jose was forced to climb the ten foot high fence. The extra time it took Jose allowed the creature to put distance between them.
Jose landed in the grass on the other side, and scanned the cemetery. It was massive, covering eight city blocks. Still, the monster was easy to find as it didn’t seem to be hiding. Jose spotted the tiny thing leaning against a large head stone, one-hundred-fifty yards in front of him.
As he walked toward the creature, Jose retrieved his gloves from his pocket and put them on. Flexing his fist, he tested the blue blades of light, making sure they appeared as they were supposed to.
“Oooh,” the creature called with a smile. “Pretty light. Shinny light. Dancy trancy, bright blue light.” Like a puppy watching his master come up the walk after a long day at work, when Jose was fifty yards away, the creature began to fidget with anticipation, checking his pocket watch and bouncing from one foot to the other.
“You shouldn’t be here,” Jose screamed, methodically drawing closer. “You should have never crossed the Veil.”
The monster’s eyes were wide with glee. Motioning Jose forward, it sang. “It speaks. It squeaks. It wreaks of fear. Come, come beastie. Come. Come closer. It must come closer. It must. It must come closer. Closer-closer-closer.”
“Not only are you on the wrong side of the Veil,” Jose barked, marching forward. “You made me run through a parking lot, and I hate running through parking lots.” His side still hurt from the side view mirror he’d taken in the ribs.
The monster wasn’t listening. The glee in his voice had transformed to desperate begging. “It rants and rants. It runs earlier. Runs fast. But now it walks. Now? No, no. Too long. It takes too long. It must come closer. Closer-closer-closer. It must come closer. Almost. Almost. Closer, closer.”
“It’s over,” Jose said. “There’s nowhere left to run.” He took another step toward the monster. The creature giggled with anticipation.
Jose was almost within arm’s reach. One more step. He moved slowly, like a cat ready to pounce on an unsuspecting mouse.
“Yes. Yes,” the little man cheered, his hands clasped tightly to his chest.
Jose made his move, lurching forward with both hands, he lunged to grab the monster by the neck, but to his shock, he felt his legs being jerked backward and then up, above his head. The force of the yank tore at his knees and hips with such force, he whacked his head on the ground. His forehead scraped through the grass and then rose three feet off the ground. At the same time, with a loud bang, metallic cables shot from something behind him. With uncanny aim, they wrapped themselves around his wrists and ankles like boa constrictors, incapacitating him.
Hanging in the air, suspended from some unseen contraption, hands and feet bound, Jose could here to monster breathing behind him. He heard it approach, slowly. It radiated pride. He felt its breath next to his ear. Then in a shrill whisper it said, “The beastie is mine now. Mine now. And I shall pluck it. I shall dismember my new little beastie. Because the beastie is mine. And I will take it apart. I will learn what’s on its insides.”
There was a sharp pain in Jose’s back between his second and third rib, near his spine. He yelped in pain. The monster chuckled. The pain ran from Jose’s mid-back, around to his front. He felt is t-shirt turn wet and heavy. Tears of fear filled his eyes. He knew. He was certain that this was his end. He swallowed hard, forcing his emotions inside, not wanting to give the monster the satisfaction of watching him cry.
The monster was in front of him now. It licked the blood, Jose’s blood, off the blade of the small switch blade it held. There was fury in its dark green eyes. “The beastie now knows,” it said with a soft, shrill bite. “The beastie knows it is no match for Fenswick the Great. It will now say my name. It must say my name. Say “Fenswick.” It must say my name.” The monster jab the knife into Jose’s exposed armpit and screamed, “Say it! It says my name!”
Jose clamped his mouth shut.
“I planned, my beastie,” the monster said, licking the knife again. “This is my trap for the beastie. I watched the beastie. I followed the beastie. I learned the beastie’s ways. The trap is perfect. Perfect for the beastie’s height. Perfect for the beastie’s weight. Fenswick makes the perfect traps. Doesn’t the beastie think? But now, the beastie must acknowledge its defeat. It must take ownership of its disgrace. It must say my name.” The monster jabbed the knife into Jose’s under arm again as it screamed in his face, “It must say my name!”
Jose lurched at the insertion of the knife in his arm. The pain shot through his body. He screamed, and then he laughed.
The tiny man took a step back, enraged. “The beastie laughs? It laughs at the Fenswick the Great. It does not laugh. It does not laugh at Fenswick the Great.” The monster moved forward again. With the blade in its right hand, it grabbed Jose by the scruff of the neck with its left. Its hand was cold, dry, and shockingly strong for its size. Steadying Jose, the monster pulled the teen’s face close.
“The beastie will say my name and admit defeat, or I will have the beastie’s eyes.” The blade became a blur as it neared Jose’s left eye. Jose pushed back, but the monster held tight with his left hand. With its right, the monster moved the knife within a few centimeters of Jose’s pupil.
The monster whispered again, “It says my name. It says my name or I takes it eye.”
Jose breathed deeply. Holding as steady as possible, he uttered a single word, “Chris.”
“Chris? Chris is not my name. This is not my name,” the monster screamed.
“No,” came a strong voice from behind the tiny thing. “It’s mine.”
In a swift move, Chris reached forward with both hands and snapped the monster’s neck. The tiny man fell limp to the ground. Chris took a step back and looked at his partner. “Shit,” he said. “How in the hell am I supposed to get you out of that?”
They struggled silently with Fenswick’s machine for hours, until finally Chris was able to cut Jose down. The thin, but incomprehensibly strong wires that had snagged Jose’s feet were attached to a small machine, hovering ten feet off the ground. Unable to cut the wire or pull the machine down, Chris was forced to climb the wire and disassemble the machine in the air.
The metal bands around Jose’s wrist and ankles had been trickier. After some experimentation, Chris discovered they would melt under the flame of cigarette lighter. By the time Jose was freed, the sun had set long ago.
Back in the car, with the monster’s small body in the trunk, the friends drove in silence.
“They’re planners,” Chris said, finally breaking the tension. “That thing. It’s called a Cinciput. They all look like small people. And they’re planners. That’s what drives them. They get high off of the plan working out.”
Jose looked silently out the window, watching the street lights blur by. His wounds throbbed. He felt vomit in the back of his throat, but he swallowed it back.
Chris continued. “The little bastards get so focused on their plan, a lot of times they’ll miss basic details. Like the fact that you had a partner.”
Jose leaned his head against the car door. He closed his eyes and tried to ignore the pain from the knife wound in his armpit. Chris had padded it with gauze, but it that had done nothing to dull the pain.
His back and ribs had stopped bleeding, but his shirt was caked and stuck to his side. The cloth pulled at the newly formed scab. If he moved to quickly, reopening the fresh wound.
Chris pulled the car into their usual parking garage. It was the closest thing they had to a home. Chris circled the seven stories, choosing a spot on the roof that faced the harbor. He put the car into park. “I’ll take the first watch. You get some sleep. We’ll get rid of the body tomorrow.”
Jose sighed. His head was pounding.
Chris turned to look at his young partner, taking the teen’s hand he said, “Listen. We see a lot of crazy shit, and we aren’t promised tomorrow. Any moment could be our last. But you can always trust that, if you find yourself alone and in trouble, I’m busting my ass to get to you. I’ll always have you’re back. Rule nine – never leave your partner behind. I’ll never leave you behind. But I’m not going to lie to you. Someday, I may not make it to you in time.”
Jose looked down at the backpack on the floor board between his feet. It was dirty. Its red color had faded to a dull brown. There were rips by the zipper where the fabric was wearing thin. He remembered the day his uncle had bought it for him – a week before the first day of sixth grade. He’d wanted green, but red was all they had. He and Uncle Sal had searched all the racks. Blue. Grey. Red. Pink. No green. Uncle Sal had taken him for ice cream at McDonalds as a consolation.
“I know what this is,” the teen said softly. “I know where it leads. Rule ten. My life for the city.”
“Rule ten,” Chris said, looking forward.
“Rule ten,” Jose said repeated.
They sat in silence for anther moment, then Chris pushed his car door open. “Get some sleep,” he said. “I’ll redress those wounds in the morning.” Then he swung the driver’s side door shut, and he was gone.
Jose sat, looking out at the water. He watched it shimmer in the city’s light. Slowly, he bent down and unzipped his backpack. Every move brought more pain. Inside the bag were two, neatly folded changes of clothes. Jose pushed them aside. Underneath them he pulled a small, brown, worn, stuffed bear. His mother had given it to him when he was a baby. That’s what his uncle had said anyway. It was the final thing he had left of her, of his normal life, of his childhood. Leaning back again, he closed his eyes and squeezed the stuff animal tight to his chest.
A knot formed in the base of his throat. This time he didn’t hold it back. It burned, working its way up into his nose, ending below his eyes. He exhaled, and finally allowed tears to flow freely. Clutching his bear, crying softly, he drifted off to sleep.