The Department of Public Safety had recently added a string of motion-sensitive cameras and audio pickups along the tunnel paths creating a ‘peephole’ into the darkness. The cameras and recorders, instead of running at all times, would activate when movement or sound was picked up, transfer the video or audio to the security office (Finkle’s office), and once there, the security officer on duty (Finkle) could decide what course of action to take. Sometimes transients decided to make the tunnels home or a stray dog or cat got lost. It was Finkle’s job to alert the security dispatcher (Benny Torez; two miles away in Tunnel 2) to the situation and relay the desired action. Rarely had Torez been asked to perform any kind of action. The last time had been almost a year ago when a family of homeless folks had wandered into Tunnel 6 and squatted there for a few hours, blocking two rush hour trains.
Henry ran a hand through his thinning brown-going-grey hair, licked his suddenly dry lips with an even dryer tongue, fumbled his glasses off, and dropped the phone as he tried to pick it up. Camera 3-4 had turned on: Whatever had made that horrible sound, it had made it from that direction. He started to dial Torez when he stopped, his finger on the last digit. “Macaulsky would want to know about this…” Paul Macaulsky was the local head of the Department of Public Safety and ran the subway monitoring systems hands-on: He never seemed to sleep and had left explicit instructions to anyone seeing or hearing anything out of the ordinary to call him at home.
The ‘Howlers’, as they were called by the other workers, had been heard for a few months. Almost every night, somewhere along the track, someone would hear them and report them. Procedure dictated the filling out of forms in triplicate when dealing with strange sightings or sounds in the tunnels. Calling Macaulsky directly could cut out the middleman.
The phone rang twice against Finkle’s ear when the door behind him slammed shut.
For the second time in one night, he nearly wet his pants. He came a little closer than maybe, to tell the truth.
“Jesus, man, what’s wrong with you?” his watch partner asked. His partner was Angela Rodriguez: At twenty-four she was slim, of average height with brown hair and brown eyes. Finkle had only seen her in the company uniform (brown slacks, brown long-sleeved shit, brown overalls with the legend N.Y. PUBLIC SAFETY on the back), but believed out of it, she would have the body of a goddess. Even though the girl was more than twenty-five years his junior, it had not stopped Henry Finkle (never married; still single) from having late-night, early morning fantasies about her wearing a smile and nothing else. “You look like you’re about to faint.”
“I-I heard a Howler!” he told her, pointing to the monitors. The monitors worked on a fifteen second delay: If no movement or sound came in fifteen seconds they turned off to save film. The monitors were dark.
“You heard it, or you saw it?” Angela asked, flipping the toggle switch to turn the cameras on manually. She used the joystick to pan the tunnel in both directions. As she leaned over him, Henry could smell the shampoo she had used on her hair before coming to work. Her face was inches from his own; he felt something stirring in his pants. “Nothing’s there now. Did you call Torez yet?”
Finkle shook his head; his jowls wobbled, “N-no, not yet.”
Angela reached for the phone just as it rang, “Tunnel 3 security, this is Angela… OK… yes, we… really? OK, we’ll be here.” She hung the phone up and shrugged, “Tunnel 8 is lagging behind. They said to expect six overdue passenger trains before three.” And that ended it for a while.
Henry Finkle had been at his current job for over thirty years. It had gotten him out of the draft for Vietnam and had kept him in money as far back as he could remember. Only recently had he begged more hours from Macaulsky.
The night watchman (an Irishman named Finnagan) had been pulling for fewer hours so it worked out perfectly: Finkle punched his clock at 10:00pm and stayed on until 6:00am. Angela ha so far kept her same schedule: Coming in at midnight she also left at 6:00am. Over the last three months Henry had been tempted to ask her out to breakfast or coffee but had not gotten the nerve. She always left alone in her beat up rust-trap ’89 Buick and came back the next night right on time without looking tired in the slightest. When questioned about her home life Angela would usually reply, “I work too much, man; I don’t have a home life.” Does that mean she doesn’t have a boyfriend?
By the time Henry left work that morning (at exactly 6:00am, same as every Monday through Friday for the past thirty-four years) he was forgetting the Howler.
“See you tomorrow, Hank!” Angela was the only person to whom someone such as Henry Finkle could ever be a Hank. Henry smiled, blushing to the roots of his hair, and waved back; conscious of his flabby arm as he did so.
He let the door of his Chevy Lumina slam closed and then berated himself. “You always eat too much, you weakling. Why can’t you skip dinner just once?” But even as he was pointing out his own flaws, he was busy deciding where to go for breakfast. He had not made up his mind whether his after work meal should be called breakfast (coming in the morning and consisting of breakfast foods), lunch (being the first of his daily large meals), or dinner (coming at the end of his work night as it did).
As Henry bit into his second grand slam breakfast, the Howler incident was forgotten. He got home and slept until 1:00pm (as always), woke up, and read the paper. He flipped the paper open to the headline and the events of the past night came crashing home:
Henry flipped the toggle switch on the 3-4 camera and panned it in a circle, looking for anything out of the ordinary. The cameras were numbered first by the tunnel they covered, followed by the amount of miles away from the station they were: Camera 3-4 was Tunnel 3’s camera, located four miles away from the control station. Henry was hoping that the events of the past night would not be repeated tonight, was bracing himself in case they were.
The camera finished panning and he faced it in the proper direction, leaning back with a sigh. His novel lay on the shelf, the bookmark closer to the front cover than he had left it. “Oh, Finnagan you bum…” Patrick Finnagan was an avid reader of Tom Clancy as well, and occasionally read Henry’s books. He usually remembered to get the marker back in the right spot. Henry opened his book and searched through it.
When the 3-3 camera suddenly lit up, Henry was getting into the cause of the Soviet system falling and its effect on post-Cold War doctrine and didn’t notice. As his eyes hurried across the page he saw a brief flicker of movement on the screen and stopped reading; setting his book down.
Nothing was on the monitor at the moment, but he had clearly seen something. “Probably another transient,” he muttered, picking up the phone and dialing the extension.
“Security, Torez?” the voice on the other end answered.
“Benny, I got movement on my 3-3 camera; have you seen anything?”
Torez grunted; Henry could almost see the man stretching as he sat up, his barrel chest (in Benny Torez’s case it was muscle, not fat) making the uniform look almost like a second skin. “Let me check, Henry… Say, how’s the book?” Torez had told Henry about the latest novel.
“Good so far. Pat lost my place… again.” Finkle panned his own camera around looking.
“I got nothing, papi,” the man replied. “Maybe you picked up a vibration from the 11:45 train?”
Henry checked his watch; surprised that time had gone so quickly. “I saw something on it; I could swear I did… Maybe you’re right, Benny. Thanks anyway.”
“Hey no sweat, Henry. Just let me read that book when you get done, huh?”
Finkle laughed, smiling for the first time since he walked in. “OK, Benny.” He picked up his book again, smiling still.
When the door opened a few minutes later he didn’t jump at all. Angela walked in, with her usual consummate movement taking her from the door to her cubicle in only a few strides. “How’s the night?” she asked in her usual airy manner.
“Good! Read two whole chapters so far!” he smiled, setting down his book.
She sat in her chair (the chair seemed to not even register her presence) and turned to face him, “Have you gotten your sleep tonight?”
“Before I came in,” he smiled.
“Good!” she slapped the arms of her chair. “I’m gone.” She pulled her jacket off, using it to cover herself and closed her eyes. “I’m going to get a few minutes of sleep. Wake me up if Macaulsky decides to stop by.”
“I will,” Henry watched her for a moment before going back to his book. How could he be interested in military fiction when someone like her was sleeping next to him? As he turned the next page he found out…
His first realization that he must have drowsed off came when he sat up quickly, gasping. In his dream he had been running, running fast, down darkened passageways where water dripped and things slithered.
It took a moment for him to orient himself and remember where he was. In her chair near the door, Angela slept peacefully; her jacket still pulled up to her chin. How much better could a woman get? She didn’t snore, she didn’t talk in her sleep, and she didn’t move around and kick in her sleep: She slept like an angel. And she was beautiful.
The 3-3 monitor winked on, showing a black and white view of a darkened tunnel, lit only by the red tunnel lights. There was a flash of movement near the corner of the camera again. Henry thought about waking Angela then decided against it. He sat closer to the monitors, pushing his glasses up on his nose. The camera winked out after its fifteen second delay and he sighed. Just as he was going to pick up his book again, something moved, toward the camera this time. Henry leaned in closer once more, squinting his eyes.
Something bumped the camera and it shifted to the right. “What the…”
A large face appeared in the camera’s view; covered in shaggy, grey fur it had giant red eyes that seemed to glow with their own light. Its nose was blunt and flattened almost like a pig’s. Its mouth was slightly opened revealing devilishly sharp, curved fangs. Its forehead was high and sloped into a near point at the top; its skin was just as grey as its hair. The look on its inhuman face could have been out of thousands of Hollywood horror movies: Only it was right there, live and in black and white, inches from Finkle’s face.
He pushed his chair back, screaming. The creature seemed almost to react to the sound and disappeared out of view at once.
“What, what is it?” Angela asked, suddenly wide awake.
“I-I s-saw it!” he screamed, clawing the glasses from his face. “On camera 3-4!”
“Saw what?” Angela pushed her chair over to the bank of monitors and panned the camera. “When; just now?”
“Yes!” Finkle was wringing his hands, crying. “It was horrible! Fangs… and teeth! And the hair…”
“There’s nothing there now… Are you sure it was a Howler?” She had turned to watch him.
Suddenly conscious of his tears, Henry sniffed and sat up straighter. “It was horrible,” he repeated.
“Should we call Macaulksy?”
“Yes, I think we’d better.” Upon picking up the phone Henry calmed down somewhat. By the third ring he was fine and by the time he had spoken with Macaulsky and gotten his assurance that the man would be right down Henry was as calm as when he got into work.
“It’s a mask; see?” Macaulsky pointed. “You can pick these up at any costume store for cheap.” Paul Macaulsky was a diminutive man, balding who had taken to wearing wire rim spectacles and suspenders. He was married, divorced, and had three children all school age. Paul Macaulsky had always prided himself on hiring anyone regardless of age, color, sex, or national origin and had never regretted hiring any of his present employees.
Among his favorite were Henry Finkle (never missed a day of work without a good excuse in over thirty years) and Benny Torez (always ready with a joke and a helping hand to anyone; like the time when Macaulsky’s wife had filed for divorce and Benny let him sleep at his place). Seeing Henry all riled up was troubling.
“A mask?” Henry asked, staring at the face on the tape. Paul had played the tape back see it.
“Yeah. A pretty gruesome one, but definitely a mask.” Paul rubbed his chin, feeling his five-o’clock shadow. “I’m going to have a talk with Torez and his people. Maybe someone’s playing off of this whole Howler scare to scare you, Henry.”
“Hank was pretty shaken up, sir,” Angela said from her chair.
Paul watched Henry give her such a naked look of gratitude his heart ached for the man. Thirty years plus and you’ve never even mentioned a woman. “Angela, how many times are you going to call me ‘sir’?” he asked, smiling for Henry’s sake.
She grinned, looking at the monster-face and her grin faded, “Sorry, Paul.”
“That’s better. As for Torez, I’ll give him a call right now. For the rest of the night I want you both to keep your eyes peeled and call me right away if you see anything, anything at all, out of the ordinary, capesh?”
“Capesh,” Henry replied. Angela nodded.
After Macaulsky left Henry looked at the face again and angrily flipped off the tape. “That’s no mask!”
“I know,” Angela turned her chair away and reached into her jacket, producing a piece of paper. “Tomorrow, Hank, call me if you want me to come in earlier than normal. I don’t want you… giving yourself a heart attack or something, OK?” She scribbled down her phone number and handed it to him.
Henry blushed fire engine red and nodded, “I will. Thank you.”
“No problem. It’s punch-out time.” She was right. The time had flown during his ordeal.
Finnagan arrived at five-till and took over the shift. “Long night, mate?”
“Very.” Henry zipped up his jacket and handed Patrick the book. “Try not to lose my place tonight?” His answer was a laugh.
Henry watched the 10:45 train speed past on its way uptown and sighed. The camera faded to black after a moment. His book sat on the table, untouched, and Henry was in no mood to read. He kept wondering what he would do if the door opened early and the room filled with some dank animal smell and furry, talonid paws closed around his neck…
After another five minutes of sitting in fear he called Angela. His thoughts shifted first to what she was doing. Would she be in the shower, right this moment washing that lovely hair? Maybe she was standing in front of a mirror wearing only a towel (or nothing!) drying her hair.
By the third ring he was wondering if she was even home. After the fifth ring he despaired, watching the monitors and wincing for the moment that face would reappear.
“Hello?” Angela’s soothing voice came from the phone.
“Angela,” Henry gasped.
“Hank is everything all right?” she asked, clearly and authoritatively; not sounding anything at all like the Angela he worked with. This Angela sounded precise; almost military.
“Yes. For the moment. I was wondering…”
“I’ll be in early,” she said, sounding normal again. “In uh… about half an hour sounds good?”
She’s coming in thirty minutes early… for me! he thought. “Sure. Thank you.” He hung up the phone and smiled.
The night went by without any sightings on their cameras but Torez’s station was filed with passenger complaints. “Paul, I have fifteen complaints last night on three different routes about things in the tunnels,” Torez told Paul that morning over coffee. “These people are regulars, too.”
“Christ, what did they see?” Macaulsky was secretly fed up with these so-called sightings. The culprits were either kids with masks or some deformed homeless man (or men) paying too close attention to the cameras and trains.
“Same as that footage from the 3-3 camera: Big, ugly guy covered with grey fur. That’s the same with all of the complaints, but some go into greater detail.”
“What do you think we should do about it?”
Torez looked around the restaurant, then leaned closer; Paul did the same. “You remember my friend? The one with the guns?”
Paul nodded, glancing around. “How could I forget?”
“Well, what say tomorrow I get some non-regulation firepower from him and we go find out what’s making all these people so scared?”
Paul leaned back; the vinyl seat squeaking under him. “Why don’t we send Finkle and Rodriguez?”
“You want to send them in there?” Benny Torez was not too familiar with Rodriguez; he’d only met her once. But the idea of arming Henry Finkle with an automatic weapon of some kind and sending him into the tunnels… “Are you sure about this?”
“I trust two men more than my own mother, Benny: You and Henry Finkle. Rodriguez strikes me as someone who can handle herself: Her resume had quite a few blank spots but she did her four years in the Marines; I checked.”
Torez’s mouth dropped, “She was in the Marines?”
Macaulsky nodded. “Combat duty, too.” He finished his coffee. “We’ll give the rest of the department the night off, send them home early, and get those two down by the 3 Tunnel. You and me, we’ll watch from the security and routing departments.”
Torez gulped down the rest of his coffee, widening his eyes. “OK. Tonight then.”
Henry had gotten the call at 5:30 that evening from Paul Macaulsky. “I’ll pay you double-time pay for the whole night,” he had promised.
“All night?” Henry asked, needing the money. Whether he needed it enough to go into those tunnels with that… thing… was another thing entirely.
“Show up at 10:00pm, just like always. I’ll pay you twenty dollars an hour until 6:00am. Are you the man I want?”
“Angela already agreed, you said?” That was the real reason Henry had decided to go.
“I can three-way her with you if you want,” Paul asked, not knowing how it sounded to Henry, who sputtered for a moment.
“Uh, I’ll go; sure. Will you be, uh, giving us any… guns?”
“That will all be taken care of, Henry. And thanks ahead of time.”
Tunnel 3 Security parking lot had only two vehicles in it when Henry pulled up: Paul Macaulsky’s red Dodge Intrepid and Angela’s white-going-grey ’89 Buick Skylark. He pulled his car into a slot near the entrance and got out, listening for the slightest sound.
Angela and Paul were standing inside the office; Angela was holding a gun of the variety only seen (by Henry Finkle) in movies. She was wearing a headset with a microphone that came down in front of her mouth and her uniform. Henry had never seen her looking more beautiful.
She turned to him and smiled, “Henry, we get MP-5s,” she said, holding hers up.
“Is that what they’re called?” He hefted the one Paul handed to him and grunted. “It’s heavy…”
Angela held hers with one hand (Henry saw the veins in her forearm standing out beneath the rolled-up sleeves of her uniform shirt) and spoke to Paul, holding out her other hand. “Do you have any other magazines?”
“I could only get one for each on such short notice. Hopefully you won’t need any.”
“And if we do we’re out of luck,” she shrugged. “Ready?” she asked Henry.
Henry was having trouble getting his headset to fit. Angela helped him situate it and finally ready, he nodded, “Let’s kick butt.”
Paul chuckled, “Good attitude. You’re going to be moving down from the 3-1 area over to Torez in the 3-6. We’ll both be monitoring your progress and we’ll let you know if we see anything amiss, OK?”
“Sounds good. You with me, Hank?” Angela led him out of the office and down the corridor to the service entrance to the tunnels. “When you want to talk to Paul or Benny you press the button on the right earpiece.”
“OK.” Henry pushed the button, “Can you guys hear me?”
“I can hear you, Henry. Everything OK?” Benny asked.
“Yes. I was just checking.”
“What camera are we passing, ove-, uh, I meant Paul?” Angela asked in precise tones.
“That’s the 3-2 lens. I can see you now.”
Henry waved at the camera as they walked past. “The 3-3 is up here a ways,” he whispered. “That’s where I saw that face…”
“Paul, we’re approaching the 3-3 now. Henry says that’s where he had his sighting.” Angela turned to him, “You’re OK, right?”
“Right as rain,” he replied, softly. The red lights in the tunnel went on signifying the approach of a train.
“Henry, Angela: The 10:45 is heading your way. Might want to get of the tracks, eh?” Torez asked.
For some reason Angela hissed in a sharp breath at the sound of Torez’s voice, but replied easily, “Roger that.” She stopped and turned to Henry, “Where did that come from?”
The train came around the bend just as they found an alcove to shelter in. It sped past ferrying passengers to whatever late-night fun they were out on. As it receded down the passage Angela hopped down and jogged to the other side of the tunnel. “Hank, come here, quick!” she hissed through the microphone.
As Henry walked fast toward her he dropped his gun. It clattered to the ground, making a lot of noise but not going off. He leaned down to pick it up and instead kicked it away further. “Are you OK?” she asked him once he had his gun again.
He nodded and then looked at why she had asked him over.
There was a wide, jagged hole in the tunnel wall. It looked as though someone had hacked it out of the concrete with a pickax and jackhammer. It was Henry who called it back in to Paul.
“A hole in the tunnel,” the man replied. “Well, how big is it?”
“It’s big,” Henry shined the light on his gun inside (both guns had flashlights attached to the barrels; a concept Herny thought was the coolest thing in the world) the tunnel. “Taller than me.”
“It’s dark inside, Paul. Really dark. There’s a… smell, too.” Come to mention it, there had been a rather dank smell growing for a while. It had crept up so casually that Finkle had barely noticed it until now. “How old are these tunnels?”
“Transit authority just covers up the old tunnels and opens new ones,” Paul sighed. “I’m guessing what you see is the old 3 Tunnel. It dates back to the early ‘40s; maybe older.”
Angela walked inside and Henry followed, wincing as he stepped over the threshold. “It stinks in here,” he remarked, just before Angela started speaking very fast.
“Paul, Angela: Whatever made this tunnel they were coming out, not going in! They were coming from INSIDE THE OLD TUNNEL!” She stepped back into the newer tunnel, training her weapon expertly further ahead. “Request permission to return, over.”
“OK, Angela, you and Henry head toward Torez; he’s closer.”
“I’ll be waiting,” Torez said.
Henry was still inside the old tunnel smelling the musty animal scent and staring at the break in the wall.
All around the gaping hole were claw marks and teeth marks.
Whatever had come out of this tunnel had clawed its way out.
“Come on!” Angela hissed to Henry, urging him on.
Henry was already puffing as they jogged back toward the Tunnel 3 monitoring office. “I can’t run any faster!” he wheezed.
“Angela, Henry; better head to Torez, I’ve got movement on the 3-2 cam now,” Macaulsky’s voice came through the audio pickup. “Whatever it was, it’s moving too fast.”
“I see it too, fellas,” Torez supplied. “Move fast!”
“Hank, keep going,” Angela stopped, looking back the way they had come. “I’m right behind you.” They jogged (or in Henry’s case, walked moderately fast) toward the Tunnel 3 security office, mindful of the walls on either side which could possibly open in another jagged hole. They passed the 3-4 camera and Henry sighed with relief: One more mile to go.
“Angela, Henry; I’ve got movement on the 3-3 cam, heading your way really fast!” Macaulsky called to them.
“Can we outrun it?” Angela took one look at her companion and shrugged off that idea. When the fit hits the shan the men always look to the women…
“No. It’s moving way too fast.” Torez sounded worried. “I hope you know how to use those guns…”
“I don’t,” Henry wailed. He squeezed his weapon and cried. “I’m scared, Angela!”
“Shh, it’ll be all right.” She was listening for the sounds of pursuit coming from behind; there was no sound yet. “Just stay calm.”
Henry and Angela waited in the pitch black for what seemed an eternity. Once, Henry flipped on his light and Angela had hissed at him, “Turn that off! Don’t let them see it.”
Henry was fighting his own personal battle with himself at the moment. He wanted to be strong for Angela, while at the same time he wanted to run, screaming, down the last mile to the security office. But he couldn’t abandon Angela to the… monster… So he stayed.
A low sound was drifting toward them now. It was the heavy breathing of a large creature: Human, hoped Henry. If it were another of those things he saw on the monitor…
As the sound grew closer, Henry could hear another even lower sound. It was a steady tick-tick-tick of something sharp on the concrete floor. “Angela…” he whispered.
Angela set a hand on his arm and silently willed him to be quiet. Come on you ugly fuck; just another… few… steps… She listened to the click drawing closer, then heard something sniffing from close by. The acoustics of the tunnel had shielded their pursuer until nearly too late. “NOW!”
Both Angela and Henry activated their gun-mounted flashlights at nearly the same instant, bathing the tunnel in the brilliant light of General Electric. The creature before them could possibly have had ancestors, in some long ago day, that were human.
It was now and forever more a hideous castoff: A creature that existed below the light of man and below his level of understanding.
The creature had a consciousness. She could think and feel just the same as a human being; and she was trying to figure out who these interlopers into her domain were. For many long years she, and those like her (though they had a language, they never had decided what to call themselves), had lived in relative peace in the tunnels beneath the Big City (for although they made their homes in the dark, cavernous depths of the city, some still yearned for the day when they could venture out into the clear, cool air and explore the wide world’s other depths). She had followed the scents first of the workers who long ago had begun these tunnels; now these two people. Occasionally someone would wander down into their homes and they would send them away with a scare: It was forbidden to harm any of the Light Dwellers (as they thought of humans), just as the Light Dwellers had never purposely harmed them. But now the Light Dwellers had brought down their powerful light and the corridor was bright as the day; howling in pain and terror, she shielded her eyes.
Angela did not know any of these things. She saw the monstrous bulk in the passageway (covered in grey fur and possessing long, curving talons in place of its fingernails) cover its eyes and turn to the side. She depressed the trigger of her weapon, firing into the monster.
Oh dear GOD! Henry screamed inside his head, firing along with her. Angela’s rounds found the creature first; shredding its flesh and turning the grey fur a dark red. A line traced from the side of the tunnel across the creature’s head and it seemed almost to deflate; the Howler crumpled in a limp heap. When the shooting stopped, Henry realized he was screaming. He closed his mouth with a snap as Angela walked toward the thing, shining her light on it. “Is it dead?” Henry Finkle whimpered.
“I think so, Hank. Paul, Benny; can you hear me?” Angela prodded the limp pile of fur with her toe.
“What the Christ was that?” Paul asked, excitedly.
“Did you shoot it?” Torez questioned.
“We shot it. It’s dead,” Angela shined her light further up the corridor. “It’s… ugly… whatever it was.”
“We killed it!” Henry cried, smiling for the first time all night.
“Torez, we’re on our way to you now,” Angela walked past Henry, pulling him along. “We’d better goddamned well be getting some serious workers’ comp for this.”
“Better hurry, Angela: I’ve got more movement on the 3-1, 3-2, and 3-3 cams,” Now, Paul sounded worried. “It’s a whole lot of them…”
The denizens of the subway tunnel system had always been peaceful; even settling inter-species feuds with no violence. It took quite a bit to rile them into a frenzy. They were, above all else, social creatures; existing in packs (known as Clans), they cared for the young of the group and rendered comfort to one another in times of need.
They were also possessed of a highly evolved hive-mind. What one of them saw, they all saw. When one felt pleasure, so they all felt it.
When one died, they all felt their friend’s pain. The Howlers were moving through their tunnels now, as fast as they could move in the pitch dark.
Torez threw open the door to the security office, breathing a relieved sigh when he saw Angela and Henry coming. “Jesus Christ, every camera down there is going crazy! Our friend should be over there any minute with some more hardware.”
“You want us to go back in?” Henry wailed.
“You did good, Hank,” Angela smiled. Torez watched the much older man melt; suddenly he looked ready to go back in a dozen times. Unarmed, if she asked.
“The boss wants those things gone, Henry,” Torez grabbed his keys from the peg and his jacket near the door. “We’ll take my car.”
The drive over to the Tunnel 3 monitoring office was spent in silence, as all three contemplated what came next. Henry promised himself that if he lived through this, he would ask Angela out for breakfast, and damn the age difference. He had never seen any woman more beautiful…
Benny Torez was wondering how he would explain this to his wife. It would require working well into the morning. It was nearly 5:00am now: His shift was supposed to end at six. Mira, I hope you can understand.
Angela’s face was immobile as she thought her deep thoughts. Different outcomes and causes flitted through her mind like a ballet. She was focused on the job at hand and let nothing else interfere. She was here on a state-sponsored safari: Very important people had been hearing rumors of something living below the streets in this city; it was her job to find out what. Now that she knew, she wondered how to explain it to her superiors.
Torez pulled his Lincoln Continental into the parking garage. If Henry Finkle had been more aware of his surroundings he would have noticed the new vehicle there. Angela, however, noticed it right away: A dark blue GMC van was parked near the entrance to the monitoring station; its inner lights on and the sliding door open. “Looks like my cousin’s here already,” Torez remarked, turning off his vehicle.
He and Henry walked toward the door while Angela looked inside the van. The keys were in the ignition and the lights were on: The vehicle was still running. There was… something… inside the car.
“STOP!” she screamed to the others. “They’re out here!” On the back seat of the van was a severed head: Its eyes open wide with terror; a tattoo covering one cheek.
“Back to the car, Henry; quick!” Torez yelled next. The screech of a Howler punctuated his sentence.
“GO!” Angela yelled. She dove into the van, searching wildly. She pawed through the glove compartment and the center console, searching. Crawling into the back, her hand slipped on still-warm blood. From under the seat she pulled out a dark blue duffel bag; the contents heavy and clinking together metallically. The bag was filled with magazines for the two weapons.
“Henry!” she spotted the man waddling back to Torez’s car and he stopped. “Here,” Angela slapped a new magazine into his hand.
“What do I do with this, Angela?” he asked her, terror in his voice.
She grabbed his gun, reloaded it, worked the action, and handed it back, “Point and shoot.” She shoved Henry into Torez’s car first, hearing and watching the Howlers approach throughout the garage. “Haul ass, Benny!” she slammed her door, turning to look forward. “Jesus Christ, man, I’m glad we…” Torez wasn’t moving. He was staring at her in the rear view mirror; his face slack. “Benny…?” A runner of blood depended from corner of his mouth and as she looked closer, she realized she could see inside his neck: His throat had been gored.
The screech came from inside the vehicle; a sound that made her fillings ache. The Howler sat in the front passenger seat, turned around, inches from her. “Shoot it!” she screamed to Henry.
Henry watched in fascination as the beast’s shaggy head turned in his direction. He squeezed down on the trigger of his gun; his eyes squinted. The first three bullets tracked through the center console between the front seats. The next rounds tracked along the Howler’s abdomen leaving a bloody trail ending in its face. Its head came apart like a ripe melon, covering Angela and him both in slime and dark blood. “I did it, Angela!” he cried, happily. “I did-”
The driver’s side door flew open revealing another shaggy, angry Howler. Angela’s door flew open next; the Howler leaned down… Only to bite down on the barrel of Angela’s gun. She squeezed the trigger, sending three 9mm rounds down the beast’s gullet. “Get out; over here,” she called to Henry. As he scooted his way across the back seat, another Howler tore his door from the vehicle, clawing at him. She leaned over Henry and pumped another three rounds at the creature, hearing it screech as it ran away.
Henry tumbled out, looking around with fear. The garage echoed with the screams and screeching of the approaching Howlers. “Angela!” he cried.
She grabbed him under one ample arm and hauled him to his feet; her back screamed at the burden. One more thing to worry about later… If I have a later.
She turned, still supporting Henry, and headed toward the exit; the early light of dawn shedding a brilliant haze into the darkened garage. “Almost home, Hank.”
“I want to get out of here,” he whimpered. “If I get out I’m quitting this job.”
Angela laughed in spite of herself. “Me too, buddy; me too.”
The sidewalk was so close, so close! Something slammed into the side of her, knocking Angela to the ground. Her head cracked off of the concrete, dazing her for a moment. Suddenly, it was Henry helping her up. Twilight Zone, man…
“We’re almost there,” he wheezed, pulling her along.
“I can walk,” she said, shaking her head to clear it. Almost there; another twenty feet.
The Howler (the same one that had knocked her down) came up from behind, screeching in their ears. Angela turned, her head spinning as she did so. Something hard shoved her toward the light. “GO!” Henry yelled, firing at the Howler.
“Henry, no!” Angela started back.
“GET AWAY!” he yelled, firing again. With no choice (Henry would be overwhelmed in short order and she would only be able to die here, with him) she headed for the exit, turning to look back only once at the man who had saved her life.
In her profession she never had time to mourn lost friends or loved ones. The mourning could come later…
For the first time in his life Henry felt truly alive. The buck of the weapon (an MP-5; just like in the movies!), the staccato pop of the rounds, the clinking of the empty casings striking the pavement, the wet slap of rounds striking home in warm flesh, and the labored sound of his own breathing became one within him; if there was a Nirvana, Henry Finkle had found it in these, his last moments of life: Spraying lead in a loose circle around him. His aim was truer than he would have believed possible for a nearly blind man in his early fifties carrying an extra fifty pounds.
The Howlers at first drew back; terrified of this Light Dweller and his fire-spitting machine. Their comrades fell all around them; their bodies torn and mangled. Fur and blood flew from the once-peaceful underground dwellers. Henry’s lips were drawn back from his teeth in a grimace of anger and not a little enjoyment. His magazine ran dry.
At first, the Howlers were still scared of him and his weapon. Henry backed away; suddenly himself once again and terrified. He threw his gun at one of them and tried to run: He was too slow. As the first set of paws closed around his throat he thought his last thoughts: I wonder if she’ll remember me…?
Angela Rodriguez walked out of the Tunnel 3 Security parking garage in the light of a new day; her hands stuffed into the pockets of her overalls, her clothes covered in blood too dark to be human. “Fuck that shit, man,” she gasped, still out of breath. In an alley between two stores she stripped out of her coveralls, slacks, and shirt, leaving the items in a waste bin. Dressed in a pair of jogging shorts and a sports bra, she wiped the blood as best she could from her face and hands and started jogging down the street; already exhausted from jogging so much.
If SEAT wanted the subway system cleared, they could find another operator to do it.