Priest & Hawthorne Investigations
A Modern Fantasy AdventureAn introduction
The moon was a crescent of hard silver light the night Cameron walked into the aging room of his distillery and found a spider the size of a Volkswagen. There were other shapes nearby - cocoons, smaller than a person but not by so much that he thought he'd stick around and take a closer look. Cameron swallowed hard and backed out of the room, afraid that if he rolled the door shut he might wake the thing up. At the same time, though, if he left the door open, the spider might have an easier time getting out. Deciding that discretion really was the better part of valor, or at least of not being eaten at exactly this second, he walked backwards with slow steps past the threshold, back out into the night. Overhead, a sodium lamp cast harsh orange shadows over the rust-streaked exterior of the huge warehouse, lent only a little extra color by the watery headlights of Cameron's truck, which had been new sometime before the first time humans set foot on the Moon.
He pulled his phone out of his pocket and looked down at the screen, then back up at the door to the aging room. He called up a dial pad, but...who was he supposed to call? The police? Animal control? An exterminator? He imagined the last conversation and let out the first bite of a barking, hysterical laugh, something that yipped out of his mouth and bounced off the corrugated metal wall in a sharp spray of discordant echoes. In front of him, the huge spider shifted, one giant leg coming uncurled from the apparently-sleeping mass with an almost delicate motion. Cameron took a step back, the phone slipping out of his hand, panic welling up behind his eyes while he watched another leg unfold, opposite the first. No longer caring how much noise he made, Cameron scrambled toward his truck, out of view of the door, and started digging in his jacket for his keys.
He was well into dropping them for the third time when he heard another sound coming up the driveway, this time something more familiar. Tires crunched on the gravel road, along with...something else. Cameron turned away from the slowly-unfurling spider, raising one hand against the glare of another pair of headlights, the sound of John Denver's Country Roads
wafting into the night. The lights resolved into an old and slab-sided van with large, knobbled tires. It came to a sliding, skidding halt a couple of meters from the door, rocking on its suspension and spraying gravel all the way to Cameron's boots.
The van’s doors opened and a handful of people piled out, stepping over one another in no particularly good order. In the headlights' glare, Cameron couldn't quite see who these people were - save for the driver, who stepped out and closed the distance to the man with long, quick strides. He could just make out her blue-green eyes, the curve of a cheekbone, the cut of her tailored suit. She looked at him, then at the warehouse, then back, and she shoved a hand through sweat-dampened hair.
"Hey, so," she said, sounding almost a little sheepish, "I've got a weird question for you."
Cameron looked at the woman, at the shapes of people behind her, back at his warehouse. He tried to speak, but all that came out was a kind of squeak.
"Right," the woman said, "Look - this probably sounds ridiculous, but..." She took a deep breath and pointed at the building, "Is there a huge spider in there?"
Cameron gawped, a proper gawp, the kind that left his jaw hanging loose for a moment. It took him a long, long moment to get enough of his muscles under control to nod and point.
"Okay, thanks." The woman turned and gave a thumbs-up to the people behind her, and they came forward.
Cameron saw the group now, in the hard shadows of two sets of headlights. They didn't look 'official' - no matching suits, no coordinated gait, not even the same kinds of haircuts. They were rumpled, disheveled, exasperation written plainly across their faces. A man held a shotgun with a practiced casualness that Cameron found alarming, and he would have sworn he saw embers and motes of light dancing around another woman’s hands and arms. The driver, though, his attention kept coming back to her. He couldn't help it, something he could no more resist than the pull of gravity.
"Who...who are you?" Cameron managed, after what felt like an eternity.
"Ah," the woman said, "...I'm Morgan. We're from Priest and Hawthorne Investigations."
Inside the warehouse, the spider had finished unfolding. It turned in place, its legs making the kind of thumping sounds on the ground Cameron usually associated with forklifts. One of the newcomers shouted, and the shotgun boomed. Cameron winced and fell against his truck, hands covering his ears. Morgan, for her part, stood unruffled, the ghost of a grin tugging at one side of her mouth. The spider shrieked, the sound almost louder than the shotgun, loud enough to make the sheet-metal walls vibrate in sympathy. Morgan turned toward the warehouse, then looked back at Cameron. To her left, the metal wall buckled and half a meter of monstrous spider-leg punched through. With a wail of tortured metal, the leg started tearing toward the ground through the sheet metal, a couple of rivets zinging out into the night.
"I wouldn't worry," Morgan said, reaching into her jacket, "We have this perfectly under control."