The night was mild, and the window in Cassie’s bedroom was open halfway to let the gentle breezes in. Her black cat, Buttons, was sleeping on the radiator in front of the window, curled into a ball. Outside, the city was quiet, with only an occasional passing car breaking the silence.
It was not sound that woke her in the middle of the night, it was a smell. A horrible, disgusting odor that was worse than rotten eggs or skunk mixed together. It smelled like death and destruction, which were things Cassie didn’t even know had smells. Never before had a smell woken her, but this smell was so strong that she felt as though she might vomit. Instantly, she was awake, and instantly she rolled onto one side, curling into a ball.
At first she thought it might be Buttons’ fault, and she immediately sought out the cat in the dim light. Buttons lifted his head, his green-yellow eyes almost glowing, to stare back at her as though insulted by her unspoken thought. It was most definitely not Buttons.
A gust of warm wind blew through the open window, carrying the scent along with it, and it was only then that Cassie realized it was coming from outside. Groaning to herself, she rose from bed with the intent to close her bedroom window. Perhaps a garbage truck had been involved in an accident on the street, she thought absently.
Buttons watched her but did not otherwise move as Cassie reached past him to shut the window. She didn’t immediately notice any garbage trucks, but perhaps it was on the next block.
Even with the window shut, the odor persisted. Maybe she could try some air freshener. She was pretty sure Ma kept some in the bathroom, or maybe the hall closet. With a frustrated, tired sigh, Cassie left her bedroom and trudged to the bathroom down the hall. She opened the cabinet beneath the sink and squinted into the darkness, not wanting to turn the light on fully, blinding herself.
“It ain’t gonna help,” said a voice from the doorway, startling Cassie so much she thought her heart would leap out of her chest. When she was reasonably sure she wasn’t dead, Cassie looked up to see her grandmother watching her.
“Gran, you scared me half to death,” she managed to gasp out.
“You’re lookin’ for air freshener, ain’t you?” Gran asked, ignoring Cassie’s brush with death. “It ain’t gonna help.”
“How do you know?” Cassie asked. “Did you try it already?”
“Not recently,” Gran admitted with a shrug. She squinted at Cassie. “What do you smell?”
“I don’t know where it’s coming from,” she answered, “just that it’s the worst thing I’ve ever smelled in my entire life. I was thinking maybe a garbage truck ran over a dead skunk, but I think it’s worse than that.”
Gran barked out a laugh, then covered her mouth. “Seems accurate,” she said in a lower voice. “Let’s go downstairs and I’ll show you. Don’t want to wake your Ma.”
“Why do I need to see it?” Cassie protested, for surely something that smelled this awful couldn’t look much better.
“Because if you don’t see it, and make it go away, it’ll keep smelling up the neighborhood,” Gran replied. “Ain’t nobody else gonna take care of it, sad to say.”
They left the apartment dressed only in their nightgowns – Cassie in an oversized t-shirt that came down past her knees and had a cartoon cat face on it, Gran in a frilly, flower-print traditional style outfit. Cassie paused to slip on a pair of flip-flops she left near the door, and Gran was already wearing slippers in the same faded pink as her nightgown. Gran was also carrying a leather pouch.
“What’s that?” Cassie asked, pointing, but Gran just shook her head and waved her toward the door.
Out on the street, four floors below, everything was quiet. Quieter than usual. Cassie had checked the clock before they came down; 2:40 AM. Even so, it wasn’t usually this quiet. She listened for a moment and heard no sounds of traffic, no humming ventilation systems, no muted televisions, no noise at all.
The night was beginning to feel weird. Really weird.
The odor was stronger out here. Cassie squeezed her nose shut with two fingers and made an effort to breathe through her mouth, but it didn’t help much. Gran took off walking down the street, and Cassie hurried to catch up with her.
“Where are we going?”
“Dunno,” Gran answered. “We’ll find out when we get there.”
“Well, you do know we’re wandering around the city half-naked, right?” Cassie gestured toward herself. Gran kept walking.
“Don’t matter,” the old lady answered. “Ain’t nobody here to see it. C’mon!”
Cassie hurried to follow. Gran was right, there were no people out on the streets.
The silence was eerie, but the low, rumbling sound that shook the ground beneath their feet was even more terrifying. It went on for perhaps thirty seconds, then paused briefly before continuing at a louder volume. Cassie shivered.
“What was that?” she asked of Gran, but Gran was moving at an even faster pace than before, which was pretty fast for an old lady.
“We better hurry!” Gran said instead of answering the question. The smell was getting stronger, the sound getting louder. It was like the roar of some large animal, but the volume suggested it was larger than anything Cassie even knew existed.
They continued at relatively breakneck speed for a couple of blocks, then Gran turned north, crossing the street. As soon as they rounded the corner, they saw the monster.
It was easily six stories tall, and as wide as a building, with neon green skin and bright yellow eyes. Standing on two legs, each ending in a huge foot with giant two-foot long claws protruding from each of its toes, it was easily capable of reaching the top of the apartments on either side of the street. Each of its upper limbs also had three fingers with huge claws. Behind, a long tail stretched out half a block behind it.
Cassie and Gran had a few moments to stare at the thing before it noticed them. Cassie found herself unable to move. Gran had no such problems. She grabbed Cassie by the arm and yanked her around the corner they’d just turned. The monster, having caught sight of them, began to lumber down the street, each footstep shaking the block and rattling the windows of the buildings. Cassie wondered how the people behind them weren’t awake, or fleeing in terror.
Gran’s eyes were lit up with excitement, but she acted calmly, opening the leather pouch with steady hands. Cassie, finally finding her voice, said, “Should I call for help? The police? The army?”
“They won’t do any good,” Gran replied dismissively. “Probably sleeping.”
“Sleeping?” Cassie echoed, and stared up at the dark windows above them. “How is anyone sleeping through this?!”
“I’ll explain later,” Gran answered, opening the pouch to reveal a row of small, sharp knives. She raised her head to meet Cassie’s eyes. “There isn’t time now, unless you want that thing to step on you,” she said, nodding briefly over her shoulder to where the monster was still rampaging. “Short version is, there’s not many people able to defeat that thing, and you’re one of them.”
“Me?” Cassie echoed.
“You,” Gran replied. “These daggers are made of the right kind of metal to pierce the skin of a…thing like that. Throw it, or stab it, or whatever. That’ll kill it.”
“But why me?”
“You’re awake,” Gran said. “You and me, we might be the only people in the city awake right now.”
Further conversation was interrupted with an earth-shattering roar. The monster was very close now. “Why?” Cassie asked. “I…I don’t understand.”
“There isn’t time,” Gran said. “I’ll explain it later. For now, just throw one of these things. I’ll distract it, run across the street. Stab it in the back if you can.”
Before Cassie could protest this plan, Gran shoved the pouch of daggers at her and stepped out into the street.
“Hey you!” she yelled at the monster. “Come and get me!”
Cassie wanted to yell at Gran, to tell her to turn back, but Gran was already halfway across the street, and the monster was following her. If Cassie started shouting, it was more likely that the monster would turn toward her. If she didn’t, the monster would follow Gran.
The monster would probably kill Gran. She didn’t actually know, but it seemed a fair assumption to say that this monster wouldn’t be opposed to killing humans; perhaps even eating them.
She looked at the daggers. They looked the same, only with slightly different handles and a few varying lengths. She had no idea what the relative advantages or disadvantages were, no idea which one to choose, or how to accurately throw a dagger. It wasn’t an elective offered in school, and she imagined it was a bit different from hurling a softball.
The monster roared again. Gran was across the street now, and waving to get its attention. The monster was lumbering after her, had almost reached her. There wasn’t much time!
Cassie grabbed the first dagger her fingers touched – a blade of medium length with a dark red leather handle. It slid from its holder easily, sliding smoothly against the leather. The handle was soft but firm. She raised her arm over her shoulder and heaved the knife forward with all her might.
It made contact! The blade sliced through the monster’s upper right arm, causing a stream of green blood to gush from the wound, and then clattered to the street. Not quite a killing blow.
The monster was angry at its injury. It roared a completely different sort of roar than it had before, and turned its massive bulk toward Cassie. As it leaned forward, she got the impression that it was going to come at her with greater speed, having sensed she was a larger threat than Gran.
She grabbed the next dagger in the series, which was almost the same as the previous blade, except that it had a blue leather handle. This time, she tried to aim for its head, which wasn’t easy as it was a moving target. It was a large moving target, though, and the blade lodged pretty firmly in the creature’s nose.
It roared even louder now, and fell to its knees, clutching its bleeding face. Cassie watched, wondering if perhaps this was enough to kill the thing. Maybe not.
“Throw another one!” Gran was shouting over the roaring, barely audible, and so Cassie took her advice and pulled a brown handled dagger from the pouch and threw it. Her throwing was improving, and the creature was not moving, so this blade sank into the head, a short distance above the first.
It made a strangled groan, then collapsed, face first, on to the street.