MANTULA Part Thirty-Eight: The Battle of the Cursed Part IV: Beware the Man with the Ax

Doug begins to be human.

Smoke choked the streets. I felt as if I were still standing next to the fire, even though ManQuail and I were now far from the burning apartment complex. I’d probably been burned – if only slightly – or my spidery human flesh was just way too sensitive. I focused on the path ahead. So far no one else wandered into view. We could see our quarry; a scrambling, crazed figure in the dark up ahead. Kip Mooney wasn’t moving as fast as he could have been, due to the tools he carried, not to mention the gas jug.

Still, with our bodies slowly returning to human form, catching up to him proved sluggish. We kept tripping over our own feet. Along the way we spied the remnants of Mantipede’s army. They were running from the burning apartment, some attempting to fly as they had before all hell broke loose this evening, but failing miserably. What was left of Mantipede’s team, more than a dozen, but less than twenty, scattered to the four winds. None of them made a move to attack us while we chased after our man. They either failed to notice us or no longer cared. I figured it was the latter. The curse of the Sturgis Witch had gone down in flame and failure, but the dregs were slow to depart. Our change back to our human forms seemed to be taking time. ManQuail had a theory about that, which he shared as we gained on our target – and got closer to Diana’s home.

“Her soul hasn’t been set to rest yet,” he said, panting slightly. I still found it odd to hear him speak out loud. He didn’t have an accent, but there was something a little Southern about his speech, like growing up in the backwoods of Camp Verde had created an inflection all its own. “Could be the saints are still fighting with that crazy old lady.”

I nodded, finding myself short of breath as well. “She won’t make anything easy, Glenn. But our goal is this guy. We can’t let anything happen to Diana.”

“You know, I figured your voice would sound like that,” my friend replied. “Sort of educated. Like a rich white guy used to giving orders. No offense of course.”

“I don’t give orders, Glenn. I just like to be left alone.”

“She’ll be okay, buddy.”

We rounded the corner of Diana’s street just in time to see the newspaper reporter shaking the dregs of his red gasoline jug against the side of her house. He laid the jug at his feet, next to a large wood ax, and started to search his pockets. He operated by the glow of the lights inside the house, which served to outline his criminal behavior. Glenn and I zeroed in on him silently, agreeing with a nod to approach silently, and I made my move just as he pulled a Zippo from his jeans. Being the size of a good-sized dog made things easier for me, though I still hadn’t gotten all the way use to being any larger than a bagel. I careened into the man like a bullet. The lighter flew from his fingers and disappeared somewhere in Diana’s yard. Hopefully he had no other means to start a fire on his person, matches or something, though I had no intention of letting him have access to his pockets again.

(CONTINUED BELOW)

Odd, blinking lights can be seen inside the home of Diana Sturgis.

He screamed in terror as we both fell to the ground. “My God! It’s you, isn’t it? The spider? The one who attacked me?” Mooney pushed at my large hairy arms and brought his knee up into my gut. I felt the pain, wincing silently, but wouldn’t give him the satisfaction of hearing me cry out. Glenn appeared at my side. By the light of the home I could see a flash of light hair and a beak where a mouth should be. He grabbed the reporter’s arms, holding them down, which left me open to land a hairy fist into his face. It surprised me to realize I had hands again, still covered in stiff tarantula hair, but otherwise back to human form. The other legs had been changing too. Four of them were shrinking, two were turning into legs, and I began to get a little more excited about the change than I should have under the circumstances.

Mooney took advantage of my momentary pause with another solid kick to my nether regions. Things must have been growing back in that department, just as they were everywhere else, because it hurt like hell. I fell to the side, knocking into my friend, which forced ManQuail to release his hold. That lapse was all the time the crazed arsonist needed to leap to his feet. Not only that, but he grabbed the ax on his way up. He held the weapon in both hands. I couldn’t tell, but it looked like he might have been smiling. Maybe he was more insane than I thought? His eyes glowed manically in the glow of the house. That glow, I realized, changed colors, kind of like the blinking lights of a Christmas tree. I saw yellows and reds, greens and blues, and an assortment of other colors. Either things were getting really weird in there or Diana had decided to hold a rave.

ManQuail shouted. “Doug, look out!”

Driven by fear, by rage, or an assortment of both, Mooney swung the ax. And he swung it hard. I pushed Glenn out of the way of the deadly weapon, cursing myself for getting distracted once again, and made to leap to safety myself, but I was too late. For a split second I thought I had done just that, that the ax missed me, but then I felt a flash of hot pain sear through my lower body like a firestorm. A dark lump of meat fell from my body. I fell sideways, landing on my side and saw part of my leg on the ground by my face. It wasn’t connected to the rest of me.

The ax swung down again, only this time it hit the dirt an inch or so from my nose. Mooney laughed and raised the ax over his head, intending to deliver the killing blow. Blood poured from my wound, pain seared the edge of my vision, but I could see ManQuail getting to his feet. I held up a human arm in a vain attempt to block the falling ax and doubted my friend would be able to prevent the inevitable chop.

MANTULA WILL RETURN

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