It made perfect sense for ghouls to be coming after Charlotte. Protective wards have very little effect on the monsters because of their hunger for human flesh trumps any pain or injury they might sustain by stepping on a magical landmine. Some people believe that ghouls are a kind of evil, man-eating Djinn. I was never one to cling to the notion that ghouls are just flesh-eating genies gone bad because the one time I duked it out with a ghoul, there was nothing magic about the creature. It was a spindly, shape-shifting monster that could twist its torso a full 360 degrees all the while conducting a melee attack with razor sharp claws that could easily slice and dice the Hulk.
In truth, ghouls are just a subspecies of demon that has resided in the human world since the very beginning. As carrion scavengers, they will do anything to get access to decaying flesh and it doesn’t always have to be human. Ever hear about cattle mutilation in the news? The default position of the media is that it’s always poachers and the hot gospellers always say it’s devil worship. They’re both wrong. Mutilated livestock is a ghoul’s calling card, but humanity doesn’t want to consider it. The greasy monsters will do anything for the promise of a big fleshy payday. You want some enemies eradicated? Want ‘em literally scoured from the surface of the earth? Get yourself in contact with some ghouls and offer them access to a dozen head of live cattle or horses or sheep and you’ll have a company’s worth of savage killing machines at your disposal.
I raced to the door and peered out through the blind. I counted six ghouls outside scrambling around trying to pick up Charlotte’s scent. Each was hunched over like Gollum. Each was partially clad in human clothing; three with torn shirts and nothing else, three with ripped up trousers and no shoes and one who was completely naked. Not that ghouls have boy or girl parts to hide. I spotted multiple creatures in the trees; branches shook as more and more of the monsters appeared bathed in moonlight.
“Sparks, we’ve got company!” I said, trying not to sound like was seriously contemplating crapping in my pants. “And they’re not human.”
She scrambled out of her cot, her Glock at the ready. She lifted the blind with the barrel of her gun and gazed out into the darkness. I spotted more flashes of movement when a ghoul suddenly appeared at the window. Sparks reacted with immediate effect. She fired two rounds into the creature and it dropped like a sack of wet laundry.
“What the hell did I just shoot, Reaper?” she choked as another ghoul swung its body in through the broken window. I fired a round from my Beretta that took the top of the creature’s head off. It fell to the floor and twitched a few times.
“Ghouls,” I barked as Charlotte raced up behind me and wrapped her arms around my waist. “They’re huge assholes!”
She fired another three rounds and shouted, “Anything else I need to know about them?”
I fired a round straight into the face of another ghoul as it dove at the window. “Yeah, they’re savage and they’ll show us no mercy. We have to kill every last one of them because they won’t stop!”
I counted another dozen or more ghouls emerge from the tree line. Each was wearing a tanned overcoat with a hood folded back behind their heads. I looked closer to see that hoods were tanned human faces still attached to the skin of their entire upper bodies. One of the ghouls pulled a hood over its head and it looked like a human grotesquery; an overcoat made of human flesh. A hood made from a human face; the hair all brittle and grey. The ghoul motioned for a group of monsters to follow and they immediately went for the broken window. Behind me, I could hear ghouls pounding on the locked metal door. I didn’t know how long it would hold until they broke through.
Sparks emptied her gun at the infantry squad-sized cluster of ghouls who raced at the window. I joined in; each of the bullets from our guns tore into the monsters ripping large chunks of flesh from their bodies. To our horror, a trio of ghouls immediately threw themselves at the freshly dead bodies of the ghoul’s Sparks and I had just ended and started ripping handfuls of bright red meat from the dead ghoul’s bodies. They stuffed their faces; gore and bits of flesh fell from their chins and onto their bellies.
“Maybe if we hit enough of them the rest will want to dine out!” Sparks shouted.
I fired off another quick round that hit a ghoul in the chest with enough force that it spun around like a top.
I could feel Charlotte trembling against my waist. “There’s so many of them, Mister R!” she cried out.
Behind us, the sound of smashing glass. I pivoted and fired a pair of rounds into the throat of a ghoul that was no more than three feet away from Charlotte. She screamed as it clawed at its neck; blood poured from its mouth and dripped onto the floor. It fell back, still clawing and scratching at its throat and a fired another round that split its head wide open like a melon.
“Keep your eyes closed tight, kid,” I ordered as I snatched Charlotte under one arm and fired a round at a ghoul that was just about to dig into Sparks. “We need to move, Sparks!”
She blasted away at another pair of the monsters as they crashed through the roof of the administration building. They fell hard onto the top of a desk; one on top of the other. Sparks fired two more rounds straight into their heads and the creatures stopped twitching.
“What are those things?” Charlotte cried out.
“More bad guys, kid,” I grumbled as I cracked open the front door and peered out into the darkness. The grounds surrounding the dorms and the mess hall were swarming with ghouls; each one as lethal as the next. Sparks’ SUV wasn’t more than fifty feet away from where I was standing. We’d have to shoot our way to her vehicle and drive like hell out of the camp because there were now too many ghouls scrambling around to count.
Sparks glanced through the crack in the door. “We’re going to have to fight our way out of here, Reaper,” she said grimly. “Unless you can do something like you did at the beach.”
I threw her a pained look. “Might be worth a try. Maybe. There’s so damned many of them – I counted at least forty not including the ones that we shot.”
“Don’t go out there, Mister R,” Charlotte said with a sharp edge of panic to her voice.
“We don’t have a hell of a lot of options here, kid,” I muttered as I let her down. “We can try to shoot our way to Sparks’ car but there’s no guarantee we’ll make it. Ghouls are lightning quick.”
She threw her arms against my waist and sobbed. “I don’t want you to die, Mister R. Too many people have died because of me.”
If I’d been sitting on the fence about stepping outside into the night and facing the creatures, that last statement from Charlotte made the decision to risk everything easy. I grabbed her by the waist and placed Charlotte in front of me as I knelt and looked her straight in the eye. “I won’t die, Charlotte. This body might, but I won’t die. I’m like Doctor Who. Do you ever watch that show on TV?”
She blinked. “You mean the one about that crazy scientist in the blue box?”
I nodded. “That’s the one. See, he’s a Time Lord. An alien species, right? And whenever a Time Lord’s body gets too damaged they regenerate into a new and healthy body. You know that I’m not entirely human, kid. If those ghouls destroy this body, I always come back with a new body. That’s how it works with me.”
Sparks fired a round through the crack in the door. “They’re circling, Reaper. We need to make our move ASAP or we’re all dead.”
Charlotte’s eyes were filled with tears and I felt my throat tighten a little bit. I knew that when I stepped out that door, there was about a 95% chance that Scott Richter’s body would wind up as a buffet item for the ghouls. And there was also the matter of their being demons with their own dark power that rivalled that of angels or even higher placed demons like Abraxas. There was a real risk the creatures could destroy the ancient power that fueled my existence. I’d barely survived a battle with the angel Sariel. Ghouls weren’t angels, but they were still supernatural beings. I could possibly wind up erased entirely.
“I’m going out there, Charlotte,” I said, placing both hands on her shoulders. “I’m going to run like hell to the wood line and draw as many of those ghouls away from you. As soon as Sparks sees that it’s clear, I want you guys to make a break for her SUV and drive like hell out of here. If my essence isn’t destroyed, I’ll find you both. I promise.”
“Don’t go!” Charlotte pleaded as she hugged me tightly. I pulled the little girl close and whispered in her ear.
“I got this, Charlotte.”
Sparks leaned over and picked the girl up. Charlotte cried into the detective’s shoulder as I quickly checked to see that all my remaining magazines of nine millimeter were full.
“I’d better see you again, Reaper,” said Sparks as she stepped back from the door. I grabbed the handle and gave it a sharp turn.
“Great, now she chooses the moment to tell me that she’s fallen in love with me,” I griped. Sparks rolled her eyes.
And so, I went outside. The last thing I heard as I closed the door behind me was the sound of Charlotte sobbing.