The one you've all been waiting for. With fear in your unworthy hearts.
The author, in profile.
Long ago – even before the advent of “The Demons of Buttcracke County” - in the American heartland there lay a dozen empty beer bottles on a table scattered among the remains of a large meal.
“After dinner 'warm-ups,'” the kilted guy called the beers. "So's we don't tear a muscle when we put on the big boy pants and get to the real drinking," he said to the assembled men sitting contentedly around the table.
Their bellies full after a dinner of Kansas City's finest steaks and accompanying sides, basking in a paleo-glow and puffing on after dinner cigars, the beers were taking their good old time getting absorbed and the assembled men were only now beginning to feel a very slight buzz.
"Fellow Knights of the Burger Gothic,” Kilt stood and announced, “we must now quest for the holiest of holies - God's gift to man. I speak not of the grail, but of the only drink fit for men of our ilk. The gin and tonic. The only drink suitable to toast the upcoming nuptials of our fellow knight, Mr. Murphy."
The quest itself was short, as such quests go: the bar was but a few paces away. The large man bellied up to the bar, caught the attention of the shapely bartender and said, "Young lady, we are Knights of the Burger Gothic and we are on a quest. A quest for the most sublime of libations, the perfect gin and tonic."
She smiled, thinking, 'Oh shit, here we go' and replied in a flat Midwestern accent "Sure thing, we've got a great selection of gins and – “
The big man cut her off, abruptly slapping two one-hundred dollar bills down on the bar, "Now, here is what I need,” he said. “Two glass pitchers, a fine strainer, a potato masher, a half dozen limes and an unopened bottle of Bombay Sapphire gin. Can me and my pals Benjamin and Benjamin get those?" he asked with a wide grin and a wink.
"Ummmm, sure, okay,” the bartender said, scooping up the bills. Bartenders tend to see some weird shit, but these were late middle-aged guys, probably mostly harmless, and the tip after the cost of the bottle should leave almost a hundred dollars in her pocket. She could put up with a lot of weird from mostly harmless guys for a hundred bucks. Especially on a relatively slow night.
"Darlin', and, ahem, alleged gentlemen,” the big man in the kilt said to the curious bartender and diverse group of men surrounding him at the bar. “The key to a sublime gin and tonic is not just in the choice of gin, but in the preparation of the gin,” he said in a very bad faux English accent, dropping half a dozen halved limes into one of the two large glass pitchers.
“I give you Excalibur!” he said, raising the potato masher over his head. He plunged the masher down and proceeded to 'excaliburize' the limes with merry gusto. "Macerating the limes is key," he grunted.
“He said ‘macerate,” one of the onlookers snickered.
The big man punished the guiltless limes for a few moments more until Steven Murphy - Murph to everyone - stocky build, medium height, hair cut to military length, and obviously the youngest man of the group, said, "C'mon, Rhino, I think they've surrendered already."
"You may be right, Murph,” Rhino admitted, “but one can never be too sure. Hell, for all we know these could be Jihadi limes. Sneakin' over the border to sully our women and threaten the 'Merican way of life.” Rhino grunted and mashed, then stepped away and announced “Volia! The perfect base for God's gift to liquors - Bombay Sapphire."
“A’ chacun son goût,” Boylan – a short, olive skinned, balding man with the pronounced brow line and nose that just screamed ‘Greek Gene Pool’ - muttered at his place in front of the crowd of onlookers.
Rhino ignored the interruption, took the large blue bottle and emptied it into the pitcher, sending the pulp and rinds of the desecrated limes swirling in a whirlpool of gin. "Now, we let it rest a bit while we enjoy these wonderful cigars in celebration of my victory over the terrorist limes, and, of course, the upcoming nuptials of our man, Murph."
"Hell, Rhino, those limes looked guilty as hell,” said Andrew McKinney in a Texas drawl that was smooth as honey. “Y'all shoulda' put a bullet in 'em 'fore you mashed 'em,” McKinney, medium height, medium build, the kind of guy that you probably wouldn't pick out of a crowd except for the piercing blue eyes that seemed to look right through you - right down to the dark places in your soul that you should never let see the light of day. That wasn’t a bad super power to have, especially if you happened to be one of the top legal eagles in Houston, Texas. Texas, where the only thing tougher than the laws were the men plying its trade.
"I must insist that you stop this shameless and possibly illegal display," Boylan shouted. "I didn't hear you Mirandize those poor limes. I've half a mind to take their case and sue all of you. And I mean all of you - even you –“ Boylan said, thrusting his finger at a complete stranger – “for violating their citrus rights. I would, that is, if I could be assured that they were wealthy limes that could afford my hourly rate or, if not, that any of you have any assets worth seizing."
"Listen up, Boylan,” Rhino retorted. “We aren't in your socialist Republik of Kalifornia. We are in 'By God, Missoura' and I cannot countenance that kind of commie talk about these obviously jihadist limes."
Boylan opened his mouth to respond but, before he could get a word out, the Bartender interrupted. “What is a Knight of the Burger Gothic?” she asked. “Is that like the Knights of Columbus or the Elks or somethin’?”
Murph jumped in to explain. “We’re all fans,” he said, “of - well, actually, I work for him too - this Australian author who writes adventure novels and he calls his blog Cheeseburger Gothic. Regulars on the blog refer to themselves as Burgers. We’ve all been buddies, online, for years but this is the first time we’ve all met in person.”
The Bartender was nodding her head, but Murph could see that she was grokking only very little of what he said. Murph suspected that all the Bartender heard was, “books, nerds, nerds, kangaroos, nerds, more nerds and bookworms.”
“Anyway,” Murph continued. “I’m getting married in a couple of days, and we thought that it would be a great opportunity to get together.”
The Bartender, turning her head to the side like that dog in the RCA logo listening to the record, “Okay,” she said, “uh huh, well, sure, hey, any excuse for a party, right?”
“I hate to bust up this confab,” Rhino interjected, “but we’re ready for four large glasses, a pitcher of tonic, a bucket of ice and some fresh lime slices for garnish.”
The Bartender busied herself gathering the requested supplies and deposited them atop the bar.
“Now, the key is to combine all of the ingredients in the proper order,” Rhino instructed. “First, the tonic.” He said as he pours each glass one quarter full of tonic. “Then we add the prepared gin.” Taking the pitcher with the gin and limes, Rhino proceeded to pour the liquid through the strainer into the second pitcher. He then took the strained gin and filled each glass, leaving two inches between the gin and the top of the glass.
“Now, the ice,” Rhino said, taking a handful of ice and dropping it into the first of the glasses.
Battlemaster Lord Koudung Ur Hunn gave the forward signal and led the two Talon of Hunn and supporting Sliveen Scouts through the breach in the barrier separating the under realms from that of the cattle. Oh, he would bring back a sea of bloodwine and a veritable buffet of fresh man meat back to his Queen. Not to mention the accolades and glory that would be his.
Once through the barrier, the daemon horde found itself, not in the open air as that filthy Thresh reported earlier, but in some structure.
“Ahh,” thought Lord Koudung, “this must be one of the pens that the cattle shelter in. While I’ll miss the hunt, this will make it easier to procure fresh stock and return below to enjoy it all that much quicker.”
He ordered his Sliveen to disperse and scout out the whereabouts of the cattle. He then turned to the chore of forming up the lines of the Hunn Talons as they continued to emerge from the rift.
Soon one of the Sliveen returned and informed Lord Koudung that cattle had been located and they are large and fatted indeed. Images of the fatted cattle filled the Daemon Battlemaster’s mind and digestive acids filled his mouth, leaving him barely able to issue orders without drooling on his armor. Hefting his enormous battleax, he led his Hunn warriors to the field of impending glory.
The Sliveen Scouts Commander, having sent a messenger back to Lord Koudung, turned his attention back to the herd of cattle he was observing. One of the cows looked to be using a simple tool to smash something in a clear container. The other cows stood rapt, as cattle are wont to do, watching the bigger cow exert himself. “This will be like shooting Thresh in a Bloodpot,” thought the Sliveen Commander as he ordered his Scouts to silently disburse and choose lines of fire. He would bring down this herd before Lord Koudung could make it here and take the glory for himself. Directing the others to take other targets, he signaled that the exceptionally large one was for him, and him alone, to take.
Luckily, the largest one was not wearing leg coverings like the others. He would cripple the beast and let it live for a while to marinade in its terror. Then, he would take the ears for trophies. Lining up his shot, he pulled on the bow, feeling the reassuring resistance and let loose the first arrow that would change his career trajectory and bring notice from the Queen herself.
Just as Rhino began dropping ice into the glass he jerked, as if in pain, and threw the hand full of cubes all over the bar. Standing rigid he bellowed, “OW! MOTHERFUCKER! WHAT THE FUCKING FUCK WAS THAT?”
Looking down, Rhino saw an inch-long piece of wood protruding from his calf. “Motherfucker but that hurts,” he said. Reaching down, he tried to pull it out but felt resistance. Gritting his teeth, he pulled harder, skin stretching, and the sliver finally popped out. The tiny wound began to bleed freely. Examining the sliver of wood, Rhino saw a barbed point, akin to an arrowhead, at the tip of the splinter.
“Hey, guys, take a look at this –“ Rhino said in surprise, but stopped cold when he saw Murph, Boylan and McKinney all doing what looked like an Irish Jig, screaming and swatting at their arms and faces, inch long slivers of wood buried in their skin.
Rhino felt another bee sting, this time in his thigh. He looks down at the splinter piercing him and saw movement on the floor. “Whaaaaaaat the fuuuuuuck?” he said as he examined what looks like a six-inch tall praying mantis, only lots uglier, carrying what looked like a tiny long bow.
“What the fucking fuck,” he asks himself. “Is that a fucking praying mantis shooting tiny arrows at us? Jesus H. Christ - and I haven’t even had any gin yet.”
Rhino scooted his bulk around the bar and yelled, “c’mon guys take cover.” Murph, wasting no time, did a belly flop over the bar, crashing into the sink, sending a tray of dirty glasses waiting to be washed flying. McKinney and Boylan scampered like a couple of rodeo clowns being chased by an angry bull around the end of the bar and hunkered down on the floor. The remaining patrons in the bar ran screaming for the doors.
“It would appear that this establishment has a nasty infestation of insects,” Boylan said as he pulled on a splinter that was dangerously close to his left eye.
McKinney chimes in, “Hell, I thought we grew ‘em big in Texas.”
“I wonder how they taste?” Boylan asked, examining one of them up close.
Pulling Murph from the floor Rhino asked, “What the fuck are those things?”
“Arrow shooting praying mantises?” Murph responded. “Are you kidding? I’ve never seen anything like that before in my life and I grew up here.”
That’s when a high-pitched scream of sheer terror and pain reached them. “The Bartender! Where did she go?” Rhino demanded.
“No clue,” Boylan said, still scrutinizing one of the insects. Shrugs and nods from Murph and McKinney closed the circle of ignorance.
“Well, shit, we can’t leave her out there. Murph, you and Boylan go around the far side of the bar. McKinney and I will go out this side. Put the boots to those little motherfuckers.”
Murph and Boylan crawled to the other end of the bar. Boylan picked up a bottle of whiskey on his way to use as a cudgel if necessary. When they reached the end of the bar, Rhino yelled “Go!” and they all ran around to the front of the bar scanning for the Bartender.
The assembled Knights of the Burger Gothic froze and stared at the horrible tableau in front of them.
The bartender was sprawled on the floor at the far side of the bar closest to Murph and Boylan. The praying mantis ‘things’ were crawling all over her. Three of the things were hacking at her throat with - ‘are those axes?’ - and they must have hit something vital because there was blood streaming everywhere, coating the floor around her. Two more of the - ‘holy shit, not praying mantises, they’re monsters. Might as well call ‘em what they are,’ Rhino thought - were jamming longer versions of the arrows -‘spears?’- into her eyes. Was one of those things really reaching in and pulling out chunks of her eyeball and eating them? The Bartender was barely moving and her screams stopped, probably because of the gaping holes in her neck.
Rhino could feel his gorge rise, ‘Ah, hells no, are those other ones sticking their heads into her neck wounds and eating, too?’
Rhino and McKinney were startled out of their stupor by a piercing war cry that would have made Spartan King Leonides proud. Boylan, with his ancestral war face on, took three powerful strides forward and swung the whiskey bottle in an underhanded arc that caught one of the monsters, still perched and feeding on the girls face, with a solid CLUNK, sending it flying to splatter on the wall. Then Murph was there, reaching into the gore of the poor girl’s throat, pulling two of the creatures out.
“Nobody eats a bartender in my town!” he shouted, smashing the little monsters head-first into the top of the bar over and over again until they were nothing but black ichor pulp.
By this time McKinney and Rhino arrived. The remaining monsters, seeing the tide of battle turning, tried to retreat.
“I don’t think so,” Rhino said and moved to cut them off, so focused on the little bastards he didn’t see the trail of blood in his path. Wood covered in blood makes an ice-like surface. He skidded. Both of his feet went flying into the air in a spectacular back flop. The retreating Sliveen screamed in tiny terror as 350 pounds of Rhino came slamming down on top of them, squashing them flat.
McKinney leaned down offering Rhino a hand up. “Well, that’s certainly one way of doing it,” McKinny said.
Rhino stood and everyone just looked at each other in shock. Boylan was taking a healthy slug from the bottle cum weapon. Murph was wiping ichor from his hands with a bar towel. McKinney was over by the wall, toeing a smashed mantis-thing.
“Well, it looks like we got all of the little motherfuckers”, Rhino said looking at the mutilated body of the Bartender. “Hell, I didn’t even have a chance to get her name.”
That’s when they heard the rhythmic tapping of metal on metal and guttural growls coming from the other side of the room.
Lord Kuodung Ur Hunn stood at the head of his Talons, now arrayed neatly in battle order. It seemed that over the millennia the cattle had evolved some teeth as he had just seen the fattest of the cattle throw himself onto the retreating Sliveen. The cattle had inadvertently done the Battlemaster Lord a favor as it appeared that the Sliveen were running from the cattle and cowardice had just one reward - death.
This should be interesting. The scrolls said that the cattle would often curl up in terror upon seeing a Hunn Lord. Making it all that much easier to slice their throats and bathe in their bloodwine. The cattle were large, but stupid, and the Hunn were strong and the sight of that much meat on the hoof just made them that much more determined. “Remember the scrolls, cut the heels of the cattle and they will fall so that you can get at their throats.”
Lord Kuodung could feel the beat of the bloodsong that his great battleax was singing in anticipation of the coming slaughter. The beat worked its way through his great chest and down his arms and he began to rap the ax against his shield. His warriors took up the beat as well and lifted their voices in a guttural war chant. The bloodlust was on them now. Nothing would stop them from the glory to be found today.
Lord Kuodung Ur Hunn strode forward to recount his titles and glories to these cattle. This honor was to be their repayment for their dispatching of the cowardly Sliveen.
"Um, guys, you might want to take a look at this," an ashen-faced Murph said, pointing to the other side of the room. “I think the mantis guys had buddies. A lot of buddies.”
Rhino followed Murph's finger and saw what looked to be foot tall creatures, lined up in in an orderly fashion, - 'holy shit they look like Roman fighting squares.' - beating swords and axes against tiny shields and bellowing their little heads off. A bigger one was standing at the front of the squares, - ‘the boss monster maybe?’ The boss creature began to walk towards them. It took some time for him to get halfway across the room as its legs were so short. It stopped, raised its shield and battleax and began to chitter at them. "Is that thing talking to us?” asked Rhino, not turning his head away from the creature.
"My guess would be some sort of challenge." said Murph. Boylan nodded his concurrence, not taking the lip of the whiskey bottle from his mouth.
"McKinney, would you mind seeing if they have any 151 behind that bar?" asked Rhino.
McKinney walked backwards around the end of the bar and started sorting through the bottles, grabbled one and made his way back to the group. "This should do ya if y'all are going to do what I think y'all are going to do,” McKinney said.
Rhino nodded, "Great minds and all that. Can you open it up and stuff a rag in?"
McKinney grabbed a bar towel and ripped a couple of strips and stuffed them into the opening of the bottle leaving a couple of inches protruding from the top. He then upended it so that the exposed pieces of cloth were saturated with the alcohol.
"You guys need to grab whatever weapons you can,” Rhino said, taking the bottle from McKinney, “’cause it looks like the boss man is winding down and I suspect the shit will be hitting the fan when he gets done."
Emboldened by his earlier success, Boylan grabbed another bottle from behind the bar. “This aggression will not stand,” he said and stood ready with a bottle in each hand.
Murph grabbed a couple of oversized and wickedly sharp carving knives that passed for steak knives in Kansas City and readied himself next to Boylan. McKinney stood bare handed.
"McKinney, are you planning to cross examine them to death?" Boylan asked.
McKinney, pointing down to his boots, replied, "For these little bastards all I need are my trusty Texas shit kickers," he said.
The boss creature walked languidly back to the other creatures- 'his troops?' and turned to face them again. Rhino took this opportunity to fish his cigar lighter from his sporran and light the makeshift Molotov cocktail. The wick flared up bright blue as a new roar rose from the pack of creatures and they began running towards the men.
Rhino underhanded the Molotov cocktail. It landed and shattered just behind the boss creature spraying an arc of flaming rum over a large number of creatures and setting them on fire.
“I guess they aren’t fireproof,” Rhino opined over their high pitched screams.
“Smells a bit like chicken,” Boylan observed.
The trailing creatures that escaped the initial conflagration ran around the edges of the spreading pool of fire and continued to close.
"Okay, boys, we got lucky with that shot but there are a helluva lot more left," Rhino said realizing that he was now empty handed. Turning in panic he grabbed the only thing at hand, the sturdy potato masher still covered in lime pulp. 'Christ almighty am I'm about to fight monsters with a goddamned potato masher?' was the absurd thought he had as the line of monsters were crossing the last few feet between the two groups.
McKinney scored first blood as he stepped forward and punted one of the creatures across the room to splat against a wall with a sickening crunch. It burst like a tick and slid down the wall, leaving a black trail. The creatures surrounded McKinny and began to hack and stab at his boots. "These boots cost me a thousand bucks, you assholes, you better not scratch 'em." shouted McKinney as he began to Texas two-step them into oblivion.
Murph waded in, knives swinging in great arcs, each slice decapitating or rending one of the creatures in half. Black ichor splashing everywhere, covering his hands and forearms. One of the knives went flying away.
"Ow!“ Murph cried out in pain. “One of them cut me.” He put his bleeding thumb in his mouth out of instinct. Gagging on the taste of the black goop covering his hands he began to retch and vomited up his half-digested dinner all over the creatures attacking him. That seemed to take the fight out of the creatures for a moment and gave him a chance to spit out the last of the vomit, wipe his mouth with the front of this shirt and wade back into the fight.
Boylan was a Greek Whirling Dervish of Death with his bottles; smashing creatures left and right, swatting them away, their broken bodies flying through the air. He kept on a steady patter, speaking to the creatures, "How dare you invade our dinner party and disturb our Wa,” he shouted. “If there is anything I cannot abide, it is rudeness. And you <clunk> tiny <clunk> excuses for orcs <clunk> are very, <clunk> very <clunk> rude indeed." <clunk><clunk><clunk></clunk></clunk></clunk></clunk></clunk></clunk></clunk></clunk>
Rhino looked down to see the boss monster taking a great swing at the toe of his Doc Martens. The little battleaxe split the leather like butter and continued cutting down into his big toe.
"MOTHERFUCKER!" screamed Rhino, "That hurts like a BITCH." Raising the potato masher above his head he brought it down with a thud where the boss monster used to be. The little guy did a superhero flip away from the masher and came up striking Rhino's other foot with slightly different results. The little battleaxe again split leather and cut toe but this time it got stuck.
"YOU HAVE TO BE FUCKING KIDDING ME!' yelled Rhino bringing the potato masher up for another swing. This time the potato masher connected with the boss crushing him to the ground.
“HA! Got you, you fucking fuck!" Rhino bellowed.
Rhino gave the boss a few more mashes for good measure and stood up to take stock of the action and saw that the fight was dying down. Any of the creatures still alive were running back the way that they came. Murph, McKinney and Boylan chased them down, finishing those that they could reach. Some of the creatures disappeared down a back stairway, probably leading to the basement.
"Come back guys." called Rhino as Boylan started down the stairs. "We don't know how many more are down there."
The three men made their way back to the bar where Rhino sat down on a stool and removed his shoes. Neat cuts in the socks over his big toes revealed inch long gashes in the skin and the blood was turning the white socks red. "Do you know how much good kilt hose costs?" was all he said as he removed the hose and used them to put pressure on the cuts.
"Who in their right mind would have thought that Kansas City would have a Hellmouth?" Boylan asked, cracking open one of his ichor covered bottles and taking a long drink.
"I guess that would make you guys the Geriatric Scooby Gang then." Murph retorted while taking the bottle from Bolyan and taking a large swig.
Surveying the carnage McKinney drawled, "Boys, I don't know what the hell that was, but I'm thinking that we got a dead body over there, crispy critters over there and a buttload of squashed and cut up critters everywhere else and when the police get here we're going to have some 'splainin to do."
Opening the second bottle, as it appeared that Murph was not going to give up his death grip on the first, Boylan took another long drink and says, "Well, between all of the assembled dead creatures, the collective legal powers vested in us by the states of California and Texas and –“ Boylan pointed up at a security camera on the wall behind the bar, "- the footage from that security camera, that I hope is working, well, I think that we've got a pretty solid story," Boylan said as he began gathering up some of the dead insect warrior creatures.
"That's if the men in black don't show up first and they lock us in the loony bin," muttered Rhino.
Looking back at the bar Rhino saw that the gin and four glasses that he prepared earlier were untouched. Going behind the bar, he scoops up more ice and finishes filling the glasses. Grabbing a spoon he gives each a couple of stirs and garnishes the glasses with a slice of lime. Hearing sirens in the distance, he hands a glass to each of the men, and then holding his up he says, "To Murph and his upcoming nuptials."
"To Murph" McKinney and Boylan intone then all four drink until their glasses are empty and smash them to the floor.
"Holy shit, Rhino, I think that boss one is still alive." exclaimed Murph pointing at the creature. The creature’s chest was rising and falling in a belabored way.
Reaching into his sporran again, Rhino came up with a cigar and cutter. Snipping the end of the cigar he searched around for his lighter and found it behind one of the bar stools. Standing, he lit the cigar and took several long puffs. "Damn, but that's a fine stogie. I was saving it for a special occasion like this."
“Do you think they have a deep fryer in this place?” Boylan asked.
"Murph, I'm really sorry that your bachelor party got fucked," Rhino said as he stepped over to the boss creature. "But I know one monster that won't be crashing anymore parties." With that he puffed on the cigar until the tip was bright red then he reached down and put it out on the face of the boss monster. Black smoke rose as it burned its way through the thing's face down to its skull. He then took the potato masher and smashed its head. "That’s for the girl, Motherfucker" he said and spat on the dead, burning thing.
Waving the smoke from the burning creature from his face McKinney said, “Damn, if that doesn’t smell just like burning cow shit.”
The sound of the sirens was just outside now, the squealing of tires of rapidly decelerating cars and the opening and slamming car doors announcing the arrival of the local authorities.
Rhino turned to his fellow warriors, "Well gents, I think this is where our quest ends, at least for the moment. Do you think Cindy will bail us out? Oh, and Murph, you need to tell Birmo about this. This would make for one hell of a story. Only, you'd have to tell him to make the monsters a little bit bigger to make them reasonably scary. These things were pussies."