Warning: This work has been rated 16+ for language and violence.
Hello, and welcome to chapter five of "We, Cryptids". As always, I'll be tagging all entries as Action/Horror as those are the primary genres of the story, even if each individual chapter does not reflect this. Thanks, and enjoy!
"Pepper. Your name is Pepper, got it?" The small pup didn't respond. Of course it hadn't, it was a dog. Dog's don't tend to speak very often.
Holden tried and failed to ignore the obvious issue with the picture before him. Last night, he had rolled the animal up like a burrito, confined within layers of cushioned blankets to provide it more warmth. Having given it his sandwich, he'd expected the meal to stave away Pepper's hunger, for a time. What he had not expected was for the pup's previously malnourished stomach to now be healthy and full. Figuring it to be a trick of the light, his observations would be vindicated after a trip to the veterinarian office revealed the dog to be free of ailment or injury.
From this, Holden derived two possibilities. Either Pepper was, as he put it, "weird as a bitch", or he had done something peculiar. Something that seemingly released her from the damage dealt by the long, cold nights she spent alone and at the mercy of the elements. Even without being able to pin down the root cause of this strange occurrence, the one thing he could not deny was the sweetness she displayed. His apartment wasn't crafted to house a dog, but Pepper scampered around with unlimited energy all the same, her tiny legs carrying her forward while she wagged her tail and let her tongue dangle from her mouth. She slept, drank, and ate, as any good dog should, and even Holden would admit that the striking magenta collar he bought for her made her appear quite dapper.
For a while he sat, placed squarely in the middle of the living room in a crisscross position. He would dully toss a light-yellow tennis ball back and forth, watching Pepper give chase, barking in protest whenever he attempted to retrieve it from her. Nonetheless, when she did submit, he would lazily fling it once more in some arbitrary direction. It bounced once, sometimes twice or even thrice, and settled again. As heavy, breathless pants were finally embedded within the pup's vocabulary, she curled up at Holden's feet like a rug, snoring as countless dreams of chew-toys and treats blessed her.
Holden would spend the rest of the day phoning his clients in the neighborhood, explaining that his services would be put on hold for an indefinite time. Beyond that, he packed basic supplies like clothes, hygienic materials, and dog toys into his black duffel bag. By then, dusk had arrived, splashing the sky-scape with mixtures of brilliant orange and elegant mauve. A baby carrier was strapped to the front of his chest, holding Pepper firmly against him. She was still weary, smacking her lips occasionally as she'd awaken every so often, only to drift away again immediately after.
This time, Holden had remembered to account for the lower temperatures. A light jacket, navy-blue in color, adorned his arms and torso. He'd been sure to select a chest-carrier with warm-cotton insulation, such that Pepper could be surrounded by a substance resembling the welcoming embrace of a cloud. For them both it was enough, enough to travel outside comfortably until they arrived at their destination. There in front of Crispy McGee's, the restaurant Holden had eaten with Melony at, was a medium-sized, several-year-old SUV. Standing outside of the white vehicle was she, leaning against the driver's door and fiddling with her lip and nose piercings to pass the time.
As she saw Holden approach, her aquamarine eyes lit up and she jumped up and down, waving her arms around to gain his attention despite already having it.
"Hey, hey, over here! Over here! What's that on your chest? Oh my- is that a..."
She bolted over, nearly toppling Holden. She opened her mouth as if to yawn, only to release a short-winded gasp while pressing her hands against her cheeks, eyes sparkling with adoration.
"Puppyyyyy! Oh my god it's so CUTE! You didn't tell me you had a dog, why didn't you mention that? That's the FIRST thing you should have mentioned, kiddo! And it's strapped to your chest like a BABY, oh my GOODNESS, you look like a MOTHER! A big strong mother taking care of her soft, little itty bitty helpless puppy. I mean it's so fitting, when I first saw you I also thought you looked like a helpless puppy, and now you're the one handling another helpless puppy, oh my GOD it's like helpless puppy inception, isn't it amazi-"
She stopped yammering as Holden grunted in aggravation and firmly bonked her on the head.
"Quit yapping, I'm here for a reason, not a show and tell. And stop being so loud, damn it... you'll wake Pepper up," he remarked, mumbling that last bit under his breath."
"Right, okay, whatever you say, puppy lover. Pepper is just the cutest name by the way... You can't blame me for getting excited, kid~"
She sighed and took Holden by the arm, practically dragging him to the passenger side of the vehicle before opening the door and tossing him inside. Marching back to the driver's side, she dusted off her violet turtleneck sweater that was clearly much too big for her, its sleeves extending to the midsection of her hands at any given point in time. With a click of her black sandals, she stepped foot into the car, entered her keys into the ignition, and hit the road.
"So it really took you a whole week to call me, kid. What, do I intimidate you?"
"I had to get my affairs in order."
"Forgot, you're the world's busiest seventeen-year-old boy. Say, you want me to turn on the A.C? Put on some music?"
"What I want is to hear what we're doing moving forward. One of the only reasons I'm coming with you is because you told me you'd be paying me enough to keep up rent while I'm away from home. Before all else, I want to be clear. That wasn't a lie, was it?"
Melony chuckled, using one hand to guide the wheel and placing the other on her chest, finding amusement in Holden's bold questioning. "Christ, is this an interrogation? Are we in court? Fine, I'll say it under oath. I, Melony Harper, do solemnly swear on my honor, that kiddo... Holden Cauthwell, receives a monthly income of three thousand dollars. Consider it a paid internship."
"You really don't need to be such a pain in the ass, can't you take one thing seriously?"
"WHAT? I just swore under oath! If I were lying, you could sue me or even take me to jail, what's more serious than that?"
Holden gritted his teeth and rubbed Pepper's temple, using her to release some of the stress and annoyance pent up as a product of Melony's bullshit.
"So, what are we even going to do? Like, am I going to school...? Cryptid hunter academy or something? What's our next step?"
"School? Heavens no, were you not listening?! I said a paid internship. I-n-t-e-r-n-s-h-i-p. You're gonna be hanging with me and my gang, chillin and learning with the greatest hunters to ever exist. You're getting quite the deal, y'know. Most people could never dream of being in the presence of me and my crew, we're very selective of who we let in!"
"So selective that you're allowing a seventeen year old with no experience in?"
"HEY, LISTEN UP! INTERNSHIP! INTERNNNNN... SHIPPP! INTERNS AREN'T EMPLOYEES-"
Her eyes widened as she realized her yelling would awaken Pepper. Luckily, Holden had seen her outburst coming, placing both hands over the pup's ears in preparation. A cold glare from him was more than enough to make Melony chuckle half-heartedly and sink into her seat, looking somewhat ashamed.
"Sorry... okay, look. Just consider it on the job training. You want to uncover the nature of your powers, right? Well, sitting in some wack ass classroom isn't the way. Your abilities are like a muscle. You need to exercise and push it to its limits to strengthen it. Problem is, right now you don't even know where that muscle is or what it does. Sending you off to some lecture on how to use your powers would be like trying to explain how to run to someone who isn't aware of what their legs are or do. Get it?"
"Okay... so I need to have some inkling of what I can do and how to do it before anything else. And that'll happen how, exactly?"
"Easy! You claimed you used your abilities first back at the creepy little house we met at. I can all but guarantee they manifested at a very emotional, stressful time. That's almost always the case when someone is undergoing their first awakening. So, we'll repeat the process. Throw you into anxiety-inducing scenarios, and let your mind and body get to work!"
For a moment, Holden considered her explanation. He thought back to that day, as well as how Pepper's body had seemingly recovered overnight. Surely that was no natural occurrence. Had he done something akin to Melony's description? Utilized a muscle he wasn't even aware of, in a way he couldn't explain? He pondered over it, wondering what that could possibly imply about his abilities. Surely, they weren't built upon a foundation of "healing". He certainly wasn't repairing the body of the seaweed monster when the lights were flickering and he was bashing its skull in. Still, he didn't bring it up, as the meaning of what Melony was suggesting had set in on him.
"So, you're about to feed me to more cryptids like a piece of human bait?"
"Exactly, kiddo! You're just a baby who's first learning to move its arms and legs. One who can just barely stay afloat in the kiddie pool. I'm about to dunk you straight into the deep-end... relatively speaking. Don't worry, I'm taking you to handle a lower level cryptid, much like the one you already encountered."
"I'm sorry, what? That crazy television ghost thing was a low level one?"
"Yep! Slow, weak, basic and straightforward supernatural abilities. You got lucky. Dealing with a "level one cryptid" like that could tear down a few houses. Taking on a "level five cryptid" though... well, now we're talking about cities being potentially reduced to ash, with hardly a trace of their existence to speak of. That's if they're not put down properly. Few hunters can handle those. Not that it's a problem for me, though. I'm just sayin for your information."
"Wait, they're so strong... yet I survived against that one, even if it was weak. It attacked me and I lived. How...?"
"Like I said, your abilities briefly awakened due to the stress. Also, it's worth noting that cryptids and hybrids being near each other has a strange effect. Essentially, their close proximity strengthens the supernatural ability within them. To cryptids, this means they're much more likely to manifest or show themselves when close to a hybrid or another cryptid. For hybrids like you, you'll be able to subconsciously reach into your dormant power. This will also be aided by the stress you'll experience in those encounters. As you grow more badass and experienced like a certain someone in the car with you, you'll be able to consciously use your techniques."
"And once I can begin consciously using them, that's when training becomes an option."
"Mhm! You'll then be a real hunter trainee, and I'll even give you a slot within my cool faction!"
"So there are like, groups of cryptid hunters then? Am I reading that correctly?"
"You'd be right, kiddo. There are many groups like that, most of them small and unorganized. Though there are four recognized as major factions for their power and influence, and guess what?! My faction is one of them... even if we're smaller in numbers. Still, quality over quantity, that's what I say!"
After a while of driving and conversation, the car came to a stop in a desolate area. Stepping out, Holden was surrounded by wind and fields of grass stretching as far as the eye could see. In front of him, though, stood an empty and decrepit hospital, several stories tall in height. Melony exited the car as well, giving Holden a pat on the back.
"Smell that kiddo? That's the whiff of freedom and opportunity! I've got reports of a cryptid inside of that building, and I want you to deal with it, ya hear?"
"Wait... you're not helping me?"
"This is a bullshit internship..."
"Hey, it's a bullshit PAID internship, mind you! It won't be so bad, just go in there and kick ass. I'll be waiting out here, so... if shit gets bad, just scream "HEEELLLLPPP" for a while or something. If I'm not taking a nap, I'll come to your rescue."
"Thanks, that's real useful..."
"I thought so!"
With a groan, Holden removed the chest carrier from around his body and handed Pepper off to Melony, who's eyes and smile were a little too wide with anticipation. Still, Holden stepped foot towards the entrance of the hospital, peering into the dark abyss that stood behind the glass doors. Slowly, he reached out and grasped the metal handle.
Holden jumped slightly and turned his head in Melony's direction, his gaze piercing her like a dagger.
"Sorry kiddo, just had to. Relax, you got this! Get those nerves out of your system and uh... give me a generational performance or something!"
Not even bothering to reply, Holden released a grumble and pushed the door open, stepping inside. As he did so, his body disappeared from sight and he entered the black void ahead.