Short Story – Just another day

“Alright, we’ll get the camera rolling in a minute here. It’s important to us that you act natural. Don’t think about the recording. Just talk to me like you would to a friend or family member. We’re not here to distract you from your work, we just want to document it.”

Phil nodded, but kept his eyes on the road. He’s been in the pest control business for a long time, but never had he been this nervous. Fame has never been a goal he longed for, yet here he was, praised as one of the best in his company and chosen for this independent documentary.

The camera man sat in the back seat. He would film them on the way to Phil’s first call of the day, while Jacque Releaux, sitting in the passenger seat, would ask him questions about the job. Releaux wasn’t world famous, but he created two documentaries about local industries that have been screened in the downtown cinema, which made him basically an in-town celebrity.

Phil remembered him from High School. They weren’t friends by any means, but it was a small school where everyone at least recognized each other. His name was Jacob back then, and Phil was sure he changed his last name, too, just to appear more interesting as a film producer. Jacob was a popular kid, he always looked younger than his peers yet somehow girls flocked to him. They thought he was cute, but Phil was convinced this was more a protective mother instinct rather than romantic attraction. Nevertheless, Jacob was always surrounded by the prettiest teenage girls in town. All his rejects would then inevitably seek shelter on the shoulders of the likes of Phil. This was how most of their generation met their spouses.

He noticed a red light appear in his rear view mirror. The camera man steadied the machine on his shoulder.

“How long have you been doing this job?” Releaux asked with a hint of a foreign accent he probably practiced ever since they graduated.

“Uhm, about ten or eleven years.”

“That’s quite a long time. What motivates you to keep doing it?”

“It pays well and, uhm, people tend to be very grateful when I finish a job. It’s nice when they thank you with a smile, you know? Especially the kids”, Phil chuckled. “Some of them apparently look up to me. They want to be like me when they grow up, they say. It’s adorable.”

“Do you have kids yourself?”

Phil hesitated. The face of a young boy flashed inside his mind; smiling and laughing. Then the boy’s eyes lost their happy shine and changed into a stare frozen in terror; surrounded by a thick, dark red liquid. That face wouldn’t fade away. It was silent yet the image in his mind screamed at Phil.

“Sorry, change of subject”, Releaux tore him back into the present. “We’ll cut that out. Tell me what our first call today is about. What should we expect?”

Phil signaled and turned left. There was no traffic on the road, it was a typical quiet Sunday. People stayed inside and spent time with their families; at least until some pest disrupted their peace and Phil got to take care of it, returning the calm back into the family home.

“First call of the day”, Phil began, still stiff from that memory, “and it’s for a big one. Not an unusual call, nothing in this line of work is ever unusual to us, but maybe you’ll find it interesting. When it comes to tiny critters, my work is very boring and straight-forward: Set a trap, wait it out, and collect the bodies. Which isn’t really a spectacle to witness and makes people think they could have done it themselves. What they don’t know is that there’s still plenty to go wrong and I’ve seen it all. People taking care of things themselves, trying to save a few bucks or just being too stubborn to call a professional. They all end up hurt in one way or another.”

“And for this call, you will not set any traps?”

“In this case I will need to…how do you say…grab the bull by its horns? There will be a direct altercation. It depends on the specific type of pest to determine how messy it will get, but I doubt it will be too exciting to watch.”

“Is it going to be dangerous?”

“There’s always a risk involved”, the memory of the boy interrupted his thought process. The frozen stare lingered for a second, then Phil continued, “but I haven’t had any trouble in several years now, and I doubt this will be any different. That’s the thing, really, what seems exciting to newcomers and people outside of the profession, is actually boring and monotonous labour. Just another day, you know?”

Phil parked the car across an old, wooden house. It was one of those homes with a garage bigger than the actual building it was attached to. That’s where the nest would be, Phil thought, either that or the attic. He hoped to find the troublemaker in the garage. The low ceilings of common attics always proved to be difficult for a man of six-foot.

A middle-aged woman and her daughter stood outside the house near the front door. When the three men left the car, she approached them quickly.

“Oh thank god, it’s in the attic!” She yelled.

“Anyone else still in the house, ma’am?”

“My husband! He said he could take care of it himself. Said we didn’t need to get ripped off by some blue-collar charlatan. I heard him struggle and called you guys immediately.”

Releaux approached the woman, his eyebrows forming a concerned look on his face. He placed his right hand on her shoulder, gently touching her knitted sweater.

“We are accompanying this gentleman for a documentary”, he said to her. “With your permission, we would like to record this man in action.”

“Do whatever the hell you want. Just get that thing out of my house!”

“Will you save my papa?” The young girl’s eyes were red from crying.

Phil kneeled down and gave her a reassuring smile. He knew he shouldn’t make any promises without knowing all the details of the situation. But he couldn’t help it. The kid needed some hope.

“Sure thing, I will take care of it and you’ll be able to sit down for dinner with your mom and dad in no time.”

He went back to the van and opened the back door. His colleagues liked to fill the whole vehicle with all kinds of equipment. But Phil worked with such precision that all he needed was in his toolbox. The red metal box wasn’t tiny, though. It was three feet long in order to fit the necessities inside. Phil grabbed the box and approached the front door.

“Stay back a couple steps if you don’t want to be in the splash zone.”

Phil entered the house and found himself in the living room. There wasn’t much of a foyer, just a little square of hardwood floor before an ever expanding carpet. He could see the kitchen through an open doorway, and to his right was a staircase. The TV in the living room was still on; some kind of sports channel flickered through the highlights of the week. Other than that it seemed peaceful inside, and that to Phil was a problem.

“I don’t hear a ruckus upstairs”, he said, shaking his head. “The father might be in trouble. Couldn’t handle it himself after all.”

Phil led the film duo up the carpet-stairs. The second floor consisted of a tight hallway, two bedrooms, and a washroom. He looked up and found the trapdoor to the attic. Dad must have pulled the door shut so it wouldn’t escape, Phil thought. He didn’t need to jump to catch the string attached to the trapdoor. When he pulled on it, a wooden ladder folded slowly towards the ground. Phil turned towards the crew and eyed them skeptically.

“Think you can climb up with that thing on your shoulder?”

“Ignore the camera, Phil”, warned Releaux. “What’s your approach?”

“Right, so we’re about to go up to the attic. The monster will be up there and it might have caught the father. I can’t be certain if he’s still alive, but that’s what happens when you don’t let a professional do the job.”

Phil put down his toolbox and unlatched it. He pulled the top and it unfolded into two separate compartments full of little gadgets and phials containing various coloured liquids. But he ignored them and went straight for the center of the box. Phil pulled out a large broadsword and felt its weight in his right hand. He twirled it around with his wrist to get used to it again. His colleagues preferred to use range weapons. Those would do the job, but with fast moving targets, always ended up in too much collateral damage.

“I really don’t know why you think this is worthy of a full documentary”, Phil said shaking his head while he inspected the edges of his sword. “It’s just another day as a monster slayer.”

Phil climbed up the ladder. The attic was dim but he could make out the shapes of a few support beams and a maze of cardboard boxes, some of them covered in blankets. Dust scratched his lungs as he moved forward towards the faint sound of slurping. After a few steps he noticed a shape in front of him. Its dark-grey skin served as great camouflage in this environment. The creature was crouched over its recent prey and at first too busy to notice Phil. Then suddenly, its enormous ears turned around.

The monster stood up quickly and faced Phil. Its lanky body was only about a foot shorter than his. Phil raised his sword as the creature spread out its bony arms, unfolding a mass of webbed skin that stretched from its elbows to the knees on each side. The wrinkly snout that took up the entirety of its face moved in a semi-circle, sniffing the dusty air around it. When it flashed its fangs, Phil stepped forward with a mighty swing.

It leapt toward him and then suddenly changed direction mid-air. Phil’s sword cut through the empty space. He braced his footing and swung again in the opposite direction. As he predicted, the creature tried to counter attack immediately and it received a blow from the blade. As the beast flung backwards, Phil gripped the hilt with both hands and prepared for a downward slash to stop the next attack. But it didn’t come. He lost the monster in the dark. It would have been angry and tried to strike again. Yet, it seemed smart enough to wait for a better opening.

Phil held his sword tight. Normally he would have predicted the monsters movement with ease; these things weren’t intelligent life forms and just followed their primal instincts. Maybe the whole documentary thing made him nervous and overthink his reactions. No, it wasn’t that, he thought. It’s the boy. He’s in my head again.

There should have been another attack already, yet nothing came. If it’s not coming at me, he thought, it’s because it found easier prey.

Phil tried to find his way back to the trap door. He passed the father’s body on the floor and turned left in a hurry. A faint light in the distance came through the crack of the trapdoor.

“Everything alright up there?”

“It’s all good. Just a Vampire”, replied Phil relieved to hear the vague accent alive and well. “I’m guessing you closed the door in time before it could flee.”

“We didn’t close the door. We thought you pulled it up.”

“Oh, alright, I get it. It’s a smart one, this bugger. Thinks it can trap me in here like it did with DIY-Dad over there.”

“Is the father with you? Describe the situation for us.”

“I’ll check on him later. You guys stay put and don’t come up until I’m done, please. I have to go wack a giant bat.”

Phil’s mind was racing with the possibilities of the Vampire’s location. He basically stumbled upon it earlier when it was distracted. However, now it was alert to his presence and actively tried to stay concealed. Not only that, but with the enormous snout the creature could sniff out its prey even in pitch blackness.

“Then I’ll just make sure you can’t smell where I am”, Phil whispered to himself.

He ripped one of the blankets off of a tower of cardboard boxes. The boxes wobbled but stayed upright. With dramatic movements, Phil waved the blanket around, creating a cloud of dust. He found another blanket and did the same thing until his body was sprinkled with these particles. This wouldn’t make him “invisible” to the Vampire, but might affect its precision enough for Phil to strike first.

Minutes passed in the dark. Phil sat there quietly, whirling the blanket every now and then to keep the dust swirling. Patience was part of the job, but this time he was preoccupied with memories that he couldn’t shake off. He was glad he wasn’t facing a Mind-Eater right now.

Phil felt the dust whirl around him as a shadow passed through the air. The Vampire crashed into a stack of boxes and frantically tried to get out. When Phil saw its ugly snout appear between the boxes, he stabbed his sword into the pile. A shriek of pain pierced his ears as his blade ruptured the monsters flesh. It crawled out of the cardboard avalanche, the sword still stuck in its face. The Vampire tried to pull away, but the sword stayed buried inside the snout. With both hands on the hilt, Phil pushed the blade in further and turned the hilt into a horizontal position, then pulled the sword out to the side. Blood sprayed across the attic as the creatures head was split. The blankets Phil dropped on the floor became a canvas of red rain.

Phil stood above the carcass of the beast. He reached inside his pants pocket and pulled out a phial. He didn’t keep this one in his toolbox. It wasn’t sanctioned by his company or the government. Phil opened the phial and let a single drop of the amber liquid fall into the Vampire’s open wound.

“So it was a Vampire? Like in the movies?”

Phil entered the main street, heading downtown for the next call. His hands were still sticky from the blood and made turning the steering wheel uncomfortable.

“No, not like in the movies”, he said with a sigh. “It’s nothing magical. Most monsters are just big animals, you know? Vampires in particular don’t have eyes, their faces are basically just giant, wrinkled snouts. And no, they don’t use echolocation like normal bats. Real Vampires would actually be better compared to moles, if it weren’t for the wings and the drinking blood.”

“And the father survived, but the monster had bitten him. Will the father not turn into a Vampire, too, or is this just a myth as well?”

He attempted a parallel parking job near the building of the next call for pest control. The cars behind him started honking because he blocked the entire lane. Phil gave up and hoped to find a better spot around the block.

“Yeah, experts can’t decide on that one yet. There were some cases of people acting strange or more aggressive after a Vampire attack. But it could just be some type of rabies or something. Or maybe they were assholes before but no one paid attention to that until after they were bitten. What do they call that? Confirmation bias? I don’t know, anyway, we haven’t seen a human turn into a Vampire yet, so we can’t prove it.”

“Then why assume it at all and not just dismiss it as fairy tales? Shouldn’t the Board of Wildlife and Monsters educate the public if they have all the scientific data?” Relaux’s voice was full of genuine curiousity. “You said it yourself, they are just big animals.”

“That is true, but there is some room for doubt. For example, sometimes when I had to deal with a Vampire call, I ended up going back to the same place a few months later, killing another one. And every time that happened, a family member had been missing. This could be pure coincidence. Maybe the family was dysfunctional from the start and that person would have ran away no matter what. There’s also a chance that killing one Vampire opens up territory for a new one. But until we know for sure, I wouldn’t be surprised if I’d come back to that place from today and find that DIY-Dad hadn’t been home for a while.”

He pulled into a parkade. Phil would have to pay a big sum for a parking spot here but at least the company would compensate him for it. The van twirled around the ramp until they reached the fourth level and finally found an open spot. They stayed inside the car to finish off the interview.

“Fascinating,” said Releaux after a short pause. “What do you think the experience would feel like to be the first to witness such a transformation occur? How would you feel about killing a monster and having it turn back into a human?”

Phil saw him again. The vision. The memory. Blue eyes and a frozen stare. The boy was drowning in his own blood. His mother grabbed his lifeless body, shook him, violently, tried anything to make him move again. What did you do to our boy, Phil? What did you do to our boy?

“If that were the case”, he let his fingers instinctively feel for the phial in his pocket, “I would do anything to ensure it would never happen again.”

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