The call came in at 2:14 AM, a frantic voice pleading for help. Radislav was never the greatest judge of phone voices, but this one sounded like a soccer mom, probably about 40, Caucasian, with a radio in her minivan that consistently squeaked conservative talk shows.
“This is Radislav, what seems to be the problem?” Some kind of wolf was eating her dog. Could be his department, could just be a particularly vicious coyote.
“Did you hear chains rattling? Did it say anything? Did you smell cucumber?” Of course she didn’t notice, she was probably too focused on Rex being torn apart. The wolf had glowing eyes, though – green, not red.
“Right, calm down, give me an address.” Suburbs, out where all the road signs are composers. 1646 Debussy. “Got it.”
The Monsieur Café blinked a warm-up light while Radislav checked his car. Tires, blinkers, mirrors, all good. He fetched a Release-of-Liability-for-Monster-Incurred-Damages form out of the glove compartment, then crumpled it back in. The coffee was ready, then gone in three gulps.
“You’re my best friend, you know. Just don’t tell whiskey I said that.” The mug (which read ‘World’s Best Dad’) sat abandoned on a countertop in the Bureau of Knightly Affairs as Radislav’s lime-yellow 1994 Taurus rattled off into the hazy morning mist (toxic fog) of east Cleveland. The freeway stood deserted and the trip took only slightly longer than it should have. He was a notoriously leisurely driver. It was 3:13 when he arrived at 1646 Debussy Avenue. A woman was standing in the lane, a frazzled woman who had recently seen a beloved pet die. She threw herself at the Taurus’s window as it grumbled to a halt.
“Jesus! It took you an hour! I could have died! And you-“ The 20-something Laotian woman eyed her savior skeptically – Her disappointment intensified as she noticed the deep gouges in his breastplate and the worn Chief Wahoo peeking over his shock of dark hair -“You aren’t Sir Percival.”
“No shit, Percy can’t be assed to put himself in danger, that guy’s just some figurehead prick – And I’ll have you know that it’s been slightly less than an hour. Now where’s the wolf?”
She lead him to a low window that glimpsed into the basement, letting slip along the way that her name was Keiki. Sort of an odd name, he thought, but his name wouldn’t exactly get him a job at a bank either. The pair crouched down and stared into the basement.
“All I see are boxes. No sign of a wolf.”
“Well maybe if you hadn’t taken a goddamn hour to respond to an emergency it would still be there.”
“I- Alright, you’ve got a point. I don’t see any pieces of your dog, either.” Her face dropped at the mention of the dog “I mean, uh…Wait, what’s that?” There was not actually anything of note happening in the basement, Radislav was simply a clumsy conversationalist and could think of no other way to draw attention away from his missteps. It was by pure chance that shortly after his spastic motioning towards the window, a harsh growl came from inside the home.
“That’s it. That’s the thing that a-”
Both voyeurs traced the path of the massive creature. It was certainly wolf-shaped, though it was set apart from common canines in two main faculties; its eyes shone as polished glass, and it seemed to be muttering quietly to itself in stilted, archaic English.
“Well, you’ve got a barghest.” Radislav rose, dusted off his jeans, and returned to the Taurus.
“What’s a barghest?” She followed him.
“Oh, you know, a Hound of Doom. They’re a sign of impending calamity.” He opened his vehicle’s trunk, slid out his hunting kit, and was affixing rerebraces to complement the protection of his breastplate. “Don’t see them around here very often. Sometimes folk call them a Black Dog.”
“Like the Zeppelin song?”
“…Yeah, sure, why not. They’re an invasive corporeal, so I’ll have to kill it. Anyways, you have a smartphone?” She did. “Find some Huey Lewis songs. Barghests hate Huey Lewis.”
“That’s just about the dumbest thing I’ve ever heard.”
“Maybe it is, but knowing what monsters hate is the entirety of my job.” He threw his ball cap into the trunk, then retrieved a leather cowl. “Oh, there’s a form in the glove compartment you need to sign. It’s open, just grab it and take a look. Covers the normal stuff, you know, relieves me of liability to damages caused while extracting the creature. It’s all standard.” He attached some loose pieces of armor to his legs – significantly heavier armor than he covered his torso with. Barghests usually went for the knees.
Keiki perused the waiver before she signed it. Her parents had cautioned her against signing anything without reading it, and it was the only decent advice they’d ever given. Parts of the contract were objectionable, but she signed it regardless – it was less objectionable than a giant supernatural wolf living in her basement for the next few years. “What do I do with this?”
“Just throw it back in.” He was almost ready now, as he maneuvered a burgonet helmet into position. “Got the Huey Lewis queued up?”
“Yeah, but what’s your plan?” “Well, you lead me to the basement. You hang back by the door, I’ll go down and engage the creature, and when I shout to you, you’ll play the Huey Lewis. It usually stuns them for a minute or so, so that’s plenty of time to score a kill-hit. Sound good?” He pulled the final two pieces of his ensemble from the trunk: a rather large knife (or perhaps a rather small sword), and a round shield.
“Sounds good.” Keiki led him through her house, too shaken by the events of the morning to be apologetic for the disarray of her dwelling. She lingered at the door as the armored man descended into the darkness of the basement. The stairs groaned furiously at the weight of him, but remained intact. “There’s a light-switch to the right of the landing, there.”
Radislav manipulated the light with the brim of his shield, then assumed a defensive posture. He scanned the basement for a moment that seemed infinite. Somewhere in the maze of boxes, a dread snarling erupted. The knight tensed as the barghest padded through the hidden reaches of the room. The noise was growing louder and louder, until finally he spotted green eyes glaring from behind a cardboard box labelled ‘Lawn Stuff’. The beast was a great deal larger than it seemed at a distance, easily five feet in length with a head that, in its current prowling posture, was even with Radislav’s shield. It advanced slowly, intensifying the terrible growling, until it ceased the barbarous noise and began to speak.
“How intriguing it is to see one such as you attempting to dislodge one such as I through means of force and fire. What bravery! What courage! What idiocy! You will find that I am no adumbration magnified by the night, but a beast more whole and vicious than any God-of-Man could ever dream! Blood will spill this morn, oh yes, and I will lap from the pool of your demise in glorious triumph!” The dog barked his words, as would be expected.
“I really hate it when the monsters try to talk to me.” Radislav adjusted his posture, jutting the point of his blade out just past the protection of his shield.
“Have at you, uncouth stumblebum!” The beast rushed headlong into the knight, only to find itself thoroughly bashed with the flat of the shield. Bits of black fur flew loose as the dog ricocheted back into a pile of moving boxes.
“Keiki, Now! The song!” Radislav retreated further into the stairs, maintaining his defensive posture, taking care to be between the woman and the beast. The introductory chords of the song chimed down into the basement, until the first words were sung – When there’s something strange in your neighborhood…
The barghest was charging again, unfazed by the theme from Ghostbusters. The knight yelped as, once again, the massive wolf collided with the shield- this time the wolf’s maw bit deep into the wooden shield as they met, then the wolf’s reflected momentum dragged the shield, and the knight, forwards into the basement. When there’s something strange, and it don’t look good… Radislav slashed viciously as he found his footing, though he had abandoned the shield to the beast’s jaws. Losing a shield during a fight is a phenomenon most modern knights very aptly refer to as being ‘totally boned’. The barghest was still unharmed, and the knight had lost his most vital defense. “Keiki! Ghostbusters isn’t Huey Lewis! The Power of Love! THE POWER OF LOVE!” He continued his vague slashing, warding the beast off for a few moments longer as the music died away.
“Bah! This contest of arms is hardly sporting! Perhaps you should have brought one of those coward-cannons! Elsewise, no weepy whelp like yourself would ever-“ The barghest’s words degraded to rough barking as the opening jingle filled the basement. The po-wer of lo-ve, is a curious thing..
Radislav rushed forwards, and with a decisive downward movement plunged his blade through the barghest’s head – it drooped to the floor in immediate lifelessness. He took in a few ragged, adrenaline-high breaths. …Strong and it’s sudden, it can be cruel sometimes, but it might just save your li-fe.
Keiki held back panic as the knight returned from the stairwell with the largest wolf she’d ever seen slung over his shoulder. In fairness, she had never seen that many wolves, but the creature was still impressive.
“I didn’t see any sign of your dog.” Radislav was dubiously apologetic.
“Oh, I…That thing could have killed me!”
“Yeah. It could have killed me, too.” He adjusted the weight.
“Well…I mean, you saved me, so…Thanks.” She was positively flush with the combination of chemicals that lead to subtle attraction, despite the previous danger, the loss of a beloved pet, and the (likely) extensive property damage. This was another common phenomenon, which knights typified as ‘Damsel Syndrome’. It wasn’t as common as one would think.
“Right, well, you’re welcome. Stop by the Bureau in the next week, ask for Janine – she’s the counselor, she helps people get their lives back on track after dealing with this kind of situation.” He made his way out into the driveway as he spoke. “She might even compensate you for the dog,” He loaded the barghest into the backseat of the Taurus. It would smell like dead magical hound for the next three weeks. “Who knows.”
Keiki hung around the car as Radislav underwent the laborious task of stowing all his equipment for the return trip. They spoke of small matters, nothing of tremendous importance, until she worked up enough courage to ask- “You know, I’m a reporter for K-21. Maybe I could interview you sometime? Most people don’t know a whole lot about you guys.”
He considered the proposal, then hesitantly accepted. Phone numbers were exchanged, don’t-call-me-tomorrow-I’m-busy-tomorrows were given, and then Radislav mounted his mighty steed and rolled off into the morning.