Ria’s Witch Hunt Excerpt
Ariana really did drag me dress shopping that afternoon. We went to a small store near the school and I had to smile and pretend not to want to smash everything after the second hour of watching her try on gowns. All of which is to say I’m feeling relieved when it comes time to get down to business.
It doesn’t take long to get to the Hudson Yards bus depot. But the drive down the highway gives me the chance to call Dad and get up to speed on the job. He sounds fairly calm when he picks up the phone, even greeting me with a “Hi sweetie.”
“So I guess there’s nothing to stab tonight, is there?” I say.
“Afraid not, kiddo. It’s a simple recon mission.”
Poop. “Gimme the details.”
“We’re looking into the deaths of five homeless men who were all found torn apart.”
“Five? Jeez.” One person killed by a monster is too many. Five is a damn nightmare. “What do we think it is? Troll? Vampire? Squid?”
“Not sure yet, but here’s the kicker: they were all killed outside of New York City. Two were found in Jersey City, one in Philadelphia, one in Baltimore, and one in Pittsburgh. All ripped to shreds.”
Will cuts in. “Wait, so if they all died outside of the city why are we meeting at a bus yard?”
“Well that’s the thing: one of the ways the city handles its homeless population is to buy anyone willing to leave a one-way bus ticket out of town.”
“Damn…” Will gasps. “That’s…cold.”
“You’re telling me. Anyway, according to Blue, all five of our victims were recent bus passengers, and they all came through Hudson Yards within the last month.”
Blue is Inspector Steven Perkins, the top cop at the Tenth Precinct in Manhattan. He’s our eyes and ears for unexplained and violent murders, and he’s pretty plugged in, so if he says these dudes all took the Magic School Bus of Doom from Hudson Yards, I’m not going to question him.
“Copy,” I say. “So you think whatever’s happening to them is starting at the bus depot?”
“Only one way to find out.”
“Roger that. We’re coming up now. I’ll see you in a bit.”
Hudson Yards isn’t hard to find. It’s right next to Madison Square Garden and the Lincoln Tunnel on the West Side of Manhattan, so basically you just have to drive until the traffic gets bad enough for you to want to die and bam, you’re there. As for the neighborhood itself, it’s not exactly the most jumping place yet. The land used to be a giant train yard, but now they’re building a shit-ton of skyscrapers on top of it. None of them are done yet, so it’s all one big construction site that sits next to the Hudson River.
The bus depot’s at the north end, near 36th Street. I pull the Honda Civic up next to one of about a million construction sites a few blocks away and scan the area. It’s dark and it’s desolate. The perfect place for monster hunters to set up shop for the evening.
“We’re here,” I say as I throw open the door and step out. Cal, previously asleep in the back seat, jumps out of the door after me and gives a vigorous shake before strolling off to find a tree to pee on. Good luck buddy, in this part of Manhattan the only trees around are the ones on the rich people’s rooftops.
The passenger door slams. Will lets out a low whistle as his eyes sweep across the under-construction towers. “This place is huge.”
“Yeah, and empty. Just what I’d look for if I wanted to run a homeless person bus buffet.”
“God, I hope that’s not what’s happening. It’s too unreal to believe.”
“I believe it,” I say. This year I’ve seen spider-people pose as teachers, werewolves pose as cops and an octopus-man work in the public housing department. Why wouldn’t random assholes at a bus yard be in on the nightmare?
The bus depot comes into view as we walk down the street. It’s surrounded by a red-brick wall that rises for like twelve feet and seems to wrap around the entire block. There’s a single chain-link fence at the front, and behind it, a dozen buses sit parked with their lights off. I can’t see anyone moving around and I don’t hear any voices, though I doubt a bus yard would be empty.
My parents are waiting in a dark doorway across the street from the depot, both decked out in leather pants and jackets, hoodies up and Robin-style domino masks on. Will and I slip on our masks as we meet up. “So what’s the move?” I ask as I try to peer into the depot. “Do we know if anyone’s home?”
Dad shakes his head and points to Will. “No, but that’s why I asked you to bring him.”
He steps aside, revealing a large black duffel bag. It’s bigger than the one we usually keep our weapons and supplies in. Will’s face lights up when he sees it.
“Oh cool! You guys are giving me a weapon? Does that mean I’m going in with you?”
Dad eyebrows furrow and his lips curl up as he looks at Will like he just asked the dumbest question in the world. “Are you kidding me?”
He bends over and unzips the bag, revealing a jet-black little helicopter thing. He pulls out a joystick-thing and shoves it in Will’s hands. “Pilot this and tell us if anyone’s home.”
Will’s face falls. “Oh, a drone. Yeah, that totally makes sense, too. I got it.”
“Good, then get on it. Cal, you get up there, too.”
Cal gives a snort before shifting into his pigeon form and fluttering up and over the fence. A few seconds later Will’s got the drone out of the bag and the propellers are spinning up to life as it takes off the ground.
The drone’s got a camera attached to it, and Will’s got the video feed coming into his phone. “I don’t see anyone,” he says after a few moments.
“I could’ve told you that,” Cal indignantly replies.
“Quit it,” Mom says.
Dad pulls out a bolt cutter from the duffel bag. “All right, let’s move. Sudo, stay out of sight and let us know if any surprises pop up.”
Will hangs back, but the rest of us are across the street in a flash. Dad takes the bolt cutter to the chain locking the fence and we’re in. We move behind an empty bus. Once we’re sure we’re clear we fan out, Mom and I heading west, Dad going east.
“What exactly are we looking for?” I ask Mom as I dart across to another row of busses. “Signs of troll snot? Spider webs?”
“Anything out of the ordinary,” Mom replies.
Will’s voice sounds over the comms. “Okay, Whitney and Outkast, there’s an office about twenty yards ahead of you. You’ve got a clear shot at it.”
“Got it,” Mom says. We count to two and sprint out from behind the bus to a large brick building with small windows.
“So I found this great dress for you,” Mom says.
“Seriously? Can we not do this right now?”
“What? It’s not frilly at all! All you have to do is look at it.”
“Okay, for real; there might be a murder-y murder monster inside around here. How about we save dress talk until we’re done?”
“I bet Sudo already has his tuxedo picked out.”
Will chimes in. “I do! It’s navy blue with black trim.”
“Not helping!” I say.
We get to the large green metal door of the office. No surprise, it’s locked. Thankfully, Mom hasn’t met a lock she couldn’t pick. Three seconds and its open. Now it’s Cal’s turn.
“Cal, get in there,” Mom says.
“On it!” Cal squeaks a moment before I see a pigeon dive bomb into the building. A few seconds, then he reports back. “There’s two men sitting in front of a computer around the corner.”
I roll my eyes. “So much for the easy way.” I turn to Mom. “How do you want to do this? Shock-and-awe? Or does one of us go inside and pretend to be lost?”
“Shock-and-awe,” Mom says. “Cal, get back here and run the wild-dog routine.”
“Yay! I love the wild dog routine!”
Cal flutters in our direction before touching down and shifting back into a husky. Then he’s back off around the corner and a moment later a man’s surprised voice echoes.
He doesn’t get to finish because I’m already running up and introducing my elbow to his forehead. He collapses like a rock as Mom wraps the second guy up in a chokehold. He struggles against her grip, but she holds tight until he’s out.
“Well, that was easy,” I say.
“Easier than getting you into a dress for the dance,” Mom mumbles.
“Oh come on!”
“What? Are you expecting to go dressed in leather and Kevlar?”
“NO!” Will’s voice chimes in.
“Excuse me,” I clap back. “It is the new millennium! No man gets to tell a woman what to wear!”
Dad enters the room and surveys the scene. “Really? Did you have to knock them unconscious?”
I throw my hands up in frustration. Apparently, it’s Everyone-Pile-on-Ria Day and I missed the memo. “I’m sorry; you’re the one who says they’re evil!”
“Whatever, look around and see if you find anything.”
We spread out, Mom and Dad sifting through files and folders on desks and posters and fliers on walls while I sit down at the computer and start clicking around through files. This computer is mostly filled with junk: cat memes, photos of girls in bikinis and news articles. But then I find a folder titled “Homeless Transport Plan.”
“Oh, hello there,” I say as I click it open. Sure enough, up pops a giant spreadsheet of names, destinations, transport dates, bus numbers; the whole deal.
“Bingo,” I whisper, before calling out to the others. “You guys should come see this.”
Mom and Dad gather around. “Well I’ll be damned,” Dad gasps. “This is everything. Good job.”
“It’s even got transport dates,” Mom notes. “With this, we could find out the next one and get on it.”
“Take a trip and see what’s really killing people,” Dad agrees.
“Road trip!” I say. “All right then, let’s just see when the next bus is scheduled to—oh, crap.”
I stop because my luck is shit. Of course, the next transport night is Thursday. Winter Formal night.