- Shopping Bag ( 0 items )
Now. December, 1995
This guy seems kinda squirrelly, Hellboy thought, as he entered the home of Donald Kramer. Or maybe it was just the fact that a seven-foot-tall, red-skinned demon dressed in a trench coat and packing some serious heat was standing in the guy's foyer. Nah, that's not it. Kramer just seemed like one of those types.
The man's hands hadn't stopped moving; touching his face, running his fingers through his hair, as he explained why he'd called in the Bureau for Paranormal Research and Defense.
"One day it was there in the backyard like it always was," he said with a shrug and a twitch. "And then it was gone." Kramer gnawed at one of his fingernails like he hadn't eaten in a week.
Hellboy glanced at the clipboard in his hand. "We are talking about a rock, right?"
The man nodded eagerly. "Yes, a boulder. Been there forever. It separated my property from the woods behind it."
Alarm bells had gone off at the BPRD headquarters in Fairfield when some desk jockey at the Plymouth, Massachusetts, Police Department keyed Kramer's case into their computers. The Bureau had a deal with most of the police departments in the U.S., and hundreds of locations abroad; if anything out of the ordinary was reported, it raised a flag and a copy of the file was sent to the BPRD. Most of the stuff was junk, but every once in a while something piqued their curiosity. Lately, that had been happening more often than usual. The brain trust at the BPRD had noticed a pattern. Things were being reported missing -- odd things.
The BPRD didn't like patterns.
"Was there anything unusual about this boulder?" Hellboy asked.
"No," Kramer answered sharply. "It was just a rock -- a big rock. Why?"
Hellboy scratched the back of his head, unsure how to explain. This particular "big rock" had been cataloged in the Bureau's informational database as an object of religious significance, something worshipped by a primitive people long ago. The cheat sheet Hellboy had on his clipboard didn't give him much more information than that, but he knew that it was only the latest in a long list of similar items that had disappeared throughout the region over the past month or so.
"No reason." Hellboy shrugged his large shoulders. "Just covering all the bases." He placed the clipboard under his arm. "Can I take a look at the scene of the crime?"
A twitch had developed at the corner of Kramer's right eye. "A crime? Do you think a crime's been committed?"
Hellboy sighed. "It's just an expression. So can I take a look?"
"Certainly," the man replied after breathing a sigh of relief. "It's through here." He turned toward a room behind him.
Yep, definitely squirrelly.
Kramer led Hellboy into a room filled with books, floor to ceiling, on shelves and in piles on the floor.
"Do a lot of reading, huh?" Hellboy was careful not to disturb any of the precariously balanced stacks.
The man stopped halfway across the room and turned. "Yes, yes I do. For my work. I'm a writer. This is my reference library."
From the corner of his eye, Hellboy saw something dart around one of the piles to disappear behind a heavy-looking, floor-to-ceiling bookcase. It was bigger than a mouse, maybe a rat, but he couldn't be sure.
"Do you read much, Mister...Boy?"
Hellboy looked quickly back at Kramer to find the man glaring at the bookcase. He had seen it as well.
"Not as much as I'd like. I read a little Louis L'Amour, some Spillane, and I really like that Mc-Murtry guy."
"Yes," Kramer nodded, obviously humoring him. "I hear he's quite good."
"Wish I had more time," Hellboy said. "But you know how it is, slave to minimum wage and all."
The man nodded -- smile way too friendly for an ordinary suburban guy having a conversation with someone big and red, with hooves and a tail. Hellboy normally made ordinary citizens nervous at first, and as squirrelly as Kramer was, he didn't think he was the cause.
Kramer continued on across the room. "I know what you mean."
Hellboy followed, searching for anything else out of the ordinary. "So what kind of writing do you do?"
An arched doorway at the end of the room opened into another hall. A large, winding staircase on the right led up to the second level, and the hallway straight ahead would take them to the kitchen.
"Fantasy mostly," Kramer said, turning back to face Hellboy. "I have a best-selling series about a wandering knight who -- "
"You got dragons in those books, Don?" Hellboy interrupted. "I can tell you some stuff about those babies that'll curl your toenails." He winked conspiratorially.
Kramer forced a smile. "That...that would be wonderful. Maybe after you find out who took my stone..."
Something crashed to the floor in the room above them. Hellboy's gaze darted to the ceiling and then the stairs.
The writer laughed uneasily, moving to the staircase. "It's nothing," he said. "Probably just the cat getting into something he shouldn't."
"Yeah, they're like that," Hellboy said.
Kramer gestured down the hallway. "The back door is right down there."
There was another, louder crash, followed by the sound of breaking glass. The look on Kramer's face was one of absolute terror. He shrieked, frantically starting up the stairs on his hands and knees.
"Leave it alone," he screamed. "I told you I would make it right!"
There was more commotion from above, and Hellboy took a wild guess that it had nothing to do with a curious cat. He pulled his revolver from its leather holster. He didn't want to chance being caught with his pants down. A few months back he'd been chasing a Stullenwurm across the Alpine passes from France to Austria. He thought he'd had the cat-headed, lizard-bodied beastie cornered in an ice cave and barreled inside with a flamethrower, only to find a nest of pissed off Fire Drakes, eager to eat his weapon and fry his ass black.
Man, did he catch a ton of crap from the guys back at the Bureau for that.
Hellboy winced with the memory; patches on his body were still tender from the blunder. He had no idea what he would be facing today and hoped the gun would be enough.
"Let's find out," he grumbled, ascending the stairs two at a time.
As he reached the second floor he spotted Kramer standing in a doorway at the end of the hall.
"Stop it, please!" he cried over the din of destruction from inside the room. "I told you I'd get the stone back...please!"
Hellboy held the pistol tight in his grip as he strode toward the room.
Kramer turned to see him coming and held out his hands. "Don't go in there," he pleaded. "They're angry enough as it is."
"Don't worry." He pushed the writer out of the way with ease. "I'm Mr. Personality. Everybody loves me."
The room had more bookshelves, a desk and a computer, and Hellboy figured it was Kramer's office. The place was also full of Graken Spriggin, at least fifty of them.
Leprechauns, Goblins, Brownies, Faerie Folk: he'd take any of them in twice the number over Graken Spriggin. These little bastards were the worst.
They had tipped over multiple file cabinets, torn artwork from the walls and pushed the computer off the desk to the floor, where it lay in broken pieces. The two windows in the room had been shattered as well and large, black crows with tiny saddles upon their backs perched on the glass-covered sills. In the center of the room, several of the six-inch Graken Spriggin wielded wooden matchsticks like torches, preparing to set fire to a pile of shredded paperback books.
"Knock it off," Hellboy roared, watching in amusement as the leathery-skinned forest folk retreated from the sound of his voice. "What the hell do you think you're doing?"
The Graken stood unified beneath the broken windows. The tiny creatures glowered, brandishing weaponry created from rubbish -- an ax made from a disposable razor, a sword fashioned from one-half of a pair of scissors. Some were even wearing armor that had been cut from soda and beer cans.
Hellboy let them get a good look at the gun he was carrying. One well-placed shot could easily kill ten of them. "So which one of you little freaks is gonna tell me what the problem is?"
"She's gone, ya red bastard!" one of the creatures screamed in a high-pitched brogue, crazy with emotion. "She's gone, and we've nary a clue as to where she was taken!"
The Graken shook a nasty-looking spork over his head, and Hellboy could have sworn he saw tears in the tiny warrior's eyes.
The others started to become agitated; their escalating emotion riled up the crows perched on the windowsills above them. The cawing of the birds was starting to give him a headache.
"All right, all right!" He holstered his weapon. "Let's start over. Why don't you start by telling me who's gone?"
"The blessed mother of us all!" the Graken cried in unison, and before he could respond, they swarmed at him, fury and grief etched on their ugly little faces.
"Aw, crap," Hellboy grumbled as they leaped onto his coat, scaling his duster. He tried to swat them away, watching in awe as they hit the floor hard, shook themselves off and started toward him again.
"Knock it off, ya little creeps!" he barked, shaking his leg and sending at least twelve of them flying. "Let's talk about this."
The Graken Spriggin weren't listening.
"He's likely the one what took her!" bellowed one, wearing an old knitted dog sweater and a helmet made from a bottle cap.
"I didn't take a damn thing!" Hellboy yelled, trying not to squash his pint-sized attackers. "And if you don't knock this crap off, I'm really gonna give you something to cry about!"
The crows sprang from their perches, squawking and making as much of a racket as the Graken themselves. They flew at Hellboy's eyes, wings flapping furiously, razor-sharp beaks seeking out the vulnerable orbs.
He raised his arms, swiping at the attacking birds. "You no good sons of..."
He was temporarily blinded as he tried to shield his face, and could feel the weight of Graken as they continued to climb him like Everest. He stumbled, thrashing his body and whipping his tail around as he attempted to dislodge the diminutive assailants. He could hear Kramer out in the hallway, begging the Graken to stop, but they weren't too keen on listening to him either.
A Graken that had managed to reach Hellboy's neck, lashed out with one of its crude weapons. "Feel the bite of me ax, you filthy hellspawn," it cried, swinging the razor-sharp blade of its makeshift battle-ax into his throat.
Hellboy yelled, his massive, stonelike right hand instinctively slapping at his neck, crushing the tiny attacker like an annoying mosquito.
"Little bugger," he spit, swiping the crushed Graken from his neck. "Now this crap is just getting out of hand."
The crows renewed their assault on him with vigor. One of them came in beneath his flailing arms and jabbed its beak into the tender flesh at the corner of his left eye. Hellboy snarled, stumbling backward. More of the birds came at his face, driving him back across the room. One of his hooves landed on a piece of jagged glass from the window.
"Son of a -- " Hellboy shouted, as his hoof slid out from under him, and he toppled out through one of the broken windows.
He crashed onto a small roof below the window with a grunt, then tumbled off into space yet again before landing in Kramer's backyard with a thud that knocked the air from his lungs. He could hear the crows above him, and could have sworn they were laughing.
"That's it," he grumbled beneath his breath, pushing himself up from the frozen ground. He wiped stinging blood from the corner of his eye and groaned when he caught sight of more Graken Spriggin emerging from the woods that encircled the yard, dressed in aluminum can armor and brandishing makeshift weaponry. The Graken from the office scrambled out onto the roof, some hitching rides to the yard on the backs of the crows, others shinnying down the drainpipes.
"I've had about enough of you cockroaches," Hellboy said, drawing his gun again.
The circle of Graken drew tighter around him, their primitive features scowling. They were without a doubt the nastiest of the tiny folk that had emigrated from the Isle of Man, but they were also pretty private and seldom ventured out into the open. This is nuts, Hellboy thought. What the hell's gotten them so riled up?
He looked at the army that surrounded him, at the crows that cried above his head, and cocked his pistol with a loud click. "Last chance," he said. "Tell me what the problem is, or in the next couple'a seconds, things are going to get messy."
The tension in the air continued to build. The Graken said nothing, gripping their tiny weapons all the tighter.
"Wait!" cried a voice, and Hellboy looked to see Donald Kramer standing on the deck attached to his house, breath pluming white mist in the cold. "Stop this right now!"
Kramer wasn't wearing a coat, and he hugged himself against the frigid winter air.
"It is too late for that, human," said a small, yet surprisingly powerful voice, carried across the yard.
A rabbit had emerged from the underbrush, and an ancient Graken sat authoritatively in a saddle upon its back: the Graken King -- a crown of small animal teeth around his head. The rabbit steed lowered its body for the king to dismount.
"She is gone, taken from where she has rested lo these many centuries." The king gestured toward an area at the back of the yard where several female Graken knelt, wailing and burying their faces in the overturned earth.
The king seemed to be talking to Kramer, and Hellboy decided to keep his mouth shut, to see what he could learn before stepping in.
"Good King Seamus," the writer said, descending the wooden steps to the yard. Twenty or so Graken soldiers swarmed to stand in front of their ruler, weapons pointed to defend. "I have no idea what has happened to your blessed mother," Kramer continued. "But I'm doing everything I can to see her returned."
Seamus pulled at the long, wispy hair on his chin. "And what of him?" He pointed at Hellboy. "Why has a crimson spawn from the fiery pits come to your domicile?"
Hellboy started to speak.
"Silence!" King Seamus bellowed as he raised a dismissive hand. "I have not given you permission to speak."
It was all Hellboy could do not to stomp the rodent-sized monarch into the ground. Diplomacy had never been his strong suit.
Kramer stepped closer. "This is Hellboy -- of the BPRD, he's come to help."
The tiny king crossed his arms over his chest and studied Hellboy with an unwavering eye.
"Can I talk now?" Hellboy asked.
The Graken soldiers moved closer.
Hellboy squinted down the barrel of his pistol. "I'd step back if I were you," he warned. "Big gun, big bullets, big mess."
The soldiers scowled but stepped back.
"You may speak, Hellspawn," King Seamus pronounced.
"It's Hellboy," he said, holstering his weapon. "Appreciate it. Look, Skipper, what your boy Kramer here said is right. I've come about the stone, so maybe you could explain why it's so freakin' important?"
There was an uneasy silence in the backyard as the king seemed to consider his response. He returned to his mount and climbed back into the saddle. Taking hold of the reins, and making an odd, clucking sound, he steered the rabbit toward the Graken women. "You will follow me."
Kramer at his side, Hellboy did, careful not to step on any of the little creatures swarming around his feet. "What's your connection to these guys?" he asked the writer.
Kramer vigorously rubbed at his arms, trying to warm them against the December chill. "Years ago, when my career had kind of stalled, I made a deal with them. In exchange for certain items -- bread, alcohol, an occasional candy bar -- they would assist me."
The wound near his eye had started to itch, and Hellboy rubbed at it as Kramer's words started to sink in. "These guys help you with your books?"
Kramer fixed him in an icy stare. "Would it be easier to accept if they were helping me make shoes?"
Hellboy shrugged. "Just never figured the little buggers as writers. See, even in my line of work I can still be surprised."
King Seamus had again climbed down from his bunny mount and was standing with the grief-stricken Graken Spriggin women. Hellboy could see where the stone had sat, the soil dark and rich, the area around it overturned by activity.
"And you didn't hear a thing?" Hellboy asked the man standing beside him.
Kramer shook his head. "Nothing. I woke up, and it was gone."
"This is where she rested," the king said, falling to his knees and reaching down to sink his tiny hands into the earth.
"You keep making reference to she," Hellboy commented. "No offense, I'm just saying, but, she's a rock."
Seamus rose, wiping the dirt from his hands. "She was our queen, the first of us all, Sheela-Na Gig, and from her blessed womb we sprang."
The female Graken began to wail again, throwing themselves in the earth and burying their faces. Most of the soldiers were crying now.
The king continued. "Those lesser races that came after us -- the Gathan, the Goblin, the Fittletot and the Whoopity Stoorie -- they was all jealous of our mother's love fer us, and us fer her, and joining their evil magicks together, they cursed her to stone."
"Bastards!" screeched one of the soldiers, inciting a fit of cursing among the gathered.
"But even as cold and lifeless stone, our mother's love was strong, and she continued to bless us, allowing our kind to grow in number over the centuries even as those who had turned her to rock dwindled and eventually were dust."
King Seamus reached over to gently stroke the brindle-colored fur of his rabbit mount as it nibbled on what remained of the late-fall grass. "But now she is gone, and already I see signs that our days are short."
A female Graken approached the king, hands upon her stomach. "A babe grew inside me, but now 'tis gone," she cried in a tiny, pathetic voice. One of the soldiers, the husband, Hellboy guessed, came to her then, taking her in his arms. They cried inconsolably.
"This is why we are enraged, Hellspawn," King Seamus said, voice rising in anger. "This is why we are moved to war, for without our Sheela-Na Gig, we will soon be no more, going the way of the Gathan, the Goblin..."
"Yeah, yeah, the Fittletot and the Whoopity Stoorie," Hellboy finished for him, moving closer to where the sacred stone had lain. "I get the picture. Without the rock, little Graken production goes belly-up."
He knelt in the dirt, after making sure that none of the Graken were beneath him, and began to check out the scene. BPRD file said the rock was at least five hundred pounds, Hellboy thought, stroking his chin. Whoever took it needed some heavy machinery, or was pretty damn strong.
He stood up, looking around for any signs that a machine had been driven across the yard, but found nothing. The lawn was intact.
Kramer stood shivering with the Graken legions.
"You heard nothing," Hellboy said to him again, hoping to jar some memory that might give him something to work with.
The man shook his head as he blew hot breath into his cupped hands. "Not a sound."
Hellboy turned his attention to the Graken Spriggin. "And I suppose you guys didn't hear or see anything either?"
The creatures were silent, helplessness etched on their homely faces.
"Evil is afoot," King Seamus said, slowly nodding his large head. "'Tis dark magick that took our mother."
"Y'know what, Tiny," Hellboy said, gazing up into the gray winter sky, at the cawing crows circling above. "You just might be right."
Hellboy reached across the meeting table for a bagel. "Does this look like cinnamon raisin to you?"
Abe Sapien popped a piece of lox into his mouth and started to chew. "Either that or chocolate chip," he said after he'd swallowed. He brought a napkin to his mouth. No talking with his mouth full for Abe.
The amphibious BPRD agent had excellent manners.
"Whatever." Hellboy cut the bagel in half with a knife. Breakfast meetings with actual breakfast weren't the norm at the Bureau for Paranormal Research and Defense, but every once in a while the suits tossed a bone to the grunts -- to keep morale up and all. Hellboy wasn't complaining; he was starved.
"Is there any cream cheese?"
Kate Corrigan, the assistant director of field operations, looked up from her notes long enough to pluck a small container of cream cheese from the tray in the table's center and slide it over to him.
"Hey, H.B.," Liz Sherman called from across the table, where she sat slumped in her chair, hands clasped in a death grip around a steaming mug of coffee. "Hear you kept us from going to war yesterday."
Hellboy thanked Kate and glanced at Liz, petite and pretty, dark circles under her eyes from too little sleep.
"Yeah, I guess," he said as he slathered his bagel with the cream cheese. "Had a tribe of Graken Spriggin up in arms over in Plymouth 'cause a statue of their mother got ripped off."
"Graken Spriggin," Abe repeated, pretending to shiver with revulsion as he helped himself to more of the raw salmon. "They are a nasty bunch."
"Yeah, real sweethearts," Hellboy agreed, around a mouthful of bagel.
"So what'd you do?" Liz asked, taking a sip from her coffee.
"Good question," Kate said, setting her pen down. "Considering that I don't have a report on the case yet."
"You look particularly stunning this morning, Kate," Hellboy said as he wiped cream cheese from the corner of his mouth. "That a new blouse you're wearing?"
She smirked. "Yeah, like you'd really notice. Keep this up, and I wouldn't be surprised to see Manning take you out of the field until your paperwork's caught up."
"Ouch!" Hellboy grimaced.
"So where is Tom this morning?" Abe asked, expertly diverting the subject.
Good one, Abe. I can always count on you.
"Yeah, where is he?" Hellboy joined in. It wasn't like the Director to be absent from a morning meeting. "Surprised not to see our fearless leader, especially with the grub and all."
"The Director's running a little late, I guess," Kate said, quickly glancing at her watch before picking up her pen and removing the cap. "So, who wants to start?"
Liz sat forward in her chair. "Now, hold on. I hate cliffhangers. Is Hellboy going to tell us how he kept the Graken from going on the warpath or not?"
She reached for the carafe of coffee and refreshed her cup.
Hellboy spread what remained of the cream cheese on the other half of his bagel. "I promised 'em I'd bring their boulder back, and then I had to swear on a sacred woodchuck."
Abe stared with dark, glistening eyes. "Sacred woodchuck?"
Hellboy shrugged, mouth full. "Could'a been a weasel, I guess."
Liz stared at him. "You're making that up."
"Would I do that? It'll be in the report."
"And if you can't bring this rock back, what then?" Liz asked.
He finished chewing and swallowed. "Then the Graken Spriggin will lay siege to the world."
Kate sighed, picking up her notepad and turning to a fresh page. "So what've we got, people? Should we be worried?" She looked around the table. "Abe, what did you find?"
Abe cleared his throat. "As you saw in my report..." He glanced briefly in Hellboy's direction.
Hellboy coughed suddenly into his hand, the barking hack sounding an awful lot like kissass.
Unfazed, Abe continued. "The missing item is a cup supposedly used by Elvis Presley before going on stage for what would be his last live performance in Indiana's Market Square Arena on June 26, 1977."
"You get to check out stolen Elvis memorabilia and I get Graken Spriggin? Where's the justice in that?" Hellboy asked, crumpling up his napkin and throwing it down onto his plate.
"The cup had been purchased for an undisclosed amount from an online auction, and was being transported by courier to its new owner in Massachusetts. The vehicle ended up at the bottom of the Merrimack River in Lowell. The driver was killed, and the Elvis cup was not recovered. The suspicion is that it was stolen right after the accident."
Kate gave Hellboy the evil eye as he started to hum "Don't Be Cruel." "What've you got, Liz?"
She set her coffee mug down and ran her fingers through her straggly, shoulder-length red hair. Hellboy guessed she hadn't bothered to shower this morning, catching every possible moment of sleep before the meeting. He was half-surprised she hadn't shown up in her pajamas.
"Nothing as cool as a missing Elvis cup," she assured them. "I've got a water stain that looks like the Virgin Mary. Evidently it was caused by a combination of renovations to an office building and heavy rains last spring. Word got out, and the faithful started flocking to the building. The guy who owned the place even started to charge admission."
Hellboy stood and rummaged through the bagels again. "So what happened," he asked, picking up a sesame-seed-covered bagel and sniffing it. "Somebody steal the water stain?"
"Not exactly," Liz said, running her finger along the rim of her mug, a mischievous grin spreading across her face. "They stole the wall."
Hellboy froze. "C'mon, a hunk of wall was stolen out of an office building? How is that done?"
"Same way a boulder is taken from a yard and a cup is stolen from a truck in transit," Kate answered. She set her pen down and looked up from the notepad. "So, we have a pattern. Anyone see any logic in it yet?" she asked, sounding like a teacher fishing for answers from her students.
"They're all items of adulation," Abe said, stroking his chin with a webbed hand. "Strange objects to be certain, but inspiring devotion nonetheless."
Kate tapped her pen on the tabletop. "And this is just the stuff we know about," she said. "Who knows how many other things may be missing."
"Couldn't it also be just some bizarre coincidence?" Liz asked. Hellboy noticed a faint glow coming from the palm of her hand as she gripped the side of her mug -- using her pyrokinetic talent to reheat the contents of her cup.
"You've been with the BPRD for how long, and you still think there's such a thing as coincidence?" Abe asked.
"I'm just not sure we should be getting worked up over a missing Elvis cup," she added, carefully taking a sip of her now steaming coffee.
"What do you think, Kate?" Hellboy asked. He'd taken his seat and was digging into the second bagel.
The assistant field director shook her head slowly. "I'm not going to sound the alarm yet," she said, "but this is certainly something we should keep an eye on." She placed the cap back on her pen and stood. "That's it for me," she said, grabbing her notepad and heading for the door. "And I can expect your report on the Graken incident when?" Kate asked Hellboy as she passed.
"It's the next thing on my list," he told her in all seriousness.
Both Liz and Abe started to laugh, and he gave them a look.
"Keep it up, and you'll give me a complex," he said to his supposed friends as he stood and followed them from the conference room.
"So, H.B.," Liz asked, "what's on the agenda now?"
Hellboy shrugged, throwing his breakfast trash in a barrel beside the door. "Probably head back to my place, maybe watch a few videos, why?"
"I thought you were going to do your paperwork?" Abe said, holding open the door that would take him into the corridor that led to their living quarters.
"Right," Hellboy agreed. "Next thing on my list."
Copyright © 2006 by Mike Mignola
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