taxidermy

I don’t know what I was expecting to happen once we told the Walthers that hunters killed all those Infirmament members. Something, though. I really thought something would happen.

Instead, we spent the whole weekend in the rabbit with binoculars, watching a whole bunch of random hunters decorate a bar.

Yep. That’s how we spent the whole weekend.

The Walthers are being intentionally distant.

“Listen,” Danny Walther said on the phone yesterday morning. “We totally understand your concern about this situation, and we’re totally with you. But we really need avoid rash actions. Things are a little bit uncertain right now, and pushing anything too big has the potential to be really destabilizing.”

Politician talk. Neal listened to the whole speech while tracking Devon Monroe with the binoculars as he lugged a mysterious box into the bar.

“Destabilizing,” Julian repeated. “It seems like the most destabilizing thing we could do would be to let this go.”

Neal smiled under the binoculars.

“I don’t think anyone is arguing that this behavior can carry on unchecked,” Danny replied. “It certainly needs to be managed.”

“Uh huh,” Julian said. “Let me know when you have an actual plan to manage this misbehavior.” His tone when he said misbehavior made it very clear how inadequately they were reacting to this situation, and Danny was clearly frustrated when they hung up.

“They’re going to need more pushing,” Neal said, without lowering the binoculars.

“Yeah.”

Julian’s been on the phone with a few other people as well, having careful, vague conversations. So far he hasn’t outright said to anyone that we’re trying to get anyone in trouble — he’s just very carefully explaining the situation as we see it: not all the people hung at the Infirmament were guilty of anything other than being victimized by a cult; hunters were involved in the deaths; so far there have been no consequences.

I wouldn’t exactly claim that people agree with us, but we’re not really giving an opinion as of yet. Julian’s been careful not to take a moral stance. We’re just testing the water.

Beverly called us last night. “What the hell is going on?” she demanded. “What game are you two playing?”

“Hi Beverly,” Neal said, smirking. “How are you?”

“Neal, I swear to god. I just got a phone call from Molly Becker just called me asking if we needed backup somewhere. What the fuck would we need backup for?”

Both the Hawthornes grinned triumphantly.

“Nothing,” Julian soothed her. “Don’t worry.”

“We’re just telling a few choice people what we know about the Monroes and their involvement in the infirmament murders.”

There was a long moment of quiet before Beverly repeated, “Infirmament murders.”

“That’s what they were,” Julian said.

Beverly let out a long hiss of breath. “You’ve talked to the Walthers?”

“They were the first ones we called.”

“And you’re sure that’s what happened?”

I saw steel on Neal’s face. “Absolutely certain.”

There was a moment of bewildered quiet before Beverly said, “and from Lana?”

Neal grinned, showing teeth. “Nothing yet.”

“Fuck,” Beverly said. “I hope you two know what you’re doing.”

“Me too,” Julian replied and then after a moment of awkward quiet, they said their goodbyes and hung up.

I was feeling pretty uncertain at that point. We’re literally out here sowing discontent and I have no idea what we’re going to reap.

But then we went back inside that bar.

From the outside not much had changed, but ear;ire they lit the neon signs so we figured they were open. So we got out of our car and we went inside.

“Is this a good idea?” I asked.

“Almost definitely not,” Neal said, holding the door open for me.

I fucking froze when I saw the place.

Inside had been gutted, cleaned out, all the filthy booths and scarred tables gone, replaced with new, thick, rustic cuts of wood for tables. It smelled like fresh paint and sawdust. The bar had a whole new selection on tap — expensive beers, and a wall of nice liquor in new bottles.

But the new, hunter-chic makeover wasn’t what got me. It was the decor. On the walls: heads. Not like deer heads and moose heads, which to be honest I don’t love anyways. Taxidermy freaks me out, I hate their glass eyes. Plus, after this last year I struggle to be impressed by the fact that you were able to track and murder an innocent woodland creature. You know?

But these weren’t innocent woodland creatures. They were cryptids. Cryptid Taxidermy. Over one booth, a gigantic ape head, mid-snarl. Over another, the huge, weasel-y face of a corn wolf. On the back wall five little horned otter heads, expressions sickly cheerful, a faint glow still visible around their little muzzles. What looked almost like a fanged ram with an elaborate tangle of horns. Dozens more heads up there, mostly creatures I’d never seen in colors I’d never imagined. Hung from the ceiling in the corner, a beautiful green bird with odd pink patterns.

It was cool. Like, if I’d come in there thinking none of it was real, I’d have been blown the fuck away by how cool it was. If I was a hunter being raised by the likes of the Allens or even the Walthers, I might have thought it was pretty cool.

But I’m being raised by the Hawthornes, and there is NO reason to kill glow otters like that. When Neal killed a corn wolf all those months ago it was a sign he was seriously struggling — not something to celebrate, not a head to put on your wall.

The door swung shut behind us and we all just stood there, blinking around at the place, horrified.

“Hi there,” said the bar tender, a gruff man I didn’t recognize from last time we were here. “Welcome to the Squatch Spot! You’re some of our first new customers, can I make you a drink?”

His pleasant expression faded when he saw our faces though.

“We’re looking for Billy,” Julian finally managed, and the only other customer twisted in his seat.

“You here for the shindig?” he asked. He was wearing a thick, scarred leather jacket, and had a thick dark beard, a broad, friendly smile, and a shaved head.

“Yeah,” Julian lied smoothly.

“You’re a little early,” he said, and when none of us answered he added, “I’m early, too.” He stuck out a hand. “I’m Marco Torres.”

“Hi Marco,” Julian said, taking his hand. “You been in the business long?”

He smiled. “Eight months. You?”

“A while,” Neal said. “What’s this shindig about, exactly?”

Marco hesitated, glancing between us. “You know,” he said. “Getting a real group together. People we can count on. Didn’t you get a call?”

“Yeah,” Julian lied with a warning look at Neal. “We’re just a bit wary, I guess.”

“Hey man, me too,” Marco said. “Did you hear about that girl that got shoved through a hole in the world? Fucked up.” He laughed wryly. “Turns out this whole monster world is fucked up.”

“Yeah,” Julian said vaguely, and then before Neal could say or do anything incriminating — and he was on that path, he was like a live wire beside me — he said. “Listen, we’ll see you tonight, yeah?”

And then we left.

It was a total relief to be out under the afternoon sun, and even better to be safely back in the rabbit.

“What the fuck,” Julian sighed. He pressed his hands to his eyes. “What is this son of a bitch fucking doing?

“Can’t be good,” Neal said. “Have we heard about the girl they put through the hole… I swear to god, if I find out the Allens are connected with these people at all…

He trailed off, but he didn’t need to finish the thought. I’ll go berserk too. We’re going to try and get into this thing tonight, though who knows how that’ll go.

I have the worst pit in my stomach right now.

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