Matt Archer: Monster Summer (MA1.5) Now Available!

A new Matt Archer Adventure–Matt Archer: Monster Summer is now available! 

In this companion short-story to Matt Archer: Monster Hunter, fifteen-year-old Matt Archer finds himself in the Australian Outback on the trail of his latest targets…and hunting hyper-intelligent, mutated Dingoes is not his idea of a great summer vacation.

Making things more complicated, Matt’s Uncle Mike–aka Major Tannen–is his C.O. for this mission. To Matt’s consternation, the major’s new fiancée, Captain Julie Hunter, is also along for the trip. When Captain Hunter disappears during a routine scouting trip, it’s up to Matt to help his uncle find her before it’s too late.

 

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Matt Archer: Monster Summer (Excerpt)

 

Part One

 

 

Great Victoria Desert, Australian Outback

July

 

The wake-up call came early. It always did.

“Yo, sunshine, time to get up,” Master Sergeant Schmitz called from the tent’s entrance. “No more sleeping in.”

I groaned and rolled over on my cot, wincing at the bruises I’d racked up the day before. A quick glance at my watch turned my groan to a growl. “It’s oh-six-hundred. That doesn’t count as sleeping in.”

“Does in this man’s army,” Schmitz said. His grin looked wolfish in the thin sunlight shining through the canvas walls. “Major wants to see you in twenty. Consider yourself warned, Archer.”

I stood slowly. Schmitz was tiny compared to the rest of the team—only about five-eight and wiry with crazy-short hair to match. After my last growth spurt, I’d hit six feet and I probably outweighed him by at least twenty pounds. I wondered briefly if I could drop kick him for being so full of energy this early in the morning but, short or not, the guy was a Green Beret. And I was only fifteen. Chances were good I’d find myself flat on my back with a boot planted on my stomach for my trouble.

So instead I said, “Yes, Master Sergeant. On my way.”

That didn’t mean I had to be cheerful about it, though. After Schmitz let the tent flap close, I glanced my best friend’s cot. It was empty and neatly made. Will must’ve left, or been summoned, long before I had.

I pulled on my BDUs, which were stiff with dirt and carried a funk that I could only describe as Gym Locker Cologne. In the eight days we’d been on the ground there hadn’t been time to do laundry. The monster infestation in the Outback was worse than expected, and sleeping whenever I had a spare minute was more important than smelling good.

When I finally made it outside, a chill wind blew straight through my camo jacket and I hunched my shoulders against the cold. Our camp backed up to a large bluff; it provided us with good cover but also created a wind tunnel between the tents. Shouted commands rang out in the distance. Someone was being run through drills—so that’s where Will was. I’d been through a modified boot camp before we came here, but Will had to pull double duty. He trained whenever we had downtime and watched my back when we didn’t. I glanced across the plain of reddish dirt just in time to see him drop and start a set of pushups. Schmitz was counting them off. He got to twenty, with no sign of stopping, by the time I reached the command tent.

I paused before entering. Last time, I barged in without thinking and caught Major Tannen—aka my Uncle Mike—macking on his fiancée, Julie, who also happened to be second-in-command for our team. How they convinced the general to station them together was anyone’s guess, but the list of people on a “need to know” basis about the monster program was very short, so the general probably didn’t have much choice.

I pushed down a twinge of annoyance just the same. I’d kind of wanted to spend some time with Mike on this trip, especially since he’d just gotten back from Afghanistan, but with Julie here…well, there wasn’t enough time to go around.

Yeah, so far I wasn’t doing such a good job of squashing that thought. I squeezed my eyes shut for a second, willing myself to act like a soldier and not some kid vying for attention. I’d told Mike for years he needed to find a girlfriend, partly because his fridge was a disaster, but mainly because the dude was thirty-eight and seemed a little old to be alone. I should be happy for him and, besides, whiners didn’t last long in the Army.

Deciding I better report for duty before they wondered if I’d gotten lost during the forty-yard walk from my tent to command, I shook off my funk and tried to make my expression as bland as possible. Just another day at the office, right?

To avoid accidently walking in on another make-out session, I cleared my throat loudly and said, “Permission to enter, sir?”

“Come in, Matt,” Uncle Mike called.

I pushed my way through the tent flap. Uncle Mike and Captain Hunter (she told me call her Julie, just not on ops) were sitting at a long metal table, going over the daily intelligence reports. Their heads were close together, but there wasn’t anything going on. My lucky day.

Julie looked up, her nose wrinkled. “Do you smell something?”

Maybe it was time to do laundry. “No, ma’am.”

The corner of Uncle Mike’s mouth twitched, but shook his head at Julie. “Me, neither. Must just be you.”

“Uh huh,” Julie said, giving me a long stare. I shrank a little under her gaze; she intimidated the crap out of me. Julie looked like a supermodel with her long brown hair and great body—even wearing camo—but she also was Military Intelligence and supposedly able to kill a grown man with one hand. I wasn’t sure I wanted to find out how.

Finally I broke eye-contact. Man, she was good. “Okay, okay…I’ll try to air out my BDUs or something.”

That made her smile, and Ms. Scary-Pants disappeared. “You want to know a trick? Sprinkle them with baby powder and hang them up outside. That’ll help.”

Because of course I packed baby powder in my gear. What self-respecting guy didn’t? Seriously, reeking of gym socks was better than smelling like a nursery. “Uh, yeah. Thanks for the tip.”

I settled down at the table across from Mike, waiting to find out why he’d called me in. He didn’t say anything right away, engrossed in the reports. Every once in a while, he’d make a mark on an aerial map of the desert. I watched him work. For a long time, I thought I’d look exactly like him when I got older, but today I was struck by the differences. Sure, we were both tall, and I was on track to be almost as broad in the shoulders, but my hair had turned a darker shade of brown than his and my build was longer and leaner. In a way, that disappointed me. Growing up, I’d always wanted to look like, and be like, Uncle Mike. My siblings resembled him—and Mom—a lot more than I did, and it bugged me some.

“Matt?”

Uncle Mike was watching me, a puzzled smile on his face. Crap, he caught me staring. “Yes, sir?”

“Just wondering where you drifted off to.” Uncle Mike stacked his papers into a neat pile, lining the corners up square with the edge of the table. “The drones picked up something interesting last night. They spotted a pack of Dingoes eighteen miles due west of here. This may be the break we’ve been looking for.”

He pushed a grainy black and white picture across the table. I could just make out a group of five dog-like creatures huddled together in a patch of scrub-brush. Even in a picture taken from a distance by a drone flight, there was no mistaking what they were, though. “Definitely looks like Dingoes.”

The Dingoes—our code name for the particular breed of monster we’d been called out to hunt—were a sight to see. The Wookiee-like Bears I’d fought in Montana last winter had their own kind of weird, but the Dingoes really took it to another level. They had canine ears, elongated muzzles with pointed teeth, and reddish-brown fur that allowed them to blend in with the sand and rocks of their native terrain. But that’s where any resemblance to an actual dog stopped. The rest of a Dingo’s body could be mistaken for a barrel-chested pro-wrestler—ropy muscles, thick neck and all. Well, except for the tail and giant paws.

I handed Julie the picture and crossed my arms over my chest against the chill seeping into the tent. “So are we going after them?”

Uncle Mike frowned and I could practically see the wheels turning in his head. Risk his fifteen-year-old nephew’s life by making him fight off five monsters with only backup support, or wait to call in an additional knife-wielder and risk losing the pack.

Tough spot, but I didn’t sympathize. After being chosen to wield one of five supernatural knives created to hunt down things you only heard about in horror stories, I’d worked my butt off to prove I was as good a fighter as the adult knife-wielders. Most of the other team members had accepted my place, but Mike still struggled with it. Part of it was the fact that he’d help raise me, and it was hard for him to let go. The bigger problem was that he hadn’t told Mom about my extracurricular activities. She thought I was in Sydney on a school trip, not in the Outback hunting monsters.

Finally Mike blew out a breath. “I want to gather some intel before we mount a real assault. Julie’s going to take an advance team to scout the area today. In the meantime, I want you here.” He pointed to a spot about four miles southwest of camp. “We had a report that a lone Dingo might be prowling around here. Schmitz will take you and Cruessan to check it out.”

I held in a sigh. This was busy-work while Mike decided what to do. A goose-chase to keep me out of the way and safe. “Yes, sir.”

Julie gave a knowing, and surprisingly sympathetic, smile. “Once we know exactly what we’re dealing with, we’ll call you first, okay? You’re on point for this one since the other team is engaged on the far side of the grid.”

I nodded. “You think this is it? Are we almost done?”

“Should be close,” Uncle Mike said. “If our count is right, and we take out these six, we should be down to the last one.”

The count was right; monsters always showed up in packs of thirteen. Down to the last one, huh? That would be great, but the thought of finding a single monster in an area twice the size of Kansas made my head hurt. “Hopefully the other team will find the last one. We’ll have enough to deal with, looking for our six.”

“No doubt.” Uncle Mike stood and stretched. His biceps strained against his sleeves, and I caught Julie checking him out.

I looked away before they could catch me rolling my eyes. “Anything else, sir?”

“Not until we have the intel,” Mike answered.

“I better get going, then,” Julie said. She turned to leave, but smiled at Uncle Mike over her shoulder. “Back by six, honey. Have dinner warm for me.”

Then, with a wink, she was gone.

Uncle Mike shook his head. “I’m going to have my hands full, aren’t I?”

“Yep.” I reached across the table to whack him on the shoulder. “Good luck with that.”

“Wouldn’t have it any other way.” Mike flashed me a cocky grin. “The good news is that we’re going to be stationed at the Pentagon together after we’re done here. I’ll be able to keep my eye on her.”

Wait, did he just say he was moving? My stomach lurched. “The Pentagon?”

The smile slid off of Uncle Mike’s face. “Matt, I’m sorry. That wasn’t how I planned to tell you. It just slipped out.” He sighed. “The general wants Julie to run intel for the whole program, and I’ll be his liaison for the main operations until we’re needed out in the field.”

“You’re moving to D.C.?” I asked. He was leaving Billings again? And from the sound of things, this move might be permanent instead of a deployment.

“It’s orders, Chief,” he said quietly. “We’ll miss you guys—”

“Captain Hunter doesn’t know us well enough to miss us,” I snapped without thinking, then immediately felt like a jackass. “Sorry, man. That was…I didn’t mean it.”

“It’s okay. I sprung this on you at a really bad time.” Uncle Mike stared at the maps on the table, but I could tell he didn’t really see them. “Look, we don’t have to be in D.C. until September, so we’ll be in Billings until after the wedding. Besides, we’ll stay in touch. Just like always.”

Just like always. Except Julie would be part of the “we” who’d stay in touch. It would never be just me and Mike again.

Not like that wasn’t a whiny thought or anything. I might as well hire a violinist to follow me around and play sad tunes. It was time to get out of this tent and hunt a monster or two before my man-card got taken away.

I stood quickly. “Captain Hunter said dinner was at six, so I better run if I’m going to find your lost Dingo.”

“Okay, just don’t be late, or your MREs will get cold,” Uncle Mike said. “And Matt? Be careful, understand? If something happens to you, your mom will kill both of us.”

“Don’t worry.” I stood. “Besides, it’s just one monster. What could go wrong?”

As I left the tent, Mike muttered, “That’s what worries me.”

I headed out to the Humvee we’d been assigned. Schmitz was putting gas in the tank and barely looked up when I slung my backpack into the front seat.

“Seen Cruessan?” I asked.

Schmitz spared me a quick grin. “Probably puking up his breakfast. I made him run sprints after the pushups.”

“Master Sergeant, you can be a real bastard,” I said, laughing. “You know he flushed out that Dingo for me yesterday and had to haul butt to get away.”

On the other hand, this kind of training could save Will’s life someday. And since Will had assigned himself as my primary bodyguard, I had a real interest in keeping him alive. Besides, he’d had my back since we were six, and I had his—which is why I didn’t protest when Schmitz pushed Will harder than his football coach ever had.

Will came around the tents, looking pale but otherwise okay. He walked straight to Schmitz and loomed over him. He was so much taller that he cast a shadow over Schmitz. With his blue-black hair and narrowed dark eyes, Will looked kind of like an ogre terrorizing a villager. But instead of running away screaming—or going for a pitchfork—Schmitz just smirked.

“How are you, daisy?” he asked Will. “Feeling better?”

“Done puking, Master Sergeant. Ready to roll.” Will shot me a hard look. He was no quitter, that was for sure. “You good?”

I patted my thigh pocket. My knife was strapped into its custom-made sheath. Its white bone handle vibrated softly, a gentle buzz that told me it was time to get to work. “Yeah. Let’s go.”

We drove out to the GPS coordinates Uncle Mike had set for us, following a flat plain until we reached a set of foothills. Schmitz forced the Humvee up a rocky incline. “Good visibility up here,” he shouted over the motor. “You two can set up at the edge of that cliff.”

I looked the direction he was pointing. The part of the hill we’d climbed had a ledge jutting out over the plain below.

Schmitz parked under a skeletal eucalyptus tree seventy yards from the cliff’s edge. Small, prickly bushes grew here and there in the red sand and, other than the wind, nothing stirred. I glanced behind us. It was lonely country out here; no one to come running if trouble showed up. A little shudder ran down my back and the knife buzzed in response. That didn’t make me feel any better.

Uneasy, I unloaded my gear and headed to our watch point to settle in and wait.

 

*****

 

We’d been lying prone in the dirt under some bushes, staring over the cliff’s edge, for three hours, and we hadn’t seen a thing. My back and elbows ached from keeping me propped up on the ground so I could see, and I passed the time by thinking up choice names to call my uncle when I saw him later.

“Matt, I got something,” Will whispered. He refocused the binoculars. “Yeah, definitely something down there.”

I almost cheered. Maybe it was wrong to get excited about a monster, but I’d hate for this stakeout to be a waste of time. Squinting, I could just barely make out a reddish-brown figure crouched on the sandy plain below “Dingo?”

“Yeah, looks like it.”

He didn’t say anything else, so I nudged him. “And?”

“I don’t know,” Will said, still staring downrange. “This one looks pretty big, even from here. It might be the biggest one I’ve seen.”

My best friend had said those exact words three times in the last seventy-two hours. Every time we discovered a new monster, he had to tell me this one was bigger than the last. Still, Will exaggerated a lot, so I stole the binoculars to take a look myself.

I refocused the view until the beast became clear. “Huh, this one is bigger,”

It was standard Dingo, all right, but huge. Rings of dark fur ran around its tail, which wagged slowly as it sniffed the ground. “Want to bet that it’s more than nine feet tall?”

“Nope.” Will yawned. Sweat beaded along forehead, and the sunlight glinted on his damp hair. “I’d rather figure out how to get rid of it without either of us ending up as dog food.”

I chuckled. “Are you regretting me blackmailing the Army into letting you tag along on this trip?”

“Nah. You need me here to watch your back. Besides, what were they gonna say, after we did so well hunting on our own at home? It’s not like they agreed to let you bring a green-bean,” Will said. “Do me a favor, though. Don’t set me up as bait this time. My hamstrings still hurt from yesterday and Schmitz’s sprints of death this morning didn’t help.”

“No bait this time.” I wiped sweat and grit the back of my neck. It stung; I’d gotten sunburned despite the little bit of shade from the bushes. It was supposedly winter in the southern hemisphere in July, but the arid landscapes of the south-central outback allowed for warmer temperatures than I expected. In the afternoons, the temperature often rose to seventy degrees. Not that hot, when you thought about it, but all of us wore full battle dress uniform and camo got warm on a sunny day. No wonder Julie could smell me this morning.

I watched the monster a bit longer before turning to Will. “What’s it doing?”

Will took his binoculars back. “No idea. It’s down on all fours like a regular dog, sniffing at a clump of grass. Maybe it needs to take a leak.”

We were both so engrossed by the Dingo that a tap on my shoulder made me jump a foot off ground. Clutching my chest in case my heart decided to seize up, I glared at our visitor. “Dang it, Master Sergeant! You gotta stop doing that!”

Schmitz squatted down next to me. “And you need to watch your back, sunshine.”

“Weren’t you doing that?” I asked. “You said you’d scout the area and keep watch while we spied on Scooby Doo down there.”

“That’s no excuse not to be more aware of your surroundings.” He gave Will a hard nudge in the shoulder. “You, too, Cruessan. You’ve had enough training for that to sink in.”

“Understood, Master Sergeant,” Will said, sounding weary.

“So what you got there, Archer?” Schmitz asked, peering over the cliff’s edge. “That’s one big Dingo.”

“Yeah,” I said. “Want to go after it?”

Schmitz watched the monster for another minute before answering. “Let me check in with Major Tannen, first. He’d kick my ass if I took you two on an unauthorized hunt. Stay put.”

He headed back to the Humvee. While we waited, a wisp of alien thought snaked into my mind.

They’re coming, it whispered. Keep watch.

I jerked and pressed a hand to my temple. Being chosen as pet-wielder by a sentient knife was freaky enough, but it’d recently started talking to me. In the back of my head.

I wasn’t sure I liked sharing brain-space with the blade; it was hard to explain that I heard “voices” without sounding crazier than an outhouse rat. Still, the relationship had its uses. Things like monster-radar, for example, which let me know if trouble was on the way.

Kind of like…oh, crap, right now.

The knife set off my early-warning system with a punch of adrenaline. Goose bumps rose on my arms, a feeling like ten-thousand nails on a chalkboard, and my pulse raced as if I’d just sprinted a mile. Already breaking out in a cold sweat, I stood fast and yanked the binoculars out of Will’s hands.

“Hey, grab-master, I wasn’t using those or anything,” Will said.

I ignored him, refocusing the binoculars to scan the area around us. Schmitz stood by the Humvee, talking on the satellite-phone. Nothing else moved, not even the wind, but I didn’t like the silence. I checked downrange—the Dingo we’d been watching had disappeared.

“Will, go tell Schmitz we have incoming.”

Will didn’t ask any questions; he just ran for Schmitz, leaving our gear in a pile on the edge of the cliff. While I waited, I unsheathed my knife. The handle flashed a pale blue in the sunshine—a warning that monsters were near. Yeah, trouble was definitely on its way.

A soft breeze raised the hairs on my neck and I drew in big gulps of air, trying to slow my pulse. I could be calm. I could wait.

A low, grating growl echoed against the rocks, right behind me.

Then again, maybe not.

Be ready, the knife commanded. Turn. Now!

I whirled around as the Dingo leapt over the ledge, closing the distance between us. Its momentum tumbled us both to the ground in a rolling snarl of limbs. Teeth I had to believe would rival a shark’s snapped at my nose and the thing’s breath smelled like week-old hamburger left out in the sun. Holding in a gag, I jerked my head out of its reach and twisted my hips, rolling us one last time so that I ended up on top of the dog pile.

I lifted the knife, preparing to send this monster back to whatever Hell it came from, but the Dingo grabbed the front of my jacket, pulling me so close that we were literally eye-to-eye. “Not so fast there, mate. Take a look behind you. Go on…I’ll wait.”

I sucked in a quick breath. I hadn’t exactly sat down to chat with any of the Dingoes, and this one’s conversational tone freaked me out. The Bears I’d fought back home had sounded like cavemen, mangling what barely passed for English. Hearing the Dingo rasp out perfect English in an Aussie accent made my insides quiver. Gripping the knife tight in my fist, I chanced a quick glance over my shoulder.

Three new Dingoes had surrounded the Humvee and the ring-tailed one we’d been watching downrange lifted Will off the ground with a meaty paw wrapped around his throat. Will stood six-four in his socks and weighed two-twenty—all solidly packed muscle—yet the thing held him up with only one hand.

Schmitz was nowhere to be found. During my boot camp, he’d taught me how to creep through the forest unnoticed; leave it to him to find a way to hide in the middle of a desert. Okay, hopefully that meant he was planning a diversion. I forced myself to let out a slow breath.

“So I looked,” I said, hoping I sounded snide instead of scared. “What do you want?”

The Dingo I had penned chuckled, calling my attention back to it. “You humans are easy to break, yeah? Let me up, or your friend loses his head. Get it?”

If we got out of this mess alive, I’d have plenty to add to my report. We knew the monsters’ intelligence had increased at a rapid pace, but tactics like these were beyond anything we’d seen. I glared into the Dingo’s beady eyes. “Yeah, I get it.”

I stood slowly, keeping my hands up. The Dingo rose on its hind legs, as well, never breaking eye-contact. I knew it would tell me to drop the knife any second, so I had to think of something fast, or we were all Alpo.

There weren’t many options, though. If I killed the leader, I might have time to retrieve the knife and throw it at the one holding Will before it broke his neck. The knife never missed—it’d hit the target. But what about the other three?

To buy some time I asked, “So, why’d you decide today was the day you wanted to die?”

The Lead-Dingo was less than impressed with my trash talk. “I don’t think you’re in a position to ask those kinds of questions, mate.” It jerked its head toward the Humvee. “Squeeze him.”

Will cried out. I hazarded another look. Ring-tail banged him hard against the Humvee. Even from this distance, I could tell Will’s face was turning purple. He scrabbled at the thing’s paws with his fingers and kicked at its midsection, but it didn’t loosen its grip.

Think, think! How would I pull this off? I could get in position to take out the leader, but without a diversion, would I be fast enough to save Will, too? I honestly didn’t know.

Edging toward the Humvee, I said, “There’s no reason to kill him. I’m the one you want.”

“Well, not entirely,” the Lead-Dingo said. “But you’ll do for a start.”

We knew the Dingoes were out here searching for someone. All the monsters seemed to be hunting for a particular person, showing up in very specific places and killing their way across the countryside while they searched. We figured the Dingoes were looking for a shaman from the Aboriginal tribes living in the area, someone who might have a crucial piece of magic to stop them. Maybe dogface here would confirm that for me.

I shuffled a few more steps. “What do you mean ‘not entirely?’”

The Lead-Dingo snorted, sounding so much like a Labradoodle that I had to swallow a hysterical laugh. It noticed and bared its teeth at me. “You think I’m just an animal, senseless enough to answer your questions. How…human.”

Okay, if I couldn’t get it talking, maybe I could piss it off. “We’ve already established the fact that I’m human and you’re not.” I stepped closer to the Humvee, moving slow. “But I’ll debate the animal thing—you’re nothing but an overgrown dog in my opinion. You don’t even have opposable thumbs.”

The beast snarled and showed me the whites of its eyes. “You sound awfully confident for a dead boy. I’ve killed plenty like you, and I’ll kill plenty more.”

Rage thrummed through my chest. Some of it wasn’t mine; the knife was spoiling for a fight, too. “I’d like to see you try, because I’ve killed plenty like you, too.” I gave the Lead-Dingo a cold, hard smile. “And I’ll live to kill plenty more after you’re dead.”

The monster stalked a few steps toward me, its back claws gouging deep trails in the dirt. I used its approach as an excuse to scoot closer to the pack of Dingoes by the vehicle.

When it didn’t rise to the taunt, I said, “Well, you got anything to say to that? Oh, wait…you aren’t going to answer my questions.” I tightened my grip on the knife. This would be tight. “What’s the matter? Cat got your tongue?”

The Lead-Dingo lunged and I brought the knife up just as a huge “Boom!” echoed across the plain. The ground shuddered beneath my feet and I dropped to my knees. The Lead-Dingo stumbled, howling something in his native language. Two of the others took off running.

Another explosion came, closer this time, sending pebbles sliding down the hill. In the confusion, I popped into a crouch and launched myself at the Lead-Dingo. It scrambled backward as I slashed at its chest, but it slipped on the loose rocks littering the ground and landed on its back. Moving at warp speed, I was right there to land a blow to the heart before it had a chance to stand. It jerked once as the knife slid between its ribs, then was still.

The Dingo holding Will howled and slammed him against the Humvee so hard, he went limp. I yanked the knife free from the carcass and hurled it with all my might. The knife flew like a guided missile and slammed into the thing’s chest, sending it toppling over backward. Will tumbled down on top of it.

The last Dingo standing let out a yip and ran after the others. I sprinted down the hill as fast as I could without sliding on the carpet of pebbles and reached Will just as Schmitz came charging up the hill from the other direction. Together we tugged Will off the dead Dingo.

Will groaned and sat up. His neck was red and scratched, but otherwise he looked fine. “Holy Elway’s ghost, dude,” he said in a raspy voice, “I thought we were dead this time.”

Relieved, I sat on the ground next to him. “Nah, just beat up.” I looked up at Schmitz, who was peering across the desert. “Where’d the other ones go?”

“Not sure. I figured they’d come after me when I set off those grenades, but they kept running, right on out of sight. Even that last one just passed me by like I wasn’t there,” Schmitz said. “Real Dingoes live in packs, but there’s always an Alpha. Maybe losing the boss shook them up.”

There’s always a new leader, the knife whispered. Stay alert.

I loved it when the knife was cheery and optimistic like that. “I bet you’re right Master Sergeant.” I stretched, popping about six vertebrae in the process. Tumbling in the dirt with a nine-foot-tall monster wasn’t good for my back, apparently. “Anybody else ready to call it a day?”

“Amen to that,” Schmitz said.

Cut Scene: Mamie’s Nickname

Greetings All!

It’s Friday Ramble: On the Road Edition. I’m traveling for work this week (and trying to get a new Matt Archer short story launched, but more on that next week), so I thought this might be a good time to present a cut scene from Matt Archer: Monster Hunter. If you’ve read the book, you know that Uncle Mike calls Mamie “Daisy May.” Well, the story behind her nickname hit the cutting room floor, but I’ve always liked it, and I thought I’d share it with you. Cheers!

***

A knock on the door interrupted us.  Mike stuck his head in.  “Hey, Daisy May, can I talk to Matt a minute?  I’m staying for dinner; we’ll have a chance to visit more then.”

Mamie nodded and drifted off to her room.  I sat up and put the pillow back on my bed.  “You never told me why you call her Daisy May.  Or why you don’t have a nickname for Brent.” I didn’t want to talk about the monsters now.  I wanted to pretend everything was normal.

Mike laughed.  “Well, that’s one way to start a conversation.  When Mamie was born, I had just come back from a stint at Fort Carson.  I mean, literally got off the plane and drove to the hospital to see her.  I wanted to bring a huge bouquet of pink roses, but I couldn’t find any.  The best I could come up with was a bunch of half-wilted daisies from the grocery store.  So, to make up for that, I brought them into their hospital room, acting all dramatic, and said ‘Daisies for my little Daisy May!’  Dani cried her eyes out, and Mamie’s been Daisy May ever since.”

“How about Brent? Does he even have a nickname?”

“Oh, that’s not a safe story for you to hear,” Mike said with a sly smile.  He was daring me to ask again.

“I killed a monster last night.  I think I can deal with Brent.”  Not exactly true, but so what.

Mike got that hard look in his eye for a moment.  Then it faded and he grinned at me.  “You have to swear on a stack of Bibles not to tell Brent I told you this.  When he turned seven, he told me if I ever called him anything but Brent again, he’d run away from home.” He sighed happily, lost in a memory.  “You were so little you don’t remember, but I used to call him Pickle.”

“Pickle?”  I started to laugh.  “What did he do to deserve that?”

“When he was two, he went through a phase where all he wanted to eat was sour food – green grapes, pickles, lemonade, and so on.  To get him to eat chicken or hot dogs, we had to bribe him with pickles.  I told him if he kept eating tons of pickles he’d turn into one.  Then one day I came over and Dani looked like she couldn’t decide whether to murder me or cry.”

“What happened?”

“Brent came out of the kitchen, with his face and hands scribbled all over with green permanent marker, and said, ‘See, I’s a pickle now, Unca Mike!’  I nearly wet my pants, laughing.  Your mom wasn’t amused, but the nickname stuck until Brent vetoed it.”

What Would Bruce Do?

*Cue Spotlight and Big-Voice Announcer* —  Are you ready for some MAYHEM?!

The crowd goes wild! 

Welcome to Monsters and Mayhem! If this is your first visit, howdy! We like things a little rough and tumble around here…just warning y’all. There might be explosions. Volcanos. BAMFs with attitude.

Since the monsters had their turn (Zombies and Favorites), it’s time for a little demolition. Or, as I see it, basically every Bruce Willis movie ever made. (See the aforementioned “BAMFs with attitude.”)

Oh, wait…maybe not all Bruce Willis movies. There was that one…um…oh, yeah–the one with…huh.  Okay, basically every Bruce Willis movie ever made!

(Well, there is one…but I’m saving that one for Halloween.) I digress–moving on:

Formula for a successful Bruce Willis flick:

Bad guy takes over skyscraper/tries to kill the Supreme Being/wants to eliminate retired CIA agents.  Mr. Willis snaps his fingers, pops a magazine into his pistol and saves the freaking world. Barefoot.

The End.

Except…when Bruce goes dark. Two of my favorite Bruce Willis movies are The Jackal and The Whole Nine Yards. Why? He’s not there to save the day. He’s there to wreak total havoc on anyone daring to cross his path. In other words? He’s a one-man Mayhem Machine.

In The Jackal, Bruce goes very dark. He plays the assassin as a cold, calculating killer, but there’s a mean edge to it. Like when he lies in wait for his target by stretching out on a sofa while they enter the house? Holy crap. Don’t know about you, but I kept screaming at the TV–“Look at the couch. LOOK at the COUCH! LOOK AT THE COUCH!!” Did they listen? No. As a result, chaos reigned. Frankly, the Jackal is nearly as scary as John Malkovich in In the Line of Fire.

Bruce plays an assassin in  The Whole Nine Yards as well, but this is more dark comedy than anything. As the double-crosses mount, Jimmy “The Tulip” takes everything in wry stride, figuring out who he can (kind of) trust and who needs to be shown the forever-door. Matthew Perry is at his spaztastic finest in this movie, too. There’s car chases, shoot outs, a blown up house, a crazy-twisted-mixed-up romance. In short, the whole thing is mayhem from one end to the other. And it’s funny! In fact, it’s one of those movies where you tell yourself, “I really shouldn’t be laughing”…but you do anyway.

Most of Bruce’s characters are roguish heroes–good guys who are sarcastic, don’t play by the rules and are total pains-in-the-butt. And he’s great in those roles.  But when he drops the good-guy bit? That’s where the real magic begins.  (Disclaimer…I did say that I like my heroes a little bit bad, remember?)

Of course, if a giant asteroid is headed toward earth, I’d want the Harry Stamper version of the mighty Bruce instead of Jimmy “The Tulip.” Jimmy might just let the world burn.

All right, sound off — what’s your favorite Bruce Willis movie? If Bruce Willis and Jason Statham went into a room, who would come out? If Bruce Willis got into a staring contest with Samuel L. Jackson, who’d break eye contact first? If Alan Rickman took over the Empire State Building…oh, wait, I’d move in! But that’s a post for another day.

Geeks of the World: Unite!

All hail the mighty Sheldon! Let’s begin by reciting our Geekdom pledge of allegiance:

*knock knock knock* Penny?

*knock knock knock* Penny?

*knock knock knock* Penny?

Excellent, this meeting of Geek Court shall now commence. Does everyone have enough Red Bull, Funyuns and M&Ms? If not, we’ll send the robot minions out for more.

As you can probably tell, I’m a proud, card-carrying Geek. I love watching The Big Bang Theory. Not only because it’s hilarious (it is), but because I live The Big Bang Theory. My Prince Charming plays video games, learns programming languages for “fun” and takes me to see Superhero movies. And I adore him for it.

You see, my husband is a software engineer. Most of his good friends are–you guessed it–IT/Engineering types. Their idea of playing football is spirited trash-talk over their fantasy leagues. They have arguments about who’s hotter: Caprica Six, or Starbuck. (Starbuck, by the way). They play D&D. No, really…the dice version. In fact, when the four of them get together, I call them Sheldon, Leonard, Raj and Howard. My husband is Raj by the way. Except he can talk to girls just fine.

I’ve always been a SciFi/Fantasy loving bookworm. I watched Krull and Star Wars and Star Trek: TOS instead of MTV. These days I watch very little TV, but when I do, it’s Fringe and Battlestar Galactica and, of course, The Big Bang Theory.  Twenty-five years ago, when I was trying to fit into the high school mainstream, I’d hide my geekier side. I’d dress like the other girls. If I read at school, I was careful to show up with lighter books (reading Dune and The Hobbit at home). Geeks weren’t cool then, and the word “fanboy” didn’t even exist. So I hid.

But now? Now it’s awesome to be a Geek. A geek renaissance so to speak. Comic-con has grown from a gathering of guys who love comic books into Hollywood’s gateway for fanboy buy-in. Want to launch a big-budget film? You better get to Comic-con. It’s become a carnival for everyone who loves Buffy, Firefly, and anything Marvel-ous.  And that “everyone” has grown to epic proportions.

“Geek Chic” is now part of our lexicon.

Or, as my CPA, mystery-reading, PhD-holding, bespectacled Dad used to say, “One day, precious, geeks will rule the world. So let it roll off when those popular girls call you weird. All that reading will pay off one day.”

My Dad was right.

 

Did Someone Say Zombie Apocalypse?

Double Tap.

Sorry, I just had to put that out there. But it’s Tuesday, and Tuesday means…Monsters! (Or mayhem…and in the case of this blog post–both).

Zombies, for some unfathomable reason, are all the rage these days. And why not? Zombieland was one of the funniest horror flicks I’d seen since the original Scream. “I hear Tallahassee is nice this time of year.” *Snort* — my inner twelve-year-old was satisfied on a number of fronts.

We’re not just obsessed with zombies themselves, though, are we? We’re obsessed with the idea that zombies will someday take over, turning the world into a post-apocalyptic brain-munch-fest. Like The Road, except with the Undead. And seriously, what could be more terrifying?

But…zombies? Why do we think they’d be able to take over? They’re slow (usually), they’re not that smart and they’re bound to lose a limb if they try to make a sharp turn. That’s what cracks me up about this. Assuming you don’t get infected during the outbreak of zombie flu, you have a pretty good chance of survival, if you keep your wits about you. The idea of zombies is pretty darn scary…but zombies themselves? Stay in shape and tote a pump-action shotgun, and you likely won’t become dinner. Now, if you’re being chased by an unrelenting mob of zombies and you’re backed into a corner, yeah, you’re toast. Or…lunch. But outrunning just one, even slow as I am, doesn’t seem insurmountable. Then again, I tend to be more scared of the alien in Aliens than a zombie. Mainly ’cause that could totally happen.  Even Stephen Hawking  warns against alerting extraterrestrials to our presence. And he’s a freaking genius. Just sayin’.

Okay, okay, I hear you. Zombies have freakish strength! Zombies never stop! Zombies can run! That’s true, but let’s think about this for a sec.  The United States military has gas masks, containment suits and all the firepower you’d need to mow down legions of zombies. Assuming the “virus” is short-lived, i.e. isn’t airborne and can’t be contracted again later, the Zombie Apocalypse would be pretty short-lived. Although, I still think it’s completely awesome that a firearms company sells zombie-repellant bullets. Double Tap! (Nor does my skepticism dampen my enthusiasm for a good creature-flick. It’s escapism, y’all.)

So where did this legend of brain-eating undead come from, anyway? There are a lot of myths about flesh-eating monsters, vampires and such, but the notion of a true zombie–a reanimated corpse under the influence of a master (Bokor) originates in African and Haitian myth. Zombies aren’t created by some mysterious illness, but by a combination of drugs and powerful magic, being enslaved to the “witch” who created them. In other words–if we’re talking about true, mythical zombies–there isn’t much chance of an apocalypse. An army? Maybe, but that would depend more on the badassedness of the witch, right?

I might still buy some of that zombie-slayer ammo, though. You know, just in case.

(Disclaimer: The CDC told the Huffington Post that “Zombies are not real.” Derive from that what you will. )

So, what’s your favorite zombie flick or book? I have a very fond spot in my heart for Night of the Comet.  What others should make the list of Undead Entertainment?

My Song Addiction: Earworms and Playlists

I mentioned on Tuesday that I have an unhealthy love of the song Sail by AWOLNATION.  It’s atypical of the music I usually like (Florence+Machine, Of Monsters and Men, U2, Coldplay…seriously, I don’t wear Mom-jeans, but I might as well).  But the first time I heard this song, played on my brother-in-law’s iPhone on my MIL’s kickass stereo system, I was hooked.*

So I listened.

And listened.

And listened again.

In the month since I downloaded the song, iTunes says I’ve listened to Sail 74 times. That’s more than twice a day for the last month. Heh, I listened to Sail for my entire 20 mile commute to work one day. Yeah. But that’s the way my mind works. A song gets in there and stays. It doesn’t get old. Well, eventually, it does, but at first, I can listen to it on a loop and be completely happy.

That’s also where my stories begin, usually with one song. I wrote a contemporary YA last year, more literary than most of my other work, and I struggled with it until the song Paradise by Coldplay was released as a single. The first time I heard it, I got chills. It was as if Genna, the main character, was showing me the wounds painted on her heart. How in the world did Chris Martin know how an eighteen-year-old basketball player felt? One of those mysteries of life, I guess.

iTunes tells me the song I’ve listened to most (as far its tracking feature is concerned) is Forbidden Friendship from the How to Train Your Dragon soundtrack. Yeah, that’s right–I listen to movie soundtracks. Of animated features. Loud and proud, yo!  But I know why I listen to that piece of music so often…there’s a quality of discovery, an air of trust-building, that my characters often need.

Plus, I totally want a dragon like Toothless, but that’s a post for a Tuesday.

Anyway, I frequently suffer from earworms, but most of the time, those are self-inflicted. Listening to one song over and over will mess up your inner ear, causing you to wail, “SAIL!” at inappropriate moments. Not…that I’ve, um, done that or anything.

What about you? Do you listen to the same song over and over again? What song gives you the worst earworms?

*PS (My two-year-old nephew apparently loved Sail  before I did…so, Doodle, thank Daddy for playing it for me, ‘kay?)

Monsters and Mayhem: Inaugural Post

Greetings!

I thought I’d start by saying, “I’m going to blow up the earth,” because that seemed appropriately Mayhem-esque, but Marvin Martian stole that line before I was born.  And he wouldn’t be too happy if I used it…I mean, just look at that face. He’s seriously put out.

So, instead, I’ll just say, “Welcome to the Himalayas!”

Crap – another monster had that line first, too.**

Trying again: Welcome to the Monsters and Mayhem blog!

My name’s Kendra, and I love monsters. I’m assuming you have at least a passing interest as well, since you stopped by. Or maybe you’re into mayhem…well, stick around, we’ll be covering some of that, too.  My love of monsters started early in my childhood, with what I called the “Big Heart Monster.”  Warner Bros. actually called this red, furry beast “Gossamer” and he wore Chuck Taylor tennis shoes. Maybe I should blame Gossamer for the six pairs of Chucks in my own closet. *ponders*

Anyway, Gossamer was just scary enough to make a 4-year-old me shiver, but still cute enough not to scar me for life. As I got older, I graduated to creature flicks like The Dark Crystal and The Neverending Story. I mean, what 9-year-old wouldn’t love to have a Luck Dragon as a friend? When I was a teenager, I was into more scary fare, like Dreamscape and Predator and Aliens (yes, I know, I’m dating myself). Even now, I still love a good monster-movie. Super-8 was one of my favorites of the last several years, as was Monsters, Inc.

Oh, and I’m the thrall to two cats. That’s kind of the same thing as loving monsters. Except far more demanding.

Maybe this lifelong fascination with monsters is why I decided to write about them. They’d long since inhabited the cellar of my imagination and it seems that a gremlin found the key one day and promptly let them out. Maybe that’s also why I love my good guys slightly flawed and my bad guys a little bit redeemable (or at least understandable). Or, in more current parlance, I’m a Thor/Ironman kind of girl. Captain America is cute and all, but he’s too nice. Give me a hero who has some issues, or at least a sarcastic attitude.

Huh, this may explain why I love Loki, too.

(And can I get an “Amen!” from any Sicarius fans out there? I love a man in black.)

Either way, if you love monsters (or explosions or slime or cool, noise-making gadgets or cosmic chaos), you’ve come to the right place.

Going forward, the blog schedule will be something like this:

Tuesdays—Monsters and Mayhem. We’ll take a look at lore, creatures, movie-makeup and all kinds of other gooey, icky things. We’ll also have some guest posts by authors who love their monsters, too.

Fridays—Random Ramblings. This is where I wax poetic on whatever struck my fancy over the week. Could be anything from Princess Bride fangirling to WIP updates to pondering why I’ve developed an unhealthy addiction to the song Sail by AWOLNATION. (No, seriously, I listened to it FIVE TIMES today. FIVE! I think I might have a problem….)

Again, thanks for stopping by and I hope you’ll come again. Until next time, make sure to check under your bed every night. Well, unless you stuff dirty laundry under there to keep your room tidy, in which case the monster’s probably hiding in your closet.

Ooh—one more thing! To celebrate the first blog post for Monsters and Mayhem, I feel like having a giveaway–a  $25 Barnes and Noble gift card and a signed paperback of Matt Archer: Monster Hunter!

Giveaway:

To enter, simply leave a comment answering this question: Who’s your favorite monster? Real or fictional applies. (But if you’ve seen a real one, I totally want to hear about it!)

For an extra entry, tweet about this post and include a link to your tweet in your comment. (adding the hashtag #monstersandmayhem would be awesome, too!)

**For a bonus entry, answer the following question in your comment: What monster said “Welcome to the Himalayas!,” what movie is it from and which actor voiced the character?

This giveaway begins now and ends Friday, September 21 at 11:59 am CST.  The winner will be announced Friday afternoon on the blog (and on Twitter). This giveaway is for U.S./Canada only.

***

Want to be the first to know about new releases and Monster-updates? Sign up for the Monsters and Mayhem Newsletter. I promise not to send spam. I can’t, however, promise well-heeled monsters. They tend to get unruly at times. Even in the newsletter.

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