The Influencer

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Chapter 1

“Did you see it?”

“Nah, man. You buggin’. That shit ain’t real. Ever hear of somthin’ called an urban legend?”

“I saw it, bruh. Jus’ now. I swear to God I jus’ saw green eyes.”

“Bullshit.”

“Real shit.”

The two men stood in front of a steel-doored warehouse in Queens. It was a place in the industrial zone where no one but hoodlums would be this time of night. The it they were referring to went by a few different names; but, it was best known as The Strix.

“Bro, you remember when people would talk about The Night Owl or some bullshit like that? You ever seen a Night Owl? Urban. Legend.”

“Naw, but I ain’t talking’ about The Night Owl. Strix ain’t nothing like that. You remember when Carlos was killed?”

“Yeah, what about it?”

“I was there after it happened, man. Dude was all charred black, smoke still comin’ off… what was left of him. Like someone poured acid on him, or electrocuted him or somethin’. We never found his head. How you gonna explain that?”

“José, think about it, man. We got beef with some nasty fuckers. We hit them, they hit us. It ain’t no demon bird… thing.”

José paced back and forth, scanning the rooftops. “Brick was there, man. He saw it. He saw some half-machine, half-demon, half-human. Brick said it cackled while icin’ Carlos. You callin’ Brick a liar?”

Jimenez was tired of standing, so he squatted and lit a smoke. “Firstly, you can’t have three half’s, bruh. That’s basic math. Second, I’m not callin’ him a liar, but sometimes, you can’t trust your eyes in the dark if you already rattled. I mean, that’s why Bigfoot exists. People get scared in the woods at night, and they brains make up stupid shit.”

“Brick is hard, man. He don’t make shit up. He said it was ’bout thirteen feet tall, and it picked up Carlos like he weighed nothin’. Bro, Carlos weighed like two-fifty—dude was all muscle.”

“Whatever, man. Brick saw Bigfoot. Better call up Finding Bigfoot. Tell ’em we got a fuckin’... ’Squatch here up in Queens.”

“Fuck you man.” The wind kicked up cans, garbage and other urban detritus. José jumped back at the clash it made. His cohort laughed at him, but it was a disingenuous laugh. A laugh meant to guard against his own fear of the noise. Against the silence that loomed like a shadow in the background of the denser boroughs.

José‘s eyes shot around the dark alley. “What the fuck, man? I don’t like it tonight, son. No. Fuckin’ no.”

“Yo, chill. The chinks get here, then we off. I didn’t come out here not to get paid. Them girls were worth ten-kay.”

A huge apparition, silent as the deepest night, loomed behind them. It crawled in an improbable descent—the eyes glinted neon green before they disappeared into the dark. A hydraulic hiss sounded behind the two hoods. There was a mass of machine and animal crouched behind them; even at a crouch it was their height.

The hoods froze at the sound, but forced themselves to slowly turn around. They tried to pull their guns but were far too slow. A bright, blinding blue-white light flashed, blanketing them in harmful illumination. Fried their eyeballs. Sightless, the men drew their sidearms and attempted to defend themselves.

Their panicked fire rang out in loud pops that echoed through the streets. Their rounds clanked and ricocheted off metal. There was the sound of hot lead driving into something solid but non-metallic. There was no squelch, nothing to indicate the penetration of flesh. And then, silence.

“Oh fuck, man! Oh fuck! I’m blind! I can’t see shit!” the hoodlum with the show of bravado—a fugazi courage now evaporated—screamed. Jimenez grew unnerved as he listened to the whimpering of his companion.

What Jimenez couldn’t see was The Strix. Its eerie and blinding illumination now dimmed. It held José by his neck. Holding him so far into the air he could have rested his foot on a basketball hoop. The Strix clenched its iron claws, crushing the man’s neck. Jimenez heard the crunch—bone snaps, sinew and cartilage tearing. A deep baritone filtered laugh followed the horrid noises. A laugh that sounded as though the voice was coming through a metal mask.

Then, silence. Complete silence.

“José? José? Y-you alright, man?” he sputtered. His vision hadn’t returned.

His answer was the low, iron-masked laugh. Again.

The remaining hood spun around, shooting wildly. Then, the impotent click of an emptied magazine, of a hollow register.

“Please…” he begged, “please, man. Please don’t hurt me.”

The low machine voice laughed again before speaking. “Why? You’ve hurt many people, and I’ve only hurt one... tonight.”

“’Cause… ’cause…”

“Because you have children?” And then another of those horrid laughs, long and lunatic.

The man could only nod.

“And what are you to them? Are you… a doting father? A pater familias? A beacon of warmth and wisdom in the middle of a dark sea of shadows? Or are you a wretch? A rotten beater? Just like the rest of them. Tell me, Mr. Jimenez—and tell the truth—are you a GOOD man?”

Through teary eyes and snot, Jimenez sputtered a whisper.

“No.”

Once again, came the cruel, maniacal laugh. “It’s good you didn’t lie. I know. I know all. I’ve come for you. I’ve come for EVERY ONE OF YOU! It is… a reckoning. Do you know what that means, Mr. Jimenez?”

Jimenez nodded and whispered, “Can I sit down?”

“No!” The Strix roared. “You can sit when I’m done with you. But before I’m done, I have one… favor that you can do for me. And if you do that little favor, I will let you live.”

“Yes—yes! Please… I can do anything you want. Anything!”

Jimenez heard the clanking of metal footsteps—the shuffling of gravel on broken pavement—before he heard the hissing anatomy of the creature that stood next to him.

“I want… your eyes.”

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