Officer Howell sipped his coffee and looked out at the road. It was a ribbon of brightness reflecting the twilight sky between the darkness of the forest on either side. Normally, he would have been just fine pulling this detail out in the middle of nowhere with his partner. They would shoot the shit, drink coffee and Red Bulls, smoke until the sun came up. Then they'd head to Denny's for a cheap steak-and-egg breakfast before clocking out and stumbling home. The overnight detail was usually the quietest shift you could pull. Usually.
His partner looked out at the road ahead, nibbling on his doughnut without much of an appetite. Officer Spokes was a portly Labrador, used to a few too many of these late-night shifts. He wasn't good for much beyond handing out tickets, but he didn't seem to mind that. He was usually comfortable where he was, and Howell admired that. Tonight, though, he was fidgeting. That nervousness affected them both. As a wolf, Howell was less prone to that sort of thing but there was good reason to be on edge here in the sticks of Georgia. Usually, they'd only have to worry about two or three joyriding teenagers. But maybe something much worse would be coming down the road after the sun went down...
"The boys have a pool going at the precinct." Spokes tried to keep his voice casual, and failed. "You know, about when he's going to show up. IF he's going to show up."
"Yeah?" Howell looked out of the windshield towards the southern wilderness. There was nothing but darkness there. "What's the spread on us being the lucky ones?"
Spokes laughed, a high-pitched yip of a sound. "Let's just say that quite a few people are going to get paid if we see him tonight."
Howell growled, and turned it into a chuckle at the last second. "Eh, I don't think he's coming tonight. Doesn't feel like the right time."
"The right time has to be soon, though. Football season's just around the corner." Spokes jammed his doughnut into his muzzle and chewed quickly. The powdered sugar just managed to cover the Labrador's scent.
"Mm-hmm. But things didn't really get crazy until after week one last year. I don't believe it'll be any different now." Howell stuck his coffee under his nose and took a good, long breath. The incredibly strong scent stimulated and comforted him at the same time. If he could keep calm, he'd keep Spokes calm, and this night would go much more smoothly.
"I don't know, John, I just got a feeling." Spokes took another doughnut from the box and made half of it disappear in one bite. "It's going to be a little worse this time. We really ought to have found them by now and figured this all out. How in the world could they have disappeared after all that last time?"
Howell had to admit he didn't have an answer for that. But then, so much about the craziness last year should have been impossible. To this day, no one knew how it happened. Even after the National Guard was called in, even after most of the area surrounding Montreal was reduced to a collection of enormous rat prints. They've had scientific and military meetings ever since then, working out theories and drafting out responses. The Army was posted outside several of the cities that were affected last year -- the Bay area was especially hard hit, and Boston, New Jersey, Kansas City. Oddly enough, the giants never destroyed much if they could help it. They just wanted to be near the stadiums, look in on the teams when they were playing. When asked, they simply said they were the world's biggest football fans.
However benevolent they were, just a few weeks in they were far too large not to be extremely dangerous in populated areas. And they just kept getting bigger as the season went out. The rat out of Montreal was something like 1800 feet tall by the time it was all over. The raccoon they had here was nearly 800. As much as the NFL loved the publicity, even they had to think about cancelling the post-season at that point. Then, just like that, they disappeared without a trace. No one had heard from them since.
The wolf snorted to himself, remembering the insanity of last year. He would scarcely have believed it himself if he hadn't lived through it. The scientists still don't have a good idea how it happened, or what they could expect this year. Everyone knew, though, that things had changed. In addition to the traffic jams, constant analysis, general craziness of the football season, they would have to deal with a set of giants growing in the country's major cities as well. He could only hope that they would be co-operative again this year.
"Well, here comes a car. Looks like a weaver, too." Spokes polished off his third doughnut and nodded towards the windshield.
Howell followed his gaze. A pair of headlights danced back and forth over the line coming out of the southern woods. By now the sun had gone down completely, and the lights were bright enough to blind everything else behind them. By the looks of things, the driver hadn't seen them yet. The car was hidden behind a particularly thick clump of trees just past a bend in the road. Anyone driving south wouldn't catch them until it was too late, and anyone speeding north just wouldn't see them at all.
This was the kind of reckless driving that suggested a drunkard behind the wheel. They were heading around the bend pretty fast, too. Howell and Spokes looked at each other and grinned. This would be an expensive ticket.
Howell put on the lights and started edging out of their hiding spot. The car coming towards them weaved and then bounced, as if they had just about ramped over something. There was nothing in the road, though. They were about a hundred yards away.
He turned the siren on, and the car reacted in a way neither officer would have expected. The hood of it tipped down as the rest of it tilted up crazily. The engine made a high rumbling sound that reminded Howell of a panicked horse. Then, just like that, it flipped over on its hood and skidded a few feet towards them. The wheels spun and the engine lowered to idle. Past the sudden wreck they were dealing with, they saw a towering figure illuminated by the headlights, its eyes reflecting the moon at an impossible height.
Howell felt the blood drain away from his face. Spokes actually whimpered and fumbled for the latch. "Oh God," the dog said, his fearful scent filling the car. "Oh Jesus. It's him."
Before Howell could stop him, Spokes was out of the car with his gun pointed at the giant in front of him. The wolf barked at him to stand down, then cursed under his breath and quickly got out of the car. He'd have to back him up no matter what happened, but he had to admit neither of them were anywhere near prepared for an altercation with this fellow.
The raccoon towering in front of the flipped car had to be well over twice the height of either of them, maybe nearly three times taller. He was incredibly fat, his broad shoulders thickening out to a broad chest and an enormous stomach, the paunch of which nearly covered the prodigious...maleness that was on full display. His legs looked relatively short, mostly hidden by the vehicle, and the tip of the coon's long tail was barely visible as it whisked from side to side. The giant grinned, rows of sharp and dangerous teeth gleaming in the light.
"You ought to listen to your partner, Officer--" The giant was cut off by the sound of gunshots. Howell jumped and stared at Spokes, who was holding the smoking pistol in two shaking paws. The dog's eyes were wide enough to see the whites, and he was panting in terror.
The ground rumbled as the raccoon moved with surprising speed. He stepped on the car, smashing one axle and sending the back of it jutting up at an odd angle. Then he stomped the road, making a deep print in the asphalt. Another step, and he was looming over both policemen, his vast frame blocking the road. He was fully illuminated in their headlights, that evil grin become a menacing scowl.
"Please..." Officer Spokes whispered. The raccoon leaned down and swatted him with a paw before he could say anything else. The dog yelped and flew past the other side of the road; Howell heard his partner's body hitting branches hard enough to snap them. The crashing went on for a few seconds before everything was silent again. Both the wolf and the giant looked at the silhouette of the shaking trees, then regarded each other.
"Are you gonna arrest me for assaulting a policeman, officer?" The raccoon rumbled, his muzzle splitting into a grin once more.
Howell thought it might be best to disengage now. There was no way he would be able to do his job. Not with this...monster. "I don't want any trouble."
The raccoon chuckled, then rose to his full height. He had to bend over to see the wolf past his stomach. "Well, that's too bad. I was hoping you were as dumb as your friend over there."
Howell did his best to keep an even tone. "You didn't have to do that. He was scared."
"He should have been. But the way I see it, I was just exercising my right to self-defense. Wasn't I officer?" The giant leaned down to loom over the policeman and his car. Howell felt trapped. His paw itched for his gun.
"He was wrong, and we both know it. But you didn't have to do that. He's seriously hurt. He and the people in that car are going to need medical attention." Howell took a deep breath, his eyes flicking to the wreck of the car and the barely-visible path Spokes cut as he was flung into the woods.
The raccoon's eyes followed his before he looked down again. "Mm. Well, I'd better let you get to it. Evening, officer."
"Wait!" Howell found himself growling before he could stop himself. "Who are you? What are you doing? What in the world is happening here?"
The giant moved with explosive speed. One paw slammed itself over Howell's chest, covering it completely and knocking the wind out of him. The other crunched the roof of his car as he was pinned against it. He could feel the passenger's window buckle and then shatter behind him. Bits of glass were in his fur, but that was the least of his worries. The raccoon's massive face was inches from his own, his short muzzle dominated by rows of sharp teeth.
"My name is Race," the giant rumbled. "And I'm doing what I want, where I want, whenever I want. That's all you need to know. Because I have a soft spot for Georgia's finest, I'm going to let you off with a warning. You get your family and you get out of here. Atlanta's mine to do what I want with for the next six months, and nobody's going to stop me. You understand?"
Howell whimpered and nodded. The pressure on his chest was nearly unbearable. He was sure that his ribs were cracked. Race held him there until the wolf opened his eyes, then nodded and let him go.
"Call your ambulance," Race said as he stood back up. "And get the fuck out of town."
The giant stomped away. Howell watched him go, his hips taking up the width of the two-lane road. He only dared move once the tail had swished around the bend towards the city.
The wolf looked towards the broken trees where his partner was bound to be. Then he looked at the ruined, flipped car in the middle of the road. He looked at his crumpled roof, the clear print of Race's hand bending the metal. The raccoon was shot twice and broke two cards without being scratched once. If he was this invulnerable at 15 feet tall...
He shook his head and leaned through the broken window, praying that the radio still worked. He nearly broke down in tears when it crackled to life.
"Dispatch," he said, his voice wavering at last. "This is unit 439. We have a situation out on Chapel Hill Rd. There's a wreck here, and we've got an officer down. I repeat, an officer down. Tell emergency personnel to find an alternate route here -- it's him. I repeat. It's him. The Giant has resurfaced...."