[Inspired by Letters Page #146, I wanted to see a little more of Hammer and Anvil during their Citizens Imperative era! I also wanted to think about how the writers might have ended it, when it became clear the big event they’d been planning wasn’t going to happen...but I’m getting ahead of myself!]
It was a tiny, middle-of-nowhere town so small that it barely had a single shop, which was right next to the gas station, which was right next to the bar-slash-motel. On most maps, it would barely even have merited a dot, never mind a name.
The two men currently walking down its dusty main road were a study in contrasts. The first one, who people called Citizen Anvil, had dark hair and a thick, dark beard that clouded around his face, and his eyes were shadowed under heavy, thoughtful brows. His clothes were dark, simple, and sensible. The other, who was known as Citizen Hammer, wore flashier, more colourful clothing, was entirely bald, and barely had any beard whatsoever, but where his companion's expression was closed and unreadable, his was wide, bright, and displayed his every emotion even before he spoke it - which he did as soon as possible, at an almost constant flow, an incessant chatter which currently was focused on his disgust at being in such a miserable, isolated, and above all boring place.
"Absolutely the worst kind of place in the world full of the worst, most boring kind of people you could imagine. Anvil, why would you bring us here, when you could go somewhere better, like: anywhere else? Just, anywhere else in the world!"
Citizen Anvil said nothing.
"You know if I'd wanted to be surrounded by boring idiots I'd move to Megalopolis or something. I didn't join Dawn to be bored, I joined her to get the chance to burn things, you hear me Lucas? Do you? We've been here five minutes and I'm already bored out of my mind, and I am absolutely going to burn stuff. That barn over there looks nice and flammable. Probably go up really nicely. Whoosh."
Citizen Anvil said nothing.
"Ugggggh. Why do people even live somewhere like this? Nothing here but barns and fields and corn and pig farmers."
"Goat farmers, whatever. Listen the point is, I hate this place and I hate this mission and I want to go back home."
His compatriot said nothing, but made a disapproving face, and Citizen Hammer rolled his eyes. "Yeah, okay, I'm not going to go and tell Dawn I didn't want to do what she told us to. Let's just get it done, okay?"
Lucas nodded, and jerked his head at the bar. Hayden huffed out a breath, and led the way.
Inside was quiet - hardly a surprise, this early in the afternoon. There were a couple of other people eating lunch at a table in the corner, and as the two Citizens entered, a middle-aged bartender looked up from a newspaper that lay open on the bar. Hammer enjoyed the look in his eyes as he sized them up - two men, both carrying more than the average amount of muscle, and with the confident walk of people who could go wherever they liked. The bartender came to his conclusions, and gave them a thin smile.
"Gents. What can I do for you?"
"Two beers, and two rooms for the night."
"Beers I can do for you, rooms you'll have to head over to the main desk." His hands worked quicker than his mouth, and the beers were poured and in front of them almost before he'd finished speaking. Once Hammer had paid, he seemed to relax a tiny amount, and drawled a question to satisfy his curiosity. "What brings a pair like y'all out to a little town like ours, then? I can tell y'all ain't locals, and I can't imagine you're here for the scenery."
"You're right, we're not. Really we're just passing through on our way southeast, but we thought we'd stop here for at least long enough to grab a beer."
"Well, I'm not likely to complain about that." He stuck out a hand to shake, and Hammer took it reluctantly, though trying not to show his disdain too much. "Name's Jesse."
"I'm Turk," said Citizen Hammer, "and the quiet one is Lucas."
"Good to meet you boys." He released Turk's hand at last, and favoured them both with a smile. "I'm glad you decided to stop in here, it's always nice to see a new face. I should warn you, though, if you don't know where you're headed exactly, it might be best if you stop here for the night. Can get awful dangerous out there for just a couple of men travelling by themselves."
Citizen Hammer gave a cocky grin. "I think we can handle any danger."
"Suit yourselves, I'm sure." Jesse shrugged, then glanced over their shoulder, and nodded to someone there. "Sorry gents, if you'll just excuse me for a minute or two. Gotta see to my other patrons, you understand." And he bustled away.
Turk and Lucas sat there drinking for about half a minute, in complete silence, before Turk's patience ran out. "Listen, any time you want to tell me what the hell we're doing in this middle-of-nowhere town drinking in a crappy bar, you be sure and tell me right away, alright?"
"Yeah, okay, I got that much. I kinda thought that since we were on a mission, and we're here, then we're here on the mission. I figured all of that out. I was sort of hoping for a bit more detail about what and or whowe're supposed to be looking for in this stupid backwater."
Lucas grunted, and might have said something, if not for the interruption of two women coming in through the door, already in the midst of loud conversation. "So where did he see it?"
"Up in the hills. You know where the caves start? Not too far away from there, just a little closer to town, he said. He reckons the monster's probably hiding out in one of the caves. That way it can sneak around and hunt, and then go back to its creepy monster lair." The other woman giggled, nerves giving it a shrill edge.
"Ladies!" Jesse's strong, strident voice cut across the bar, making the women fall silent. "We've got a couple of guests in here today. You don't want to go scaring them off with your stories, do you?"
The women glanced over at them, and the chattier one in front grinned at them.
"No, certainly wouldn't want to risk that, not with a handsome pair like these. No wonder you're feeling so protective. Hello boys, how's it going?"
Lucas shrugged, and Turk realised that, as always, he was going to have to do all the talking. "Not bad, I guess. And you?"
"All the better for meeting the two of you. This here's Alice, and I'm Delilah. You know, like in the bible."
"Good to meet you. And what was that I heard you both chatting about?"
"Oh, are you sure you want to know?" Alice rolled her eyes at her friend's theatricality, and Turk suppressed a snigger.
"I think I can handle whatever you're going to tell me."
"Alright, if you think you're tough enough." She pulled up the bar stool next to Turk, and Alice took the next one along. "So here's the story: our little town is home...to a monster." She paused dramatically. "This is the part where you scoff and tell me I'm making it up."
Turk shrugged. "I've heard crazier things and seen them turn out to be true."
"Well, in this case you should definitely tell her she's making it up," Alice chimed in, and Delilah giggled.
"Don't be such a jerk, Alice! Okay, so listen. For about the last couple of years, this place has been haunted. People keep seeing this monster that wanders through town at night. Most people stay out of its way, but we know it's big, and it likes the taste of meat."
"And how do you know all that?"
Alice chimed in: "It's supposed to leave huge footprints, and steal livestock. Goats, pigs, whatever."
"Sounds pretty scary," he said, deadpan.
"I haven't even gotten to the worst part yet." Delilah shot her friend a 'shut up and let me drive' look, and took back control. "See, like I said, most people stay out of its way and don't get too close. But we know not everyone's been fast enough, or smart enough, because sometimes...people disappear."
"What!? They do!"
"They don't, nobody disappears."
"What about Mary Wyatt?"
"She just ran off to California with her girlfriend, everyone knows that."
"Tom Stevens, then."
"He was a drunk, him disappearing was not that big a shock."
"Okay whatever, but you can't say anything about Peter Stein."
Alice frowned, but didn't have a ready comeback for that one, and Delilah turned back to Turk with a satisfied smile. "So you boys had better watch out. If you're not careful out there, you might...disappear."
Her smile was so broad, and the last comment had so much flourish, Turk almost expected her to bow with that last line. "We'll have to look out, then." He stood, cracked his neck, and looked to Lucas. "Is it time, yet?"
Lucas threw back the last of his beer, nodded, and stood.
"Alright, girls, nice to meet you both, but we're headed out."
"Hope we haven't scared you off," said Delilah with a grin. "We'll probably be back here tonight. We might see you then?"
"Yeah, maybe," said Turk, not really meaning it. He walked out, barely even waiting for Lucas.
The hills above the town were heavily wooded, mostly trackless, and uneven, and although Hammer had been unhappy and uncomfortable in the bar, this was almost as bad, and so once again he was venting every frustration he could think of.
"I don't know why you didn't try and find exactly where this 'monster' is supposed to be lurking. Are we seriously supposed to just wander around, looking for whatever cave might be hiding it? We're running out of daylight."
The sun was indeed heading for the horizon with a worrying haste, and there hadn't been any sign of anything monstrous lurking in the forest. For all Delilah's talk, it was starting to look as though this particular urban legend would turn out to be nothing more than a story.
Then suddenly, Citizen Hammer stopped in his tracks, as Anvil's arm shot out and blocked his path.
"What? What is it?"
He pointed, and Hammer looked down at what he was indicating - a patch of broken branches, and a couple of footprints that cut deep into the dirt. They looked enormous, about half again the size of Hammer's bootprints, and were a strange, hard-edged shape. Somehow, it still looked as though it had toes, meaning that whatever they were seeing wasn't just enormous shoes, but a truly colossal set of inhuman feet.
"Well, alright then."
The footprints and broken branches stopped after a short distance, but by that point their direction seemed clear, so Hammer and Anvil pushed their way together through the undergrowth, past the tight net of trees and bushes, uphill to the higher, colder parts of the mountain.
After a few more minutes, the trees got less dense, the ground became a lot rockier, and through the clearing they spotted a few caves pockmarking the mountainside. There was one that was much closer and much more directly in their path than the others. The two Citizens shared a quick glance, and Anvil nodded. Hammer grinned back at him, and flexed his fingers for a moment, letting a little fire loose to play around his hands. It felt warm, almost ticklish, and powerful. It felt like stretching his arms after being kept in a tiny cell. It felt good.
They walked more carefully now, more purposefully, as they closed in on the cave. The falling sun was casting long shadows around the rocky landscape, and made the cave mouth look mysterious, dangerous. As they approached, the light from Hammer's hands made the shadows flicker and fade, though it wasn't enough to banish them entirely.
It didn't take long to cross the open area and reach the cave mouth. It was irregular, wide at the bottom and narrowing to just a crack near the top, and the cave inside seemed winding and uneven. Not a place anyone would live if they had much of a choice. Hammer cocked an eyebrow at Anvil, but his companion just nodded again, apparently certain this was the place.
Hammer stepped inside, and his voice echoed deep into the cave. "Hey, whoever's in there. Come out, show us your face. Come on, don't be shy."
For a few seconds there was no response - just the faint echoes of Hammer's own voice. Then a grumbling groan, in a voice that sounded like the cave itself was speaking to them: "Leave me alone."
"Hey buddy, just come out. Come on, it's been a long enough walk, don't make us come and look for you in there. That'd just be way too irritating."
The next grumble sounded angrier, a wordless warning that did nothing to remove Hammer's cocky grin. "Oh, very intimidating. I'm all scared now, look at me, I'm shaking. Seriously, stop messing around and show yourself."
The next rumble almost sounded like the cave was collapsing, and the impression was strengthened when a heap of rocks came rolling their way. Then the rocks kept moving, and the Citizens realised what they were seeing. A footstep ground heavily into the floor, and then another, as the massive stony creature lumbered towards them, with balled fists the size of Hammer's head, and absolute rage in its eyes.