[WARNING:  This Hamtaro fanfic is rated R for graphic violence!]

The HamWraith

By:  Mark J. Hadley

Chapter 1

            "Dear Diary," Laura said aloud as she wrote, sitting at her desk.  "The strangest thing happened today…Kana said that when she woke up this morning, the cage where she keeps Oxnard was empty, and he wasn't anywhere to be found.  She wasn't the only one, either…a bunch of people at school were missing their hamsters too.  Not me, though…Hamtaro was in his cage when I woke up, but the way I found him…I still can't figure out what happened.  I wish he could talk, so he could just tell me…the poor little guy…"

            She looked over at Hamtaro's cage, on the corner of the desk.  Hamtaro was sitting in the center of it, motionless, staring blankly forward with a sad expression.  His fur had splatters of dried blood across it…probably, Laura figured, from that wound on his right side.  How he got it, she would never know…

            Hamtaro, though, was alone in his thoughts, reflecting back over what happened the night before.  I can't believe it, he thought.  I just can't…who would have thought this would happen?  It all started so normally, too…

* * * THE NIGHT BEFORE… * * *

            "…and he slowly crept across the dark room," Oxnard said, the light from the campfire illuminating his face in an eerie orange glow.  The other Ham-Hams listened carefully to his words as he continued his story, "He reached out, and pulled open the door to the tiny pantry, very carefully…"  He paused momentarily for dramatic effect, and finished, "…and there was…nothinginside…"

            Dexter narrowed his eyes a little and said, "Oh, come on, that's not scary!"

            "Yes it is!" Oxnard insisted, clutching his sunflower seed tighter.  "An empty pantry means no food!"

            Sitting up, Hamtaro commented, "Dexter's right.  If that happened to me, I'd be a little worried, but not scared."  He smiled…this was a nice little late night campfire they were having outside the clubhouse, but so far, no one had managed to come up with a scary campfire story to tell.  Hamtaro looked over at Boss, and asked, "Hey, I'm sure you know some good scary stories, right?"

            Boss pondered for a moment, tapping his paw thoughtfully on the handle of his shovel, which was still by his side as always.  "Hmm…well, I do know one story, but…nahh, it's too scary for you guys…"  He closed his eyes and folded his arms firmly, as though refusing to tell.

            Everyone around the campfire sat forward and said in unison, "What?  C'mon, tell us!"

            Boss opened one eye to look at them, and grinned to himself, thinking, Heh…this is just too easy…  He started speaking, "Well, my story is about a monster, called the HamWraith, who was said to live in this area a long time ago…"  A gasp went around from all the Ham-Hams, and he continued, "That's right…they even saw him a few times in those bushes, right over there…"  He pointed at the large bushes nearby, and everyone turned to look.

            "W-was he s-scary looking?" Oxnard said, shaking a little.

            "Was he scary looking?!" Boss repeated, hopping to his feet, and waving his shovel in the air.  "Why, he was a gigantic Ham-Ham…twice as tall as me, with thick, spiky fur, horrible yellow eyes, and huge claws…claws that could tear through anything, even metal bars, which is why they could never catch him…"

            Sandy kept glancing over at the bushes Boss had pointed to, and said, "That is, like, sooo creepy…he totally sounds like a monster…"

            Boss lowered himself down so that he was face-to-face with Sandy, and exclaimed, "He was a monster!  And every night, he'd head out, and chase after unsuspecting Ham-Hams that walked by here."  Narrowing his eyes and glancing around slowly, he added, "…some say he's still lurking about, even to this day…"

            Everyone huddled together at Boss' last statement.  Dexter clutched onto Pashmina's left arm and said, "Don't worry!  If that HamWraith shows up, I'll protect you…"

            On her other side, Howdy grabbed her right arm and said, "Hey, now, I can do a better job protecting her than you!"

            "Oh really…" Dexter exclaimed, frowning at him, "…what would you do, sweep up after the monster?"

            Howdy got up face-to-face with him, staring into his glasses, and shouted, "And I suppose you'd do more than make a spectacle of yourself?"

            As the two continued to argue, Bijou leaned over next to Hamtaro and said, "If ze HamWraith comes after me, you'll save me, non?"

            Before he could answer, though, Boss appeared next to Bijou and said, "You can count on me any day!  I'll give that nasty monster a good fight!"  He swung his shovel a few times in the air, and then leaned on it, smiling.

            "Well," Hamtaro finally said.  "I'd do my best, I can promise that."

            Bijou smiled happily at Hamtaro, and Boss just sighed, returning back to his edge of the campfire.  Pashmina noticed Penelope looking a little disturbed, so she spoke up, "Well, this was fun, but we should get to sleep now.  If we can sleep, what with all this monster talk…"

            Penelope nodded, "Ookyoo…"

            "I thought it was a great story," Cappy said.  "Almost scared me out of my cap!"  He got up just the same, though, and giving his hat a little tug to make sure it was secure, he started off from the campfire, heading back for the clubhouse.  Everyone else took that as their cue to head off in their respective directions as well.  Hamtaro noticed that Snoozer was still asleep—although he wasn't surprised in the least—and carefully started dragging him, sock and all, off back to the clubhouse as well.

            Bijou started off down the row of bushes, heading in the direction of home.  Everyone else had cleared away by this time, except for Stan, who hurried up until he was walking alongside of Bijou.  He said, "Hey, so how's it going, Bijou?"

            "I am doing good!" Bijou replied happily.  "Zis is a lovely night…"

            "Not half as lovely as you, though," Stan pointed out, grinning.

            Bijou giggled, "Zat's sweet of you, but…aren't you afraid to be walking out here?  After ze story Boss told us?"

            "No way!" Stan said confidently.  "There's no HamWraith…and even if there is, you're safe as long as I'm here!  I'm not afraid of any monster!"

            "I guess you're right," she said, glancing back at the bushes, and laughed a little, "Just a silly story anyway.  But I am grateful to have someone come with me on ze walk home…"

            Stan flashed a smile and said, "Hey, for you, anytime…"

            "Shhh…" she said, suddenly, coming to a stop and waving a paw to cut him off.  He stopped and listened, and she said, "Did you hear zis?"

            Listening closely, Stan shook his head, "No, I don't hear any—…"  A moment later, there was a snapping of twigs in the bushes they were walking near.  Both of them stayed absolutely still, listening to see if they would hear it again.  Everything stayed perfectly silent, though, and they couldn't see anything in the darkness of the bushes, either.

            Bijou turned to look back in the direction they had come from and said, "Maybe we should head back, oui?"

            Stan looked back also and shrugged, "Sure, if you feel like it.  You can stay at my place if you'd like…"

             Bijou turned to look back at the path in front of them, and suddenly fell back a step with an alarmed gasp.  Stan quickly followed her gaze, and his jaw dropped at what he saw.  Although the streetlight above illuminated them all right, the shadows cast by the bushes obscured what was in front of them.  Whatever it was, it was big…almost three times their height, and huge arms that stuck out from the side.  It stood motionless in front of them…they hadn't even heard it approach.

            As Bijou started backing up some more, the shadowy thing finally moved, lifting one of its legs and taking a heavy step forward.  Stan looked up at the huge creature, still obscured in the shadows, as it approached...too frozen in fear to move, he clenched his eyes shut and scrunched down, rubbing his head and nervously whispering, "H-he isn't real... *kushi-kushi, kushi-kushi*... I-I'm just seeing things...*kushi-kushi*..."

            He heard the heavy footfalls as it approached, and kept his eyes shut, until finally it stopped, right in front of him.  Nothing happened for a few moments, so he nervously opened his eyes, looking up at it, towering over him and still in shadow.  It waited, motionless, not speaking a word, staring at him with a set of bright yellow eyes, never moving its gaze.  M-maybe it's not a monster, Stan thought.  Maybe it's j-just someone that needs directions, or…

            A moment later, Stan's eyes widened in alarm as something struck him in the chest.  A sharp pain shot through him, and his breath seized up…behind him, Bijou let out a loud shriek.  He slowly lowered his gaze, and saw one of the creature's arms, now visible in the light.  It was covered with spiky, greenish-black fur, and ended in a set of long, wicked-looking claws…claws that were now pierced deeply into his chest.  He tried to scream, or speak, or do anything, but he couldn't so much as take a breath…the creature held the claws in place for a few moments, until eventually, Stan's eyes rolled back and he collapsed forward.  With a *shinng*, it pulled its claws free, letting Stan slump lifelessly to the ground.

            The creature lifted its head, looking over where Bijou stood a moment ago, but she had already run off.  It looked back down at Stan's body, reaching down with its claws and clamping them securely around his head.  With that, it turned and headed off, dragging Stan along with it, leaving a trail of blood behind them.  It was the only sign that anyone had been there, for in the next instant, they had vanished into the bushes, and all was silent again…