CHAPTER 1 Billy Clikk dug his fingers into the Peruvian murgwod's dorsal fin. This was not easy. The murgwod was soaking wet and covered in mud, and that was on top of the inch-thick layer of slimy exoblubber that coated its entire body. Add to this the fact that Billy was sweating from every pore after a long day trudging through the Peruvian jungle to get to this spot--an area of shallow water at the edge of a muddy branch of the Rio Urubamba--and the conditions for maintaining a good grip on a murgwod were about as poor as they could possibly be. The murgwod could snap at the air and growl all it wanted. Billy wasn't going anywhere. Billy and his parents, Jim and Linda Clikk, had been charged with finding and neutralizing this creatch, and now that Billy had it in his grasp he wasn't about to let it get away. As Billy struggled to improve his grip, he surveyed the fearsome beast he was now riding like a bucking bronco: the red, muscular body, the seven-toed feet and their daggerlike claws, the long spiky reptilian tail, the rhino-ish head, the single fiery yellow eye, and the jaws that featured the most ferocious set of incisors Billy had ever seen. "Got it!" Billy called to his parents, realizing even as he did so that they were unlikely to hear him from where they were, searching in vain for the murgwod more than half a mile up the river. It was just Billy's luck that Orzamo, his half-dog half-lizard friend, was at his parents' side at the moment instead of his. (Billy had actually encouraged her to go help them out, knowing that his parents were pretty tired from a creatch op they'd handled in Norway a day or two earlier.) No biggie, thought Billy. Dad let me handle that nine-legged malanoobu by myself last week in Mauritania. How much harder can a murgwod be? The murgwod let out a furious growl followed by several defiant grunts, as if it had heard Billy's thoughts and was offended by the comparison. It then launched into an especially vigorous bout of thrashing. Billy dug his heels into the murgwod's ribs, refusing to be thrown. "Take it easy, pal," Billy said. "I'm just doing my job here." Just doing his job. Billy found it useful to treat his bizarre double life--half the time an average sixth grader in Piffling, Indiana, the other half a globe-trotting creatch battler for the top-secret monster-containment organization known as AFMEC--as if it were no big deal. If he stopped and thought about it for too long it would probably drive him nuts. In fact, pretty much every aspect of his life now required putting certain thoughts out of his head as he focused on the task at hand. This Peruvian murgwod, for instance. If Billy allowed himself to dwell on the fact that this particular murgwod had been terrorizing villagers up and down the Rio Urubamba for the past three weeks, swallowing their chickens and pigs whole and, on occasion, leaving men and women with missing limbs and hideous scars . . . well, he'd be a lot better off not dwelling on it. So he didn't. "All right," said Billy, panting loudly as he prepared to take things to the next level. "Just work with me here and you'll make things a lot easier for both of us." Billy knew the standard procedure for dealing with a murgwod. He'd studied all the steps just a few months earlier, preparing for his first round of AFMEC entrance exams, and had gone back to the Sea Creatch Guidebook to memorize them word for word while gearing up for the current creatch op. He also knew that every step in the murgwod subduing procedure ("Grasp the dorsal fin firmly with both hands while maneuvering your legs into the riding position," "Beware of the murgwod's prehensile tail, an agile fifth limb with a viselike grip") was designed for one purpose and one purpose only: to allow you to knock the creature out with a single shot from a fully loaCrilley, Mark is the author of 'Billy Clikk Creatch Battler', published 2005 under ISBN 9780385731126 and ISBN 0385731124.