· Hunter vignettes
by David Carroll2,600 words approx.
These three vignettes were the first sample I sent in to the Hunter editor, Ken Cliffe, in hopes of working on the line. He requested I also send in some non-fiction, which I did, and subsequently invited me on board.
IThe woman had been looking at him all night.
It was the wig. Again Felix resisted the urge to run his fingers through the fine hair, knowing it would only do further damage. The wig had looked fine in the shop, though he was hardly a good judge of such things. The assistant, who hadn't been an asshole, had said it was fine, and Felix had believed him.
"Wake up sunshine, table two," said Reynolds, with a barely concealed sneer. Felix grabbed the tray and dove outside. The woman smiled, and for a moment it seemed to be in sympathy, before he turned and was gone.
In the convention hall it was actually easier. He could focus on the mantra of table numbers and breathe properly. Some of the Undead were out here, he knew, pretending to eat and drink and chat, but when he waited tables at that dive during college he learned that customers didn't want to know you. They didn't see you, like the majority of these fools didn't see the Undead in their midst. Earlier he had given a glass of champagne to a hand in which the blood rotted, stagnant under marbled flesh. The owner of the hand hadn't even looked in his direction and Felix could have laughed.
That was a bad sign, and he didn't laugh. There were no nametags at these tables, but he noted the number for later investigation. Out here he felt invisible, gliding between the tables. In the kitchen Reynolds strutted like the he had the word 'asshole' stapled on at birth and the woman kept looking at him. Felix bet she thought she was pretty, would bet his last--
He veered away from any such thought.
Table two was cocktails, and there was an brief but invisible tussle of who had ordered what, and who had ended up with what. He had a bad moment when one bandaged wrist reached for him and he saw the blood seeping out of it, laying trails upon the table, but he shook it off. It was just some poor slob, hurt his arm somewhere, probably doing a decent day's work. The flesh was human, there was no blood. He walked back to the kitchen, invisibly collecting empty glasses on the way.
The woman was there. She smiled, he looked away.
There was a dance floor, but there wasn't much dancing. Nobody came to this sort of convention to dance, Felix was quite sure, and those who pushed themselves up because of too much alcohol or too little conversation were looked down upon by all present. At least the conveners (and Felix had his suspicions about them) had the sense to put them off to one side.
But it was because of the dance floor, people getting up and moving around that Felix initially hadn't noted the empty chairs. One in particular, its former occupant the sole reason for this whole stupid charade -- Andrew Hoskins, an influential marketing representative most notable for his generous political donations. Felix looked around in despair. Had he been so arrogant in his seclusion that he had thought it could not work both ways?
He put the tray down on the nearest table, walked to the nearest exit, then ran.
His breathing was not so good now, but he tried to think. The details of his plan were suddenly slippery, what remained of it seemed futile. He had done some research, had sneaked a look at the car roster during a comfort break. At this stage he could only hope that Andrew Hoskins was the sort of man who had his car parked for him, but needed a little more privacy on the way out.
Down four sets of carpeted stairs, half reading the signs, he burst out onto a level of the car park. Initial panic -- nothing -- and then he heard something.
Felix walked around a corner and found Andrew Hoskins feeding.
Neither of them noticed him, not the young man nor the Undead thing bent over him. Hatred and nausea and powerlessness washed over Felix, as he walked towards them unsteadily. It was not his inability to intervene here, his belief that he could interrupt this awful montage of lust and death. That power had been given to him.
It was the powerlessness of knowing that nothing could prevent this scene from having happened.
But as he approached the two (still oblivious to him), he thought of the sun, and his steps became firmer.
Whenever possible, Felix Lowe had worked out of doors -- he'd been a fairground waiter and rollercoaster spruiker, and he'd been a construction site lackey when that hadn't worked out. After college, he'd designed gardens and sat with his pens and canvas under the sun. It was the sun that showed him things, and showed him how to find the things that hid where the sun itself could not see.
Sometimes Felix thought that was a little bit crazy but, if so, explain this.
He reached out and grasped Andrew Hoskins by the neck and the Undead thing screamed. His hand, already brown, looked golden like honey. Like honey it gave back the sun it had taken in.
The creature whirled and Felix saw the arm striking him, felt the sharp pain as it connected with incredible force but he held on, the smoke rising from the thing's flesh, its neck starting to crumble beneath his hand.
The thing frenzied, tried to grab him in turn, roared its pain at him. Felix fell backwards, letting the creature fall over him, pushed his palm into its chest and felt its shirt burning.
The young man started kicking at him and Felix lost concentration, the pain in his ribs and now legs pulling at him. The creature over him seemed a blur, red eyes staring down at him, but it too had lost momentum, self-preservation was calling it away. Felix saw that. It wanted his blood, wanted to bite him, but it did not.
Andrew Hoskins ran from the car park trailing smoke and, with a final kick, the young man ran after.
Felix lay on the ground, feeling cold. He wanted to cough, but his side told him that would be a bad idea. He wanted never to move.
He got up and saw the woman. She was at the corner, smiling at him, perhaps in sympathy but Felix didn't think so. He looked around.
Between the bloody remains of the wig and a sleeve off his jacket (he didn't want to think about the deposit on the suit) was a set of keys, on a battered leather key ring. Engraved in the leather was the same serpentine symbol that made up the hood ornament of the nearby car.
The car was low and sleek and black and had skin like Undead flesh.
The keys looked like they'd fallen by accident, but Felix had been through far too much crap in the last five weeks to believe that either. "Later, bitch", he almost snarled at the woman, just to break the silence. The smile faded but she watched after him as he hobbled away.
IIThe door was not locked, her father slipped inside. Sandy Cook looked round the motel grounds in the pre-dawn. Hadn't some famous footballer died here last year, OD'd on something?
She had goosebumps. She couldn't remember the last time she hadn't.
"Holy Jesus," said Brian Cook from inside, then finished his own phrase, as a weak afterthought. "Saints and sinners. I, I don't think you should come in here, honey."
She could already smell it, actually. She entered and shut the door behind her because, whatever happened, they did not want to be disturbed. Before she looked she had the gun out, because she wanted to shoot something.
The room was set up for a cheap photo-shoot, the light they had seen from outside was on a tripod, pointing at the bed. Another tripod would have held the camera, except there was no sign of it. Next to the door was a rucksack with several pairs of fancy knickers and an open thermos, looking precarious, visible within it.
As the clock beside the bed clicked over to six A.M. a radio started up in the room next door, loudly, some alarm she guessed, after she had flinched. The start of a news bulletin, telling the world How It Was.
"Yeah, right", she said.
On the bed was the woman in the photo. In their photo she was walking down the street wearing jeans and a jacket and looking harried. Now she wore a torn, transparent bra and, probably, nothing else. Her ribcage had been cracked down the center, and her vitals, from her guts down to her pubes, were simply missing. Some of it was spread thinly across the bed, but no way was that all there was.
"No way," she said, not aware she was doing so.
Brian Cook finished throwing up beside her. She didn't really notice (and she had not eaten).
"What did that? What the fuck did that to her?"
"I don't know," said her father, still weak.
"Well you're supposed to know. It's your fucking job to know. You sit on that fucking web site and tell me that we are the judge of evil men and this--"
The radio in the next room turned off again. Sandy stopped shouting. Her gloves were slippery with sweat but they held the gun firm, looking for something to shoot.
"We have to go." Her father's voice had grown stronger in the silence. He reached out for her gun and there was a moment when they seemed to fight for it, until she gave it up to him. He pointed the muzzle to the floor and gave it back. "There is no judgment to be made here. Not now, not yet. We--" he gestured, trying to sum everything up. "Have to go."
The anger and hurt and sadness had not faded. "When you've just left evidence all over the floor?" she said, mocking.
He didn't answer, only with a look of pain.
"Come on," she said eventually. "It's not like the cops don't have enough on us already."
As Sandy left, she looked behind her, automatically, a habit born not of her current lifestyle, but simple neatness, from her life before. The body on the bed blinked at her, and opened its mouth as if to scream, and Sandy found she had something to shoot after all.
IIIThere was a sign near the entrance of the flats, saying 'corruption' to anyone who could read it. Carmelyn had written it herself, when he had been young and stupid.
"Well, at least you're older," said Franck, distractedly. She glared at him, and he smiled blandly. "Sorry," he murmured.
It wasn't that he could read minds, he just had the disconcerting ability to say the most annoying thing in any given circumstances, or so he claimed. He didn't even know about the sign -- she hoped. "Let's just do it. Do you feel anything?"
"No, nothing. But nobody lives here, nobody human, anyway." He went in first. In the humid night his semi-transparent shirt clung in all the right places, but she wasn't that stupid.
He was right though, even in this neighborhood, where it was a rare hour without the echo of a gunshot, nobody squattered here, nobody hid out in the basement, no kids dared each other through a night. Not that she knew of.
"This is an old base," she said, and he started, his head half turning towards her. If he was faking, he was good.
"A hunter's base?"
"Oh yeah, communal sing-alongs first floor, second floor stake sharpening."
"And the walls were too thin."
It caught her again, like a barb through flesh. Old memories exposed like a nerve, things overheard that shouldn't have been. She sighed. "Yes, I guess they were."
A couple of the doors into the flats themselves were open and he picked one, seemingly at random. Half a rat sat on the remains of the carpet, its head and forelegs stiffly pointing at the ceiling. Franck kicked it out of the way, sending the attendant insects scurrying. "Oh spirits of this abode, come forth," he intoned. It was all a joke to him, Mr cooler-than-shit Warlock who wouldn't know what a divine mission was if God delivered it in person. Nonetheless, the spirits came.
Carmelyn had been here, done this. But as with Franck's commentary, she was all too vulnerable. The room rippled somehow, the ever-present noises from the train-yard down the block faded away, the air became dry and cold. On an old couch in a corner, a semi-transparent pair of figures coupled like beasts. She could feel it quicken her blood, even as the rutting became frenzied, the thrusting like violence. Franck laughed, a wild look in his eye. He ran into the bathroom, sensing he would find something there. Carmelyn knew it was a fourteen year old with razors, and didn't follow. She heard a whispering, like it had been before in her room upstairs, listening to Peter in the darkness, saying dreadful things. Cold arms wrapped around her face and she screamed, running, feeling the arms stretch like taffy and fall away.
In the hallway there was the fire, and that was much worse. Though she could not see it, the flame burned away the air and seared her lungs, her eyes watered and though her flesh did not burn, it felt like it was sloughing away. She ran for the stairs, trying to shout for Franck to follow her.
Franck was already there, above the flames. He turned to her, wanting her, wanting to serve her. He mouthed obscenities and against them she felt strong. She commanded the spirit in the name of God to begone and it dissolved like smoke. She sat in the middle of the upper hallway and waited for the real boy to appear.
Eventually he did, running up the stairs. "Why?" he shouted, the wild look deeper, maybe etched in. "Why was this a base?"
Carmelyn smiled. "Not like this," she said. "This was after."
He looked at her suspiciously and sat down. The hallway was calm, though he must have sensed the presence in the doorway on his left.
"You tried, didn't you? Tried to burn it and failed?"
Her smile faded, sudden annoyance sobering her to the flats' effects, leaving her nauseated and empty. Had he lost his power? "That isn't even close," she said.
He was smug and oblivious to danger, even as she tired of this game. "Not you," he said.
There was a great rushing of noise and power through the hallway, then everything stopped.
Franck's triumph was still there, but now mixed with hatred and vulnerability. Other than that, the entire house was still.
"Carmelyn," Franck said, in Peter's voice, made lower by death.
She struggled to catch up, anything she'd prepared forgotten. She leaned closer to him. "I'm sorry," she said, kissing his forehead. "May Christ have mercy on your soul."
Peter blinked at her, the hatred ebbing away, and then he was gone. It was only Franck, who laughed again. "Same time next week?"
She ignored him, got up and went downstairs. The boy followed, whistling. Before he came out of the flats behind her, she had erased her own sigil with a practiced hand, and had inscribed another one. Two overlapping circles, in front of a cross. Hope.
"Fancy a drink?" he said.
"I don't think so."
"Not even whisky and lemon?"
She winced. "You're not helping."
He waved his hand, as if to say that was just the way it was, and they walked out of the neighborhood together.
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