He begins to squeeze the trigger but feels a rumble under his feet. Before he knows it, his shoes are no longer touching the ground. The river walk crumbles into the water below. He hits the water with arms and legs still trying to find steady ground. He surfaces as quickly as possible, gasping for air.
Thankfully, the water is still warm from the summer. James looks up and sees a huge hole in the walkway twenty feet above him. He looks around, sees a ladder 100 yards down the river and lets the slight current drag him toward it.
The wind bites at him as he reaches the top rung and pulls himself onto the walkway. He strips off his soaked hooded sweatshirt and scans the area. He sees movement in the distance between some trees and reaches instinctually toward his waist for his gun but comes up empty. He stares into the river knowing his favorite piece is long gone.
He turns and walks away from the tree line, back toward the city. He doesn’t know what to do without his gun. Hunting has evolved in the last 200 years or so to the point that he has become reliant on shooting as an answer to his problems. It’s no longer necessary to burn a witch, and using a pail of water always had its problems, anyway. Fire does a fine job just like it would with any animal, but a bullet does the trick a lot easier. It takes a hunter a long time to realize they do not need to stock up on garlic and wolfsbane to ward off evil spirits. Silver bullets do work a bit better than the junk from the sporting goods store and nothing beats a wooden stake up close, but who really wants to get that close? Plus, there isn’t always time to drive a stake in the ground or spread a salt ring to protect yourself.
The problem is everyone thinks witches and warlocks are busy running around a castle in England fighting bad wizards with wands, but that just isn’t true. If people knew how heartless these creatures are, they wouldn’t let their kids dress up like them on Halloween or stand in line to see movies glorifying them.
James moves quickly away from the park, putting as much distance between himself and the warlock as possible. After ten blocks, he sees an alley and ducks in to rest and get his bearings. This wasn’t supposed to be so difficult. It’s just a young warlock, he thinks to himself as he crouches next to a dumpster.
A few smaller trashcans help hide his position but are too small to hide his broad shoulders. He sits down on the dirty ground and takes in his surroundings. He could not have picked a worse place. This is the kind of alley even a bum wouldn’t sleep in. Whoever is dumping trash here doesn’t care if it ends up in a dumpster or not. At least the smell of rotten fish is a welcome change from the warlock.
Something crashes off to his left and James shakes his head to clear the cobwebs. He glances down the alley but nothing appears out of the ordinary. Just a bunch of kids horsing around out on the street. A boy picks his grimy body up off the ground and starts after his friend. James’s heart beats way too fast and he takes a deep breath. It rolls out of his mouth like smoke and he pats the area where his gun should be again.
“Getting way too old for this. I guess this will have to do,” he whispers as he slowly pulls the six inch blade from his boot.
Suddenly, his nostrils fill with a depressingly familiar smell. Even the rotting fish in the dumpster can’t cover it up. He looks around but sees no one in the alley. His body tenses at the eerie lack of movement out on the street. People should be moving about at this time night, especially in a busy town like this. Maybe they are all down the street a bit. Daylight is gone now and he cannot see much beyond the edge of the buildings. That smell is strong. It seems to come from all around him. He inches slowly around the trashcan and into the alley. He turns toward the main street at the end of the buildings and takes one step forward, quickly glancing over his shoulder.
A blinding pain shoots through James’s throat as a thin, but incredibly strong, forearm slides around it. He lets out a terrified yelp for the first time in years as he loses the grip on his knife. It clanks on the concrete like a church bell ringing. James struggles to get out of the warlock’s grasp. He can feel its hot breath on the back of his head and the smell begins to burn his nostrils. If he could breathe, he would puke. James’s head whips back and he can see an old, broken fire escape above him. He did not notice it before. Such an obvious hiding spot, he can’t help but think.
“What do you want with me, hunter?” The warlock hisses in his ear.
Rancid breath fills his nose, and he can feel heat radiating off of the warlock’s body. He does not understand why the warlock would have a conversation at this point. He has been shooting at it all day. He did not hesitate to try to kill, why would this creature give him this type of courtesy? If he could get to his knife he would stab straight through the thing’s heart. Instead of killing him, the warlock is more concerned with James’s job description. Compassion is not their strong suit. No negotiating with a hunter or with a monster. The rules of war are being broken. The forearm begins to release a little pressure in anticipation of his answer and he gasps for air. His lungs are really on fire now.
“It’s nothing personal. Just a job,” he chokes before the blinding pressure returns to his throat.
James sees the witch’s mark on the creature’s forearm move as the muscles strain to block air from his lungs. Curious things, those marks. Often they look like any ordinary tattoo, with criss-crossing in varying patterns depending on the clan. This particular one is in the shape of the letter “Y” with two lines running through the curved stem. It is the only way to be certain that you have a witch or warlock on your hands and not just an extraordinarily smelly person. Every one of these creatures is born with the little symbol. It really would be fitting if this mark is the last thing he ever sees.
“JUST A JOB,” the warlock snarls. “IT’S NOT A JOB, THIS IS MY LIFE! You hunters seem to think you are the only things on the planet with a life. I did nothing to no one. Understand that? You need to learn that things bigger than you are going on all the time. Maybe in the future you won’t be so quick to shoot at someone who isn’t bothering you or your family. Next time the consequences might be far worse than today. Next time I will rip your heart from your chest. Believe me, I better not see you ever again.”
Everything goes black as something thuds against James’s head.
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Genre – YA Supernatural Thriller
Rating – PG13
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