Saturday, October 08, 2011

Undead Hunter

Undead Hunter

A brisk wind from the darkness brought a slight chill to the Hunter’s back as he overlooked the barren city from his tower, an amalgam of steel girders, scaffolding, and miscellaneous building materials, standing over a hundred feet above the cracked streets, lined with burned automobiles and the incomplete skeletons he had become so accustomed to seeing.  The Cleaning Crews didn’t always have time to recover all the bodies of fallen comrades, because one could never be sure when they would appear.  As his ears tuned out the incessant howl from his Death Caller, he checked the scope of his rifle, peering into the distance, seeking prey.  None.  Hunting in the night was often difficult, no matter how well one’s eyes could adjust or what equipment was at hand.  This trip had not been kind to the Hunter.  The weather had been unwelcoming to say the least, as it seemed the entire earth had poured every drop of water it possessed upon him, while a continual wind from the north brought a steady numbness to the Hunter’s skin, in which he only felt cold in those times the wind grew strong.  Not to mention the lack of food that left his body heavy and mind dragging.  There hadn’t been more than an single emergency pack rationed out to Hunters per week for at least six weeks.  Food was hard to come by these days, especially in this barren existence.  Most men had long left this place for greener pastures, so to speak.

Death’s smell lingered in all directions.  In fact, the cursed smell never died!  Looking down from his tower into the streets, the Hunter shook off his fatigue and began his hourly search of ever inch of the city he could see through his scope.  It was maddening.  The Death Caller had been wailing for three days and not a single one of the creatures had come forth!  Not one!  Suppressing his anger, he allowed his logical mind to remind him that the slow-moving pace of these things did not allow them to travel large distances well, especially if having to maneuver around obstacles.  The only thing about their travel that gave them any semblance of speed is that they did not stop.  They never tired.  They were always dragging on, with their never-ending hunger, and inability to feel pain.  No will, save hunger. A beast in the greatest sense of the word; worse than any animal that had ever existed.  Regardless of his logic, the wait was nearly more than he could stand.

Kneeling amongst what little gear he had carried, the Hunter let a long sigh from his lips, which against the cloth raised over his mouth and nose, brought back a small feeling of warmth.  Adjusting the body armor covering his hands and forearms, the Hunter gathered his few belongings from inside the steel box in which he had to sleep to escape the elements.  After sliding the visor of helmet up, he holstered his pistol-grip shotgun along his left thigh, grabbed up two boxes of shotgun ammo and his flashlight and slid them into a satchel containing a small blanket and the rest of his rifle’s ammunition and strapped it across his back with his rifle.  Three days.  The Death Caller would cease soon.  The most dangerous part of the mission was upon the Hunter: the return.  There was really no way of knowing how many of the monsters were headed towards the screeching sound of the horn beneath him, but once it stopped, he would be forced to make his way back to camp, regardless of what he would run into on the way.  Rules and regulations existed to make sure things were done efficiently, regardless of the dangers they could create.  Then, it stopped.

After checking the twin .45 caliber pistols at his waist and sliding his machete out of its sheath once to look at it, he quickly descended the ladder in the center of the tower onto the streets.  The only sound that touched the Hunter’s ears was the whistling of the wind through the man-made caverns of skyscrapers.  Not much of a replacement for the howling of the Death Caller, but it would have to do.  Stepping over the rubble of the fallen society of man, the Hunter shot cursory glances in all directions, while his ears strained to hear the sounds of dragging feet or guttural groaning.  He had walked for the better part of half an hour through the city when he stopped at the threshold of man’s former domain and nature’s realm.  The bare trees through the woods hinted death at every side.  The darkness and the shadows played tricks on the Hunter’s eyes as he crossed from the city, dimly lit by the moon, into woods which seemed far darker than the lack of leaves should have allowed.

The Hunter had no need for a light.  In fact, he didn’t even need his night vision equipment.  He had traveled this path many times before and it had become almost second nature where to step; where to jump; where to duck.  He walked silently along the path, hand on his machete, listening to every leaf crackle underfoot.  It would take almost three hours at this pace to reach camp, but thoughts had to be on now.  There was no telling when--

A shrill cry ringing out in the distance drew the Hunter’s full attention.  Not a monster.  A man.  There was a man out there.  Drawing his machete, he listened once more.  He thought he had heard the direction, but the forest could often distort distant sounds.  Again, a scream, followed by gunshots.  The man was not alone.  Although the Hunter could not yet hear the death-filled gurgling of the creatures, he knew they would be there.  Leaping off the path, he darted towards where the scream had been and, at the behest of the sound of more gunshots, slightly corrected his course.  Machete drawn, he sliced through small vines and limbs in his path, quickly, but carefully darting towards the endangered man.  He ran hard for many minutes, until he came out of the woods and back into the city.  Another part of the city, but the city, nonetheless.

This was not a good thing.  In the city, there were too many uncertainties.  Too many corners and crevices for things to hide in.  The street was just as every other street: abandoned, ruined, and smelling of death… except, this street was different.  There was a man on this street in danger and that was all that was important.  Some crashing noises spun him on his heels to face an enormous building with most of the glass in the front doors smashed out already.  That was a good thing, the Hunter decided.  He did not treasure the idea of cutting himself on broken glass or wasting ammunition having to break into a desolate building.  Gripping the handle of his machete tightly he sprinted up the few stairs and slid through the shattered glass doors, ready for a fight.  However, there was no fight here anymore.  The monsters that had been here were already dead.  Four of the creatures lay in a huddle in front of the door labeled “Stairs”.  Approaching them slowly, he examined them closely, but not too closely.  Head shots.  All of them.  At least this man knew how to deal with the creatures.  Oftentimes, in fits of panic, the untrained just emptied a clip into one of these things, expecting it to go down.  They usually didn’t live long enough to make that mistake twice.

Dragging the creatures out of the way, he cursed at their stench.  The worst part of it all was having to see the faces, or what was left of them.  With the emergency lights somehow still working in the building, he managed to see the face of a woman, a diamond earring still hanging from her ear and three men, nearly indistinguishable from each other.  The men had been changed for some time now.  To think that these had once been human.  It was sickening.

Pulling a pistol from his side with his free hand, he gripped the door handle while holding tightly to his machete.  No use in limiting his killing options.  Pulling the door open quickly, he pointed the pistol up the stairs.  Nothing.  Just a dimly lit, concrete staircase.  It was amazing the emergency power in this building still worked.  A relic of human ingenuity.  Stairs were easily defendable, that is, if you were on top.  Climbing stairs could be very dangerous, since you couldn’t be sure what was waiting just above you.  Adjusting the sack strapped across his back, he quickly made sure the string was tight, so it wouldn’t be caught on anything if he had to make a run for it.  Moving with all the agility he could muster with his heavy body, he tried to stay alert, eyes darting back and forth.  This was going to be difficult.  He was tired and hungry and had no idea where this man he needed to save was in this huge building.

At every floor, he quickly darted in and out of the hallways, trying to find a sign of life.  After going fifteen or twenty almost identical floors upward, the Hunter slid into a hallway, eyes moving, pistol ready.  An series of echoes in the nearly empty hallway tensed every muscle in his body.  Was it the slow shuffle of the creatures’ walk, he questioned in his mind.  No.  Not that.  With the softest steps boots could make, he moved as quickly as he could down the hallway.  As he approached where he thought he was hearing the tapping, it stopped.  Slowly, he began to round the corner.  A clicking sound brought years of training into service as his hand snapped reflexively to defect the gun coming towards his face and, as the gun fired, he had already placed his own at the throat of his would-be attacker.

“Don’t move,”  the Hunter said hoarsely. Wide eyes stared trembling down the barrel of the Hunter’s pistol as he motioned for the other man to step back into the room.  Stumbling backward, the balding man held his own pistol high.

“What are you doing here?”  the Hunter questioned threateningly at the middle-aged man.

“I live-”

“Liar!” The Hunter snapped, “No one lives here!  This is a graveyard, if you hadn’t noticed.”

Looking anywhere but the Hunter’s eyes, the stranger answered slowly, “It’s complicated…”

Irritation tickled the back of the Hunter’s mind, “It doesn’t matter.”

“What are you doing here?”  asked the stranger, obviously holding back the urge to yell.

“Getting you out of this city,”  said the Hunter gruffly as he surveyed the room.  “You are a just a hunk of meat, after all.  Hell, we both are, but you are far more useful alive than as one of those creatures.”

“So, that’s why you’d risk your life for me, eh?”

“One less monster, one more human,”  The Hunter scoffed “It’s a game of numbers.  That’s it.  And whatever reason you were here for,” continued the Hunter, pointing at the door, “you are done with it now.  Let’s go.”

Motioning the man on with his gun, the Hunter followed close behind through the doorway, the man‘s hands still up.  The Hunter knew that what came next would be the hard part of the journey.  Two bodies moving through the streets made more noise and the smell could easily attract every creature in the area.  As the two entered the stairwell to return downstairs, the stranger mentioned that his name was Jack just as the Hunter handed the him his remaining pistol.

“I don’t know how much ammo you have, but you’re gonna need this, regardless,” the Hunter said unemotionally, his logical mind running through every possible scenario downstairs.  What could await them was not comforting.  At every floor, the Hunter carefully peered down the stairs to make sure there were no unwelcome surprises waiting for them.  Pistols drawn, the two reached the door to the lobby.  The Hunter cursed the lack of a window in the door and, putting his ear to it, listened intently.  The sounds echoing on the other side of the door brought another curse across the Hunter’s lips.

“We’ve got company,” the Hunter sneered.  “I hope you know how to use that thing well enough.  Make every shot count, Jack.”  He said the name as an afterthought.

The other man nodded as the Hunter prepared to open the door.

Bursting out of the door with a leap, the Hunter’s reflexes guided his body in between two of the creatures and, sliding across the floor, spun to fire two shots into the craniums of the decaying beasts.  Each dropped instantly, but the Hunter had no time to stop.  No time to think.  The Hunter quickly turned to the outside.  Three more coming up the steps.  Luckily, they had a hard time with climbing, for two of them fell atop the steps and continued along at a crawl.  Glancing back at the man, the Hunter growled.

“Come on, damn you!  And kill every one of these things we come across!”

Redirecting his attention forward, the Hunter picked off the standing creature with ease, before dashing through the smashed glass entryway.  Bounding over the steps, the Hunter inverted himself, midair, and disposed of the other two mindless devourers with a single bullet each.  Landing just in front of the steps, the Hunter snapped his gun up in front of him, glancing in every direction for another attacker.  It seemed there were none.

“It’s done,” the Hunter sighed.  “For now, at least.”

From behind him, Jack’s cracking voice asked, “What are you?”

Turning to face Jack in the dark of the city, the Hunter scoffed, “I’m a Hunter.”

“You mean, you actually look for these things?”  Jack questioned, throwing his hands up.

The Hunter’s anger flared, “And we save pitiful lives like yours!  In this world that we live in, you should be thankful anyone would spare you this long.  We don’t have much time.”

With his nerves slightly shaken and still angry, the Hunter pulled his visor down just over his nose.  There was a benefit to having technology.  The night vision lens that made up his visor extended the Hunter’s vision to the point that night appeared as day.  Breaking off into a steady jog, he motioned behind for Jack to follow.  If he was going to make it back to base before morning, he was going to have to keep this pace the rest of the night.  No Hunter wanted to be out during the day when not on duty.  During the day, home base would be sealed entirely and, more than likely, there would be some creatures that had made their way to the base.  Waiting until nightfall one more time was not a welcoming thought to the Hunter. As the two jogged along the street, approaching the trees, Jack began a conversation, much to the Hunter’s dismay.

“You know, with all that gear on, you can’t see any part of your body,”  Jack chortled.

Used to being alone, the Hunter tried to ignore Jack as they moved and kept his eyes constantly moving.  Continuing through the threshold of the city into the forest, the Hunter could hardly stand the man’s incessant jabbering behind him.  Clearing his throat, the Hunter warned Jack that the creatures are attracted to sound, quieting him finally.  A pang of hunger hit the Hunter full force as the two jogged amidst the trees.  It would have to wait, though.  On the outside, stopping for anything was dangerous.  There were always other things on the move, drawing ever closer.  Suddenly, the Hunter froze in his tracks and, from behind, Jack slid to a stop, quickly spouting an objection for their stopping.

“What are you-?”

Cutting him off, the Hunter interjected, “How long have you been traveling?”

“What does that…” Jack trailed off, sensing the Hunter’s irritation, “About a month.”

“How long on foot?”  Asked the Hunter breathily.

“Two weeks or so,” Jack responded quickly.  “Why?”

“Why!?”  The Hunter spat out.  “I should have considered this before!  You’ve been on foot for two weeks straight.  It’s impossible to know how many of these damned creatures you’ve passed in the process and every last one of them you’ve passed will be following your scent.  But that’s not the worst part!!”  The Hunter cursed through his teeth, “The worst part is these creatures let out a loud roar when they sense prey.  Other monsters hear it and head towards the sound.  We could literally be assaulted by a hundred of them.”

As the Hunter explained, fear washed over every inch of Jack’s face.  The Hunter could see Jack was breathing harder and harder each second.  Perhaps he would just have a heart attack and then he‘d be free of him, the Hunter considered.  Dismissing his thoughts, the Hunter motioned for them to keep moving, but kept the pace at a light run.  They needed to get to shelter and they needed to get there fast.

Several minutes later, the Hunter could hear Jack’s deep, broken breaths and decided that they should slow down slightly.  They couldn’t afford to stop.  Movement, however small, was of the utmost importance in this situation.  The darkness wrapped the trees like ink-stained cotton.  Pulling the satchel from his back, he removed his flashlight and handed it back to Jack.  Perhaps a source of light would calm the other man, considered the Hunter.

Turning to look ahead again, the Hunter’s body tensed all over.  Directly in the path, not fifty feet ahead, one of the creature’s loomed in the gaze of his night vision.  If it saw them, it would cry out.  The others would come.  The sound of gunfire was far less drawing to the creatures than the call of one of their brethren.  Snapping his pistol out of its holster as fast as he could, the Hunter fired a single shot, ending the monster’s pseudo existence.

“Thank God!”  Shouted Jack.

The Hunter was not so ready for gratefulness.  Very rarely was there only one creature at a time.  Looking to his left, through his visor, his eyes widened.  Movement speckled the edge of his vision.  To the right was the same.  A moment later, movement had definite form.  Slouching, feet-dragging beasts approached from every side.  Jack, unable to see as far into the darkness, still reeled from victory.

“Unfortunately, Jack,” said the Hunter dryly, “it’s not over yet.”

A monstrous, gurgling roar stung the Hunter’s ears, which seemed to multiply on into infinity.  The Hunter growled loudly, drawing his shotgun.  The smell of prey drew the creatures in as fast as their degraded bodies would move them.  Wasting no time, the Hunter picked off as many as he could with his pistol, before the ominous clicking forced the Hunter to throw his bag down so he could pull his rifle from his back.

“Don’t stand there looking stupid,”  the Hunter yelled to Jack.  “Kill as many as you can.”

Jack’s two pistols fired into the night at the approaching horde.  Quickly, the Hunter was on his feet again, with his shotgun re-holstered and his bag strapped to him again.  As useful as it would be, he needed both hands to be stable enough to one-shot-one-kill the creatures.  With skillful aiming, the Hunter’s shots were able to take out several of the creatures in just a few moments.  The shots continued behind him from Jack as the Hunter picked off more and more with his rifle.  But, they would not stop coming.  There were so many!  Jack’s pistols clicked empty and, pausing for a moment, the hunter tossed him the pistol-gripped shotgun previously re-holstered.  The Hunter had managed to form a small path in front of them with his assault.  Yelling at Jack to follow, he broke into a dash through the oncoming attackers.  Periodically, the Hunter had to remove one of the beasts from his path, but he never stopped moving.  Several moments into the run, a scream from behind brought the Hunter’s gun around, firing like a reflex, taking the top of one creature’s skull off as it clutched Jack’s hair in hand.

“Come on!”  The Hunter screamed at Jack, turning to run again.

Running as quickly as Jack as not to lose the man, the Hunter’s rifle swung from side to side, killing any creature in his path.  Unfortunately, he ran out of ammunition as he ran and, with no time to reach for more, he bashed any creature that came close enough  with the butt of his rifle.  Even if he couldn’t kill the things, he had to keep them away.  One bite was all it took.  Then, the Hunter stopped.

In front of them hobbled a line of the beasts too thick to run through.  The Hunter broke off the path through the woods, seeking for another way.  Yelling behind him for Jack through the gurgling snarls of the monsters, the Hunter’s eyes looked for an opening.  There was none.  The Hunter could hardly fathom the sheer numbers of them.  Hundreds, maybe over a thousand of the creatures.  Stopping, the Hunter stared with determination at the wall of bodies.

“Jack,” the Hunter shouted as the other man approached with labored breath.  “Stay right behind me.”

The other man just nodded.

Sliding his machete out of it’s sheath, the Hunter dropped his bag of rifle ammunition and his rifle amongst the fallen leaves.  As valuable as the tools were, they were liabilities now.  Just more things for those monsters to grab on to.  Pulling his shotgun free, he emptied it into the horde before tossing it to the ground as well.  Muscles ready for action, the Hunter burst toward the crowd, Jack and the ensuing horde following close behind.  As he approached the huddled mass of flesh, his machete fell across limb and skull.  His reflexes kept the monsters from getting too close as he dodged their mindless grasps, countering with kicks to knees and short fore-fists to sternums.  He worked his way through the crowd, hacking and striking, all the while trying to protect Jack, running close behind.  The moving was slow and methodical, but fortunately, the instinct-driven creatures could not form any kind of strategy to more effectively attack him.

Just keep moving, the Hunter told himself.  Don’t stop.  Keep moving.  He lodged his machete into a skull.  It stayed.  He had no time to wrench it from the beast’s brain.  He roared as his gloved fists and booted feet launched monsters back in all directions.  Jack pushed desperately at any that came near, as the Hunter placed all of his attacks without thinking, relying on years of training and pure rage.  Screaming, the Hunter thrust-kicked a creature in the chest, slamming it through several others and into a tree. A hand from behind grasped at his helmet, just under his visor, pulling it from his head, but he pushed on, paying it no heed. Slowly, there was more and more space for the Hunter to move in.  The fighting became less frantic, more strategic.  As the monsters approached from all directions, the Hunter would snap a leg or shove a beast over, but he kept moving onward, all the while spitting curses through the cloth raised over his nose.

Jack got close to the Hunter just for a moment in order to speak.  “Let’s run,” he said calmly. “Forget about stopping these things.”

The Hunter, caught up in his rage, didn’t realize that there had been an opportunity for escape.  How long had he been fighting?  Grunting his agreement, he sprinted in the direction he knew the base was in, smashing a creature in the side of the head with his fist as he went by.  They ran hard, howls passing on every side in the darkness of the surrounding wood.  Obstacles had to be taken at near break-neck speed.  Leaping a ditch.  Ducking through low-hanging limbs.  Pushing through thick, intertwined brush.  They had to go faster; had to go harder.  Time had lost its meaning in the rush.  An amber hue touched the very edge of the Hunter’s vision, smashing him into reality.  Daylight!!

The Hunter jerked his head around, searching for the familiar signs of home, when he actually leapt into the main trail leading to home base.  Jack stumbled out behind him, breath growing heavier and heavier with each passing moment.  No time to see if he was okay.  Pulling out everything he had, the Hunter sprinted down the trail, the wind blowing past his ears, removing the sound of everything else.  His eyes were only on the trail.  If the man behind him didn’t keep up, it would indeed be a travesty.  It was of the utmost importance he get the man back to base, but he would not sacrifice everything for the man if there was no hope of getting him there.

Suddenly, in his view, a risen dome of earth appeared.  That’s it!  The Hunter pushed harder and harder!  The metal of the dome glinted slightly in the distance.  NO!  Only a few minutes at most!  An accursed roar broke his focus a final time.  A solitary foe in between the Hunter and salvation.  Pushing even harder, the Hunter’s vision tunneled and he saw nothing but the creature ahead.  When he came within reach, the Hunter reared back, threw a punch and smashed the monster’s head like an egg.  Clamoring up the step incline of the dome, the Hunter looked back for an instant, thankful to see Jack just behind him, starting his climb as well.  Eyes ahead, there was the opening.  Only a few moments left, as the sun left a small imprint on the sky in the distance.

Jack screamed!

Looking behind, the Hunter witnessed two more creatures pulling Jack down.  In desperation, the Hunter spun and grabbed Jack’s arm, pulling him from the monstrous grip of the beasts with all his might and falling backward through the opening, as the door above closed, sheathing them in darkness as the sun arose outside.  Both Jack and the Hunter breathed heavily, laying on the cold concrete on which they had landed.  Blue emergency lights illuminated the darkness of the small room little by little, as the two stood, nursing injuries from the fall.

The Hunter raised his eyes to meet Jack’s, whose enormous grin was an idle tribute to the last-second victory.  The Hunter was not so amused.

Moving to Jack swiftly, he put he hands on his shoulders, eyes examining the man’s body as best he could, “Did they bite you,” he kept yelling.  “Did they bite you?!”  The fatigue, the excitement, the rush of it all slammed into the Hunter with an unyielding force… but, mostly, his hunger.  The pain from his hunger pounding in his head and his chest, he gripped tightly onto the man, the Hunter’s eyes rolling back in his head for just a moment.

Jack, laughing, put his hands on the Hunter’s shoulders, resting them across the body armor lightly.  “Don’t worry,”  he cackled.  “Everything’s gonna be fine, now!”

He didn’t answer the question!  He needed to know now!  They wouldn’t open the gates to the main base until it was confirmed.  The continuous action over the past few hours made the Hunter’s hunger even more apparent.  Once it was confirmed, they’d open the gates.  Once it was confirmed, the staggering hunger could be satiated.  He had done his job.  He had even rescued a man from the clutches of the creatures.  Given that, it was apparent the other Hunters, too, waited desperately for confirmation.  It would be such a waste to have to kill this man and discard his body.  Such a waste.  Confirm!  Open the gates!  So hungry!

“Did they bite you,” The Hunter snarled at Jack violently.

“No, they didn’t bite me,”  Jack exclaimed, throwing his hands upward, finally confirming it.

The Hunter’s eyes widened as he tossed the cloth covering his nose and mouth to the ground, screaming, “Open the gates!”

He looked back at Jack.

“You are sure,”  he asked, eyes fixed intently on the man.

“Yes,” Jack sighed, “I’m sure.”

“Good,”  the Hunter growled,   “Good”

Sliding his tongue across lengthy canines, the Hunter moved faster than he thought he could, pushing Jack to the floor and sinking his fangs into his neck deeply as the gates behind him opened.  There would be a feast tonight for the shepherds of the world of men.  Jack, twitched in the Hunter’s grasp.  This poor man would fuel the fire to wipe out the plague of monsters upon this globe.  But, the pity for his existence made the blood from his veins no less sweet.

Wednesday, October 05, 2011



It is man’s fate to pay for his sins: to face the consequences of his actions.  But, is it fate that he should also be punished for the sins of his father or, perhaps, a man so far back in his lineage he is but a faceless contributor of genes?  These thoughts often plagued the mind of Scott Dean as he reflected upon his life.  No amount of therapy had brought him to terms with these contemplations.  And there had been a great deal of therapy.  Scott’s mother reassured him as he grew up that he was his own person and could be whatever he wanted to be, despite his fears of ending up as those men of the past.

Whatever fears he had, however, were far from his mind tonight.  Strolling hand-in-hand with his fiancé along the downtown shopping district, love infused itself into every cell in his body.  He was sure that, as he walked, others noticed the glow of love surrounding his figure and the pride in his gait.  Rebecca was remarkably beautiful.  Strawberry-blonde locks falling down to her mid back; a face only an angel could possess; and a figure so striking, most people had to look twice to be sure their eyes had not deceived them.  Scott wasn’t quite sure what she saw in his wiry frame and pony-tailed hair attached to a face most would call average.  But love him she did.  She said as much, but it was not her words that showed her deep affection.  The little acts of kindness when he wasn’t expecting it or how she tried her best to pick him up when he was low showed how much she cared.  Only Rebecca made Scott feel alive.  Only she made him feel worthy.  Since they had been together Scott had even stopped seeing his therapist.

Window shopping had become one of the couple’s favorite pastimes, since neither often had any extra spending money.  In typical woman fashion, Rebecca adored jewelry, although she only wore two pieces of it.  The silver necklace dangling from her neck swung back and forth as she crouched to eye-level to stare intently into the window of the local jewelry store at the array of accoutrements.  Placing her left hand on the window and looking over her shoulder at Scott, she smiled deeply.

“None of them are quite like this one,” she said lovingly.

She didn’t have to say what she was referencing.  The silver engagement band on her left ring finger was her most valued possession.  Although it only held a solitary diamond, so small it was hardly noticeable unless you were looking for it, she often boasted of how much she adored it.  It was quite a stroke of luck for Scott to find the ring as, unbeknownst to him, it was a near perfect match to the one her father had given her before he died. When he presented it to her, bended knee and all, she burst into tears so much Scott figured he’d made a mistake, but she just hugged her to him, whispering in between sobs that she would marry him.  Later, she explained to him that when she had lost the ring years before while swimming in the ocean it broke her heart, because it was the only thing her father had left her upon his passing.  Scott never knew his father, so he didn’t understand the attachment; the only thing his father had left him were the voices in his head.  Scott closed his eyes for a moment and sighed, but opened again as a soft hand rested on his cheek.

“No sadness,”  Rebecca said, smiling.  “I love you too much to see you sad.”

A tender kiss accompanied her soothing words, drawing Scott up from the darkness he sometimes retreated to for no reason at all.  She was truly the greatest thing in his life.  Taking his hand, Rebecca turned and the lovers continued their stroll, casually peering into the stores along the street side, occasionally serenaded by the musicians who saw it as their civic duty to play for a passing audience.  On these walks, they hardly spoke at all, choosing to take in the beauty of their surroundings; choosing to feel a love from one another inexpressible through words.

The crowded streets accompanying the weekend nightlife downtown slowly dwindled as Scott and Rebecca wandered about aimlessly, observing the wonder of life as seen through the eyes of love.  The two found themselves away from the main flow of what pedestrian traffic remained, following a newly paved path into the city park, streetlamps shining on another world: a world markedly different from the one the lovers had ventured from.  A waterfall from the local river cascaded into a pond, which died into a stream beneath a quaint wooden bridge connecting the two halves of the park.  Rebecca’s eyes lit up as she broke her grasp on Scott’s hand to run onto the bridge and stare at the tiny piece of nature residing in a forest of concrete.  Following a few steps behind, Scott thrust his hands in his pockets and took in her carefree exuberance.  When he reached the bridge, she was staring into the small stream with her head resting on her crossed arms against the rough wood railing.  Slipping one arm around her waist and placing the other on the railing, he sighed, which solicited a quick glance from Rebecca. However, seeing his face filled with contentment, she smiled and resumed her gaze into the waters below.

Within the bounds of this new world, the stars shined with a renewed brightness, less inhibited by the city lights.  Serenity flowed through Scott’s mind like the waters flowing beneath him and his love.  Moving on, slowly, the two came upon a soft incline, where the grass was just a little shorter than the surrounding area.  Impulsively, Rebecca spun and flopped backwards onto the soft green bed, her hair bouncing about before resting upon it as well and, laughing, reached her hand out for Scott, who couldn’t help but chuckle at the sight of a grown woman playing in the grass like a child.  Kneeling next to her, he bent over to stare into her eyes and, using his hand for support, leaned in to kiss her.  It was well received.

They lay next to each other on the soft bed of grass, staring at the stars, their hands clasped tightly in between them.  Rebecca pointed out things moving in the sky, looking for a shooting star, perhaps.  Scott only smiled.  There was no more need for wishing.  They lay there for a long time, the need for words fading, while watching for flitting images in the depths of a sea of black.

Realizing he may have dozed off one or two times, Scott suggested they head home for the night.  Late nights with Rebecca were wonderful, but sleep was a luxury when you worked a full time job.  Truthfully, she needed rest, too.  Oftentimes, she would work longer hours than he and, despite Scott’s protests, she swore she was fine with it.  That, however, didn’t make it any easier for him seeing her work as hard as she did.  As he stood, Scott reached out his hand to Rebecca, who grasped it softly.  A thin smile came to Scott’s lips as she helped him pull her up to him.  It was kind of embarrassing that he wasn’t strong enough himself, regardless of his love’s admiration.  Returning to the paved way, hand-in-hand the two lovers walked once more.

It was obviously late, as the only person walking through the park, or as far as Scott could see, for that matter, was a ragged-looking man in a thick coat.  As they approached him, Scott frowned slightly as the man coughed violently into his hands, his whole body shaking and he almost said something to the poor man, but as soon as their eyes met, the man’s eyes darted to the ground and he hurried past with a quick shuffle of his feet.  Shrugging it off, Scott brought his attention back to Rebecca, who smiled at him brightly.  His attention suddenly snapped behind him, though, at a thudding noise and fit off coughing.  Scott turned and ran to help them man up from the pavement.

“Are you-” started Scott, but stopped as the man shook his hand at him and stood to his feet.

Her voice sweetly chiming in, Rebecca asked for Scott, “Are you okay, sir?  Do you need some help?”

Gruffly, the man answered, “No, I don’t need help.”  Scott could see the man struggling with himself as he said, “Perhaps, you could help…”

“What can we do for you, sir?”  Rebecca questioned.

The man swallowed hard and, speaking through dry mouth and ragged lips said, “I haven’t eaten in days… a lot of things have happened…”  Trailing off, he looked at the pavement once more.

Reaching into his pocket, Scott removed his wallet as he said, “There’s not much, man, but you can have it if it will help.”  Handing the man an assortment of small bills, Scott slipped his wallet back into place.  The man’s hands were trembling as he took the money and a feeble thanks escaped his mouth.

“Don’t worry about it…” Scott said, his voice trailing off as his eyes fell to the man’s coat pocket.  Oddly protruding from the man’s pocket, a black handle shook Scott slightly.  Stepping away slowly, Scott reached for Rebecca, still watching the man.  Still staring at the ground, the man spoke again.

“Do you have… any more you can spare?”  He asked, voice cracking.

As Scott replied that he didn’t, the man looked at Rebecca pleadingly.

She shrugged, saddened by the man’s state, and said, “I don’t have any money with me.  I’m very sorry.”

As he turned with Rebecca, Scott noticed the man’s hand begin to twitch.  Breathing deep, Scott tried not to make any sudden movements.  Just slowly walk away, Scott told himself.  Walk away and don’t startle the man.  Facing the opposite direction finally, Scott pulled Rebecca along at first, before she got the idea and began to walk with him.

Every nerve in Scott’s body tingled as the adrenaline rushed through his body.  He wanted to run; just grab Rebecca and run as fast as he could.  His steps felt like lead against the pavement, his body tensed, and the determination to get away made his mind race to the point where he could barely keep his steps even.  He didn’t even hear the man get close until the gun was at his back.

“Turn around,” said the man forcefully, “slowly.”

Scott closed his eyes for a moment as a lump appeared in his throat.  This couldn’t be happening, he thought.  Turning to face the man, Scott put himself in between the gun and Rebecca.  She was the important thing here.

“I want everything you’ve got,”  the man said, eyes wide and teeth bared.

Scott immediately pulled out his wallet and tossed it on the ground at the man’s feet.  Head tilting slightly, the disheveled gunman looked at the couple and motioned with his gun, obviously wanting more.  Anger welled up inside Scott as he threw his car keys to the ground.  Scott could hear Rebecca’s shaky breathing from behind him and knew that they had to get away somehow.

“Why are you doing this?!”  Rebecca shouted all of a sudden, her voice breaking down into sobs at the last few words.

“Shut your mouth!”  The man screamed at the top of his lungs.

Scott knew this man was crazy.  What he didn’t know was what he was supposed to do at a time like this.  With the gun pointed at them just a few feet away, the strolling lovers could hardly believe what was happening.  Scott’s body was tense all over, for there was no telling what would happen next.  Rebecca’s pleading words had been silenced by the abrupt commands of the mugger, all the while, the night sky sparkled with starlight as the wind rustled the trees of the park; the peace of the location a stark contrast to the turmoil of the situation at hand.

“Give me all your money!”  The thief shouted.  “I don’t like to repeat myself.  Put it on the ground and step back.”

Scott, still shaken, clumsily collected everything he could find between he and Rebecca, which didn’t amount to much at all, and laid it on the pavement.  The mugger’s eyes flitted to Rebecca’s hand for an instant and a lustful aura surrounded him.

“I want that,” he said, unmistakably referencing the engagement ring.

Scott began to protest, but Rebecca’s hand on his arm quieted him.  Turning to her, she spoke softly to him as she removed the ring.

“Without you,” she said, tears streaming down her face, “the ring doesn’t matter.”

Gritting his teeth, he took the ring from his love and laid it on the pavement as well.  Standing up, Scott’s eyes burned with rage and his muscles ached for action, but there was nothing that could be done.

“Step back!” Shouted the mugger again.

Complying, Scott took a step back slowly, keeping his eyes on the gun.  The gunman approached his reward on the pathway, gun still pointed at the lovers.  Disheveled clothes and hair combined with his crazed eyes were enough to convince Scott of the man’s desperate nature.  Enough to convince him the man would do anything to get what he wanted.

“Is this it?”  Questioned the unkempt thief.

Scott nodded slowly.

“This isn’t enough,” the mugger growled.  “You’ve got more. Give it to me!”

“We gave you everything!” Shouted Rebecca, shaking uncontrollably.

The thief’s arm twisted to the side and, almost simultaneously, a clap of sound cracked Scott’s hearing as he saw Rebecca fall from the corner of his eye.

“Rebecca!”  Scott cried out, looking to her.  Coughing, his love struggled from the ground to a knee.  The sight both enraged and relieved Scott, for, although she was hit, it was only in the shoulder.  When he snapped his head back around, the gun was pointing back at him, this time right in his face.

Swallowing hard, Scott stared into the eyes of the mugger.  “Okay,” he said in agreement with the mugger’s request, turning his head to look at Rebecca once more, but with his eye still on the assailant.  The thief glanced at Rebecca, too and, without thinking, Scott slapped the gun away with one hand and punched the crazed gunman as hard as he could in the side of the head, while screaming for Rebecca to run.  He pushed the disarmed mugger to the ground, but, unfortunately within range of the gun, which he picked up and fired at Scott blindly, grazing his left arm.  Pain shot through Scott’s body as the bullet lacerated muscle and skin.  Rebecca was running back to the city as hard as she could, screaming for help.

There was no other way.

“You should stop!”  Scott pleaded in a loud voice one last time, startling the mugger momentarily.  The man sneered at Scott, lifting the gun to eye-level.

Scott, resigned to the course of action in front of him, breathed deeply and sighed,  eyes staring at the pavement, “What I do now, I am forced to do.  I wash my hands of it.  So, plea-”

The bullet left the chamber without warning, tearing through skin and bone, dropping Scott where he stood; a gaping hold in the back of his head proclaiming the gunman’s victory.

The gun shook in the mugger’s hand as he stared at the corpse.  He walked slowly past it, the incredulous look on his face showing he never thought he’d take it this far; like he didn’t even really believe it was happening now.  The wind blew hard against the mugger, the chill suddenly cutting him to the bone.  A rustling sound behind him froze him in his tracks and he felt like he couldn’t breathe.

Turning around revealed a sight that had to be a lie!

A body, supposed to be dead, was on its feet, erecting itself from its slumped position.  As the body straightened, it twisted its neck as if stretching and spoke with a new voice.

“It seems you made the switch in time,” spoke the body, it’s new voice echoing across the old one.  “I never thought you would release me.”

The body waved a hand in front of its face and the bullet hole disappeared and it touched the back of its head, showing that it was obviously renewed as well.  Mouth gaping, the frightened gunman tried to scream, but nothing came out.  Tears fell across ragged cheeks as the trembling thief tried to flee but found his body too afraid to move.

The newly animated body standing before the murdering thief peered into the man’s eyes, speaking to his very core, “You pitiful soul.  Whatever you have done to warrant my summoning, let us hope it was worth it.”

Bowing itself in an elegant, sweeping manner, the body said energetically, “I do not feel it is appropriate to slaughter someone without first becoming acquainted with him.”  The echo within the voice drove fear through every part of the man.

Without willing himself to, the mugger spoke, “My name is Jeff.” The words flowed out, leaving him feeling betrayed by his own body.  Strength left him immediately and he could no longer stand, dropping to his hands and knees, gasping for air.

Laughing under its breath, the body lifted a hand in front of itself, “I appreciate your obeisance and humility, Jeff, but perhaps you should stand.”  As the body stretched out its fingers, Jeff returned to his feet, his limbs held in place by an invisible force.  “After all,”  the body continued, “I have yet to introduce myself.”  Dropping its hand, the body walked gracefully toward the still suspended Jeff, every step resounding within the terrified man’s ears.

Placing a hand on Jeff’s shoulder, the body smiled sadistically, “I regret that I cannot tell you my true name, for it is long forgotten to me.”  Sliding its hand to cup the side of Jeff’s cheek, the body chuckled, before whispering sweetly, “But as you pass into the next life, I suppose it is good to know the name of your destroyer.  As such, human, may your last thoughts dwell on the demon who found enough mercy in his damned existence to name himself for you.”

Leaning in closely to Jeff’s ear, the demon could feel the terror within the man; wanted to drink it like the sweetest of honeys.  Taking in the smell of horror, the demon spoke once more, it’s borrowed lips tasting its newfound name.  Fear.

“Know the name: Osoré,” the demon turned on his heel, walking away briskly, “and that your life is forfeit.”

Jeff’s eyes rolled back in his head, as every muscle in his ragged body tensed.  His breathing stopped and the body was allowed to crumple to the pathway, a lifeless sack of flesh once known as a man.

Osoré smiled to himself as he walked away with a dignified gait.  “Aneurysm.  Perhaps I’ve grown soft.”  Touching a hand to Scott’s abdomen, Osoré sighed, “You are the only one of your line to resist me this long. Your heart knows intimately the fear of which I name myself, but rest easy.  In gratitude for releasing me, boy, this shall be my only victim this night.”

Scott’s legs gave out and he collapsed to the path below, just a hundred or so feet from the body of a desperate man.  Sirens blared in the distance as a voice echoed upon itself within Scott’s tired mind.

“Be grateful.”