“You know who I am and you know what he is, so you better start talking. I saw him come in here earlier.” The stocky man slams his hand down on the table. He keeps his eyes locked forward and squeezes his hand, making the veins in his forearm pop.
This elicits the desired response, and James has to fight back a smile. The owner of the grungy little shop nearly jumped out of his skin at the sound of the hand slamming on the dirty laminate counter top. It’s the typical type of place a sympathizer might own. Funneling black market goods might pay the bills, but this guy certainly isn’t getting rich off this line of work.
“Look man, I don’t know what you’re talking about. So you better buy something or…” James’s hand shoots out and grabs the shop owner’s neck. A slight squeeze cuts off his voice with a gargle.
“Don’t you lie to me. The smell in here is enough to make me puke. One warlock doesn’t smell up a joint like this,” James says through gritted teeth. “I saw him leave here earlier and have been chasing him since. I lost him when he jumped off the fifth floor of the parking garage over on Beaubien Street and took off toward the river. Tell me where he stays and maybe I’ll let you live.”
He squeezes just a bit tighter and the shop owner’s eyes bulge just slightly from his now-purple face. A noise squeaks from his collapsing throat that sounds enough like agreement to allow James to release his grip. The shop owner rubs the red area where the incredibly strong hand was affixed and clears his throat loudly.
“He’s gonna kill me. Ya know it’s true, hunter,” the shop owner says in his new, gravelly voice.
“Either him or me.” James opens his jacket and taps the gun sticking out of his waist band. Surprisingly, this doesn’t get a rise out of the man behind the counter.
“That supposed to scare me? You know what that warlock can do. He’s not normal. The things he will do to me will hurt far worse than getting shot. Maybe I should just let you shoot me and get it over with.”
James looks at the mousey man and puts his hand on the butt of his gun. The man might be afraid of the warlock but he is clearly more afraid of dying. He can barely stop the words from spewing from his mouth.
“Alright, alright. Ya better get him though, or we’ll both be dead. He hangs out in Milliken Park down on the river. It’s off Atwater Street. Not that I care if you live, but you better be careful, hunter. Like I said, this warlock is different. Got some powers I haven’t seen in a long time.”
“Oh, dontcha worry about me. Believe it or not I know what I’m doing.” James walks to the door. “And if he isn’t there, I’ll be back. No need to worry.”
The air outside the shop is cool, even for September in Michigan. James regrets not dressing warmer. His body shivers, partly from the cold but mostly from frustration. He does not usually have this much trouble and rarely has to run like he has today. The air burns his lungs like he is breathing boiling coffee. The money he was paid isn’t worth all the trouble this warlock has given him and the thing doesn’t look much older than JC. Should have asked for hazard pay, he thinks to himself.
James heads down the street toward the area he believes is the park. His mind is preoccupied with thoughts of JC and his first day at yet another high school. He bumps into an older couple walking with bags of groceries. Cans and boxes scatter all over the sidewalk. He scrambles to help the folks clean up their food and moves on quickly. He can’t let anyone get a good look at him. If things get ugly with the warlock, he can’t have the local news putting his description on TV.
He generally prides himself on staying anonymous. No one will mistake him for a body builder, but James is sure that most people would not want to run into him hiding in an alley unless they have some sort of power. Despite his stocky frame, there is nothing particularly striking about James. Most would say he looks fairly ordinary. Not strikingly handsome but not ugly either. He could be an accountant when he isn’t wearing army cargos and a black hooded sweatshirt. Hopefully the old couple was so startled they forget everything about him.
It’s nearly dark when James reaches the park. The acidic stench of the warlock hangs on the air and almost ruins the beautiful park set inside the city. The park is completely out of place. Trails lead in every direction and trees line numerous lush green clearings. It would be easy to forget about being in the city altogether.
James heads toward a raised walkway at the edge of the river, letting his nose show him the way. This would be the perfect place for a warlock to hide out. Plenty of space to watch potential victims. It would be easy to snatch someone, drag them into the woods and perform a spell without anyone seeing. Wouldn’t matter how elaborate the ritual, the trees would provide ample cover. One day having a nice picnic in the park, the next kidnapped and waking up to a nightmare–a warlock having stolen their identity or, worse, having made them do terrible things all while they were completely unaware.
This sentiment makes James shudder. He shakes his head and moves further up the river walk. The cold has driven most people out of the park. Only a few people stroll down the walkway, fighting the strengthening breeze. About fifty yards ahead, James sees someone that sparks his interest.
Sitting alone on a bench is a young-looking man wearing an oversized coat. James stops and breathes deeply, but the wind at his back makes it hard to tell if the warlock is close. He takes a step forward and the man bolts off the bench. James rips the gun from his waist and levels it at the young man.
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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