Shadow of the Hunter CompletebyThistlethorn©
Edited by Penn Lady
This is a copyrighted work of fiction. All rights reserved.
Authors note, This is the complete story. I'm sorry for the wait, and hope it was worth it. I know it's strange reading about Christmas in the summer, but think of it as Christmas in July. Also, there is added material to the first two parts that were posted, so I'm posting the entire piece. Sorry for any confusion. Please enjoy and have a happy and safe summer.
The man was getting on Chad's nerves. Standing in line for cupcakes, of all things, the inconsiderate jerk-off butted in line then held it up by talking on his cell phone. When the clerk tried to direct his attention to a sign requesting costumers not be on cell phones while placing an order he went off on the beleaguered young woman, delaying things even further. Once that tantrum appeared to be over, he placed his order and berated the clerk on the speed and quality of her service. He then didn't have enough to pay cash and insisted the clerk cover the difference.
Chad made his way to the front of the line, dropped a five dollar bill on the counter and returned to his place without a word. The man glared at him while the clerk completed the sale and then sulked his way out of the store.
The next few people placed their orders and left, offering sympathy to the clerk as they did so. When Chad reached the counter, the clerk thanked him as she handed him his change.
"It's not a problem."
She bagged up his order, three red-and green-iced gingerbread cupcakes. "You must really like cupcakes to wait through all that."
"They're not for me, they're for my rat."
"Really? Wow, that's really cute."
Chad gave her a smile that somehow didn't reach his eyes. "I guess it is. Have a nice day."
Chad walked out into the cold, snowy day. It was the Monday after Thanksgiving, and the Christmas decorations were already up. He considered taking a bus, but decided walking would give him an opportunity to scout. The sun was hanging low and dusk would come soon. It seemed at this time that...things were more active.
He was also curious. He'd been reading about the solstice and how there were some ancient beliefs that reality somehow came unglued around this time and the supernatural became more active. He wanted to see if he could chart that.
"Well if it isn't the do-gooder."
Chad repressed any reaction to the voice of the belligerent customer and made a point of looking up and down the street for something.
"Hey, buddy, I'm talking to you."
Chad recognized the man's tone, though he'd never met the asshole before that day. He sounded petulant because his fun had been ruined and aggressive because he had something to prove. Given that Chad was barely in his twenties and this man appeared to be at least ten years older, the man assumed Chad made an easy target. Chad recognized the situation all too well. Karma sucked.
When Chad continued to ignore him, the man stalked over and grabbed him on the shoulder. Chad expected the move, and was calm when he looked over to his antagonist.
"What, can't hear?" the man sneered.
Chad kept his voice even. "I hear just fine. It's just that I was always told not to mention it when someone farts."
The man's look of contemptuousness turned confused. "Farts? What do you mean by that?"
Chad cocked his head. "Isn't that what it's called when an asshole makes noise?" Chad knew he was pulling the guy's chain and knew from experience just how badly that could go. Something dark twisted in Chad, with predatory glee. This guy was just begging to be taken down a notch.
He stared dumbly at Chad before responding. "You little shit," he blurted out, confusion turning to anger. "How dare you say that to me!"
"Pretty easily, actually. Wasn't much of a dare at all."
The man seized Chad by both shoulders and pushed him into an empty alcove. "OK, you little fuck. Now we're--"
The man chocked off as Chad stared at him. While the smile never reached his eyes, the look of malignant predation went there and stayed. He reached with his right hand to his left shoulder and grabbed the man's hand. He twisted it hard.
"We're going to what?" Chad asked.
The man's face went white from pain and fear.
"Let go." The man tried to put force behind the command, but it fell flat.
Chad still released the hand, then reached for the other.
"Are you removing this or am I?" Though his voice was even, his eyes promised more pain and possibly worse. The man released his shoulder. Chad was almost disappointed.
"You still haven't told me what we're going to do." It was a simple question, said without much inflection. Chad knew from experience how to pitch his voice for maximum effect.
The man backed away while trying to project an air of defiant contempt that was undercut by the fear Chad could see in his eyes. The man shook his head and stalked off. Chad let him go. He took a few deep breaths and set out on his way.
Like an orgasm that wasn't reached, the urge--the need--to break something, or someone, rose within Chad and made demands of him. Demands he barely wanted to discourage, and that frightened him. He walked faster. He couldn't outdistance himself, or his desires. Soon, he was running head long to escape.
Out of the corner of his eye, he saw a dark form dart off. With a grim smile, he turned to follow the figure from what he hoped was an unobtrusive distance.
The little creature was a blur of black and gray as it weaved through the crowd of oblivious humans. It was perhaps two feet tall. Chad could make out a tail and four limbs; sometimes it dashed on all fours, but when that wasn't possible, it moved on two legs.
The head was perhaps a little too large for the body, and appeared to have a mane. He couldn't quite make out the face. Then it stopped and a mischievousness smile lit up its face, which had an animalistic cast. The mane that hung in a shaggy mass around the face added to the impression of an animal, though Chad couldn't have named what animal. He followed its line of sight to a sidewalk bell ringer.
What, some little shadow creature's going to rip off a Salvation Army guy? He thought as he continued to follow.
The little creature scurried up to the man, who continued to ring his bell, greet folks on the street and thank them for the occasional donation. The creature rose up on its digitigrade hind legs and tugged hard at the man's arm. He dropped the bell with a look of surprise. With its tail, the creature knocked the bell down the street. As the man chased after his bell, the creature dumped his hanging pot, forcing the lid off. Once the man realized that had happened, he forgot the bell, went back to his kettle and tried to collect the flying cash.
Chad started to head over, but a small group of people had already gathered to help. Chad looked over to the creature, which was laughing uproariously at the pandemonium it had created. Chad's expression hardened and he headed for it.
The strange little creature saw Chad. He saw the fear in the creature's face and it stoked the burning need he had. The creature panicked in its efforts to escape. After a few scrabbled lunges it managed to get to its feet and run into a deserted alley. Chad smiled. These creatures almost always ran for hidden places. It made what he did so much easier.
He followed the creature into the alley. His gaze fell on a discarded bit of pipe and he seized it with his empty hand so that he entered in clutching in either hand a bag of cupcakes and a heavy metal pipe. He pursued the creature until he found it cowering against a wall; its face paled when it saw the pipe.
As Chad looked over the creature, he took in its trembling form as it shrunk away even further. It (he, Chad realized) lifted a spindly arm (foreleg?) in a vain attempt to protect himself from the coming violence as he cringed.
Other things came to Chad, unsought and unwanted knowledge. The creature seemed harmless. He had no evil intent; rather he thought the whole trick was funny. A prank and nothing more. Chad's grip tightened on the pipe, but he stopped advancing.
NO NO NO! screamed a part of himself. Forward! Look at the pathetic thing! Break it! Chad felt himself grow hard in the threat of violence that hung in the air. The promised orgasm was one act of violence away.
"Why did you do that?" he asked, his voice hoarse.
The odd little creature looked at him. It was still frightened but answered. "It was a prank."
"He's always there. I was just playing with him."
"He didn't think it was funny."
The little creature looked down. "I guess he didn't at that."
"Do you know what he's doing?"
The creature returned his gaze to Chad, fear mixing with curiosity. "Gathering money."
"Do you know why?"
The creature shook his head.
Chad crouched so that he was closer to the creature's level. "The money he gathers goes to those who need it. Now they won't have whatever you made him lose. Not only does he suffer the inconvenience of your game, other people will suffer by having less."
"I didn't know."
"Did you ask?"
The creature looked down again.
Chad was still angry, the need still hammered at him. Instead of striking he raised his voice. "You know, there's a piece of shit over at the school passing out junk to kids. There are peddlers of every conceivable horror out there and you fuck with some dude trying to collect something for the poor. God!" Chad shot upright, throwing his hands wide. "Why don't you fuck with someone who needs a good fucking?!"
The creature stared at Chad as though the concept had never occurred to him. "Of course, hunter. Those are targets worthy of a good game."
Chad suppressed the snarl that threatened at being called a hunter. The look on the creature's face still held some fear, and this continued to feed the darkness crashing around him. But the look of consideration spoke to something else. Chad stood uncertain. He wanted to hurt the creature, and wasn't sure if he was being played. With tremendous effort, he stayed his hand.
"Fine." With a sharp jerk of his head he added, "Go."
The creature scurried away.
Chad waited until the creature was long gone then dropped down amongst the gathered refuse of the area. He curled into a ball and held his head as the frustration over the lost opportunity washed over him. He rocked himself a bit as his hard-on faded and his body came crashing down from the adrenaline high.
When he was able, Chad rose, tossed aside the pipe, and carried his cupcakes home.
High above the alley, perched on the ledge of the building roof, a figure watched Chad with great interest. Having witnessed the entire exchange, he decided this new hunter merited closer scrutiny. He nodded to himself. Yes, this hunter definitely merited scrutiny, perhaps even a visit. With a mischievous grin, his form blurred into a flurry of snow and disappeared.
Chad arrived home to the weekly-rate motel he lived in at close to nine. The motel wasn't bad; it was quiet, and most of the tenants were, like him, semi-regulars.
"Evening, Mr. Chad," said the older black man who worked the night desk, Mr. Franklin.
Chad grunted in reply and waved as he made his way up the stairs.
Once he reached his room, he locked and chained his door, put away his coat, and tossed the now-mangled bag of cupcakes on the counter by the fridge. He sat in a chair in the small sitting room, thinking he would do some work on his computer. He was building a database of encounters and researching any lore he could get his hands on.
As he tried to do some research, his eyes kept closing and exhaustion crashed down on him. He gave up and went to bed.
Chad was walking through a forest. Trees arched cathedral-like above his head, blocking out the sky. The path was worn smooth beneath his feet. He glanced about the woods on either side of the path, but they were a mass of impenetrable darkness.
Someone walked beside him, but no matter how much he looked at them, he couldn't see what they looked like. Sometimes the person almost looked like him, sometimes like someone he felt certain he should know but couldn't place, and sometimes nothing but a dark mass that traveled alongside him. There was something both revolting and companionable about the co-traveler, however, and it seemed to Chad that that should bother him.
They reached the end of the corridor of trees. It opened into a small meadow where deer were grazing. A doorway stood in the middle of the meadow. Chad cocked his head in consideration, then set off to investigate the door. About half-way across he heard a wailing from behind. Encapsulated in that cry was a loss that was both devastated and infuriated. Chad looked back.
Still on the path, in the protective corridor of trees, was his companion. Again, even looking directly at it didn't tell him what it was. The thought occurred to him that it was best that it stayed there, forever in a place he'd left behind. Then he started to walk back.
An enormous deer left the herd to stand in front of Chad. His gaze was level with the magnificent beast's chest. He raised his gaze upward and looked into eyes as intelligent as any he'd ever seen. The rack that crowned the deer's head spread out wide then curled back in. The deer lowered his head so that the rack of antlers surrounded Chad's body, blocking his way back. Chad could smell the musk of the animal, rich, exotic, and hauntingly familiar.
"No," he heard. "You may not go back. You have started on the path, and the way lies ahead."
Chad awoke with a start, the scent of the deer still lingering. He was surprised to find himself trembling.
It was just a dream, he told himself, then repeated for emphasis. He said it aloud. No matter how, or how often, he said it, he didn't quite believe it. Chad rose from his bed, showered and dressed. Since having to move from his previous apartment due to legal troubles, he'd been building a wardrobe of the best pickings he could find from second-hand and Salvation Army stores. He had found some nice things that way.
As he drew on his hoodie and duster he glanced over to the counter by the fridge. The bag was gone. I'm going to have to wait up for him some night, find out what this is all about.
Chad set out to The Dragon's Garden, a Chinese buffet he frequented. He went there to speak to the dragon who owned and operated it. They had a--complicated relationship, one that Chad had yet to completely figure out. The dragon appeared to be looking out for him. What Chad couldn't figure out was why.
As Chad made his way to the restaurant, he realized he wasn't alone. Someone appeared to be pacing him through the crowds. He feigned one direction and ducked down a street in another. The sense of being followed persisted. Chad maneuvered his way to increasingly-deserted areas until he turned down an abandoned side street and waited. Once the figure appeared around the corner after him, Chad seized the stranger by his arm and swung him against a close by wall.
"Well, you're certainly a bundle of laughs."
The figure that addressed Chad was perhaps half-a-head taller than Chad's own six feet. More than his height, the startling thing about this man was his stark white skin tone and glittering shag of hair hanging about his face, shoulders and down his back that was by turns blue, white, or silver depending on how the light caught it. Inhumanly bright blue eyes looked into Chad's with unrestrained good-will and amusement. His outfit was a mish-mash of blues, grays, and silvers, in what appeared to be a tunic, breaches, and a long coat.
"Oh for fuck's sake," Chad said as he released the figure. He rubbed his hands across his eyes. "Isn't there a single other person in this city you people can screw with other than me?"
The figure cocked his head and took on the exaggerated appearance of considering the question. "Probably," he answered in a voice like the wind. "But you're here right now."
"Of course," Chad said with a sigh. He gave the stranger a long once over. "And who are you, anyway? The Snow Miser?"
Much to Chad's annoyance, the entity began to sing. Even waved his arms a bit in a pantomime of dance.
"I'm Mister White Christmas, I'm Mister Snow.
I'm Mister Icicle, I'm Mister Ten Below.
Friends call me Snow Miser, whatever I touch
Turns to snow in my clutch, I'm too much."
"Damn straight on that," Chad snapped as he stalked away. "You're way too fucking much."
The entity fell into step right next to him. "You know, I never understood why they were the 'Miser Brothers'. They weren't especially miserly with their particular influences. Quite the opposite, in fact."
"Because the 'Meteorologically Fanatical Brothers' isn't very lyrical."
Chad stalked on with this latest bit of strangeness keeping pace step for step. Chad's eyes flicked back and forth from the path in front to the entity at his side.
"Is there some reason you're following me?"
"Technically, I'm not following you. I'm walking beside you in the same direction. Following would put me behind you."
"Is there something I can do for you?"
The smile the wintery man wore bloomed into a tremendous grin. "Well, now that you mentioned it..."
"Ughh," Chad groaned.
"Oh," his companion said as he pulled up short. "Is now a bad time?"
Chad grasped at the opportunity to be rid of Snow Miser. "In fact, it is. I'm on my way somewhere. So if you could go away and never come back, that would be good for me."
"I won't keep you then. But I'm not certain I can promise to never be back. Until we meet again, then." He gave a nod of his head and his entire form broke down into snow and blew away.
Chad looked around to see if anybody seemed surprised by what happened. People continued on their way, oblivious to anything unusual. Chad envied them.
He reached his destination with no further diversions. The Dragon's Garden was a large free-standing restaurant, set away from the other buildings in the shopping center across a patch of snow-covered grass. Behind the building was undeveloped land. To Chad it appeared standoffish, though some of that he could attribute to how much the building felt like Qiang, the dragon who owned it. Qiang was the definition standoffish.
As Chad entered the restaurant he was greeted by a pretty Chinese woman whose face lit up in a smile. Her black hair was done up in braids with a silk poinsettia and ivy woven in. It was Chad's understanding that she was the lover of the dragon owner, but whoever or whatever she was, she'd always been kind to him
"Where would you like to sit?" Mingzhu asked.
"In the back," he answered with a shrug.
She smiled. "Of course."
She led him to a booth in the far corner of the seating area. He'd come to think of it as "his;" it was secluded, dark and away from other tables. He slid into his normal side, with his back against the wall.
Mingzhu left and returned with a soda. "I'll tell Qiang you're here," she said.
Chad gave another smile that didn't reach his eyes. Mingzhu returned his smile and left to find Qiang.
Chad got a plate and filled it from the buffet. As he ate, he turned over events in his mind. First a bizarre dream, then the Snow Miser. The day had become by turns weird then weirder. Not as weird as being turned into a goldfinch, perhaps, but weird enough. To make matters worse, that insidious song was stuck in his head.
"That's a jaunty little tune you're humming. You never struck me as musically inclined."
Chad looked up at the source of the statement. A Chinese man stood at the end of his table. Qiang appeared, to all outward appearances, to be human. Roughly the same height as Chad, his black hair was long and worn lose. His features were handsome, his bearing regal, if just the slightest bit haughty. His eyes were brown, with a hard to see red gold ring around the iris.