The second half of Chapter Eight of Hunters! Split in two posts due to length. Tricia find her old master Hinge’s victims in a Seattle morgue, and flashes back to the London Blitz and the night she rebelled against him. Warning: Adult content.
Also,the anthology Saints and Sinners is now available, featuring the short story prequel to Hunters, Harsh Mistress! A pirate captain sails his ship into Hell to rescue the woman he loves.
Previous chapters can be found on the Hunters page.
Chapter Eight (b)
Compare the latest version with the first draft here!
Air raid sirens howled in the darkness. The glow of fires traced the shattered skeleton of London on the horizon. Shapes of planes blotted out the stars splattered across the clear sky.
Over the bombs and sirens, I barely heard the cries of the crippled old man I fucked in the alley.
I thrust down on him and felt his hip snap. His lips frothed blood from a broken rib that had punctured a lung. The pain didn’t even touch his mindless eyes. Rough and palsied hands, caked with the same dirt and ash and shit that coated everything, scraped over my skin.
His scream was wet and grating and he collapsed. Clarence Berkshire’s paltry soul ebbed, scoured of hope by Verdun and poverty and misery. It left a husk of dried meat and leathery flesh as decrepit as the soul it had held.
“Fuck!” I hurled the body into the rubble-choked street. Its flailing limbs carved through the scarves of smoke that drifted along its path. It landed on the cracked cobblestones and I glared at it, willing a German bomb to immolate the worthless sack of shit. Dust settled. Klaxons blared. Nothing happened. I screamed with frustration and pulled my dress back down over my legs.
“To time the likes of him lose all their savor.”
The melodic voice, thickened with a Spanish accent, melted over me. I spun around.
Hinge stepped from the shadows of the alley. His deep chocolate eyes smoldered beneath a carpet of curled shoulder-length hair. A thin moustache and arrow of a goatee framed generous lips. Despite the filth and destruction around him, his voluminous white shirt, velvet vest and pants were immaculate.
A mix of lust and fury smothered my frustration. I rushed at him. “Where have you been?” My fist smashed into his jaw. He didn’t react. No mark from the blow against skin the rich color of milky tea. His mouth remained a pitying smile. I screamed and hit him again, desperate for a reaction. “You left me for weeks.”
His slender fingers clutched my neck before I knew he moved. I gagged as he lifted me from the ground.
“You hold such passion in your rage, my love.” He drew me close and nipped at my lower lip before pulling away again. The heady scent of his body filled my nostrils, stabbed into my brain, moments before he threw me into the wall of the alley.
I barely felt the impact. I launched myself from the cracked facade and slammed into him. In moments our bodies were tangled on the ground, nails clawing flesh, mouths biting and sucking and devouring. His laughter drowned out the raging blitz around us.
“You hunt the souls of those already dead,” he said when he pulled his mouth free of my breast. “Why hunt the dregs of life when feasts await?”
“This is my feast.” I struggled his pulsing cock from his pants and tried to take him into me.
He gripped me by the chin and hauled me up to face him. “Mi amor, this is no what I mean.”
I struggled against his implacable grip. “Let me go.”
He held me close, tantalizing just beyond physical contact. The hellish flames in my body seared with need. He kept laughing, and I struggled harder.
“Ravenous desire makes you a beast.” Excitement and reproach filled his words in equal measure. He shoved me away and flowed to his feet with preternatural grace. His fingers fastened buttons and brushed away dust, and in moments our passion had no evidence but memory.
“You and I are meant to feast on pleasure,” he continued. “Yet you slave yourself to sustenance,”
“We don’t have a choice. There’s nothing but old men left. The young fight on the mainland. The women cower in shelters! I can’t survive like this.”
“You hunt the prey that life already drains.” He held his hand out to me. “Come with me to truly sate your hunger.”
I glared at him, but couldn’t sustain my anger. I slid to his side and draped his arm over my shoulder. My head barely reached his chest. “Show me, my love.”
He smiled and kissed the top of my head. “Tonight you do no starve. Tonight you dine.”
“And for dessert?” I bit loose the buttons on his shirt, ran a tongue over his smooth, hard chest.
Hinge grasped my hair and tore my head up to face him. “For that you need the strength entire you take.”
I grinned and tugged at his hand. “Then what are we waiting for?”
“Tranquila, mi querida, queda cerca.”
The sirens bounced from the buildings and piles of rubble we passed. Fog rippled like a pool beneath our steps. Shapes, some holding torches against the darkness, darted in alleyways and between buildings, but Hinge held me each time I started to move toward them. The soot that dappled the air around us seemed to wash over him without clinging to him as we passed.
Finally he drew to a stop next to a long, relatively intact building with rows of boarded windows that ran the length of both stories. Black ivy twined over its cracked facade. An empty shadow where a sign once hung stamped the brick above the wooden doors.
I started to speak, but Hinge pressed a finger to my lips. “Do no ask. I will no spoil the secret.” He strode up to the building’s front door and threw it open.
The musty entry beyond sagged with age. Years of traffic had scoured permanent ruts into the floor. Bulbs flickered through wire cages and thick films of dust. Torn notices and pictures kept tenuous hold on the walls. Dust trickled from the ceiling with each thunderous explosion.
On the floor lay sprawled several dismembered bodies of women wearing hoods and black robes.
I stepped over the first of the corpses and grimaced. “You brought me to a convent?” Each sister, disemboweled as if by an animal, eyes pried out, lay in a glistening slick of blood. One hung nailed to the wall, her blood dripping from the viscera that spilled from her torn belly. Their robes were in shreds below their waists. Hinge’s work, I knew. He had taken them and ripped away their souls even as he tore them apart.
“No, my love, this is no nunnery.” Hinge swept past me. His steps avoided the bodies and blood without any apparent effort. He beckoned for me to join him.
I weaved around the slain sisters as I followed. The doors along the hall were shut but for one that led to a chapel. A carved crucifix with a bleeding Jesus towered out of the shadows over the rows of pews that faced it. Hinge sped past on the far side of the hall, not even sparing it a glance. He stopped at the set of double doors at the end of the hall and waited for me to reach his side. He gave a deep bow as if unveiling a masterpiece and swept the doors open.
The bar of light from the hallway sliced the darkness ahead. The feet of metal beds and scarred trunks studded the edge of the light. Sheets and bedclothes rustled, stirring the air. Dozens of eyes blinked to life like stars in the darkness.
“I have returned, queridos hijos mios.” Hinge flicked on the lights.
The dormitory lit up. Children, both boys and girls, dirty and unkempt, cheeks hollowed from hunger, were sitting up in their beds. They stared at us with eyes at first vacant and blurred with sleep. Then the gazes darkened with other emotions. They began to rise from their beds, moving slowly toward us.
Hinge strode forward on his long legs into the midst of the orphans. The sound of explosions was like a nearing drumbeat as they surrounded him. “This is the feast I promised, mi amor.”
Their hands grasped at his shirt, ran over his body as he passed his palms over their heads. “The young possess an unmatched purity. Even orphaned, life has yet to sour them.” He took a young boy’s head and guided it down. The youth eagerly pulled my master’s pants open. “They will no longer cry into their gruel. Tonight we save them from their misery.”
“An orphanage,” I mumbled. The vitality screamed from them. Young. Powerful. Pure. The air vibrated with the power of their souls. I took several steps forward, then stopped. “I thought they evacuated the children.”
“Only those deemed worthy were the saved.” Hinge cocked his head to the side as more small hands pulled his clothes away, small mouths ran over his flesh. “Does not their innocence enflame your hunger?”
“They’re too young,” I stammered. My hunger seethed. I took another step toward the orphans, then backed away. A disquiet that I didn’t understand stirred at my core.
“Only some of these have not yet flowered.” He shrugged, then closed his eyes and threw his head back as the orphans fawned over him. “That is a barrier for me no longer.”
One girl neared him. Black hair flowed down to her shoulder blades. Even from behind I could see womanhood had not yet touched the slender body under her thin white bedclothes.
Hinge took one look at her and for an instant agony swallowed his expression. He turned and batted her away. “I give you her to whet your appetite.”
The girl turned toward me and glided forward. A wooden crucifix hung from a leather string between the shadows of her nipples. Lust consumed her blue eyes. The delicate lines of her features were elegant, smooth. Beautiful.
I hungered for her. I needed her. So long with nothing that satisfied, nothing that touched my desire, only what I could hunt down to survive. And now this, innocent and pure and willing and yet my trembling hands remained at my sides.
As our eyes met, she moaned. Her lips parted. A small red flower of blood bloomed on the crotch of her gown.
I inhaled and fought the temptation to kiss her, to wrap her in an embrace that would sustain me and damn her. The unfamiliar disquiet built.
“She looks like… my sister?” I said. Emotions bobbed from the murk of confusion swallowing my mind. “My daughter? I don’t-”
“You have no sister, nor a daughter with your youth. I find you on the streets alone.” Hinge tugged aside the bedclothes of the boy in front of him, exposing pale flesh crossed with switch marks and bruises. The other orphans began to disrobe of their own accord. “What gives you pause? I feel your building need.”
I leaned down on one knee and took her by the shoulders. Her heat, her smell, her beauty beckoned me. She leaned forward, and our lips met. Before I could stop myself I pulled her thin body close. I felt her heat, her beauty, her eagerness, her soul. Her virgin mouth was delicious, her memories childlike and innocent and pure and holy Christ my hunger screamed.
Something was wrong. I clenched my jaw and pushed her away. My mind seethed with dread and half-recalled dreams and faded memories. What was stopping me?
What had stopped Hinge? The sight of her had pained him.
My eyes fixed on the cross at the girl’s neck. None of the other children wore crucifixes that I could see. He had kept his distance from the chapel, too.
“Get to the chapel,” I hissed, and slipped the cross from around her neck.
“But I need you,” she whispered. “Take me, please.” She grasped me with her small hands and moved again to kiss me. The beckoning fragrance of her blood and pheromones and excitement pounded at my will.
“Go!” I roared to her, to all the children in the dormitory, and thrust her toward the doors.
As soon as she was clear of me, I charged. The orphans scattered as I smashed into Hinge.
My momentum carried both of us to the back of the room. Beds and trunks careened in our wake. We crashed into the rear wall just as another bomb blast split the air. The orphanage shook.
“What the fuck’s happening to me?” I smashed him to the floor, rained down blows with my fists. My skin was black, my nails talons of fire. “What did you do to me?”
His voice rang with mirth. “I do no know from where it comes, this rage.” He started laughing. His clothes were in a tangle around his waist and ankles, and he made no effort to right them. “I give you willing-”
I clenched my fists together and crashed them into his face. Unbridled. Bones crunched under my knuckles.
Hinge roared. His own demonic form took hold. A blazing palm slammed into my chest. I flew off him and tumbled over the mess of the room. Bed frames bent under my impact.
“What don’t I remember?” We were both back to our feet at the same instant. Our eyes seared into each other.
“I do nothing to your memory,” he said. His voice was no longer musical. It was fury.
“Why does this feel wrong?”
“Your sin is much too great for this to bother. They are no different from your victims past. And death, it is a blessing for these children.”
More explosions ripped the air, marching closer. Dust and splinters trickled through the roof, raining down on us. I ignored them. “Do I have a sister? A family?”
“I find you on the street alone with nothing. I take you as my own and give you all.” He spread his arms and started to advance on me. “Yet in your doubting moment now you fight me. Let stop this foolishness and come to me.”
His engorged cock throbbed with fiery veins. I felt the erotic pull of the pleasures we had shared countless times, nearly fell to my knees. So much death and depravity through the years. Yet I had never taken a life as young – as innocent – as these. The temptation of such purity fought with the strange revulsion that gripped me, from some memory or past I could feel but didn’t remember.
The windows exploded inward. Jets of smoke and fire spilled around us as the foundation buckled. The ceiling started to collapse. I turned invisible and rushed over the heaving ground.
“What did you take from me?” I drove my claws at his chest.
He caught my wrist as if I were still visible and slid to the side. In the same motion he flipped me over and whipped me into the broken floor. My back wrenched. He kept my hand in his grip and hurled me through the curtains of fire and debris falling around us.
I sailed until I slammed into the remains of a wall. It crumbled over me from the impact. The world tilted. Flames blistered my skin. My invisibility dissolved. I struggled free of the debris just as Hinge’s fingers clamped around my neck and hauled me off my feet.
“I do no suffer doubt from my own daughter.” His fingers squeezed. “I never think my child would dare defy me.”
His fingers squeezed, and I gagged. With the last of my strength I lifted my hand and opened my palm.
He released me with an anguished shriek. I landed hard on the rubble, holding the crucifix in my trembling fingers like a shield.
Voices behind me gasped. I looked back to see the orphans huddled together, black with soot. The remainder of the wall between the dormitory and the chapel had crumbled when I hit it. The pews smoldered, broken, and the chapel cross lay at an angle but intact behind them.
Hinge started to laugh. He held his hand out toward me and the crucifix, fingers splayed, and began to stagger back.
“So my Tricia also finds my weakness,” he said between spasms of laughter. His obsidian and fire demonic form faded. “This will no save you from my wrath forever.”
“You won’t ever see me again.” I stood on shaking legs, still holding the crucifix, and resumed my human glamour.
“You defile yourself with sin enough for Hell to Curse you, but at this you turn?” He kept chuckling, quieter now. “I swear you will regret this night, mi hija.”
“Never again,” I repeated.
“We shall see if that is true, my love.” He dropped his hand and bowed to me. “This night I gift you life, but know that it is mine to take whenever I but choose.”
The smoke and flames swirled, and he was gone.
I watched the empty space where Hinge had been until the stirring of the orphans roused me. I turned to them, trembling.
“I won’t hurt you,” I said. My voice was hoarse. “Stay close to the chapel. Help will come soon.”
I looked over the imploring faces and saw the girl who had approached me. Her hands clutched her gown to cover the stain on it. Shame colored her cheeks. I untangled the leather cord from my fingers and held her cross out to her.
She pressed her palm flat against my hand. Her blue eyes again met mine, but this time her gaze was clear.
“I think you’ll need it more than me,” she said.
I shook myself, my hand clutching the wooden cross that still hung around my neck.
No doubt remained. Hinge was in Seattle. He was ravenous, taking a new soul daily. And I would have to face him again.
“I’ll need to know if this keeps happening,” I said softly. “I’ll leave you a way to contact me if….”
My voice trailed off as I looked up at Grayson. He was slowly walking around the room, staring at a spot just over my shoulder. As he moved, his own reflection warbled over the steel behind him. The reflections showed only one person standing in the room.
“Grayson. Look at me.”
Grayson gasped and tensed. His eyes snapped into focus on my face.
I took the clipboard from the nearest cart and scribbled a number across the page. “Call this number if more anonymous kids start showing up.”
He swallowed. Sweat curled down from his temples.
“I won’t hurt you. But these deaths will keep happening. The police can’t stop it. I’m the only person that can.” I gestured with the clipboard at the bodies. “Can you call this number if more bodies show up?”
Grayson swallowed again and nodded. He made a squeaking sound, but formed no coherent words.
I nodded and dropped the clipboard onto the floor. My boots squealed as I started toward the doors.
“What are you?” He asked. His voice quaked.
I stopped. “Just call me,” I said, then pushed through the doors to the other side.
(c) 2015 by William Reid Schmadeka. All rights reserved.