Here's that old version of Hunted but almost a year later (June of 2010) and with some faces we ALMOST recognize. The current incarnation is starting to come together now, though it wouldn't be for another 5 or so years from this point that Grace would come to be. Man, a lot of time has passed.
He stirred, groaning slightly, his entire body hurt. The dim light in the room was almost blinding to his unadjusted eyes. He quickly shut them again, waiting until he had a better idea of where he was.
The pungent odor of human waste, rotting meat and stale blood filled his nostrils, causing him to nearly be sick.
As he shifted he noticed he was in a corner, his arms cradling something. The rhythmic sound a breathing and feeling of warmth told him it was living.
He slowly opened his eyes again, squinting. He found that a woman was curled in his lap. Her brown hair was matted to her head, something dark and sticky was drying into it. From what he sound see of her body she was nearly naked, covered in dirt, cuts and bruises. Something he couldn’t identify was clinging to her skin.
He inhaled sharply when he realized that they both covered in blood and bits of flesh. Looking around he noticed the bodies, seven of them. Two looked as if they had been attacked by an animal, their chests were torn open, organs and bone spilled on the floor.
Three of the others were missing their heads, though one still had most of its bottom jaw attached. The spattering of blood, bone and grey matter on the ceiling suggested a gunshot.
The last two were almost unrecognizable as people. Their bodies were mangled and broken, skulls crushed inward, necks turned at unnatural angles. Shards of bone jutted from their arms and legs, their chests caved in.
It took every ounce of will power for him to not scream, but he couldn’t stop from vomiting this time.
His retching woke the woman still in his arms. She struggled, pushing against his chest and stomach, hitting him.
She screamed something incoherently and pushed his arms away, rolling off him. She scrambled backward, her eyes not leaving him. Her hand touched one of the corpses, her head whipped around and she screamed even louder.
The woman crawled backward until she was huddled in the opposite corner from him. Her head darted around the room, her eyes wide, breathing rapidly. She stopped looking around and stared directly at him, she moved against the walls behind her more, instinctually trying for as much distance from him as possible.
“Where am I?” His voice was a harsh rasp, he could taste the coppery tang of blood from his throat. “Hell, I’ll settle for who I am.”
She didn’t reply, only stared at him, eyes filled with terror. Suddenly she climbed to her feet, steadying herself against the wall she stumbled out of the room. He could hear her vomit just outside the doorway. After a few more moments he heard her footsteps moving away.
She came back a short while later, a torn sheet of paper and pen in her hands. She walked past the corpses, her feet making a soft squelch as she stepped on the gore. Without a word she sat next to him and started writing. It simply read, ‘Thank you.’
“What for? I don’t even know what’s going on.”
She scribbled again, ‘Them’ she gestured to the bodies.
“I did this?”
She looked at the soiled paper and turned away, bringing the pen to the wall. The metal tip dug into the rotting plaster more than actually write, but it was still mostly legible. ‘Yes, last night.’
“Do you know who I am?” She shook her head. “Who are you?”
She carved ‘Abbie’ into the wall.
She shook her head, tears silently dripping from her face. He forced himself to move, shaking the gore from his hands he reached out and tentatively rested his hand on her forearm. She flinched at the contact, cringing as if she’d been struck.
Not moving his hand, “Where are we Abbie?”
The silence allowed the man to hear the things around him though, the far of staccato of gunfire, the bangs of explosions.
He stood up and was shocked to find he was naked as well, “I-uh, do you at least know where my clothes are?”
Still only silence, he shook his head and went to a window, pulling the grime-covered curtain away. The city outside glowed orange, flames licking at the buildings, pillars of smoke rose up, blotting out the sky. The thunder of large artillery cannons, the whistle of shells and mortars, the buzz of planes, the screams of dying men were faint but he could still make them out. “What the hell is going on?” He turned back to the woman, “You’ve got to talk to me, please, what the fuck is going on?”
She still said nothing, her entire body shaking even more, her teeth chattering. He looked around the room for a moment, then, disgusted with what he had to do, moved to one of the headless corpses. He looked over the body for a few moments, noticing that the clothes seemed to be military gear, a uniform the same as the others. He stripped the body, ringing as much blood out of it as he could, and put the uniform on, the slacks were too short, the shirt barely fitting.
He move through the room, searching for anything he could use, eventually he came to a closet full of women’s clothing, they were all dirty, torn and stained, but weren’t blood soaked. He took out the things he thought would be the most appropriate for what seemed to be fighting and went back to the woman. “Here, you should at least have some clothes.”
She looked at the clothes, then herself as if she hadn’t noticed. She took them, nodding her thanks. He turned away from her, letting her put the clothes on in what little privacy he could.
She tapped him on the shoulder and he turned back, surprised she had dressed that quickly. Still clutching the clothing she motioned for him to follow her.
She led him out of the room, through a short hallway. As she stepped through another door further down he stopped and looked around, the first view of anything outside of the room of blood. He looked over the railing, to the floor below. The first thing he noticed was that a large section of one wall was missing, the landscape beyond was obscured by smoke, and the shells of other buildings.
The interior of the house was the same as the other room, the walls stained and full of holes, missing floorboards, piles of debris and dirt were everywhere.
A gust of wind kicked up a small cloud and chilled the patches of still wet blood that still covered him, snapping him out of his trance.
He went through the door that Abbie had, steam filled his nose and vision, the sound of running water, he closed his eyes for a moment, taking in the first moment of peace he’d known. He was roused from it when he heard a quiet, choking sob from the tub.
Tentatively he pulled the curtain back, Abbie sat on the floor, her head between her knees, hugging herself, crying. “A-are you-” He stopped himself, knowing that she wasn’t okay.
He sat on the edge, unsure of what to say or do, As the water ran over her and the gore washed away he could see the real extent of her injuries. Gashes and bruises covered her body, finger marks dotted her neck, rope burns circled her wrists and ankles, her lips were split, the bottom one swollen. “God.”
He moved a bit closer to her, letting the water wash away the blood from his right hand, letting him see the shard of bone that jutted from his middle knuckle. He pulled it out after a few moment’s inspection, satisfied it wasn’t his own. Maybe he had really caused the carnage in the other room, but, from the shape that Abbie was in, they had deserve it and more.
“Here, let’s get you cleaned up, okay? It’ll only take a minute, then we’ll be done.” The only acknowledgement that he received from her was her slowly standing up. He filled a small wash bucket up and handed it to her, which she promptly poured over her head.
Wordlessly they repeated this until she had rid herself of most of the blood. After she was finished she stepped from the bathtub and dressed.
He waited for a few minutes, thinking she would leave the room so that he could as well. She didn’t seem to register what was even happening so he did his best to strip off the soldier’s bloody uniform in modesty and washed himself.
As he did he asked, “What’s happening out there?”
Abbie seemed startled by his voice, looking around the room confused for a second, then writing in the steam on the mirror, ‘Great War.’
“Who were, uh, they?”
Again on the mirror, ‘Soldiers.’
“Do you know anything about me, at all?”
She shook her head, then wrote on the last free part of the mirror, ‘Saved me.’
The room shook as another explosion rocked the decrepit house, dust slowly floated down from the ceiling. He stepped out, turning off the water, “Is it safe to stay here?”
She nodded, then suddenly blushed and turned around. He held back a chuckle, “I, uh, do you know where I could get some proper clothes?”
Abbie left the room, nodding, coming back a few minutes later with a moth eaten shirt and pants. He put them on, using a strip of cloth as a belt. “So you really can’t speak?” The look she gave him was mixed with confusion, sadness and a hint of anger, she shook her head.
“Sorry, I didn’t mean to offend you.”
She led him from the room to another bedroom further down the hall. Thankfully, this one wasn’t covered in blood. She laid down, turning her back to him, he sat on the opposite side of the room, leaning against a wall. “Try to get some sleep, I’ll stay up and make sure nothing happens.” Her hand patted the mattress in a few different spots, searching for the fountain pen, when she couldn’t find it she reached out and pressed her index finger into the soft plaster, scratching the word ‘Safe’ into the wall, then ‘Thank you.’
“Don’t thank me for something I don’t remember doing.”
* * *
“Ishmael! Get your ass in here now!” Fiona’s voice boomed from the doorway on the other end of the mess hall.
He cringed, Samuel laughed, “Better hurry, you’ve pissed off the dragon lady, again.”
He glared at the engineer, “Quiet.”
Ishmael grabbed his coat from the back of the chair, waved goodbye to Samuel and Jessica and went to see what ‘The Dragon Lady’ wanted this time.
Her office was really a converted armory, which suited her. Her vast collection of fire arms was on display around her, hand guns, rifles, grenade launchers, everything. The mix of tobacco and the acrid smell of gun powder filled the room. “Yes?”
The woman stood, put out her cigarette, took the few steps needed to cross the room, the look on her face signaling that she might slap him.. At the last second she smiled, threw her arms around his neck and kissed him, “How’re you, suga’? Haven’t seen you all day.”
“Oh, baby, forget about them for a bit, please? I wanted to actually do something today. All we’ve done lately is eat, sleep, fuck and train the recruits.” She pressed herself against him, “I want to go on a hunt,” she whispered in his ear.
“Please? Baby hasn’t been out in a while, and I want to so bad.” She ground herself against him.
He sighed, guns, shooting, violence, explosions, all of these things were fetishes of his lovely wife. “Fine.”
She gave a slight purr and kissed him again, “Thank you, suga’.”
“Alright, I’ll clear it with our fearless leader.” She kissed him one more time then let him go. Winking, she said “I’ll see you tonight, don’t be too tired.”
“Love you too, sweetie.”
Ishmael made his way back to his table in the mess hall, Samuel and Jessica gave him quizzical looks. “So, you look like you either got screamed at or had a quickie, and knowing you two, I’m gonna go with the latter.”
“What’s wrong Ishi?” Jessica asked. The brown haired woman acted as the base’s mother, though she was one of the youngest people there.
“After what happened after the last one?” Ishmael closed his eyes, pushing the memories away, “Yes. “Do you want to go?”
“Are you sure, you know I can just deny it and you wont have to deal with the clean up.”
Jessica’s brow furrowed, concerned, “If you’re sure, then yes, go. If you’re going to be out anyway, could you look into what’s happening in Tamire? We haven’t had any traders from there in a while and nothing on the radio either, just a lot of Benghalan chatter.”
“Do you want to bring anyone with you? Just in case.”
“Ren might want to go though, she’s got family in Tamire.”
“Alright, I’ll make something up if anyone asks.”
Samuel slapped his hand on the table, causing Jessica to jump, “Are you ever going to say more than one word at a time?”
“How is articulating what you mean unnecessary?”
“I hate you, you know that?”
The two men stared at each other for a moment then started laughing, “By the fates, I wish I would have known how much trouble you’d be when you came here, would have just shot you.”
“Oh, you know he’s kidding, hun. We wouldn’t have been able to accomplish anything near what we have without you, and you made our lovely master of arms happy too.”
“How long has it been now? Five, six years?” Samuel asked, leaning back in his old wooden chair
He whistled, “I may die of old age a’fore this war is over.”
* * *
The man came back to the bed after bathing in the stream that ran behind the house. The water was already teaming with bottom feeders from earlier. He hung his old clothes near the blown out window to dry in the morning. “Abbie, hey, wake up. When did you say the next vent release was?”?”
The woman’s head snapped up, looking around frantically. She settled after a second, then scribbled, ‘Two more days.’
“Are you sure that we shouldn’t move? I know with the bombings still going on we’re in the safest place we can be, close enough to their lines that they won’t shell this area, but that also means a bigger risk of someone else coming here.” He sat down next to her, laying a few more homemade blankets over her.
She shifted closer to him, still half asleep and pressed her head against his chest, sloppily writing the word, ‘Safe.’
He opened and closed his mouth a few times, unable to speak. Being physically close to her was still awkward. “I already told you, I don’t even remember what happened, I have no idea how to fight, I must have been going on pure instinct then.”
She was asleep again before she could reply. He reached behind her and turned the small kerosene lamp off, sending them into darkness.
Abby woke as the sun poured through the dilapidated roof. She opened her eyes to meet the white fabric of his shirt. One of her arms was around his neck, the other around his torso, his arms around her. She moved away as quickly as she could.
The man woke up with a start, sitting bolt upright. “Where?”
She gave him a questioning look.
“No one’s here?”
A shake of her head was her reply.
“Then why did you wake me up?”
Abbie looked away, her blush deepening.
“What?” He rubbed an eye and flexed one of his hands that had gone numb.
She shrugged and shook her head, quickly writing, ‘Nothing.’
He shrugged and shifted a bit, getting comfortable. “Well, wake me up if there’s something wrong.”
She nodded and wrote, ‘Thank you.’
He cracked one eye open and read the cloth, “For what?”
“This again? I honestly don’t remember doing it. The thought of fighting actually terrifies me.”
‘You’re still here.”
“You’re welcome I guess?”
She shifted slightly, moving closer to him again and pointed to the word ‘Safe’ again.
The man was almost asleep when she shook him, frantically pointing to the wall.
“What? Michael? What’s that?”
She pointed at him, then the name again and he realized what she was saying, “You think my name should be Michael?”
She nodded, the faintest of smiles on her face.
She gave him a look as if to ask if he was sure. He nodded, “Why not? I don’t know, well, anything really. I don’t have a name, and since you’re the only person I know, it seems like you should name me.
She blushed slightly, then nodded, a definite smile on her lips now.
He grinned back, “Wow, feels good to have a name.” Standing he went over to the map that she had been drawing on the wall over the last two weeks. “I still think we should move. I know, we can’t use the sewers since they’ve been using them as a dump for the oil from the faust and artillery.” He slid his finger along the lines that she had made to represent the sewers, remember her frustration when he laughed because her fire looked more like waves.
“What about trying to get past the patrols around here,” he said, pointing to an area that was near them, “And heading around the city that way?”
She shook her head and carved, ‘Dogs’ into the plaster near her head.
“Then we either try making it through the city, or risk staying here and being found.”
Abbie shuddered, curling into a ball, scratching the word, ‘Hunters’ into the wall.
“I know, but we don’t really have a choice in the end.” He looked back at the description that she had written next to the map for him after the first time she mentioned them. ‘Abominations’ was all she had been able to write for a while.
‘Children are taught to always fight Hunters, that way they’ll see you as a threat and kill you.’
He had been in shock when he read that, “Why the hell would you want that.”
Abby stayed silent for a while, “If they don’t see you as a threat, they’ll skin you and eat you, in that order if you’re lucky.’
‘They aren’t people anymore.’
He sat down next to her, even thinking about them made her like this. When she described them she didn’t move for nearly two days after. Putting an arm around her shoulders he said, “So, through the city it is?”
“Like we won’t if we stay here?”
Abby shifted, uncomfortably and shook her head.
“If we go, it’ll be less of a chance for Hunters to find us.” She squeezed her eyes shut, shuddering again, “We’ll get out of here, okay. I’ll make sure of it.”
* * *
Fiona sat in the back of the trolley cleaning her assorted guns, a cigarette hanging from her bottom lip.. Her favourite, her Baby, was the fifty caliber rifle that stood in its rack next to her seat. She took her coat off, checking to make sure she hadn’t left anything in it from the last hunt. She had made it herself, the pockets had small loops sewn in so she could keep her extra magazines organized and easy to reach. The inside of the coat had six holsters for her various pistols and handguns as well as room for forty-eight extra shells for her scattergun. There was a strip of padding across the back, easing her back from the weight of her Baby.
She loaded more rounds for her rifle into one satchel, sticks of dynamite and other explosives into another. “How long should we stay out this time? Three, four days?” She called up to Ishmael in the front.
“You okay, suga’?”
“C’mon, tell me what’s wrong, hun?” She moved up to her seat next to him.
“Let me guess, she wanted a favour while we were out?”
“Oh, yeah, I heard they dropped out of contact. Couldn’t have been Banghal though, they’d never come this far in, would they? Tamire isn’t even a good strategic point either. Maybe they just busted their radio or something.”
* * *
Hours had gone by and they had barely moved, “There’s no timing on these damn things, are they just shooting to shoot?”
The rolling boom and whistle of falling shells was all they could hear before the explosion. The flash lit up the night for a brief second. She used a stick to write, “For fun. Most are in camps now.”
They started to make their way down the street. The burned remains of buildings and vehicles gave them enough shelter that they wouldn’t be seen for now, but the further they got the more sparse it became.
They hid in the shadow of what had once been a church. “Why are-“
Abby put her hand over Michael’s mouth. She looked around for a moment, listening, ‘Hunter.’
He immediately knew what she meant; one was nearby. He looked around but could not see anything. He listened, hearing the screams of a group that had been caught somewhere in the distance, the gunshots that followed. He could hear the crackle and hiss of the flames all around him, the explosions, but nothing else.
Abbie gave him apologetic look for a second, then closed her eyes and touched the wall in front of her with two fingers. For a brief second Michael saw light trace along every line in her hand. Instantly she pulled her hand back and opened her eye, her pupils were dilated, her irises almost gone.