by David Frank Daumit
The stars and moon lend this night very little light. And true, the street lamps cut bright angles out of the darkness, but their intrusions do not penetrate this alley. Here, shadow is the predator of illumination, chasing it back into corners and under dumpsters for refuge. Colors in this place without light are deep, thick. They have mass, substance; they weigh.
Now, who comes forward out of the lit world? A silhouette stops before the alley, her gait paused by, perhaps, curiosity. She leans to the side, leans forward, and strains to see down the unresolved pathway. Does she not realize she is her own foil? The sparse light from the street, blocked more so by her own form, cannot begin to feed the hunger of her eyes. Unable to see, unsatisfied, she moves slowly into the dark. Small, unsure steps carry her farther, deeper into it. What can she be thinking? What can draw her onto such untested land? The scenario begins to hold interest.
An awakening, or some unperceived revelation, stops her. She looks back to the street where lamplight paints the city a haven. She turns again to face the corridor of tangible, infinite darkness. Her breath is loud, rushed. She begins to walk again, her arms outstretched; immersed now in the dark, she is blind. With faltering steps, she moves off to the side of the road and soon stumbles into a solid wall. She falls to it, turns around, and leans there, panting. What keeps her here? What internal drive allows her to walk, alone, into a dark alley at night and does not permit her to leave? Ultimately, the question is irrelevant, however intriguing.
The hunt begins. There is, of course, no chase with she all but presenting herself to the hunter. But it is still a hunt, and its result will be the same as always.
I drop from above and alight on the ground. As I near, she senses me and gasps. I could strike now and end it, but I desire to know her; there is time enough. She stands within reach. I grab her, draw her close, and enshroud her in folds of darkness. From within her envelopment, she screams; a single, shrill note pierces the night like the shriek of a bat, caught, caged, and knowing it is to die. I smother her voice, and as if never there, we fade.
* * * * *
“There you sit, aware of so much and so little. You know that your life is at an end; your breathing speaks it, your eyes scream it out. Yet, you have no knowledge of where you are, who has brought you, or how you will die. Is it fear that keeps your mouth clenched, your questions bitten back? Or is it that same, indiscernible trait that drove you into my grasp? How I wish to know of that forcible, crippling trait.”
The woman sat in an old, worn chair, listening to the dry, jagged voice of the man who stood before her. She sat leaning forward, her arms crossed and her hands clenching them. Through quick, panicked glances, she viewed the room around her: wide and expansive, with high ceilings and square columns, it held nothing but the chair and the two occupants. It was lit only by the dim nocturnal light that seeped in through several large, boarded windows.
“So tell me,” the man continued, “of the hauntings within your head, the demons that flourish in your guilt-ridden mind, and the tainted juices that sour your brain, waiting for just the right prescription to purify them again.”
He walked towards her, and she lowered her eyes to the weathered floor. He hooked his finger under her chin and lifted. His stare caught and held her own, and she shuddered beneath it.
She closed her eyes, squeezing them tight with visible effort. He dropped her chin and moved away from her. Slowly, she re-opened her eyes. She peered at him, watching as he paced a rhythmic pattern across the floor. His was a motion of grace and poise, not of athletic origin, but stemming from fearlessness and unabashed confidence. He stood tall, but his form remained hidden under layers of loose, dark clothing. Enthralled by his enigmatic image, she followed him with her gaze. In a moment, though, he turned back to her, and she again dropped her stare.
“My curiosity regarding your strange behavior must be satiated. Were you to disappoint me, your death would be imminent and of the most discomforting nature. Were you, however, to reveal to me the answers that I seek, those cryptic thoughts of yours that presently intrigue me, then I might think to reconsider the options that I can afford you. So, then, speak to me.”
Hesitantly, she looked up at him. He smiled down at her. The grin was taut and reptilian.
“Okay, okay,” she agreed finally. “I’ll tell you. You want to know why I walked into that alley, right? I felt—I don’t know—drawn there. Something made me go in.”
“Describe this ‘something.’”
“I don’t know what it was.”
“Describe it, in detail, and do it quickly.”
The voice behind his smile scraped like steel on stone.
“Please—I’ll try, I mean, I’ll tell you! I just—Jesus!—I don’t know what made me go in there. I knew something was going to happen. It was like, why go into a dark alley at night? I mean, I’m not stupid, but I had this feeling that I had to go in there. Why did I do it? I don’t know! I didn’t want to be attacked or raped. I didn’t want to die. I don’t—I don’t want to die!”
“What of this compulsion, this feeling you obeyed against all sense of logic? When did it begin? Has it occurred previously?”
“No, no, I’ve never been compulsive. I always think things out. But tonight, I don’t know—outside the alley, it just struck me. Please, please don’t kill me! I’ve told you everything! I’ve done what you said! Please!”
He stepped back from her, turned, and walked away. He paced with his shoulders hunched slightly and his hands splayed before his chin. She watched him for a moment, then glanced cautiously behind her. Some twenty feet away, across a boulevard of creaking floor boards, the door to the room stood closed, its lock bolted. She focused on him again. He continued to walk about the room with a controlled yet energetic gait. Apparently he was deep in thought, pondering some aspect of the mystery she had presented to him.
Her face hardened. She set her jaw, sat up straighter, and stared at him.
“Now you know about me,” she said. “Who are you? Why did you attack me?”
The pacing stopped. He glared at her, instantly perceptive of the change.
“Your fear is gone,” he noted aloud. “Insanity, I see, must not be ruled out as an option. A shame, if such is the case; the possibility of my possessing unconscious magnetism would be so profitable, as would be telepathy.”
“I want to know why you attacked me. Hell, if you’re going to kill me, at least tell me why. Yes, I know you’re going to kill me, so you don’t have to lie about my even having a chance.”
He closed the distance to her in the span of a heartbeat. She drew back, startled.
“Until tonight, I always had to hunt for my sustenance,” he said. “But tonight, you came to me. Drawn out, pulled in, or simply unbalanced and unlucky to a terminal degree for being so, you came.”
“You hunt… people,” she stated coolly. “Are you a cannibal? A serial killer?”
“Why do you ask questions as if you already know… I see, of course, that you do know. You have known, perhaps all along, and so have played me the fool, scheming to delay your fate. But your efforts, however effective until now, are futile. Time means nothing to me in the winter night; I have hours left until the hell of daylight, and I need but instants, so few as to not beleaguer a counting child, to make the kill.”
Still reptilian, his mouth opened into what was not a grin.
“You don’t scare me,” she declared, though as she spoke, she pushed herself and the chair back from him with her legs. “What are you, some lonely wolf prowling the city after the sun sets? Do you howl at the moon?”
“Your bravado does not interest me.”
“But it does. Everything about me interests you. You’ve kept me alive just to get inside my head. You’re a curious wolf.”
“I am no wolf.”
“Aren’t you?” she said. “Prowling at night, hunting, feeding. Aren’t you just a wolf?”
He crouched to her level, leaning forward into her face. She swallowed hard and tilted her head back.
“People do not fear wolves,” he sneered. “Overgrown, slobbering dogs with matted fur do not inspire such an emotion. But despite your facade, so quickly and stealthily built, so shiny and decoratively faceted, you fear me. You should. I am no wolf; I am a spider. My web you have seen and tread into. My fang you will feel, and its venom you will know; it is a pain not merely physical, but much deeper.”
He extended himself farther, until he stood almost diagonally over her. She gritted her teeth, unable to force her body back any further.
“And you thought I was crazy?” she accused.
“Had you ever seen a spider hunt, seen it spin, snare, kill, feed, you would know I name myself true. And you, you are a bird, a delicate, fluttering creature who knows not when she is snared. Have you ever seen a spider eat a bird? My kind do indeed prey on birds; they are in fact called by names that recognize such habits. Birds, mice, fish, snakes, and all manner of beings weaker than we fall prey. As you have done, little swallow.”
“Okay, you’re a spider. I believe you. So tell me, why do you—”
His hand gripped her suddenly under the jaw, his finger and thumb reaching back behind each ear. She choked beneath his hold and threw her arms up in order to grab him. Her hands found his wrist and clawed at it desperately, uselessly.
“Enough telling,” he said. “I have heard enough of your lies; you have heard enough of the truth.”
In a fluid, unhurried motion, as if performing a pantomime, he bent her to one side and pulled her close to him. She shut her eyes, seeing all too clearly then the black, scissoring fangs and the spindly, craning forelimbs that he did not in reality possess.
“Help,” she gasped.
She had few breaths left, and she knew that she would die, strangled, before she was ever bloodied. With all her weight and remaining strength, she tried to wrench herself away from his grasp. Her attempt failed, except to partially open her throat for the barest instant.
“Help me, dammit!”
Across the room, the door shook and then buckled. A burly man charged into the room shoulder first, knocking the door aside and bellowing a war cry. Stunned, the dark-clothed man froze. His mouth hung agape, opened first to engage in the kill, then held there in surprise. The woman struggled against his still solid grip.
“Do it, Warren!” she yelled.
From a leather sack on his shoulder, the burly man pulled out a rifle of sorts. He aimed and fired it in under a second. But the dark-clothed man knew he was not the predator just then, and he reacted even as the burly man pulled the trigger. The woman found herself an abandoned interest, suddenly free and falling to the ground. The dark-clothed man darted faster than eyesight out from the path of the gunshot. He lunged toward his antagonist in the doorway.
Not truly a rifle, the burly man’s weapon had four barrels, and each barrel held a javelin-like projectile. These javelins were made of soft wood that almost always splintered on impact. As the dark-clothed man leapt toward him, the burly man fired thrice more in the space of a second. He aimed at wherever he thought his attacker was not. With all his barrels empty, he heard a shriek of pain just ahead of him and saw a shape of total darkness strike the floor.
The woman and the burly man walked to where the dark-clothed man lay on his back, a twitching, wailing form. From his belt, the burly man produced a battery torch and shined its cone of halogen light down on the dark-clothed man, whose face was a pale, veined contortion beneath the electric brilliance. Also illuminated was his chest, now soaked with flowing blood and pierced just right of center with a thin, wooden spike.
“Good shot, Warren,” the woman said. “I think it was luck, but credit where credit is due.”
“Why’d you wait so long to call? I’ve been outside ever since you got here. I could’ve been in any time.”
“I had to know if he really was one. He could’ve just been some psycho, some serial killer. Someone the cops could’ve handled themselves. I played along till I knew for sure.”
“Cutting it close, but okay.”
The dark-clothed man squirmed, not dead, and not totally incapacitated. The two hunters stepped back warily as he struggled to rise. Despite the monstrous effort, the pain left his face and the calm of the killer returned. He made it to an upright sitting position before exhausting his strength.
“This is not over,” he hissed. “You, cursed with mortality, cannot hope to comprehend the scope of my power. I live eternal; I return from all seeming deaths.”
“The man has a point, Warren,” the woman said. “It’s not over till it’s over.”
“Right,” the burly man agreed. He reached to the back of his belt and took a small, silver hatchet from a holster. From his pants pocket he brought forth a pouch of sharp-scented, bulbous herbs.
“Just a minute,” the woman said, then she crouched down and addressed the bleeding, dying killer.
“Let me tell you a couple of things. First: I’m going to outlive you. I don’t think you realize it yet, but regardless, it’s going to happen. Second: You may be a spider, and I a bird, but I don’t see it quite the way you do. Call me a hawk. I’m a far better hunter than you, and I’m not bothered by your stringy webs or your tiny bite. You, on the other hand, had better fear my claw.”
She took hold of the javelin lodged in his breast and pushed it deeper into his desecrated heart. Ignoring his agonized scream, she rose and stepped back, allowing the burly man to move in and finish the kill at the end of the hunt.