For three hours, I’ve been chasing the Swindler through deserted neighborhoods, past charred remains of houses and finally into the ruins of what once was an elementary school.
I’m still pissed at myself for missing my initial shot. If I had made it, I wouldn’t have had to chase it here.
And it wouldn’t have killed my hunting partners, Myers and Dixon.
The Swindler ran into the last classroom at the end of the hall on the right, its claws scurrying along the tiled floors. Crouching at the hallway’s only opening, I radio for some backup, hoping my squad isn’t too far away.
Down the hall, the Swindler begins growling and snarling, daring me to come in after it.
Even with my gun, these fuckers are tough to kill one on one. They have a mental power that acts as a defense mechanism, if you allow yourself to be compromised. Somehow they are able to make you see them as something they are not. In other words, they play a trick on your senses.
And your sanity.
If it compromises you and you’re in a confined space, like one of these classrooms, the odds are not in your favor. I’ve seen too many less experienced hunters lose their lives this way.
Heavy boots climbing the stairs echo throughout the derelict building. Relief washes through me as I hear them. The Swindler hears them too and stops thrashing about.
Fleming rounds the corner, weapon drawn.
“Are you okay?” he asks.
I nod and reply, “There’s only one and it’s in the last classroom on the right.”
“Myers and Dixon?”
I shake my head.
Fleming grinds his teeth. “Let’s get this motherfucker.”
Checking to make sure my weapon is loaded, I make my way down the hall with Fleming close behind.
We enter the room.
Old desks with plastic chairs bolted to rusty bars are strewn about the room. A chalkboard covers the entire front of the room, graffiti covering almost every inch of it. Faded posters still hanging on the walls flutter gently as a slight draft cuts through the room.
In the middle of the floor, the Swindler sits cross legged with its face buried in its three fingered hands. Sporadic patches of hair decorate its scabbed and grey skin.
It looks up at Fleming and he lowers his weapon.
“Jesus…” he says. “It’s just a kid…” His voice trails off.
The Swindler looks over at me with reflective blue eyes.
For a split second, the Swindler’s face disappears, replaced by that of a boy.
I pull the trigger.
The head explodes spraying blood, bone and grey matter onto the nearby desks and chalkboard. Fleming flinches as the body slumps back and then looks over at me, horror dawning on his face.
“Oh my god, Redcliff,” he says, with his lower lip quivering. “It was just a boy… no older than ten.”
Fleming drops to his knees, letting his weapon fall to the floor. I kneel next to him, placing my hand on his shoulder.
“It’ll be alright,” I say to him. “Everything’s going to be fine.”
The rest of the squad arrives and the medic takes over as he begins to assess Fleming. I stand up, nodding to the group that there’s a body to be burned.
My second-in-command, Gilbert, hands me a canteen of water. The water is cool and refreshing.
“What happened in there?” Gilbert asks.
“Fleming got compromised,” I reply.
We leave the classroom and make our way back toward the stairs.
“Even if Fleming is cleared by the medical team,” I say, “his days of hunting are over. He’s too much a liability now.”
“Understood, sir,” Gilbert replies.
Once outside, I take in a deep breath of fresh air and begin to feel better. How many more hunts do I have left in me?
After a few minutes, I watch as the Swindler’s body is dragged outside. It is laid in the middle of the cracked and neglected road. After a few kicks of frustration from my men, the body is lit on fire.
I can still see that brief flash of a boy’s face.
It wasn’t the first time I was almost compromised.
The flames dance and swirl over the corpse.
It probably won’t be the last either.
~ Jon Olson
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