I hate my job.
I’m sure most people in this world hate their career, but mine happens to settle at a particularly nauseating level of low. You see, I hunt monsters; things that people don’t believe exist anymore; things like the undead (zombies and vampires), monsters in general, a wizard or witch every now and then—I’ve even taken on the odd ‘alien’ hunting job. Don’t ask how I got into it…or ask if you like, but I won't tell you.
So, what’s so bad about my job? Besides the general ‘danger and death’ that comes with it? The people. Not my coworkers (although I could easily do without them as well) so much as those people who end up being somehow related or tied to whatever nightmarish being I’m hunting. Like the time I had to save six children from their mother-turned-zombie, or when the newly wedded wife had to watch me kill her werewolf husband on their wedding night after he’d attacked her.
I have had very few good memories since I became a Hunter, but the worst ones for me are the cases like those; the ones that make me start to feel again.
Thane looked up at the semi-cloudy night sky, doing his best to ignore the scent of dirty rain on pavement. He’d always hated the smell of the city (any city—he’d long since stopped caring about the name of whichever of Earth’s blistering blemishes his work took him to) but the stench always seemed to rise to new, sickening heights when it rained. Cities all had the same disgusting, stagnant scent that should make any less experienced person sick. He’d never understand why people chose to stay in such places.
Monsters were another story. The knowledge had long since become practically ingrained into his most base thought-process that such beings had always been drawn to these enormous cesspools. Cities provided an almost unlimited food source and an excellent place to hide, even for those who ended up not looking human anymore. Nooks, crannies, closets, and abandoned buildings can be found in almost every neighborhood, especially with the recent economy.
In his ear, he heard the small radio crackle to life. He vaguely acknowledged the constant annoyance that his superiors couldn’t deign to provide better technology, but he’d long ago learned to stop caring about such things. As long as they could get the job done, it didn’t matter to the higher-ups, and therefore it didn’t matter to him. It was easier not to care.
“A7 in place,” the first report came in from a weathered, female voice. No one acknowledged. No one needed to. Thane also ignored the report and continued to his own designated position.
“B2 in place,” someone else said. Thane turned the corner. In his younger days other Hunters reporting in would have hurried him along, encouraging him to get to his own place. He almost wished he had that kind of energy again. Years of…this had long since stolen his vigor, seeping it gradually until he could only just barely muster what he needed to fulfill his assignment.
He really hated his job.
“A12 in place.”
“B7 in place.”
Why were they only using two teams for this again? He knew the reason but it still irked him. This particular monster had escaped capture for months; the longest evasion record for an active monster hunted by Thane’s team. He might have taken it as a personal insult if he’d managed to drag up more than his basic ‘get the job done’ mentality. He rarely felt more than that these days…thankfully. Besides, Vampires held the title of ‘hardest to find’ and probably would for the next several centuries, until something even more dangerous evolved in any case. He almost managed a shiver at that. At least he’d be long gone by that time.
Still, he held a particular dislike for Vamps that he doubted would ever leave him fully. They made his job all that much more difficult as they still looked and acted somewhat human (he avoided thinking about what that said about the human race). Werecreatures were almost as bad. Other monsters, like zombies, portal-born, mutations, etc., became easier to track as their condition progressed, and as such they were often assigned to the more rookie teams, but Vampires and Werecreatures became more skillful at evading the longer they ‘lived’ and almost always required bringing in at least one one experienced squad.
Of course, that was why Thane and his team were here. He paused in his movements and glanced up at the street sign before nodding almost imperceptibly and reporting in himself. “B1 in place.”
He didn’t listen to anyone else report in. It didn’t matter. Only the signal mattered, and he allowed himself to hope that it would come soon so he could leave this...place. Maybe he could get a decent night's sleep for once.
The hope dimmed and then vanished as the night wore on. Minutes stretched into hours and no one called in the signal. The only ‘chatter’ on the radio consisted of A Team’s leader commenting to stay alert and asking random people to give case facts over and over—facts that had been read by each team member at least a half-dozen times already.
“A7, what are we looking for?”
“Unknown, sir. The closest theory we have is a vampire, which is why the current ‘A’ and ‘B’ teams have been assigned to the case.”
Thane tried not to automatically tune the chatter out. It was how the higher-ups made sure that the Hunters didn’t get too lax, but he had always felt the practice was unprofessional. He had long-since wished he could return to a normal above-the-radar operation, like the navy. He’d always rather liked the ocean and they would maintain radio silence for missions like this.
But then, one didn’t simply quit being a Hunter. Maybe that was the reason for the more casual procedures? Did that even make sense? He wasn’t sure anything made sense in his mind anymore.
“B4, give me a run-down of the victims.”
“Fifteen victims within the last nine weeks, sir, all of various ages and genders. The only connection seems to be the general area where the murdered were found. The first victim, Alicia Morrison, age 28, was found…”
Thane kept tight control of his unease at the abnormalities in the reports that had bothered him (and most of the rest of the veterans) back at headquarters, and only a slight tightening of his mouth showed. Most Vamps and Weres would start to get specific and target certain genders or age groups (often both) as their condition worsened. The fact that this particular monster had gone on for as long as it had without a pattern set Thane’s nerves on edge, nerves he had honed for decades—nerves that had saved his life and the lives of people around him more than once.
The strangeness of the case was why two teams had been assigned; enough to give a 9-week old vampire a run for its money while keeping the costs of paid employees low. Truthfully, Thane knew that three teams would have been ideal to completely surround and guarantee the take down of a monster of this level, but they’d been lucky the cheapskates at the top had paid enough attention to the unusual nature of the case to send in two instead of one.
“B9, list the abnormalities of this case.”
“Sir!” He had to be a newbie to have that much enthusiasm. “Not only is there no pattern developing in regards to the age and gender, but while the double piercing of vampire fangs has been present on each victim, the method by which the victims are killed varies from blunt-force trauma to stab wounds.”
Which only added to the uneasiness of the case. Vamps liked their pray alive, and often struggling. In this case though, many of the victims had been killed before they had been bitten, or so the autopsies reported and lack of reanimation supported. Either this Vamp had kept enough humanity to try and ease their victims’ passing (unlikely) or they were dealing with something completely new (only marginally more likely).
Something across the street and down about two buildings moved from the shadows of an alley way, drawing Thane’s attention and cutting off his thought process. They seemed cautious and reluctant, not the usual signs of a vampire (they tended to move with a purposeful grace, driven by their hunger), but something about the person seemed off. First of all, it was a woman. A lone woman in this part of town at this time of night? Thane took a closer look. She looked fairly young but old enough to know better. She wore a dark jacket, jeans and a T-shirt and had a large backpack hanging off of her shoulders.
He would have dismissed her immediately if it weren’t for unusual nature of the case.
“B1 reporting in,” Thane said softly but still loud enough to cut through the chatter. Then he proceeded to report with his normal terseness. “Possible target sighted. Suspicious person, female, mid twenties, brown hair, mid-length tied up. Jeans, t-shirt, jacket and backpack.”
“Acknowledged, B1. Maintain radio silence until further notice.”
And blessed stillness met his ears. He almost let out a sigh of relief before he caught and mentally reprimanded himself. It shouldn’t bother him after all these years. Sometimes Thane wondered why he even cared whether the rest of the team nattered on. Vampires tended to hear about as well as humans but rarely better. They hunted almost exclusively by smell and usually knew of an agent long before they came into hearing range, which was why whispering in such cases had never been discouraged. Still, the incessant prattle tended to get on his nerves, and that had been one aspect of the job that would never change.
Allowing his face to relax slightly, he stepped cautiously out of the shadows and made to follow the woman. If she were the Vamp, she would have already made him. If not, though, he needed to make sure he wasn’t seen. One time breaking that rule was usually the last for any member of the company. Punishments tended to be rather strict...if the offending member survived.
It took him less than 60 seconds of stalking the woman for him to realize that he was following an un-turned, normal human. Sighing in annoyance, he stopped and reversed his direction. He didn’t report in as that would bring the chatter back, and he fully planned on keeping it quiet for as long as possible. He had almost reached his post again when the gun shot went off. Thane spun around to see the woman stumble as she somehow managed to catch a much larger figure that had fallen forward.
Thane frowned. No vampire perhaps, but a murderer apparently. Although, judging from the way the man had loomed over her and where he'd been standing, he hadn’t exactly had the best of intentions. It wouldn’t be the first time he’d witnessed something along those lines, and it wouldn’t be his last either, he was sure. With a resigned slump, Thane continued to his designated position and opened his mouth to give the ‘all clear’ when he noticed the eyes. Deep, red, and glowing, those eyes were not human, and they lurked in the alley the woman had appeared from.
Quickly, Thane tapped his ear piece. “Original suspect un-turned, but the target has been sighted. I repeat, the target is sighted.”
A1’s rough voice came over the speaker immediately. “Acknowledged, B1. B team, move out. A team hold position. What are we working with, B1?”
Thane did his best to peer into the darkness, but of course his team hadn’t been given night vision to work with so he could only squint and try to pierce the particularly deep shadows with his normal senses. The red eyes had found him and met his gaze hungrily. Thane tensed and waited for the initial jump, his weapons ready and nerves on edge, but it never came. For the first time in his life, he saw a pair of eyes belonging to a mutated predator watching him without making to stalk or attack him. Unnerving didn’t begin to cover it.
“Unknown,” he growled back into the radio. “Target is hidden. Only eyes visible. Hunger stage three bordering on stage four.” And that’s when he noticed the woman dragging the body back into the alley.
Swearing under his breath, he launched from his hiding place and made to sprint down the street. She may be a murderer, but it was his job to save humans from the mutated monstrosities that no one seemed to believe in anymore. The inhuman eyes turned towards the woman and suddenly shown an even brighter red.
“Hunger stage four attained! I repeat the Vampire has reached stage four!”
“A team, move out!” A1 ordered, but even the B team wouldn’t reach him in time. It was up to Thane and he knew it.
“Stop!” the Hunter yelled. The woman jumped and the body of the man fell to the ground with a sickening thud. “Don’t go in there!” He stopped and held up his hands in surrender as the woman raised her gun to point at him.
“Stay back!” she hissed, her voice shaky but determined.
“I’m not here to arrest you or even report you. I’m here to warn you,” he said in his calmest voice. “If you go into that alley you will die.”
The woman blinked. “What?”
“Look,” he nodded towards the shadows cast by the buildings. She blinked and took her eyes away from him to look into the red eyes of the creature that had already approached the body of the man, drawn by the scent of his blood. She flinched and turned back to Thane, face pale and grimace in place.
“W-who are you?” she asked. Now he could visibly see her hands trembling, but she didn’t lower her gun.
“I’m a Hunter,” Thane said soothingly. “I hunt vampires, and yes, they exist. Not the romanticized pansies everyone thinks they know these days, but evil, cold-blooded monsters that will kill you as soon as look at you.”
The woman’s jaw clenched and she raised her gun just a little higher. “You’re wrong.”
He tried to keep his frustration in check. The situation seemed determined to go from ‘bad’ to ‘worse’.
“No, I’m not,” Thane said, trying to lace his words with both urgency and calm—and probably failing miserably judging by her reactions. “Vampires and other monsters really do exist and they really are blood thirsty.”
“You’re wrong!” the woman screamed and put her other hand on the gun. “He’s not a monster! And I won’t let you have him!”
Thane blinked and looked back down at the red eyes and his heart sank. Those eyes continued to watch him, but the monster had moved towards the woman and had already bitten into the body of the man. He could already see the red glow dimming. If the large man wasn’t dead before, he would be very soon. That wasn’t what really got to Thane though; it was the body of the creature, as he could now see what had come into the dim light cast by the street lamps. Tiny and slight, he couldn’t pass for more than a three-year-old, and then Thane knew.
This was why he couldn’t afford to care—why he’d stopped striving for more than apathy decades ago.
“He was your son.”
“He is my son!” the woman insisted as she took a step forward, her voice laced with hysteria. He could see tears running down her cheeks. “He’s not gone! After he feeds, he gets warm again! He comes back to me!”
And it all made sense.
“You’ve been killing for him.”
Thane could see it, could easily imagine the desperation of a mother finding a monster holding the limp body of her child; of doing everything she could to take the monster down and driving it off (because it was doubtful she could kill it) only to find her child dead.
Thane could understand the devastation despite having buried his own similar feelings under years of dedication and denial; the layers and layers of safe numbness the apathy brought. He could understand all too well how her heart would have risen when she’d seen her son reanimated before he could be taken to a hospital, only to be crushed yet again when he’d attacked and fed for the first time, probably before her very eyes…and she had done everything in her power to hold onto him.
She’d killed to keep her son ‘alive’.
“I have to,” she said through ground teeth. “He can’t do it on his own. He’ll die! A mother is supposed to do anything for her child, isn’t she?!”
Thane felt pangs of emotion shoot through the apathy he’d wrapped his soul in and stab unmercifully at his heart. “He’s already dead,” he managed to say.
“NO!” the woman screamed again and pulled the trigger. Years of honed reflexes managed to help him dodge and he shot forward, trying to grab the gun before she fired again, but as he saw, practically in slow motion, how she adjusted her aim, he knew he wouldn’t make it. Mentally, he braced himself for the agony he would undoubtedly feel, and then the shot rang out.
It took him a moment to realize that he felt no pain and even longer to realize that the woman had cried out instead. Blinking, he opened his eyes to watch as the woman stumbled and he raced forward to catch her as she fell, noting the darkness that began to stain her t-shirt.
“Please,” she whispered, flecks of blood landing on her lips as her eyes glazed over. “He’s my…baby…”
Thane looked up to see one of his team members lowering a gun as they walked towards the gruesome scene.
“You okay, Chief?”
Thane took a moment to swallow before nodding and shrugging, pulling the numb blanket back in place over his emotions.
He really hated his job.
The child was, unsurprisingly, easy to take care of, and three bodies made it back to the Morgue that night.
Thane wouldn’t allow himself to cry or grieve as he watched the van carrying the three simultaneous victims and perpetrators away. Over the years he’d heard the sentiment that ‘it got easier as the job went on’ so often that he wondered why the phrase hadn’t become the company motto. His superiors had insisted his ability to deal with the next situation would improve and continued to do so to this very day.