The Hunter and the Hunted
He propped up his feet, crossing his left over his right, and slid back onto the moth holed sheets like they were made of silk while his spurs jangled like the coins in his pocket. He gave a sigh deeper than a million oceans on many worlds, happy to be breathing the filtered air of the Radiant Motel and off that darned ship. He'd had enough of space. There was just too much of it for him.
"Glad to be done of that job." He said to no one in particular, his voice hues of baritone in the recycled air that tasted of lemon and smelled of clean linen. His arms crossed behind his head and his old dirt brown Stetson tipped forward over his ebony eyebrows as he spoke.
He looked around the battered room from under the brim of his hat, but there wasn't much to speak of; the cigarette burns in the ratty vomit colored floor, the mismatched floral curtains that looked to be made of old, ugly couch cushions that had a questionable stain on them, much too high and a funky purple the color of moldy eggplants.
Picking up the touch pad T.V. Remote he jabbed a few buttons only to receive a high squeak and a loud pop as a small tendril of smoke pooled up from the set. "Never been good with them new fangled electronics anyways, been more for keepin' my own peace." He mused to himself.
He reached down beside his bed to retrieve his small bag of belongings. It was a ratty old bag that was made to be slung over one's shoulder but looked to be well worn, but loved. It was covered in patches, always slightly off from the original parchment color, but looked well enough for everyday use. There was a strange case, most likely holding his repeater rifle, which he shoved aside to pull out a smaller pouch, in which he placed the few measly coins that he'd earned today.
He was glad for what money he had, it would buy him food for the next couple of weeks at least, even if it meant that he would be stiffing the hotel for the stay. Not that it was worth what they'd asked anyways. He placed the money pouch back into his bag and removed the case. He flipped the latches with a sound snap and opened it, without a single creak.
Reaching in, he pulled out a well polished, pristine and cared for violin. It was old fashioned, but appeared new and as he readied it under his chin, settling back into his cross-legged pose, he pulled the bow over the strings with a practiced delicacy.
The beautiful sound resonated in the room, filling it with thrums and long bass hums, forming a spectacular sonnet of sounds, bringing the very room to vibrant life. When he played the floor was polished pale marble, the curtains were royal blue silk on golden rods, and the bed was padded with pillows and satin sheets, embroidered with silvers and coppers. He played for what felt like ages, early into the morning when he was interrupted.
A rap sounded. Then another. The door!
Someone was knocking, and they were becoming impatient, quickly. He knew the hotel people had probably realized he wasn't footing the bill as they had supposed. But that wasn't the only thing; he was a wanted man. He'd done a great many jobs that had turned sour in the end, and though he hadn't meant to do any of what he'd done, it'd earned a price on his head. Someone might be coming to claim their prize.
He packed up the violin carefully, slung his bag over his shoulder, and tipped his Stetson forward as he headed for the bathroom window. He made quick work of the latch with the handle of his revolver and climbed atop the latrine to reach and pull himself out. He shimmied through, glad for his small frame, and managed to pop out the other end safely, even if it took a bit of squeezing to do so.
He heard a crack and a bang as whoever it was shot the lock off the door. Guess it wasn't hotel staff after all. He took to running as quick as he could, but did peer back over his shoulder.
The man had found the open window and shouted down after him "You can't run forever cowboy!" His voice strained as he tried to follow suit of the cowboy, but he just wouldn't fit.
The cowboy just smiled up at the hunter with a Cheshire grin, "At least I can run further than you can!"
The hunter just roared, his face a crimson red. The cowboy laughed heartily and just bolted off down a side alleyway, lithe as a cat. He climbed onto a nearby departing aero bus through the back door, and it closed with a pneumatic hiss, shutting him from the world.
The bus was full of noise; the door moved back and forth slightly, brushing across the floor like brooms across a stone floor while the wind rushed past with gusto. The engine growled and whined like a circus lion on show and the people talking and moving only added to the noise.
Nobody noticed the cowboy as they boarded and left, and he paid them no mind in return. He just pulled his Stetson down over his nose and dozed off. He awoke later as the automatic system intoned "End of the line." in its metallic voice. He gathered his things slowly and let out a long sigh. "End of the line" It sounded again.
"Yah, yah, I'm gittin' off, now hush up your trap." He grumbled, disembarking. As the aero phished away he looked up at the dark slate sky. It wasn't the normal smog of pollution, no, this was a storm. "Bout time for a good storm, it's been fifty years since the last one." He mused, but even though he was glad for a good rain, he still wanted shelter.
He was in the middle of nowhere, and he traveled a good few more miles before settling into a dilapidated brick garret with a working door and a peephole. Inside wasn't too much of a dump; there seemed to be a rusty framed bed with a old time mattress from the 20th century, not like the ones they had nowadays. There was a hole in the roof off to one side, behind a wall, but as long as he kept to this side, he shouldn't get too wet.
He heard a rumble of thunder and then he heard it. Plop. Hiss. Uh-oh. That wasn't rain...that was acid rain!
He drug the bed over with the screech of nails on chalkboard, grinding it across the floor to the highest spot, furthest from the hole, and behind the wall. He knew he couldn't get close to that, it'd singe his skin right off his bones, and though he didn't like being right next to the door, it was better than being a puddle.
It's not that this wasn't normal; fifty years back, acid rain was an everyday occurrence, and most buildings were built to a code to withstand it, what with all the pollution and everything only making it worse. The building may be up to code, but that wasn't what worried him. What worried him is what survived and thrived in the rain.
They used to be a huge problem, considering their hides were tough and thick enough to where the rain didn't bother them, the Hellhounds. They could just come in and take the stragglers that couldn't find shelter in the storm. The hole may just let in more than rain. He stayed quiet and hoped for the best. It wasn't quiet for long.
Two knocks sounded out. Then a furious set of raps set onto the door and the cowboy pulled himself up and over to look out the peephole.
He didn't know how, but the hunter was there, hiding in what covering of the building there was. "Listen up, I know we ain't exactly buddies..." The cowboy humphed at this, "but I'm in some dire need of somewheres to stay. Now if you got a kind enough heart on you, you'd a think on letting me in..." He paused, hopeful, "won't yah?"
The cowboy didn't have it in him. It wasn't the way for a man to die, out there melting into a puddle. But he knew that the hunter was intent on taking him in all the same. "How bouts you throw that gun of yours out into the rain, and I'll let yah in then. I ain't bout to let you come in 'ere just to have my own ruttin' head blown clean off."
The hunter grumbled, but took the repeater rifle off his back, and tossed it into the rain. He whimpered a bit as it melted and turned to sludge. The cowboy opened the door, and the hunter pushed himself in, shaking the wet of his jacket. The cowboy hissed as a few small specks hit him, "Watch it will yah?"
"I weren't meaning to get yah. I'm mighty thankful you let me in. Didn't wanna be slush out there in that downpour." He spoke, and extended a hand.
The cowboy gave him a look from under his Stetson, and settled back onto his bed. "Didn't do no harm to me takin' you in. I ain't one to let a man die like that. But don't think I'll come trottin' back with you when you come to take me in."
"Well...I know I ain't been too hospitable-like towards yah, but I imagine we'll be stuck here quite a spell, so I'm just tryin' to be friendly and all." The hunter offered, sitting on the floor, cross-legged.
The cowboy gave him that look again, but finally let in. The rain wasn't letting up anytime soon, and after fifty years of not raining, he didn't think it'd change its mind. "You'd be right 'bout being stuck here a spell. It ain't rained here in fifty years."
"I never lived here myself, you got any reckonin' on why it ain't rained in so long?" The hunter queried.
The cowboy nodded, "I weren't here for it, no, but I heard the stories. They sent some electronical thing up there in the atmosphere and it was supposed to make it stop raining acid for a while. 'Cept it made it stop raining all together. I gather they imported the water they needed from other planets, but I guess that machine up there gave in, and now it'll be a torrent of this for a spell."
"At least it's just some rain. Can get out of that." The hunter replied.
The cowboy humphed again, "'Cept that ain't it. There's Hellhounds out there too." The hunters eyebrows gave him a questioning glance, "They have skin tough as nails, the rain don't bother them none. They can't stand not being wet though. And with all the drought, they stayed hidden. But the rains back, and I reckon they will be too. They'll get the stragglers. Tear 'em and gut 'em, just for fun."
The hunter gulped, "Well we're safe in here, ain't we?"
"In case you didn't notice when you came in, we got ourselves a hole in our fine abode. I reckon they won't try to climb up there, but I ain't too sure on it." The cowboy offered.
"Got anything to ease up the mood?" The hunter asked.
The cowboy sighed, settled onto the bed, pulling his Stetson back down, and pulled his violin out. "You laugh at me, and I'll use your guts as my new strings, yah hear me?" The hunter simply nodded his understanding and sat and listened as the sounds filled the little room.
He made sure his playing was quiet, and soothing, in case the 'hounds could be lulled to sleep, though he doubted it. The hunter tried to make conversation, "You know I'm still gonna chase you."
The cowboy nodded, "So how much is the price on my head anyways?"
"2,000 creds." He replied. The cowboy whistled in appreciation.
"Fair enough you huntin' me down, with that on my head. Didn't know I pissed someone off that bad. But it happens in my line of work." The cowboy paused for a moment's thought, "You know you could just say I'm dead. That you killed me and maybe the Hellhounds got my body, or the rain melted it away. You'd get a reward and I'd be free as a lark."
The hunter pondered it for a moment, then shook his head, "I'm too honest. They'd see right through me. Besides if it came down to it, my life or yours, I'd risk mine just to end yours." He decided.
"That's mighty honest of yah. Bit overboard if yah ask me, but truth some. I do some pretty good work at times. Make maybe double the price on my head in a week you know. Would work together much better with two people. Make more creds, and a lot faster to boot." The cowboy mentioned.
The hunter shrugged to himself, not arguing for or against the cowboy's wishes.
There was a defined crunch and the cowboy sat up, "That wasn't me..." The hunter started, but the cowboy simply shushed him.
Another crunch and a growl. The cowboy pulled out his revolver and flipped the cylinder out, noticing only five rounds were left. He regretted telling the hunter to throw his gun now.
A snuffling and sniffling followed by an eerie, otherworldly howl came from the other side of the wall. It was blood wrenching, that sound, it sent shivers up the spine and fear to the heart. The cowboy flicked the cylinder closed and pulled the hammer back, ready for a shoot-out.
The Hellhounds rounded the corner and spotted them with a throaty growl, lunging with powerful blood polished claws. There were a pack of two, most likely scouts, but were quickly dispensed with two short shots from the cowboy, square between the eyes.
"Good shooting." Complimented the hunter, only to be tackled over by a third Hellhound. Pop! The hound slouched over and the hunter kicked him off, "Thanks."
"Don't mention it." The cowboy said. But those were just the scouts, there were liable to be more. He was facing the hunter, back turned toward the hole in the ceiling when the fourth hound grabbed him.
The slathering jowls of the beast were over him and he was sure as dead. There was a click and another pop as the hound slumped over. The cowboy turned to see the hunter holding a smoking revolver of his own.
"Where'd you get that!" The cowboy was pissed, but thankful.
"I had it back when I shot your door open earlier, just hid it in my boot. You said to throw a gun, not all my guns..." The hunter retorted defensively, like a child caught lying.
"Got anymore of those?" The cowboy questioned, but the hunter just shook his head.
"Just this one. Only got four shots now." He answered.
"I got two here." The cowboy supplied. "We should be fine with what we got. There's normally about eight or so in a pack, maybe ten if the alpha's out with 'em, and we took out four of 'em."
The cowboy drug the bed back over near the wall with more high screeches and flipped it for cover. "Ready?" The cowboy asked. The hunter nodded.
Two more Hellhounds fell through the hole and with two well resounding gunshots, were dispatched quite easily, both with holes through the skull, one from each shooter. "I ain't the only one with a good shot, looks like." The cowboy commented.
Another two hounds followed suit, and before the cowboy could aim down his sight, the hunter had already killed the both of them quite cleanly. "Not bad, should only be one more left."
They heard the roof groan under the weight of the next beast, and as it settled a paw down into the hole, they knew it was probably the alpha. It was huge, almost double the size of the hounds before. This time it was the cowboys turn to show off. With a quick shot straight through the eye, the beast slack jawed and fell into a heap.
"And now we're done." The hunter said, dusting his hands.
"Yup...that'd be about it. Too bad we ain't got some good whiskey to do some... celebrating... with..." The cowboy paused, and looked back at the hole. Another paw was coming in.
If they thought the last hound had been big, they had been mistaken. This one could barely fit through the car sized hole in the ceiling, and it's head looked to be the size of a good old fashioned stove-top oven. Drool dripped down in rivulets and fell into pools upon the ground. The beast was slow and lumbered toward them in no hurry.
"I'm out, how 'bout you?" The cowboy mused.
"One shot." The hunter answered.
"Am I wanted dead or alive?"
"Dead." He replied.
"Well as I see it, you got two choices," The cowboy pondered, "You can either kill it and join me...or you can kill me, and then there's a chance it won't be happy with my body and will kill you."
"Why would I have to join you?"
"Well, as I see it, if you told whoever is looking for me that I got away because you killed a mangy little fleabag, you might be the one with a bullet in your head." The cowboy responded.
"Well you ain't wrong there. So either I join you so I don't get shot in the head, or have a chance of being torn to shreds by this big guy?"
"Yup, thems 'bout the pickins." The cowboy nodded.
There was a click.
A bang sounded out.
And then a thump.