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Authors: Marjorie M. Liu

Tags: #Iron Hunt and Darkness Calls

Hunter Kiss: A Companion Novella

BOOK: Hunter Kiss: A Companion Novella
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HUNTER KISS

Marjorie M. Liu

One

My mother used to say that the tale of the world is drawn in blood
,

blood in flesh, veins forking into destiny like the branches of the tree from which the apple hung and the serpent danced, trading whispers for the corruption of innocents. Good and evil, knowledge and choice. And there, at the root of history, the world tumbled down.

History is legend. Legend is blood. And I am totally fucked.

My mother was murdered on the day I turned twenty-one.

It was at night. She served me cake. When I blew out the candles, she died. Shotgun blast to the head, aimed right through the kitchen window. I walked away without a scratch. I suppose I killed her, just as much as the zombie who pulled the trigger did. I try not to think about it.

Since then, though, I've kept to the road. No home, no roots. Just me and the boys. I suppose they deserve some of the blame, too. All of it, really. But hating them is the same as hating myself, and my mother would not want that.

So, like I said, I try not to think about it.

It is a rainy evening in Seattle. Beyond the drizzle, sunset is com
ing. Best time of day, or the worst-depending on where I am. Right now, it is pretty bad. I know the sun is setting because my tattoos are ready to peel. Puts me in a bind because I've got no place to go and nowhere to hide. I am standing beneath the arcade on the crowded upper level of Pike Place Market, only a step away from the wet cob
blestones and idling traffic of First Street. There is an echo beneath my feet; the lower levels of the Market, sinking into the hill, resonat
ing with the footsteps of tourists and locals; voices chattering around the antique dealers, the comic book sellers, the head shops and farm
ers and crafts and kitsch. A combination meant to evoke nostalgia, perhaps. An emotion lost on me, at this particular moment.

I blame the zombies. I am surrounded by them. They are breath
ing down my neck. And they are not happy to see me.

The zombies are mixed plain as day within the tourist jungle, and they are as diverse as they are deceptive. I see an old woman, torso swallowed up in a loud embroidered jacket; men with beer bellies and fanny packs, a college-type with glasses sliding down her greasy nose. Others, ordinary and respectable-and some worse: a young boy, a skinny blond thing with a hollow gaze. He must be a terror. The circles under his mother's eyes seem to indicate as much. I hope she keeps all her sharp objects secured away.

In all, I count ten zombies. Could be more. Most of them study me sideways, quick glances beneath their eyelashes. A few have the balls to look me in the eyes. They do not hold my stare for long.

I call them zombies because I like the name, not because that is what they are. A game, from long ago, when my mother told me to name the myriad species of spirits and demons who invade this world from across the prison veil.

Name something, give it power. Name something, take it away.

Zombie rolls off the tongue. I was ten. It was Halloween. I had a book of scary stories and went down the list. And the zombies in front of me, as in the movies, are easy to see. Crowns of shadow pulse and flicker above their heads. Dark auras: the only way to tell if a human has been possessed. Zombies, after all, look normal. Reg
ular. Alive and human. No point to anything else. My zombies-no matter how much I love the art of George Romero-are not dead. They do not rise from graves, rotting and stinking and leaking guts. They do not groan and shamble, mindless as coma victims on remote control. Zombies hold jobs. They laugh, they cry. They look like the people you love. They
are
the people you love. That is why they are so dangerous. Zombies get under your skin, and you never know it. Not until they hurt you. Not until they kill you. Not until they use words to tear you apart, breaking you down, destroying your heart.

The dark spirits I call zombies are demons, parasites, and they are very patient. They lurk on the fringes of human minds, sniffing out who is weak and broken-choosing just the right fit, the perfect life and body-until finally, quietly, they steal inside to squeeze, slowly command, control, and seize. Altering, irrevocably, the per
sonality of the person who has been taken.

Possession never ends well. The demons who create zombies feed off strong emotions. Not flesh or brains-just heart. Anger is good. Pain is better. The pain and terror of others best of all.

I lean against a pillar in the arcade and watch the zombies. They watch me. I can feel the sun dipping low to the horizon. I need to run, fast, and hide. I do not move, though. I have never seen so many zombies gathered in one place. Not right, not right. Zombies do not cooperate. They do not swap tales of possession. They have terri
tory, and that is sacrosanct. Zombies do not poach pain.

And they do not show themselves to me. Not without running. Or fighting.

So, I have a problem. More than one if I am still here when the sun goes down. Bad luck. I did not come here looking for trouble.

All I wanted was an afternoon stroll in the rain, sipping Starbucks and window-shopping; a grim Pollyanna in cowboy boots, a little Miss Sunshine in jeans and old leather. Good times, minding my own business, playing the tourist game-taking in my last hour be
fore the boys wake up. We are leaving town tonight. I am all paid up at the Hyatt. My bags are in the car.

I should have stayed in my room. Clint Eastwood was on. I could have ordered steak.

I push off the pillar and wind through the crowd, taking the long way to the street. I force myself to go slow, memorizing faces, track
ing the zombies, as they do the same to me. A cool wet breeze from the street stirs my hair. I wish it could do more. My turtleneck and leather jacket feel too warm; sweat rolls down my back; my palms are sweaty beneath my black kid gloves.

The boys, after a moment, absorb the moisture. Little heartbeats skip a beat as they begin to wake. Early, even for them, but I blame the zombies. Zee and the others always know when wicked is near, even when asleep. Part of their natures: like calling to like. I do not want to think about what that makes me.

I bump hard into the mother of the young zombie boy, steadying her with an apology. I meet the gaze of the grim pale child at her side. I can
not imagine how-or why-he convinced his mother to bring him here, but he has a demon inside him now, and they are master manipulators.

The zombie child looks at me with death in his eyes, and I give him a smile. Compliment his mother on having a good boy. A good boy with an aura so dark I want to pin him down and crawl a spell inside his head.

Maybe later. I walk away. With his mother's wallet in my pocket.

I make it to the street. I have, if I am lucky, five minutes before the sun dips below the horizon. Not enough time to reach the hotel, even at a run, but this is the city-there must be a bathroom nearby. A parking garage. A hole in the ground or some slip of space behind a Dumpster. Someplace I can hide when the boys wake up.

The man across the street changes everything.

The only reason I notice him is because I turn to check one last time on the zombies and find them no longer watching me. All of them, even the child-who is being tugged away by his clueless mother-are staring at a point over my shoulder, their gazes so in
tense, so hungry, I take several steps into the road before turning my back to study the evening crowd behind me.

I see the man through the rain, which is coming down harder; the world dim, gray, full of shining headlights and slick concrete splashes of color dancing from clothes and nearby restaurant win
dows. The man is human. No dark aura.

But he stands out. I cannot explain how, just that looking at him feels like seeing a wolf in a pack of Chihuahuas. Wet brown hair tum
bles past the collar of his navy windbreaker, hanging unzipped over a large flannel shirt and thermal. His jeans are old, his work boots older. His face is too angular to be called pretty, but he is tall and his body full of hard planes and lines. Youngish, in his thirties. He leans on a carved wooden cane, a backpack hanging loose over his shoulder.

Near him sits an old homeless man huddled on a flat sheet of cardboard, a blue plastic tarp spread over his grizzled silver head and bound belongings. His face is lost in shadow, but my eyes are sharp: I see a mouth, set in a grim line-a mouth that relaxes when the man with the cane crouches beside him. Lips move, heads bob, arms gesture at the worsening weather. Familiar, easy. Those two know each other's names.

The cane is set aside, and the man digs into his backpack. A bot
tle of water and a white box emerge, quickly passed over. The old homeless fellow tucks them both into his lap. Smiles.

The young man picks up his cane and stands, swaying slightly. He looks across the street, his gaze roving over the Market crowd walking dry beneath the golden-lit arcade behind me. His scrutiny seems to falter when he sees the zombies. But when he looks at me, he stops entirely.

He stares. He stares as though startled, as though he knows me, as though there is a line of history between us-a lifeline-and I can
not look away. I cannot blink. I am falling, falling, but the ground is firm beneath my feet and my knees are strong and I know it is all in my head-only
there-but
I cannot help myself, because all that matters are his eyes. His eyes are so warm.

It does not last. I sense movement, all around; the zombies stir
ring in the thinning crowd, gathering together. Dark auras, rubbing. The boys roll more urgently against my skin, peeling with the sun that is grazing the horizon beyond the clouds.

I have to go now. I have to run like hell.

The zombies are still staring at the man. The little boy is gone. An elderly woman teeters close. She is dressed in black silk, with a gaze like fingernails on a chalkboard and lips so red she looks as though she has been sucking blood from the sea on the other side of the prison veil. I wonder how much of the real woman is left, whether her mind, any part not subjugated by her possessor, is screaming.

She opens her purse and tilts it toward me. I see a gun inside. I am not impressed. I am inclined to take that gun and ram it down her wrinkled throat. Every zombie-every
demon-knows
how my mother died. It is the same way
her
mother died, and her mother be
fore that. The same way I will die, unless someone becomes creative. And I doubt that. Seriously.

"What do you want?" I ask the zombies, though I look only at the old woman. She, like the others, stare at me as though they can taste the future bullet marked for my brain. Not that anyone else notices. The tourist crowd, thinning as it is, flows around us. Some of the zom
bies receive odd looks, but that is all; not a single passerby seems to see beyond the surface, to question, to wonder if there is a problem.

But the gun that old woman finally hauls from her purse cer
tainly spins some heads. Her hand shakes. Violent tremors. I see some fear in her eyes, confusion. Fighting the compulsion, struggling against the demon inside her. Maybe. I like to give people credit.

"Hey," rasps the zombie. She has a low hard voice-a chain
smoker. "Hey, Hunter. Hunter Kiss. Bang, bang."

She points the weapon, but not at me. I spin and there-just be
hind, limping his way across the cobblestone street, is the man with the cane. He still stands out-a wolf among dogs-and is taller than I realized, even broader, stronger.

All it takes is two steps. I throw myself at the man, and somehow he is ready for me, arms coming up to hold me as I take him down, my hands cushioning the back of his skull.

The gun fires. I feel the bullet bounce off my body as we crash into the road. I hear a rough grunt beneath me, a harsh intake of breath-and then around us, screams, cars honking, the patter of rain against stone. I try to roll free, but the man is strong; he holds me so tight I cannot breathe.

And then he does let go, a shout gurgling up from his throat, and I feel something hard press against the back of my skull. Same gun, same old zombie. This time she does not shift her aim to the man. She pulls the trigger on me.

BOOK: Hunter Kiss: A Companion Novella
10.52Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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