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The Hunters

Fan Fiction by Adam Smith (USA)

Chapter 2


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Disclaimer:
The following is adapted from the novel Let the Right One In by John A. Linqvist and the film bearing the same name. The characters in this work are those of Mr. Linqvist and no copyright protection is asserted to this work.

 

Chapter II

11/23/02

Sunrise 7 a.m.  Temp. 34 (unusually cold—last yr was 45)

Split firewood after breakfast from big maple I took down last wk.  New splitter works good, now ~1-1/2 cords.  Didn’t finish & will do some more tomorrow if wx permits.

PM - into town - pick up supplies. Snowing again on way back.  Still some accum. from yest.

3 p.m. - Frito Bandito here w/her kits.  Looking for some cat food as always.  They sure are hungry!  Watched them eat and thought about new painting.

4 p.m. - Going hunting.

11 p.m. – Shot a doe down on southeast slope.  Spotted a small cave while field dressing.  Child’s body wrapped up inside.  Not dead, but not breathing.  Slow pulse, eyes reactive. Paralyzed?  Very bizarre.  Tried to take her to county hospital but instead put pickup into the ditch at the turn in that sunless hollow.  Didn’t think I’d need weights in the back this early!  Carried her back to cabin.  Don’t know what to make of this. 

Plan for tomorrow – winch out and take her in--if  she’s still alive.

He got up from his rickety cot, turned up the oil lamp sitting on the table, and went to the sleeping form in his rustic bed, feeling on his bare feet the cold draft coming in under the old door as he crossed the small room.  He diverted to the door and kicked the mat up against its bottom edge.  Better. 

The bed creaked as he sat down on the edge and looked once again at her in the yellow light.  This was the fourth or fifth time he had checked her, and she looked the same.  Once again he checked her pulse, this time the carotid; pressing his fingers gently under the soft curve of her jawline while he looked at his watch.  It was still about one beat every 70 to 80 seconds, so he left her.  He chucked another piece of wood into the stove, stirred the embers, got back onto his cot and pulled the blanket up over himself.  His 52-year-old body missed his bed, but that was tough.  Suck it up; no whining.

He thought about how he had laid her on the floor and unbundled her after the ill-fated attempt to take her to the hospital.  As far as he could tell, there were no signs of injury, although he had not stripped her down to look.  Her little feet were dirty—she had no shoes, he noted--and somehow, he could not put her into his bed that way; so he had warmed some water in a pot on the stove and had used his washcloth to wipe them clean.  Her hands had looked dirty, too, especially her fingernails, and he felt compelled to wash them as well.  As he had performed these small tasks, his eyes had continued to return to her tranquil face.  He told himself that he was looking for any signs of waking, but that had been only partly true.

He stared up at the darkened ceiling and thought.  He was quite certain now that she was not in danger of dying.  Despite his best efforts he could detect no respiratory effort, but she was not turning blue, so she must be taking in oxygen somehow.  As a medical corpsman he had seen alot of dead bodies and unconscious men, but he had never heard of a person being in some sort of suspended animation.  Yet, this was what he thought was going on.

He adjusted his pillow as he considered what those quacks over at Memorial would do with her.  The last time he had needed to go to the ER, they hadn’t been able to tell him what was wrong—he had a case of walking pneumonia, as it turned out—and the pharmacy had misfilled his prescription to boot.  They’d probably kill this kid, trying to figure out what was wrong with her. 

Maybe it would be better, then, just to keep her here awhile, and watch and wait; see if she snapped out of it.  If it was from a drug, it wouldn’t last forever, and she seemed stable.  Then he could find out who she was--he was surprised at how much he wanted to know that--and return her to her family.  And so, as his thoughts faded and the darkness of sleep crept in, he made up his mind: that was what he would do.

He awoke abruptly the next morning, stiff from the night spent on his old army cot.  At first he could not remember why he was on his cot; then everything came back—the deer, the girl, his bed. 

There was a peculiar odor in the chilly air, and it took him a second or two to realize that it was the smell of singed hair.  He sat up and looked around the dimly lit room.  The thin, wintry morning sun was just starting to come in through the windows.  There were only two, one in front and one in back.

He was surprised to see that his bed was empty.  The black and red indian blanket he’d had since he built the cabin hung askew with its edge down on the floor. 

Where was the girl?  He looked around the room in confusion and did not see her.  Then he looked again, more carefully, and saw something under the bed, partly hidden by the blanket.  Slowly he got up, went over, and kneeled to check.  At the bedside, the smell of burnt flesh was stronger.

It was her, all right.  The bed was against the wall, and she had crawled in as far as she could go.  Her back was to him; she did not move.  She smelled like smoke.  He glanced up in confusion at his lantern.  It sat where he had left it the night before, unlit.

She had moved, so she must be awake. 

“Hey, kid.”

“Little girl.  You awake?”  There was no response.

He reached under the bed and touched the center of her back.  Nothing.  He paused, uncertain of how to proceed; then touched her again, a little harder this time.  She did not move.  In the dim light, he couldn’t tell if she had started breathing or not.

He lit his lantern and brought it to the side of the bed.  He studied her back carefully for several moments, looking for the slightest movement.  Nothing.

He swore softly.  What the hell was going on? 

He decided to try and put her back into the bed.  Then, after he got his truck unstuck, he would definitely take her to the hospital, because things had become just too damn weird.  He didn’t understand what was going on with this child, but obviously she was very strange, and the circumstances were well outside the realm of his experience.  There was an unsettling feeling in the pit of his stomach.  He almost never felt that way, and he did not like it.

He pondered the best way to get her out from under the bed.  He didn’t want to drag her face over the bare wood floor.  Finally he decided he would take her by her exposed arm, roll her over onto her back, and then pull her out by her arm and leg.

Her right hand and forearm were the first to emerge into the pale, gray light.  Immediately the exposed skin on either side of his hand began to smoulder and smoke.  Instantly she writhed like a snake, yanked her hand out of his with surprising strength, and crabbed back into the shadows.  Her eyes never opened, but her mouth opened soundlessly for a few seconds, as if she were yawning, before she rolled away from him. 

He stared dumbly down at his hand in disbelief, feeling the heat dissipating from the heel of his palm, and from the outer aspect of his index finger around to the inner surface of his thumb where he had grasped her wrist seconds before.  Then he stood and backed slowly away from the bed, all the while keeping his eyes on the thing underneath.  He got all the way to the opposite wall, slid down to the gun rack, opened it, and removed his hunting rifle.  As he continued to face the bed, he reached out and to his side to the shelf on the top of the rack and retrieved a box of 30-06 ammunition.  He crouched, put the box on the floor, and without looking at the gun, released the clip.  Quietly he laid the gun on the floor and then loaded the clip, doing everything by feel and memory. He inserted the clip, pulled back the bolt, and chambered a round.  Then he stood up straight and waited.

Nothing happened.  She didn’t move; just lay there under the bed.  Gradually the smell of burnt flesh disappeared, replaced by the old, familiar cabin smells of dirt and wood that he had come to love.  After five long minutes, he moved forward to his cot, sat down, and continued to watch her.  Still nothing.

With the odor gone, he began to wonder whether he had imagined the whole thing.  He knew that was bullshit, but is was easier to believe a falsehood than to accept the truth: that the kid’s hand had almost burst into flames when the sunlight had touched her skin.  He had never heard of anything like that.  It was impossible—the stuff of fiction.  But yet . . . it had happened.

He looked at his windows; the light was brighter now.  More confident that she wasn’t going to do anything, he got up, went to the front window, and looked out through the dirty glass.  There was about three inches of snow on the ground, and it was still coming down.  The little thermometer hanging from its wire bracket read 31 degrees.

The thought suddenly came to him:  cover the windows; then see what she’d do.

He stopped and pulled on some thick wooly socks, then put his pants and suspenders on over his union suit.  He had to take a piss, but that would have to wait.  He got a couple of quilted blankets, yellowing with age, out of his blanket box, found his duct tape, and got to work.  After he covered the front window, he lit his lantern and then did the back.  The blankets were thick and completely blocked the light.  Once he was finished, he went out and did his business—taking his rifle with him, just in case—and then came back in.  Everything was the same.

Once again he hunkered down next to the bed.  He took a deep breath, ran a worried hand through his short, grayish brown hair, and then gingerly reached under and pulled her out.  This time, nothing happened.  He stood up with her in his arms, once again marveling at how light she was.  He checked her wrist.   There was no sign of a burn.  Maybe he really had imagined it.

Without understanding why, he found himself reluctant to put her back in the bed.  He didn’t want to admit it to himself, but he enjoyed holding her.  She was so small and, let’s face it, beautiful—yes, beautiful--that he just stood there, looking down at her.  Somehow, the bizarre events of the past sixteen hours now did not seem very important.

How long had it been since he had held a child like this?  Since Julianna, of course.  Before he had divorced Bev, and before Julie had died of leukemia.  A long, long time ago.  He had used to carry her up to bed sometimes when she’d fallen asleep on the couch watching TV with him or her mother, back when they had lived in Rockville.  She had lived a mere five years before God had taken her away.

His feet moved him to the rocking chair.  He turned, sat down carefully so as not to tip her, and began to rock while he studied her face.  He imagined what she would look like with a smile and her eyes open, and thought about what a pleasure it would be to do a sketch of her face.  Had he really pointed a gun at her?

He rocked peacefully and listened to the wind blowing around the eaves.  Who are you, little girl? 

He had lost track of time and was still rocking in a blissful stupor when he heard a motor, growing louder as it growled up the hillside.  Quickly he rose, carried the girl over to his bed, and put her down.  She didn’t stir as he pulled the blanket over her.  Soon a big, brand-new silver Landcruiser pulled up and its engine died.

Carson.  Shit.  Out in his driveway, a driver’s door clicked open and then shut with the muted thunk of a well-engineered vehicle.

He looked around for something else to cover the girl.  He didn’t want that nosy bastard to see her, and God only knew what might happen if sunlight came in through the front door.  Just as there was the sound of booted feet treading on the wood of his front steps, he grabbed the canvas sheet from where it lay wadded on the floor and threw it over her.  At this point, he saw no harm in covering her face.

The knock came.  He tried to relax as he unlocked the door and swung it open a few inches, squinting a little as his eyes adjusted to the bright white of the unseasonably early snowfall.

“Mornin’, Roger.”

“Hey there, Jed.”

Roger Carson, his closest neighbor, stood on his porch in all of his glory.  He was a walking advertisement for L.L. Bean, what with his spotless, brand-new tan field coat and dark brown corduroy pants, snugged down over a pair of expensive hiking boots.  The most ludicrous thing was the cowboy hat.  It clearly had spent its life in a closet at Roger’s McMansion, except when he grew bored with life in McLean and retreated to Faquier for a weekend in his fancy “cabin” at the foot of the mountain.

Jed opened his door wider as Roger extended his soft, pudgy, K Street lawyer hand, which he took into his own calloused paw and gave a healthy squeeze.  Roger’s neatly trimmed little moustache twitched as he concealed a wince.

Jed dropped his hand and for a moment they just stood there, looking at each other.  Jed knew he looked like hell.  He hadn’t shaved for a few days and had last bathed on Thursday night, so he probably smelled, too.  He remained behind his door; didn’t open it any wider.

“So what brings you out this early, Roger?”

Roger glanced from the blanket-covered front window back to Jed.  The spark of curiosity in his heavy, corpulent face was readily apparent.  “Oh, I uh . . . didn’t realize it was that early, Jed.  He glanced down at his wrist and pulled his coat sleeve back to peek at his glittering Rolex.  “It’s 8:45, actually.”

Had it really been almost two hours since he’d gotten up?  What had he been doing all that time--rocking?  Shit.

“Yeah.”  His laconic reply conceded nothing.  As far as this conversation was concerned, it was still early.  And it was Sunday, after all.

“Losing alot of heat through your windows?”

Jed looked to his left toward his front window, then back at Roger.  “Dunno, but it does seem to keep the place warmer.”

Roger cleared his throat.  “Well, I came up to see if I could borrow your chainsaw.  And then I saw your truck in the ditch down in the hollow, and figured maybe you could use a little help getting it out.”

The thought flitted quickly through his head: should he accept help from a guy he secretly disliked?  What would it say about him, as a person?  Yet, on the other hand, there was no point in being needlessly rude.  Neighbors were neighbors, after all.

“Mmm.   Well that’s mighty kind of you, Roger.  And of course, you’re welcome to borrow my chainsaw.  Let me get my coat on and I’ll grab it out of the shed for you.”

“Mind if I come in and warm up a little?  Surprised that we got all this snow last night.”

“Yeah, me too.  But you know, I just got up and I haven’t brewed any coffee yet.  If you don’t mind waiting, I’ll just be a minute.”  Without giving him the chance to reply, Jed pulled the door to.

He glanced over at the lump under the canvas and was relieved to see that nothing was different.  Quickly he pulled on his boots.

He was shrugging on his jacket with his back to the door when he heard a creak and realized that the room lightening.  He turned around to see the door opening.  Fortunately it swung inward toward the bed, and at half mast, the sleeping child remained in shadow.  Before it could open any further, Jed hastily grabbed the edge and halted its progress.  Nosy Roger, ever curious, had stepped up to the threshold, but couldn’t see her.  Jed held his breath, wondering if the diffused light was sufficient to cause smoke to begin billowing up from his strange guest, but it didn’t.

Roger sensed Jed’s nervousness and raised an eyebrow.  He wanted to lean in and look around, but couldn’t because Jed was now guarding the entrance.  Before Roger had time to speak, Jed stepped out, forcing Roger to step back, and closed the door firmly behind him.  Without saying anything, he headed around back to get his Echo from the shed, with Roger clumping along behind.

11/24/02

7:20 a.m. - Kid woke up? this AM & crawled under bed.  Sunlight blisters her skin.  Allergic?  Now asleep again, back to baseline.  Not sure what to make of this.  Covered the windows & that solved the problem.

8:45 a.m. – R. Carlson here to borrow chainsaw, then helped me pull the C-20 out of the ditch.  Dinged the left front fender, but the headlight is okay.  Roger tried to invite himself over for lunch afterwards but I begged off.  Felt bad, but couldn’t let him see the girl.  He’d have too many questions and ideas about what should be done.  Probably think I’m some kind of psycho child molester, too.

4:30 p.m. – Finished splitting the last of the wood today & got cleaned up. Shave & bath.  Had early supper & read some Thoreau.  Snow had tapered off this AM but now more flurries.  Radio says  no further accum. expected o/n tho.

He bookmarked Walden and returned it to his shelf with the rest of his small collection of books.  It was beginning to get a little too warm in the cabin, so he refrained from putting more wood in the stove and damped it down a bit.  Then he extinguished a second lantern he had lit earlier to chase the shadows away, and went to check on the girl.

Thanks to his careful attention she was now perfectly composed in the bed, lying on her back under the indian blanket, her head squarely centered on the pillow.  While his grits had been cooking he had considered brushing her hair, but had restrained himself. 

He checked her pulse again.  The first beat came after he had counted 23 seconds on his watch.  He was surprised to note that the second followed only 42 seconds later.  He checked her pupils again and got the same response he had seen after he had pulled her out of the cave.  Then he decided to try for a pulse at the wrist, and pulled her right arm out from under the covers.  He stared at her wrist as he placed his fingers on it and began to count off the seconds.  This time there was only about 30 seconds between each sluggish beat.

He glanced up at her face and let out a little gasp.  Her black eyes were open, and were regarding him with deep intensity.

Continued next week

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