My latest story for R.B. Wood’s Word Count Podcast was inspired by the prompt “Where have our students gone”, the photo prompt (a dilapidated school bus), and my recent interest in the show Supernatural. It is, I guess, my take on what life might be like for an old, battle-scarred hunter…
The Monster Hunter’s Last Lament
I don’t know what you see when you look at me. An old man, I guess. Tired. Worn out.
I should probably tell you what I’ve done with my life.
Been a monster hunter since I dropped out of high school, hunting down all sorts of creatures, in all corners of this continent. Vampires, werewolves, demons… you name it, I’ve tangled with it. Ghosts and spirits. Shapeshifters of every kind.
It’s been a lonely life, I won’t deny it. There aren’t many of us in this business, though I’ve met a few others through the years. All of us haunted, or hunted, by something. Most of them started out like me. They lost someone, and after that they were never the same again.
I lost my brother.
I was eight, Rob was ten. We were walking home from the bus stop after the school bus dropped us off. It was winter, so cold it froze your breath, snow blowing around us in the early dusk. One moment he was there right in front of me, and then he wasn’t. Nothing but snow blowing across the road and the fields beyond.
After that, I read everything I could find about monsters, ghosts, magic, all that stuff. Left home and school and the town as soon as I was able. Left with no goodbyes except a slammed door, and nothing but the clothes on my back and the old rusty car I’d bought from the scrapyard. Started searching the roads and byways for monsters to fight and kill, and more often than not, I found them.
I helped people get rid of poltergeists and restless spirits. I cleared abandoned buildings of vampire trash, hell hounds, and hungry ghosts. I banished all kinds of unclean creatures. Took odd jobs when I could, hanging out at diners and motels, eating too much gas station food and drinking too much cheap beer, living by whatever soundtrack the radio blared out. Slept rough, lived rougher. It wasn’t a good life, perhaps, but it was living.
The few times I told people the truth of my occupation, they usually didn’t believe me, or they thought I was crazy or drunk or high. Who could blame them? So, mostly, if I was asked, I said I was a mechanic, a travelling salesman, a drunk, a drifter. People believe lies readily.
Every now and then I met someone who humoured me, who listened. Sometimes, a woman. Sometimes, a man. Didn’t matter which. It’s always nice when someone listens. Even if it’s only for one night. Maybe that’s why I’m talking to you, now, here. Because you’re listening.
Anyway, the drinking and the hunting, the roaming and the banishing, that’s all done with now. I’m done. Been done for a while, but it’s taken me a long time to accept it.
I look at my reflection and I see someone who is spent. Hollow. Old. That’s what I am. But inside of me, that boy who lost his brother, he’s still there, too. Eight years old and scared out of his fucking mind.
I left home and never looked back. And yet I’ve dreamed about that stretch of road, that bus stop, that day in the snow, every night since it happened. I’ve seen my brother a million times in those dreams. Sometimes, I see what took him, too. Each time I dream it, I wake up thinking I should have tried to stop it. Even if it meant that I’d be lost too. At least then we’d have been lost together.
I haven’t been back here since I left at seventeen, but I stood outside the old house yesterday, staring at the unkempt yard, the sagging roof. Mom and dad are long gone. Dead and buried. They’re not the ones who haunt me.
I fell asleep with a bottle of rye in my car in the driveway, and when I woke up in the half-light before dawn, it was snowing. I got out of the car, and as I walked down the road, I saw someone walking ahead of me. It looked like a boy, but I knew it wasn’t.
I kept walking, past the bus stop, across the field, into the grey haze of snow until all there was was snow and wind and the shadow, ahead. When I finally found this school bus, abandoned here god knows when, I climbed in and found my seat, just like I did every morning back then.
I never told anybody the truth about that day when Rob disappeared. Never told anyone that we argued on the bus. It was nothing special. Just same as always. Small stuff. Brother stuff. Never told anyone that I was still mad at him when that shadow leapt at us out of the swirling snow, grasping and fanged and hungry. I never told anyone that I ran away when it dragged him off. And that every night until I left town at seventeen, my brother would come to my bedroom window wearing his torn skin draped over his bones like a cloak, eyes gone black, mouth gone sharp with teeth.
I knew he waited for me out there, so I read about monsters, and when I could, I left.
And now I’m back here where it began, sitting in this old school bus, in my old seat, looking out the window at you. My shadow.
I know who you are. I know why you’re here. I know you’ve been waiting for me.
I don’t know if you’ve heard a word I’ve said, if any of it matters to you, but I’m sorry I ran away. I’m sorry I didn’t try to save you. I’m sorry the last words I spoke to you were words of anger.
I’m sorry I lived.
I’ve missed you, Rob. And this time, I promise I won’t run.
© Maria Haskins 2018.
The cover art for this story was made by me using Canva, the bus-photo from the podcast picture prompt, and J.M.W. Turner’s painting Snow Storm, Steam-Boat off a Harbour’s Mouth