October 25, 2009

Hunters Chapter 1

"You have to burn them." Our father gazed with affected gravity at my little brother Edward before gracing me with a momentary scowl. He struck a match and tossed it onto the hastily-assembled pyre. I inhaled frantically, always loathe to miss the comforting smell of sulfur. My eyes were closed when I heard our father curse, probably realizing that the match had expired in mid-air. He was always careless, a trait he hated to see mirrored in me.

"Matches don't grow on trees," I uttered automatically, my mind as usual a step behind my mouth. It was one of my father's favorite aphorisms, which he repeated until we all forgot where it came from. I blame the repetition for our family's general negligence. If you don't think about what you say, why would you think about you do?

I took a step toward the path. The indoctrination was intended for Edward anyway. I already understood the ritual better than he did. Chop the head off and burn the body. That was good enough for my father, who never bothered to ask questions. But everyone said he was the best and vocally wondered how his son had passed his fifteenth birthday without bagging one.

Behind me the fire roared to life, casting the long shadows of the maples before me. Fires don't start that fast. He must have used some fuel, a sin overlooked if you have 24 notches on your belt. 25 now.

The leaves crackled hypnotically beneath my feet. I wasn't surprised to feel a small hand slip into mine.

"God damn it, Edward. Are you trying to get me in more trouble?" I yanked my hand away and looked into his inhuman blue eyes. I could tell he was on the cusp and I didn't know which way to push him. At seven years old, he could hit a can flying through the air at 50 yards with a .22 but he cried when our cat got eaten. Somehow I ended up with a black eye when that happened.

Edward shoved his hands in his pockets and fell into step with me. I glanced back before running my hand through his greasy blond hair, an act I knew we both enjoyed, mostly because it irritated our father. He began talking as he did only with me, without hesitation or an extensive muttering prologue.

"It had such beautiful eyes. So big. I think maybe he was the same age as me..."

I shuddered. I didn't know if he was intentionally violating several of our unspoken laws. Edward was in worse shape than I was at his age. He sees them as practically human.

He was staring at me as we walked. He possessed none of my clumsiness, navigating the path with his infallible physical memory while I kept my eyes trained on the ground at all times.

"Why do we hunt them, Joe? And why do they hunt us?"

I shook my head at his characteristic bluntness bordering on blasphemy. Characteristic when he spoke to me anyway. I suppose we couldn't find many of these moments together. "You've been to Pastor Jesse's sermons, Ed. You know why."

"But you know more. You've talked to him."

I could see the lights of our house through the trees, so I stopped and checked to see if our father had caught up. He would be watching the flames for a little longer. Edward must have slipped away when he was in his trance.

"You know everything already, Ed. You know where they came from. They started it, burned our cities to the ground." I pronounced the word "cities" with the emphasis that they used to give it the religious significance that prevented people from asking what a 'city' was. "But we got 'em back and now they're stuck here."

"But how come we gotta burn 'em?"

"Don't you know anything? That's how their souls get back home. Joke's on them, of course." I gestured vaguely toward the sky. "That's where it used to be, a big red star, they say."

He looked up and then back at me, his eyes echoing the question I once asked at his age. You don't really believe that, do you? I looked over his shoulder, passively imploring him to know better than to ask anyone else.

For the first time, Edward looked nervous, shifting from one foot to the other and looking around. "But... you know more than Pastor Jesse. What was he like?"

I stumbled, trying to look relaxed as I reached out for a tree to lean on. "ummm... what was who like?"

Edward regained his innocence or his confidence. Sometimes they were indistinguishable. "I heard that you, ya know, had one. In the barn..."

"There he is!" Our father emerged from the trees with his indomitable stride. He placed his arm around Edward and guided him toward the house. "There's my little champion marksman. Where'd ya go? Come on. Let's see what mom's got for dinner."

I ran my hand across the tree bark. I never found out which version he heard. Counting in my head, I tried to see how slowly I could get to the door.

3 comments:

grainne proinseas said...

please tell me this is the beginning of a novel that you are going to serialize on the blog. pleeeeeaaasssseeee.....

Quill said...

I'd envisioned it as something that stands alone. I don't know if I can write novels. But if I do, you'll read it here first.

antonabadzhiev said...

I wonder how it can be so stylish with a subject in the beginning of each sentence. It's a pity that many English mother tonguers don't read prose. 30% will be lost in translation, you presume that. Much good. Luckily the Auteur Theory don't work here. Shaking hand,
Anton