Chapter 113: Hunter’s Call

“Graagh!”

His fist broke through the computer monitor and out the other side.

They were already dead.

His return home was almost complete. Ten dozen convenience stores and grocers were emptied in his wake. By the last dozen, he’d been in and out before the cops had chosen a car to send over.

His last stop was here, an empty library. He needed to learn how his prey had grown. Even the greatest hunter must learn to respect his prey. After all, he had been defeated once before. Defeated by trickery and deceit, true, but defeated all the same. And then, as an extra insult, his enemies had stolen from him.  They took his drive, his reason for hunting, and claimed it as their own.

And they were already dead. His prey had been stolen. Another had dared to claim his prize while he was caged. Someone had broken the hunter’s code, as if he wouldn’t find out, as if his defeat was more than a chance for his hunting grounds to repopulate.

But even he could not stalk this thief. A hunter does not fear his limits, but he must know them. A monster devoured his prey whole. A monster who stood above prey and predator alike and who destroyed them all equally.

He would not challenge that monster. He would not endanger his hunting grounds by exposing them to such a beast. But even if he could not have his revenge, he could reclaim his treasure.

And he would teach his son exactly what it meant to be an apex predator.

&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&

His sister was sleeping. She thought he was too.

He hadn’t slept since the attack, but he wasn’t sure how long ago that was anymore. The days had blended together, and there were a few that he couldn’t remember at all. The doctor’s visits had grown farther apart, but the nurses came by as much as they ever had.

He wondered if his sister believed the doctors. They’d told her it was all in his head.

Hawthorne had visited at one point. It was the first time he’d seen her without her mask, but he would have recognized the voice even if she hadn’t talked about their adventures.

He wanted to talk back to her, but he couldn’t. He’d wanted to tell her that it wasn’t her fault. She’d never done anything but made him feel like he belonged. She’d even let him be important.

He was the only one to blame. He could get out of bed. He could tell his sister to stop worrying and tell Hawthorne it wasn’t her fault. He could go home, go to school, and spend time with his friends. He could even put his costume back on and fight.

Just like he could have saved her.

She died because of what he did.

The doctors were right. It was all in his head. He knew that, but he wouldn’t get out of bed. He was frozen.

His sister’s phone rang, and he shut his eyes. She groaned and fumbled for her phone. He opened his eyes a hairs breadth and saw her face lit by the screen.

She got out of the chair as she answered the phone, and made it out to the hallway before talking.

“It’s three in the morning.”

There was a long pause. He opened his eyes enough to see her standing in the doorway. She was completely frozen, even more than when he’d seen her on the floor after the sleeping spell hit. Her phone slowly slid out of her fingers and crashed onto the floor.

“No.” She dropped to her knees with a thud and scrambled the phone back to her ear, holding it with both hands. “I-I didn’t catch that.”

She froze again. Her off hand fell down from the phone and scraped along the floor.

“Three days. He could be here any second. Why didn’t-?” He had to close his eyes to slits again when she turned back to look at him. He had never seen his sister so afraid. There were tears slowly rolling down form her wide unblinking eyes, and her lip trembled.

“He’s in the hospital. I don’t know if…Okay just tell me what I can do.”

She was silent for a few minutes before she hung up without another word.

She stayed on her knees for a few minutes before she grabbed the door frame and pulled herself to her feet. The screen on her phone had already gone dark, but she stared at it blankly.

Her fingers began to fumble at the keypad.

“Rose-yes I know. Please tell me you found a lead.” She started moving, pacing. “We really need him right now. I…can you stop by in the morning, first thing? No, wait.” Her voice grew firmer, but she started to talk more quietly. “Meet me outside, we’ll find somewhere to talk. You-we need to be ready. Just let me know when you’re here, I need to make more calls.”

She hung up. Despite what she said, she didn’t call anyone immediately. She stumbled over to the bed and he had to shut his eyes completely.

He knew she was staring at him. He felt the bed shift when she grabbed the railing. Neither of them moved.

Something wet hit his hand. He risked cracking one eye open.

She was crying. It was a different kind of crying than when she’d been on the phone. Her lips were moving but there was no sound. There didn’t have to be.

‘Why?’

One word repeated over and over again.

More tears hit his hand. They began to slide down off of it until they would be absorbed by the sheet beneath him. The wet spot had started to grow beneath his hand before she began to slow down. She reached up and wiped her eyes on her sleeve. Beneath the tears, they were bloodshot, and the skin around them was and angry puffy pink.

Her lips stopped trembling and firmed into a thin line.  The next word she said bit into the air like an icy wind. He knew immediately that he would never forget the name.

“Jaeger.”

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