Written by: Leaf Spiritweaver
Images by: Filipa Thespian, Natacha Haroldson & Vanatosis Arentire
A pair of salt-dimmed tanker trucks hummed at low throttle outside, infusing her dreams with the sweet-sick smell of diesel. Linda Silver awoke, the Remington Snoozemaster tattooing the time against her eardrum, as if in sullen protest to her abuse of its snooze button. She swore quietly in annoyance, then immediately again in pain, as her lower lip reminded her of recent hard living, the nerve endings sizzling along a bruised and clotted split.
Linda swung her legs over the edge of the bed and found her boots waiting patiently against the backdrop of the most truly hideous carpet she had ever seen. In truth, the idea of wrestling her sore feet into those matching leather prisons filled her with dread, but the idea of braving the filthy bathroom tile without at least a half-inch barrier of protection made her skin crawl. She had probably already fed a dozen bedbugs while cockroaches did the Seattle Stomp in her hair. She saw no reason to exacerbate matters further with an infection.
After a brief struggle with feet that had somehow managed during the night to become at least a size too large, Linda limped into the lavatory. Above the sink, her reflection glared from the chipped 50s-era medicine cabinet. The glass was old and suffered both scratches and occlusions, accentuating the fatigue that drew her features taut. The growing dullness of her once-envied honey locks, along with the creeping eggplant hue of the skin beneath her eyes, gave outward evidence to a story she knew all too well. She stared into the haggard face in the silvery glass and attempted a smile. The mirror image duplicated her efforts – and fell short of success. Exhaustion transformed the smile into a leer.
Two months. It had only been two months since her life had gone to shit. Just eight measly weeks ago, an ill-timed jog had turned her world of cozy morning teas, bedtime stories, and soft pink pajamas into a parade of mosaic bruises and cigarette-yellowed motel bedding. Two months since the fragile veneer of “normalcy” had been ripped away, leaving her face to face with an inescapable, horrifying truth – a truth that made holy wars and global recession seem almost trite. The truth had been so terrible that Linda had packed up her daughter in the middle of the night, loaded her gas-guzzling mommy van with the little girl’s favorite things, and deposited her unceremoniously at Nana’s house.
Monsters are real.
Once Linda had wrapped her head around that fact, everything else reached a clarity that could only be described as absolute. She resolved herself to three life-changing decisions in the time it takes most people to decide whether or not they want extra foam on their morning latte. The first was the easiest and served as the prelude to the two which inevitably followed.
Linda decided immediately that no power on earth could ever convince her to reveal the hidden darkness to Nana or Emma. Nana had spent her life convinced that the biggest danger Linda would ever face was winding up in the hospital wearing shabby underwear. Emma had only recently reached the whimsical blend of freedom and independence that only a six year old can claim. The truth was something no one should have to endure. She would damn neither of them to her horror.
This led immediately to the most difficult choice Linda had ever made. She had gazed into Nietzsche’s abyss, and there she found the beast staring back. She knew instinctively that there was no returning from that cataclysm. The revelation had burned the light out of her in one searing rush, and the thing that remained was never going to be a mother again. Emma would have to be left with Nana for her own good. It would serve her child no favor to be raised in the darkness.
The last decision was barely a decision at all. What purpose could a woman with a terrible knowledge and a savage heart serve? Linda knew of only one. She would stride into the night and drown the beasts in her fury. They had taken everything.
She would return the favor.
That was how Linda Silver, who ate the crusts from her daughter’s toast, who wore lavender scrubs with orange dancing hippos at her pediatric nursing job, and who had only ever gotten into one fight in her 32 years of life, became an American Athena Nike. There was nothing to stop her from becoming a hunter of hunters. After all, since the night a too-large and vicious “dog” had bitten her as she ran through Miller’s Park, she was one of them.
She often pondered if the oddly effective homeless men who had chased the creature off after the attack had done her a kindness or a cruelty by not allowing her to be mauled to death. She supposed they had meant well, but, looking back on their expressions as they noticed the wolf’s teeth had pierced both her running jacket and her flesh, she couldn’t help but suspect that they, too, had regretted not waiting until the beast’s prey had been killed. Maybe a few of them had even considered doing the deed themselves…
It hardly mattered now. Linda was doing the best she could with what she was given – a lesson Nana had etched upon her heart. She had turned the hunt into a science. Each night she stalked the darkness, looking for the things that lurked in forests and cemeteries. She learned that stakes and silver bullets were less effective than claws and teeth. She mastered the art of tracking her enemy by scent – the musky odor of the wolves, and the flowered funerary stench of the vampires. Most importantly, she discovered that the greatest weakness the two shared was their own hubris. Neither “species” (for lack of a better word) truly believed they were in any danger. The leeches believed their own press about immortality, and the loup garou rarely considered the possibility of a dedicated predator.
How many had she killed? Linda didn’t really know. Once, she had considered collecting teeth and claws as a sort of running tab of her victories. However, she discovered, almost comically, that, despite her new-found blood-lust and singular genocidal determination, plucking bits off corpses was just disgusting. She opted against trophies.
Linda knew her time was limited. One night, maybe soon, there would be too many bruises or too little sleep. Something faster or smarter would land an attack that would change the tide of the battle. It would end with her blood draining over the pavement – her skin cooling in the darkness – her eyes dimming as her heart wound down to its last beat.
If Linda was lucky, Emma would never know. It was better she believe her mother was a selfish bitch than know she was eviscerated by things that should only exist in horror movies. If she was VERY lucky, her killer would be someone who was just trying to kill the monsters – someone like her.
There, in the flickering, anemic glow of a half-spent fluorescent bulb, Linda Silver suddenly wondered if any of her own victims had also been fighting the good fight.