“The Witch Hunter” is a short story that will debut in The Big Bad 2, an anthology in which each story is told from the villain’s point of view edited by John Hartness and published by Dark Oak Press & Media.
“The Witch Hunter” Preview:
I would have buried the axe in the girl’s neck if my walker hadn’t gotten in the way. I tried to jerk the axe out, but it stayed stuck in the drywall. It had to be done. The girl in the picture was the prettiest. I had to work fast. I needed the axe. My arm muscles burned as I yanked on that infernal tool. Why wouldn’t it budge? I let the axe rest in the wall for a moment, and I stared at my arms. What had happened to them? They had somehow become leathery and were covered with age spots. And how did my fingers become so twisted? These arms couldn’t have been mine.
But that’s my writing.
Shaky letters written in black marker covered my arms. One arm said, Time is short. I squinted at my other arm, trying to bring the words into focus, but they were too faded. Between the age spots and the dry, withered skin, I could only make out the first word: Beware. But what did it mean? Why would I write that on myself?
I gave the axe another good pull and lost my grip. I wobbled backwards and fell to the floor. I stared up at the portrait of the young girl with the white dress, the pink hat and sash, and the axe buried in her chest. Anger and heat rose up inside all the way to my ears. My hands and arms trembled. The axe should have been in her neck—not her heart. Now it was ruined. I let out a frustrated shriek. The hallway’s fluorescent lights flickered. I loved it when the lights listened to me.
I stopped screaming, and my thoughts grew foggy. Where was I? I looked around, trying to remember. I sat in the middle of an unfamiliar hall. Mauve paint covered the walls. I didn’t like mauve. It was too much like pink. I liked stone walls better. They seemed more natural. Pea-green carpet lined the floors. Green I liked better. It reminded me of the forest, and I missed the forest. I touched my face. It felt hot, and the lights still flickered.
What was I doing on the floor? I couldn’t quite remember.
I tapped my finger on the carpet. Tap-tap. Tap-tap. The rhythm relaxed me. Tap-tap. Tap-tap. I knew I needed to do something, but I couldn’t remember what.
Three servants ran down the hall toward me. The pulsing light made them look as though they were running in slow motion. They wore dreadful, unattractive periwinkle-blue clothes. I called them rags. They called them scrubs, but I didn’t see the difference. You used one to do the other. That’s how I knew they were servants.
“Miss Helena, No!” yelled one. Her sweet voice echoed in time with the lights. I liked that one. She was young with cream skin and soft, black spiraling curls. She was pretty, and pretty was good. I called her my Pretty Princess because she reminded me of a daughter I had once. Normally, I remembered her real name, but tonight was a bad night. Some days were good. Some were bad. Tonight was bad. Just like ugly was bad.
The Princess knelt next to me. “Are you okay?”
“Where am I?” My voice sounded older than I remembered: withered and shaky, just like my arms.
“You’re at the Enchanted Gardens Memory Care Facility.”
The name she gave me meant nothing, but I had this feeling I should have known it.
“Did you hurt yourself, Miss Helena?”
“That’s not my name.” I had grown tired of all the servants insisting on calling me Helena. Sometimes it made me so angry I could feel the walls shaking. I glanced down the hall, trying to figure out where I was. Time was short. I needed to find my way back.
Another woman with straight brown hair and olive skin joined us. Her shoes squeaked. The sound made me shudder. She knelt next to Pretty Princess and reached for my arm to help me up.
I backed away. “Who are you?” I didn’t trust new servants, especially this one. Her nose was flat, and her eyes were plain. She was ugly. Ugly was bad. Pretty was good.
Princess patted the new servant on the arm. “This is Yolanda. You met her this morning, remember? Yolanda is one of our nurse’s assistants.”
“A servant’s servant?”
Yolanda with the squeaky shoes looked bewildered.
Pretty Princess laughed. She pointed to the man next to her. “She’s a CNA. Just like Michael.”
I was glad she reminded me his name was Michael. I always called him the Black Bear because he had so much hair—especially on his arms. The Black Bear didn’t act like a servant. He used charm as an excuse to be completely unwilling to submit. Something about him made me distrust him, possibly his dark piercing eyes. They were just as dark as his hair that he kept pulled back with a black band. The Black Bear saw too much, and he refused to cower. Servants who refused to cower were dangerous.
I stared through a nearby window at the night sky. The moon was wrong. It was only half a circle. I needed it to be a full circle. “I only get one more,” I mumbled.
“One more what?”
I pointed at the moon. “One more circle. Then it’s over.”
Yolanda with the squeaky shoes gaped at me in confusion.
“You’ll get used to it,” said my Pretty Princess. “Michael, can you get that axe before someone else tries to use it?” She gave me a stern look. “That’s the third painting you’ve ruined. How do you keep finding that axe?”
I laughed and then coughed. It almost sounded like a cackle. “I watch when it gets put back.” Sometimes, the servants ask the silliest questions.
Black Bear stepped up to the painting and grabbed the axe. “So why Pinkie this time?”
“Because it needs to be the prettiest.” Pretty was good. Ugly was bad. For it to work it had to be the prettiest.
Michael grunted as he tried to remove the axe. “You’ve managed to get this thing in there good and tight.” He jiggled the axe a bit and finally loosened it. “And what picture do you plan to destroy next time?”
“The prettiest.” I didn’t quite understand why the Bear had such a difficult time understanding what I was saying. He usually was the smartest.
Black Bear’s eyes twinkled. “That means you won’t be coming after me.”
“Not you.” I looked away, back outside the window at the moon that was wrong. “You aren’t necessary. A mere servant.” I needed the moon to be a circle, and I needed to concentrate. Time was short.
Michael placed one arm across his stomach, threw the other in the air with dramatic flair, and bowed. “And I serve only you, my lady.” He was charming, that one. Something about him jogged my memory. I saw flashes of a face in the woods with determined, defiant eyes. And I kept picturing a dark wooden box.
A door down the hall swung open, and a woman ran out stark naked. Her white hair flew about, and her lips curved in around her toothless gums. With each step, her wrinkled skin flopped and flapped in all the wrong directions. “The night is young!” She raised her arms over her head, and all the loose skin fell to her shoulders. “Come get me!” She passed without noticing us.
I stared at her backside, which had just as many floppy folds as the front. For a moment, I remembered why I called her Bags. “She is definitely not the prettiest.”
I must have said something funny because the Black Bear closed his eyes so tight that his cheeks looked like they would touch his forehead, and Yolanda Squeaky Shoes leaned against the wall, covering her mouth and trying not to laugh.
Nurse Princess sighed. “And that is Violet,” she told Yolanda. “Violet doesn’t like clothes.”
“And she bites,” added the Bear.
This, I already knew, but Bags only bit me once, and I had made sure she knew never to bite me again.
“They’re here!” yelled a loud voice from the Colonel’s quarters next to us. “It’s Charlie! It’s Charlie! Down everyone! Down!”
I didn’t like Colonel that much. He was always yelling at or about two imaginary people named Nam and Charlie, and they didn’t seem very nice. Other people’s pretend friends were nice. I always wondered why this man had such mean un-real friends.
Princess looked frustrated. “Michael, go calm the colonel.”
Black Bear headed into Colonel’s quarters. “We’ve got everything under control, sir,” I heard him say. “We’re sending out an armed platoon. You just hunker down in this bed right here, and we’ll get them. And stay real quiet. We don’t want them to find you.”
“I hate it when he eggs them on like that,” said Princess. “But it works, and they calm down.”
I think she was just talking to Yolanda Squeaky Shoes and not to me. The servants did that a lot.
Princess pointed to the axe on the ground. “Make sure to put that away. Especially before the Colonel mistakes someone for Viet Cong.”
Squeaky Shoes picked up the axe. “Sure thing.”
I tried to keep my eyes on Squeaky Shoes. The axe was important, just like the moon.
Princess lifted my arm and traced the letters I had written. Her touch was tender. She would have made a good daughter. “You’ve been writing on yourself again.” She patted my robe’s pocket. “Do I need to stop giving you Sharpies?”
I reached down and felt two markers in my pocket, but I didn’t remember putting them there. Tonight was a bad night, and the halls weren’t made of stone. I needed my stone walls back.
Pretty Princess examined my arm. “Beware of Michael,” she read aloud.
Michael! That was the word I couldn’t read. I had to beware of Michael, but I couldn’t remember why.
“Are you still hating on that boy? He’s nothing but nice to you.”
“Who’s Michael?” I asked. I couldn’t remember anyone named Michael, but was a bad night. Maybe the Black Bear would know.