It was a dark night, moon shrouded by grey clouds. The stars had hidden themselves away. Endless forests stretched beneath the black sky, the trees murmuring in the moist laden wind. The base of the trees had disappeared inside the dense fog. The rumble of a twin cylinder motorcycle flooded the snoring forest followed by intense beam of foglamps. The beam jumped from root to root as the motorcycle made through the forest. The rider, covered in a charcoal grey leather jacket and blue denim jeans held the helm deftly, the fingers of his leather gloves firmly holding the handlebars, keeping the feral vehicle on track. The condensed dew on his glasses hid his tears, a phantom pain keeping his jaws clenched.
His destination was a nearby small town called Slotter. The town had been terrorised by an entity whose modus operandi was well known to him. He had spent years to learn about such entities and to hunt them down. Learning was no easy task. Conventional subjects have had millions of books published for their study but the field that our protagonist pursued didn’t come with a DO IT YOURSELF manual. There were lores and bits of information scattered all over the land in not so accessible places. Lores that emphasized hunting entities was not as simple as point and shoot. Appropriate preparations were needed before facing the enemy, carrying a silver blade was a must. He used to scour through local newspapers all over the country for unnatural phenomena, track them, all in secrecy. Common folk either believed that entities beyond vision don’t exist or shun the existence of such knowledge entirely. He had spent nights in places so evil that even the shadows petrified the passersby. He had been beaten, bruised sometimes, tortured till he could concoct only a miracle to save himself but nothing could break his resolve.
The trail to Slotter was picked up from an online blog which tabulated unexplained events. The blog post mentioned homeless people who were found dead two mornings ago, under mysterious circumstances. Several pictures of the dead bodies were posted on the blog which seemed to be taken by people who had discovered the bodies and the view wasn’t pretty. It seemed as if everything from inside the body was sucked out. The skin had turned white and stuck to the bones, eyeballs sunk in their sockets, veins shrunk to the thickness of threads and blue. There was no information regarding postmortem. Our rider knew Slotter was the destination he was looking for. He slipped into dreams in his chair, the glass of scotch resting on the table in front of him, the dim light from the blog post providing the only source illuminating his drawing room. He saw a bright white door, wall lamps at its sides. He knocked on it and it opened slightly. Surprised, he opened the door wide and entered. It was dazzling white on the other side. At his right was a white couch and a chair facing the television, all surrounding a round white table. He looked at the television, it’s screen blank white. Then he noticed faint whimpering coming from the floor above. The sound was too feeble to understand clearly. He ran upstairs. All he could see was a long passage. There were white doors on both sides but he wasn’t sure of the door leading to that sound. He ran towards each door, opening it only to find a white passage leading to more white doors. He ran straight to the end of the passage, there was this blinding light. Sun had rose in the horizon, birds were chirping, another day had come.
He started for Slotter that afternoon, it was going to be a long ride even with the shortcuts. The town reached him the next morning. Another homeless had died, the same way. He straight went to the morgue.
“Hi, I am from the office of the coroner. Here’s my ID. I was hoping to check on the bodies of the homeless people that died two days ago.”
“Yeah, sure man. What does the coroner’s office wants with those bodies? I thought their job was done.”
“Another one was found this morning. They asked me to check on the previous ones. Just following orders”
“Alright follow me”
White tiles, cold room, nothing he hadn’t seen before. He was good at lying, lying his way through areas where only designated officials were allowed. The attendant took him to the last row, pulled out a tray. There it was, a skeleton wearing a skin and veins. Chest sewn up after the postmortem, specks of pink around the nostrils and mouth.
“The others are in tray number 254 and 257.”
“Hey, can I get your postmortem reports?”
The postmortem reports cleared his doubts. All internal organs were missing and not an ounce of blood left. The internal organs had been liquefied and sucked through the nose and mouth. The victims died of the causes he was too familiar with. Time of death was placed around at 4AM for each. It was a wraith. His next stop was the Slotter police station.
“Heath Ledger, FBI. I am here for the recent deaths of the homeless.”
“Heath Ledger? Seriously? You don’t look like him”
“Yeah, I tried telling my parents.”
“Why is the FBI interested in the deaths of a few homeless people?”
“It’s not about them being homeless. We came across similar cases in other parts of the country.”
“Didn’t see that coming.”
According to the police reports, the victims were found in secluded places, abandoned buildings, alleyways. A wraith would of course like its victims secluded, he thought.
The place of the last murder was a nearby abandoned building frequented by squatters. There were several floors and finding a squatter in isolated condition was not going to be a problem, not for the wraith but it was for the hunter to find which isolated guy was the target. Killing wraiths was not easy. Not that other entities presented their heads on a platter but a wraith, it was on another level. Night had fallen.
He went to a roadside motel, one which did not ask many questions, presented a credit card. The manager looked at the card, it read Henry Macintosh. The hunter did not look like a Henry, he thought.
“Room #120, take a left, the last one to your right”
And the hunter left, his bag over his shoulder. The bag had everything he knew or used for hunting, wooden stake, shotgun with shells filled with rock salt, engraved pistol with silver bullets, silver coated blades, some herbs unknown to the general populace, all in their own compartment, neatly arranged. He ordered room service, sat down with his journal and a glass of whiskey. It was going to be a long night. He flipped through a few pages.
Wraiths can take human form, which meant it was somewhere among people living in the town. It could be identified but only when you looked through a mirror. Killing a wraith was, even more tricky. They could only be killed when they were feeding on the victims, a silver bullet to the head.
He was again staring down the white passage, running, the whimpering seemed so loud but the passage always ended at the white blinding light.
Another homeless died, in another abandoned house. The wraith had developed a taste for the homeless, he thought. Where is the wraith? Which human’s form has it taken? The local police department could help.
“Mr. Ledger, how can we help you today?”
“I have a hunch. Do you know about anyone who might have moved into the town just before the murders?”
“We will check it out.”
“Is there a place where the homeless gather? Maybe a lunch home or any specific place they might meet together?”
“There’s a place where they serve stew to the homeless, once a day. If you go now, you might be able to meet the guys running that place. They are a bunch of nice people.”
The hunter raised his eyebrows, “How long have they been running the place?”
“Well, I think a few months. Most of them are old faces.”
“Can you guide me to the location?”
“Sure, as you get out of here, take a left, go straight, take the second right, you will see their soup kitchen.”
Harry’s Soup Kitchen said the large signboard above the small warehouse. It was 12 noon. A long queue had already formed awaiting the mass cooked stew and bread. Harry was inside, along with an assistant, arranging the utensils for serving the food.
“Heath Ledger, FBI. Can I ask you a few questions about the recent deaths in the town?”
“Yes yes, of course. I was heartbroken after I learnt of their deaths. I knew them personally. They came here almost everyday. David there was good friends with those fellows even though he joined our kitchen recently. David is such a nice guy, he knows everyone personally.”
“That is awfully nice of him. We don’t see such selfless people nowadays do we?” He thought, David fits the profile. Let’s check in the mirror.
“We sure don’t.”
“Can I talk to him?”
“Yes of course. Hey, David, Agent Ledger would like to talk to you.”
“Yeah sure, what’s up?”
Agent Ledger was checking his phone. He held the shiny phone screen at a deliberate angle and saw David’s face in it. He was not the wraith.
“Hi David, just wanted to ask some routine questions” still checking his phone,”Harry said you knew the victims personally. Did they look any different the days before they were killed? Like frail or weak?”
“Actually they did. I thought they were sick or something. I did ask but they were incoherent. I didn’t push because of the rush we face everyday.”
And suddenly, he saw, a face as white as ice, filled with creases, yellow eyes, two holes where the nose should be, pass through the shiny screen. He lifted his face, a homeless was joining the queue, perfect disguise.
“Who is that guy?”
“Ohh, he recently started coming to our kitchen. Not so chatty let me tell you. Just eats and leaves. I did see him talking briefly to those guys before they died.”
“Did you get his name?”
“No, I didn’t.”
“Alright, thanks. That will be all.”
The prey had been found or was it the predator. Only time would tell. Now, he needed to track it till night when the wraith made its move.
The Sun moved slowly to the west and sunk into the horizon. It was time. An abandoned building, the homeless were still awake. The wraith had moved into the second floor. The hunter stayed outside, hidden behind dense foliage, following its movements using his binoculars. It had a new friend, a fellow squatter. Another night, another victim, hopefully not. Not so soon, the building went dark except the fires which kept the homeless alive, shielded them from the cold.
The hunter tiptoed into the building, keeping in the shadows and climbed the never-ending stairs. Second floor, his mark was lying on a tattered mattress near the to be victim. He positioned himself in a dark corner, inside a blanket. He had applied some of his herbs to mask his smell.
4AM, the wraith rises, yellow eyes shining bright in the dimly lit room. Night vision goggles were doing their job perfectly.
Slowly, it climbs over its victim, face as pale as snow looking satisfied, the cold wind flowing through its white hair. Slowly, snake like tongue emerged from its mouth making its way to its unwary prey. The liquefied organs made their way into its mouth, lumps moving through the long tongue.
A whistle, followed by the clatter of bullet casing and the wraith fell.
Another night, another prey.
The town reverberated with the dying sound of his motorcycle.
Another night, survived.