Fear The Dawn: Chapter 12

In another place and time, the dark-furred one was feeling equally content with himself as he stood perched upon the sail, surveying the quiet waters below.

Last morning he had been with some silly stranger who thought her was her friend. She begged for him to stay with her and uttered some nonsense about friendship and love, some silly trick no doubt, but he was above such things. Perhaps her words might even have been sincere, either way it gave him great pleasure to see the agonized look on her face as he told her what a fool she was, he could still remember the way her face screwed up and her lips wobbled even now. “She should be thanking me”, he thought, “now she can learn to be independent. Relying on others makes us weak”. Ultimately, though, whether or not she learned that lesson was no concern of his. Strangers were his enemy, and he would cut down as many of them as necessary to return home each morning.

On the topic of meddlesome women, he had been blessedly free of Banshee these past few nights as well. She was down on the deck, off in her own little world, and he was perfectly content not to be a part of it. She had no understanding of the way things were or the importance of the work that they did. To them, nighttime meant safety. As long as they were on the ship, nothing bad could happen to them. When the sun rose, however, they were vulnerable. The strangers told lies and tried to confuse them, and if they didn't make it back to the ship before the sun went down that would be the end. He wouldn't ever allow that to happen to him. So what if he took pleasure in his work? He was a hunter, and he was always pushing himself to be the best at his craft.

He had to be the best, too, because Banshee must have been the worst hunter anyone had ever seen. He always had to work twice as hard whenever she was around. She was just so airy and clueless, if it was up to her they would probably just sit down and stare into the floor while the strangers clubbed them over the head from behind. He had no idea what she did during the days when they weren't together, at one point he figured she must simply remain on the ship, but sometimes he would come back and find that she wasn't there yet or find her climbing out of the water. It seemed inconceivable that she would ever be able to handle things on her own, but perhaps she was hiding some kind of secret competence behind those absent-minded eyes. It seemed unlikely, but every night he expected to return and find her gone for good, yet there she still was, gazing out over the night sky like she always did.

The other ships were trouble, too. He didn't know too much about them as he preferred to keep to himself, but occasionally he encountered them in the mornings, and they usually opposed him, siding with the strangers instead of their own kind. Perhaps in their weakness they decided that fealty was their best hope of returning home. He would not show them any mercy, however. If they chose to become his enemy, he would deal with them just the same. Line seemed as though he had some sense, at least. He had learned from experience that a sharp tongue could be just as effective against the strangers as teeth and claws.

The winds were still tonight, the endless ocean looked like a flat purple sheet, undisturbed by waves or currents. The stars twinkled silently in the sky, casting a pale light over the world below. “This is what we're fighting for”, he thought, but somehow it seemed like something was missing. He glanced down at Banshee, still tirelessly watching the horizon for that other ship, and rolled his eyes. It certainly wasn't companionship that he was after. A challenge? He enjoyed his work, but it was true that it had been fairly easy as of late. Could it be that Banshee merely acted the way she did to make things more challenging? He looked down at her again. It didn't seem possible. Her manner was simply too convincing to be an act, but if she was put here on this ship to make things more difficult for him, that was fine, he could handle it.

As he was watching her, suddenly her tail started twitching and she darted off to the rear of the ship. He looked over in that direction and didn't see anything, but from the way her tail flicked back and forth she obviously saw something over there. He hopped down from the sail for a closer look, and she ran over to him and pointed in that direction, as if he hadn't seen. He sighed and swung the ship around, still having seen nothing, but there was probably something out there. Her eyesight was very good, he had to give her credit for that.

It took the better part of the night to reach the object she had spotted in the distance. When the ship first appeared he was apprehensive, thinking it could be one of the others, but she kept tugging at him when he tried to go around it. Sure enough, it turned out to be Line's ship, that became clear when the idiot greeted him with a loud “howdy neighbour” in some stupid tone of voice. “How could you possibly have known that it was his ship from so far away?” he asked her, but of course, she didn't have any answer for him. She was quick to give Line a big hug when he came aboard their ship, however.
Hi there, pretty flower”, he said, patting her head. “Has Old Groucho been treating you okay?”
Old Groucho was not amused, but Banshee seemed happy enough, she gazed up at him with her big blue eyes and then let him go, taking a few steps back and watching him expectantly.
So Nuby, what brings you all the way out here? Are you taking your maudlin act on the road?”
He was already starting to regret this. “You have her to thank, she spotted your ship from far away and insisted we come and find you.”
Aww”, Line cooed irritatingly, patting her on the head again, “you're my biggest fan. Or maybe my only fan”, he mused, noting the scowl on the dark-furred one's face. “I had hoped that my biggest fan would laugh at my jokes at least occasionally, but a pretty girl is okay too.”
Line turned back towards him. “So Nuby, how are things on the death barge?”
Everything is fine, and stop calling me that.”
Well, you still haven't told me what your name really is.”
I have no need for a name. Banshee never speaks and the strangers never see me coming. If you must address me, you can call me 'The Hunter'”.
Line shook his annoying lightly-coloured head. “That's not a name. 'Nuby' will do until you come up with a better name.”
Suddenly he felt more appreciative of the fact that Banshee didn't talk. The dark-furred one threw up his paws in frustration, when he noticed that the fur on them had become brightly-coloured, too. He quickly wheeled his head around and noticed the sun was already starting to peek over the horizon. It had been behind them the whole way while they were sailing towards Line's ship.
You'd better be going”, he said, quickly, “our time is almost up”.
Nonsense, I just got here. Oh, that reminds me, I've got a great new joke for you! See, there are these signs that the strangers look at that say 'you are here' and there's this dot that shows where you are. So this guy says 'this sign must be wrong, I don't see the big circle anywhere'! ...Well, I guess you have to know what the sign looks like-”
There's no time!” he scowled, shoving Line back towards his ship, but it wasn't fast enough, the sun's light washed over them while Line was still yammering away.

What an idiot”, he groused, rubbing his forehead with his hand.
I know you are, but what am I?”
He slowly opened one eye. A man with light tan-coloured skin, dark hair, and big blue eyes was staring at him. It was obvious immediately who it was.
You shouldn't be here”, he protested wearily.
At least we all made it here okay”, a faint voice added.
Pretty flower!”, Line exclaimed, taken aback. “You can talk!” He took her hands in his and lifted them to his chest. “I'm so glad I can finally speak to you, I'm-”
Don't speak of the other world”, Karma interrupted him. “That's dangerous”.
Line shrugged and threw his arms around her instead. Her wispy blonde hair blew around him like a thin, white fog. “This instantly makes the trip worth it”, he said, letting her go, and her face went totally red as she tried to mumble some kind of thanks. The hunter rolled his eyes. “I should just leave the two of you here and take care of this myself”, he thought. “You two deserve each other.”

He turned his attention to his surroundings, with all the commotion he hadn't yet taken stock of their situation. They were inside, in a thin, brightly-lit hallway of some kind, with a number of colourful doors on both sides of the wall. It was quiet, there didn't seem to be any strangers in the immediate vicinity.
What are we doing here?” Line asked.
The dark one's ears perked up. “Shh! Someone's coming!” He hurried them back around the corner to safety and prepared to ambush whomever was coming their way.
Today's the day the guest speakers are coming, right?” a voice said, coming closer.
Yeah”, replied another one, “I wonder if they're here yet?”
He was ready to strike, but they didn't walk past the corner where he was waiting, instead he heard the sound of a door being opened. He quickly peeked around the corner to see one of the doors closing itself, with no sign of the strangers. It latched shut with a soft click, and the hallway was quiet again.

It sounds like we're the speakers they're waiting for”, Line said, strolling towards the door. He was stopped by a hand on his shoulder.
It seems like we will have to play along to find our way home this time.” A flicker of a smile appeared across his lips. “Why don't we make this interesting? You seem to have some skill with your words, let's see which of us can get us home. I'll even let you go first, since you're new here.”
Don't worry”, Line said, raising his hand and extending his thumb. “Talking is my speciality”. He opened the door and stepped inside. The door softly closed behind him.
He'd better not screw this up.”
Banshee moved closer to the door.
What are you doing?”, he demanded. “Only one of us is supposed to be in there at a time.”
I want to hear what he'll say”, she said quietly.
He was also a little bit curious to see if Line could get the job done, so he moved closer to the door too.

Line was already yammering away in there. “Hey, how ya doin', thanks for coming. Hey, is that a tie, or did one of your socks get stretched in the dryer? I'm just kidding, you're all right. Nice pen collection, if the world ever runs out of ink we'll know who to call. Woah, check out the size of this backpack! Massive nerd alert! Wee-ah wee-ah wee-ah!”
The hunter shook his head disapprovingly. From inside the room, someone cleared their throat. “Oh, right”, Line responded.
I've come here to tell you about the importance of having a little fun in your life. You can't just do boring things all the time, you'll go crazy, like this... blaaaahh!” There was laughing from inside the room. “It's important to find out what makes you happy and hold on to that...”

I'm so glad we made a new friend”, Banshee said, pressing her ear to the door to hear him better.
Don't be silly”, he replied, “I have no need for friends. He's just going to get in the way.”
Some people enjoy spending time with their friends. Other people enjoy pretending they don't enjoy spending time with other people. You can identify these people easily because they like to be called silly names like 'The Hunter' and they talk like this, RURRRR!”
She giggled softly at his joke. “I think Creamy's wonderful. He's so much fun.”
He rolled his eyes. “He's doing a terrible job, that's never going to get us home.”
I don't mind, I'm enjoying it here. I hope we can stay together forever”
Well don't let me stand in your way. When we get back, just go to his ship. I'm sure he'd be glad to have you, then you two could be together all the time and I'll have some peace and quiet.”
She looked down at her feet. “I couldn't. Even if I wanted to.”
Line finished speaking and the people in the room all clapped their hands for him. They stepped back from the door as Line stepped out. Banshee quickly hurried over to see him.
That was pathetic”, he said, “do you even get the concept here?”
I think they liked it.”
They're not supposed to like it!”. The hunter shook his head and stepped towards the door. “Let me show you how it's done.”
He opened the door and stepped inside the room. There were a lot of strangers in there, probably thirty or so, lined up in rows all facing the front of the room. They fell silent when he entered.

I'm going to tell you a story, so listen well”, he began. “There once was a young couple who were out shopping for a new home. They looked and looked, but they didn't find any that they liked at a price they could afford. Then, as if by magic, they found the most wonderful place: it had plenty of space, a big backyard with a pool, was very well-maintained, and the bedroom opened out to a magnificent covered balcony. And most amazingly of all, it was the cheapest house they'd seen all day. The husband fell in love with the house right away, but his wife was more suspicious. 'Why is it so cheap?' she asked. The seller was simply in a hurry to sell, they were told. They talked it over, and they agreed to buy the house.”

He looked around the room. Some of the strangers weren't paying attention, they were yawning or writing in their notebooks. “Patience, little ones”, he thought, grinning slightly to himself, and continued his story. “They moved in the next week. Everything was wonderful at first, they spent their mornings out on the balcony, swam in their pool in the afternoon, and had their friends over to visit at night in the giant living room. Everyone agreed it was a great home, and even the wife had to admit that they made the right choice.”

But then one night she couldn't get to sleep. As she lay awake in her bed, she heard a sound. A soft, creaking kind of sound. At first, she thought she must have imagined it, but then it happened again. She sat up in bed, listening carefully, trying to figure out what it was or where it was coming from. Then just as she thought she knew what it was, the sound stopped, and it was quiet. She took a deep breath, for her heart was racing terribly fast, and tried to go back to sleep.”

A few weeks passed. Every night, the wife would lie awake before she went to bed, listening for the sound. Sometimes she thought she heard it, but then it would go away. She told herself she was just imagining things and that there was nothing wrong with the house, but then one night there was a terrible storm outside. Rain pounded on the windows and thunder boomed outside, making it terribly hard to sleep, and then she heard it: Creak, creak, creak. The sound was louder this time, and there was no mistaking it for her imagination. The creaking grew louder and it seemed to be coming closer, up the walls and into their room! She sat up in bed and pulled the covers up to her face, watching intently to see if anything was there. Then lightning flickered outside, lighting up the whole room, and for an instant she saw it! A terrible dark figure, right there in the room with them! She screamed, and her husband woke up. 'What is it?', he cried as she shivered under the covers. He got out of bed and turned on the light. The room was completely empty. 'It's nothing', he told her, 'just a storm', but she just stayed under the covers. He sighed and got back into bed.”

By now the wife was terribly unhappy. She hadn't slept well in weeks, and she wanted to move out of the house. She told her husband all about the noise, but he thought she was just imagining things, so she took a knife from the kitchen and stored it in her nightstand to keep her safe from the monster. A few nights later, her husband was lying awake in bed, and then he finally heard the sound. Creak, creak, creak. He couldn't believe that the monster could possibly be real, but the sound just wouldn't go away. So he crept out of bed and followed the sound of the noise. He went down the stairs, and the noise seemed to get louder. He picked up a flashlight from the kitchen, and shined it about, but still the creaking noise continued. It sounded like it was coming from the basement, so he opened the door and walked down the stairs. Creak, creak, creak. It was getting louder now. He nervously held the flashlight in front of him as he walked through the basement hall, the noise growing ever louder still, not just creaking, but clanging and tapping, like something was moving around down here. There was no mistaking it, the sound was coming from the next room. He steeled all his courage and peered inside!”

And then he shined the light into the room and came face to face with the source of the sound...!” He paused and looked around the room, to build suspense. All of their eyes were glued on him. “It was... an old, creaky water heater. The man breathed a sigh of relief and turned off the flashlight. You see, there was no monster, but when you worry about something too much, your mind makes it real. He laughed to himself for his foolishness and began to climb back upstairs, where his wife was waiting. She too had heard the sound, and now, she heard the monster coming up the stairs. She silently retrieved the knife she had hidden in her nightstand and waited by the door for the monster, and next month, that wonderful house was for sale once again.”

There was silence in the room for a moment as they all stood there, watching him, milling it over. He expected them to start looking uncomfortably at each other any moment now.
Yaaay!” the strangers cheered, applauding him.
Yay?” he repeated, dumbfounded. Had the story been too subtle?
It was so nice of you to come and tell our kids a scary story for Halloween”, the tallest stranger said. “You must be a writer, yes?”
Writer?” he asked, still in disbelief. “Uh, perhaps something like that”.
Well I'm sure whatever you're working on will be really great. Thank you for coming today.”

I can't believe that didn't work”, he said, back in the hallway. “Those strangers are not normal.”
Yeah, yeah”, Line chided him, “it looks like you couldn't get it done either.”
He scowled. “This calls for a new plan.”
What about me?” Banshee asked. “Isn't it my turn?”
What about you? What would you know about speaking, you barely ever do it.”
Banshee looked down at her feet and became quiet. “That's not nice”, Line said, “you can speak fine, I'm sure you'll do great.” He put his hands on her shoulders. “Good luck, pretty flower.”
She looked back at him then walked inside the room.

He listened at the door to see just what she would try to say, but there was no point, her voice was too faint to be heard from the hallway.
This is a waste of time”, he said irritably, “they probably won't even hear her. We need to come up with some sort of plan to get out of here.”
Maybe we can just leave? That's usually what I do.”
No, look at the way the hallway dims down at that end. There's nothing down there. If you try to go that way you'll just get lost and not get back.”
Line walked down to the end of the hall and tried to peer around the corner. “I don't know”, he said, coming back, “there might be something down there, but it is pretty dark.”
Trust me, there's not. Anyway, do you see this red thing here? If you pull on this, it makes a terrible noise and the strangers panic. I think I can use this to get us out of here.”
You should let her finish speaking first.”
What's the point? She'll never get us home. She's hopeless.”
Don't be mean to her. She's a good person.”
He scoffed at that suggestion. “She has no 'killer instinct'. These strangers stand between us and getting home. Unless you're prepared to do what you have to do, you shouldn't be here.”
Line shook his head. “That doesn't sound at all like what I do.”
You're all just lucky there's someone like me to bring the night back every morning. Is she done yet?”
Doesn't seem like it. Hey, did it just get a little bit darker in here?”
Oh great, we're running out of time. Forget her, I'm just going to pull it.”
He reached towards the little red box, but his hand went right through it and the wall behind it. He tried to steady himself, but it was too late, he toppled forward. He put up his paws to catch himself, but they caught only water as they plunged into the ocean. His head went under, and he quickly pulled himself back out. Their ship was not far away. Banshee and Line also emerged from the water. Banshee was coughing and Line was trying to help her.

What did you tell them?”, he demanded of her, but of course she couldn't answer him, she just spat out a mouthful of water as she tried to catch her breath.
Looks like you win”, Line said, patting her head as they got back on board the ship, though Banshee didn't seem to share his enthusiasm. “That was fun! We should do this again sometime.”
Does she really have secret competence?” he wondered as he dragged himself up the ladder. Surely she couldn't have come up with a better scary story than he did, that was just absurd.

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