Ryan's Story 8 - The Hunter
Ryan tossed and turned in the bed, caught in the throes of a nightmare. He was drenched with sweat, throwing off the bed covers with every violent twist and turn. In his nightmare, he saw a confusing mishmash of images. An old and imposing stone building on the bank of the Thames, a pair of yellow eyes and a scaled claw, his old home back in Truro, a dusty and ornate mirror locked in an attic, Cliffport’s beach fracturing into a thousand pieces, and the sensation of falling through darkness towards a circle of fire. A sinister hooded figure towered over him as he fell, laughing as he screamed.
He woke with a yell, sitting up in the bed. Heart racing, he flopped back down onto his pillow. He tried to pace his breathing, calming himself down but it was difficult. The nightmare was still fresh in his mind. Glancing at his watch, he saw that it was the early hours of Saturday morning. “Get out of my head,” he whispered lightly thumping the side of his head as he lay there. He’d suffered from nightmares ever since the night of the fire, but lately they seemed to be increasing in frequency and intensity. Ryan lay there for another hour trying to forget the nightmare before he fell asleep again.
The next morning, a bleary-eyed Ryan pulled himself out of bed. Despite still being fatigued from the restless night, he still managed to get himself down to the bus station before the others. Today was the day of “The Big Trip” as Tommy had taken to calling it. They had been planning it for most of the last week. It wasn’t that big of a trip really, just a bus ride into nearby Plymouth to go see a movie, get something to eat and generally hang out for the day. He slouched back on the wooden bench; his eyes closed listening to the sound of the traffic, the gulls over head and the gentle sound of water washing against the beach.
Ben, Jason and Tommy emerged from an alley across the road from the bus station. Since they all lived in East Cliffport, they had met in the park and walked down to the lower town together. As they crossed the road, Ryan cracked open his eyes at the sound of their voices. “Hey guys.”
Jason waved as they reached the bus stop. “Geez Ryan, you look rough,” he said as he saw the shadows around Ryan’s eyes.
“Yeah,” Ryan said as he yawned and stretched, “bad night. Didn’t get much sleep.”
“You still up the movie?” Ben asked.
“Are you kidding?” Ryan said sitting up, “I’ve been looking forward to this movie for months.”
The weekend bus service in Cornwall left much to be desired, especially outside the major towns and they had at least half an hour before the next bus was due. Across the road from the bus stop was a coffee shop; one of those soulless multinational brands that seemed to spread everywhere like a virus, even here in the heart of rural England, overcharging for the foul tasting “fair trade” liquid they called coffee. Ethical considerations aside, Ryan suddenly felt the urge to have large amounts of caffeine injected into his bloodstream. However, since that treatment was currently unavailable on the NHS, a large cup of coffee would have to suffice. Taking advantage of the long wait until the next bus, the four boys descended on the coffee shop, Ryan ordering something with lots of caffeine and very little milk in an attempt to “jump-start” his system. Refreshed or caffeinated, they hurried back to the bus stop just in time to see bus round the corner.
Sitting in the back corner as the boys left the coffee shop; a pale-skinned man got up and put a still full disposable cup of coffee into a nearby bin. He followed them out of the shop and watched them board the bus and depart. Seth squinted and flinched involuntarily as he stepped out into the sunlight. “This is going to take a little getting used to,” he said putting on a pair of cheap sunglasses. Across the road from the vampire, Ryan boarded the bus with his friends oblivious to the fact that he was being watched. Walking over to the car park next to the train station, Seth smiled as the bus pulled away. He’d overheard the boys’ conversation so he knew exactly where they were going; all he needed to do was to get Ryan by himself. “This is almost too easy,” he said with confidence.
The bus ride into Plymouth took nearly an hour as the bus drove along the winding country roads following the line of coast rather than journeying inland to take the dual-carriage way into Plymouth. They nipped inland every couple of miles as the roads passed through small villages or by one of the numerous holiday resorts that lined the Cornish southern coast. With bright May sunshine filtering through dappled, puffball clouds, the scenery they passed through on the journey was breathtaking. As they passed through the village of Crafthole, they cut inland across the Rame Peninsular arriving in the Cornish town of Torpoint on the banks of the River Tamar. Only a short chain ferry ride later, and they were in Plymouth on the Devon side of the river.
By the time the bus pulled in to the bus station, it was midday and they had less than fifteen minutes to get to the cinema. They darted across the busy road that ran alongside the bus station and into the nearby shopping centre. Weaving in and out of the throng of shoppers, they ran as fast as they could through the centre, at one point ducking around a concession stand to avoid the ever-present gaze of the mall security. It didn’t matter that none of them were up to mischief, “rentacops” tended to see all teenagers the same way, potential troublemakers and shoplifters. As it was, one of the security guards yelled at Ryan and Jason to take off their caps and hoods as the boys ran past him. Like most shopping centres across the country in recent years, they had introduced a ban on wearing baseball caps and hoods. They got to the cinema on the far side of the shopping centre with just minutes to spare, grabbing the last few tickets for Iron Man, which had been selling fast since it had only opened that Friday.
“That was frickin awesome,” Ryan said in awe, almost stumbling out of the cinema in a daze. For over two hours, he had sat enraptured watching the action on the screen. As they walked towards the food court, Ryan wasn’t the only one geeking out over the movie. Ben seemed to have enjoyed it almost as much as him.
Sitting on a bench opposite the entrance to the cinema, Seth was pretending to read a book while waiting for Ryan to come out. Seeing them exit the cinema, he waited a minute before putting the stolen book down on the bench and following his target.
The food court was noisy, full of families and screaming kids running between tables. Like most such places, it was an arena of tables and benches surrounded by a ring of fast food outlets serving a variety of “food.” Burgers, chips, cheap curries, kebabs, pizza and subway sandwiches; all the types of food that gave nutritionists heart attacks. Suddenly very hungrily, Ryan attacked his burger and fries as they decided what to do next. “What about HMV?” Jason suggested. “There’s a couple of CDs I wanna get that I can’t get back home.”
“Is that the one by the Pavilions?” Ben asked and Jason nodded. “Do you mind if we pop into Chimera Games on the way? I need some new minis for Wednesday’s game.”
“And I wouldn’t mind checking out the new comics,” Ryan said with a mouthful of fries.
A look passed between Tommy and Jason. “As if that’s the only thing you’ll be ‘checking out’.” Tommy said laughing.
Ryan paused, a handful of fries poised just in front of his mouth. “What’s that supposed to mean?”
Jason snorted. “The girl behind the counter dude, I seen the way you look at her. She’s pretty cute for a geek.”
“Shut up.” Jason ducked as Ryan chucked his remaining fries at him. “It’s not like that. And just because she works in a gaming store, it doesn’t make her a geek,” Ryan explained, “her dad owns the store and she just helps out on weekends and on the school holidays.”
Ben nudged Ryan with his elbow, “Sounds like you’ve gotten to know her pretty well.” Ryan started blushing, failing to find the words for an effective retort.
“Dude, why don’t you just ask her out?” Tommy asked.
Ryan suddenly pushed his chair back from the table and stood up. “I gotta go.”
“Hey wait,” Ben said, “we were only joking.”
Ryan turned back towards the table with a faintly bemused expression on his face. “Erm ... noooo,” he said slowly, “I gotta go ... to the toilet.”
“Oh ... oh,” said Ben, realising what Ryan had meant, “we’ll be over by the cash machines outside.”
Across the food court, Seth was sitting at a table that a family had kindly vacated for him when he had “asked” them too. He scowled as he sat there, trying to eavesdrop on the boys’ conversation but the food court was too noisy. Even with his enhanced hearing, he was unable to pick up more than a few stray words above the racket caused by the hundreds of people. As he watched, he saw Ryan get up from the table heading towards the toilets. “This is it,” Seth thought getting up and heading in the same direction; the toilets were near one of the exits and around the corner. The boy’s friends would lose sight of him making it much easier for Seth to remove him without their interference. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw Ryan’s friends get up from their table. Seth froze but he was relieved when they started walking in the opposite direction away from Ryan.
Ryan flushed the toilet and stepped out of the cubicle. As he walked over to the sink, he was suddenly grabbed from behind. Span around, he was shoved backwards into the wall, hitting its tiled surface hard. Ryan yelled in shock and pain, lashing out at the man gripping him by the shoulders. He beat at the man’s tattooed and muscular arms to no effect.
Seth frowned; the brat was making too much noise; he needed to get this finished quickly before any busybodies tried to interfere. The vampire grabbed Ryan’s flailing fists and pinned them with one hand above the boy’s head. With his other hand, he stifled Ryan’s cries, clamping it over the boy’s mouth. Using his grip on his jaw, he forced Ryan to look at him, his eyes meeting the boy’s eyes. Eyes that betrayed the fear the boy was in.
For his part Ryan continued to struggle but as their eyes met, his body froze. As hard as he tried, he couldn’t move a single muscle, nor could he muster enough energy to scream from behind the hand. It was as if he had suddenly become completely paralysed.
Seth learned forward, smiling slightly. “Listen up kid,” he whispered quietly into Ryan’s left ear, “if you don’t want me to hurt you any more than I have to, you are going to do exactly what I say.”
At that moment, the door to the toilets opened and two men in their mid-twenties walked in. They froze at the door as they saw a tall and well-built man pinning a terrified boy to the wall, a hand over the boy’s mouth preventing him from calling for help. “What the hell?” One of them said taking a step forward. Seth turned to face him, snarling in anger. As he did so, his concentration slipped and his hold over Ryan’s mind faltered. Ryan suddenly felt able to move again and he wasted no time, viciously kneeing his attacker in the groin. Seth grunted and lost his grip; Ryan wriggled free and ran for the door, barrelling past the men.
Seth recovered just in time to see Ryan disappear through the door. He turned towards the door, intent on following his quarry but the two men moved to stand in his way. One of them pulled out a knife with a long serrated blade, brandishing it in the manner of someone skilled and experienced in its use. “You aint going nowhere mate until you tell us what you were doing to that kid.”
“I haven’t got time for this shit.” He barged between the men, shoving them aside effortlessly with his enhanced strength. One of them hit the mirror above the sink, cracking the shatterproof glass as he struck it headfirst. The other man flew into one of the stalls and the door broke off its hinges with the impact. Rather than finishing off the two men, Seth simply left them lying stunned on the floor and walked out of the toilets. Standing outside, the vampire scanned the food court but he couldn’t see Ryan; the boy had melted into the crowd. “Shit,” he muttered under his breath as he headed towards the nearest exit.
Ryan stumbled down the escalator towards the street frantically looking over his shoulder. He ducked behind a phone box just as the man who had attacked him stopped at the top of the escalator looking out across the street. A short distance away, not far from where he was hiding was his friends. He looked again towards the top of the escalator.
As he stood the top of the escalator, looking out over the busy street, he saw the boy peer out from behind a phone box. Seth smiled and began to force his way down the escalator. Realising that he had been spotted, the boy bolted, running down the street. Seth looked ahead and saw where the boy was running, directly towards his friends. The vampire knew that for the time being at least, he’d missed his opportunity to grab the kid. He’d have to back off and wait for another opportunity.
As Tommy and Jason messed around on the back seat of the bus, Ben looked over at Ryan. His friend was staring out of the window, ignoring their antics. Ben suspect that he wasn’t really looking at anything. He had been quiet since they had left the food court and had seemed distracted. Ben got up and sat down in the vacant seat next to Ryan. He didn’t seem to notice him sitting down next to him so Ben put a hand on Ryan’s shoulder. When he did so, he was surprised when Ryan jumped at his touch; a reaction he’d never seen from Ryan before. “You ok Ry?”
Ryan blinked a couple of times, released a sigh and seemed to collapse into the seat. “I’m fine,” he grunted.
“You sure? You’ve been a little distant.”
“I said I’m fine,” Ryan snapped turning back to the window.
Ben’s expression hardened. “Be that way then.” He got up and rejoined Tommy and Jason.
“What’s his problem?” Ryan heard Jason whisper behind him.
He sat in silence for the rest of the bus ride back into Cliffport. Lost in thought, he barely waved goodbye as they parted ways at the bus stop leaving Ryan to walk back home alone. Clouds had gathered and the sun was beginning to sink. Already it was grazing the tops of the hills surrounding Cliffport casting much of the town in an evening shadow. A chill wind was blowing in from the Channel. He trudged through the town, walking alongside the river towards the footbridge. Ryan was still shaken by the earlier events and he couldn’t get the man’s face out of his mind, the curse of having an eidetic memory.
Walking on autopilot, he eventually found himself on the breakwater having absent-mindedly wandered past the footbridge. Ryan wearily sat down for a few moments of rest, legs dangling over the edge of the quayside. He picked up a flat stone, tossed it once in his hand, and threw it across the water watching as it skimmed several times across the surface. Its simple motion caused a small smile to form on his face as he sent another stone skimming across the water. Several years ago, on a hot Saturday evening during the summer school holidays, Ryan and his father had sat on the banks of the River Truro skimming stones just like this. A perfect summer memory, one of the last before his life changed.
A chill suddenly overcame him, interrupting the pleasant memory as a shiver ran down his spine. The streetlights were starting to flick on along the sea front and evening was beginning to set in. Standing up, he pulled up his hood and starting walking back towards the footbridge with his hands stuffed into the hoodie’s front pouch. The sound of footsteps on stone caused him to look up. A figure had stepped onto the breakwater heading towards him. The man stopped a dozen feet away and looked up. As the light from the streetlight illuminated the man’s face Ryan froze, his heart starting to race. The man was the one that had attacked him in Plymouth; he’d followed him back to Cliffport. Glancing around, Ryan suddenly realised that the breakwater and seafront was completely deserted. He was alone with the man.
Seth smiled as he saw the fear flash across the boy’s face. He cracked his knuckles as he looked at the boy. “You should’ve come quietly when you had the chance kid. Now, I’m gonna beat you to a pulp and you’ll still be coming with me.”
Ryan took a step back. “What do you want with me?” As he said this, the smile on the face of the man in front of him widened. His incisor teeth, already pointed, elongated into inch-long fangs. Bone ridges seemed to form under the skin, accenting the area around the eyes and cheekbone. The sudden physical transformation shocked Ryan and the boy stumbled backwards. One word flashed through his mind, “vampire.” As the vampire’s eyes briefly glowed from within, Ryan realised why he had been unable to move when he had been grabbed earlier that day. The vampire must have hypnotised him somehow.
“Right now,” Seth said, “I’ll settle for just hearing you beg for mercy.” He started running towards the boy, intent on ramming him to the floor.
As the adrenaline began to course through him, Ryan shook off the shock as he began to realise the danger he was in. He prepared himself for a fight, one that his life may depend on. The vampire was charging towards him and Ryan ran forward. At the last moment, just as Seth was about to strike, Ryan dropped to the floor into a crouch and rolled forward. Seth was moving too quickly and was surprised by his quarry’s unorthodox manoeuvre. He stumbled into Ryan, tripping over him and falling to the floor. Ryan continued his roll, rolling onto his feet and turning to face the vampire. As the vampire scrambled to his feet, Ryan pivoted on one foot bringing the other around in a spin-kick. The vampire was too fast, he saw they attack coming. Seth grabbed Ryan’s foot, moving almost too fast for Ryan’s eyes to follow. The boy twisted in mid-air, wrenching his foot free from the vampire’s grip as his free foot whipped around and struck the vampire on the face. Landing on his feet, he followed the kick with a two-fisted punch to the vampire’s chest. Seth reeled backwards under the assault, taken by surprise by the boy’s skill and completely unprepared for the ferocity of the attack. He decided to take the “kid gloves” off and start treating this seriously but before he got a chance to retaliate, the boy had turned and fled.
Ryan had quickly realised that he was no match for the vampire; the man was too fast for him. As the vampire shook itself out of its daze, Ryan ran along the breakwater towards the town desperate to put as much distance between him and the creature. He ran through car park that lay between the breakwater and the rest of the town, the floodlights and CCTV cameras offering a brief illusion of safety.
“Shit,” Seth thought, “this kid is fast.” He’d been surprised by the boy’s speed, but he’d been more surprised by that kick. There had been no mention of karate lessons or martial arts training in the file that Mark had given him. It was obvious though that Ryan had more than just a little skill in the art of self-defence. When he dragged the boy back to London, he’d be having words with his brother about this. Despite the head start, Seth was catching up with the boy as they entered the car park. He knew that despite this, if the boy managed to get into town it would be next to impossible to grab him without causing a scene. But Seth had had enough of this job. At this point the vampire didn’t have a problem with leaving a few mutilated corpses if it meant finally getting the job done. However, if everything was in place like it was supposed to be, it wouldn’t come to that. Seth had an ace up his sleeve.
Ryan ran across the car park, glancing behind him as he ran. Although the vampire chasing him was gaining, Ryan was confident that he could stay ahead of him long enough to reach the high street. Hopefully there, amongst the restaurants and pubs along the main road through town, he’d manage to find some help. Ryan darted around the side of a white van straight into an oncoming fist. The fist struck him in the abdomen and he collapsed to his knees struggling to breathe. As Ryan looked up to see who had hit him, something hard struck him on the back of the head. White pain flashed across his vision and he slumped to the floor unconscious.
Seth walked over to where his partner, Jared, was standing over the Ryan’s unconscious form. Sneering in contempt, the vampire kicked the boy in the side. He was about to kick him again, this time in the head when Jared grabbed him by the shoulder and pulled him aside. “Hey, you said we needed the brat alive and in one piece.”
“Shut it, blood bag, he’ll still be alive after I’ve finished.” Seth said as he shook himself free.
“Hey, as much as I’d enjoy seeing you whale on some kid, perhaps here and now aint the best time and place?” Jared saw the conflicting emotions and desires flash across Seth’s face before the vampire realised that Jared was probably right.
“Fine, I can wait.” Seth picked Ryan up and slung him over his shoulder as Jared opened the van’s side door.
“Hey fugly,” a voice yelled out from across the car park, “leave him alone!” Seth and Jared turned around to see a blond-haired young man slide over the bonnet of a car and start running towards them. Daniel pulled his doubled-bladed boomerang formed by a pair of connected knives with long curved blades and serrated edges from his belt and charged towards the pair.
Seth turned to Jared with a bemused look on his face. “You got this one?” Jared shrugged and pulled the pistol tucked into his pants that he’d used to knock Ryan out. Quickly aiming it, he pulled the trigger three times in quick succession and Daniel crumpled to the floor. “We better go, somebody might’ve heard that.” Said Seth as he roughly threw Ryan into the van and got in with him. Jared scooted around Seth and climbed into the driver’s seat.
From behind a nearby stone bench, Ben watched as the van tore out of the car park, its wheels squealing. Ryan’s attitude on the bus had worried him, although the terse brush off had annoyed him. Something had obviously been bothering him, something that his friend had felt unable to talk about. So, after saying goodbye to Tommy and Jason, he had doubled back intending to head over to Ryan’s house to talk to him. By chance, his route through the town had taken him along the seafront and he had seen Ryan’s confrontation with the man on the breakwater. Ben had been ready to run over and help when he’d seen the other man with the gun. He was ashamed to admit to himself that he’d been scared and that his fear had made him hide. From his hiding place, he had done nothing but watch his friend get ambushed and knocked to the floor. Then, a man had appeared out of nowhere, charging across the car park to the rescue only to be shot.
As soon as the van had left, he emerged from behind the bench, ran over to the man lying on the ground, and knelt next to him. He wasn’t moving, and there were three bullet holes in the man’s t-shirt. Ben pulled his mobile out of his pocket and started to dial 999. Daniel’s hand suddenly reached out and grabbed Ben’s hand, stopping him from dialling. “Don’t,” he said coughing.
“But ... you were shot!” Ben said stumbling backwards to sit on his behind.
Daniel sat up groaning. “Yeah, I hate it when that happens.” He lifted up his shirt to reveal a bulletproof vest with three bullets embedded in its front. “That’s why I wear this.”
“What about my friend?” Ben asked. “Those men took him!”
Standing up, Daniel looked down at the young boy sitting at his feet. There was something familiar about him but Daniel couldn’t put his finger on it. Regardless the boy looked worried. “The police can’t help your friend. If anything, they might put him in even more danger.” He said trying to reassure him. “But that doesn’t mean that no one’s going to help him.”