Find the Others…before they find you.
Looking for an urban fantasy short story with lots of action and a bit of creepiness? Finished reading Poison and Honey and want more of the characters and world? You’ll probably enjoy Strange Hunt.
Just make sure you read Part 1 first, or else you’ll probably be pretty lost.
Sal’s magic compass took them down a back road, bringing them to a dilapidated house. Woods covered most of the large property, and a sign at the end of the dirt driveway warned about trespassing and how the building was condemned. It was legible thanks to a nearby streetlamp, but as they crept down the driveway, the trees blocked the light, and the thin sliver of moon shrouded in clouds overhead was no help.
Leigh couldn’t see exactly how rundown the house was, but she was glad it was abandoned. If a family had still lived there, the Others would have taken them all.
Unless the Others were the reason it was abandoned? No, it looked like it had been that way for a long time. Portals to Otherworld were difficult to open (according to Sal, anyway), so the Others would gather up captives and often wait days to bring them all through at once. But they rarely spent more than a week in this world, and they never hunted in the same place twice.
As Sal, Leigh, and Garrett edged around the building, an eerie green light became visible in the distance. They snuck toward it, avoiding the open backyard with its broken swing set and staying in the shadows behind the trees. It was slow going, each of them stepping carefully to avoid snapping twigs and crunching leaves. Voices drifted through the air, the angry tone understandable even if the Others’ language wasn’t. Sal was the only one who spoke it. He’d spent decades trapped in Otherworld, the only person Leigh knew of who’d ever escaped. He couldn’t translate, though. Some of the Others had exceptional hearing and could pick up even a whisper.
A dark shape lay ahead, and as they drew closer, Leigh recognized it as a tractor. Sal motioned them toward it. Keeping low, they darted out from the trees and raced for it. Leigh held her breath, but the arguing voices continued. No one had noticed them. The tractor smelled like oil and rust, and it had been abandoned for so long that vines were crawling up its side. Hidden behind it, Leigh risked a glance around its side.
There was a small clearing in the woods. The green light came from weird floating orbs about the size of volleyballs that looked like smoky, glowing bubbles. They drifted lazily through the air, illuminating the Other from the bowling alley as he argued with a terrifying creature that looked like a cross between a woman and a praying mantis.
She had to be eight feet tall and was as thin as a rail. She was green—or maybe the green light tinted her exoskeleton. Transparent, insectoid wings reached from her back nearly to the ground, and her long legs had one too many joints. There was something cat-like about her feet, only clawed toes touching the ground. Wispy antennae sprouted from her forehead, and her face might have looked almost human if not for the horrifying mandibles. They looked more suited to ripping flesh than speaking.
Lying in the overgrown grass about seven feet from the Others were their captives. Leigh counted four: a plump, middle-aged woman, a teenage boy, and two whom she couldn’t make out. Leafy vines wrapped around them like chains, and one cried softly, their breathy sobs audible even over the argument.
Sal pointed at himself and Garrett and made a circular motion, gesturing to the other side of the clearing. Then he pointed to Leigh and directed her to the captives.
Message received: he and Garrett would distract the Others while Leigh freed the people they’d captured.
Sal and Garrett rushed back into the woods, and Leigh waited. Her legs began to cramp from crouching in the same position for so long. The Others had lowered their voices, though they still sounded like they were quarrelling. Their captive’s sobs were the only sounds in the woods. No hooting owls or chirping crickets. It was like the wildlife had sensed something unnatural and cleared out.
The mantis woman jabbed a claw in the direction of the road, and Leigh figured she knew what the argument was about. He was complaining about getting attacked, and she was telling him to get back to work. Nice to know ignorant, unsympathetic bosses were a thing in two worlds.
A crack like a branch snapping came from the woods on the opposite side of the clearing, sounding ten times louder in the silence. The Others froze, sharing a quick look at each other. Then they both stalked off into the trees.
Leigh dashed out from the behind the tractor the second they were gone. The middle-aged woman jerked, probably startled at the dark figure running toward her. But her eyes widened when Leigh knelt in front of her.
A burly thirty-something man with a beard squirmed and made a frantic grunt, the leafy vines gagging him. Leigh put a finger over her lips. She looked up at the trees, but there was no sign of the Others coming back to investigate the noise—yet. The teenage boy craned his neck to stare at Leigh, but the last captive, another woman, didn’t move.
Leigh pulled the knife from her left sleeve and began cutting the vine binding the middle-aged woman. The thing was tougher than it looked, and Leigh couldn’t cut too hard for fear of slicing into the woman. It was agonizingly slow work, and Leigh kept shooting quick glances at the trees, expecting to see the mantis woman scuttle back on her creepy stilt-like legs.
Finally, the thick vine snapped. Leigh pulled, unwinding it as best she could, but it wrapped around and around the woman’s body from her upper arms all the way to her ankles.
A burst of purple fire exploded about forty feet behind the tree line. Something roared, a furious inhuman sound that made all the captives flinch.
Sal and Garrett must have led the Others as far away as they could. Now the fight was on.
The vines around the middle-aged woman loosened enough for her to wriggle out. Leigh jabbed a finger in the direction of the road. “Go,” she whispered. The Others could return at any second, and these people would be helpless even if they weren’t tied up. Leigh wanted as many of them to get away as possible.
But the woman didn’t go. She rushed to the teenage boy and tried to wrench the vines off him. Leigh opened her mouth to tell her off but then changed her mind. Honestly, she was impressed. The woman had just been kidnapped by literal monsters who defied human comprehension. Most people would be gibbering messes who ran screaming.
Leigh pulled the knife from her right sleeve and offered it to her.
The woman nodded a quick thank-you and got to work on freeing the boy. Leigh turned her attention to the bearded man, worried that the other captured woman had yet to move. Lying on the ground, she was facing away from Leigh, who couldn’t tell if she was still alive or not.
Something grunted in the distance, and she heard the rustle of a body scrambling over leaves. More purple fire flared, and a snarl filled the woods that Leigh recognized as coming from Garrett’s wolf form. Were he and Sal okay? Leigh’s hands shook—not a good thing when she was using a knife so close to another person. She wanted to run into the woods, to jump the Others from behind and make sure they didn’t hurt—
For a second, her hands went still. She wanted to make sure they didn’t hurt her friends.
She cut through the last thread of vine. The bearded man twisted and pulled, getting free in less than five seconds. Then he jumped up, tripping slightly, and sprinted away.
Now that was the reaction Leigh was used to.
The middle-aged woman was still working on the vines around the boy, so Leigh moved to the last captive. She was a younger woman wearing only one heel, her right foot bare, dirty, and bleeding. Eyes wide, she didn’t seem to see Leigh when she rolled her over, but the woman wasn’t dead. Trembling, she must have been in shock.
Leigh pulled on the vine and pressed a knife to it. The middle-aged woman had finally cut the vines around the boy and was helping him out of them. If they could just—
A furious screech made Leigh jump, and the mantis woman burst from the trees. The boy screamed, and Leigh jumped to her feet. She had to protect them. They should’ve been long gone by now.
The mantis woman flew across the clearing, massive wings buzzing. Drool dripped from her mandibles, and she clicked her claws together in anticipation. A primal fear seized Leigh’s chest, but she held her ground, clenching the handle of her knife. She was the only thing standing between that monster and the innocent people behind her.
She ran forward, planning to duck beneath the claws and stab at the mantis woman’s abdomen. But before she got close, Garrett barreled out of the woods. Still in the form of a wolf, he overtook the mantis woman in a few short bounds and pounced on her.
They hit the ground with a thud and rolled, growling and biting. Leigh couldn’t follow the quick, vicious attacks, but the next thing she knew, Garrett’s pained whine filled the air. He backed away from the mantis woman, limping, the green light revealing blood gushing down his hind leg.
Leigh charged forward. The mantis woman shot at Garrett impossibly fast. Garrett could barely stand; he wouldn’t be able to defend himself. All it would take was one slash to his neck to kill him. Leigh’s legs burned, her chest growing tight. She was racing across the grass, but it wasn’t enough. She would never intercept the mantis woman in time.
No, not Garrett. Not when the last thing Leigh had done was accidently hurt his feelings. Not before she made it up to him, even if that meant going to his party and being awkward and irritated all night. He had so many people who cared about him, who’d miss him unbearably if he was gone, and Leigh… Leigh was one of them.
She stopped running. Then she aimed her knife and threw.
It sailed through the air, spinning tip over handle, and plunged through the mantis woman’s wing.
She shrieked and tumbled, her gossamer-thin wing shredded. Rolling to a stop right in front of Garrett, she couldn’t get out of the way before he opened his wide jaws and bit down on her head.
The meaty crunch made Leigh wince, and either the middle-age woman or the boy threw up noisily somewhere behind her. For a few seconds, everything was impossibly silent and still. Then Sal dashed out of the woods, clutching a fist of purple fire.
“The other one?” Leigh asked.
“Taken care of,” he replied. “Everyone okay?”
Garrett shifted back into human form. His jeans were torn and bloody where he’d gotten injured as a wolf, and he spit and wiped his mouth. Then he looked at Leigh.
“If I ever make fun of your knife-throwing hobby again, just smack me, okay?”
* * *
Back at the van, Leigh wiped down her knives with an old bandana. They’d left the Other’s captives at the clearing as soon as the boy had called the police. It seemed cruel to abandon them after such a traumatic experience—it was cruel, but they’d learned the hard way that it was necessary. Leigh had tried to stay once to comfort an abductee, and it had ended with her nearly getting arrested.
People didn’t believe in monsters. It was easier to blame a troubled woman with a criminal record for something they couldn’t explain.
So they’d left the captives—all except the middle-aged woman, who’d somehow followed them back to the strip mall parking lot where they’d left the van. About thirty cars were still parked in front of the bowling alley, where the muffled sound of music and crashing pins came uninterrupted, those inside not having the faintest idea what had happened.
Sal spoke with the woman in low tones about a dozen feet away. She didn’t look like much in her mom jeans and golf shirt, but her round face had a determined set to it as she argue with Sal—who was probably trying to convince her to go back to her life and forget this ever happened.
Garrett stuck out his tongue, making a face. “Ugh. My mouth tastes like how burnt plastic smells.”
Leigh ducked inside the van, finding her duffel bag and pulling out a water bottle. Wordlessly, she offered it to him.
“Thanks.” He swished the water around in his mouth and spit.
Sal had fixed up Garrett’s leg with a magic potion (No, really.), and Leigh didn’t have any injuries, but she was tired and knew he felt the same. She glanced at his blood-stained jeans, thinking back to that moment of terror when it had seemed like he was about to die.
“Will there be beer?” she asked.
“Huh?” He dragged his attention from Sal and the woman, who was saying something about how she was going to help them whether they liked it or not.
“At your party,” Leigh said. “You’ll have beer, right?”
“Tons of it.” Garrett kept his voice neutral—almost. “And cake. Sinfully delicious chocolate cake.”
Leigh forced herself not to fidget, unnerved by the hope in his gaze. “I guess I’ll stop by, then.”
Garrett had the kind of smile that didn’t just involve his mouth; his whole face lit up in happiness before he tried to shrug it off. “Cool.”
They leaned against the side of the van, enjoying the night in friendly silence.
Thank you for reading! I hope you enjoyed Strange Hunt. If you haven’t already, check out Poison and Honey, a novella where Leigh and co. take the fight to Otherworld.
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