She looked the part.

Picture perfect, model student; demure, submissive and harmless.

Anything but.

It was a classroom like any other; she’d been to so many schools in her field of work, they all pretty much looked the same after a while, cookie-cutter copies of each other. Even the students were similar; there were apple-polishers, brats, geeks and toughs.

She didn’t get involved with that – it could distract her at a key moment, and then it would be all over. If she was discovered for who and what she was, she would be at their mercy.

Which they didn’t possess in any case.

She was used to working alone anyway; she enjoyed her own company. Some predators work in packs, but she was a lone hunter. You couldn’t rely on anyone but yourself; she knew her own limits – she couldn’t judge anyone else’s. Less variable factors, and no one else to blame if things went to Hell and back.

And the critical moment was nearing – the prey vulnerable at the opportune instant.

Soon. Very soon.

“Good morning, class.” The droning monotone of the teacher’s voice wafted through the room like industrial smog; slow and heavy in the air.

“Good morning, Mr Randolph.” The entire class chorused together in response.

The leaden voice continued in its deadened litany. “Class, open your text books to page 57.”

She took her book out of her bag like the rest of her unknowing classmates and suppressed another quiver of anxiety. Very soon indeed, as the hunter rose within her blood, the predator’s battle-hymn awash within her mind. He opens his drawer to pull out his text … and then it would all start to happen.

All at once.

Monotone voice not even slightly altered through any emotion “It seems that someone has stolen my text. I’m sure the culprit thinks it is very funny, but I am not laughing.”

How could you? she thought. You wouldn’t even know how.

“Unless the guilty party reveals themselves, everyone is to stay in for an extra hour after classes have finished. It is in your best interest, if you know who the thief is, to turn them in.”

Unlikely. She’d made sure no one had seen her, and as invasive as they were, they hadn’t managed to greenlight security cameras within the classrooms. Yet.

If she would have allowed her emotions to show, her teeth would be bared in a grim smile. The threat of detention didn’t scare her. If she was successful, there wouldn’t be any. If she failed in her task, there still wouldn’t be any.

She’d be dead.

“Class, continue reading while I obtain another text. I will not be so easily thwarted by a thief.”

All eyes locked to open text, while mouths in unison said “Yes, Mr Randolph” in reply.

A minute after Mr Randolph had left; she arose quietly to follow him. Timing the journey beforehand, she knew it took him five minutes to return from the storage room; two and a half minutes there, two and a half minutes back.

She had ninety seconds.

Nimbly vaulting over the low fence separating the buildings, squeezing through the palings through the high outer fence, she raced around a more direct route to intercept her target.

Ahead of her quarry by about thirty seconds, she lay in wait. Soon hearing the stentorian echo of Mr Randolph’s footsteps ever drawing closer.

Door jangling open; long, drawn-out screech of thirsty hinges. Cat-quick, she darted inside behind the big, blocky figure of her teacher.

This was it. Final moment. For one of them, at least. She was good; this wasn’t the first time she’d killed one of them. Hopefully, it wouldn’t be her last.

Shut the door, make it quick. He’d heard the sound and turned to see her slim, short frame blocking the doorway, his massive form looming over her like the sword of Damocles.

“So, the book-thief reveals herself.” No surprise in his tone, no shock upon his face to see her there. Then again, she’d been taught that for them, emotions weren’t a natural reflex, they were poor actors.

One way to spot them, otherwise they just looked like real people, not the monstrous entities they were.

“Thief? Of books, you’re right. But at least I’m not a thief of life, some freaking VAMPIRE soul stealer like you.”

Keep calm. Use the strength of your rage, but don’t let it cloud your judgement. Self-control; what matters is that you succeed in your task, by whatever means.

Mr Randolph kept placidly staring at her as she wrestled with her wrath. His form bubbling and shifting like the surface of some mythical witch’s cauldron; changing into a bestial monstrosity of unimaginable horrors.

If her emotion and individuality had been drained properly, like the rest of her classmates, such a visage would have been mind-shattering, leaving her easy prey for the thing that had been her teacher.

She wondered why it had bothered to change its shape. After seeing unimaginable horror after unimaginable horror, week after week, you get pretty jaded.

The tiny silver spike struck true, slicing into the shoulder of the clawed arm that reached for her. The flesh of the Randolph-monster retreated from the pure metal as if scared to make contact with the shining missile. Dropping to the ground, the limb still flopped towards her limply, but it lacked its earlier ferocity, a blind, mindless organism reactively seeking its opponent.

As much as it resembled a werewolf, including its vulnerability to silver, a “real” lycanthrope would have bellowed its torment and surprise, but this pale mockery of the movie wolfman did neither. Just that deadpan face as the attached arm reached towards her, mimicking its defeated twin.

And met exactly the same fate. Foolish things. She’d considered the theory that they lacked the comprehension of human rebellion – they were the hunters, but she was part of the herd. The herd was domesticated, fit only to be pliable and fed upon. It wasn’t able to resist. It wasn’t able to retaliate.

Perhaps in time, they would learn their logical little paradigm was wrong; there would always be a resistance, people who would reject the status quo and make their own choices, not just meekly accept the fâit accompli force-fed by those in power. And then they would learn at least one human emotion.


Cold, stark, naked fear.

“You think you’re in control, but it’s only because most of us don’t know any better. They wouldn’t even accept the truth if it was shown to them. But the truth that binds you and me is that the strong prey upon the weak, the natural order which we cannot escape.”

She wasn’t sure if the thing was listening, but she didn’t care. She said it for herself, a focus of her hate and anger against her people’s oppressors.

“And I am the stronger; I am the hunter, and you are my prey.” Punctuating her words with hastened slivers of moonlight, the silver spikes slamming into both legs, torso, and neck; one, two, three, four. Head, arms, body and legs flopped towards her with that tenacious sub-intelligence of true stimulus-response. Evading them, she put the monster out of its misery; her cute little perfume atomizer was loaded with silver nitrate, a few squirts and it was shrinking and shrivelling the near-mindless protoplasm like salt on a slug.

Soon enough, there would just be a few small scattered piles of dust to mark their battlefield. Mission accomplished, she was still alive, and it was dead.

Time to slip back into her role; sixty seconds later she was walking back into class.

Greeted by a student chiding her: “You left class without a pass; you’re gonna get in trouble when Mr Randolph gets back!”

She forbore to comment, But he’s not coming back. Let the kid have his petty, shameful joy over her predicament. Unknowing of how she’d saved him.

She took her seat, the silence of the strict schoolroom only broken by the relentless ticks of the wall clock.

With grim satisfaction, the hunter waited for the afternoon bell.



Adelaide, Australia

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