The Promise of a New Year

Submitted into Contest #27 in response to: Write a short story that ends with a twist.... view prompt

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Mystery

It was the same each year. First came the feeling, then the need, and then, finally, the blood. 

He didn’t let himself wonder often. Wondering inevitably lead to longing. Longing required not just acknowledging desire, but embracing it with all the fierceness of a lovers hold. And desire was so very dangerous. 

But there were evenings, when the time between midnight and twilight seamed never-ending, that he couldn’t stop himself from asking. Would it be any different if he allowed the indulgence more than once every twelve months? Would things be… easier, simpler perhaps…. Less intense? But there was no point in such inquiries. He’d never learn the answers. He’d never let himself find out. 

They weren’t hard to find, the two-legged predators. Sometimes they even seemed to come to him. It was almost as if they sensed that tonight, this one night a year, was his night to hunt. Instead of driving them away in fear, it was as if this subconscious awareness beckoned them closer. Humans tended to take being likened to an animal as an insult. This always amused him. After all, no four-legged predator would be so foolish as to deliberately cross paths with a stronger, more powerful hunter. 

There were times when he knew the name of his pray before the evening began. A passerby on the street had caught his attention, or he’d noticed someone from work. His office job was one where the staff constantly rotated. This made it ideal. None of his coworkers would think it at all strange if the person in the desk across from there’s stopped showing up to work one day. They would just assume that they’d been replaced by the newest higher. Who themselves would probably be replaced within the week. 

Tonight though, he didn’t have an intended target. Truth be told, he rather liked it this way. As satisfying as it was to hunt someone who’d he’d been watching for weeks, it was somehow even more thrilling to be surprised by whom he would choose. 

It was no accident that he selected this particular evening to do his work. Humans had a habit of overestimating their abilities and underestimating their weaknesses, a detrimental combination at the best of times. Add in high spirits, copious amounts of alcohol, and the excuse of celebrating the new year to lower their inhibitions, and it had the potential to be downright deadly. Take the woman currently dancing on the bar infront of him. By his count she’d ingested at least fifteen glasses of whiskey already, and showed no signs of stopping. She wore heals which were so high that they gave her at least a good two inches of extra height, they also slipped repeatedly on the slick surface of the bar. All it would take was one misstep, one fall, one landing at the right, or wrong, angle. She could hit her head, break her neck, get skewered through the chest by the sharp edge of a table. Humans were extremely fragile creatures. And yet, they seemed utterly unaware of how close their actions often put them to being one careless step away from death. 

What little sense they did possess, he’d noticed, was often eclipsed by their emotions. If there was one thing humans were good at, it was deceiving their own intellect. Take the man sitting at the cardtable across the room. He’d just gambled away his last sent, and yet their he was, prepared to take a lone out from another player in order to continue participating in the game. He didn’t need to dip into the man’s mined to know that he would repeat this cycle until he won back the money he lost, or was killed by one of the men currently patting him on the back and offering to pay for his remaining spins. The ladder, he felt sure, was exceedingly more likely than the former. 

Neither carelessness nor stupidity were the criteria by which he selected his pray however. If they were, he’d be hard-pressed to find a human who was not suitable for hunting. With a final glance around the bar, he rose to his feet. There were plenty of fools here, drunkards, gamblers, swindlers, but no one who warranted his attention. Not a single person here was worthy of being his pray. 

Tossing a sizeable tip on to the counter, he exited the bar. He didn’t envy the human who ran it, tasked as she was with ensuring that none of its inhabitance caused irreputable damage. As best as he could tell, this meant allowing fights to break out as they would,and intervening only when the resulting injuries appeared to have life threatening potential.      

Stepping outside, he was hit by a wave of cold air. He tilted his head back, parting his lips slightly as though drinking in the frosty darkness. He glimpsed the moon as it appeared momentarily between gathering clouds. A storm was coming.

 It was then, as he stood with his face tilted up to the night-sky, that he found what he had been looking for all evening. The perfect pray. 

It was New Year’s Eve, surely no one would be at Burger King? Susan had counted on the validity of this assumption when she’d agreed to take the children out. Ordinarily she wouldn’t have driven anywhere on a night like this. But the kids had been cooped up inside all day while she cramp to finish in time for her deadline. She felt she owed them some reward for their good behavior. If she was being honest with herself, she also felt guilty over knowing that when they went back to school they would have to hear all the other kids talk about the vacations they’d gone on, the toys they’d gotten for Christmas, the play dates they’d had with friends. 

She’d done her best with the presents, she always did, but there was only so much she could afford. Once the rent was payed, the groceries bought, and the car payments made, there was precious little left to spare. The girls had been good about it, they usually were. But somehow this only made her feel more guilty. 

“Can we get out now?”, Amanda asked breaking into Susan’s train of thought. Her oldest daughter wore an impatient expression and had one hand already on the door handle. 

“In a minute,” Susan replied absently. She glanced around the car, trying to rid herself of the feeling that she was forgetting something. Purse, phone, keys…

A commotion from the backseat interrupted her mental inventory. “Hey give that back.” It was impossible for her to tell whether it was Nattily or Sam who’d made the demand. Her seven-year-old twins sounded nearly as identical as they looked. A moment later she had her answer. 

“Sam took Phoebe, make her give her back.” Phoebe was Natalie’s beloved stuffed rabbet.

With an exasperated sigh Susan turned to face the backseat. “Seatbelts off, hats and gloves on, and we’re leaving Phoebe here.” Ignoring the girl’s grumblings, she turned off the car. Grabbing her purse from the passenger seat Susan swung open her door and stepped out into the night beyond. 


He watched the woman as she crossed the parking lot, her three younglings circling her like a flock of geese. He noted with interest that two of them were identical. Their every feature was the same, but he need only brush the very surface of their minds to see that their personalities couldn’t have been more different. One was quiet and shy, while the other loved nothing more than being the center of attention. One liked shiny things that glittered, the other was more interested in furred and feathered creatures. 

His kind never had twins and the phenomena in humans had always fascinated him. He wondered if being the mirror image of another person meant that you felt doubled, or split in two. 

 They reached the entrance to Burger King and Susan pushed open the door gratefully, relieved to be out of the cold night air.

As they went inside she instructed, “Nattily you can go pick a seat. Sam please get some forks and napkins, straws to. Amanda come here and help me carry the food.” She had found long ago that the girls behaved better when she gave them each a task. It wasn’t surprising. Everyone liked being needed. 

 She was rummaging in her purse looking for her wallet when she realized. That was what she’d forgotten in the car. She’d taken it out to get gas earlier and never put it back. 

 

He was surprised when she stepped out of the building mere moments after entering it. Her gaze flicked between the dark stretch of pavement before her and the brightly lit windows of the restaurant behind. She doesn’t like leaving her younglings in there without her, even for just a short time. He didn’t need to dip into her mind to know this, it was written so clearly in her expression that even a human couldn’t have failed to see it. 

She was half-way across the parking lot, when a shadow detached itself from its fellows. She remained utterly oblivious as it crept toward her.

 The figure’s every movement spoke of a predator stalking it’s pray. Maybe it even fancied itself a hunter. It was stealthy enough, for a human. 

He let it get within striking distance of her. Perhaps it was a risk, but it was well worth it. He let it think it had won. He let it think its pray was in its grasp. He let it think it was the predator. And then he sprang.


February 02, 2020 22:15

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