THE HUNTER • by Ed Kratz

Nick finished the magic chant for a new body and face. He liked the body and face: a sharper chin, darker eyes. But the hair was too long. Another chant and it shortened, just the right length to look wild and free. He was ready to hunt for another heart to break.

His cell phone rang. Kelly showed on the screen. He let it ring four times before he answered. “Yeah.”

“Nick, why don’t you call me back?”

Putting it on speaker, he held the phone away. Let her sweat. Will she cry?

“Please answer. I’ve never felt this way about anyone before.”

“And you never will again,” Nick said, and he hung up. Bang. Another one down. It rang again in a second. He didn’t answer. He was done with Kelly. Time to find his next girl.

***

Nick walked into a club he’d never been to before. The beat was pounding, thump, thump, thump. He stood at the edge of the dance floor. Where was she? The mean girl he’d chase next?

He circled. Then, as he often did in these hunts, Nick smelled chlorine wafting above the mingled perfume, cologne and sweat. The smell wasn’t real. It was a memory.

After his father died, Nick’s mother had married a man with two brawny twin sons. Nick was eight. They had a pool. Nick sat in the shade playing with his magic tricks, hating the way his thin ribs poked out in a bathing suit.

They ignored him.

Until one day.

Beat. Beat.

Nick picked up the heavy pressure of the rap. Yes. There she was. A girl dancing with a handsome young man, her hips gyrating sensually. She was the one. Nick was certain. He sensed the cruelty behind her facade. The man dancing with the girl was just a good looking guy. No meanness in him.

Beat. Beat.

One day the twins’  girlfriends urged the brothers to grab him, one on each leg and dip the struggling Nick into the pool.

Beat. Beat.

Dip. Dip.

Their parents were out. “You’re a magician,” they said, “Change into something.”

Beat. Beat.

Dip. Dip.

They left Nick crying on the side of the pool.

Beat. Dip. Beat. Dip.

He stood before the blonde. He had changed, all right. He had become a wizard who could take revenge.

Now, Nick thought. The blonde nodded.

Nick moved in, tapped the handsome man on the shoulder. He turned around and Nick cut in with a push. The man seemed about to object, but the blonde smiled at Nick and the other man skulked away.

Soon Nick and the blonde were dancing surrounded by admirers. “It’s suffocating in here. Let’s take a walk,“ she screamed.

“Yes. My name is Nick,” Nick said. “And yours?”

“It’s Faith,” she said, and took Nick’s hand.

Faith, Nick thought. The name just didn’t fit.

Once they were outside Faith said, “Let’s not waste time. My place is a five minute walk away. Want to take a walk?” She kissed Nick and he forgot about her name, and in five minutes they were walking into her apartment.

She threw the light on, kicked some stuff out of the way. It was a studio, sparsely decorated. There was no furniture but a bed.

“That okay?” Faith said.

“Sure.”

“Wait here, baby. I’ll be right back.” Faith kissed him again and Nick sat on the bed.

He heard a voice. “You’d better run.”

“What?” Nick looked around. There was nothing special about the bed, a lace coverlet, a white spread.

“Run, fool. And take me.”

The voice was coming from under the bed. Nick crouched down and reached in carefully. He pulled out a little doll shaped like a man. It was battered and bruised. “What kind of girl plays with dolls? Let alone such an ugly one?”

“You’ll be ugly when she’s done with you.”

“It’s not playing, baby,” Faith said. “I’m a hunter.”

Nick hadn’t heard Faith come in. He stood up. “What?”

“Mind if I change?” Faith said, “Not that it would matter if you did.” She shook her head and suddenly she was no longer a tall leggy blond but a petite brunette.

“What? You can do that, too?”

“I can do more, lover boy,” Faith stared at him, she said, “Big handsome man like you. You just love to break hearts, don’t you? Well, you’re not breaking mine.” Faith began chanting and Nick started shrinking.

“Wow, you’re good,” he said. “Great,” then he realized his voice was sounding shrill, like he was little. Man, he was in trouble.

Nick closed his eyes and concentrated. “Big. Handsome? That’s not me. Here’s me.” Please, please, please he thought. Let me change.The shrinking stopped and he grew back to his true size.

“That’s really you?” Faith said.

“Yeah. Scrawny, ugly me.”

“You’re not scrawny. You’re wiry. I’m the ugly one. My stepmother was a wicked witch — well, not a real one. She did everything she could to make me feel ugly. And this handsome boy at school. A joke…”

“You don’t have to say anymore,” Nick said, “I get it. All those vain cruel people. How do you do that shrinking? That’s neat.”

“Hey, what about me?” the doll said.

Faith took the doll off the bed, and went to her window. She opened it and threw the doll out. “You’ll grow to your true size. If you know what’s good for you, you’ll leave and not come back.”

She went back and sat next to Nick on the bed. “You can change your eye color? I’ve never been able to do that.”

“Well the first thing is — ” Nick said, then he looked at the window. “Say, will he be okay?”

“I think so,” Faith said. “And if he isn’t?” She looked at Nick, and they both laughed.


Ed Kratz has been published in Daily Science Fiction, Big Pulp, OG’S Speculative Fiction, Every Day Fiction and The Shine Journal. He is a member of Critters and Critique Circle. An earlier version of this story was rejected but rated an honorable mention in Allegory. Since then the story went through Critique Circle and various revisions. He recently attended the author Jonathan Maberry’s Novel in Nine Months course. In the course, he discovered he wasn’t ready to write a novel, but he learned a great deal about the craft of writing.


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