Chapter 1: Hunting

Alexander centered his crosshairs over the northern window. Still no movement. He lowered his rifle to wipe sweat out of his eyes. October was dying, and the red sun had withdrawn its warmth hours ago, but it was stifling beneath all those leaves.

Alexander took a moment to observe the mansion below without the aid of his scope. The rotten siding was painted bloody by the sun as it fell behind the hills, and the windows—those that still had glass—glinted like eyes. Her eyes. Alexander shuddered and pressed himself deeper into his loamy hideout.

Once more raising the scope to his eye, he swept from window to window. Around him, the forested hillside gasped. A bit of his leaf-blanket was lifted away and flung into the valley. The trees rattled; the older ones groaned. Alexander’s breath caught as something fluttered at the edge of his sight. He brought his rifle to bear, then relaxed. Just a dark curtain, tattered and bat-like, waving against broken glass. Too early yet, he thought, noting the line of shadow crawling across the valley. Probably another ten minutes before he could expect anything.

If this was the right place.

Minutes passed. The nocturnal cold slipped into Alexander’s nest and began to squeeze. His gun weighed on his arms. The shadow of the hillside reached for the foundations of the mansion and began creeping up the walls. One by one, the watching windows were darkened.

A roar split the night.

Alexander jumped from his hiding place and spun around, threatening the trees with his rifle. His scalp prickled as the roar continued: a constant, gravelly hum. Then a light appeared through the forest, unnaturally bright.

Alexander lowered his weapon. A car. He’d been buried in the detritus so long he’d all but forgotten the dirt road that wound just yards away. The vehicle careened into view and was gone just as quickly, plummeting into the valley toward the village. Alexander cursed them, whoever they were. There’d be no chance of bagging his quarry tonight, not after a disturbance like that.

Fools, he thought as he slung his rifle over his shoulder and tore aside the branches hiding his rusted motorcycle. He wheeled it to the road before starting it up and throwing a last, frustrated glare at the village and its rotting centerpiece. Tomorrow. Or the next night. Rest assured, I’ll be back for you soon.

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