Don’t Risk the Mind-Wipe (Short Story)

This is a sequel to The Hunters and the Hunted. It is from a different perspective than the first part. It’s also based on a prompt, which is the first two sentences.

“That is a terrible, horrible, incredible, foolish idea. Let’s do it and see what happens,” Lail proclaimed.

“You’re not serious, are you?” Alwin asked, hoping that Lail would not proceed.

“I was joking, you know,” I feel obligated to clarify, hoping Alwin and I can convince him.

“So? It would be hilarious!”

Alwin audibly groans, frustrated, “Why do you want to release those Draupnir? We could be fired and mind-wiped.”

“Hey, it was Zarol’s idea!”

“I said I was joking!”

“Both of you, calm down, you don’t want Hyrah to overhear, do you?” Alwin cut in before Lail could further increase the tension.

“We’re not actually doing it. It would be really stupid.”

“Why do we keep them locked up, anyway? It’s not like they could actually escape, is it?” Of course Lail still wants to find a reason to convince us…

I try thinking it through when Alwin responds, “If they knew the layout of our building, they could plan an escape, which could work. Despite our abilities to subdue and dominate them, their powers enable them to work around that. Maybe, at least. They know some of what we can do and could plan around that strategically.”

“I’m going to go visit them,” Lail notices my condescending gaze. “What?”

“What do you think?” I spit out, hoping he doesn’t lose all three of us our vocations and memories.

“I’m not going to let them out,” mischief sparkled in his eyes; he was clearly going to do something far more dangerous.

“I’m coming with you then,” if we were caught, we would probably lose our jobs… even if we weren’t letting the Draupnir out…

“Don’t trust me? Fine. It was your idea anyway…”

“Still at that? It’s getting old.”

“Don’t start fighting, or you’ll both be caught for sure. At least try to get along,” she would never let us live through this if we did get caught for being stupid.

“’Kay.”

We walk down the long white halls, our muffled footfalls the only sound as our regulation boots contacted the carpet repeatedly. Turn after turn, corridor after corridor, my heart beat harder and faster.

What if our break ends? What if someone comes into the hallway before we get to the cell? Endless what-ifs…

“Hey, calm down. You’re breathing really loudly.”

“Sorry…”

Finally, we reach the password protected steel door. 4-7-6-2-9-9-5 would open the door, unless it was changed since two days prior.

I exhaled, holding my breath as I shakily entered the numbers. The soft bleep, bleep of the keypad constituted the only sound in this white space. As soon I pressed the five, a click signified our successful entry.

Lail opens the door, entering just as I think, The cameras! We forgot about the security cameras!

“Lail, wait!” I whisper harshly and he turns, “What about the cameras?”

“Pfft, security won’t know that we weren’t told to check on the Draupnir after our break. They also won’t know if our earpieces conveyed special instructions from Orva, who isn’t here today.”

“Orva’s not here? How do you know?”

He rolled his eyes, “My office is across from hers, duh.”

I nod, feeling ridiculous for forgetting, “Right, uh, nevermind.”

I slide through the doorway after Lail, sitting on the metal bench in the room.

“What do you want?” a shaking red haired girl asks with contempt.

I lock eyes with her, stunned by how bright her blue irises are, “Nothing. We just came to talk to you.”

“Hallan,” she whispers, “Hallan, wake up.”

A blond boy stirs at her touch, “Ana, what is it?”

“Them,” she tips her head toward us.

Hallan props himself on his elbow, glaring at us, but says nothing.

The two of them keep glancing at each other and then at us, but no words pass between them.

“Hello, I’m Zarol.”

Hallan stands up and walks to the bars, “What do you want Zarol?”

“Lail and I just wanted to talk to you.”

Sure. I don’t believe that for a second,” his gaunt frame shook visibly with anger.

“We actually came in to talk to you. We might be able to help you get out,” another girl stares at us at Lail’s words, her black hair covering half of her face.

“You want to help us escape?” Ana moved to stand just behind Hallan, a hand on his shoulder.

Lail nods, but I sit still, expressionless. I knew he would jeopardize our jobs. I knew it! How dare he!

“Lail,” I whisper sternly.

“You don’t want him to help us,” I freeze when Hallan says this.

“What?”

“You’re worried he’ll cause you to lose your job.” I shiver as I hear his voice in my mind, You’re worried you’ll be fired and mind-wiped for helping us.

“Lail, if you want to help them, fine. I’m going back to work.”

Just before I open the steel door to leave, I hear Ana whisper, “Hallan, you scared him. Now he won’t help us.”

Hallan muttered, “He wasn’t going to help us anyway,” just as the door closed behind me.

~*~*~*~*~

“Lail, where have you been?” Alwin and I caught Lail in the parking garage just after our shifts ended.

“You weren’t with the Draupnir all day, were you?” the concern in Alwin’s voice didn’t require reinforcement from her facial expression.

He shook his head, “’Course not. I left when my break ended. No one noticed that I was a few minutes late in returning to my desk. Probably because Orva wasn’t there…”

“It was stupid to go in there in the first place. You’re not going to –”

“I am. I don’t care if I lose my job. We have no further reason to keep them locked up.”

“Don’t tell me you care for those inhuman beasts!”

Alwin cut in urgently, “Calm down! You’re going to call attention to yourselves. We can discuss this at my apartment and have dinner.”

For once, Lail and I left our disagreement behind us, seething silently.

~*~*~*~*~

“What do you want for dinner?”

“Anything’s fine.”

“Do you want anything specific, Zarol?”

“No, whatever you have on-hand will suffice. I’m not particularly hungry anyhow.”

She nodded, rummaging through her pantry and fridge. She pulled out a number of ingredients, and began cooking, though just watching her confused me. How do people understand cooking at all? I can analyze data and invent a device utilizing the natural proponents of the Draupnir’s “powers,” but I’ll never understand recipes and cooking. The most I can do is boil water with pasta…

“Zarol, despite your prejudices about the Draupnir, I’m going to help them escape.”

“They could be dangerous! They have the power and strength to hurt people! We can’t let them go!”

Lail glared, “They’re more human than you think. All of the time before we captured them, Hallan, Analyn, Colby, Shelly, and Leynard never hurt anyone.”

“How can you be so sure?” venom oozed through my teeth unintentionally.

“I called Garter’s Family Grocery. Mr. Garter, the owner, attested to Hallan’s account. Hallan or one of the other Draupnir would come in, wash up, work for the day, and he’d pay them with food.”

“If you won’t be convinced not to destroy your job, fine by me! I’m not involved anymore. Just because one man was treated well says nothing for anybody else.”

Alwin spoke, “Lail does have a point, but so do you, Zarol. Is freeing the Draupnir really worth your job, Lail? Is it that important? What if they are dangerous, and you’re responsible for their freedom?”

Lail sighed, “Forget it. I’m done talking about this. I’m going to free them.”

I shake my head, disappointed that he refused to listen to reason, When will he ever learn?

~*~*~*~*~

Alwin and I saw but did not speak to Lail after that night. Most times, during his break, I would notice him walking toward the steel door, but I said nothing. Whether my knowledgeable silence would cost me my job as well, if Lail succeeded, I couldn’t know for certain, and I hopefully wouldn’t have to find out.

“Orva, is Lail here today?”

“No, Zarol, he called in sick.”

“Oh, okay, thanks,” I turned and walked back to my cubicle, closer to the break room.

I open the door when Hyrah rounds the corner.

“Zarol, I’ve been looking for you since lunch!”

“You have?” the confusion must show in my eyes, because she nods emphatically.

“I was wondering if you know why Lail’s been acting strange lately. He called in sick, but he sounded… elated over the phone.”

My eyebrows come together, puzzling over this revelation. Lail probably freed the Draupnir, or at least told them how to escape… If I tell Hyrah… But if I don’t…

I shake my head, “I’m not sure… Alwin and I haven’t been on very good terms with him lately… He hasn’t been talking to us.”

“Okay. Well, if you find out anything, please tell me,” she starts walking off toward the copy room.

“Hyrah, wait,” she turns on her heel, waiting. I hesitated to reveal my friend. Eventually I spoke, “Sorry, nevermind. I thought I remembered something, but I didn’t.”

~*~*~*~*~

After work, I decide to call Lail. Despite everything, I don’t want him to lose his job. I want to help him somehow if I can.

“Hello, Lail. Can I talk to you for a few minutes?”

“Zarol, why are you calling?”

“You weren’t actually sick today, were you?”

“No. I told the Draupnir how to escape yesterday… You didn’t tell anyone, did you?”

I hesitated.

“You did?!”

“No, no! I didn’t. I thought about it, but I didn’t.”

He sighed, “Good.”

“If you show up at work tomorrow after the Draupnir escape, they’ll likely assume you were responsible. Especially after reviewing the security tape…”

“I’ll call in sick again, then.”

“Wait, that’d be suspicious too… Tomorrow, come to work, and go to ‘check’ on the Draupnir like you have been. You be the one to report their disappearance.”

“That seems like a good idea. I’ll be in trouble, but hopefully I won’t be mind-wiped…”

“I’ll see you tomorrow.”

“Bye.”

~*~*~*~*~

Zarol. Zarol, wake up. “Zarol!” I jolt awake, jumping further at the sight of shadowed faces in my bedroom.

“W-who are you?”

“Hallan”; “Analyn”; “Colby”; “Shelby”; “Leynard.”

“The Draupnir?! How did you get in here?”

Hallan, closest to me, spoke, “Easy, through the window. Colby opened it for us.”

“What?! How?”

Colby chuckled, “Hallan can speak and read thoughts. I can open locked doors, windows,… and other things.”

My eyes widened, my foggy mind comprehending how dangerous these five children could be. If they were even human… or even actually children…

What are the Draupnir? I think wondrously, hoping they do not decide to harm me.

“We’re like you,” Hallan replies aloud.

“W-what? O-oh, right… Why are you here?”

“We thought we might visit you. Lail suggested it actually, thought you’d think more highly of us if we did.”

“So you broke into my apartment? That’s not a great way to convince me you’re good news.”

“That’s what I said, but they wouldn’t listen to me!” Analyn exclaimed.

“I was hoping he’d have food for us, actually. Otherwise, it wasn’t a good idea,” Leynard put in.

I cut off their impending argument, “Do any of you want something to drink? I can give you a small amount of food, but it’s” I look at the clock, “3 AM.”

“Awesome,” the lights flick on when Shelly speaks, and I see the faces of all the Draupnir.

None of them are standing by the light switch?

“Oh, sorry. That was my fault,” Shelly explains sheepishly.

“It’s alright, I’m just still getting used to your… powers?”

The Hunters and the Hunted (Short Story)

This was based on a prompt, which is the first two sentences.

“Should we let him know we’re on to him?”

“Now where’s the fun in that? The enjoyment is in the chase and capture, not the fear!”

Whispering voices are audible from my place deep in the alley. I hang in the darkness, watching, waiting. The two figures hover near the walls of the alley, looking out into the dimly lit street.

If I didn’t know better, I would assume they were speaking of someone else. But I do know better. Lucky for me, the speakers are oblivious to my location. They seem to think I am roaming the street, which I was, shortly prior to overhearing a small portion of their dialogue.

“Where is he? He should have passed this alley by now!”

“How should I know? Doesn’t he live near here?”

“Yes. Unless he ran away from home… At which point he’s unpredictable.”

I never had a home. Not that you could know that.

I bring a hand to my forehead as I notice one of the figures flinch. I sent that thought, albeit accidentally.

“He’s close by. He heard us,” the voice shivers, hardly a breath.

“How do you know?” Suspicion from his counterpart, though his voice lowers as well.

“He spoke to me…”

It was unintentional, I swear.

Both figures stiffen at my now purposeful invasion of their minds.

“Where are you?”

Not your business. Close enough to hear and see you without being seen.

They bolt from the alley, unsurprisingly. Once they are gone, I sigh, realizing I had been holding my breath. Had they heard me, found me… I hate to think what would have happened… What I would have been forced to do

I release the brick of the building I was perched on, dropping silently to the concrete below. My cloak fades, the fabric dissipating into the surrounding air from whence it came. I could not explain how I was able to accomplish this feat if I tried, I still do not know.

My fingertips graze the red-black brick as I lurk out of the alley. A filmy encasement materializes around me, invisibility of a sort, matching my movements.

I stand under the street lamp, deliberating. Do I go home, or do I leave entirely?

Home, as I call it somewhat jokingly, is barely a suitable shelter, and I am alone. Leaving entails forsaking all I have ever known, all I have assumed I would ever know.

But those people… I call them Hunters, and I have no clue what they could do to me. Not long ago, there were others like me, living with me, but they are gone. I do not know what happened to them or where they have been taken, only that it was the Hunters who took them. All the things I might be able to do to them, it might be futile if they are truly Hunters, like those who took my friends…

Leaving is the best option, in the morning I’ll gather my few things and disappear from this place.

Nothing more could be done. Later, perhaps it would be safe to return. Perhaps leaving would prove more disastrous than remaining, but I couldn’t know that until afterwards. I do not know what the world beyond this single city entails, but I will risk that discovery.

I slink home, thinking along the way about departing and what I will need for the journey. Even as short as the trip will be, it will be exhausting. Moving discreetly always is, especially as I will need to steal the provisions, using more energy.

I arrive at the building, lifting myself to the roof in a seemingly effortless manner. I quietly enter the dilapidated roof apartment, falling onto my heap of moth-eaten blankets.

“Good night, world,” I mumble as black overtakes me.

Morning light streaming through my dirt streaked windows wakes me. I roll over onto my back, rubbing my eyes with one of my dirty hands. I pull myself to my feet, looking out the dingy window closest to my bedding.

My thoughts jump back to the previous night and my determination to leave.

No, I can’t. My friends might still be here. If I had been taken, I wouldn’t want them to leave me. I have to find them, even if it puts my life on the line, or almost kills me.

I still need supplies, and I still need to avoid the Hunters from the alley.

~*~*~*~*~

“Hallan, be careful!”

“It’s okay, Analyn, I can do this.”

I clung to the side of our building, most of the way up, about to let go.

I released the building, and Analyn screamed. My feet gently touched the concrete before I immediately returned to stand by Analyn.

Tears streamed down her face and violent sobs choked her.

“Analyn, I’m okay,” she looked up, eyes already red.

“Hallan, you could have died! I thought I’d never see you again!”

I pulled her into my arms, struggling to console her, “Shh, I’m alright. I wasn’t going to get hurt.”

“Don’t do that to me again! I couldn’t bear to lose you, you’re like a brother to me!” She wrapped her arms tightly around my torso, tears beginning to soak my shirt.

“Okay, Ana.”

~*~*~*~*~

“Hallan! You’re back! Oh, I’m so glad you’re safe!”

“So am I. How was everything here at home, Colby?”

He smiled, “Analyn worried about you the whole time, saying things like, ‘He promised he wouldn’t do this to me!’ and ‘I can’t believe he’d do something so reckless!’”

I laughed, “That’s just like Ana! Worried even when I’ve done this a million times.”

Colby nodded, “She wasn’t the only one worried when you didn’t come home on time, though. Leynard and Shelly were too, as was I.”

My face hardened, “I had to take a longer route because there were Hunters.”

His voice shook, “Hunters? You almost got caught?”

I shook my head no, “Of course not. I noticed them, heard their thoughts, and moved away from where they were posted.”

He sighed, “Thank goodness! Were they close to Garter’s?”

“No. They were halfway between his grocery and here.”

He nodded, “Good. I’m glad you’re safe, and the others will be too.”

~*~*~*~*~

“Hey, Leynard! Wake up!”

A grunt escaped the sleeping boy, “No!”

“It’s morning. We have food!”

He sat up sleepily, but with sparkling eyes, “Food?”

“Mhm, food. Want some?” I knew he did, we all did.

“Duh!”

Analyn and Colby laughed. Of all of us, Leynard was the most obsessed with food, eating as much as we would let him and asking for more if there was any.

“I made a cake!” Shelly exclaimed excitedly, having used her powers for one of the first times.

“Mmm, cake!” Leynard practically drooled as Shelly handed him a chunk of icingless chocolate cake.

Each of us received a chunk, leaving only a piece for Shelly to eat.

“This is so good!”

“Leynard, stop spewing cake in the house! Keep your mouth closed!” Analyn scolded him.

~*~*~*~*~

“Shelly!” Analyn screamed as Shelly fell off the roof, reaching an arm over the edge desperately.

I jumped over the side, quickly hovering just below the youngest of our group.

My feet hit the concrete and I bounded back to the roof. Shelly clung tightly to my neck, eyes  squeezed shut.

Safely on the roof once again, I set the girl down.

Tears streamed down their faces, sobs cracking their throats. I understood the fear they had experienced, adrenaline was pumping through my veins too.

“Are you alright?” I fought to keep my voice steady, to be strong for them.

She nodded, shaking, “I-I think so. Th-thank you, Hallan!”

“You’re welcome. Are you okay, Ana?” I placed a hand on her shoulder reassuringly, concern laced through my gaze.

She nodded, and I engulfed both of them into my arms, glad everyone was alive.

~*~*~*~*~

I have to save them! If they’re still alive, I must save them! I just… don’t know how.

I left my small shack, soaring from rooftop to rooftop for about fifteen blocks. Garter’s small grocery store was still in business, thankfully.

Garter’s Family Grocery was the one place I was unafraid of showing my face, unafraid of the regular human population. Mr. Garter was a kind old man and often gave me food, so long as I helped him out a bit in the grocery and washed my hands and face.

Hello, Mr. Garter.

The old man looked at the door, startled. He saw my dirt-covered face and smiled.

“Hello again, Hallan. How can I help you?”

“I came to help you in exchange for more food.”

His smile continued, “Wash your face and hands in the bathroom first. I could really use some help today, a new order came in recently.”

I nodded, walking to the back corner of the somewhat small grocery.

An hour later, I left Mr. Garter’s grocery behind, carrying two paper sacks with supplies. Some things were perishable, and some needed cooked, but nothing required refrigeration.

I walked a distance down the sidewalk before pulling my invisibility fog into existence. Several pedestrians’ eyes widened, looking at where I had just stood.

You’re not as crazy as you think.

The pedestrians quickly turned to face forward, unhinged by my invasion of their minds. They would definitely think they were crazy, after watching me disappear and then hearing my voice in their heads. Luckily, I would not be sending them more thoughts any time soon, if ever.

I quickly bounded home in the same way I left.

Upon closing the door, I simply deposited both bags on the floor.

How can I save them? How can I even find them? The only people who know of their location are the Hunters… Obviously the Hunters won’t help me rescue them… But they could lead me to them!

I began pacing the small front room, finger to my chin, elbow resting against the arm crossed over my chest.

As I turned towards the door again, an arm wrapped around me from behind and a hand pressed a cloth forcefully against my mouth and nose. I shoved the hand away quickly, a dizziness pulsing through me. A strong hand clenched over my wrist, and the cloth again smothered me.

~*~*~*~*~

I groaned, rolling onto my side, my head throbbing. The surface beneath my skin was searingly cold, and I shivered as my cheek rested against it.

“Hallan,” a soft voice whispered, “are you awake?”

I cracked my eyes open, Is that you, Ana?

Yes, she responded calmly.

How long have I been here?

I’m not sure. The Hunters brought you in unconscious and locked you in with us.

All of you are here?! I start to sit up, but groan and quickly lay down again.

Yes, but Colby was taken out not long ago. Shelly and Leynard are resting.

Where did they take Colby?

A sadness seeped into Ana’s thoughts, We don’t know. Whenever they take us out, they blindfold us.

I wanted to save you all, but it seems I was too late.

I don’t know that you’d have been able to. They know how to fight back. How to resist our powers.