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Crystal L Hilbert

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by Crystal L Hilbert   

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ISBN-10:  B005JUODY0 Type: 

Copyright:  8/29/2011

A mutated ex-cop hunts his killer through the scabrous, rotting remnants of his life before the War.

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Red’s a real bitch to find.


Wolf would know. He’s been tracking her ever since she shot him in the back and disappeared into the labyrinth of fallout shelters and old tunnels the world became after the war. But he’s getting old these days—mutations bubbling up on each other like bloat—and when he looks in the mirror, he doesn’t recognize the man he’s become.


So Wolf goes hunting, determined to put an end to this war of theirs. And it’s a real shame it’s not as easy as following a trail of breadcrumbs, but when the fallout rained down, it turned them both into monsters and Red’s better at it than he is.


She tortures him with his own mind, leaving hints and old memories like bodies in her wake, dredging up every nightmare of Wolf’s past. He’s not the only hunter anymore. She’s hunting him. This broken corkscrew horror story spiraling between them is crashing to its end.


To put this story to bed, Wolf will have to track Red to the ends of the earth—into the old world and his past. And this time…


This time he won’t miss.


The room was just big enough for a pack of rusting filing cabinets and the two metal tables that had once belonged to Interrogation. There were computers along one wall. Older than dirt, as the saying went. It was a good day when they’d oblige anyone and turn on. This was, apparently, a good day. One of the others had been here before him—a single computer screen flickered in the hazy light, playing ashes tossing in the wind.

Taking a small, sturdy knife from his pocket, Wolf gingerly cut open one end of the package before dumping its contents out on the table. There was no telling what sort of toxin she’d loaded in there. He was immune to most of them, but he knew her well enough to know she’d be the one to find his only weakness.

But for all he was expecting, all that slid out was a scrap of paper and an ancient memory drive. Wolf stared at it for a long moment, unmoving. Slowly, after an eternity, Wolf let the paper fall and slid down into a seat before the table.

There wasn’t much to go by. Fingerprints probably, for all the good they’d do. Maybe a scent marker or two, but he’d need one of the mutants to track her and that only ever slowed him down. No, he thought. He was tired of dragging other people into this. This was their fight, their prolonged dance of restless misery, and he’d damn well end it himself if it killed him.

Wolf took a drag from his iodine, resisted the urge to light a cigarette, and looked down at the paper again. It was her handwriting, painfully so. The rush of emotion hit him like a blast to the chest. In the space between seconds he felt the curl of her hair against his fingers, remembered the way she fit against him, the way her nose crinkled with laughter, how her eyes flashed when she screamed. All of it stared up at him from behind her familiar, curled handwriting, smirking.

Hey sugar,
It’s getting late.
~ Red

He clenched his lighter until his knuckles went white, staring fixedly at the torn corner of the paper, concentrating hard on where it could have come from—a useless endeavor. Paper wasn’t rare here; there were too many ways to make it. But he clung like a drowning man to the knowledge that the kind of paper could tell where a person has been. The brown paper envelope was common enough, packed in insulated tin cans across the globe with stationary and mailing addresses that had long since ceased to exist.
She could have gotten the envelope from anywhere.

The note itself was on clean white paper, no lines or ancient monetary values. Most people these days wrote things down on the backs of old receipts. There were so many of them, packed in clumps in plastic bags—useful things come rain days. He could probably use a couple…

Somewhere in the back of his mind Wolf realized he was avoiding the matter at hand and stopped. The lighter fell from his fist with a clink, only slightly worse for the wear. Slowly, trying to keep from thinking at all, he picked up the memory drive and turned it over in his hands.

It was a neat little artifact from an older world, just young enough for him to remember without being an offshoot of aftermath technology. Which meant it would work on the old station computers.

Which meant, in turn, she knew he came here. It was a risk he couldn’t take. He’d have to change his routine—find a new crevice to hole up in, new contacts, different meeting places.
Wolf hated change.

Ignoring the creak in his knees because he wasn’t that old, damn it, Wolf made his way to the single flickering computer and nudged the mouse. The screen that came up was slightly worse for wear.

The display didn’t show the proper colors anymore and flickered like a flame in low oxygen since the refresh rate had started to go. He banged the flat of his palm against the monitor, succeeding in jarring the color from mostly blue to sickly pink.

The input took a bit of crouching to find and he had to unbend the tip of the memory stick to make it fit. A small green light flashed from inside the plastic—a wonder it hadn’t been scavenged yet—and a program popped up on the screen. It didn’t wait for permission. Red never was the kind of woman that gave choices, and whether he wanted to listen or not, noise began to seep through the computer’s built in, ancient speakers.

A wolf howl, he realized after a moment, the sound stirring memories better left alone. The speakers crackled out and returned after a moment to a man’s voice.

“Hey there, Little Red Riding Hood. You sure are looking good. You’re everything that a Big Bad Wolf could want...”

The speakers fizzled on the last word, dying a final death no amount of prodding could reverse. Wolf took a step back, watching the colors flash across the screen, thinking about the scent of blood and acid smoke until the colors finally faded. He was still standing there when the ash storm started across the screen again.

Slowly, he reached in his pocket, and pulled a cigarette from its battered box. The overhead light went out with a flash and a sharp crack, startling him from his musings. Wolf made his way easily through the darkness, picking up his lighter from the table with a shake to check the gas.

This, he decided, taking a long drag, was war.

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