Captured By the Hunter by Lynnea Lee

Chapter 1: Tilly

 

Waffles pressed her side against my leg, her body shaking from fear as the deadly bugs scratched outside the door.

“It’s okay, Waffles,” I whispered, bending down to pick her up. I had a habit of talking to my dog; so sue me. It was lonely during the bugpocalypse. “I sprayed the bottom door crack with some body spray. They can’t smell us now.”

Luckily for us, the door was made of metal, and I doubted the bugs outside could take it down, especially with our scents masked by the spray. This had happened once before, and I’d gotten out exactly this way. We just had to wait for nightfall.

I’d not expected the series of events that had us hiding in this store’s backroom, waiting for the bugs to lose interest.

It had been a strange buzzing overhead that led the bugs straight to me. I’d scanned the air but hadn’t seen anything. Then, as quickly as the buzzing had started, it stopped, leaving me with a pile of man-eating alien bugs to deal with.

All this mess because of some books. Yup! That was right. I came out for books. Heavy, non-edible, but very entertaining books.

I had all the food and fuel I needed back at home and a great water filtration system to boot. I wasn't after necessities this foraging trip; I was after some distraction from the monotonous daily grind.

Before the bugs came to Earth, I’d considered myself a baby prepper, not one of the lucky ones with a basement of food, land to live off of, and an underground bunker, but I tried my best with what I had. I lived in the city, with no real space to call my own. Still, I’d collected buckets upon buckets of food, multiple ways to generate electricity, a fail-safe system to collect and filter water, and as much know-how as possible.

Imagine my glee when the apocalypse happened. Okay, maybe not quite glee. It was a combination of “oh shit” and “oh yes.” All my co-workers who’d laughed at me could suck it because I’d been correct and prepared. Fortunately, no one knew where I lived, so they couldn’t come knocking when the shit hit the fan.

I’d just never expected it to be so lonely. I knew I was supposed to have other prepper friends and form a community so I could trade and all that, but I’d never gotten quite that far in the prepping journey. I had a few prepper friends online, but no one I knew in real life.

It was just me and Waffles.

Outside, one of the bugs dragged its bladed front claw across the door, making a horrible screeching racket. I covered my ears. It sounded like the biggest damn nail across a chalkboard.

Waffles whined softly in my arms, and I put her down. She stayed pressed up against my ankle.

I dug into my waist pack—I hated the term fanny pack—where I kept my quick-access tools and brought out a mini LED light. I also brought out a treat for Waffles, hoping to get her to stop whining. She whined quietly, but total silence was better if I wanted the bugs to leave.

With the light, I rummaged in my pack for the scented body spray. Once, this deodorant had, according to the advertisements, helped teenage boys attract girls. Now, it was considered the first line of defense against the bugs.

Of course, the spray did nothing if the bugs had a line of sight to you. But if they couldn’t see you—say, because you were behind a closed metal door—and they couldn’t smell you, because all they could smell were the lost dreams of high school boys, they eventually lost interest.

I held the nozzle to the crack at the bottom of the door and sprayed, hoping most of it would end up outside. Then I returned the canister to my bag.

My bag was weighed down by dozens of books: romance novels to be specific. I was bored out of my gourd living alone in my mini fortress. At this point, book boyfriends were worth facing the bugs for. I needed to stay sane somehow.

I wasn’t completely alone. I had Waffles. The first time she’d barked at a bug, I almost died of fear for our safety. It ended with us running for our lives, the very alien monster she’d antagonized hot at our heels. We’d managed to duck into a building on time and lose our tail.

Since then, she hadn’t barked much, a surprising thing since she used to be quite yappy. I was glad she’d learned quickly; it was probably the only reason why she was still alive. She was also highly food motivated, so that helped. I’d taught her to stick by my leg and stay quiet whenever we were out.

I’d made waffles the morning after she’d first come home with me, and she’d stolen one and devoured the whole thing before I could stop her. I’d said the word waffles so many times that day she’d start responding to it, and she’d been Waffles ever since.

She was a smaller dog, a Pomeranian and Maltese mix—not exactly the type of dog you’d imagine living in the bugpocalypse. She wasn’t particularly brave, either, but she always knew when the bugs were near and led me in the right direction. And she was smart enough, or maybe I was lucky enough, to find hiding spots we could both fit into.

I was glad Waffles wasn’t brave. I didn’t want her becoming bug chow trying to protect me.

A commotion outside the door had me perking up. The bugs were no longer scratching right outside. Curious, I cracked the door open and peeked out the gap.

My jaw dropped at the scene. It was him: the purple Xarc’n hunter who’d shortened my last attempted book raid. A few days ago, I’d tried to make this very trip for more Fabio-covered literature. Instead, I’d had to make a detour and cancel my plans after I realized he was stalking me just out of sight.

It had taken me three sleeps to work up the courage to venture out again, and only because I was pretty damn sure he hadn’t followed me back to my hideout.

He stood in a leather loincloth, swinging his curved sword at my buggy tormenters, the blade’s edge glowing white-hot with plasma energy.

Shortly after the bugs had arrived, the warrior race had appeared, offering to help us fight the alien menace. As expected by most, Earth’s governments—suspicious the Xarc’n warriors had sent the bugs—turned the offer down.

The alien dancing a lethal waltz outside the door was a mass of purply-mauve muscles, with broad shoulders, a powerful back, and thick, strong legs. A set of heavy, curved horns sprouted from his head just above his temples, reminding me of ram’s horns. They looked dangerous. Unlike some of his kind, who wore armor on their chest and shoulders, he was completely topless.

He was also a total beefcake; I couldn’t help but admire his perfectly-built body. His bulky frame didn’t slow him down as he moved with a lethal grace that seemed impossible for someone his size. I bit my lip as I watched the play of muscles rippling on his chest and abs while he fought the bugs. He smiled as if he was having the time of his life.

Purple Pecs turned his head, and for a moment our eyes met. He grinned at me, displaying sharp teeth and a set of impressive fangs, as he dodged the next attack. His warm golden eyes sparkled with mischief as he turned swiftly and slashed in two the bug that had attacked him, beaming the whole time.

Most of the bugs he fought were the type with the poison-tipped blades on their front legs. They made a horrible scratching noise with their feet, announcing their presence long before anyone saw them. Back when the internet still existed, I’d read that the Xarc’n hunters called them scuttlers because of the noise.

It seemed Purple Pecs could take on an endless supply of scuttlers with his scimitar-like blade. I’d once watched, from afar, a hunter who’d used a giant axe, and there had been plenty of photos on the Internet of hunters with twin swords. This was the first time I’d seen one using a single curved blade.

A flying bug dove at him from the air. Those had been the scariest ones until the giant centipedes appeared out of nowhere this summer. The flying bugs reminded me of scorpions on steroids but with wings. They even had long, maneuverable tails with spikes on the ends like a scorpion’s stinger.

According to the Internet, the spike wasn't tipped with toxin like the scuttlers' blades. Instead, they came down hard and fast, spearing into their victims like a stake through the heart. Or, in most cases, a stake through anything and everything.

I forced myself to stop watching the formidable display of athletic power. The hunter was hot as sin, but I’d already spent too long watching his little performance. I had to get out of here before he finished with the bugs and turned his attention to me. I’d worked hard to build my post-apocalyptic fortress, and I wasn’t going to leave it behind to be some alien warrior’s pet, no matter how hot and muscular he was.

Though, I was so lonely it almost sounded like a good deal. At this rate, I might die alone as a spinster. A hot purple alien warrior that smashed bugs to smithereens was looking pretty damn good right about now. But no, I couldn’t.

I caught myself staring again as he dispatched another pair of deadly bugs. I swore he knew I was watching and gave an extra flourish to all his movements. The show-off!

Gah! I had to get a hold of myself.

Waffles was too frightened of the bugs outside to leave the room, so I picked her up and snuck out, keeping myself as inconspicuous as possible. I couldn’t head home straight away; that would only lead Purple Pecs to my hideout.

I took the long way around to my building, making sure to take a few quick detours, just in case he followed me. I even ducked into the building that used to hold the farmer’s market and left through another exit. That should keep him busy.

As I entered the old factory loft area, it started to snow. It wasn’t the first snow of the year, but the last snowflakes had melted the moment they touched the ground. The snow would stick this time. The air was cold and crisp, and it smelled of winter.

I ducked under the awning of what used to be a café across the street from my loft. I held my breath, listening and looking for signs I’d been followed, but saw and heard none.

I was alone. I couldn’t help being just a tiny bit disappointed as I ran across the cobblestone street to the converted lofts where I still lived. A lonely part of me almost wished the big purple hunter had followed me home.

Sigh. Oh well; I still had a bag full of romance novels on my back. Fabio wasn’t as perfectly physiqued as my musclebound purple savior, and I doubted he could take on an entire platoon of bugs as Purple Pec just did, but he’d have to keep me company tonight.