Hunter

My hands shook from cold. The breath I blew froze as soon as it hit the freezing cold air. I sat, frozen, unmoving, hearing my heart pound inside of my chest. Seconds grew, stretched, passed. I squinted through the trees, trying to make something, anything out, but the glare from the snow seemed to blind me. My stomach growled. How much longer? I wondered. Hopefully not too long. I gripped the long, sharp spear that I had made out of a stick and a rock in one hand, a silvery kitchen knife in the other. There. I saw it. A deer, about twenty yards away. Alone. Head up, listening. I held my breath and slowly began to move my spear. In one fluid motion, I threw the spear and jumped down from the tree I was sitting in. I heard a thunk as the spear hit the deer, and I dropped into the snow and rolled, covering my deerskin coat in white powder. I had hit the deer in the chest. It limped, staggered, and I slit its throat with a knife. We were eating tonight!

When I got back from the hunt, cheers erupted. A group of about twenty boys and girls between the ages of eight and thirty gathered around, staring at my prized possession. I grinned.

“I got one.” I said. The cheers erupted again and I smiled. I handed it off to Sophia, a twelve-year-old who pulled her brown hair back and began to gut and carve the deer. Tai, a boy who couldn’t have been past the age of ten, flicked a lighter and started us a nice fire. Our lone thirty-year-old blew the flames, many helped Sophia hack legs off of the deer, trying to get as much useable meat as we could. Everyone pitched in when I made a kill, everyone except for me. I sat at the edge of the campfire while our crew–no, my crew–talked and chatted and gutted a deer. Not the best of lives, but a happy one. I slowly pulled out a rag and cleaned the blood off of my spear, and then began sharpening the spear head with a knife.

“Hey,” I heard, next to me. The newest member of our crew, eighteen-year-old Brett, was walking up to me. Though he was new, he had already proved useful. Before he had been forced to join us, he had been quite the thief. “I wanted to say thank you,” he said, running a hand through his hair. Dark brown, like mine. But that was where the similarities ended and the differences began. Like most of the people in my crew, Brett was older than me–by two years. I don’t know how I got picked as the leader, but it happened. Maybe because I was good at hunting, or because I was reasonable, or maybe because I was so young; easy to manipulate. Only sixteen and leading a group of twenty people, I was bound to need some help. “I didn’t have a lot before… you know, I ran away. And at first, it was hard. I mean living on your own… it’s difficult, and dangerous, and I would’ve died if you hadn’t picked me up. So thank you. Thank you for that.” He sat next to me, a deer hoof in his hand, carving it with a knife. I’m not sure what he intended to use the hoof for, but we tried to salvage everything we could out of every animal we killed–even squirrels and chipmunks.

“You’re welcome,” I said. “Do you mind if I ask… what’s your, like, backstory? Where did you come from?” I was always tentative asking this question, but normally it was something that they actually wanted to talk about.

Brett paused a bit before he spoke. “I think… I think I’m like most of the kids here, you know. My parents weren’t abusive, but they’re alcoholics. They used to fight. They’d be gone for weeks without telling me. When child services was going to pick me up…” Brett shook his head, like he was remembering some terrible things. “I’ve known some people who grew up in orphanages and foster homes, and I didn’t want to be like any of them. So I ran, and you guys found me.”

“If you’re eighteen, why did child services come for you? Aren’t you a technical adult?” I asked.

“Well, when I ran away, I was twelve. I was on my own for a few years–I lived with my aunt for three years in Texas, and then I just kind of got a job and lived in a kind of cardboard box thing. Scrounging, you know. Wasn’t fun.”

I smiled. “Well welcome to the group, Brett. I hear you’ll be quite useful.”

He grinned back. “Thanks.” Then he left. His smile had been so real, so genuine, that I had almost told him the truth. That I was not like him, or the others, that I was not on the run from abusive parents or spouses or child services. I was on the run from my friends, sure. But only because every human being that ever knew me wanted to turn me in to the police.

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William

There isn’t really much to the story, so I’m not sure why I’m telling it. But if you want to know how I got where I was, here it is.

It happened on a Tuesday, while I was working out at the gym like the devastatingly handsome young man that I am. I was eighteen, waiting for something interesting to happen in my life, when they approached me. Two men in black suits who at first I had thought were from Men in Black, but quickly discounted the idea on the fact that I assume that Men in Black does not exist, and aside from that they were wearing gray ties.

“Agent Cooper,” the first agent said, holding out a badge for me to see. “And this is our newest trainee, Agent Miller.” Agent Miller started fumbling around at something inside of his suit, then pulled it out and showed me his badge. He then dropped his badge very professionally and had to stoop over to pick it up. Agent Cooper shook his head.

“Are you William Roberts?” He asked.

“It depends,” I answered, “Are you from Men in Black? Because any scenario in which I get to meet Will Smith–”

“Drop the sarcasm,” Agent Cooper interrupted me with.

“Ah, like your very professional agent Miller!” I said. “Glad to know that y’all are protecting Earth from the aliens.” I rolled my eyes.

“Drop. The. Sarcasm.” Agent Cooper enunciated every single word.

I pretended to fumble with something and then caught it. “Awww, I caught it.” I shrugged and rolled my eyes. “That sucks, doesn’t it?”

Agent Cooper went red in the face, which made me smile. “Mr. Roberts, I’m from the FBI. Your failure to comply can lead to spending a night in jail. You wouldn’t want that, would you?”

There was a long pause, somewhere in which I uttered something very vulgar that made Agent Miller jump.

“Fine. What do you want?”

“We would like to offer you this pamphlet,” said Agent Cooper, and then he turned and left.

I threw the pamphlet away later that day.

Long story short, they kept coming up to me and asking me. Again and again. Would you like this job, Mr Roberts? And it was always no, AGENT whomever! And then the day of the job interview came… and I thought sure, why not? It’ll give them a laugh, and me, too.

And that’s how I ended up in that room, looking at a paper that asked me why do you want this job, Will?

Ella 2

“A job?” I asked, trying not to let my voice crack. It did.

“Yes, honey, a job,” the woman said, rolling her eyes, “a good paying job, too, better than the one you have in that factory. It’s a win-win here, and I have about a thousand documents to sign, so could we PLEASE hurry up here, hun, just a yes or a no.” the woman clicked her tongue and adjusted her winged glasses.

“I… uh…” not working in the factory with the creepy dudes any more was an obvious win for me. But trading that in for twenty armor-clad swat agents? I didn’t think so. “I think–”

“She’ll take it,” Max answered.

“What?” I asked him. I had been about to decline the job. Why did he want me to take it?

“El, you speak Spanish fluently. You can defend yourself. You’re smart and sharp like mom. And you’ll get some money, El, and that’s what a person like you deserves. To make money and be awesome. I would take it, if I were you.” Even after he stopped talking I still stared at him, trying to look directly into his soul. He stared right back.

The woman, who had been staring at Max as well, decided that this was the time for more information. “May I mention that it’s not a guaranteed job. You’ll have to pass an Initiation, which is just a written and physical test. But then yes, if you pass, you’ll have the job.”

 

About a half hour later, I sat at a round white desk with three other people–most of whom looked older than me. There was a girl with brown hair who looked as ripped as any dude I’ve ever seen, a lanky guy with bright orange hair and glasses, and the real competition–a twenty-year-old freshly-graduated-with-a-criminology-degree man whom I later learned was named Will. He had dark black hair and stark green eyes. I was going to crush him.

“You will see in front of you there are four sheets of paper. This is the first written test,” said the same woman who had burst into my house unannounced. “You have half an hour. Please use the number two pencils in front of you only, no pens or anything. And above all, no cheating, because I. Will. See. You.” she made eye contact with each one of us as she said the last four words. I cringed a bit in my seat. “Go.”

The other three turned their papers over instantly, but I hesitated, unsure. Looking back on it, I’m not sure what I was unsure of, but it was important enough that I had a split second of hesitation before grabbing it and flipping it over. On it, there was one simple question.

Why do you want this job, Ella?

It had my name on it and everything. I looked at my competition, writing furiously on their white papers, and then looked back at my own. Why did I want this job? What about it seemed to appeal to me? I mean sure, I hadn’t really signed up for it, but I did want this job and I wanted to crush the competition to a pulp. I could have said no at any point. I could have backed out, but I didn’t. What was keeping me here?

I waited for inspiration. And waited. And waited. I tapped my pencil on the table, which appeared to be plastic. I didn’t know why I wanted this job. Why on Earth did I stay?

I glanced at the clock on the wall, a round thing with a black border. Fifteen minutes left. What would I write?

I don’t want this job, my paper began, I need it. When I was little my dad left, and my family was poor and alone. We lived in a cardboard box, and all we had was each other. And then my mom left, and all me and my brother Max had was each other. And that was it. That was all we needed, at that time in our lives, to survive, to make it to the next day. But now, my hand started hurting and I flicked my wrist a bitwe need more than that. When you’re a kid, it’s easy to survive on your own because people pity you. But now that we’re grown-up I still held on to the hope that these people didn’t know I was sixteen, not twenty, it’s getting harder. So what I’m telling you is this–I don’t want this job. I want to be at home, with my family, snuggled under a blanket watching reruns of Seinfeld. I want to be going to school and making friends and having fights with my over-protective brother. But that option was ripped away from me by my dad, and my mom. And the only person who has stood by me all this time is my brother Max. I don’t want this job. I’m taking this opportunity because a brother who will stand by his little sister through everything–the time I had pneumonia and we couldn’t afford a hospital trip, the time I punched him because he got fired from his job and we couldn’t eat, the time I was chased by a cop and he had to save me. A brother who can not only withstand and endure that but also never get angry, never raise his voice, and always be back to hug me when I was hungry or angry or confused or sad, a brother like that deserves a better life than the one we got. So I don’t want this job. I’m taking it to repay a debt. I’m taking it to give someone what they deserve. I’m taking it to slap the devil in the face and tell him that he can’t always win and make the good people lose. I’m taking this job for my brother.

That was it. That was all the writing I could muster in those fifteen minutes. Sure it wasn’t the best paper if I wanted to actually get this job, but it was honest and true and from my heart and if they didn’t give me the job then so what? I could always take another job for my brother if I needed. I wasn’t sure it would make up for the pay this job had (the woman had told me at our apartment and holy heck it was a lot of money) but it would be something. Next, for the physical exam.