The townhouse looked ready to collapse under its own weight. The houses on either side of it had already been boarded up by the city. The neighborhood itself was only a few steps short of a ghost town. Two men walked down the street; their long coats swinging with their quick strides, not paying any attention to the summer sun, or the few boys playing ball at the end of the block. The movements of the coats occasionally revealed shining silver underneath. Flashes of metal and cold stares from the strangers caused the kids to lose interest in their game and scatter to the winds.
When they arrived at the house the shorter of the two went around back to cover the rear entrance. The city's emergency warning system went off every Monday at noon to test its readiness, today that was the hunters' signal to enter the old house. Mark, the taller of two, entered the front room through the empty window frame off the front porch. It was clear except for a small scattering of old newspaper, the same for the middle room. George came in from the kitchen, signaling that the stairs to the basement were there. Mark motioned him to wait in the middle while he checked the upstairs. So far only a few creaking floorboards were the only sounds made by the two men. Upstairs was as empty as the first floor, far cleaner than most abandoned houses were. All that was left was the most dangerous part of the house, the basement, dark confined with only one exit.
Full spectrum headlights were strapped on, tuned to produce natural sunlight, crossbows readied, silver knives loosened in belts. The basement door opened quietly revealing inky darkness. No sound crept up, the only odors were the usual smells of a disused moldy space, the beams of their lamps cut through the dark with only dust motes swirling through. With a nod to George, Mark ducked down and leaped to the bottom crashing his shoulder into the wall, the crossbow was the only steady thing for a moment.
A wild screech echoed from below as a pale woman with wild hair slammed into Mark. His crossbow fired point-blank into her chest and yet she still battered him like a Doberman on a kitten. George dived down the steps onto the woman's back long knife in hand. Left arm wrapped around her face the knife sawed at her throat, yet still she beat the no longer struggling Mark. When the head finally parted from her body he fell backwards to the floor flinging the head away. That body turned on him where her head had been was the perfect black shape of it. She started to charge towards George when his head lamp shined directly on her shadow head. With a wailing cry she tried to block the light from hitting her there as she darted to the back of the cellar.
Still eying where she fled George checked to see if Mark still breathed. When he saw that his mentor was alright for now, George picked up his own crossbow and started to creep to the back. There it was in the far corner tugging at the bolt in its chest. The thing that was his sister couldn't be saved, he had no choice but to destroy what was left of her remains and hope his only sibling rested in peace. Pushed into the corner behind it was a toddler crying and clutching at the monster. That would have been his niece, now he wasn't sure what it could be.
Another shot and its hand was pinned to the chest. She started to charge him again but shining the light on her shadow head pushed her back. He reloaded again and again, finally pinning her to the wall. It took hours pulling her apart bit by bit, sawing with his his silver blade. The wood from bolts held the shadow in place yet it still had the full three dimensional shape of a woman. Shining both sunlight lamps on its shadow shape finally dissolved it in shrieks and screams. The little girl cried in the fetal position the whole time.
George dropped the girl off with the Enlightened Sisters. Mark would live but he would never hunt again, you couldn't do that from a wheelchair.
Katherine Mary Sebastian was moving through her latest Tai Chi form when Sister Elisa came out into the yard. The middle aged nun waited quietly till Kat finished the slow graceful moves. Her long dark hair was damp with sweat and hung nearly to her waist. Pale skin flushed with the exercise this was about the only time you find Kat outside, she preferred inside activities like chess or basketball. The nuns insisted that she take at least a little time each day outside when the weather was nice. Her morning martial arts seemed a good compromise.
Kat grinned,"Same bet as last time, Sister? I win, you break the vow of silence. You win, I keep quiet for a week."
Sister Elisa smiled her acknowledgment and immediately launched into a series of windmill like kicks. Kat danced around and underneath the attacks waiting her chance to strike back. When the chance came the young girl went for a leg sweep knuckle strike combination. The move even though executed flawlessly, failed to connect with the whirling nun. Back and forth the fight went for over fifteen minutes before Katherine ended up on her back with Sister Elisa kneeling on her chest ready to deliver a palm strike. Kat was able to sign her surrender. It wasn't the first time or even the tenth time that she had spent a week silent thanks to Elisa.
The following day whispers trailed behind Katherine as the other day school students noticed the fresh bruises on her. Since she never spoke after this happened, it was often theorized that Kat got into horrible trouble on the weekends when she was the only student left with the Sisters. They knew she wouldn't talk for awhile and even when she was speaking again the incident wouldn't be referred to by her. The classes that day were very well behaved as the other teens saw what they believed was the nuns wrath on Kat. She had an undeserved reputation as the school bad girl who would just as soon beat you as talk with you.
Katherine was unconcerned about the other girls reactions, since she felt the nuns were family and the other students just passing distractions. When she entered the school for the first time she had already been under the care of the order for over two years. Now fourteen years later she was on the verge of graduating no closer to her fellows than that first day. For the rest, Kat was a ghost in classes who spoke when spoken to, played in sports without the camaraderie that existed between the others, a mystery they would never unravel.
Valedictorian, she passed it on to a more vocal student in favor of watching quietly from the back. She was eighteen, free from school, and without future plans. Kat had refused to think of anything beyond finishing the year and now with it passed she drifted through her usual summer chores. Helping in the gardens, cleaning the chapel, sparing when she could, reading when she couldn't spar, it looked to be just another summer till Mother Emma called her to the offices.
"Katherine have you decided what you will do this fall?"
"I thought I would take the vows of the order. I can't imagine living any where else," Kat replied indifferently.
"Humph! You will not be taking any vows time soon. You've barely seen any of the world outside of the grounds, this isn't the 16th century. Kat dear your like my own child, I couldn't accept you here without giving you a chance to see what else there is. In a week your Uncle George will be here to pick you up. If you still want to join us in a year then I will take your vows then." the glint in the older woman's eye left no doubt she was serious.
"But I- I've never lived anywhere else and Uncle George only comes here on my birthday," she whispered in shock. It had never occurred to Kat that she would leave here.
"That is my point dear. Give your Uncle a chance, he loves you. He will need some time to adjust also, just like you will."
It seemed an instant later she was in her Uncle's old truck, her things locked under the Tonneau cover in back. Kat thought of the truck as old since it was the only one she had ever seen him drive, but truthfully it was a timeless body and faded blue color that could have been anytime in the last twenty years. Only the cover had been added in the last ten replacing the camper top that had fallen out of style. Not that her Uncle appeared to care about style, he just blended into the surroundings where ever he went. Even driving he slouched back into the bench seat one arm on the door ledge the other sort of hung on the wheel, baseball hat pulled low to shade his eyes. Short brown hair peppered with gray mostly covered by the cap, plain T-shirt and jeans, brown work boots on his feet Uncle George could of gotten lost in a crowd anywhere short of a corporate office. His moves were the lazy cruising of the great white; deliberate, silent and sudden.
Katherine stood out in contrast anywhere away from the convent school. Straight posture, hair brushed back falling to her waist, also wearing jeans and a T-shirt but with ironed seems looking like they had just been purchased. She had a still grace about her that made her an island in the river of humanity, years of correction had removed any fidgeting or unnecessary moves. There was almost the stillness of the striking snake about her, those few new girls who had joined the school each year sometimes learned that the hard way if they thought her weak.
The mostly quiet drive wasn't completely uncomfortable for either of them but it could have been better. The weather and how the Orioles were doing this season lasted them about half of an hour. The midday traffic wasn't bad so Kat watched the houses and trees fly by as they drove the roughly 20 miles to her Uncles house. She never really thought about how close he lived to the convent before now but it was strange to her that he made special arrangements for her to live there when she could have been a day student like everyone else all these years.
"Uncle George, how come I've never lived with you before now?"
"You asked me that once before when you were little, I guess you don't remember huh?"
"No, I don't. It just feels like I've always been there. This is weird now."
"Well I travel a lot. When your Mother, Cheryl, passed I had no idea how to take care of a little kid so I figured the Sisters were a better choice than some baby-sitter I pulled out of a hat. I do a fair amount of consulting for the Church so I trusted them with you. Later on you just kinda fitted in with them. You didn't ever ask to leave so I thought you were happy. You were, weren't you?"
"Yes, I guess I was. Did Mother Emma tell you I wanted to take the vows?"
"Yeah, she did. I thought it was a good idea if you wanted it, but I understand what she means about waiting to make sure you are serious. Its like marriage, you don't want to just jump in without thinking about it. I did that once in Vegas, it wasn't pretty."
"You were married?" Kat asked surprised. She had never pictured her Uncle dating much less married.
"Yeah, well it wasn't the smartest thing I ever did. Only lasted about a month before she tried to kill me with a frying pan. That would be this scar here." he pointed to a crescent shaped mark at the edge of his hair line.
Soon enough they pulled into the looping gravel drive that lead up to her Uncle's house. She was kind of expecting an old farm house or ancient colonial, instead he lived in modern styled house with a flat roof and huge glass windows. The house reminded her a little of the glass house in "13 Ghosts" till she noticed that there were opaque walls inside the place. While they were grabbing Kat's duffel bag from the back the front door opened to reveal a women in her late 50's wearing a yellow house dress. Gray hair in a tight bun the woman reminded Kat of a vulture, so much so that for a second Kat thought she saw gray wings instead of arms.
"Uh who's that?"
"Oh, that's just Birdy my house keeper. If you need anything when I'm not home just ask her and she can find it. Heck she can probably find it faster even if I am home." Then George called out,"Birdy, this is my niece Katherine. Katherine this is Mrs. Aello Iris, also known as Birdy to her friends."