The Lantern Heart

Supernatural Thriller

On the remote island of Kodiak, a retired fisherman/hunter wages war with an Ancient Evil that destroys the young and vulnerable. Can he stop the supernatural force, bent on devouring lives, before more are lost?

Part 1: Taken

The Hunter drifted across the cave’s threshold. His feet were clad in his timeworn leather hunting boots, laced to the middle of his shin. They squished in the muck, and he could smell the mud.

His body shivered with each step. The fear of death still gripped him, despite how many times he had been in the cave. He took a deep breath to calm his nerves.

The lantern floated and shook in front of him. The orange light cast shadows on the ground filled with boot tracks and drag marks, on walls caked with mud and bugs, and the ceiling that arched above him.

The glass cylinder lantern was wrapped inside a crisscross metal frame. The metallic lantern held a mysterious light inside. The Hunter didn’t know where the flame had come from; he only knew that when it ignited, it was time to go. The flame told him it was time to raid Their newest batch of captives.

He knew the way through the cave and could have traveled it blind. But the light provided power, comfort, and sight. It alerted him when to go hunting and who to set free.

A breeze blew into the cave and cycled back out. The Hunter didn’t smell the odor he feared most. They weren’t in the cave. He was alone. His hand stopped shaking. Knowing They weren’t in the cave calmed his nerves.

His pace quickened. His pliable and sturdy boots held traction with the ground. He moved quickly without falling, as the earth grew more and more slippery the deeper he went into the cave.

e squinted, still unable to see the back of the cave, a half-mile inside the earth. He spotted fresh drag marks in the mud. Two medium-sized humans had been hauled through the cave not long before his arrival.

The thought of the young people kicking and fighting for their lives against an evil they didn’t know existed stoked a fire in him. His heart pounded in his ears. His mind raced. What condition would they be in when he reached them?

The sploshing of the wet mud stopped. The ground crunched under the Hunter’s feet. The edges of the orange lantern glow showed him bones on the floor and bodies in the walls. They were caked in a blue crystal mud. Their skin was gray, their lips blue, their cheeks sunken, their mouths hanging open.

He didn’t stop to think about them. He had to get to the people who were alive. He worked his way down the wall toward the back of the cave, where the newly captured children would be held.

In front of him, he heard a gasp for air. He stepped closer, and the light showed along the floor and crawled up the wall. He could see their shoes, their denim pants, their shirts, and finally, their faces. 

A teenage boy and girl were stuck to the wall. The mud was caked around their heads and shoulders. Their arms, legs, and torsos were encased in dripping, wet gunk. Only their faces and necks were exposed and viewable. The Hunter could see that they were twins. They snatched shallow breaths.

He held the lantern up to their chests. The flame pulsed in the darkness. Immediately, their bodies became transparent, and a throbbing, bright, heart-shaped flame danced and bounced in the middle of their chests. The fire in the lantern bobbed along to the rhythm of their heartbeats.

The two teenagers jerked awake. The Hunter thrust out his free hand to cover the boy’s mouth, which had opened to let out a scream.

“Shhh,” the Hunter whispered.

The boy’s eyes flitted back and forth. The mud held his head stiff and prevented him from looking around. He choked out a small cry.

“She’s right here,” the Hunter whispered. “I’m getting you both out.”

The knife slid easily between their clothing and the mud. The drying process hadn’t set in yet. The siblings dropped to the ground, and they grabbed each other in their arms. He motioned for them to stand and follow him. They tried, but their legs were wobbly. He had to get them moving.

The Hunter shined the light on the wall. They all peered into the mask of a lifeless boy. His legs were shriveled up, and tan pants barely hung on his thin hips.

The sister shrieked. The brother jumped. They clasped hands and ran with the Hunter. The cave, the woods, the trail, they all became a blur as they sprinted away from the prison.

The three of them reached the Hunter’s boat and stepped in. He pulled the rip line on the two hundred horsepower outboard, and the lightweight, sturdy metal hull skipped across the waves and into the bay.

The Hunter laid a red-and-black wool blanket over their shoulders, and the two of them wrapped themselves in it. These kids weren’t the usual prey They took. These were two white kids, not indigenous children. 

As the boat flew along, They shrieked from the cave far behind them. The Hunter didn’t flinch at the sound, but the two kids buried themselves deep into the blanket. They had come back for the boy and girl, and Their prey was gone.

The boy whispered to the girl in a thick, heavy European language. The Hunter recognized a phrase or two—German. They must have been on vacation with their family. They didn’t live on Kodiak Island. This meant They were expanding Their tastes. 

They were getting greedy.

The Hunter navigated the boat around the small islands of the bay until his house on the cliff came into view. It sat on a rocky, isolated island jutting out of the middle of the bay. Weather-beaten but cozy, his home faced the main Kodiak Island from which they had fled. His cabin was nestled on the cliffside and had survived and aged through all the raging winter storms the Arctic had thrown at it. 

He had grown up on the main Kodiak Island but moved to this spot when the Takings exploded. The local children called him the Ammagaruqnik (the hunting Arctic wolf). The Hunter smiled at this. A hunting wolf—that was right.  And he would keep hunting Them because it was time for someone to stand up and not allow Them destroy families anymore.

Part 2: The Hunter

The Hunter grew up with his father and mother on the northern side of the main Kodiak Island, removed from the small villages by a thickly wooded patch that the Hunter claimed as his playground. The Hunter’s father had been a logger by trade.

As a young boy, the Hunter learned how to hunt, trap, and fish. He had a natural talent for it. His father leaned on the Hunter to provide food for his mother when he was out logging. The Hunter never minded. It gave him a reason to roam the wooded areas, to chase deer and other animals. It gave him a reason to fish the little stream nearby. And it taught him the skills that he would need in his war with Them, the Tuurngap.

Every life has a turning point. A moment when nothing is ever be the same. The Hunter’s moment came the morning he followed his father’s muddy footprints and discovered his father’s motionless body.

The Hunter had woken at dawn and found his father’s coffee mug on the table and his chair tossed backward. The coffee was fresh, steam still rising from the cup. He had just left in a hurry.

The Hunter raced to get dressed and bounded out the door. He ignored the needlelike raindrops and the thirty-degree temperature. He tracked his father’s boot tracks into the woods. There, in the pouring rain, a half-mile from their home, he kneeled next to his father’s broken body. In his father’s right hand was a knife, in his left hand was the horn. At his feet was the lantern.

Tears stung his eyes. He blinked them away and whispered a prayer, asking for his father’s spirit to find peace on the other side. He bent over and took up his father’s knife. On the blade, symbols and petroglyphs were etched into the steel in intricate detail. The Hunter couldn’t make out what they said.

The rain poured. His drenched clothes stuck to his back and arms and legs. A chill ran through his body. Had his father given his life to save the Hunter?

The Hunter’s sleep was fitful the night he buried his father. In his nightmare, his father’s image floated before him. The skin below his eyes and around his ears were glowing white and yellow. The symbols from the knife circled his father’s head. The Hunter tried to ask him what the symbols meant. He tried to tell his father he missed him. He wanted to ask his father if he had saved him. 

But the dream faded, and the Hunter awoke with no answers.

Early the next morning, the Hunter lay the knife and the lantern in front of his mother, who sat upright and rigid in her chair. She flinched at the sight of them. The Hunter pointed at the knife and asked her what the symbols meant. She snatched the knife from the table. She hastily gathered the lantern and the horn and rushed to her bedroom, slamming the door and locking it.

He never saw his father’s things again while she was still alive.

The Hunter’s mother didn’t let him stay at home or on the island much past his eighteenth birthday. She was determined to get him away from Them and the calling that had claimed her husband’s life. Two days after he turned eighteen, she drove him to the docks, and he began a job with a fishing company. Three days later, he was at sea.

For a time, the Hunter was skeptical that he could ever fall in love with the ocean, not in the same way he loved the woods. But a passion for the sea welled up inside him. The rolling waves, the seagull swarms, the breaching whales, the task of mending the old nets—all of it wove a spell over the Hunter.

The nightmares and symbols, the knife and lantern faded from memory. The Hunter forgot the pain he’d once felt. The ocean washed the anger over his father’s death out of his heart. He felt lighter with each sunset.

The sea changed the Hunter. No longer bound to the land, he roamed the open seas, where he found substance and meaning. He became a fisherman-hunter. He stayed with the fishing company for thirty years despite the financial hardships, storms, injuries.

What made him come back to the land to hunt the ultimate killer? What inspired him to save the lives of children?

It began with rumors that floated from fisherman to fisherman, from café owners to dock workers. Stories of children disappearing began spreading beyond Kodiak Island. When the Hunter and his crew docked in various ports, the stories of the Takings were numerous and growing.

The more stories that came to light, the more he could no longer ignore the feeling that stirred inside him, nor the nightmares that returned. He had to do something about it. His father’s sacrifice came back to him and would not leave him alone.

Consumed by the need to act, he retired and moved back to Kodiak Island, where he built his house. Then he waited for a sign to show him how to start.

He waited. And waited.

To fill his spare time, he built a stairway from his house on the cliff down to the water. He made a little dock so he could launch out and fish on his small fishing boat. It was on that little dock that the Hunter found the lantern.

One morning, he climbed the one hundred twenty stairs down the cliffside to the water. He walked the newly hewn planks and listened to the water sloshing about. The new coat of weatherproofing oil filled the air. The morning fog prevented him from seeing more than ten feet into the bay.

Because of the thick and blinding mist, he tripped when his foot struck something. He squatted to have a look at the obstacle and found a lantern, old and beautifully crafted. The lantern had iron bands wrapped around a glass cylinder. In the middle of the lantern was a spout with etchings on it.

The Hunter’s instincts kicked in. Was he being watched? He glanced around. Where did the lantern come from? Who brought it to him? It was familiar to him, but he had never inspected his father’s lantern, so he couldn’t be sure if it was the same one. After a few minutes, he reached out his hand to grab it. As he touched the loop on top—pffff—a flame appeared in the center.

The Hunter stared at the lantern and saw there was no wick inside. There was no gas apparatus providing fuel for the flame. There was no reason the lantern should be lit, but there was a flame, bright and hot. It cut a glowing tear in the fog. 

The Hunter watched the light flicker and flame. The flame morphed and changed. It took on the shape of a human heart. A beating, throbbing, glowing heart. And his father’s face was in the midst of the heart. He picked it up and used its guiding light to save dozens and dozens of children, like the German twins on his couch right then.

He watched the brother and sister warm themselves by the fireplace and eat chili from his wooden bowls. The lantern hung on the chair in which he sat. The knife sat on the Hunter’s table next to his cup of coffee. He used a wet rag to wipe the mud off the blade, the etched symbols snagging on the cloth as he brushed over it. He still had no idea what they said or meant. He had the lantern and blade, but the horn—its location was a still a mystery to him.

When the twins finished their food, he took their bowls, and the siblings settled on his couch and sat close together. They watched the flames in the fireplace as he washed the bowls and looked out his kitchen window into the bay that surrounded his home. His mind worked over all the places he had searched for his father’s horn. It was the last item he needed to stop Them once and for all.

Part 3: Them

The Hunter first heard of the Tuurngap—Them—as a young boy playing with the indigenous boys his age. His friends believed the Tuurngap existed. They were terrified of the demon. The kids did all they could to avoid the Tuurngap, what they called “the night hunter.”

Every day, as the sun started to set, the boys would stop playing—mid-game if they had to—and race home. They would shout while they ran to ward off the Tuurngap. Their parents would grab them ten or fifteen feet outside their homes and yank them inside. 

The Hunter stood alone on the ice. Unafraid of their “silly” beliefs, he walked home at his own pace and enjoyed the cold night air, the solitude, and the dazzling stars. He thought the fear he saw in the other boys was foolish.

Until he saw the Tuurngap.

The night he came face-to-face with the Tuurngap, he had stayed on the ice longer than usual. Hockey sticks lay all around him. His friends hadn’t bothered taking them home. The Hunter turned in circles, and the stars spun above him. Suddenly, a thick black mist appeared over his head. The object emitted a hideous stench. His gut wrenched.

Tuurngap.

They were the length of a great white shark and the width of an oak tree, but They swayed with the pliability of a blade of grass. They bent and blew a gut-wrenching, foul-smelling wind into his face. A terrible scream pierced the Hunter’s ears—it was his own.

Tuurngap.

He couldn’t discern whether They had arms or legs or even a face. He saw nothing but black smoky ooze as it undulated in the sky. He felt a stabbing pain in his eyes. He wanted to look away but couldn’t. They had his attention.

Tuurngap.

The words echoed in the wind. They—the demon—was just like the boys had said. 

The Hunter’s knees knocked together. The demon flew at him and knocked the Hunter on his back. He looked up into what should have been a face but found a black hole, infinite in its depth.

It was then that he heard the sound of a horn.

Someone behind him blasted a tune unlike anything he had ever heard. The music became clear just as Their shadow engulfed the Hunter. A glop of inky goo dripped next to his head onto the ice, burning through the four feet of frozen water. The bright tone was followed by the rapid succession of deep bass notes. The Hunter could see the steady flow of music act as daggers that sliced through the Tuurngap. Bigger and bigger globs fell and melted the ice all around the Hunter.

“Run!” someone yelled at the Hunter. “Run!”

The Hunter saw the Tuurngap twirl and writhe above him. They shook so violently that the Hunter could see Their form tearing apart. 

He scrambled to his feet and ran toward the horn blasts.

Slipping, sliding, he kept moving. When he reached the edge of the lake, he looked back. 

The Tuurngap spun faster, faster, faster, and then shot off into the night sky. They vanished and acidic poison showered the ice, and the center of the lake liquefied under its touch.

The horn went quiet, and the Hunter fell backward into the snow bank. The ice crunched as someone came toward him. He rose to greet his savior. He had never been so happy to meet someone in all his life.

But who he had found waiting for him shocked him. There, with a horn around his neck, was his father. His father high-stepped it through the snow bank, the lantern in one hand and a knife in the other, to get to his son.

The Hunter was dumbstruck. His father glanced around the area and sheathed his knife. He reached out his calloused hand and took the Hunter’s hand. He yanked the boy straight up into his arms. He held the Hunter tight, turned, and carried him into the forest.

The door to his house opened as they drew near, and his father carried him inside. His mother waited with a change of clothes. They dressed the Hunter, gave him warm bread and milk, and ushered him off to sleep.

The Hunter pieced together what he could about the Tuurngap. It was not a popular subject among the people, and not many wanted to discuss Them. What he knew was this: the Tuurngap were reapers. Their job had been to cull the tribes of the weak and sick, especially the weak and sick children. In the modern age, no one remembered why the Tuurngap came or where they came from. They only knew the Tuurngap were rabid and had been taking children for centuries.

And for centuries, the Tuurngap only appeared in the winter. They would roam through the village, looking for those who had been set apart by the people to thin their ranks and make them stronger. Modern-day elders called the practice barbaric. But it had been done and was forever a part of their history.

Things changed during a particularly bleak hunting season for the villagers of Kodiak Island. Their food stock was low. The weather was mild that winter, so they set out to find food before a deep chill came. In a freak fishing accident, all of the men on the island died. The people were left hungry, without protection.

As the cold thickened that winter and the weight of having no men left set in, the female elders decided they were not going to cooperate with the Tuurngap. No more children would be taken from their ranks. They needed everyone to live to help the people survive come spring. They hid their children, and the Tuurngap disappeared for a time.

They were not gone for good. A false lull fell on the families. They assumed all was well. But the Tuurngap returned and seized dozens of children in one day—some weak, some strong. Two days later, six more children were taken. A day after that, eight more vanished.

Panic seized the village. The elders met and decided to offer a peace treaty. They would allow the Tuurngap to winnow the sick once a year.

That night, they bound two sickly children, lead them to the center of the frozen lake, and waited. The Tuurngap showed up, and the elders pleaded that they spare the people, accept the offering, and come only once a year. The Tuurngap agreed and took the children.

The pact held up for a few years, until the Tuurngap demanded two sacrifices a year. Then three. Then four. Then five. Then six.

Finally, the youngest elder, a brave woman with ten children, stood up and marched out onto the ice one night with a lantern, a knife, and a horn. She battled the Tuurngap and won. The Tuurngap vanished, the Island rested, and the brave woman placed the weapons in the hands of the elders and tended to her children until her death at one hundred five.

Decades passed. The people grew complacent. The memories of the Tuurngap all but faded. Until, one night, an innocent mother left the door to her home open. Her son was lying sick on the floor before the fire, and she went next door to get medicine for him. She returned to her home as the Tuurngap dragged her son out into the snow and then into the sky. She never saw him again.

The village elders this time called for all children to be shut inside at dusk, the doors and windows to be locked, and the people to be vigilant. No more deals. No more loss.

But with time, people moved in and out of the village. The story and rules were not passed on, and new families saw their children captured. Now the Hunter faced the fact that the Tuurngap was no longer limiting Themselves to the indigenous children. All were fair game.

###

The German twins ran past an Avis rental car and across a gravel driveway, to the family’s rental cabin and burst through the door. The Hunter waited until he heard their parents’ shouting and crying and then laughter at the return of their children. He sat down in his boat, ripped the engine to life, and set out for home again.

The squawk of the Tuurngap in the distant forest hardened the Hunter’s iron resolve against Them. He had faced Them a few times, but he couldn’t kill Them. 

The knife was the tool of freedom. He had found the knife the day he returned to the island. It had been discarded among some of the tools his mother had packed and put into storage when the Hunter left for the sea.

The lantern showed up on the docks out of nowhere. It was the tool of guidance. 

But the horn was the tool of destruction. He had to find it to end Their hunting.

Part 4: The End

The Hunter woke from a nightmare in a terrible sweat, his pajama shirt clinging to his back. In the nightmare, he’d stood outside his childhood home. His mother appeared at the edge of the woods and walked stiff-legged toward him. She held a red flannel shirt with something wrapped in it. She stopped within arm’s reach and held the bundle up for him to take. He took the shirt and the object from her. She floated back into the forest, fading out as she moved away from him.

The Hunter unwrapped the shirt. It was one of his father’s old flannels. His father’s horn was wrapped in the clothing. The instrument was a dull gold color. He dropped the shirt, and it vaporized at his feet. He held the horn up to his lips to see if it would sound.

Before he could play the instrument, he shot up in his bed. He was in his room in his cabin. The pale moonlight came through the shutters, and the smell of the dying fire spiked the air.

The horn! He knew where it was.

He dressed quickly, rushed out the door, down the creaking stairs, and across the dock, slick with morning dew. He jumped onto his boat and jetted out into the bay. He aimed the boat northeast and glided over the still waters.

The morning mist kissed his face and soaked his hair. His mind was clear and focused for the first time in a long time. Everything was so plain now. His mother had hidden the horn in the charred remains of his childhood home.

His boat slid easily onto the shallow and rocky beach of the main island. He ran into the woods and didn’t stop until he reached the place their cabin once stood. 

A fire had destroyed it after his mother had passed while he was at sea. Park rangers said the trees around the home had been dead for some time. All it took was a thunderstorm to spark a fire and—poof—it was all gone.

He stood where the front door had been. The house was nothing but heaps of black soot. He walked through the mounds of flaky ash that were once tables and chairs. He stepped into what would have been his parents’ room and moved to the blackened iron frame of their bed.

He knelt down and moved the frame aside. He spotted a small door in the floor. He flipped the latch, wrenched the heavy door open, and lifted up a red flannel shirt. The horn was inside. The clothing and horn smelled of earth and fire.

He turned the horn over and over in his hands. It was tarnished by dust and smoke and time. He lifted it to his lips and blew into the mouthpiece. Dust and dirt and a moth flew out of the end.

He blew into the horn a second time. The sound grew stronger with each blast of his breath.

The Hunter strode confidently back to his boat. He had what he needed to kill the Tuurngap. The horn was tucked under his arm, the knife was in his belt, and the lantern sat in the hull of the boat. 

 

###

Deep in Their damp cave, the Tuurngap wrapped another child in their grimy clay mixture. They made a small incision on the boy’s neck, and a tiny trickle of blood blotched the boy’s shirt. They were about to feed when They felt the music in the air. 

They recognized the horn and remembered what the song could do to them.

They left the boy in the wall and amassed outside the cave. Collecting Their rage into one massive force, They rushed out of the forest, over the water, and toward the Hunter’s house.

###

In the Tuurngap’s blind hatred, They passed over the Hunter as his boat swung around the cove. He shivered as They moved over him. He lowered his head and drove the boat hard toward his target.

###

The Tuurngap reached his cabin quickly. The fire in the home burned brightly, and They circled the dwelling, looking for an opening, any opening. The Tuurngap could not enter a home otherwise. All the Tuurngap needed was a crack in the window, a break in the walls, an open door, anything that would allow Them access.

Around and around They searched, but They but found no way into the cabin. They paused outside the front door and decided that if They couldn’t get in, They would drive him out. Their ear-splitting wails would do the job. It was the trick They had used on the Hunter’s father.

The Tuurngap took up their spot outside the front window and wailed the thick, razorlike, grating sound.

###

At the mouth of the cave, the Hunter could hear the anger. He didn’t have much time. The Hunter took a deep breath, held up the glowing lantern, and ran into the cave.

When he reached the back of the cave, he found one boy alive and two girls beyond his help. He cut the boy free, dropped to his knee, and the boy’s motionless body slumped over his shoulder. The Hunter rose and jogged toward the entrance of the cave.

Across the water, the Tuurngap stopped the attack and searched the house. They rushed around the dwelling. There was no sign of life. They spun and looked toward the dock. The boat was gone.

Collecting Themselves again, the Tuurngap hurtled toward the cave, whisking over the Hunter’s boat and down the path. Their flight came to a violent stop when the lantern’s light blinded Them. The Tuurngap howled and twirled around like a tornado. They spun skyward, over the trees. 

###

The Hunter readied himself. The demon arched upward and then crashed down on the Hunter. The lantern slipped out of the Hunter’s hand, and the black mass knocked him back into a thicket.

He rose, and they bowled him over again. And again. And once more.

###

The boy shook himself out of his daze and realized that he was not in a cave, tacked to the wall, having the blood slurped from his neck by a hideous smelling angel of death. Instead, he was in a shrub, the cold night air brushing against his cheek. It took him a minute to realize he was watching a black, smoldering column slam a man into the ground.

He blinked and realized that the thing that had taken him from his father’s shoulders earlier that night attacked an old man on the ground.

The boy wanted to run. He tried to bolt into the woods and find his parents. But an object on the ground stopped him: a horn, dented, worn, and dirty. For some unknown reason, he put it to his lips and blew into it.

###

The Hunter reached out and grabbed the lantern that had fallen to the ground. He rose to his feet, and while the black column spun upward, he held the lantern up, letting the light blaze skyward. The Tuurngap spun wildly as the horn sounded off.

The Hunter ran to the boy, took up the horn and the knife, and handed the lantern to the boy.

The Tuurngap rushed the Hunter. He raised the knife and dropped to his knees. The blade sliced into the underbelly of the Tuurngap as They flowed over his head. The demon caterwauled, split in two, and the voices of a thousand children spilled out. The sound drove the boy to the ground. He lay in a ball and covered his ears.

“Get up!” the Hunter called. “I need you!”

The boy sat up. The Hunter handed him the knife. He told the boy to shine the lantern and use the knife if he needed it. Then the Hunter moved to the middle of a small clearing and held the horn tight. He felt a slight tremor in his left hand. This was his moment.

The two halves of the Tuurngap spun in the air and headed toward the Hunter from opposite sides.

The Hunter said a quiet prayer.

The Tuurngap raced just above the ground. The two halves collided, enveloping the Hunter in their midst.

The horn was on the Hunter’s lips. When the dark wrapped him up, he played his father’s song. Fear shot through the Tuurngap.

The Hunter couldn’t see anything. He could hear the notes of the horn far away, somewhere, but the howls of the Tuurngap and the weeping of stolen lives drowned all sound out. The stench of death gagged him.

For the briefest moment, the Hunter felt desperation. Maybe the horn wouldn’t work; maybe he was playing the wrong song.

He kept blowing, and gradually, the sounds of the horn grew louder and louder, and the sounds of the dead faded away.

The boy held the lantern high and the knife out in front of him, although every fiber in his being said to run as fast as he could.

A shudder coursed through the massive demon. The notes sliced into the demon’s form.

The boy held up the lantern so he could see.

The Tuurngap saw him and spun to attack, but the light repelled Them.

Inside the mass, the Hunter continued playing. Long. Loud. Fierce.

 

The closer the boy got, the more the Tuurngap shook. The boy noticed pieces of the black mass falling away, dropping off in ribbons, hitting the forest floor and melting away.

Note after note, the Tuurngap shrunk, but it refused to stop. Their thoughts were bent on destruction, and They would not turn back from that.

In one last effort, They compressed around the Hunter’s body. He felt the tightening and knew it was then or never. He blew hard and long on the horn. Baroom! Baroom! Baroom!

Everything paused. Then, a rip. A crippling shriek. The Tuurngap compressed again. Then it exploded, erupting into a ball of flaming ink, shooting skyward and catapulting over the water.

The Hunter and the boy stood and watched quietly. The night air was still. The stars sparkled in the heavens.

The Hunter had lived and won. The Tuurngap were gone.

###

Water lapped at the wooden posts as the morning sun rose in the distance. His hot cup of coffee in hand, the Hunter rocked in a chair on the end of his dock, running his free hand through the thick white fog.

###

The boy sat next to his mother, as his father drove them down the freeway, speeding away from the woods and the evil he had faced and helped defeat—for the time being.

###

The German siblings drifted off to sleep, both unsure if the last forty-eight hours had been a soul-sucking nightmare or not.

###

The boys and girls the Hunter had saved over the years felt a twinge of peace for the first time since being taken. Their spirits told them all was well in the world again.