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The Last Head Hunters

Hidden Chapter 2.5 & 62.5


Chapter 2.5


Eight hours before Detective Trent Goodwin arrived at the scene

Home City

RNG gas plant

      The gas plant and the surrounding industries operated continually. The nearby port never shut down. The sky above seemed without depth with its haze of low cloud. The dense fog absorbed every skerrick of light. Operational areas were scattered through the darkness and colonised by flurries of moths circling the lights, while the night shift workers scurried below. These areas were lit up with powerfully bright globes; like they’d harnessed miniature versions of the sun to oppose the night. The artificial light allowed the night shift to be nocturnal without even being aware of it — a wonderful manmade illusion.

      The area outside the illuminated zones was a graveyard for old machinery, pipelines, junk, and maintenance equipment. It was all scattered across sections of barren salt-saturated land, resembling abandoned industries and decaying factories left behind long after a war.

      It all seemed uninhabitable except for the rats and roaches that clung to the shadows. Bats littered the night sky, averse to the noise and light created by the industries but paradoxically drawn to the insects carouselling the lights.

It would have taken a keen eye to see the fast-moving cloaked figure darting between the shadows. Moving methodically and wanting to remain undetected, it would have appeared formless — a blur against the silhouettes of scrapped metal and saltbush.

      The cloaked figure scaled the fence of the gas plant and ventured in far from the perimeter, stopping only when voices were heard. It stood so still that if anyone had noticed it, they would have assumed their eyes had played a trick on them and there was nothing there at all. This figure remained here undisturbed right up until the last moment. It was like a spider, hidden and waiting to ambush its unsuspecting victim, waiting until the time was right, then springing its attack and dragging its victim to a violent end.

      A plant technician watched as the security patrol drove off-site. She was walking back inside when this spider attacked. The night seemed to break free of itself and flare around her. Then she was gone like she had been abducted by her own shadow. Once everything settled the low artificial light apprehensively returned.

      Out of the light and in the darkness, she felt a heavy pressure wrap around her throat, blocking oxygenated blood from reaching her brain. She couldn’t move and within seconds she was unconscious.

      Not far away a plant operator turned when he heard movement behind him. Without warning, he had no time to make sense of what he saw. He received one striking blow to his throat. He was overwhelmed by his gag-reflex. Unable to defend himself he was knocked unconscious almost immediately.

      The last of the three plant workers noticed the absence of his colleagues. Leaving his station he was confronted by the horror and sight of the plant operator, his arms tied and eyes blindfolded. Before he had time to react, he was thrown face-first against a wall. The pressure on his throat was like nothing he had felt before. He felt it gripping tighter as it took up all free space around his neck and throat.  His vision speckled just before he dropped to the ground.


The plant technician

      The technician was dazed and groggy when she regained consciousness. Vertigo seized her even though she was seated on the ground. Her wrists were restrained behind her back and she was blindfolded. She was in trouble. She tried to remain quiet so she would not draw attention to herself but panic soon set in. She squirmed trying to wipe her face which was streaked with something more than just tears. But as hard as she tried she couldn’t break her bonds.

      She could only listen and speculate about everything happening around her. Frantic movement and muffled pleading sounded like it was close. Her throat tightened and was thick with phlegm. A dreadful smell hung in the night air, more wretched than the stench of gutting rabbits which she used to do as a child. Even when her knife would accidentally clip the bowel, the stench was nothing like this. Images flashed behind her eyes of what might happen to her and her colleagues; she was helpless. She couldn’t control such horrible thoughts. She felt possessed by a demon, corrupting her, exploiting her weaknesses and feeding on her fear.

      The exhausted technician heard heavy footsteps approach. Her attacker stopped in front of her. Her blindfold was ripped off. The first thing she saw was her two colleagues tied up, equally as helpless.

      Her eyes bugged out of her skull and terror took hold when she looked up and saw her attacker looming over her. She screamed at the sight of those dark sunken eyes, deep behind a mask staring back at her. These eyes fixated on her without compassion. Like a shark, an apex predator that feared nothing. He exuded an excess of power and in that moment he owned them. Cruelty, mercy, or whatever he chose to do next was entirely up to him.



Chapter 62.5



Home City

Troy Sellick’s Home

      Troy kept his head down and shuffled along his driveway, dragging the household bin behind him. He didn’t seem to stand tall anymore, evident in his posture and the wear marks on his shoes from dragging his feet. Troy had noticed it — he didn’t seem to walk with purpose and the spring in his step had left him years ago.

      Troy was blasé to his surroundings and even to what day it was. He hadn’t noticed that no one else had put their bins out for rubbish collection. Nor did he notice the man walking into his garage via the open roller door.

      Troy looked up and down the street. When he realised it wasn’t rubbish collection day he contemplated dragging the bin back but instead, he shrugged, and left it on the curb and ambled back up his driveway. He thought about calling in sick today and maybe for the rest of the week. He wasn’t feeling like himself. Everything seemed low, his appetite, motivation, everything was dull. Even the colours around him all seemed less eye-catching and spectacular.

      When he was younger, he would often watch the sunrise changing from cold blues and silvers to warm yellows and reds. He looked up and the sun was starting to rise but he had no enthusiasm to gaze at the sunrise like when he was younger; so he just walked back into the garage. Troy passed it off as seasonal depression but this had lasted many seasons. And it didn’t explain the hollow void in his chest or the sense that time seemed to evaporate out of existence before he even knew what to do with it.

      Troy considered how different he was now compared to his younger and more anarchist days in university. He used to wear wild t-shirts, enjoy staying out all night, and every year he’d always do something that he gave a damn about — whether it was travel, get a tattoo, or just try something new. He used to protest environmental issues and global conflicts. Not anymore.

      He was quite young when he was offered the role at RNG. He couldn’t believe his luck. The position of a lifetime. A position of limitless potential and growth.

      Potential that was completely squandered, he thought. Too many inattentive years and riding the waves of comfort. Way too many years of stagnation and mediocrity. Not to mention turning a blind eye to those environmental issues he once cared so much about.

Troy pinched the fat on his stomach and followed it around to the love handles on his sides and back. He had money and assets; more than most could ever achieve but he’d let everything truly important slip away. He had a large nest egg towards his retirement but he realised he’d missed out and squandered most of his adult life.  He hadn’t been present. He’d been on autopilot and single-mindedly focused on the future.

It is time to call a family meeting, he thought. It was time for a holiday and time to use some long service leave. It was time to consider a break and maybe to not return to this. He puffed up his chest a little at the thought of even getting fit again.

      Troy started to get into his car but was caught off guard by something moving fast in his peripheral vision. His mind jumped to the image of an animal pouncing at him to rip him limb from limb. Whatever it was, it slammed the door against him, crushing him between the car’s door and panel. A guttural bellow of air gushed from his lungs. His scream ricocheted off the walls and concrete floor of the garage. Troy was silenced by the car door slamming into him again, this time winding him. Unable to scream or call for help he collapsed on the ground.

      In a daze, he turned his head to see what happened. The images of his nightmares looked back at him. That twisted mask hovering over him. Troy’s dreams had been filled with terrors ever since the incident at the Hectorville gas plant and the incident at RNG’s head office with Athena. Troy had been briefed and warned to be vigilant but he wasn’t ready for this, not here in his own home. His mind went blank as he tried to figure out what to do. The security briefing never covered this scenario.

      I need to get the hell out of here, he thought. Escape, run, now, move you idiot.

      He crawled toward the open roller door. He could see the outside world, his neighbourhood, and the light from the rising sun and the safety it offered, like a sanctuary. He winced in pain as his arms pulled him forward and his legs pushed from behind. He dragged himself along the ground moaning like a costumed zombie on Halloween attempting to scare the neighbourhood’s children.

      But his hope of escape was extinguished by the sound of that familiar beep, the drone of the electric motor, and the roller door beginning to close. Troy watched the daylight and rising sun from beyond the roller door. That blue and silver sunrise that he hadn’t stopped and appreciated began vanishing inch by inch until the roller door clicked shut and he was left in darkness.

      He found himself reacquainted with his childhood fear of the dark — and the haunting faceless entities that watched and stalked him from the shadows. All he could hear was the sound of his heavy breaths. Whatever was in the dark, it grabbed him. Troy felt a rising panic. He tried to grip the concrete but without anything to hold on to he was dragged back into the depths of the garage.



       Troy wanted to scream but found his ability to do so was trapped deep in his belly. The only sound to escape him was a groan through clenched teeth.  His throat felt constricted like a noose created by his own tension. He felt the scorching pain of broken ribs.

Intense pain flooded his body and he fought to stay conscious.  His arm spasmed. He turned to see his bicep was impaled with what looked like a spearhead, pinning him to the drywall behind him. He froze at the sight knowing that one move could risk tearing his flesh and more crippling agony.

      Troy’s masked assailant stood in front of him. He could hear him breathing behind the mask. But he remained voiceless. He produced another bladed spear. With both hands and a heavy thrust, he drove the blade straight through Troy’s right calf muscle, pinning his lower body to the wall. Troy heard a crunching sound and he couldn’t tell if it was his bones breaking or the wall behind him cracking.

      Unable to make an intelligible sound, Troy panted through shallow breaths and a tight scream from his throat. His scream was so high pitched it could hardly be heard. The masked man pulled up a stool in front of him. He grabbed Troy’s head and angled it down showing him another blade he was holding. A grotesque spearhead resembling a barbed fishing harpoon. He held it tight in his hand like he was ready to slash and stab.

      Troy looked up towards his captor's face but only felt more hopeless when he saw dead sunken eyes staring back at him.

      The mask covered the upper half of his face and head. A fabric cowl covered his mouth, chin, and draped over his neck. Decorated around the eyes of the mask were two red snakes, their tail and mouth starting and finishing at the same point.

      ‘Now that you’re securely in place,’ the mouthless voice said. ‘I think it’s safe for us to have a chat.’

Without saying another word, he slid the blade between Troy’s lower ribs.

       The pain was instantaneous and this time there was no muffled squeak, but instead, a squealing like steam bursting from a kettle about to boil dry. The man wrapped his hand around Troy’s mouth forcing the squeal up into his sinuses and out through his nose. Troy’s nose bled and dripped along with sweat onto his assailant’s hand. Blood splashed and flicked like paint from artists frantically cleaning their brushes.

       His assailant leaned in and pressed his forehead against Troy’s.

       'You don't want to die, do you?' his assailant said. 'I can tell. I’ve seen it many times before.’ He pulled back causing Troy’s head to jar forward. ‘But death is merely a concept. And a poorly defined one at that. You aren't afraid of a concept, are you?’ He stood up. ‘No, of course you aren’t, no one is. But people are afraid of the unknown. And death is perhaps the greatest unknown. It’s interesting because whatever death is, as ill-defined as it is, you can sense it, here and now, in this room, closing in all around you. You can feel it, can’t you?'

       A shiver came over Troy like he was freezing but he perspired as if he was under the tropical sun. The shiver made him twitch against the blades protruding from his arm and leg, making it even more unbearable. But he couldn’t stop shaking no matter how hard he tried.

       ‘This is your cross to bear. This is your crucifixion,’ he said to Troy. ‘You don’t want to die. But that’s just the survival circuitry deep within your brain. That circuitry will keep you out of harm’s way at any cost.’ He struck Troy’s face, sending drops of sweat shooting across the wall. ‘Are you paying attention?’

       Troy spat to clear his mouth. ‘Yes.’

       ‘Good, now under extreme circumstances, this survival circuitry can malfunction. The right circumstances may even have you wanting to die.’ He leaned closer. ‘Can you imagine that?  A version of yourself that wants to die? And not just wanting to die but maybe even begging for it. Needing it, like someone stranded in the desert, starving and dehydrated, and slowly dying in desperate need of food and water. It seems almost unfathomable to shift into that mental state. It happens though, it can also happen in depression, despair, and existential meaningless. In those situations, the brain's survival circuitry fails and many of those people will kill themselves.’

       ‘Please, just tell me what you want?’ he coughed and spluttered as he spasmed from delirium to agony.

He shrugged off Troy’s pleading. ‘And let’s not forget about pain. The suffering of pain can also cause this circuitry in the brain to fail.’

       He grabbed Troy and started pulling him from the wall, his body pulling against the blades. The small muscles across his face twitched and creased while his veins protruded and throbbed under his skin. His teeth were clenched so tight they could have shattered at any moment like glass under too much pressure. And then his tears flowed and diluted in sweat.

       ‘There it is,’ he said standing over Troy with his chest and chin up, grandstanding. ‘In moments of suffering, we have two choices. You can seek aid to help yourself, fix the damage, and put yourself back together. Or you can end it all by terminating your experience; by utilising death as a way to take it all away.

His masked assailant took a step back before continuing. ‘But there is another option, and that is to die and choose to be born again. You see, all of us were born into this world without a choice in the matter. We’re victims of our parent’s choices. But this other option requires a sacrifice. You must die. Then the choice to be born again is yours. But either way, all forms of death require suffering.’



       The sound of the front door unlatching caught them both off guard. His assailant covered Troy’s mouth with his hand. ‘If you don’t want your family pinned up next to you, I suggest you keep quiet.’

       ‘Hey, are you still home?’ Troy’s wife called out as she closed the front door and entered the house. Her footsteps moved past the door to the garage and further into the house. The masked man closed his eyes and leaned towards the door, listening with intent.  Troy could hear her opening the fridge and the cupboards as she put away groceries and tidied up. She’d returned earlier than expected.

       Troy was petrified but he knew he had to make a decision. He was no longer scared for himself; instead, it was now for his wife. He had to make a choice. If he made a sound, he could warn her and maybe save himself, but that could also result in them both being killed. If he stayed silent, he’d remain in this nightmare but it might mean his wife would be safe. But even if he stayed silent, she still might stumble across them and then she’ll be trapped as well. His mind jumped around with what to do. Back and forth his mind went again and again. His pain intensified and his mind felt paralysed, unable to make the choice.

       His masked assailant must have had some similar choices to make but without the distraction of pain or an emotional investment in the situation — he reached a conclusion first and made the choice for Troy. He slid the stool underneath Troy, lifted his head, and then threw two hard fists into Troy’s jaw. Troy spiralled into an unconscious daze and slouched onto the stool. The masked man then entered the house.

       ‘Oh good, you’re still home,’ she said to the sound of the garage door opening and closing. ‘Sam forgot her bathers for the pool so I thought I’d...’ she froze, rigid and tense when she saw him walking towards her.             He knew at that moment that she couldn’t move even though every voice in her head would have been screaming at her to run and escape from the house, or to scream to the neighbours for help. But that all too familiar scent of fear filled the room like a gas leak but far more deadly. She had four possible responses, fight, flight, negotiation, or her current predicament, freeze.

       'What do you want?' she said, a poor attempt at switching to negotiation.

       ‘Better not draw this one out too long,’ he said to himself.

       ‘W-what?’ she stammered.

       He charged at her, kicking her legs out, and threw her face-first into the hard kitchen benchtop. He was fascinated by the sound. Her head hitting the granite made a deep bass sound like a war drum sounding one solitary beat.

       He dragged her into the garage and threw her concussed and limp body at Troy’s feet. He turned away and stood with a wide stance looking around the garage. He stretched his shoulders back, spreading his arms wide. He grounded himself in the moment, perhaps savouring it. His gaze drifted to a calendar hanging on the wall. It was six years out of date and showed a scantily-dressed, voluptuous pin-up girl, displaying her tattoos and holding a burning oxy-acetylene welder.

       ‘How cliché. I’m almost embarrassed for you both,’ he said when he heard her moaning on the ground.             ‘You know, your husband is a real piece of shit?’ He was mocking her.

       She attempted to roll over to get to her feet but he pushed his heel onto her and she fell flat.

       He turned his attention back to Troy. ‘I know you’re a bit stuck there.’ He sounded amused as he shook Troy’s free hand. ‘You and your colleagues make a lot of deals, don’t you? How many deals have you closed with a simple handshake?’

       He kept shaking Troy’s hand which made his body pull against the blades. He then reached into his bag but instead of producing another spearhead, he pulled something else out. It took Troy a few moments to realise what he was looking at. But the painted nails gave it away.

       ‘Oh don’t look so shocked,’ the man behind the mask said. ‘It’s just a hand. Would it make you more comfortable knowing it is the hand of your boss? Well, it was, but now it’s mine. She’s in a similar predicament to you. You could say she’s on the cross as well, hanging there. It’s up to her though, if she has the strength to save herself, and be reborn. Or otherwise she’ll just die there, alone.’

       'Just tell me what you want or what I can do?’ Troy coughed but he was so weary his cough barely made it past his throat.

       ‘Yes, back to business. I won’t prolong your suffering. Tell me everything I want to know or I'll stake your wife to the wall next to you. She’ll be a literal pin-up girl.’ He nodded his head towards the calendar.

       ‘But, but you haven’t asked me anything.’

       He scratched his chin through the fabric cowl. ‘Yeah, I suppose you’re right, we better get started then.’

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