Fiction Friday; An Unemployed Hunter

This is a short story that's still in progress, but I'm pleased with the concept, and I"m looking forward to finding a good ending for this one.

***

Rayne tugged her jacket straight and checked in the visor mirror for smudged makeup. She'd been preparing for this all week, and would feel very stupid if she messed up with mascara in her eyebrows or something. Assured that everything was as it should be, the woman ran a hand over her dark hair, patted her braid (still tight and clean just the way it had been when she left the house) and got out of the car.


The office buildings in this quarter all towered at least twenty stories high, looming impressively over the pedestrians below. Making a face and patting her braid one more time, Rayne tucked her portfolio under her arm and strode briskly down the sidewalk, eyes fixed on her target. The squat, pale building was seated like a heavyset man with windows too large for his face between a sleek metal facade on one side and a solid brick construction on the other. The door wore shiny letters like a smile that showed too many teeth, flashing "The Relay Register Publishing Office" at her as she approached. Blinking against the bring reflection, Rayne pulled the door open and at once smelled ink, stale coffee, and cheap Chinese food.


"Hey! Don't just stand there letting all the cool air out!" Someone in the office's cool, dim interior leaned around their computer monitor to glare at her, and Rayne quickly stepped in, the door swinging shut behind her. A tiny trash can next to the only occupied desk overflowed with napkins, paper coffee cups, and neatly-stacked Chinese takeout containers. The other four desks, arranged against the walls to leave the center of the room to an enormous printer, were unoccupied and tidy. Rayne wondered briefly if they had a janitor that cleaned up their desks when they weren't being used. 

"I'm here for an interview. Can you point me in the right direction?" Leaning first to one side, then the other, Rayne tried to spot the person that had shouted at her about the door, but they had disappeared behind the monitor. "Upstairs and to the left. The door says 'Editor in Chief'." A pale hand emerged from behind the desk, waving vaguely off to Rayne's right. A set of stairs ascended to a bright hallway in that direction. "Thank you." When she got no reply, the woman shrugged, hoisted her portfolio a little tighter up under her arm, and started upstairs. They say once someone's faced real danger, nothing can scare them anymore. That was a bald-faced lie. Maybe someone out there claimed an interview was easy compared to running a dagger through a banshee's heart, but Rayne wouldn't. Her palms were slick with sweat in a way they'd never been when staring down an angry werewolf. Coming to a stop in front of the door that beamed "Editor in Chief" at her, the woman concluded she would rather face the werewolf. A knock yielded a dry, hollow sound, and a shadow roughly the shape of a toad shifted on the other side of the fogged glass. "Stop all that banging and come in already," called a rough, masculine voice. Rayne nudged the door open and winced when the hinges squeaked like a panicked mouse. Peeking around the door, she saw a short, heavy man in khakis sitting behind his desk, surrounded by stacks of paper listing drunkenly away from him. "I said come in! Are you a journalist or a cat?" He was the personification of the building he worked in. He wore a shirt precisely the creamy yellow color of the facade, slightly too small for his meaty, broad-shouldered frame. The horn-rimmed glasses over which he inspected her were just a little too wide for his round, stubbly face. Shiny and half buried in papers, the name plaque on his desk read "Brandon Hoskins, Chief Editor." "You're the one that called for an interview last week, am I right? Rainsong Moonchild or something?" He grinned at her in a companionable way, and she knew he'd misremembered her name on purpose, just to get the joke in. Her name was "Rainsong," but the only reason she hadn't changed it was out of respect to her parents. For all other purposes... "It's just Rayne, if you please. Rayne Mollenkopf. My parents never had to deal with a name like mine in school." She returned his smile, trying to force herself to relax as she stepped into his office and pushed the door gently shut with another panicked squeal of hinges. Other than the overburdened desk, the room seemed relatively tidy, though the dusty shag carpet probably needed to be replaced a couple decades ago, considering the clear path worn from the door around the desk and to the editor's sagging leather office chair. Chuckling appreciatively, Mr. Hoskins shook her hand, then sank back into his chair. "Right. Take a seat, Flowerchild, and tell me why I should hire you." Tension crawled up her spine like a line of icy insects, but she managed to sit down. Unlocking her fingers from around the portfolio and hastily drying it on her pants, Rayne set the leather folder on Mr. Hoskins' desk and pushed it across to him. "I have years of experience finding useful information and tracking down people that don't want to be found. I can get stories no one has ever heard before, and I'm halfway decent with words, if I'm allowed to brag, sir." As he listened to her, the editor opened her portfolio and began to leaf through the pages, skimming articles painstakingly pieced together from information she'd gathered over the years. "Have any of these been published?" "Not yet. And all the names have been altered." He grunted, looking almost impressed. That is, until he flipped to the last page to her resume. Then the hint of a smile that had been tugging at his wide lips vanished like mist in the morning sun. "You used to be a Hunter?" "Yes, sir. It was the family business." Rayne lifted her chin proudly. Some people thought her family career was somehow terrible, like they were a family of corrupt politicians, but she wasn't willing to bow her head in shame when there was no reason to regret what she'd done. But as the portfolio slapped shut under Mr. Hoskins' meaty hand, she could sense the opportunity slipping rapidly away from her. "I'm afraid we don't have any openings at the moment," said the editor coldly. "But I'll keep you on my list, and give you a call if something opens up that calls for your... talents." As he offered her portfolio back, it looked like he was trying to hand her a muffin pan full of snakes. He didn't want to touch the product of a Hunter's pen, and as plain as the nose on his face, he had no intention of calling her back. Ever. Furious, she took the folder and stood. "Why? Why is it so bad that I was a Hunter? Hunting is a noble profession, and the only reason I had to look for new employment is because my old job didn't pay the bills anymore. Is that a crime?" "If it's not a crime to kill innocent people for being born different than you," snapped Mr. Hoskins, not bothering to hide his disgust, "then it should be." That stung. The words sank in deep and tore at her, ripping chunks out of the supports so carefully built to hold her life together. "You have no right-" Rayne's throat closed up on her, stopping the words from getting any further. Maybe that was just as well. Turning, she crossed the space to the door and yanked it open so fast the hinges were startled into uncharacteristic silence. Someone was waiting for her at the bottom of the stairs with a paper coffee cup full of something hot, sweet, and dark. Rayne jerked to a halt when the figure stepped into the sunlight streaming through the glass front door. Though the long dark hair was twisted into a bun, the sunlight revealed green in the glossy blackness, and the woman's sallow complexion and sunken cheeks couldn't be hidden by light makeup and a smile. The real giveaway, though, was the eyes. They were entirely black, without any discernible iris. Still, she offered the coffee with a sympathetic expression. "Sounded like that didn't go well. Don't worry about it too much, though. Brandon's just a jerk like that sometimes." Rayne discovered she hadn't been breathing since seeing the banshee's face, and forced herself to inhale. This was the sort of creature she might have been hired to kill only a few months ago. But here she was, a pencil in her dark bun, offering coffee and condolences. Baffled and off-balance, Rayne accepted the coffee with one numb hand. "Luckily," continued the banshee, "Brandon's not the one that reviews and accepts freelance submissions. That's my job. Send me what you have, and I'll see if it fits with next month's issue, alright?" Rayne blinked, nodded, then cleared her throat, trying to make her brain work again. "You're a b-" "A banshee," interrupted the woman with a wave of her bony hand. "Yes, I know. So was my mother and her mother before her. But I promise I'm not here to steal souls or herald death. I'm just the assistant editor." She ended with a crooked smile that said it had all been said before, and this woman was ready to brush off insulting racism if that came her way. "Um... thanks. I mean..." Rayne struggled to find words. It seemed very much like the world was crumbling around her. She would need this coffee and a long walk before anything made sense again.

#FictionFriday #Fantasy #UrbanFantasy #Prompt

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