This is a rather lengthy story for a blog. This is the eight of eleven parts. I never intended on adding onto it or making into something more. Perhaps your enthusiasm will change my mind.
“You know that human civilization collapsed,” Benedict began. “You know that once, we were in control of the planet. We had great machines, and countless gadgets. We talked with people all over the planet instantly. We flew in the skies, sailed the seas and rocketed into space. Medical techniques were more precise and advanced than we have now. You know this, you know all of this. You also know there was a war that consumed this civilization, dissolving it, and tossing the survivors into the abyss created in the conflict. Oliver, and myself are survivors of that war.”
Benedict paused and read our faces. Gregory must have appeared to be in shock because Benedict smiled and grabbed the young man’s shoulder and whispered something soothing into his ear.
“Gregory, we were your age when the war started,” Benedict continued after a moment. “We were kids separated by thousands of miles. He was on the west coast of the country. He didn’t see the bombs go off, but his family had to dodge the fallout. They hid, and fought for years as the surviving population out west dwindled, murdering one another and eating one another. Eventually, he ended up here, in our city. That’s when we met. I was here, in the east since the beginning. The biggest cities saw foreign troops brushing against their shores, but they were repelled by the military. Hardly any made landfall, but they blew the cities apart and killed millions. It was horrible. I lived on the outside of a city, so I watched the fighting from my front porch. I sat there, swinging on the swing with my mother, watching the buildings get blown to pieces. My older brothers and father ran off to fight, and my mom cried. They never came back, and she died in the first winter.”
“That’s horrible!” Gregory cried, clearly frightened by the story. “They just abandoned you.”
“A lot of people abandoned their families to fight, and ultimately died,” Benedict said softly. “I clawed my way here after the fighting stopped and whomever was left in the city fled the ruins. The invasion had been stopped, but the damage had been done. Our country fell apart like a weak bundle of twigs. I heard rumors of similar breakdowns all over the world. I heard rumors that other countries were attacked, some with nuclear bombs, some with ground troops. But honestly, I have no idea what happened beyond what I told you. Help never came from another country. Our military never bailed us out. Everything just kind of fell apart.
“It was like the world, and every single person on it, was tired of “just-getting-by” and decided it would be better to reset everything. The clock was turned back. We’re fighting with swords! We live behind walls. You two don’t even know what’s happening because we were sworn to secrecy.”
“What is happening?” I asked, leaning closer to Benedict.
“This Hunt was necessary a few decades ago,” he began after pausing for a moment. His eyes were troubled, but I could tell he longed to finally tell the truth. “There were these people, ‘the beasts’, that were hiding in the woods. They were evil. They raided our city before we had walls, before we were strong. They stole from us and they ate us.”
“They ate us?” Gregory interrupted.
“Yeah, they ate our people,” Benedict clarified. “They slaughtered our people and ate them in the town center sometimes. They didn’t care. They were butchers, monsters. It was horrible. So, we gathered the few remaining people strong enough, labeled them our soldiers, and sent them off to fight. We sent them hunting, if you will. Oliver and I were among these troops. We tracked these people down and murdered all of them. We shot them in their sleep, stabbed them in their sleep, burned them alive: we didn’t care as long as they were dead, and we were alive. It was a horrible affair, but it had to be done.”
“You killed all of them?” I asked. “Children too?”
“Of course,” Benedict answered calmly. “They used to feed our flesh to their babies. They made stew from our bones and bodies. We murdered every single person in their group we could find.”
“You’re the monsters,” I muttered trying to think about what happened. I couldn’t yet examine the fact this information had been kept from us.
“You killed everyone,” Gregory whispered. “Even children.”
“We had to,” Benedict said solemnly. “We couldn’t risk more attacks. We lost a lot of people fighting them. We had to end it.”
“But that’s wrong,” Gregory’s body shook.
“It was us or them,” Benedict explained. “I don’t know if it was right, but I do know that I’m here now, and they are not.”
“Then who are we hunting now? They can’t really be some monstrous beasts,” I questioned after a moment of confused silence.
“Whomever we find in the woods,” Benedict admitted. “There are nomadic groups of people that roam the country. Sometimes hunters find them and kill them, if they look demonic enough. Sometimes they kill wolves. It depends on what the leader of the group decides is good enough to fit the vague description of the beasts. That’s why Oliver and I are here, we have to approve the kill that ends the Hunt.”
“So, this is just a tradition?” I ventured another question that shook my world. “We aren’t doing anything besides partaking in a sadistic tradition invented by our leaders?”
“That’s exactly what’s going on,” Benedict confirmed. “But to you, it’s your world. Your generation was born after the apocalypse, and the chaos that followed. This weird world of made up traditions, sword play and monsters in the woods is your place. My world ended almost thirty-five years ago.”
We sat in silence, consumed by the jaws of this cruel blackness. The shadows paraded around us, ensnaring us in a vicious darkness. Thoughts flashed in my mind, passing and then coming back again. This shifting was echoed by the fire’s light as the logs burned brightly. Flames leapt, and swung across the wood, sweeping up the fuel with a terrifying appetite.
“Ben,” Oliver whispered after a prolonged silence. “You have to tell them about the village. You have to tell them about my mission.”
Continue to part nine here!
Go back to part seven here