“Exeter is home to grade C urban hunting, perfect for beginners to the sport. Surrounded by idyllic Devon countryside, our safe zone was voted as the most secure in South West England for three years running, while our four-star hotel boasts everything an urban hunter could ask for,” enthused Graham, reading from the brochure. Although he had little interest in the facilities, he knew his girlfriend only agreed to come because the hotel was sufficiently luxurious. Gemma mustered a smile that was all mouth and no eyes, she had been expecting the five-star quality of York but figured this was good enough for two months into a relationship.
“It’s two hundred meters from the airport to the safe zone, remember to take the safety catch off the gun,” said Graham, pointing to the route on his mobile phone. “The travel agent said they aren’t allowed to carry anything more dangerous than rocks Graham, it’s a grade C, it’s hardly London or Birmingham.” Gemma didn’t exactly share his enthusiasm for urban hunting but did prefer it to another afternoon watching Rugby at the Sun Sports Bar. At least the hotel had no Internet access as guests are expected to fully immerse themselves in the experience. For Gemma this meant him being fully immersed her real passion, herself.
“Still, you have to watch out for these guys Gem, they’re bloody tough. The terrain is rough and steep as well, we have to stick to the path religiously.” Gemma always cringed when Graham spoke to her as if she was one of his Rugby friends, the constant repetition of “Tough”, “Guys” and “Terrain” made her feel as if he saw her as just “One of the guys”.
As the aeroplane began its descent, the clouds parted to reveal a myriad of bonfires glowing all the more brightly for the absence of electricity. In the distance the landing lights of the airport and nearby safe zone shone like a cluster of diamonds. Graham began to tense, his stomach jumping through hoops at each gentle lunge. How he hated take off and landing, particularly at night. “Don’t worry my love, we’ll be on the ground in five minutes,” Gemma said, gently squeezing his hand. “I’m not worried about that Gemma, this is your first experience urban hunting, I’m worried for you.” This was not true but he wasn’t going to have Gemma think he was a coward, or for that matter admit it to himself. He reassured himself he could take all his anxiety out on the natives come the first hunt tomorrow morning.
Once the plane landed Graham rushed to the toilet as calmly as he could to steady himself before they collected their luggage and made their way to the changing area. Gemma had spent a ridiculous amount of money on clothing for the holiday and was not amused to find that her case had to be filled with safety equipment instead. As they dressed in layer after layer of body armour this injustice made her all the more resentful of the trip, especially as Graham seemed to be enjoying it so much. “I don’t see the point of wearing all these layers anyway, it’s not as if it’s a fair fight.” The inequality of the natives’ weaponry didn’t concern her but she knew bringing it up would annoy Graham. “These guys are feral Gemma, they’re bloody tough OK? We stick to the path and stay alert. Just stand behind me, cover my back and I’ll make sure we get to the safe zone in one piece.”
Dressed head to toe in black Graham felt as if he was on special ops; he was in his element as the pair made their way through the reinforced glass doors of the airport. “OK Gemma can you hear me?” Graham asked as he adjusted his earpiece. “Yes, I can hear you,” Gemma replied as the acrid air of Exeter filled her nostrils. “It smells awful, just get us to the hotel quickly will you?” – “Roger that, stay behind me and fire on my command.”
The stillness of this place was unnerving; he could feel a thousand pairs of eyes on him. Suddenly something moved in his periphery, without hesitation he opened fire in all directions, his screams causing Gemma’s headphones to distort. “Graham stop firing for fuck’s sake” she yelled, as shocked by Graham’s panic as the noise of gunfire. “Go go go go!” he screamed in not as manly a voice as he would have liked. As they ran towards the glow at the top of the hill a rain of stones and objects fell around their feet. Panicking, Graham fired blindly in response. “Stop shooting, they can only see us when you’re shooting,” Gemma could barely spit the words out between gasps. It was then she heard Graham shriek as his body fell from view.
“GRAHAM! Are you hurt?” Gemma screamed gripping her for the first time. “I slipped, it’s OK. Why is this path so fucking slippery?” He looked down and realised, with horror, they were no longer standing on solid ground. “We’ve lost the path, how could we lose the fucking path? You idiot Graham, where is it?” Gemma bellowed, her words moving from hysteria to anger. “I don’t know OK, stop shouting at me.” Not only was he wet, scared and lost, his pride was hurting immensely. “You’re such a prick, you said you knew what you were doing and look at you, the big man. You’re only tough holding a rugby ball with your head up another man’s arse!” She screamed with such vitriol her throat almost tore. As Graham struggled to his feet he debated turning the gun on Gemma, he couldn’t have anyone find out he had lost it so easily. As long as she wasn’t aware he was crying he could still salvage the situation.
“OK, they aren’t throwing anything at us any longer, that means they don’t know where we are.” – “We don’t know where we are either,” sighed Gemma in resignation. This gave Graham the chance to regain the upper hand, grabbing her by the tops of the arms and shaking her violently. “You’re hysterical Gemma, get a hold of yourself or you’ll get us killed!” He quite enjoyed taking some aggression out on her after the tirade she had directed at him and lifted his hand to slap her. “If you even think of laying a hand on me I will blow your bollocks off,” she said surprisingly sardonically under the circumstances.
“OK listen, we can still see the glow of the safe zone, the terrain might be a little more treacherous but it’s only 100 meters away,” he said, unsteadily making his way up the hill. “Just follow me.”
“What’s that?” Gemma rasped as several small flames began arcing through the night sky, sparkling in tiny explosions like discarded lit cigarettes as they hit the ground. “They’re trying to find us, stay down,” she whispered but Graham was already firing. “FUCK YOU!” He screamed, spraying bullets aimlessly. “Stop firing you bloody idiot,” she pleaded as she pulled him to the ground.
Graham’s ragged breath turned to sobs as he clutched the gun, wild eyed and desperate. “What’s that noise? What the fuck is that noise?” His voice seemed to break in terror as the unmistakable sound of gunfire began echoing around them. “They’re fucking shooting at us, they aren’t supposed to be armed!” His words were laced with childish injustice as he pleaded with Gemma, lifting her by the throat.
Gemma flinched slightly as a warm liquid peppered her face. At first she froze, fearing she had been shot, anticipating searing pain or death. It was only when she brought her hand to her face to wipe the fluid from her eyes that she felt pieces of Graham’s skill scrape across her skin. She blinked like a tired child as she tried to refocus her vision, still aware of Graham’s hands around her throat. It took a lit torch landing close by for her to realise the manic smile he was wearing was in fact his bottom row of teeth, the rest of his head had turned into a red mist of blood and gristle that took flight on a sharp gust of wind.
The weight of Graham’s body fell from her and was replaced by the face of a young woman, no more than a teenager, taking the gun from her hand. “What’s your name?” The young woman’s voice sounded quite sympathetic to Gemma after the cacophonous violence of gunfire. “Gemma,” her answer steadied with the onset of shock. “Are you enjoying your holiday Gemma?” – “I… I am so sorry,” she began weeping. She wasn’t sure what it was she was sorry for but she was gripped with a crippling sadness that reminded her of a bout of food poisoning she’d had as a child. Never had she longed for her mothers caress as she did now. “Apology accepted Gemma,” said the young woman as she raised the gun to Gemma’s forehead and pulled the trigger.
One Year Later
“Don’t be silly,” said Josh squeezing Emily’s hand, “They confiscated all the guns and terminated about three hundred natives since then.” Emily had heard terrible stories about what happened to the couple that were killed in Exeter last year. Rape, murder and cannibalism it had said on the Internet. “Besides, there is a security force from the airport to the safe zone now and the extra danger is what we pay for,” he said as he pulled the brochure from his bag.
“Exeter is home to grade B urban hunting. Surrounded by idyllic Devon countryside, Exeter combines the luxury of four-star accommodation with the excitement of a grade B hunt, the only one of its type in South West England,” Josh read excitedly. “It sounds as if they are selling tragedy as a bonus,” said Emily cynically. “Oh come on Em, you enjoyed Norwich didn’t you? To do another grade C would have been dull. These guys in Exeter are known for being really tough.”
© Copyright Dean Stephenson 2014