Hunter (4 Cassettes)by James Byron Huggins, Boyd Gaines
In a pulse-pounding, action-packed thriller, the world's best tracker hunts a raging, superhuman monster--the spawn of outlaw genetic experiments. See more details below
In a pulse-pounding, action-packed thriller, the world's best tracker hunts a raging, superhuman monster--the spawn of outlaw genetic experiments.
- Simon & Schuster Audio
- Publication date:
- Edition description:
- Abridged, 4 cassettes, 4 hrs. 30 min.
- Product dimensions:
- 4.14(w) x 7.14(h) x 1.21(d)
Read an Excerpt
"That boy dies in four hours." The words were all but lost beneath the roar of a low-soaring helicopter that swept across the darkening sky before vanishing into cloud. Thundering past the encircling treeline, it whirled thick cold air as the big man cast a cigar to the ground, grinding it angrily.
"Sheriff Cahill," a radio barked inside a patrol car and he turned, staring. His square face had been chafed by the bitter winter wind. He reached through the window and palmed the microphone. "This is Cahill."
The voice at the other end was cautious: "Sheriff, volunteers searching the trailhead haven't found any sign of the kid. And the Guard is spread out all the way to Cedar Pass but they ain't found nuthin' either."
The frown deepened on Cahill's broad face. "Listen," he growled, "We have four hours 'til dark. If we don't find that boy before then, he's gonna freeze to death. Weather report says we got heavy snow coming. How many birds we got in the air?"
"Six." Static on the line increased. "But it's hard to see through the trees 'cause the clouds are cuttin' the light pretty bad."
Cahill cursed under his breath and leaned against the car, which tilted at his imposing weight. "Keep everybody moving," he said. "We don't stop, not even if we lose the light. If the rest of us are hurtin', think how a four-year-old boy feels out there."
A black pickup stopped beside him as Cahill tossed the mike onto the seat. He turned to the sound of sliding gravel and his mouth opened in surprise as a man, followed by a great black wolf, stepped from the door. The man came around the front of the vehicle, staring hard at Cahill.
"What do youhave, Frank?" he aslways been amazed at the design, knew Hunter had made it himself.
"Dogs been over the tracks?" Hunter asked.
"Yeah. Dogs. Volunteers. Hell, every damn body."
"Tell everyone to stay where they're at." Hunter frowned at the forest, which was darkening quickly. "The tracks are gonna be messed up enough."
He looked at the huge wolf.
"Ghost," he said.
With primordial strength a terrifying animal strength brought to life with the single word the enormous wolf turned, massive muscles bunching and hardening beneath the heavy black coat. The huge head, as broad as an anvil, went to the ground as it padded toward the treeline.
"Hey, Hunter," Cahill called after them, his voice revealing a faint nervousness. "You really think you have a chance? I mean, what with the tracks all messed up like they are?"
Hunter hesitated, and his stern eyes eyes a strange blue revealed a determination that chilled even more than the blast of freezing wind that rushed over them.
Hunter turned away. Vanishing into wild.
Winter whispered in a gathering wind as snow drifted over his small form. And he could feel the darkness gathering, could sense the sun was almost gone.
The boy cried and held himself and wished desperately that he was someplace else, someplace warm. As he cried, he trembled and rocked back and forth on the snow-covered ground, his teeth chattering. There was no place to go, and nothing he could do but cry.
He wished someone would find him.
Deep in the forest, Hunter moved like a human tiger, bending to study the ground with a quick, keen alertness. In the distance behind him, he heard National Guard helicopters flying in a wild and desperate pattern.
He paid them no heed as he moved quickly forward, knowing that Cahill was right. The boy would die with night, probably within a few hours. Then, hurtling a log that the child had slid beneath, Hunter bent down, studying the ground again.
The boy was wandering left, right, left again as a child had the frustrating habit of doing. That's what made a child far more difficult to track than a full-grown man. A man would generally move in a fast straight line. But a child would just venture aimlessly, no true sense of purpose or direction as he became distracted by the tiniest things.
Also, Hunter could tell from the dragging tracks that the boy was perilously fatigued. And with the cold slowing his blood, he would be even more disoriented.
Hunter bent and read the tiny, almost indiscernible tracks. If the boy weighed more it would have been far easier. But the kid was so light, the tracks so vague, that he had to be careful not to miss them in the fast fading light. Then he raised his face against the descending sun and frowned, imagining what the boy would be feeling, scared and lost and alone in this harsh wilderness.
Hunter's gaze hardened.
No, boy, you ain't gonna die...
It had taken him an hour to find tracks that hadn't been marred by search parties. Then, tracking for another hour, he saw where the search party had lost the boy's prints. And for the last two hours Hunter had pushed himself without remorse, allowing no rest.
He knew he was close, just as he knew he was almost out of time. Nor did he think the child had gone too much farther because his tracks prints left by the tiny shoes were beginning to drag severely, a dangerous sign of fatigue. He saw where the kid was resting more and more often.
Racing a dying sun, Hunter moved more quickly, bending and searching, anticipating the child's moves more effectively because he had tracked so many children and knew basically how they moved. He raised his eyes toward a nearby slope and read the almost invisible scuff marks left where the boy scampered up the ridge. Trying to think ahead of the game, Hunter searched ahead for the path a child would take.
Almost instantly he saw a break in the ridge a path of light and knew it was the most likely direction. He moved quickly forward again, making sure he didn't lose even the faintest print because he had no time to backtrack. And as he neared the ridge he saw where the boy had fallen and he paused, staring down. He felt tempted to rush, but a practiced discipline gave him patience to study the ground, making certain.
Examining the tiny print closely, Hunter saw it sloping on the right and knew the boy had turned left, wandering again. He followed it, ignoring the brutal cold enveloping him.
With Ghost running lightly beside him, Hunter moved in a loping crouch; fast but cautious, always cautious because he knew the child could wander away from the path at any point. He didn't cast another glance at the last crimson light of the sun as he moved along the ridge.
Fatigue from moving ceaselessly for hours and expending extraordinary concentration to read the almost invisible tracks was beginning to take a toll. But Hunter knew in his heart that it had come to this moment. He was only minutes from last light and minutes from the boy. But he had to find the child before last light because even he couldn't track in the dark.
I ain't gonna let you die, kid...
I ain't gonna let you die...
Something huge, dark and frightening suddenly and silently loomed out of the shadowed granite slab above him. And the boy looked up to see a...man?
A man and a...wolf?
Yes, it was a man. And it was a wolf.
The boy beheld the beast's black eyes staring over him with such intensity, saw the slightly distended fangs that glinted sharp-white even in moonlight, and felt new fear.
Then the man and wolf dropped without a sound from the rock and bent over him, man speaking soothingly as the huge wolf pressed a warm nose against his cheek, making him smile. The boy raised a shaking hand, touching the warmth of the thick black mane.
Without another word, the man gently wrapped him in his coat and lifted him from the hateful ground, and then they were moving through the trees with the sound of a great roaring of wind the shadowed leaves and limbs sliding over them but never touching them because the man held him so close and so strong.
He was warm again and, reaching up, he felt the man's great strength, and knew he was safe.
"By God." Cahill shook his head. "I never thought you could pull it off, Hunter."
Cut by branches and covered with bruises, Hunter was silent a moment as he took a sip of coffee, sitting against Cahill's desk. He stared into his cup as he spoke.
"The boy's gonna be all right?"
"Yeah." Cahill rose from his chair, pouring himself another cup. Burly and deep chested with blacksmith arms, the sheriff moved with the square grace of a heavyweight boxer.
"The doc says he's dehydrated and in shock, but they already got him in a room. Ain't got no frostbite." Cahill sat and leaned heav ily back, taking a slow sip. "The parents called. They wanted to thank you."
Hunter took a sip. "Tell them I'm glad their boy's okay."
Silent for a while, Cahill studied the face of the man who stood before him.
Muscular with a ragged mane of black hair that fell slightly to his shoulders, Hunter seemed to have stepped out of another, more primitive age. His eyes were dark beneath a low, hard brow burned brown by years of living in the wild. His cheeks were sharp above a mouth deeply cast in a bronze frown. His broad shoulders, deep chest, and heavy arms were evidence of great strength but, Cahill had noticed before that Hunter seemed to possess a greater strength than was visible there. He had long suspected that Hunter's best, greatest, and truest strength was something he purposefully hid. He had always wondered why he hid so much of himself.
Cahill spoke. "You really don't have much use for people do you, Hunter?"
He waited. Hunter didn't reply.
Cahill continued, "But you risk your life finding these people when we got a thousand people in the woods that don't have a chance." Cahill didn't seem disturbed by Hunter's silence. "Like last year when you found that couple lost down below the Sipsey. You tracked 'em for four days with no food, no shelter." He grunted. "They got lucky. So did you. That track almost killed you."
Hunter sighed, raised his eyes slightly in agreement. "Once you get on a track, it's best not to take a break. The more single-minded you are, the better your chances." He paused. "But you're right. That one was tough. So was this one. The little guy kept wandering on me."
Cahill nodded, thoughtful. "So where you headed off to?"
Cahill laughed ou t loud. "Manchuria! For what?"
"The Tipler Institute wants me to try and capture a Siberian tiger." Hunter shook his head. "They're pretty rare, but a recent expedition said they saw one." He shrugged. "I doubt it's there, but it's possible. I'll find out if I don't get myself killed."
Cahill smiled. "So, ol' Doc Tipler is still alive." Then his smile thinned, disappeared. "You know, kid, I hear a tiger is the meanest thing on four feet. Meaner than a grizzly. And they're kinda like a griz, too. They like to sneak up on you."
Hunter smiled. "Yeah, Siberians are the best stalkers in the world. They don't make a sound 'til they move, and they always attack from ambush. I've captured them before, but I think this might be different."
"What's gonna be different?"
"Just the range." Hunter set the coffee on the desk, stretched his arms. "Because of the foliage I'll have pretty limited range for a shot. Maybe thirty, forty feet."
"Think you can get that close to a tiger and stay down wind?"
"Guess we'll have to find out." Hunter's face was contented and easy as he spoke. He rose and reached for the door and Cahill could have sworn he heard half a laugh as the man went out the door.
He moved through the night, at home with the darkness.
Cold wind separated around his form, swaying the surrounding spruce, birch, and pine. He paused, breathing slowly and rhythmically, reminded of so much, and knew that the moss beneath his feet had survived here for ten centuries. The scent of a dozen flora concealed by the night rose to greet him, he knew them all. The bark of this nearby tree could quell pain, and the root of that plant could fill his stomach. He knew their secrets, their uses, even me rely as food, though this was not the land he had known, was far from the land he had known. He could survive here.
And he could do even more than survive.
The guard drew near the gate.
It is time.
He knew that he must move before the dog could sense his presence. A hunting instinct that was clearer than human intelligence, purer than any purpose, pulled him forward.
His human intelligence reigned, yet it was reinforced by the instincts of this fantastic evolution of his flesh. Crouching low, he padded forward with silent steps, emerging ghostlike from the forest a phantom rising from a dark mossy silence and gloom into the light of a dead moon to near the gate almost undetected. Only at the last did a guard turn to behold the phantasmic shape taking horrific form from darkness an image beyond fear and screamed in disbelief before whirling to wildly chamber a round in his rifle.
It was too late.
A single horrific blow tore the first guard's head from his neck and another clawed hand rent a lung from the second before the dog's howl burst from the fence. Snarling, the beast turned to see the German shepherd hurling itself forward with a fury beyond anything human.
A clawed hand arched through dark air to tear away the animal's heart and then he cast the lifeless body aside. It required no effort so easy was it and he leaped forward to finish, evading the panicked rifle fire of the last guard before he slew again.
It was over quickly.
Growling, he stood over smoking red snow and turned, glaring balefully at the heavy metal doors that secured the facility. He stalked forward and when he reached the portal he roared, hurling up gigantic arms to bring them down a gainst the steel, thunderously sundering the panels.
Night eyes narrowing instantly at the light, he saw a white-coated mob screaming and running, running and screaming. He struck again and again as he moved through them to slay, and slay...
Copyright © 1999 by James Byron Huggins
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