Chicken Soup for the Conman’s Soul

That had been the plan, anyway.

Nick cracked open his eyes, shifting around blearily as he reminded himself of his current predicament. He rolled onto his back, not entirely clear on which point in the night he’d moved to lay down, and rubbed the heel of his hand into his eyes. The sound of footsteps startled him, and he froze instinctively. The footsteps stopped probably right next to him, and he heard a soft crack, like someone popping a joint.

Nick cleared his throat, but there was no responding remark from the person standing (or crouching, perhaps) next to him. He sat up, shaking the rest of the sleepiness from his mind, and looked up at the person beside him.

As he’d suspected, they were in a crouch, nails scraping gently against the floor. What he hadn’t suspected was the length of those nails, or the grime and blotchy bruising on those hands, or the hood of a dark hoodie pulled up to shade most of the boy’s face. A pair of light green eyes (they practically glowed they were so bright) looked him up and down, head to toe. Nick flinched when one of those clawed hands reached up and scratched at the matted hair beneath the boy’s hood, and shrank back instinctively when he suddenly stood up.

The boy cleared his throat, and Nick wasn’t entirely sure if he was doing that because he needed to or if he was mocking the conman. Either way, the boy turned from his prey (because that was what Nick was to one of these freaks; just another hunted animal waiting to have its throat ripped out) and walked over to the stove that was apparently not broken because it was turned on and the Hunter was poking at something that smelled dangerously delicious with what might’ve been a steak knife but also could’ve been a stick. Nick stared, lost somewhere between nerve-wracked and confused. He couldn’t find his voice, and he wasn’t sure he wanted to. For all he knew, that thing was going to start tearing off limbs to stick into his pot of soup but god that smells so good almost like chicken noodle I am so hungry.

His stomach made an audible sound, and he nearly punched it. The Hunter turned to glance at him, and he couldn’t tell what kind of expression it was making because he couldn’t see the top half of its face. Ugly brown hair was draped in front of its eyes, matted together with what looked like mud and possibly dried blood. His stomach lurched, but that might’ve also been hunger-related nausea.

The Hunter lifted a clawed hand, gesturing at him directly and then brandishing at the couch. He didn’t move. The thing didn’t move for a long moment, and Nick wondered if it was thinking about something. Assuming that the thing could think at all.

Well, that’s not entirely fair. There is a certain amount of thought necessary to work a stove.

It glanced back at the pot, poking it again with the stick-that-might’ve-been-a-knife before turning off the stove (how was that thing still working it looked like a gas stove where in the hell would a Hunter find gasoline no how would this thing even know what gasoline is) and looking back at Nick. The conman hadn’t budged even a quarter of an inch. He didn’t dare. He knew all about these things. Ellis practically attracted them. He was perfectly aware of what they were capable of, what they did to non-infected persons.

It frowned this time, but only very slightly. He couldn’t tell if that was irritation or not. He flinched again, shifted back when the boy crossed the room again, crouching down in front of him. They stared at each other for a long time. It gestured at him again, then towards the couch.

“W-…” Nick’s throat chose that moment to start working again, “What? You want me to go sit on the couch?”

The Hunter stared at him for a long, long moment, and then nodded very slowly, as if it thought he might not understand such a motion. Don’t you give me attitude you little

The Hunter stood up, and stared down at him, waiting. Nick rose carefully, suddenly aware that his tension was making his head start to pound. He paused once he was standing next to the incredibly short stature of the Hunter who appeared to have kidnapped him, one arm seeking out the wall. The boy lifted a hand, looking like he was ready to catch him. But Nick steadied himself, and glared at the Hunter with all the strength he could muster around his throbbing temporal lobe.

For some reason, the thing nodded. What, was that approval? It walked away, heading back towards the stove, and Nick trailed several steps behind, veering towards the couch and sitting down. Despite looking like it’d seen the moodiest days of a cranky panther, it was reasonably comfortable, like a seat that had been worn in just enough. He stared hard at the Hunter as it scavenged around the cupboards, looking for something. Perhaps if he stared hard enough, he’d be able to see into its brain and figure out what the hell it was thinking.

After rummaging around for a few minutes, the boy pulled out a tired mug, tracing his fingers over a crack on the edge as if to determine if that crack would leak.

Nick watched, slightly dumbfounded, as the Hunter dipped the mug into the pot of whatever-the-hell-that-was, filled it up, produced a slightly rusty spoon, and brought it over to him.

They stared at each other for a long, long time. Nick wasn’t known for trusting people, let alone zombie-people who were usually known to have torn his throat out long before handing him a mug of soup. He tentatively received the mug, looking down at what he’d been given. It was definitely chicken noodle.

“Where the hell did you find a chicken,” Nick grumbled. The Hunter tilted his head, before indicating the counter. Nick spotted the empty can of Campbell’s easily enough, and he frowned. Hunter’s weren’t supposed to know anything that didn’t involve the proper method of killing people. At least, that had been his assumption. Was this common? Was it common for one of these freaks to kidnap a person and feed them Campbell’s? Was he going to be let go? Or was this kid gonna stuff him like a Thanksgiving turkey, ready for slaughter?

He hadn’t even realized that he’d pretty much inhaled the mug of soup until he heard the spoon clattering around the bottom of it. The Hunter was staring at him, and once again Nick found himself wishing he was telepathic.

“What the hell are you planning, anyway?” He snapped, ignoring the way the beast flinched at his tone. It didn’t respond at first, and then Nick was sure it shrugged. His eyes narrow suspiciously as he placed the mug on the cracked coffee table in front of him and leaned back against the couch. He settled for glaring hatefully at the thing, hoping he was getting his point across.

The guy was definitely getting his point across.

He stepped away from the well-dressed man, wanting to give him some space before he started throwing things. The guy was glaring at him furiously, and quite frankly, he didn’t know what to do. This wasn’t what he’d been intending. This guy was supposed to be all thankful for being rescued. Hell, he made the bastard brunch! What did a kid have to do to get a little gratitude?

But, Dal supposed, he couldn’t blame him. He hadn’t looked at himself in a mirror in a long time, but he was sure he looked like something straight out of Hell. He was covered in countless scars that marred his body and face. He didn’t know where most of the injuries had come from, but when he’d waken up after his initial blackout, he’d been covered in claw marks and had scratched up his face pretty badly. He wasn’t sure if it had even finished healing yet. He didn’t have a clue how much time had passed since he’d been bitten in the first place.

He wanted to start swearing in frustration, but it wasn’t like he could talk so such a thing was impossible anyway. Besides, getting angry in this situation was a bad idea. He also didn’t want to leave and take a walk, because he was afraid this stranger would run off at any given moment. Dal turned away from the man, stepping over to a window and peering outside. There were a couple of crazies pacing around outside, a pair punching and kicking each other near the edge of the small clearing.

This cabin wasn’t his; he didn’t know whose it was. He’d found the place before his fever hit and he blacked out, and had turned it into something akin to “his own.” That is, he shredded the place in what had probably been some insane frenzy while he’d had his fifteen minutes/hours/days of mind loss. He swallowed to wet his throat, lowering his head slightly and pressing his forehead to the boards that covered the cracked glass.

He heard movement behind him and turned around, seeing the suited man standing up and staring at the door. Anger was creeping up around his mind, but he pushed it down. No, he wasn’t going to do anything rash here. This was going to be a calm exchange.

“I need to go and catch up with the rest of my… group.” The guy stated, looking uncertain. He probably had no idea whether or not Dal understood him. There was a lengthy pause.

Dal, knowing there wasn’t another way for him to communicate, shook his head insistently. His companion (who was not a captive) raised a skeptical eyebrow.

“You can’t keep me here.”

He put a hand on his hip and worked his body language until it clearly read; Oh really?

There was another pause. Dal watched the man take a few stabilizing breaths, scowling darkly and looking around himself as if he thought a door might magically appear. Finally, he turned to Dal, determination in his eyes, and started towards the door.

“I’m leaving.”

The desperate anger came back as suddenly as it did violently, and all he could think of was how lonely he was, how he didn’t want to be ignored anymore, and how he wouldn’t let this guy leave him here by himself again.

He let out a snarl unintentionally and shot forward, stopping in front of the door and shrieking angrily, wishing his throat and mouth would work properly so he could just tell him what was wrong, why he couldn’t just leave…

The guy stopped in his tracks, froze for a moment in fear, but didn’t back down. Dal wasn’t sure if he was stupid for assuming that he wasn’t going to hurt him, or if he had figured out that Dal didn’t want to hurt him. The guy continued forward, stopping less than two feet away.

“Get out of my way! I’m not staying here!” He snarled, and Dal could see the stress, he could see how his carotid was pounding against his throat that’d be great to rip open then maybe he’d be able to physically experience my emotional pain the rat bastard, he saw the way his hands clenched and unclenched with nervousness fear he’s afraid he’s afraid of me he has no reason to be frightened I’m not going to kill him I just don’t want to be alone anymore, the strange wildness in his eyes as they darted around looking for an escape route there’s no way I’m letting you leave me here no way

Dal tried to say something, but what came out instead was a deep snarling sound, warning him to back off unintentionally. Even so, he wouldn’t back down. He was just going to leave. He’d leave and Dal would be alone, again, like he had been since birth. Ignored. Unwanted.

Forgotten.

His chest was burning and aching, but that wasn’t what he reacted to. No, he saw his captive shift, like he was about to make a mad dash for one of the boarded windows, and Dal snapped. He snapped because he didn’t want to be abandoned again. He didn’t want to be forgotten about. He wanted to seen. He wanted to be heard. It didn’t matter to him anymore whether the attention was negative, hateful, cruel. It didn’t matter if all he received were taunts and threats and insults, if someone would just talk to him. If somebody, anybody would say his name, let him know that he’d been thought about, even if it was only fleeting…

He threw himself at the man before he knew what he was doing, slamming him into one of the walls harshly. His fists balled up around the lapels of the once-white blazer, yanking his prisoner (because this person wasn’t a companion, he would be a prisoner because he didn’t want to be here and Dal didn’t have the emotional fortitude to accept that there was just one more person in the world who didn’t want him around) forward and staring into his gray-green eyes wildly, searching for something that might give him a spark of hope for his situation. But he couldn’t see anything but the fear. Fear because Dal had a fist clenched, reared back and ready to commit an act of assault against a this perfect stranger. Fear because Dal was growling and gasping with anger and his pupils were blown, and all he could see around the fact that he was unwanted was the fact that he was, evidently, frightening.

No, no, no I don’t want this. I just want you to see me. See me. I want you to say my name sometimes, I don’t care if it’s because I’ve done something wrong or dangerous and you’re just yelling at me to get my act together, just please see me look at me and see me and notice things about me even if they’re bad things please I don’t want to be ignored I don’t want to be forgotten…

His eyes were burning and stinging and he hated it but he didn’t care. He didn’t care because this person was going to leave him alone, forget about him, ignore his existence, and he didn’t want that. He didn’t want that. He wouldn’t allow it. There had to be a way to keep him here. There had to be. He couldn’t let him leave.

I bet if I broke his leg, he wouldn’t be interested in going anywhere.

More of that horrible, primal anger rose up from the depths of his mind, gripping him tightly and murmuring suggestions of violent solutions in his ear. His murky black-brown hair hung in front of his eyes, shielding the mess of terrible thoughts roaming around his imagination. I could break him. Easily. I could keep him from running away.

The man was frozen, eyes wide, lips parted as he pressed himself against the shredded walls as though he might be able to sink through them. Those gray-green eyes snapped shut as Dal’s fist jerked, ready to actually start hitting him, but he stopped. He stopped because he knew that it didn’t matter, it didn’t matter if he broke the guy’s legs, it didn’t matter if he bashed his head in just a little more so he turned into a vegetable. It wouldn’t change the fact that he didn’t want Dal around.

He doesn’t want me around.

He lowered the hand he’d almost used to beat his prisoner to death, heaving gasps and blinking away the tears threatening his composure. Why did it always have to be like this? Why didn’t anyone want him around? Was this a punishment? Was he repenting for some stupid stunt he’d pulled in a past life?

No, no, no, he commandeered his thoughts back to the problem at hand. This guy wanted out. But Dal didn’t think he could spend one more night alone, ignored, unwanted, forgotten…

He pulled back, releasing his captive. This was a stupid idea. If this guy got a gun, he’d kill Dal in an instant. No hesitation. No remorse. That was how the world worked now. He clenched his jaw, lowering his gaze for a moment. It wasn’t like dying would be a horrible thing at this point.

He grabbed the man by the sleeve and dragged him to the door, which he threw open. He shoved the man outside, and watched as he turned around, confused. Dal gestured towards the swampy forestry around them, glaring furiously. The guy stared at him with a strange expression, but his jaw set and he turned away, storming off towards the trees. He wouldn’t last two seconds without a gun, and Dal knew that.

But, he also knew that his captive knew that.

He started after him, his fists clenched. He caught up easily, and the guy heard him coming and turned, fist raised and eyes flashing with anger. Dal didn’t even flinch at the threat of violence. It wasn’t like this person would be able to take him out.

“Don’t follow me, you fucking freak!” He snarled, “The last thing I need is a goddamn psycho-zombie stalking me!”

At that, Dal winced, but he didn’t back down. Instead, to properly indicate what he was saying, he gestured towards his charge, towards the trees, and dragged his thumb across his throat. You’re dead if you go out there alone.

“You’re a fucking… No, you know what? Fine!” He yelled, brandishing a finger at the Hunter, “The second I find a gun, you’re dead.”

There was a long pause, and Dal lowered his head. Obviously, the guy didn’t want him around. But still, it hurt to hear it put into words. He took a shuddering, calming breath, and look at the guy again, defiance coloring every fiber of his being. Fine. So he was dead meat the second this person got his hand on a gun. So be it.

Death couldn’t possibly be worse than this.

Next Chapter

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