He comes to me, always with what I imagine to be a look of stern disapproval on his face. That is, if he had a face, rather than a shapeless white mass that sits astride the bulbous head he carries on linebacker shoulders. He’s been hunting me for a long time. Years. Decades. Maybe even centuries. Neither of us knows anymore. But always he comes, and always I run.
How can I not? His seven foot frame must top nearly four hundred pounds of muscle, all of it tightly sealed in blackened steel and fresh, bloody leather. His legs are like tree trunks, shaking the earth with each ponderous step in my direction, leaving smoking craters behind him. His arms are nearly as wide as my torso, the bulging biceps straining against their enclosures.
But it’s not really him I fear. It’s his gauntlets… and what’s attached to them.
They cover his arms from elbow to palm, with the middle three fingers extended out, leaving the thumb and little finger exposed. They gleam with their own deadly green witch-glow, smooth contours until they reach the wrist and then springing into all manner of spikes and blades. It’s nearly impossible to tell what’s a weapon and what’s a finger. I imagine he knows how to twist them with acute precision: skinning, filleting, gouging or tearing as the mood strikes him. But even that isn’t what I truly fear.
It’s the chains. Six extending from the right, seven on the left – with one on the left hand appearing crudely added, not part of the original design, as though someone deliberately sought to reach the evil number – seeming to have no finite length or tension, each is made of braided barbed wire, the knots and hooks still clinging to previous victims. They pulse and writhe of their own accord, never seeming to impede the Huntsman even as the things at the end of the chains strain and twist and pull, biting and clawing at each other in a frenzy to taste fresh meat.
They might have been dogs… the same way the Huntsman might have once been a man. But now they are skeletal things, their mangy hides almost ready to burst from the strain the bones beneath are putting out with their exertions. Some have scars and open wounds, and where their blood and pus and bile drips, the ground goes sterile and diseased. Each of them has a human face,
There. That one, in the lead. It’s Mrs. MacKay, my first grade teacher. But her kindly eyes are gone, replaced with a single cyclopean orb that rolls in the socket and strains against an eyelid that can barely contain it. That one, it might have been my father… if he had a penis where his nose should be, proud and erect, layered with acid-dripping thorns that pulse and shiver in time to it’s demented heartbeat. The others are just as bad.
One thing unifies them, however; regardless of their mostly human features, every one of them has a wide, grinning mouth, filled with six inch long, razor sharp teeth. All of them wear gauntlets on their forelegs similar to their master’s – though, thankfully without chains of their own – and all of them shriek and gibber and bark in human voices that I can’t tell are screaming or laughing… or both.
One night, he’ll catch me. One night, I’ll let him catch me. The horror, the strain, it’ll become too much, and I will simply surrender. And then the thirteenth chain with be fastened to my neck, and I will go with them.
Did I not tell you? That last chain… it’s empty. For now.