Please vote for the piece that you feel is most deserving:

Poll closed Jun 6, 2010.
  1. Marshall41 - Chasing Time

    1 vote(s)
  2. linden - Hunted

    1 vote(s)
  3. Roland of Gilead - The Last Minutes of Greg

    1 vote(s)
  4. Lankin - Parabellum

    5 vote(s)
  5. Gingerbiscuit - Anybody There?

    10 vote(s)
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  1. Gannon

    Gannon Contributor Contributor

    Jan 15, 2007
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    Manchester, England

    Voting Short Story Contest (68): Hunter Turned Hunted

    Discussion in 'Monthly Short Story Contest Archives' started by Gannon, May 24, 2010.

    Voting Short Story Contest (68) Theme: Hunter Turned Hunted

    Thank you for all your entries. The winner will be stickied until the next contest's winner is crowned. No more entries are allowed in this contest.

    Voting will end Sunday 7th June 2010 to give you all a chance to read the entries.

    It is possible to vote for yourself, but I would hope in the name of good sportsmanship that you would only do so if you have read all the other stories and given them your honest evaluation. You gain nothing if you base your vote solely on how you feel about the author or whether you have personally invested time and effort in the story. In the end, your conscience is your only judge.

    Any entries under or over the suggested word limit will be flagged as such - they are still entered in to the contest. It is for you to decide whether they are still worthy of your vote.

    Any entry not in accordance with the theme will be dealt with on a case by case basis to determine eligibility. Consider how the author has responded to the theme in making your decision.

    Good luck to everyone.
  2. Gannon

    Gannon Contributor Contributor

    Jan 15, 2007
    Likes Received:
    Manchester, England
    Marshall41 - Chasing Time

    People hunt for things their whole life. Some hunt for money, some hunt for fame, some hunt for women. Me, I was not the hunting sort. I was born, I was raised, and I was jailed. I guess you might say the only thing I ever hunted for was freedom. Freedom from the crime, the drugs, the rape, the whole god damn world I lived in. Eventually, I was hunting for freedom from the bars and guards of prison. I hunted that rat for forty-two years, and, once I caught it, I realized I was simply hunting to be, in turn, hunted myself.

    “Congratulations Mr. Hanson. You are now a freed man.” I never dreamed that I would ever hear these words. Ironic as they were, I was glad to hear them. A bus pulled up and I walked in and up those lonesome three steps. There was no one else on the Grey Hound; I was the only freed man today, and probably the only one that whole month. It’s much easier to keep a prisoned man in prison – for both him and the prison.

    As we drove into town I looked out the window at the world I left half a century ago. Last time I had visited the city it had been 1964, the Beatles were still on the up and up, phones still required cords to work, and a coke cost a man an easy five cents. Now the Soviet Union was just a name in history books, the World Trade Center was leveled and cleared, and nickels weren’t even worth bending over to pick off the sidewalk.

    “Hey! Old man, get over here,” my floor manager barked. It was my first day on the job. I had sheltered up in the small one roomed apartment the prison had booked just for me; my new job was bagging groceries at the local supermarket. Time seemed to move so fast out here.

    “Hey! Hanson! Come here.”

    “Yes sir?”

    “The customers are complaining about you. They say you look lost and confused, and that you keep putting the bread and eggs at the bottom of the bag.”

    “I’m sorry sir. It’s just my first day on the job. I will be fine, I promise.”

    Time is a funny thing. When you’re in the cage it seems like there is always too much of it, but once you get out there is never enough. A man could take all day accomplishing tasks like filing a fingernail just right when stuck in prison. In the real world, there isn’t any time to worry about meaningless things like fingernails.

    “Hanson! Come here.” It was my boss again.
    “Yes sir?”

    “Hanson, people are still complaining. They say you aren’t packing the food fast enough either.”

    “I’m sorry sir. I’m doing the best I can.”

    “Yes, yes I know. But it has been a whole two weeks and the reports have only gotten worse. You have to do better or I will have no choice but to fire you.”

    “Yes sir, I understand. You won’t have to fire me, I promise.”

    Funny thing about time is that you always think it is the one chasing you, but it’s really the other way around. We are all chasing time. There is never enough time in life. We are always looking for more time to raise the kids, to do the bills, to read the bible, to fall in love. Once we no longer have the want or ability to chase time, we fall prey to what has really been hunting us our entire life. It’s the only thing left once our time is gone and spent.

    I had always thought I was chasing freedom, but it was real freedom that was chasing me.
  3. Gannon

    Gannon Contributor Contributor

    Jan 15, 2007
    Likes Received:
    Manchester, England
    linden - Hunted

    Her eyes flashed as she crouched behind the bush. It wasn’t the smartest place for her to hide, the undergrowth was thick, but thorny. It provided cover but prevented an easy escape. She heard a noise, coming from down the hill. Hyper aware, she waited. She had the advantage here.

    He sighed. This was so damn typical. Trust Alice to take a game and turn it into a life or death battle. He was getting sick of the drama she brought to his life, and yet, he loved her with all of his heart.
    Fine, he thought to himself. I’ll play your game.
    And with that, he began to carefully make his way up the steep hill.

    Alice waited. It had been several minutes since she had heard any sounds alien to the brush and trees surrounding her. She wished the crickets would just shut up already, so she could hear. She couldn’t let Devon win this. He would never let her forget it. And she hated to be wrong. She never should have told him that she was good at this, she never should have turned this into a challenge. Then again, there are a lot of things she shouldn’t do that she did anyway, out of recklessness or spite.
    “Alright, time to move.” She muttered to herself.
    She began to carefully stand up. Her legs had been beginning to cramp, so it was hard to move slowly. Keeping her head down, she carefully chose her steps out of the underbrush. She would have to cross the path.
    It was risky. The path was wide and clear, well worn from hikers and campers. She squinted down the hill. Surely, if Devon was near by she would have heard him by now. With a deep breath, she ran across the path and into the trees on the other side. Several feet in, she stopped. Her heart was pounding, and she was breathing heavily.
    Calm down, she told herself. If you don’t pull it together then you’re going to get caught.
    She knew she had to get across the line, but it was still a fair distance away. With a look over her shoulder, she began to move forward. Without warning, there was a loud SNAP as her foot came down on a large twig.
    “Damn it!” she cried, then clapped her hand over her mouth. She had to move. Now.

    He heard the snap of a tree branch being stepped on. Then he heard her cry out. He smirked to himself. A rookie mistake.
    Not so good at this after all, he thought.
    He moved toward the sound. He needed to find her before she got away. If she did it would be over. And he couldn’t let that happen. He stopped and squinted through the trees. He knew which way she was headed, to safety. He licked his lips. The thrill of the chase was a feeling he hadn’t realized he missed. It had been a long time since he had felt this way. His adrenaline was flowing, his heart was thumping in his chest. He was sure she would catch her. He moved through the trees alongside the path. He felt like a jungle cat, stalking his prey. He knew he was closing in. He almost had her. He could taste victory.

    She new he was close. But so was she. If she could make it, it would be over. Suddenly, she was aware of him behind her. But she could see her salvation, it was only a few feet away. She felt tremendous relief as she stepped over the line. She started to walk towards the path. She was safe now.

    He watched her carefully. He was close. She was getting cocky, walking like that. He knew victory was his, he could taste it. He moved through the trees, reaching out his arm. Just then, she turned.

    “GOTCHA!” she cried, with relish.
    “What do you mean? I got you!” he replied, indignant.
    “Devon.” She said pointedly. “Where are we?”
    He looked around, and felt his stomach drop as he realized where exactly he was.
    “So, do you want to walk to jail, or do I have to drag you?” she asked with an infuriating air of superiority.
    “I told you I was the best at playing Capture the Flag.”
  4. Gannon

    Gannon Contributor Contributor

    Jan 15, 2007
    Likes Received:
    Manchester, England
    Roland of Gilead - The Last Minutes of Greg

    Thirteen years of service. Thirteen years of busting his ass – sometimes literally – all led to this: bleeding to death in a shady downtown Minneapolis restaurant. Somebody in his precinct – some ****ing rat – had set him up.

    The hunter had become the hunted.

    Less than an hour ago, the Minneapolis Police Department had received an anonymous tip: Demitri Jackson, the MPD’s number one most wanted drug dealer, had been spotted. The Chief of Police had wanted this one “kept quiet”, so only two officers were sent out.

    Only one of them was still alive.

    “****. ****” Greg Hines exhaled, holding his one good arm tightly. Despite putting pressure on his wound, blood still flowed freely. He grasped his firearm with his right hand, but couldn’t lift it enough to shoot anything other than his attackers’ feet. He had to make a choice: use his left arm to shoot (and most likely miss) or use it to keep himself from bleeding to death. Either way, his right arm wasn’t good for ****.

    He grasped his gun in his left hand. He knew it was the only reason he was still alive. He had barricaded himself behind a few tables, effectively making only one path for them to come finish him. However many of them there were in the restaurant, none of them were in the mood for a few bullet-holes. It had become a waiting game.

    Greg never got the chance to radio in anything. Whatever happened here, the MPD was likely not coming to get him. In fact, he suspected whoever set this little trap was over at the office, assuring everyone that there was nothing to worry about.

    He peaked over the table. A shot rang out. A piece of wall above Greg exploded, raining paint and drywall on him.

    Another shot rings out. This one pierces a weak spot in Greg’s fortress. A bullet enters above his left lung, barely missing his heart. He slumps over. All of a sudden,

    he is with his wife. The restaurant has been a dream. A bad one. He is home, safe. His wife is making breakfast, chocolate chip pancakes. She is wearing very little, as she is prone to do. Greg gets up from the kitchen counter and walks over to her. He stands behind her, and puts his arms around her. He begins kissing her neck when

    Another shot rang out. Greg lapses back to reality. Another shot. They’ve grown impatient, Greg realized as

    a synapse that shouldn’t be firing is, the product of blood loss, pain, and shock. His wife is gone, replaced by the Chief of Police, who is much more clothed and, unfortunately, not making breakfast. He is standing before Greg, presenting him a medal. “For Distinguished Service”, it says. Somehow Greg knows that his “Distinguished Service” will be repayed in bullets 7 years from now. He sees his wife in the crowd, looking at him with pride. She is

    somewhere else. She had no idea what was happening. That night, as her husband bled to death, she was sitting at home, watching television. Nothing good was on.

    Greg realized what was happening. He knew that he was going to die here, in this ****ty restaurant, surrounded by the smell of gun powder and old stir fry.

    “Come out, Greg. This is getting old. I have other people to kill,” Demitri chimes from the other side of the restaurant. Greg hears him, but before he can respond he is

    in a hospital. His daughter has just been born, and she is a tiny, beautiful thing. He can see her, clearly, six years from now; crying as she learns her father won’t be coming home ever again. He

    sits up, and with effort, stands. He and Demitri are eye to eye, separated by tables, some still with food. Greg can no longer raise either of his arms, so he drops his sidearm. Demitiri, however, has two arms that work splendidly, and a gun that is eager to be fired. He gives it what it wants. A hot bullet passes through Greg’s skull, and with one last second of life, he has time to

    be with his family again.
  5. Gannon

    Gannon Contributor Contributor

    Jan 15, 2007
    Likes Received:
    Manchester, England
    Lankin - Parabellum

    The world isn't divided into good and evil. It is divided into hunters and their prey.

    Good and evil are human concepts; long before there were humans, there was the hunt. People thought that with civilization, humankind had evolved beyond that state. Pathetic. He smirked into his half-full glass of tomato juice, thinking of his dog. She was a small, middle aged Jack-Russell, who slept at the end of his bed at night and appreciated a good meal. He never took her out with him to hunt. She was not bred for that -- unless the prey in question was mice or rats. Whenever he brought home a deer carcass to cut it up in his cellar, where he had a special bench for that purpose, the little dog absolutely went mad. She wouldn't leave the cellar door, whining, flinching, scratching at the threshold, and literally trying to gnaw through the cellar door. Only when he had finally finished his business, and had placed the cut-up animal in the fridge, cleaned the room of all the remains of fur, sinew and blood, and finally had washed down everything again with lots of water and chlorine, she relaxed a bit, although it always took a whole day for her to become the normal pet dog again. Several thousand years of domestication, wiped away in an instant, when the smell of blood, death, and panic hit the sensitive nose.

    He was a hunter, and always had been. Never giving in to a petty feeling like pity. Well, once he had, but only when he was very young, still hunting with his father. Now the glimpse of pure terror, mixed with the realization of inevitability in the eyes of his prey only made him more determined and more eager. People didn't understand what hunting was. All those idiots applying for an elk hunting license, who just wanted to get their shot -- that was slaughter, not hunting. Heck, those people would even shoot at zoo animals if they'd get away with it.

    He had been chasing his prey now for a couple of hours already, although he could tell that the prey was not aware of it. How could she be? He was just another everyday guy, nothing special about him, nothing that grabbed hold on your mind, like a slight ping of headache. No particular feature, no special clothes, nothing. He just blended with his surroundings, as always.

    He was not bored; he was used to waiting -- always the longest part of the hunt. With mild interest he had watched her through clouds of cigarette smoke. How she giggled, when she received a friend's message on her iPhone, blushing when the waiter suddenly appeared behind her, not-so accidentally brushing against her long hair when leaning over her to ask if she wanted another drink.

    She was beckoning to the waiter now, counting some money. Not used to giving a tip it seemed. The waiter seemed very brief. He waited until she had almost left the room, then fished a bill out of his pocket, tucking it under his glass. Grabbing his coat, he stood up. The waiter gave him a brief nod.

    One breathless moment of tension, when he stepped out of the door and the cold, clear autumn air hit his lungs. All seemed quiet after the din of the club. Where had she gone? Relax. She hadn't called a cab, he would have noticed. All the conversations she had were of the purely private sort. He could tell, although he had been sitting out of earshot.

    He took one last, conscious drag on his cigarette, closing his eyes. He could hear her walking; hear the sound of her stilettos. Opening his eyes again, he finally spotted her walking down the street.

    Not bothering to tread on it, he just let the cigarette drop onto the ground. Exhaling, he followed her, hands in his coat, without undue haste. He felt the gun in its holster though the fabric of his coat. USP Tactical -- a nice, practical weapon, silencer already attached to it. It would take him only a couple of seconds to fasten it to the barrel, anyway, but he wasn't one for cheap effects. Walking after her -- trying to match her pace, synchronizing his steps with hers to make them practically inaudible -- he was fingering one single cartridge he always kept in his pocket. He liked the smooth feeling of it. Parabellum. He preferred it to the shorter .380 ACP every time. Not really for its accuracy, but solely for the name. That old Roman had really put it in a nutshell. Always be prepared was the key, always on top of things -- or you will end up as prey.

    Though it was not his hometown, he knew where she lived. Always be prepared. She was living alone.

    He followed her around a few corners, the footfall of his sneaker soles swallowed by the sound of her steps. She'd had a few drinks. She was not drunk, but a little tipsy, swaying ever so slightly. When she reached the door to her house, she bent down to rummage for the keys in her oversized bag.

    Like a cat he gave a brief soundless dash and was behind her -- one hand holding a handkerchief over her mouth, stifling her cry, the other seizing her wrist like a vice. He slowly bent her neck back, feeling the small, but useless resistance. He sensed her bitter-sweet smell -- perfume, stale cigarette smoke, mingled with panic. The smell of prey. He looked at her face. Their panic stricken eyes never failed to give him a jolt, but that still was not quite it. What he lived for was the moment when the last flicker of hope finally died in their eyes, making room for the ultimate peace. The moment of insight, when they realized they would never be anything else but prey -- when they ceased to be anything else. After that he shot them, having lost all of his interest. One quick, well aimed shot; the supersonic bang of the cartridge leaving the muzzle neatly muffled by the silencer's cylinder. The most annoying thing was when they fainted before that crucial point. He needed their eyes. When they fainted, it gave him that unbearable feeling of impotence, mixed with rage. He dreaded that feeling -- every hunter did. You had been sitting in the deer-stance for hours; finally the deer was in shooting range. Perfect. You were aiming carefully, the crosshairs hovering right over the spot where the shot would hit. You pulled the trigger -- and had forgotten to release the safety catch. He hated it.

    He leaned forward, wanting to whisper something in her ear, twisting her arm along her back at the same time.

    Suddenly she had something in her other hand. He couldn't see what it was, but he knew instantly. He would recognize this sound anywhere. That nasty kind of telescopic club, about an arm's-length when it was extracted, basically a whip with a ball-shaped tip made of lead. His father had owned one of those. Taking his palm from her mouth, he quickly grabbed for her left hand that was holding the thing. In that instant he felt the excruciating pain in his left arm. The first sharp pain at least, together with the sickening, wet sound of a joint being smashed. How had she done that? A stroke of luck for her, too.

    Her eyes, still facing his, changed. She didn't cry or call for help. She just stood there -- slowly, consciously grabbing her weapon now, looking at him. The sickening feeling of his mangled arm, as well as the look in her eyes, made him back away.

    He was staggering backwards, holding his useless hand, stumbling, falling, wanting to reach for his H&K. He hesitated. A shot, however muffled, could still draw attention. Literally being caught with a smoking gun wasn't good either. Up until now he could only be charged with harassment, the police would not be particularly interested. Murder was something different. He decided to run. Still scurrying further back he managed to get on his legs again. He sprinted for the next corner, pressing his left hand close to the body. At first he thought she was following him, but after a few minutes he realized it was not so. He stopped at a street corner, leaning back in a doorway. Only now did he really notice the throbbing pain bringing tears to his eyes. Sickness crept over him. He was sweating, too. A sour taste was in his mouth, he had a stitch in his side. Running was not something he was used to anymore.

    A police car went by slowly, the driver briefly engaging the clutch, the cop on the passenger side sipping at his coffee. He put his hand in his coat, longing for the comforting touch of the cartridge in his pocket. Panic, as it dawned on him he must have lost it - presumably when he had fallen in the attempt to put some distance between him and his former prey. Anyway, he wasn't a child anymore, he didn't need such things to get on top of the situation. Parabellum.

    Had the police been called by now? Perhaps. Anyway, those cops clearly prioritised their coffee break over hunting. He leaned back into the shadow of the doorway.

    On spotting him, the cop's face changed. He almost spilt his coffee, giving his colleague a rough blow on the shoulder.

    He ran.

    Had he ever ran like this in his life? He couldn't remember. The din of his own heartbeat filled his ears as he was struggling to find his rhythm, clutching his injured arm. The cold air felt like it was burning his lungs now. The taste of bloody iron mixed with the nauseating taste of long-smoked cigarettes. All his senses felt wide awake; yet at the same time his being seemed reduced to one single thing -- survival. He heard the sirens.

    He was running for his life now. He never thought he could run that fast, let alone with an injured arm. He was taking shortcuts, jumping over fences, running across front lawns, not caring about bruises or scratches.

    He cut a corner, almost scraping along a wall with his injured hand. It was a dead end. The moment he became aware of that, the police car screeched to a halt behind him.

    He heard the cop yelling -- missing the words but, of course, catching the meaning. Turning around, he drew his weapon. The next thing he felt was a bullet hitting his upper arm. The impact threw him off balance; he stumbled and fell on his knees. Still clutching the weapon he tried to aim, sheer force of will overriding every pain. The second shot hit his leg.

    The cold asphalt was scratching his forehead. He put the gun up to his temple, feeling the cold touch of the silencer. One last sideways glance at his hunters, one last hurting intake of breath. Still on top of things. He pulled the trigger. It gave just a dry click.

    Like in deep, helpless sleep he felt the plastic of the handcuffs cutting in his wrists.

    The policeman noted he had never, in any living creature, gazed into eyes so dead.
  6. Gannon

    Gannon Contributor Contributor

    Jan 15, 2007
    Likes Received:
    Manchester, England
    Gingerbiscuit - Anybody There?

    Gareth sat on his haunches in a dark linen closet at the Montevue Hotel, knowing full well that he was wasting his time. Dreary old hotels, dusty museums and dank basements the last places you were likely to come across a ghost. After all, why would they be in such miserable places as that when they could all be in Vegas? Living it up and having a good time, not wasting all of eternity hiding car keys and banging on pipes.

    This is, of course, if you believe in ghosts. Which Gareth didn't.

    Although he did believe in making money, and the weirdoes who believed in ghosts were happy to pay him just to spend the night in their haunted building as long as he told them what they wanted to hear in the morning. Life as a paranormal investigator was both simple and lucrative.

    But uncomfortable. Gareth massaged his calves, feeling the first twinge of pins and needles creep into his legs. He hadn't wanted to be in the linen closet. He'd fancied one of the luxury suites but the owners of the hotel had insisted that most of the paranormal activity seemed to come from inside that cupboard. Never mind, there was always next time.

    Historically, investigating the paranormal wasn't the most glamorous of careers, attracting only people with anoraks and bushy eyebrows. But nowadays it was a much more appealing job. For one thing there was money in it, and for another - there was television. And Gareth had been so adept at providing a realistic enough investigation that left just enough to the imagination that he had been approached by the Most Haunted team. He was going to be filming this Saturday night and it could be the start of something big. It was only one episode but he felt sure that he'd be asked to be a regular contributor. After all, he wasn't a bad looking guy and he was still the fun side of forty. And he knew how to make an investigation look convincing which, after all, is what the television show is all about.

    Gareth looked at his watch and saw that it was approaching two in the morning.


    Most of the knocking and banging at the Montevue had been reported at around two AM so this seemed like the best time to start recording his investigation. Gareth spoke into his tape recorder.

    “One fifty-seven AM”, He said. “EMF metre is showing nothing abnormal so far. The camera in bedroom two three six hasn't shown anything up yet either but there have been a few interesting knocking sounds so I'm going to see if I can get anything on tape.”

    He used to feel guilty when he came out with little fibs like that but not any more. After all, that was what really made people happy. If he ever told people that he was unable to find any evidence they were so disappointed that he actually felt more guilty about telling the truth than about lying. Besides, they were more likely to pay up if you told them something they wanted to hear.

    Gareth adjusted his position slightly. His left leg had completely gone to sleep now. Oh well, at least part of him was asleep. His stomach wasn't. It rumbled.

    “What was that?” he said into the microphone, feigning alarm. “Not sure if I got that on tape but I just heard a low growl from somewhere in the corridor.”

    Gareth rubbed his rumbling tum. He could murder a Cornish pasty but he had to stay focused. In a few more hours he could fill his face at the breakfast buffet but for now he had to follow up on the 'growl'.

    “If there is anybody there,” he said, “could you please make yourself known?”


    No surprise there. No matter, he had plenty of ways to make an investigation come to life and he was just about to simulate a knocking sound when he heard a really loud bang from outside in the corridor.

    “Jesus,” he whispered, quite alarmed. He hadn't been expecting that. Of course he knew that whatever it was that had made the noise would have a natural explanation but it still made him jump. But he wasn't frightened, he knew that. He knew there was no such thing as ghosts. Still, even though it was probably just a door blowing shut in the wind it had still given his investigation an air of credibility. Gareth smelled a bonus.

    “Is somebody there?” he asked. “Please knock again if there is.”


    Surprisingly Gareth was a little relieved. He chided himself for being so foolish. Clearly the noise had made himself jump so much that his nerves were a little tighter than they should be. Of course he knew there was no...


    This time Gareth practically jumped out of his trousers and as a result smote his head on a wooden shelf.

    “Ow!”. That was a loud one. He breathed deep. There would have to be a natural explanation.

    “Is there anybody there?” he asked, slowly and deliberately, more for the benefit of the tape than anything else, though he WAS having trouble disguising the quiver in his voice. Again there was nothing, but Gareth didn't relax just yet.

    This time, instead of another bang, he heard a groan right next to his head. A long, low and mournful groan that scared the cor blimey out of him.

    “Aarggh!” he went, jumping up in a blind panic and running from the linen closet, his progress hampered slightly by his numb leg.

    He wasn't used to hearing noises like that. Normally it was HIM that made the noises but this time there was no mistaking the moan.

    Right, this isn't funny, he thought. Somebody's playing silly buggers here.

    “Who's there?” he demanded, this time making no effort to disguise the panic in his voice. There was another bang, just to his left and Gareth wheeled around. His mind had stopped contemplating the natural explanations to the noises and was now busy trying to stop him from weeing himself. “If somebody's mucking about I'll – I'll fight you!” he yelled. Just down the corridor he heard another noise, similar to the groan he'd heard in the linen closet but did this one sound more like a laugh?

    Gareth made a token effort to compose himself. He was a professional paranormal investigator. It wouldn't do his career any good to run screaming from the hotel. He grabbed the tape recorder and resumed his investigation.

    “Do you not like me being here?” he asked.


    “Do you want me to leave? Bang twice for yes, once for no,” he said.


    Now that had never happened before.

    “How many of you are here?” he asked.

    For a moment nothing happened, and then everything happened all at once. There were several loud knockings from various different points throughout the building, some sounding far away, some right near Gareth's head. And the groaning started again. Sometimes loud, sometimes quiet but always there. This really wasn't funny any more.

    Gareth stood rooted to the spot, completely terrified by the growing clamour. Groaning, banging, laughing? It was all too much. In a blind panic Gareth ran back into the linen closet and slammed the door. He wasn't quite sure why but it seemed like the safest bet. He shut his eyes and covered his ears, trying to muffle the cacophony.

    “La laa la laa laaaa,” he sang at the top of his voice. “I can't hear you, you're not real. Ghosts don't exist, la la laaaaaaa....” and then Gareth's world went suddenly very black indeed.

    When Gareth came to he was in a very different place entirely. It was daylight and the hotel was now a hive of activity. Only it wasn't a hotel any more, more a sort of … pile. Gareth had no idea what had happened. He racked his brain but the last thing he remembered was being scared out of his wits and then... and then what? This didn't make any sense at all. Gareth picked himself up and had a look around. There were a lot of people here. In the distance a crowd of people had amassed and were being held back by the police. Fire engines sprayed water onto the rubble and there was even a news crew. Nobody seemed particularly interested with Gareth though.

    This was entirely strange. What on Earth had happened?

    “The boiler blew up.”

    Gareth wheeled around and saw a man approaching him across the debris. He had slick, jet black hair and wore a very well tailored black suit and tie.

    “Excuse me?” said Gareth.

    “The boiler blew up,” said the man. “Shame really. It was such a lovely old building.” He extended his hand and Gareth shook it limply.

    “But how..?”

    “It was just old,” said the man.

    “No I mean, how did I survive when the building has clearly been obliterated?”

    “simple,” said the man, matter of factly, “you didn't survive.”

    “What?” said Gareth, unimpressed. He was in no mood for games. “I'm sorry, I'm awfully confused right now and that isn't helping. Who are you?”

    “I am the Grim Reaper. Death if you'd prefer.”

    Gareth sighed. Somebody was definitely winding him up. “Look, I'm sorry but clearly I've been involved in some kind of accident and I think I may need medical attention, so if you don't mind...”

    “I'm afraid you're beyond medical help now my friend,” said Death.

    “This is ridiculous, utterly ridiculous. I've been in a serious accident and you're messing about. What kind of person would see a person in obvious distress and start telling them they're dead?”

    “Well... the Grim reaper would.”

    “You're not the Grim Reaper. Everyone knows he has a cloak and scythe and a bone face.”

    “Would you be more comfortable if I did?” said Death.

    “Not really, look it was really nice meeting you but -” Gareth didn't get the chance to finish his sentence because Death, or at least the man claiming to be Death picked up a brick and threw it with force at Gareth's head. Gareth didn't even have chance to duck, he just stared wildly as the brick....

    … passed through his head.

    “Wah!” went Gareth.

    “Sorry about that,” said Death. “I never like doing it but I find it helps prove a point.”

    “So … I really am dead?” said Gareth.

    “You are indeed. Would you like to see one of your feet?”

    “No. No that won't be necessary,” said Gareth.” This was entirely unexpected. He'd thought he had at least another thirty years before he even had to start thinking about his own mortality. There was so much he had left to do. “Wait a minute,” he said, “I'm supposed to be on Most Haunted at the weekend!”

    “Oh you will be eventually. Stay in one place long enough and muck about with enough car keys and they'll soon hunt you out. My brother-in-law was on the live show the other week. He blew in Yvette's ear. Scared the bejesus out of her.”

    “Right,” said Gareth. He was really struggling to come to terms with all this. He was dead, and that was fairly upsetting for him, though nowhere near as upsetting as the thought that ghosts really did exist, and that all the strange people whom he'd thought were fooling themselves were actually the ones that were right.

    “So there really WERE ghosts in the hotel last night?” asked Gareth.

    “Last night?” said Death. “Oh no. There are no ghosts here. Well, present company excepted of course.”

    “But I heard all these banging noises.”

    “That would be the boiler blowing up.”

    “I see,” said Gareth. Now he felt even MORE foolish.

    “Well,” said Death, “I'm afraid I have to go my friend. Now is there anything you need before I do go?”

    “Not really” said Gareth glumly. This really was a depressing morning. He hadn't even had chance to get breakfast.

    “Well good luck,” said Death. And with that he turned and walked off in the direction of a stretched black limo.

    So this was it. Gareth was dead, and he had absolutely no idea what to do next. Did he stay where he was, or did he go off in search of somewhere else to settle down for the rest of infinity? Then it hit him. Maybe his theory on ghosts wasn't ENTIRELY wrong after all.

    “Hey wait!” he called after Death who was just climbing into the back seat of the limo. “Where are you going?”

    “There's been a shooting in Las Vegas,” said Death.

    “Great!” said Gareth, running up to the car. He stood, catching his breath for a moment before realising that he didn't have breath any more. “Vegas? Any chance of a lift?”
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