The Happiest Meal
First published on this website
He knew even as he locked the door behind him that he was making a mistake.
Running a risk, he told himself, running a risk. But to run an unnecessary risk is to make a mistake, and that thought echoed around his head as he walked into London.
Yeah, thought Wrynn. One more night shut up inside, one more night and he'd lose his damn mind, and what good would he be then? He needed to get out. He needed to be on the city streets, firm reassuring flagstones, with people around him enjoying their daily lives. People who weren't being hunted.
Night was falling, a clear sky, the blue shading into black at the buildings that formed the horizon, as he neared King's Cross. The more crowded streets made him feel safer.
But safer was relative, of course, and he realised that when up in front of him he saw one of them, a Hunter. No, there were two of them, standing alongside each other in the centre of the road, four lanes of traffic passing through them obliviously. Nobody else saw them, of course, but he saw them, and more to the point, they saw him.
Thoughts of a pleasant meal out instead of his usual furtive pizza delivery evaporated sadly from Wrynn's head.
They can't take me here, he reminded himself. Not in public.
All he had to do was make it back home. Could he outrun them? Dubious. Perhaps if he caught a cab...
He turned, mentally measuring the distance home, and there were two more of them behind him.
They can't take me here, he thought again. I could just walk up to them and past them. They wouldn't dare take me here, almost in front of King's Cross Station for the Master's sake. They wouldn't dare.
No matter how often he repeated that thought, his legs were not willing to approach the Hunters. They wouldn't take one single step.
Right, a taxi then. But the taxis were all on the main rank, a quarter of a mile away and out of his reach. There were none within sight. As he looked left and right, Wrynn noticed that the Hunters were beginning to slowly, steadily, drift closer.
All they needed to do was encircle him, and then guide him away, off the main streets, to the first dark alley they came across. And then —
Wrynn turned to his left and dived into the nearest lit doorway. A hamburger restaurant. He skidded to a halt on bright shining tiles, the lighting hurting his eyes. He turned back toward the door. It was so bright in there, he couldn't see a damn thing outside in the darkness.
Around him tired families, depressed businessmen, homeless people sat at the plastic tables, eating their processed food without gusto. There was a row of doors; male, female and disabled bathrooms. No other exit in sight. Presumably there was a back door through the kitchen, if he really had to flee for his skin, but that would be... inelegant. And it would draw an inconvenient amount of attention, and Wrynn hated to be the cynosure of all eyes. He worked best when nobody was breathing down his neck.
The first Hunter entered the restaurant, without bothering to open the doors, and Wrynn dodged behind a pillar, the ghost of a plan yawning awake in his mind. It was worth a try, and if it failed, he could still bolt for the kitchen.
Time to call upon the Focus.
He concentrated, picturing its strands flowing over his hands. That wasn't how it worked at all, of course. He well knew it. But that was his way of interacting with its power.
The spotty young man sitting nearest to Wrynn sat upright in his chair and gave his hamburger a vaguely surprised look. Then he took another bite of it. As he did so, the woman next to him sucked eagerly at the straw of her milkshake.
All across the restaurant, little grunts and mmms of appreciation began to break out like plants popping into bloom in a flowerbox.
Wrynn sneaked a look around the pillar. The Hunters were hovering, moving neither forward nor backward. He took a deep breath and gave the Focus one more tweak, as much as he dared. Or perhaps as much as he had energy for; he honestly didn't know.
The sound of munching redoubled and the Hunter nearest to him wavered. For a second it hung shivering, then it retreated, violently, with enough force to have smashed the front of the restaurant open if it had only been sufficiently corporeal.
In its wake, the other three Hunters zipped quickly backwards and out of the restaurant. Wrynn let go of the breath he hadn't realised he'd been holding, and cautiously walked towards the exit, customers happily devouring their burgers on either side of him.
That was Hunters for you. Damn things couldn't stand happiness. And Wrynn had just given those poor bastards in there the happiest meal most of them had had for years.
Quick check outside the door; no Hunters. And better still, a lovely black taxi trundling gently into view, sign illuminated. Suppressing a whoop, Wrynn windmilled at it, and it pulled over to him.
Vague feelings of guilt tugged at Wrynn as he gave his address. He'd needed to do it. A desperate plan in desperate circumstances. Justifiable, yes. But it was a shame, Wrynn thought as he settled down on the leather seat, that they would never again be able to enjoy a burger half so good as the one he had given them that night.