The year is 2228, and it's New Year's day. Stan Heartly brings in this year with his pregnant wife, Asrai. This year there’s no big extravagant parties with fake smiles, or false suits praising his hunting skills. This year he would spend the new year with the woman he loved. Stan tells her, “I couldn’t imagine a better way to spend the new year.”
She looks at him hesitantly, “You sure you don’t miss it?” He smiles back at her, “Miss what, dear?”
He knew what she was talking about, and she knew the answer -- they both did. Of course he missed it; it was the only thing he had known for sometime. He had enlisted into the Marines at 18, just one year before the seven year war. After the war, the Gladiatorial Board of Peace was established. The G.B.P. is a savage way to keep the peace in a world where war was everything and the people demanded peace. Thus, the gladiatorial games were born. Murder is allowed, but only for people playing the games. Stan has played in all the games at least once, and some more than others. His favorite was The Hunt.
“Some days it feels like it's been longer than a year since I dropped from the games” he thought. Stan turns to Asrai and says, “Of course some days I miss it, but I have you and the little one, now.”
She kissed him on the cheek, he turned and kissed her on the forehead. After watching the ball drop on T.V. they head to bed.
The next day he headed to his state of the art gym where he trains others for the games. He arrived two hours early as always. He might not be in the games anymore but it didn’t mean he couldn’t train like it. As he finished target practice his number one pupil, Jeff, came in. Jeff exclaimed, “I see the rumors are true.” Stan turned to look at Jeff and asked, “What rumors?”
“The ones about you coming back to the games,” Jeff explained.
Stan snored, “Ha! You of all people should know I’m never competing again.” It was the whole reason he turned his private gym into a training facility; he can’t compete, but he could at least train others.
Jeff didn’t look convinced. “I know but everyone seems convinced otherwise. Maybe they have a false sense of hope,” he said.
Stan replied, “Yeah and crazy imaginations -- now help me get ready for today’s training sessions.”
The day went on without a hitch, as usual, but something seemed wrong. Just yesterday his wife asked if he missed hunting. Now, today, he hears that there are rumors about his return to hunting. He would have just ignored it if it had just been Jeff, but almost everyone today had asked him. He began to feel paranoid about everything.
“Is someone testing me?,” he thought. “No, silly rumors spread like wildfire,” he told himself, and put the thoughts out of his head. He thought of his wife and their yet to be born child.
“I’m making the right decision. If they ever got hurt, I wouldn’t know what to do with myself,” he thought. He cleaned and closed the gym and headed home. When he got home, he received a text message from the G.B.P..
We have received and accepted your application for re-entry into the gladiatorial games. Your first victim will be sent to you in 2-3 business days.
Just then he heard his wife coming from the kitchen. He quickly closed the message.
“Hey cutie! I’m getting dinner started... You ok?” Asrai asked.
Stan nervously responded, “Huh? I mean, yeah, yeah! I’m good, just thinking about some shit that’s all, head in the clouds.”
“Well, dinner shouldn’t take too much longer so your head better be back in time.” She kissed him, smiled and walked back to the kitchen. Stan’s brain raced.
“Okay, someone is obviously messing with me right?” he thought. “Testing me-- someone at the board must be trying to see if I’ll crack and go back. Seeing if I can really give up hunting forever, and the worst part is,” he thought to himself “I don’t know... I guess I will just have to wait and see what I decide if I even get a Victim,” he thought. “This could all just be an elaborate prank.”
He tried hard to put the thoughts out of his head. Later at dinner, Asrai looked at him and said, “Stan, can I ask you something?”
Stan, while chewing his food answers, “What’s up?”
“You're not Hunting anymore are you?” She questions.
“Woah! No, baby, no! Who told you that?”
She doesn’t look convinced. “My friends are saying that they have heard rumors that you have picked hunting back up.”
“My students have been saying the same thing, but I promise you I’m not, nor am I even thinking about going back to the games. I gave all that up for you and our future family and I wouldn’t risk that to go back now.”
Asrai smiles and says, “I believe you. I just wanted to hear it.”
“That’s it, this has gotten out of hand,” he told himself. “When, or if, I get a victim, I’m gonna reject it and dispel these rumors once and for all" he thought to himself and then he tried to put the whole thing out of his head for the time being. Him and his wife changed the subject and finished dinner. Two weeks passed and no word from the G.B.P.. It started to seem like a bad joke. Then he received a letter at his gym. It was from the G.B.P. It read:
You have been selected for our special hunt this year.
This years Victims are:
Sarah Landburk Claire Landburk
Good hunting to you!
This had never happened before-- there were two victims and they seemed to be a mother and her daughter. Never in the history of the G.B.P had a hunter gotten two victims at the same time, let alone a mother and her child-- something wasn’t right. They are hunters, not hit men. He decided to call the Board and ask some questions.
A woman answered the phone pleasantly saying, “Hello this is the G.B.P headquarters. How can I assist you?”
“Yes, I’m calling about the victim contract I was sent. It seems to be not one, but two people, and it’s a mother and her child.”
“Let me get their names and I will check the registry for you.”
Stan responds, "Sarah and Claire Landburk are their names.
There was a long pause with typing in the background. Another pause.
The phone operator finally responds with, “It seems as though everything is in order-- they are registered. Anything else I can do for you?”
Stan quickly replies with, “Yes, I’m dropping from the games.”
The woman on the phone sounds a little shocked, “Are you sure, sir?”
Stan confidently says, “Yes, my name is Stan Heartly and I am dropping from the gladiatorial games.”
“Okay Mr. Heartly, it has been noted.”
He ended the call and sat and thought for a second. Something was not right, the legal age for sign up in the games is eighteen, but the girl looked no older than thirteen. Something was off and he planned on finding out what, but first he had to teach his classes.
As he was walking out of his office he felt someone go to grab him. Reflexes and instincts save lives. He gives a quick back elbow to the midsection. Then he turns to face whoever it was. Just then a knife comes at him, so he does an X block downwards. He takes control of the wrist and gives a punch directly to the nose to disorientate his attacker, followed by a knee to the gut. He twists the attacker's hand behind his back, takes the knife and points it at their throat.
An excited voice says, "Woah! It’s me, Jeff."
Stan, baffled, says, "What?"
Jeff is amused and says again, "It's Jeff." Stan released him.
Stan, angry now, says, "What the hell man? I could have killed you!"
"Just making sure you’re at the top of your game for your comeback, but I should have known with your mods that wouldn't be a problem." Jeff explains.
"Damnit, Jeff, I told you I’m not coming back," Stan exclaims incredulously.
Jeff doesn't look amused anymore when he says, "Yeah, but I saw the letter.”
"That was a mistake. I already called the G.B.P and cleared everything up."
"Oh…. Well sorry about scaring you man," Jeff apologized and he looked a little disappointed.
Stan, still irritated, says, "It’s kool just help me finish up these classes so I can close up."
Stan closed the gym for the night while trying to take in everything that had been going on. Nothing seemed to add up though. He was missing something and he planned on finding out what it was. On his way home he kept thinking about Jeff attacking him. He may have been only acting on instincts but he loved it. He tried to calm himself. "I would have killed Jeff if he hadn't said something," he thought. He returned home and greeted his wife. He kissed her and headed straight to his study.
The first thing he did was look up the names of the woman and child. The lady seemed to be the wife of a big time banker. The child he found out was from a previous relationship the woman had. This was beginning to get more and more interesting but less and less was actually starting to make sense. Why was the wife of a big time banker and her daughter signed up for the games? Why were they sent to Stan? An even better question: who signed him up for the games?
"I'm retired and for good reason so who would do it?" He thought then "Oh shit, has she been warned? Of course right? All victims were warned before hunters were even picked. That's how the games worked. You were told you were being hunted and that's all." Stan began to get a headache. Better pick this up tomorrow he thought.
The next day began like any other. Stan headed to the gym like always going over the events of yesterday. While Stan was teaching at the range, Jeff came rushing over to him.
"You need to get the phone," Jeff urged. The look on Jeff's face suggested he didn't wanna tell Stan why. Stan went over to the phone and said, "Hello?"
The voice on the phone was also urgent, "Hello, is this Stan Heartly?"
Stan replied, "Yes sir."
"This is Fire Chief Taylor," the man explained, and continued with a calm voice."I'm sorry to inform you but your wife has been killed in an explosion at your home. We need you to come identify the body."
END OF FIRST ISSUE