On a hot summer day, in the sleepy American town of Rockville, a high school teacher, Jessie Conway, notices a car with tinted windows cruising slowly around the school grounds. Twenty minutes later, Jessie is locked in a fight for her life and the life of her pupils as Rockville High is plunged into a living horror when two disaffected pupils open fire.
For Jessie the nightmare has only just begun. Traumatized and hounded by the media, she retreats to her home and attempts to rebuild her shattered life, little realizing her actions have attracted the attention of one very dangerous man. Unbeknownst to her, Jessie has become, The Chosen.
I first heard about Arlene’s work about three years ago from a writer friend of mine. I had never seen him so insistent that I read a book before. It was one of Arlene’s first, and I so very happy that my friend introduced me to her skilful, dark, wonderfully grubby worlds. – Paul O'Brien
"Taut and gripping, The Chosen may be the novel that introduces Hunt to a wider audience."–Hot Press
"This is the kind of eerily realistic novel, with convincing characters, that makes you wonder what you would do should you become The Chosen, and is certainly a story that would work on the big screen. "–RTE
"She explored the terrain, learned about hunting and weapons, and spent time in local watering holes to get the feel and pace of the people. And she completely nails it. In fact, if you didn’t know it going in there is absolutely nothing about the book that would tip you to the fact Hunt wasn’t a North Carolina or Tennessee native, let alone that she was Irish. And if Hunt can provide such a well-written and entertaining read as The Chosen presents set in a place she’s only briefly visited, I for one will definitely be going back to get acquainted with her QuicK Investigations series, which is set in her native land."–Elizabeth A. White Reviews
His given name was Caleb Switch, although it had been so long since he had used it he scarcely thought of himself as such.
Caleb unpacked his few things and laid them out carefully on the table. He opened a plastic box and from it ate a light protein-rich meal he had prepared the night before at the apartment. While he waited for his food to digest, he flicked through the latest magazine on traditional hunting, scoffing at the wilder stories printed within. The magazine was a luxury. It was delivered to his apartment in the city once a month. The name on the mailing list was Arthur Weils. The same name was on the deeds of the apartment and all the utility bills. Arthur Weils was who he was now, Arthur Samuel Weils. His friends might call him Art, had he had any friends of whom to speak.
The real Arthur S Weils was buried in the scrub behind the cabin in which Caleb was seated, free at last from the self-loathing and disgust he had passively endured during his miserable thirty-six years on the planet. Whenever Caleb thought of the real Arthur Weils – which was seldom – he reasoned he had done the man a favour. Certainly, Arthur had not put up much of a struggle once Caleb's intentions became clear. Caleb had not expected him to do so; Category B types did not have the will to survive. They were beta, weak, content to wander through life following the herd blindly, stoically accepting of their fate. Hell, they were hardly much more than meat shells. But they had their uses, and indeed Art had provided.
When he was finished reading, Caleb removed his clothing and stood naked before a full-length mirror. He studied his refection in the speckled glass. He was twenty-eight years old. He wore his dark hair just so, not too short or too long. He had a beard, closely cropped against his skin. People said it looked distinguished. Conveniently, it disguised a large scar that ran from the left side of his lip to below his jawline, one of many childhood presents he had received from his father. He was six feet two inches tall and at one hundred and ninety pounds was lean and muscular, preferring to eschew showy gym muscles for actual physical strength. He carried no traces of excess fat and shared none of the softness many men his age displayed. People who did not look after themselves disgusted him. Soft, doughy, pasty-faced men, with their paunches and sagging tits, women with swollen bellies and thunder thighs, all were repugnant. His body would never be like that. He would not allow it. His body was a machine, a tool. To that end he maintained it to perfection.
He warmed up slowly, taking time to stretch his hamstrings and loosen his calf muscles with a series of timed stretches and twists. As he moved, he felt the blood course through his body and savoured the tension in his limbs.
Once warm, he belted a weight around his waist, grabbed the chin-up bar he had built into the ceiling and executed a set of twenty perfect fully extended chin-ups. He dropped to the ground, undid the weight and performed the same number of push-ups. The muscles in his back rippled, the veins popped in his biceps. He repeated the combination three more times.
He finished the final set and stood before the mirror again. He scrutinised his body for a full minute, searching for flaws. He found none. He walked, naked, to a metal shelf fastened to the opposite wall by brackets. He had built the workbench himself and it was meticulously organised. Every tool had its place; every surface was clean and free of dirt. On it sat a heavy-duty canvas bag and beside that a slim metal case.
Caleb pulled out a stool and sat down. He unzipped the bag and removed from it a custom-made take-down longbow. He assembled it with practised ease, snapped the rubber hand guard over the hinge and restrung it in one fluid motion. He waxed the strings and ran his thumb over the cedar limbs, checking for nicks or scratches. The bow was a thing of rare beauty. He had purchased it over a decade before from a master craftsman who lived in Marshall, North Carolina. It weighed less than two pounds, had a twenty-eight-inch draw and was as silent as the grave. His accuracy with it was beyond question. Any fool could fire a gun or a crossbow from a distance, and these days most any fool surely did, but only the true hunter could place himself within the perfect strike zone using a stick bow.
Satisfied, he removed an arrow from the quiver. The arrows were a speciality of his and he made dozens of them every year. They were constructed from light wooden shafts finished with both eagle and buzzard fetching. The fetching was wrapped with muskrat sinew. The tip of each shaft held a single broad-head arrow with a four ridges. He made the arrowheads from obsidian, using a knapping design his father had taught him. Each arrowhead was then heated, allowed to cool, and honed so fine they could slice through dense rubber like it was butter. Caleb held one up to the light. He looked down the line, visualising it as it left his bow. It would fly straight and true, of that he had no doubt.
As well as his bow, he carried an old army knife that had once belonged to his grandfather, and a 30/30 Winchester rifle with open sights he had inherited from his father. The rifle was an annoyance. Although this particular model was relatively light to carry, it did slow him down some. He had never needed to use it, but experience had taught him to be prepared for the unexpected.
He put the rifle down and unwrapped the knife. The handle was cherry wood. There had once been a pattern on it – he vaguely remembered it – but it had long since been worn smooth. He thumbed the blade and a bead of blood rose immediately to the surface of his skin.
Caleb rewrapped the knife and walked to the gas-powered shower to the rear of the cabin. He turned on the water and when it was almost too hot to bear, he stepped under it and washed using a special soap. He removed all traces of sweat from his body, lathered again and rinsed a second time. Scent carried on the air and it was easy to reveal a man's position that way. He finished off with an ice-cold blast to close his pores and then shut off the water. He stepped out of the shower and returned to the main room of the cabin, allowing the air to dry his skin.
He studied the map pinned to the wall opposite the workbench, running through a mental checklist of the terrain, memorising the route. There were natural predators in the woods, bears and coyotes both. The bears around his way were skittish and more interested in feeding and staying as far as possible from humankind. The males tended to bluster, but a sow with cubs would charge without hesitation and it did not do to forget that.
He tapped the map with his index finger. The area he hunted lay deep in the woods that straddled North Carolina and Tennessee. His cabin was situated in a remote and unpopulated valley, many miles from popular hiking trails and camps. There had been a small town in the valley many years before, but it had long been abandoned to nature. And nature had reclaimed it.
When he was dry, Caleb unlocked a metal trunk and lifted out the individual zip-locked bags which contained his hunting clothes. After a hunt, each item was carefully washed, dried and sealed in the plastic with a number of leaves and fresh pine cones. Hunter magazines spoke of high-tech carbon suits that could reduce scent and the like, but his way was the old way and it did not fail him.
Caleb dressed quickly and smeared dark green non-reflective grease across his pale cheeks and the back of his hands. He covered his head with a freshly washed black cap. It never ceased to amaze him how many hunters took care over scented clothes but wore the same cap day in, day out, forgetting how rancid a sweat-soaked brim became.
He strapped the knife to his left thigh and carried the rifle, quiver and bow out to the truck. He laid them on the floor behind the driver's seat and covered them with tarp. A flurry of excitement ran through him. This was the best part of the hunt. All the work, all the painstaking preparation led towards the coming hour. He leaned against the truck and tilted his face to the cloudless dawn sky above and thought himself a fortunate man.
Caleb drove off his property and turned right onto a small dirt road so little used that grass grew almost knee-high down the centre line. Caleb drove with the lights dimmed, though he did not meet a single vehicle, nor did he expect to. This deep into the valleys there was hardly a soul to be found. He drove on for a number of miles, climbing steadily as he did so. He crossed an old wooden bridge, barely wide enough for his truck, and after another half mile turned into a rutted track leading up the side of the mountain. He dropped down into second gear, then into first, as he progressed higher and higher. In some sections the trees and bushes on either side were so overgrown the track was hardly passable.
It was another twenty-five minutes before the pathway flattened out and he bounced over a rutted culvert into a small clearing. He backed the truck between rocks and switched off the engine.
The clearing was almost two-thirds of the way to the summit of a mountain known to him as The Devil's Ridge and the last place he could safely drive. He sat for a few moments, staring across the expanse of trees, listening to the engine tick as it cooled. He watched the first traces of light illuminate the highest climbs. He became aware of his breathing, felt his chest rise and fall, slow and regular.
He was ready.
He stepped from the truck, walked to the rear and vaulted onto the bed in one smooth movement. He hoisted the spare wheel up and opened the door to a hatch he had built in under the flatbed.
Within the confined space lay a bound and gagged girl. She wore sprayed-on jeans and a dark red leather jacket. Her hair was dyed a harsh, flat peroxide blonde, with a couple of inches of roots visible.
She screamed behind her gag as he dragged her out. The sound irritated him.
‘Quit it. No one can hear you out here anyways.'
He threw her over the side of the truck where she fell to the ground with all the grace of a sack of grain. He jumped down, hauled her to her feet and removed the gag. Immediately she started babbling at him.
‘Please ... oh please mister ... please don't hurt me. Please, I won't tell no one about you, I swear mister, I won't say–'
He pulled the knife from its sheath and pressed it against her cheek.
‘I said quit making noise.'
She shook violently but quietened. He traced the knife down her skin and sliced through the binds on her wrists. He pointed across the clearing with the blade.
‘D'you hear the bridge a while back?'
She blinked at him and licked her lips a number of times.
‘Well, did you or not?'
‘Yonder through those trees is a path of sorts. If you can find it you can follow it along 'til you reach a creek. Follow that, you might make it back to the bridge. You make it that far you might make it further and hit on a road.'
She blinked, turned her head towards the trees, then back to him, disbelieving. Her throat glowed white in the gathering light.
‘I'm giving you a head start of five minutes. I suggest you make the most of it.'
She shrank back against the truck. ‘You'll hurt me if I run.'
‘I'll hurt you if you don't.'
‘I don't want to die. Please mister, I don't want to die.'
‘Then you best get moving.'
She hesitated. He waited. They always hesitated.
She looked this way and that, sizing up the situation, such as it was. He wondered what she thought was going to happen? Did she think it would be like the movies? The good guys would land in a helicopter and whisk her to safety? How come they never got it until the last second?
Finally, she moved off, walking first, keeping one eye on him. Caleb stood perfectly still. At ten feet she began to run awkwardly over the rocky ground. She had not gone forty feet when she tripped and fell over. He watched her pick herself up and stumble on again.
Category B, he thought, no doubt about it.
When she finally reached the trees at the other side of the clearing, Caleb turned his face to the rising sun and counted down the minutes. This was why he rarely bothered hunting street trash. They had no real fight in them, no gumption. No will to survive.
When the correct amount of time had elapsed, he fetched the rifle and the bow from behind his seat and set off after the girl.
It was time to hunt.