When I found her she was seated at the entrance to the 8th street NR station, looking like Huckleberry Finn in faded overalls with a wooden fishing pole resting over her shoulder. Sheâ€™d been waiting for me, of course, because I was the one with the BB gun, and she damn well wasnâ€™t going hunting on her own. Dawn was cocky, sure, but she wasnâ€™t stupid. You never know what can happen down there.
â€œReady?â€ she asked, grinning like a cartoon pumpkin. I nodded and she swung the fishing pole out to grab hold of the line, which was tied around the usual candle. Dawn lit both ends then bounced down the stairs, disappearing into the black subway entrance as if it were the mouth of a cave. I followed, the BB gun brushing against my hip.
As usual, the swarm of small fries dashed away from Dawnâ€™s candle with a clatter of hundreds of claws against cement. These were three, maybe four inchesâ€¦not the type we wasted ammo on. The quickest gutterbrats could catch them by tossing nets, but Dawn and I, we hunted serious game. She thrust the fishing pole into my hands as she hopped the turnstile, and my eyes followed the watery light over the familiar space. Hulking figures of old, dark ticket machines, and the plexiglass windows of the chamber that, for some reason, had never been looted. All trains cancelled, the whiteboard read in marker unaffected by the last decade.
â€œDowntown this time?â€ Dawn asked. She took the pole back so that I could swing myself over the barrier, and when I landed, I nodded. We passed the pole again to jump down into the tracks, and the flame flickered, almost going out from the movement. The candle was vital to tunnelhunting. Aside from providing light, it warned us when we were coming up on a patch of dead air. When we stood still we could hear them in the distance, crawling through the tunnels. The big fish, trackrabbits the size of cats.
Dawn stopped, and the candle bobbed. This was the place. I hurled the Styrofoam containers onto the next track over and heard the snap and wet crash of half-rotten bait, then I backed beside her to wait. They heard it. They always did.
The first ones were small, a little smaller than a cat. In the flickering light of the candle they were emaciated grey shapes trailing bent tails, sometimes bulging with tumors. The waterâ€™s poison, down here. We wait patiently, Dawn dangling the candle a few feet ahead as I level the gun at the swarm of rats. The big ones come later, ambling on crooked legs. Those are the ones we want.
The shots are clean, like my shots always are, and the rest of the trackrabbits scatter like pigeons. When Dawn and I get over, three of them are laying on the tracks, and one of themâ€™s still twitching. â€œNice,â€ she says, and I nod in agreement. Oneâ€™s almost the size of a dogâ€¦itâ€™ll fetch good money topside.
Dawn grabs the smallest one by the fattest part of the tail and starts dragging, steadying the fishing pole by tucking it under her arm and holding it straight with her free hand. I grab the other two and we head back to the sunlight, pulling our spoils behind us.