Short Story – The Hunt

Hello, my Freaky Darlings!

I have a brand new short story for your reading pleasure. I hope you enjoy it and please let me know what you think of it.

The Hunt

A twig snapped under his boot. The hunter paused and waited. Bright sunlight streamed into the small clearing putting a spotlight on his prey. The deer’s ears twitched as it raised its head from the brush. It glanced in his direction and then bolted back to the safety of the dark forest. The hunter swore under his breath and lowered his bow. It didn’t matter; he would be able to track her no matter where she ran.

He’d been hunting and killing since childhood. He’d travelled the Amazon, and the African bush and every wildlife preserve in between all in search of the adrenaline high he only got from the hunt. The most thrilling chase of his life had been that of the long pig – Man. That particular hunt had been a few years ago, and nothing else had ever come close to giving him that thrill. He longed to feel that again, but now he only hunted for a more mundane fare.

He’d lost his edge in that chase when his trophy managed to get a short-lived upper hand. It was a lucky shot. But that lucky shot took out the hunter’s kneecap. Despite this injury, his arrow still found it’s mark – inside the man’s right eye. The arrowhead was buried deep inside his trophy’s brain. It was an instant kill shot and didn’t damage any of his meat. The hunter now had a permanent limp as a reminder of that chase deep in the jungles of Borneo. Even though it prevented him from ever hunting professionally again, that particular prize had been worth it. He’d kept the skull in remembrance, and it still held pride of place in his trophy room.

The hunter silently picked his way through the trees, skirting the clearing, in the direction the doe had scampered. He sniffed the air. His sensitive nose picked up the scent of his prey, but there was another faint smell mingled with that of the deer. It was an unfamiliar odour. Ultimately it was inconsequential and detracted from his dogged tracking of the doe, so he chose to ignore it. He found the exact spot where his quarry exited the glade. She’d left a trail of broken twigs and deep tread marks in the wet earth. She wasn’t making it much of a challenge. How disappointing.

He sniffed the air again. The rain from the previous evening gave the woods a lush smell which mingled with the scent of decomposing animals and plants. The lifecycle of the forest was never-ending. The dead fed the living. He once again detected the unfamiliar odour mixed with that of the natural forest aroma. He usually enjoyed the smells of the forest, but this unnerved him a little. It didn’t belong here in his hunting ground. It seemed to be closer this time. He shook off the feeling that he was being followed and ignored the slight prickling sensation at the back of his neck.

Something rustled in the bushes ahead. From the sound, it was small, perhaps a rodent of some sort, possibly a squirrel. He considered bagging it. Squirrel made for good eating, but he wasn’t hunting squirrel or wild rabbit today. He focused his attention once more on tracking the doe. She was proving to be more of a challenge than he’d anticipated.

He soon picked up her trail again, leading deeper into the sun-dappled forest. A branch rustled behind him. Perhaps from the wind, but there was only a slight breeze, not enough to move more than a few leaves. He knew it wasn’t the deer because she was ahead of him. Probably one of the hundreds of other animals that made the forest their home. But from the sound, it was a large animal. Considerably larger than the doe he was pursuing. He hoped it wasn’t a bear. The hunter hadn’t come prepared for bear, but since he’d bagged a couple in the past, he felt confident he would be able to handle it if the need arose.

Ignoring the beast behind him, the hunter ventured further into the woods. His prey wasn’t far now. A soft guttural growl made him pause his hunt. He’d never heard that sort of noise emanate from any animal he’d hunted before. He briefly considered abandoning the chase of the deer in favour of tracking this new and exciting prey but realised he was woefully underprepared for tackling anything more dangerous. He would come back another day with better weaponry. 

He spotted the deer just a few feet away. He wasn’t in the right place for a kill shot. The hunter only had a clear view of her flank. If he only managed to injure her, she would bolt, and the adrenaline rush from the wound would toughen her meat. He manoeuvred slowly through the underbrush and around the trees to get into a better position. Once he found the best vantage point, he notched an arrow in place and slowly drew his bow up. He pulled his elbow back and sighted his target. He felt his muscles tense and slowed down his breath. He prepared to exhale and release the arrow.

The hunter was knocked off his feet and winded before he could take his shot. His broken bow lay discarded on a shrub. The snapped arrow was on the ground amongst so many other discarded twigs. The doe bolted once more for safety. The hunter tried to catch his breath and steady his heart rate while he searched for whatever animal had knocked him down.

There was a blur of movement to the right of his peripheral vision. Whatever it was, it moved faster than anything he’d seen in a while. Perhaps a big cat of some sort. Maybe a cougar or a puma. But they weren’t indigenous to the area, and he hadn’t spotted any big cat prints on any of his numerous visits to this particular forest.

He tried to stand only to get knocked on his arse again. He’d been hit hard enough to blur his vision. Definitely not a cat, he decided. The paws were too big. He tasted blood in his mouth and spat it out. The right side of his face stung like a bitch. He gently touched his chick with his fingertips and wasn’t surprised by the blood he saw on them. He hadn’t seen his own blood since his time in Borneo. He pulled the knife from his belt and considered the bear spray he had in one of his pockets, but that would probably only piss off whatever animal had attacked him.

Looking around, he tried to see the creature, but only saw trees and a few insects. Whatever had ambushed him had disappeared as quickly as it had attacked. Even though he couldn’t see it, he could still smell it. The odour he’d detected earlier certainly belonged to the beast who’d knocked him down. He could also hear its distinctive guttural growl emanating from somewhere above him in the treetops.

The hunter mentally checked his supplies and weapons on hand. With his broken bow and only a few arrows that were still intact, plus the knife he gripped, and the bear spray, he was not in a good position. A lesser man would have been utterly fucked, the hunter told himself. But he was a fucking professional. There was no animal that he could not takedown. He may be at a considerable disadvantage, but that had never stopped him before.

“Suck it up cupcake,” he whispered to himself as he drew one of his remaining arrows out of the quiver. He mentally dusted himself off and stood. He planted his feet wide and waited for the inevitable attack with his hunting knife gripped firmly in his right hand and the arrow in his left. 

The branch above him rustled. His heart rate quickened as the adrenaline kicked in. He tried to swallow what little saliva he still had left in his mouth. He waited for what felt like minutes but was only a few seconds. Nothing happened. Another branch rustled in another tree somewhere on his right. The animal’s stench was now less intense. He let go of the breath he’d been holding.  

Shadows had lengthened since his arrival in the forest, telling the hunter that time was getting away from him. If he didn’t make it back to his car soon, he’d be stuck in the forest after dark with a bleeding wound. Even with his extensive survival skills, he would rather be out of the woods before then. Especially with the unknown beast still out there, stalking him.

The hunter began the arduous task of retracing his tracks back to the safety of his vehicle. He could smell the beast’s unique odour drifting on the breeze. It was close. Too close. He could feel it watching him. For the first time in his life, he had an inkling of what it felt like to be prey. The hunter hastened his pace. The scent followed him. His heart sped up, adrenaline pounded through his veins and his ears buzzed. He ran. It was only a few paces before he tripped on a tree’s gnarled root. He fell face-first into deer droppings. Probably from the doe he’d hunted. The last of his remaining arrows broke in his fall. He now only had his knife, and the bear spray left. The sound of grunting, which sounded a lot like laughter, hung in the air, along with that smell.  

“Idiot,” the hunter chastised himself as he stood. He resisted the urge to run blindly through the forest once more. Instead, he slowly dusted himself off and took a moment to compose himself. He didn’t want to give that beast the satisfaction of seeing how frightened he was. No animal, no matter how strong or how much bigger it was, would ever see fear in his eyes. He tried not to whistle as he took a step, but did swallow a groan of pain. He knelt and gingerly touched his ankle. It was twisted or at the very least badly bruised. Limping out of the forest would slow him down, but he had no choice. The wound on his face still bled. He hadn’t brought any extra water or food supplies with him, and the river was a long hike in the opposite direction. He had to get out of the forest before nightfall.

A branch above him snapped and landed at his feet. He glanced up and saw two blazing red eyes staring back at him. In all his years as a hunter, he’d never before seen eyes like that. They glowed like ice in the sunlight. His skin grew cold and clammy, and his heart beat a staccato in his throat. He tried to swallow but couldn’t. The eyes came closer and then he saw the claws that were longer and sharper than any of his hunting knives.

He took a few moments for his shock addled brain to take in the appearance of the beast climbing face-first down the ancient tree towards him. The shaggy, black, fir and a long snout that contained teeth that could easily rip him limb from limb. It was also the biggest creature he’d ever clapped eyes on. It was too big to be able to climb a tree that gracefully and yet it moved with the same elegance of any big cat. It was unlike any animal he’d ever seen – not even in his nightmares. If he survived this encounter, he was sure to have nightmares about it for the rest of his life. The kind of nightmares that would have him wetting his bed.

It moved before he had time to blink. Its snout was only inches from his face. He could smell its fetid breath. The hunter finally managed to swallow, but it was bile mixed with saliva. He wasn’t sure if the sudden attack of nausea was due to fear or the smell emanating from the beast’s mouth. It licked its chops, and saliva dribbled down the hunter’s face.

 As he glanced at the creature’s claws, he realised that up until now it had only been toying with him. The previous swipes that had put him on the ground were nothing compared to what it was capable of doing.

The beast ran its tongue over the hunter’s face, tasting his blood. A single claw extended from a paw the size of the hunter’s head and sliced open the hunter’s throbbing artery. The hunter watched as his blood sprayed the creature’s snout and the tree trunk. It took approximately fourteen seconds for the hunter’s heart to beat every last drop of blood into the creature’s hungry jaws. The beast then slowly licked up the remaining blood. It always cleaned up after itself. It left the hunter’s corpse in the forest underbrush to decompose. The hunter would finally feed the forest he had taken so much from over the years.   

*

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