Hunter In The Shadows

1

I was to accompany the Doctor to the nearby town of Fishberry, where a man was suffering of the flu. The journey takes a day and a half from Middleton since the path runs through the forest. I make my living as a trapper and at times I guide good folk like the Doctor through the forest lands. I arrived at the gentleman’s office half past seven Sunday morning as he was eager to reach Fishberry as soon as possible. Even the day of rest would not delay his travels.

“I’m glad you came here right away Edmond. I fear a trip to Sunday services would delay us enough to bring about the unfortunate end of my patient”. The Doctor loaded his medical kit and a satchel of a day’s clothes into the back of my wagon.

“Aye sir. Glad I could be of assistance. We won’t be able to make it in a day sir. There is a cabin in the woods and I would like to spend the night there instead of out and about. Day and a half travel to Fishberry it is, wouldn’t make it much further if we pushed till the last signs of light.” I saddled my two horses and brought them up to the wagon.

“Yes, I got your message in advance and that is not a problem. As long as we reach before sundown tomorrow my patient has a fair chance of surviving. Here, before I forget. You must be in need of this.” The Doctor handed me my promised five gold coins. With business taken care of, we were off with a crack at the reigns.

Progress was slow as the brush in the surrounding forest was dense. The distance was not significant, but as I told the Doctor along the way, the horses did not take kindly to the thick brush. “Foul business, bramble is”, I said, “but better a nick on my horses leg than mine, ain’t that right sir?”. The Doctor nodded as my lead horse struggled to untangle itself from needles and thorns protruding from nearby bushes. “I will be telling the governor about this”, the Doctor remarked, “make you a proper road to travel on I will”. The lack of a clear path made the journey difficult, but it was the fastest way from Middleton to Fishberry without circling the outskirts of the county. Speed was the Doctor’s priority and I was the man for the job.

Sunset approached and I grew concerned as there was still some distance to be covered to reach the cabin. I spotted the yellow dotted marking on the oak tree that indicated we were on the right path. However I was uncertain if we would reach the cabin before sundown. I pushed my horses as hard as I could, the bramble was taking a toll on their legs. By some miracle, by the last signs of light the cabin came into view.

“Old hermit’s cabin this is. Always wondered why there wasn’t no path leading to this here house.” I helped the Doctor down from the wagon and started unloading his belongings.

“Ah yes, that would explain it quite well”. He opened the door and started inspecting the insides. “Not much in the way of accommodation, but I suppose it will do for the night.” It was a very modest residence; four walls and a room with two doors is all it contained.

“That’s right sir. Simple life this hermit lived.” I came up behind him with our travel luggage and closed the door. “I brought you some sheets and a spread to sleep on. If you be feeling cold, you say the word and I can give you my sheets as well. I’m used to the cold sir.” He appreciated the gesture and I set out making our beds. Tired from our journey we both immediately slipped under the blankets to rest in preparation for the second part of our journey that lay ahead of us.

A chilling draft ran through the cabin that night. Unfortunately for me the Doctor was in need of a second pair of sheets. “I hate to have to ask Edmond, but I could use the extra warmth. I’m just not used to these conditions like you are.” I grudgingly parted with my blankets and prepared myself for a sleepless night. I would be able to tolerate the cold wind, but sleeping was out of the question. Nevertheless I lay upon my spread, trying to rest as best as I could. Eventually fatigue got the best of me and I dozed off into a light slumber.

It seemed like only a couple minutes later that a shrill sound in the night woke me up. Startled I ran to the center window to take a look outside. Apparently my horses, tethered to a wooden post, were fighting harshly against the ropes and whinnying shrilly. At first I did not understand, but then out of the brush a pair of yellow eyes glanced back at me. I briefly stared back into those jet black pupils before I noticed several other eyes glance back at me from within the bush. The horses were in a state of sheer panic now, tugging desperately on their ropes as the chord cut into their necks. Slowly gray bodies emerged from the thick, shining in the moonlight.

The horses tugged on the post so desperately that the post bent over and then snapped. They bolted for the other side of the woods, but it was futile. Gray bodies emerged from the far side of the brush as well. The horses, confused, had nowhere to run. A larger silver striped  male stepped forward and unleashed a howl at the moon. In an eerily methodical manner, six of the beasts stepped forward and cut my horses down. The first was grabbed by its foreleg to trip on the ground. Then two others made for its neck and belly.The second was throttled by a brave beast that lunged for the neck in midair. In a splash of blood the horse toppled over and two others clamped down on its hind legs. Then oddly enough the bodies were left bleeding on the ground.

The poor fool of a Doctor had finally awoken at the sound of the dying horses. I had been too petrified in the moment to go over to him and wake him as I had forgotten he existed momentarily. He soon joined me at the window, equally in shock. “Edmond you fool!”, he screamed at me. “Some trapper you are for getting us caught in some cabin surrounded by …”. He was unable to finish his sentence because I tackled him to the floor and cupped his hand with my mouth. Outside, voices sharply barked in reply. “My good sir”, I whispered. “Never seen a wolf in these parts before and been here all my life. If you would like to survive the night I suggest you shut your trap and do as I say.”

It was no use. As I loosened my grip on the Doctor he struggled violently against me. His exertive moans drew more calls from outside. Fearing his stupidity would be the end of us I cupped his mouth again and sat on his torso, pinning his hands down with my knees. Like a savage he bit the side of my hand, drawing blood. I took my bleeding hand and delivered a cross to his cheek. Apparently that knocked some sense into him as he lay there stunned and motionless. “I have a gun Doctor. We are not helpless”, I whispered. “Please do as I say and we will last the night. The wolves can hear you when you scream and shout like that.”

With a defeated look in his eyes the man crawled back onto his spread. “There are more beasts out there than you have bullets boy”, he said sharply. Suddenly I heard a scraping sound on the front door. Something flung itself with some force at the door, testing the strength of the deadbolt; then the scraping sound resumed.

Waisting no time I hurried to my pack and retrieved my hunting rifle with a box of bullets. The scraping and banging made the Doctor ill again. He started shivering and shaking under his covers with eyes wide open. I watched him as I hand loaded bullets into my rifle, releasing the safety bolt as he suddenly jerked at the sound of barking outside. Then the banging became more frequent along with the snarls and the Doctor started pacing the room with hands on his head. Ain’t heard of no wolf trying to break down no damn door, I thought to myself. There was no point in reasoning with the Doctor, he stunk of fear even though I couldn’t smell it.

A piece of the door splintered and fell to the floor. A glowing yellow eye then  stared back at us through the opening. A claw reached through savagely tearing away the rest of the wood splits, leaving a clean opening. It was then that adrenaline coursed through my veins as I realized these damn wolves are gonna make it through! Something in me made me hold back as I glanced into the eyes of the beast. All I heard next to me was the sounds of the Doctor screaming “Shoot you idiot! Shoot!”.

The Doctor had the eyes of a mad man when I finally glanced at him. He rushed at me, going for my rifle. As he struggled for it I knocked him aside with the butt, but that didn’t deter him. He rushed at me again and bit my hand, trying to pull the rifle out of my grasp. I gave him a sharp kick to the midsection and he stumbled over. As he recovered from the floor with that mad look in his eyes, I took aim and shot him in the leg. Blood soaked through his trousers, down his leg.

My attention was brought back to the door as the opening had now widened to a circle and claws ripped away piece by piece. Bang! A beast was silenced to the ground, only to be replaced. Bang. Bang. Bang. Several others met a similar fate as bullets met their skulls. Bang! Bang! Bang! Bang! Bang! I kept loading rounds into my gun, but for every beast felled, there were more to take their place. Click! I was out of bullets.

I heard the rear door unlatch and noticed the Doctor limping away desperately. Before I could react he had already made his way outside; it was too late for him. With the front door creaking under pressure I flung my body at the rear door, slamming it shut. I walled up against it, drawing my pocket knife. The front door frame was sturdy and the beasts were having a hard time carving a hole large enough to get in. I would have to patiently wait for my time, but the Doctor was not so fortunate. A shrill scream indicated his miserable end accompanied by angry barking. I shuddered, looking at the glowing eyes staring back at me through the hole in the door. I gripped my throat and waited, that was all I could do.

“Begone you savage beasts! What have I done to you?”, I screamed after being unable to take the wait anymore.

The hole had finally become wide enough and the first wolf slipped inside. It darted for me as I helplessly crouched against the back door, knife in hand. To my astonishment the silver striped beast followed behind and nipped it on the ear, stopping it in its tracks. The silver beast barked, staring down the one who had rushed at me. Then a small congregation of wolves stepped through the opening in the door, one by one, with many yellow eyes staring back at me through the darkness beyond the door. They formed a semi-circle around me and the silver striped one stood in the middle. The look of bewilderment upon my face must have been incredible, but my face contorted even more as the silver one opened his mouth.

“Hunter Edmond”, I heard in a gravelly voice that snarled. My eyes fixed themselves open at the sound of my name.

“You have killed many of my brothers and sisters tonight, and brought about the death of your companion.”

“I did not mean to, I was defending my…”, I interrupted.

“Silence! Hagard does not reply to humans. You will listen when he speaks human scum!”, an elderly gray beast barked at me and made for my throat. Suddenly Hagard leaped forward and gripped his brother by the neck, pulling him back.

Grima, that is enough!” Hagard stepped forward and faced me with a stern look. “The cycle of violence must end, Mother Nature has spoken.”

If possible, a great look of sadness adorned Hagard’s wolf face. “Hunter Edmond you know the ways of these woods. You take what you need and nothing more. You understand the wild. Even though you have brought much bloodshed tonight, I am willing to spare you on one account.”

A sigh of relief escaped my lips. I was about to open my lips in reply when a menacing stare from Grima reminded me I was not to reply to Hagard. So I simply nodded in response.

A war has been waged that I have not wanted. I dream of a day when man and beast share the lands, but that day may not come. Mother Nature has called upon us to restore the balance between humans and the wild. I fear war will not solve this problem. I despise your selfish ways Hunter Edmond, but I am willing to forgive you. You may have killed my brothers and sisters tonight, but your kind are the last who truly understand nature’s ways. You must help man relearn what was once lost, or I fear violence is the only way. I spare you tonight, against my better judgement, because I have no choice.”

I nodded again, slowly recovering my senses. I made a move to stand up, glad this whole ordeal was about to end without the damn wolves getting to my throat.

Not so fast Hunter Edmond”, Hagard snarled at me with a face of rage, baring his fangs. “I am kind, but blood must be answered with blood. My brothers and sisters died tonight for a noble cause and their slaughter will be avenged!”

At that Grima sprang forward and bit my hand. I howled in pain, grasping for my knife to stab him back. Another beast came forward and clamped my other hand in its jaws. The flesh from my hands was torn from the bone in the jaws of the beasts. Searing pain echoed throughout my body and I made a move to kick them off me. Hagard leaped forward and held his teeth to my neck.

A price must be paid Hunter Edmond! Human hands do the work of evil, and evil you shall do no more. Let this be a reminder to you of the duties given to you tonight.”

I must have passed out from the shock and the blood loss immediately after those words. All I can remember is waking up in the morning with two stubs where my hands used to be. They were surprisingly clean, with no sign of open wound or bleeding. In a state of panic I rushed to Fishberry by foot as fast as my legs would carry me. The bramble tore at my limbs, making me bleed all over, but I refused to stop. Dazed, exhausted, and in a state of shock, I finally arrived at the town. A doctor was called for and my wounds were tended to. I told him that the Doctor and I had been savagely attacked by wolves the night before. I left out any remarkable details as this man probably would have labeled me as insane. I told him that when he allowed me to leave, I would have to speak with the mayor right away, to alert him of the wolves running wild in our woods.

A week later an expedition was sent off into the woods. They cut their way through the bramble, sword in hand and gun over shoulder. However, a single wolf was not to be found. Soon sections of the forest were cleared and a road was formed from Middleton to Fishberry. I never had a good night’s sleep since that road was built. I ask for two candles by my bed and three bolts to be locked on the bedroom door each night. If I had hands I would keep a pistol myself, but instead I ask my nephew to stand watch for the night. By the doctor’s orders, I cannot sit still in the night without such measures. Some nights I can hear a beast howling at the full moon, but the Constable swears there are no wolves in the forest between Fishberry and Middleton. I know Hagard is out for a debt paid in blood. It is only a matter of time. I should have honored my word, but it is too late for that now.


*Featured image can be found here

Check out my poem A Twilight Dance if you enjoyed this short story and are looking for something similar. That poem inspired this story from a human perspective.

One comment on “Hunter In The Shadows

  1. […] This month I would like to post some actual stories as in not personal reflections, but short story fiction. I have not really written in that style before, but this blog has made me try several styles of writing I am unfamiliar with already. Depending on how this goes I may add this to the weekly diet so one poem and one short story would be coming each week. (Edit: this became a reality, check out my first short story) […]

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