Three Hunters

~ a short story

~ art by Kellie Chasse

Snow fell in drifting gusts. The midday sun just reached the forest floor’s whitening blanket. Two men grunted toward a clearing. One chased the other, sure in his steps. The other stumbled to a fall into the powder. They both barked, louder and louder still here at the end. Their motion and their shouts were interspersed by crashing bangs. Over a dozen such crashes thus far. Against instinct, these were the sounds that drew the wolf. It inspected their duel with confused interest, shadowed in the brush. Grey fur sprinkled with the falling white, it watched them, fresh from a doze in its lonesome burrow.

Stop right there! … It’s over.”

The one still standing shouted down to the man face down in the snow who crawled to get at something embedded just beyond his reach. The one holding a black device in his hand pointed it down to the man.

“The next goes in the back of your head,” the standing man said.

“Better make it count. It’s your last one, heh,” the man on the ground grumbled. “I was counting … argh. Even the one that plugged me…”

“Only need one to shut you up.”

The downed man, bleeding from his leg, flipped himself over onto his back. He raised one hand to the man bearing on him, and the other stayed hidden within the snow. The stench of him filled the wolf with an uneasy longing. A familiar foe. It wished to sprint forward and be at feast. But it did not. The uncertainty of the events playing out before it, its split attention between the two men, and its not-so-dire hunger worked to keep it within the shadows just a bit longer. And of course, its natural, and quite rational, fear of Men played it for an observer for now.

Standing man spoke methodically, with contempt, “Show me your other hand.

The man on the ground did so, laughing a bit. He showed his palms, then angled them to his leg. “Need to tend my wound.”

“We’ll deal with that later.”

“There still gonna be a later for us? You know — ”

“You’re finished. It’s over. Come quietly.”

“Could just … let me go. Be easier on ya.”

“Not after what you pulled in Mandrake. I am taking you in.”

The standing man drew closer, dragging his boots through the snow. He tried incessantly to blink away the fall. It increased. Hair stood on end upon the beast’s back.

“I’m not hurting anyone out here.” The ground man propped himself up on his elbows, wiped his mouth.

“No. No, you are going to pay. You have to. Hard enough to track you down. I am. Bringing. You. In. You’re gonna pay,” the stander spat. His knees trembled but his arm remained firm. He kept up the muttering.

The man on the ground collapsed back into the snow, exhaling a visibly defeated breath. The upright man heaved his shoulders in a sigh. The wolf took note of the fatigue in his eyes. She marked something there, something kindred. The dogged eyes of a man at his limit. Hanging by a thread, but his attention flagged no longer. He had his mark. Long sought and long days behind him. All at an end with the juicy flesh of his labors here before him. The wolf nearly acknowledged this and nearly sauntered away silently. Nearly.

But she was hungry. And she wanted to eat. She wanted to eat before her meal was spoiled. She wanted to eat him while he was still breathing and warm.

The snow fell. The man on the ground hummed a tune. His excessive breathing vibrated the drifts at the feet of the wolf. His blood inundated her nostrils. The standing man tried at something glowing in his hand, grunting silently and speaking into it. Many moments passed between the trio. It was to no avail.

At her limit, the wolf growled and leapt forth from out of the brush. The standing man, alerted at the nearby sound, turned to face it. Teeth-bared, the beast raised its haunches and redoubled its growl. She tried to scare him off, wishing for only the easy kill’s meat. He pointed his crasher toward it. The man on the ground began to laugh again. The wolf glared at him.

“WELL! What are you waiting for? Shoot it! Shoot it!” the man the ground screamed frantically. “She’ll kill us both!”

The stander tore his eyes away from the threat for a moment, glancing down at his mark fearfully.

“I can’t go anywhere. Like you said, I’m finished.” The wolf saw the man reach his hand through the grass, underneath the snow. She barked at him with rage.

The standing man, re-gripped his pistol and fully fixed his stance toward her for the sake of accuracy. He pulled the trigger. Nothing came out but a click. No crash.

Another laugh from the man on the ground. He flashed his hand out of the snow, holding a snow-ridden crasher of his own.

“You. Dumb. Bitch… Hahaha. You lifted the pistol from my chest o’ drawers. Underneath all my underwear. All of it unwashed. I’d recognize that piece of shit anywhere. Didn’t bring one of your own. Because you thought you might be able to talk me into … coming with you … ahahaha. I always under-pack its clip. Old habit of mine…”

Mortal fear dawned on the stander’s features.

“Wait — “

“No.”

Another crash jolted the wolf. But it stayed in place, only unnerved and not in flight with its kill so close.

The upright man fell back into the snow, upright no longer.

“Ah, man. And I was saving these two for your knees. I was planning to leave you out here. Soon as I saw you, knew it’d be me killing you… one way or another.”

The man on the ground, propped with his crasher in hand, shifted his body to face up with the wolf. She stared into its barrel and snapped her jaw shut once more.

“Alas… Only needed one. The other… What a twist of fate. That you, of all things, would be the one to save me. The last of your pack. The one that got away. Well, now I have you too, you dumb bitch. Ha!”

He pointed it at the beast closing the gap upon him.

The wolf plodded through the snow. Saliva dripped from between her teeth. Breath flowed freely, a mark of excitement from out of her. A vengeant feast upon the killer, soon to be commenced.

“Say goodnight, Fenrir.”

Another click. No crash.

The man on the ground paused and eyed the device in his hand. The wolf kept sauntering forward. He began to laugh, fast falling into hysteria. A low growl loosed from her. The wafting scent of blood was stronger than ever. It enlivened even in the harsh cold. Falling back onto his neck, the man raked his arms and legs through the frigid snow. He formed the mark of an angel, howling all the while.

Wishing to silence him now more than anything, she leapt upon her prey in a fury, teeth snapping in a righteous bloodletting, her long hunt consummated. ~

~ adapted from a dream ~