It was the twilight hours, well past midnight but not that far from sunrise. Safely concealed from the forest, for now, carefully boxed inside their timber-clad abode were the hunters.
One small stove, its embers softly hissed and splintered. Its orange glow, this solitary light had kept them warm til now. The metal creaking old bed frames, with their fatigued mattresses, had robbed them of any decent sleep. Duffel bags were strewn everywhere, some propped up, against the wall beneath the single skewbald paned window. Open or overflowing, gear was all over the place, camping stuff, a radio, fuel and such like. Hanging by a strap, almost in knowing anticipation, was a dusty black camera with silver trim just hovering, gently tapping against their side of the door.
As the thinner man swiftly scoffed a spoonful of porridge oats, he yelped “Hoooo-ly, oww!” In haste he’d burnt his mouth, immediately wiping his lips gruffly against his jacket sleeve, as if attempting to remove the pain. The beige mushy breakfast looked disgusting against the jagged fabric shades of khaki, dirt and brush. The stockier man, snapped “Keep it down!” in a hushed, aggravated tone. Putting his heavy boots on, he hoped they hadn’t alerted too much outside to their presence. Half crouched by the rocking chair, he gathered supplies into a mud-scraped rucksack. Two sets of binoculars, water, ammunition, a compass and maps.
Another minute or so later, both were ready. They secured the lodge and began striding into the forest, with the tenderest of footsteps, rifles across their backs. Their hearts silently pounded with excitement, for the hope of a big catch.
Immense pines and sequoia-like giants towered above, all around. Birds and other tree-dwellers could be heard rustling amongst the leaves and branches, making their own start to the day. As they walked, their feet passed over the forest floor, vegetation grabbing, scraping at their legs. Up ahead was a breath-taking vista – an endless horizon of majestic rocky formations and astounding mountains carpeted with lush greens of life.
It was an hour or so before dawn, the sky above was an inky blue of stars waiting to slowly be lit, as if from a torch, far far away. The night was damp and clouds were low. Such poor visibility could be a great advantage, but not for all…
Neither spoke as they tactically stepped between the trees, in parallel to each other, always at visual proximity. Using keen, expert eyes, they were tracing the animals’ trails amongst the undergrowth – unmistakable oblong droppings and that scent on the bark of the pines. Although no sound left the hunters’ lips, creatures around them were invisibly listening, calling to each other following their sets, packs and mates.
Less than two miles away was their destination, the fields. They should make it by dawn.
This was our land, where we lived, often in fear. The families knew that often it was haunted, stalked, by those with the Death. Living out here away from other things was good for us, although how would we feel any differently. Sadly, despite this seemingly endless reserve of paradise in which we all lived, those old enough to know better – such freedom is not all it is made out to be. True it was, that struggles were common, searching for food and shelter, especially Winter. Having young was risky and staying together difficult, but how else could we live.
It happened on that morning, many suns and moons ago.
That morning two of our leaders were to battle. On each side of the meadow, large groups of us stood watching. In between us they postured, inspecting their competition before it began. Edge to edge, all of us were covering an area that was at least forty gallops by fifty.
As we looked on, anxious for the start, a Clack! They had locked now, no going back. For a moment they simply stared into each other’s eyes. Suddenly, the challenge was accepted and they began pushing hard, forcefully roaring their warrior call, as loud as their bellies were able. The cries of frustration visible, as their breathe pounded the cool air, puffing into sight. Thrusting their heads down, forward, they staggered back and fore. Now they moved in a circle, struggling for the other to surrender. Clack, clack, clack, antlers smashing against antlers.
Finally Joe and his son were there, crouched low, downwind at the edge of the meadow. Witnessing this ritual of dominance, they carefully took hold of their rifles. Slowly and noiselessly pulling the strap around their chest, both men loaded their rifles. The fight was still in full swing, all the herd distracted by what was happening. As Joe placed the stock of his gun onto his right shoulder, he turns to his son and slowly nodded, indicating he do the same. Clack, clack, clack, the two deer were still fighting.
Squinting through the cross-hairs, Joe started to take aim, his son doing likewise. The bucks had paused again, and Joe knows he only has one good chance. Then, Bang! Bang! The two animals hit the ground, their tangled antlers clattering as they fall awkwardly. Watching as the herd scattered, running for cover, Father and son knew they’d been lucky. Both men had been right on target. Joe patted his son firmly on the back with a forceful wallop, “Woo Hoo boy! Well Done! Great work!” Smiling proudly at his son, now shouting out loud, no longer mindful of their volume.
The dominant stag called its last call, full of pain, the voice pierced the fog bound night, in a grating crepitus manner. When the meadow was clear of the herd, Joe and his son marched triumphantly towards their prizes, discussing how they’d get the kill back to the lodge. The poor dead creatures, lay still now, as their blood trickled down their velvety soft noses, as if red tears, staining the grass.
It never stops happening, but then we all know it comes to us and we can’t always see it coming, no matter how acute our senses. The fog had been so dense we just hadn’t known, not in time. Some time had passed since the ones with the Death had gone, and we were all wondering about who would be male of the family now. There was another doe grazing, accepting what had happened. Just like me, and the others, she was now a red haired widow. Although that would not last, before we knew it, there would be another mate for us. It was a curious arrangement.
This is a short story, which was the result of me doing one of the exercises suggested in the Red Writing Room. One that had to use four sentences. Hope you enjoy. Half written from the hunters’ view, half from the red deers’.