1. Gannon

    Gannon Contributor Contributor

    Jan 15, 2007
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    Manchester, England

    Winners chacotaco91 & Trish Short Story Contest 88: The Forest

    Discussion in 'Monthly Short Story Contest Archives' started by Gannon, Mar 28, 2011.

    chacotaco91 - A Hunt in the Forest

    “Damn thing’s been through here, can smell him for sure.”

    The hunter was speaking to himself, coldly staring into the wooded unknown. The dark leaves of the trees perched low and left little room for the sun. It was like a cage of green, entrapping the father and son from the reassuring blue of the sky.

    “Dad, I don’t think it’s here.” The boy tried to sound confident, though his voice was only a child’s. His palms were sweaty on the wooden grip of his rifle, and he was nervous by the intense concentration of his father.

    He was so young, so weary from this hunt. Yet he knew that he needed to be brave, that now was the age to prove he was a man, to prove his bravery.

    It was hard to be brave now though.

    “Papa, I’m tired, and it ain’t been through here. I know because I haven’t caught one sight of him yet, and you said its tracks gone dead……”

    “Quiet!” The father hushed him quickly, holding a raised finger to his son’s face. His gaze locked into the deepness of the woods.

    He suddenly went to a knee, and raised his rifle to look down its sights. The boy noticed too late though, and awkwardly took a knee as well. He went too quickly and landed his shin on a protruding rock, giving him a sharp and bruising pain.

    And without warning, he felt fear.

    It was as if the pain was some kind of trigger, a kindle for a fire of fear. It rose from his gut to his throat, gripping his mind and thoughts and emotions. It was his transformation to full terror, and he felt though the forest could sense it to, responding by rustling its leaves in chorus to the breeze.

    His sweat turned cold even though the day was hot. The forest canopy gave them shade, but this only worsened his growing fear. His Uncle Ben once that all things die in the dark, and he squeezed his rifle all the tighter.

    “It’s here, can’t you feel it?” His father said quietly scanning with the rifle’s scope. He loaded a single round into the chamber with a smooth motion, the bolt action rifle looking as sleek and black as the night sky.

    The boy began to breathe quickly and with difficulty, while his father took the calm and slow breaths of a killer.

    “I see it, just sitting there.”

    He took one hand off the rifle to point in a general direction, though his shooting eye was still locked in the scope.

    “Didn’t I tell you boy? Just like any other animal, they all get tired and they all need to drink. You’re gonna pick these tricks up when you get older. Things you just gotta learn.”

    The boy didn’t care about tricks or what the animal was doing, he was afraid and shaking, and tears began to build in his eyes. His father didn’t notice though, busy gauging his target in the glassy vision of his scope. His son looked like a little toy soldier, holding his small wooden rifle. He felt that way, fragile and frozen, and his tears began to flow from their watery home down his cheek.

    “I want to go home, you kill it dad.” He tried to sound strong in his defiance, but the tight grasp in his throat and high voice made him only sound like a child.

    “Nonsense boy.” His dad turned from the sights to look at him. He realized his son was crying, and gave a friendly smile of understanding.

    His voice was reassuring. “It’s an easy shot; you can make it, I promise."

    The boy words were entangled in emotion, his cheeks red in shame and sadness. “I don’t wanna kill nothing dad, I can’t do it, I wanna go home.”

    He could no longer hold them, the tears now flowing freely. His breaths became loud and choppy, and he repeatedly sucked for air like he couldn’t breathe.

    The father smiled as his young boy lowered his head in shame. The son didn’t want to look weak; he felt that he failed, that his father would never love a fearful child. He dropped his rifle lazily on the ground onto the soft grass. It made only a slight thump on the soft and moistened dirt.

    “Its okay son, it’ll be alright, I promise.”

    His dad hugged him in a long and tight embrace, feeling the warm tears seep beneath his camouflaged shirt onto his shoulders.

    “I’m here, ain’t nothing gonna happen.”

    He held his son for a long time, held him till he slowed his crying and his nervous fit finally passed. He broke from the hug, but kept the boys shoulders gripped in his calloused hands.

    His son met his gaze, his tears now dammed and his mind at ease. The father held his smile, his welcoming hold giving the boy hope.

    “You can do it son, I know you can. I did it, my father did it, and you can do it to.”

    The boy rubbed a stray tear from his cheek and gave a quick sniff of his nose.

    “Okay………I’ll…… I’ll do it.”

    “That’s my boy.” The father’s voice was calm, reassuring. A smile was across his face that was as long as the knife on his hip. The son picked up his small weapon from the ground in both hands, as if telling his father that he accepted his love and confidence.

    “I’ll help you son, now take a knee here.” The child did as he was told, and felt safe as his father’s grip guided him to the place from which he would shoot. He pushed down on the boy’s shoulders to make him kneel on the ground. The father then helped him hold the gun properly, readying his son for his first kill.

    “Good, good. Now, hold the rifle tight to your shoulder, just like I taught you.” The boy slowly edged the weapon up, his body still feeling tense and weak from his prior sorrow.

    “That’s right, just like that. Now, look down the sights. Do you see it? It’s just sitting there, all still like. It’s probably sleeping, so it won’t even feel a thing.”

    “Like this dad?” The boy was still unsure; the rifle gave a slight shake in his grip.

    “Just like that. Now, take a deep breath, and aim right in its center, just like I taught you.”

    The boy’s eyes were wide when he met his. “And it won’t feel a thing?”

    The father held his same smile. “It’ll be like he never woke up.”

    The boy closed his left eye, the other looking through the view of the scope. Its four lines centered in the middle, a cross to lead the bullet, a cross that meant more to him than any cross he’d ever seen in church.

    He noticed first the distance blur of green and the movement of the branches in the wind. Their leaves swayed lazily, as if teasing the dark moss below them for being stuck in one place, stricken to never feel the wind themselves.

    There it was, like his father said. It was leaning back lazily on a rock, in sound sleep next the pond from which it drank. It must have been tired and thirsty he thought, since he and his papa had been huntin’ him for so long.

    “Don’t forget to breathe boy, and aim at its center. You’ll never hit nothing tryin’ to be fancy.” He still looked over his child, but no longer held him. It was his shot now, his kill, his time to become a man.

    The boy tightened his hand on the grip. Just like we practiced, he thought to himself. He tears were all gone, his confidence firm. The tranquility of it all overtook him, like all the few young years of his life were meant to lead to this one very moment.

    Then, it opened its eyes.

    He saw it through the scope. He could not tell if it saw him, or he merely saw it. It scared him so that he suddenly jerked and gripped everything tightly, including the trigger.

    A bang ran through the forest, its sound waves bouncing through the dark leaves and the thick bark, scattering the birds and making the critters freeze in the sudden interruption nature’s usual harmony.

    The smell of gunpowder filled his nostrils, and the rush of adrenalin had stricken him into a stillness he could not break.

    “Did…….did I kill it?” The boy said quietly, his eyes wide with apprehension. He could not tell himself, for the kick of the shot knocked the scope from his view.

    The father quickly brought his own sleek weapon to bear, looking down his sights to see the fate of the hunted.

    “Ha! You got it son! hell of a shot my boy!” He had never seen his father so happy, and he too felt the excitement overtake him when his father bent down to give him a quick but powerful hug.

    Before he knew it, the child found himself jogging with his father the path that the bullet once followed. They hopped over thick and tall roots, and puddles of moistened earth and wet and fallen leaves. He almost near tripped, his short legs having difficulty crossing the terrain.

    Above him, the forest continued to sway lazily in the wind. Within the spaces between the leaves, the bright sun desperately tried to find cracks in the canopy to let its bright touch through, to give light to the dark soil.

    His father was already inspecting it when the boy caught up to him, breathing heavily from the run. When he saw it the dead though, he could no longer breathe.

    “What a shot son, right below his left eye! I could never hit anything like that at your age, swear to god. You’re gonna make one hell of a hunter.”

    The boy smiled with pride, but could not take his eyes away from the gory sight. Its face was all but gone, the bullet carving a gaping hole that only blood and brain saw fit to leave. The large rock he once leaned against was painted in a splash of red.

    “What we gonna do with it dad?” The boy said timidly, eyes fixed on the only dead thing among them.

    “Well, I guess I’ll just give it to the common folk. Hard times like these they’ll take any meat they can get. I paid good money to hunt this one though.”

    The boy kept his gaze on the bloody fluid as it slowly dripped down the face of the carcass to the chest below, like a sap falling from a tree.

    “Well my boy, I just cannot wait to go home to your mother! She’ll be proud of you for sure, cook us all one hell of a dinner, for her big son the hunter.”

    The leaves continued to move casually above. The critters as well, after they learned the loud bang had been nothing to fear, and went back to their normal doings. The birds went back to chirping, the squirrels to squirreling, and the deer’s to deering. The forest never changes.

    “Alright son, its gonna get dark sson. Hold his body while I take off his head, Executioner needs to know this man got his due.” He looked his son in the eyes with his same familiar smile.

    His father walked toward the dead man, and his face grimaced in disgust as he gave the carcass a good kick. "Lived like a damn animal and sure as hell smells like one."

    The father knelt next to the body to examine it, the boy unsure of what he was looking for.

    His father looked at the large black letters of Criminal that were branded on the man's forehead. He then began rummaging through the man's pockets, and passively spoke to himself in a tired and content voice.

    “It’s a strange thing you know, that we get to do the executioner’s work for sport when he’s stuck doing it for a job.”

    The boy was too young and too much in shock to understand his father’s musings. His focus was on the dead man and all his complexities. He stank to high heaven, his clothes rotten and tattered. His coarse hair was covered in leaves, and his body was painted in cuts and scrapes, head to toe.

    The boy approached the kill in slow, careful steps. His father unsheathed the large, serrated knife from his hip. He did as he was told, and held the fugitive’s head still by its oily coarse hair while his father carved its neck with perfection, carefully sawing where the least effort was required.

    The boy did not watch while he felt the rough vibrations of a head in decapitation. Instead, he stared blankly at a large, thick oak tree. Its bark was a deep brown, and its branches hung low with verdant green leaves.

    It was in that moment that the boy forever would love the forest and the hunt.
  2. Gannon

    Gannon Contributor Contributor

    Jan 15, 2007
    Likes Received:
    Manchester, England
    Trish - Ashlan's Mistake

    The snow shifts under me, making me slide several feet down the steep bank. Struggling to regain purchase on the rocks under the slush, I hear the bugling of an elk in the distance. The great pines towering above me continually drop more snow from their glistening boughs and being buried alive is becoming a real possibility.

    Scrambling my way back to the top of the bank I stop. The scent is unmistakable. Blood. Where there is blood, there is food, even if I have to finish it off first. My muscles bunch and quiver as saliva pools on my tongue. The odor is coming from the north; Rishna’s territory. I know that if his pack catches me poaching on their land they will kill me, and I am in no condition to fight. My pack needs food or they will die, so I accept the risk.

    Heading north as quickly as manageable in my malnourished state, the snow rising above my belly making it even more difficult for me, I push on. Three miles into Rishna’s territory I come upon a clearing surrounded on two sides by high cliff walls. The aroma is so strong it leaves an aftertaste in the back of my throat, yet I almost miss the source.

    It has begun to snow again in earnest and the elk calf is lying so still she looks like a large snow covered log on top of the snow. She is completely motionless, her eyes open, and her nostrils flared as she stares at me. It has been so long since she has blinked that the impossibly long lashes around her big brown eyes are white with fallen snow. I smell her fear, blood, and…. Something else I cannot name. It smells wrong and my heart starts beating faster. I whip my head around, scanning the trees, and my tail drops. What is that smell? I creep towards her slowly, belly down, nose and ears up, trying to place the scent, but I can’t. I am waiting for her mother to crash through the trees and crush me, or perhaps whatever animal injured her, when there is a sudden voice behind me. “Laiska, you are awfully far from home.” It says.

    I whirl around to face an old black wolf with a gray muzzle. “Rishna,” I lower my head briefly out of respect, “You are right. Hunger of the pack has driven me far.”

    Rishna studies me thoughtfully for what seems like twelve seasons. “Are you not afraid we will kill you for hunting on our land?” he asks gruffly.

    “No. You either kill me for hunting or I die of starvation. Or maybe I get food and get away. I’ll take my chances.” I reply with far more bravado then I feel.

    Rishna finds himself admiring the young wolf. She isn’t much more than a pup, yet here she is, staring him down on his own turf. She has a good point, too. You don’t get much of that in young ones these days. He thinks perhaps she could be a good match for the male that is to take over the pack when he dies. Her fur is as black as his own, her eyes clear and intelligent, and if she is scrawny and thin, well, he can overlook that under the circumstances.

    Shocked by the turn his own thoughts have taken he answers her gruffly, “Fine. Take it then. Take it back to your own territory and I won’t kill you.”

    Scenting the air again I look Rishna in the eye and shake my head slowly. “Uh-uh. I don’t want it.”

    Rishna’s look of shock is almost funny. Almost. I am terribly afraid I am pushing him to violence. “You what?!” he snarls at me.

    “I don’t want it”, I reply as calmly as I can. “It smells funny. I think there’s something wrong with it.”

    He stares at the young female thoughtfully. Perhaps she is even more intelligent than he first thought. “You’re right about the smell, Laiska, there is something off about her.”

    I can feel my eyes widen. “There is?” I ask “What is it?”

    “She was hit with one of the Two Legs’ Thunder Sticks,” he says sadly, “That is what you smell.”

    I sit down hard in the snow. I am shocked. “Two Legs? Here? Why?” I ask.

    Rishna considers his answer carefully. When he does answer I am completely unprepared. “They are here because of Ashlan,” he sighs.

    I whine so sadly even I am aware of how pitiful it sounds. Ashlan is just a pup. He is only two seasons old and he is of my pack. If Ashlan has something to do with the Two Legs being here in our territories with Thunder Sticks I have been away for far too long. “Please, Rishna, tell me what’s happening,” I beg.

    For a moment I am afraid he will not and then he begins to speak. “About one season ago there was a Two Legs camping at the top of Elk’s Falls with his cub. Ashlan was supposed to be out hunting for food, like you, but he saw them and he smelled their food. He decided to hang around until nighttime and then steal some of their food, just a little, he said, so that he could continue to hunt for the pack. He was getting weak and the mice he was catching just weren’t enough to sustain him. I’m sure you understand, Laiska.” I nod my understanding and he continues as my muscles begin to tremble and my mouth goes dry.

    “So night came and he snuck into their camp, but he was not as quiet as he had planned and the cub woke up. The cub came out of the tent to see what the noise was, and Ashlan, inexperienced as he was, froze instead of running. The cub got closer and closer until Ashlan panicked, jumped on him, knocked him down, and then ran.”

    I gasp, “Did he bite him?”

    Rishna shakes his head at me. “No, Ashlan swore he did not bite the cub, just knocked him down, but the Two Legs spread the word that a wolf had attacked one of their kind.”

    He gazes into my eyes and what I see there makes me want to run away. I do not want to listen to anything else Rishna has to say. What does he know anyway? This whole thing was probably made up just so I won't fight well when he tries to kill me.
    “Laiska, your pack is gone. The Two Legs have murdered them all. Now they are after my pack as well. We all must flee if we are to survive. I will let you join my pack if you wish to, but you must decide quickly. There is little time to waste.”

    I weigh his words carefully. I do not believe he is lying. His eyes are sad and somewhat broken and he would not leave his own territory without a serious threat. If I am being set up, I am no worse off than I was an hour ago, and if not, well, maybe I will gain a future and get to come home someday. I am devastated by the loss of my pack. There will be no more Ashlan telling jokes, no Qualean playing pranks, no more racing through the forest with Baktan, or seeing the flash of silver out of the corner of my eye just before Raswen pounces on me. I hang my head as I whisper, “Let’s go.”
  3. Tessie

    Tessie Contributor Contributor

    Aug 8, 2010
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    Congrats and great writing chacotaco91 and Trish! We had some stiff competition this week.
  4. chacotaco91

    chacotaco91 New Member

    Feb 24, 2011
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    Lexington KY
    O man I'm embarrassed, I should of edited mine better! I'm missing flippin words in there! O well, thanks everyone, was alot of fun to write.

    Great job Trish!

    But there can only be one

    just kidding lol
  5. Trish

    Trish Lost.. got any breadcrumbs I can follow? Supporter Contributor

    Mar 12, 2011
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    New York
    ROFL! Thanks Tessie and chacotaco91 :D Apparently there are two this week :p

    Missing words or not, I think you did a great job :D

    Yes there was Tessie, I really liked your story too :D
  6. KillianRussell

    KillianRussell New Member

    Feb 23, 2011
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    Congrats y'all!
  7. MidnightPhoenix

    MidnightPhoenix New Member

    Mar 21, 2011
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    congrats to Tessie and chacotaco91, well done :)

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