"The Hunt" by Kendal McMaster

The dark sky had just began to crimson, as the hunter and his friends made their way out, into the forest. His wiry horse carried only the hunter himself and his knives. Unlike his companions, he knew the advantages of traveling light; their steeds were laden with so many weapons that it was an amazement that the beasts could even walk, let alone canter. Even before they rode into the forest, the hunting hounds were on edge. Already they were straining on their leads, anticipating the chase that lay before them. Men like these liked nothing better than to kill.

The early morning sun beat down onto the large canopy of trees, filtering in to land on the forest floor as a kaleidoscope of light. It was absorbed into the leaves, and then sunk slowly into the trees themselves. A sparrow twittered nervously from a thin branch, almost invisible through the leaves. No other animals could be heard; the entire forest was on edge.

Swaying anxiously, the large pines forced down their fear and impatience, waiting in silence for a sign, any sign of what might be happening in nearer to the edge of the forest. Soon they were trembling with fear. A hunt, a chase, the smell of sweat, a glint of metal, and the demonic yellow eyes of a hunting hound. These images came fast, moving in quick succession from tree to tree. The flood of information roared through the forest from root to root leaving almost nothing except for a few jumbled images and two unspoken words, They’re coming.

A branch broke as a beautiful chocolate colored stag sprang wildly through the bushes; eyes wide with panic. Without stopping it bounded across the clearing, its dark coat easily vanishing into the shadows. Hundreds of invisible eyes watched its path through the trees and the path of its pursuers. The first wave of attackers were not far off. Darting through the bushes and around trees two scarred hounds were gaining, fast.

Soon they were hot on the stag’s trail. Suddenly, the bigger of the two dogs lunged. Its cordlike muscles propelling it onto its pray. Despite the variation in size, the force of the blow was enough to pound the stag into the dirt. Straight into the path of the other brown menace. Screaming in its terror, the stag thrashed its head wildly. It was only by chance that it’s antlers connected with the smaller dog, shattering its shoulder. Blind with terror the stag reared its flailing hooves connecting with the larger hound. Soon no sound could be heard from the creature, as hoof met fur time and time again. As soon as it understood that there would be no more threat from the dogs the stag wobbled out of the clearing. The chase was not over just yet.
Although no longer of use to the hunters, the hounds had done their job. Three silhouettes could be visualized by the horizon. Already, the horses were being goaded into a quicker pace at the sight of their quarry.

‘No!’ screamed the trees, sensing the falter in the stag’s steps. Many of the more impulsive oaks were even fighting against the invisible bonds that held them, every inch of their fibers screaming to be let loose. The battle was hopeless. Many had already settled into silent fury, as they watched the stag’s pursuit through the forest. Already despair was carving a hole deep into the hearts of the trees: the hunters were gaining. Only the roots were left, trembling with the anticipation of what was going to happen next. The stag faltered. Then stopped. Surprised, it’s pursuers were still looking at the beautiful creature as their horses galloped into the gorge, trapping them in the bushes. Only the hunter remained, and wheeling his horse the hunt began again.

It wasn’t long before dark that the hunt came to an end. The stag, exhausted from the chase and his wounds, could no longer continue and had collapsed onto a fiery bed of orange and yellow leaves. The hunter, having been drained by the long day, slumped out of the saddle, glad to have his feet on the cold hard ground once again. As he surveyed the deer and its surroundings he felt oddly at peace. A cool breeze blew on the back of his neck as he looked at the dark pines that circled him and the deer. It was funny how he no longer considered the beautiful creature as his prey. His eyes scanned the bright green grass that cushioned his feet so he felt as though he was sinking. But even as he examined the edge of the wood, his eyes were drawn to the center of the clearing and the deer. Having taking shelter under an old and disfigured willow, it looked like something out of a painting branches split off into a canopy of orange leaves and the roots intertwined to create a kind of cradle for the stag.

Feeling a sense of unease, he knelt down next to the exhausted animal. His hand trembled as he stroked the exhausted creature’s nose and watched as the creature breathed. Sighing softly, the hunter pulled his knife out from his belt and placed it over the heart of his rival. Placing the tip lightly on its breast, he looked once more at the beautiful creature, fixing everything to memory. He would never forget its twisting horns tipped with red or the way the black turned slowly into brown at the muzzle. Biting the inside of his cheek, he tightened his grip around the knife until his knuckles turned white. It was at this moment that the stag lifted its head and gazed solemnly at the hunter with its big brown eye. As the hunter met that gaze, the blade slipped through his fingertips and onto the ground.

© Kendal McMaster, The Logan School for Creative Writing, Denver, Colorado


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