This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.
Written by Ashly Damon
Edited by Bradley Bell
The hunter stalked the woods; this place was his kingdom where he held control over life and death. With his rifle in hand and eyes keenly focused for split-hair movements he moved in and out of the trees. He avoided stepping on branches or anything that would cause a loud noise.
A bounty had been placed for the death of a beast which had been slaughtering stock in the area. The remains had been clawed and bitten ferociously.
A bead of sweat rolled down the side of the hunter’s face, he caught sight of movement. A hulking figure sprinted across his line of sight. The hunter took careful steps once more, following the rancid smell come from the beast’s direction.
The beast stood tall like a man, stretching out its arms as it howled.
The hunter dug his feet into the ground, raised his eyebrow and fired a shot.
The beast screeched, the echo causing birds to fly past distressed. It did not sound like any animal he was familiar with.
He inched closer to the body – it was still alive, bleeding and twitching. He knelt down by the beast and its white fur and large hooves, perplexed by such a thing. He hadn’t seen such a sight in all his life.
“What on earth are you?” The hunter scratched his head.
The beast raised its head and screeched, red eyes set on the hunter.
He staggered back, something about this; though he couldn’t put his finger on it, terrified him.
The beast lifted and opened its bloody claw. A small black box was in its claw. The beast’s eyes pleaded with the hunter. Uncertain, the hunter took the box.
As though drawn a foot away from the sun, the beast turned to black ash before him.
The hunter was taken aback by this, left to stare at the black box in his hand and then back again at the spot where the beast had lain. He scratched his head and made his way home. He let the authorities know the beast had been dealt with.
The hunter didn’t let his wife know of what had transpired, other than that the job had been done and that meant food on the table. After all, it was something that was simply too unbelievable to be the truth. He ate dinner and examined the black box later that night before bed, after his wife was asleep. It was cool to the touch, hard with sharp edges.
He placed it on his bedside table and went to sleep.
During his sleep the hunter had a strange dream.
The world had changed, smells and sounds poking up all around the hunter. The world was red in his eyes, tinted and causing shadows in places there were not before. He was the beast he had killed.
The beast feasted on the flesh of a cow he had dragged to the woods. He sharpened his teeth on the cow’s bone.
All peace for the beast was broken as a gunshot fired out into the woods. The beast’s ears perked up, his claws digging into the ground in preparation for fight or flight. The hunter came into sight; it was his own face he recognised as his foe.
The beast leapt into another direction, readying to pounce on the hunter. It ran on two hooved feet, pushing his way closer to the hunter by propelling himself from tree to tree with his claws.
The hunter fired a shot. It narrowly missed the beast. Adrenaline pulsed throughout the beast, the hunter appearing suddenly as food. Through the beast’s red tinted eyes he caught a closer look at the figure chasing him – a looming figure draining the light from the objects it passed.
The looming figure seemed to etch all peace and safety from the area; it had become a hunting ground. The beast wailed and looked from side to side, darkness slowly creeping in on him, and the looming figure’s face appearing by every exit he south to turn to. The beast screamed in terror, followed by a shot to his side.
The beast flailed around on the ground, wailing some more before the dream ended.
The hunter thought his strange dream to have something to do with the black box he had retrieved from the beast. What manner of beast carries anything in their hands, he thought to himself as he rubbed his face awake.
He took the black box with him as he hunted the woods again that day. After an unsuccessful hunt, he examined it. As he ran his fingers over it, a handle popped out. The black box was actually some sort of music box. He turned the little black handle, and despite the fact there were no holes or size enough for a revolving cylinder to fit in there. Yet it did make music, and as the tune played the hunter felt his skin shiver.
He closed the handle back in and the music stopped. As did the shivering.
He returned home and had the same strange dream. Only this time as the hunter awoke, he was in the woods, naked, with dried blood on his face. The pungent smell singed under his nose as he sat up. He found a cluster of dead animals in front of him, with claw marks across the ground and their bodies.
“What is this?” His fingers shook as he looked down at them. The black box was beside him, cranking out a tune that crawled through his bones.
He brought himself to the river and bathed the blood and smell off of him. He then returned home.
When he returned home he found his wife laid dead by the gate out of the farm. Her bloody hand print marked the gate. The smell of blood once again prickled up into his nose and he felt a shiver. The hunted looked down at his hands, blood faded in on them as though it were hers.
“What am I?” The hunted asked himself once again.
He buried his wife where the other animals had been pressed to earth, an unmarked grave her resting place.
Melancholy grew brooding in the hunter, as he sat there locked away in his bedroom refusing to come out. He glanced at the black music box on his table. He opened it and started the music. His hands worked a will of their own, cranking the little crank and blaring out a large tune.
A coldness ran through him as it played, solidifying the past events as reality. He began to cry and slowly, ever so, sleep rolled down onto his eyes.
He dreamed the dreams of a beast.
The world he roamed was red tinted once more.
Hunters followed his steps through the forest, shooting and aiming to box the beast into somewhere where they could kill it. The beast had been slaughtering more cattle once again, the previous hunter having failed.
They stalked him through the woods, continually missing each shot as it leapt from side to side, eagerly growing closer to them. The beast stood up on his two hooves and charged at the hunters, crashing into one, mauling the man with his claws and wolf-like teeth.
The beast collapsed onto the man he had killed. The beast himself had been shot, piercing some vital organs. The red tinted world slowly became dark. The beast held up his claw at the remaining hunter, unfurling it for him to see what was inside.
“What the damn hell are you?” The hunted beast’s eyes faded out and his claw fell to the ground.
Uncertain, the hunter took the box.
And again, as though drawn a foot away from the sun, the beast turned to ash and the cycle began again.