Hunter/Woodcutter

A pair of eyes burn through Anatoly. Alexandre is angry; the last of the venison is gone, and he, Anatoly, caught nothing on his last outing. The old man’s face is devoid of love. No line drawn across his wrinkly skin whispers the merest token of kindness. A great black beard over it resembles a black forest one enters, but never leaves. The fire crackles softly in the stone hearth, barely disguising the banshees wailing outside outside of their cabin. Tonight the storm kills anyone foolish enough to step outside, but Anatoly does not hear its cries of misery; his eyes lock to Alexandre’s fiery black coals. The young man feels so alone.

“You little idiot!”, Alexander hisses and takes half a step forward. Calloused hands rolled into balls, taut and shaking. “Why do I let you stay?” A fist the size of a dog’s head slams over a rickety wooden table, sending splinters and two empty clay plates crashing down on the floor below. “Tell me why!” Alexander’s voice rises above the night’s maelstrom caging them.

Anatoly’s gaunt frame flinches, covering his face with thin, delicate hands. He can hear Alexander grinding his teeth, reminding him of the grain mill from the village down the mountain. I am the wheat, dear God. Trembling from head to to toe he rallies whatever is swimming at the pit of his stomach, pushing past the bile rising from his throat. “I…hunt…you cut wood.”, he finally manages to say in a whimper.

“Precisely.”, Alexander snarls, spittle falling down his black beard. “I cut wood. You hunt food. And you can’t even do that right!”

“But, but…surely God will provide a miracle. We must hold faith!” Anatoly tries to sound optimistic, even courageous, until a log in the fire behind him cracks, making him jump.

“God?” Alexander’s face darkens, “God will not listen. This storm makes Him deaf. This storm that is trapping us. This storm…”, the old man picks up a particularly thick-looking log with one hand. Alexandre roars like like a black bear, flinging the log at Anatoly, “…will swallow us!”

“Wait!” Anatoly yelps, barely sidestepping the log, which hits the wall behind him and clatters on the floor, rolling past where he was standing a second ago. “Please Alexandre, wait! For the love of God!” His voice rises to a shriek. “Give me one more day! I can…I can…” He can’t finish, the wailing outside is eating his voice away.

Alexandre takes two long steps and strikes him with the back of his hand, knocking Anatoly over. The young man screams and falls to the floor. “The season of storms is here, idiot!” Looking down at the simpering figure, Alexandre’s mind is pierced by a thought he’s tried to hold back all evening: they are dead men. “God is not here. We are alone, and we will die.” In an instant, rough hands yank Anatoly to his feet from the scruff of his shirt. “I’ll kill you before that.”

Something flashes in the dim of the cabin and Alexander howls in agony, feeling the sharp bite of steel in his gut. His grip loosens and Anatoly falls to the floor again. A dark spot begins to form on the left side of Alexander’s brown coat. “You stabbed me!” Alexandre’s voice is no more than a whisper, his eyes seem to have lost some of their focus.

Anatoly holds a large hunting knife with trembling hands, he tightens his grip as hard as he can until it hurts. The tip is dipped in blood. “God forgive me…” His mouth hangs open, he can barely believe what he did. “Alexandre, it was an accident, I didn’t mean…!”

With a bellow, Alexandre jumps at Anatoly, before the young man can even react, he is pinned down to the ground by the neck with one hand, while another smacks the knife away. He can feel Alexandre’s grip, unyielding, like one of Anatoly’s snares for catching rabbits. Anatoly can’t breathe, he panics, at first kicking and flailing trying not to escape, but to breathe. Soon he starts to move less, and less. Then he stops moving altogether.

Alexandre is in a daze. Somehow, his hands are holding meat again that his teeth tear greedily, raw, letting the warm blood kiss his lips and wet his cheeks. Anatoly’s knife carves it with ease. So juicy and tender; there is no more of Anatoly’s womanly mewling. Once he’s had his fill, Alexandre cuts up and parcels the meat from his companion’s body, hoping it will be enough to keep him alive until the storms pass. Afterwards he will go down to the village, buy more food, find someone else to hunt. After all, he only cuts wood. Only wood. As soon as he opens the door outside the storm’s whip of sleet and snow hits him on the face. Covering it with one hand, while with another he carries a soiled bundle of bloody bones and soiled clothes, Alexandre steps out into the darkness.

Hide the body, hide it. Any hole he digs will be good, but he needs to be fast. He can barely see more than a few feet ahead of him, but the snow has already piled high to his knees. Each step is a feat, feeling heavier the more he walks. Just a little more, around the cabin. Alexandre considered burning the remains, but the thought of Anatoly’s stench, fresh or roasted, at least at that moment seemed…unbearable. It did not matter now; he will bury the remains, he will survive. Much harsher storms have come and go, and Alexandre was left standing. He just realized he’s stopped walking, but is on his knees, with the snow almost to his mid-stomach. How odd, Alexandre thinks, realizing how tired he really is. Despite the freeing cold wrapping him, he feels an odd warmth spread across his body, making him sleepy, so sleepy. Alexandre’s eyes feel too heavy to keep open any longer. If he could just rest for a bit, then he will take care of things, yes he will. He just needs to rest. Just for a bit…

From the blackness of the storm they came, desperate and hungry. Saliva freezes and melts on their elongated snouts, tongues lolling to the side as clouds of hot breath are blown away by the storm. They were stumbling when a light appeared far ahead. They followed it and now prey lies on the snow before them. The leader, twice as large as any of them -almost as big as the body lying in the snow- paces slowly towards it. Black fur ripples with white from sleet as it edges closer to the unmoving mound, mostly covered by the snow now. A tentative nip is given with fangs that crave the warmth moisture of flesh. The mound does not stir. The leader gives out a victorious howl that the endless cries of the storm drowns, but the others join nonetheless. Tonight, at least, they will not starve.

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