STORY THREAD; Jan 7 to Jan 20, 2016 Flash Fiction Writing Contest: “Hunt, Hunted, Hunter””

The LinkedIn Comment Thread can be found here.

This post is for STORIES related to the Writing Theme: “Hunt, Hunted, Hunter”. Must be a story based on the word hunt, hunter, or hunting. Critiques, comments and feedback are encouraged on the LinkedIn Comment Thread; non story comments here will be deleted.

The point of these friendly contests is to hone our craft and create successful stories within a predefined set of limitations. There is no monetary compensation.

Please Note: comments may be considered “published” in regards to other contest requirements.

All stories are fall under general copyright laws. No part may be reproduced without the express consent of the respective author.

Story Submission Rules:

One story per author. Stories must be in English, unpublished and your own work.
Stories must fit into a single comment box and must be under 1000 words.

Voting starts Wednesday morning at 9:00am PDT / 12:00pm EST / 10:30pm IST / 5:00pm WET/GMT/ 4:00am AEDT (Thursday) and ends the same time on Thursday / 4:00am AEDT (Friday). Send your votes via email LIFlashFiction (at) gmail.com. Winner will be announced in the Comment and Story thread.

  • You may vote only once and cannot vote for yourself.
  • In order for your story to qualify you must submit your top 5 votes.

The winner shall name the next week’s writing prompt.
In case of ties, co-winners may be announced and the moderator shall select a winner to name the theme.
The winner has three days after the announcement to contact either Alice Nelson or Carrie Zylka via LIFlashFiction(at)gmail.com with the next theme/items of their choosing.

See How to Participate for complete rules and disclaimers.


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17 thoughts on “STORY THREAD; Jan 7 to Jan 20, 2016 Flash Fiction Writing Contest: “Hunt, Hunted, Hunter””

  • January 7, 2016 at 12:33 pm
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    “Now then, get your equipment-your quiver and bow-and go out to the open country to hunt some wild game for me”… Genesis 27:3

    My truest sense of spirituality and inner peace… bow hunting in a tree stand

  • January 9, 2016 at 7:10 pm
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    The Apparitions

    “Ghosts hunting?” Paul repeated over the phone, all amused. “Do you believe in such things?”

    “Yes. Ghosts are almost everywhere. Please come and join us, you’ll enjoy the expedition.” Minnie pleaded.
    They’d met at a conference in London and promised to meet and find out more about each other before they would officially date.

    They followed the leader of a small group of ghost hunting enthusiasts to the entrance of West Wycombe village which led to the “Hellfire” Caves, a network of tunnels and chambers underground the steep hill.

    “These were natural caves which were further dug out by the rich landowner and entrepreneur, Sir Dashwood. These alcoves and the chambers were built to benefit ‘Hellfire’ Club members.” The leader explained. The light flicked as they walked along the dim lit passageways, dotted with alcoves which housed spooky statues covered by a light,silky film of white web. “At the time, in the 17th centuries, these caves were frequented by the rich and famous. They held meetings, indulged in sorceries, Satanic rituals and ceremonies, smuggling, orgies and murders.” The leader stopped in his tracks and people gathered around him to listen.

    “I’m having a feeling. There is some presence here.” One person shouted with conviction and everybody turned to look at him. “There’s more than one ghost here.” A swift of cold air travelled and hissed gently in the tunnels. “See! They’re making themselves felt.” he continued shaking his shoulders and squeezing his eyes.

    “Look at the shadows and there’s an orb out there.” Everybody looked up at the ceiling to see a spot of white light.

    “This is ridiculous!” Paul whispered to Minnie, “This place is very old and the light is reflecting on the ceiling. Ghosts don’t exist. It’s in people’s mind. People, just like vegetation and animals, die and are gone forever. Their energies might linger and disappear with time.”

    “Shush!” Minnie put her fingers on her lips. “I can sense them too. You need to psyche yourself to feel and see them.”

    They reached the main chamber where an ancient long table and chairs with white candles in the middle, took prime place. In the recesses there were ghostly figurines.

    “Someone touched me on the shoulders.” A woman jumped from the crowd and got closer to people in the group. “Did you hear this laugh?” She asked.

    People nodded as if they were experiencing the same vibes.

    “This tunnel has a secret passage.” The leader pointed out to an opening in the wall. “It leads up into the church on the top of the hill next to the Mausoleum and the cemetery, just above our heads.” They all looked up to the ceiling.

    Eventually, they retraced their steps back to the entrance where they had a coffee break.
    “The chalks and flint stones were dug out to create these chambers, tunnels and carved alcoves, and used to build the houses around here and the main roads leading up to here. All the buildings are listed buildings. Residents often hears unexplicable footsteps and see shadows in their houses, witness apparitions, switching on and off of lights. A man saw a bandaged man walking his dog.” Minnie explained, “Sir Dashwood also dabbled in black magic and the dark side in bygone days.”

    “Really!” Paul was surprised at Minnie’s deep interest in the subject.“This is a very nice old place The stories attract tourists.” He was sceptical.

    “They’re true stories. Evidence that this area was a Roman settlement has been found by archaeologists.”

    They set off on a labouring climb to the top of the hill where the church, the cemetery and Mausoleum stood proudly overlooking the surrounding villages, the rolling hills studded with sheep grazing. They walked around the Mausoleum.

    “Paul Whitehead was a steward in the Hellfire club who requested that his heart be placed in an urn and kept in this Mausoleum.” The leader said. Everybody turned their gaze to the urns in the alcoves that were in the open spaced, solid construction but encased in wire messes to deter vandalism.

    “Is the heart still in there?” Paul joked raising his eyes.

    “Unfortunately, an American soldier stole the heart and legend has it that Paul Whitehead’s ghost roamed this area in search of his heart.”

    Finally, they walked down the hill into the quaint village with its tiny cottages and shops and into the inn where guests’ were murdered in the past. Their ghosts lived on. A draught swept in and the doors slammed.

    “Here we go again! That’s Suki.” The landlord addressed the imaginary ghost of the woman who was enticed into the caves, believing that her lover was in there and cruelly attacked by several men.

    Well later, Paul thanked Minnie for the wonderful and unusual day. “I need more signs to convince me.” He told Minnie. “I’ll call you,” He promised as he pecked her on the cheeks and headed into the train station. The Tannoy above announced that, “The last train to London will arrive in 20 minutes”.

    Paul sat on the bench, closed his eyes and reflected on the day. His reverie was disturbed by murmurs, whispers; and opening his eyes he saw a crowd of people dressed in the Victorian era strutting along the platform. He blinked and widened his eyes. Within seconds, an overwhelming smell of soot, invaded his nostrils followed by a steam train puffing and hissing steam as it stopped to collect its passengers. Paul felt his heart dropped to the ground and he sat rooted to the bench. When the last train thundered in, he jumped into it with the speed of light.

    “I can’t think straight. Have I really seen these apparitions? Were they a figment of my imagination? Was I dreaming?” He recounted and shared his experience with Minnie over the phone after he reached his home.

    “Without doubt, it’s a ghost train.” Minnie remarked.

  • January 10, 2016 at 1:22 pm
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    HUNTERS

    Rocky was Henry’s sixth dog, and probably the one he loved most; they went everywhere together, and Rocky especially seemed to enjoy shoots. He was a Retriever and would fetch the grouse or hare that his master hit. He always kept by Henry’s side and knew to be quiet when his master was shooting. But his wagging tail was testament to the fact that he was excited to be hunting.

    Not as excited as Henry, though. He was raised in the country and caught the hunting bug from his father, who would take him out onto the moors from a very early age. Henry’s favoured mode of killing was the shotgun. He would hunt hare, rabbit, grouse, pheasant, badger … in fact anything that moved.

    For Henry’s 50th birthday, his hunting friends gave him the gift of a week’s safari in South Africa. He was overjoyed at the prospect – it had been a dream of his since childhood. One of the friends, Thomas, was also his next-door neighbour and offered to look after Rocky while Henry was away, and he gratefully accepted.

    On the morning of the trip, Rocky was strange; he sensed something was up because of the packing. He lay next to the fireplace, grunting to himself and looking up at Henry with doleful eyes whenever he passed.

    “Don’t worry, old boy – I’ll be back soon,” Henry reassured him.

    Henry’s tone only made matters worse, and Rocky began whining. It needed a lengthy cuddle to calm him down, but the taxi horn meant that Henry simply had to go. He gave Rocky one last pat on the side, kissed him on the head and left the house, leaving him whining in the hall. Henry left the keys with Thomas.

    “Food’s in the kitchen cupboard, Tom, and don’t forget – four walks a day. But you can leave him out in the back garden in the afternoon, if the weather’s good.”

    “Will do, H. Don’t you worry.”

    Henry was halfway to the taxi when he stopped and returned.

    “Do look after him though, Tom.”

    “Henry, I’ll look after him like he was my own. Now get going. And bag yourself a lion!”

    This was Henry’s ambition, but after four days in the veldt he had only shot some meerkats and an antelope, which was already injured, possibly by hyenas, and was very slow. Then on the morning of the fifth day, Pieter, his guide, told him that he’d found some lion tracks. They followed them all morning; it was a single male, Pieter said, possibly ejected from its pride and roaming.

    In the early afternoon, with the sun beating down on the grassland and sending up a shimmer of heat-haze, Pieter signalled Henry to stop. He pointed ahead and there, at a distance of about 40 metres, was the lion, ripping flesh from the carcass of a dead gazelle.

    “We’re ok, we’re down-wind. We can get closer, if you like”, Pieter whispered.

    Henry nodded. He was sweating with the heat but also with nervous excitement; this is what he had come for. They loaded and cocked their guns and began to edge forwards, one careful step at a time, with Henry at Pieter’s shoulder but slightly behind him. They approached the magnificent beast, his fur glowing in the sunlight, and were within twenty metres when Henry stepped on a twig with a loud CRACK.

    The lion whipped its head round and spotted the two men at once. Henry was expecting a stand-off, or for the lion to scamper away, but without hesitating it leapt to its feet and charged them. Pieter was an experienced guide, but even he was surprised; he got his gun-strap tangled around his forearm and started shouting.

    “Get him! Shoot! Jesus!”

    The lion was on top of them almost instantly and Henry threw himself to the ground, letting off a shot as he did. The lion was already in the air, claws out, fangs ready to kill. It cleared them and landed in a heap three or four metres behind. Henry scrambled to his feet, turned and saw it, lying on its side, breathing heavily. Pieter had untangled his strap and cautiously approached the animal. He raised his gun to give it the coup de grâce but Henry stopped him.

    “Let me! It’s my kill!”

    Pieter lowered his gun and stepped back. Henry moved round to face the lion, to look into its eyes; they were vague, as if it were thinking of something else. Henry placed the barrel of his gun between the lion’s eyes and pulled the trigger, laughing with the exhilaration of the moment.

    They cut off the lion’s tail and Henry brought it home in his case. He was still feeling thrilled by the hunt as the taxi drove up to his house. Thomas was at Henry’s front gate, apparently waiting for him. Henry paid the driver and got out of the cab.

    “Henry, I’m so sorry … it’s … it’s Rocky.”

    “What–?”

    “He’s in the back garden.”

    Henry rushed round the side of the house and found Rocky lying on the grass near the bottom fence. He was covered in blood and breathing heavily. He recognised Henry and gave a muffled little whine.

    Henry turned to Thomas. “Wha … what happened?”

    “I was upstairs. I heard barking and laughter, looked out and saw this group of kids throwing stones over the fence. Rocky was down … and they just kept throwing stones at him and laughing. I got my gun and fired a shot out of the window. They ran off. I phoned the police – that was two hours ago.”

    Henry inspected Rocky; his body was cut badly and his skull and jaw looked to be fractured. Henry knew there was no hope for him. He went into the house and brought back his gun. He placed the barrel between Rocky’s dulling eyes.

    “I’m sorry, old boy.”

    Henry pulled the trigger. This time he didn’t laugh.

  • January 10, 2016 at 7:35 pm
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    Desporpa
    Ann White
    @2016 Short Story Collection

    The hunt began at dawn, like most hunts. Mother’s first warning was a shotgun blast over the water. The enemy were coming. They came in droves. She whirled gathering her children, feet muddy from the moment of peace by the water where she had brought them for their daily chores. They ran together, the youngest in her arms. Her oldest pulled the middle child, firmly determined that they would not face the sorrow, the useless sacrifice again. This family had suffered too much in earlier hunts.

    There was a platform standing on the top of the hill. It filled slowly, giving the prey time to lose their way, to blunder.

    It was time for older prey to gather as many of the young they could find and shepherd them to places of safety dug into the ground, tunnels thirty and forty feet long. These tunnels were destroyed by rangers when found, but new ones replaced old, and here was kept the center of their society. Here oral histories were passed down. Here grandmothers prevailed still, preaching love, and understanding. Preaching hopes needing to be fulfilled. They couldn’t believe how many years they’d been hiding. According to their mothers, it had been 200 or more.

    “Sometime these others must come to their senses. We pray for it to happen, to end this senseless butchery. They promised us sanctuary.”

    The men of the clan scoffed, and left the mothers and young. They felt themselves too valuable to be killed in a run. They were small in number, after all. If they died, the hiders would die out.”

    Homo sapiens sapiens, of the greatest God-fearing country on Earth, rushed to the platforms. It was Winter Hunt Time, time which shouldn’t be lost. They arrived laughing: armed with their picnic baskets, bottles of beer, soda, water and milk bottles for the babies. They brought cameras, cell phones, electronic tablets and recording devices. Adults, their parents and preachers turned out for this mid-winter hunt. Family time.

    They brought drums to be beaten, trumpets to shout, and the fine town’s leaders all hung in finery warm. They were waiting for the first victims to run, for then they would cheer. They brought out their shotguns, their rifles, their bows, with ammo designed for one purpose below. Something would die today. More than one would die. They would celebrate that night with presents and dinner with toasts. The excitement grew, and so did the boasts.

    Laughing with joy at a kill shot, they took turns turning the soil to red. They were a powerful people, opening their arms to refugees worldwide, giving homes to some while others disappeared, or were labeled terrorists so they would not be missed. Glorious leaders of this strong nation kept it all in check, using mass rallies of their glory, and corrupt political policies, too. Their godlike speeches belied their intentions.

    During the growing time of Summer, the prey were joined by runaway natives who tried to learn languages, record stories and take them back where they were labeled fiction and unprintable. The journalists, teachers, advocates and writers were vanquished to the kill zones. The government thought that a rat trap was a good place to hide all of the rats.

    Mother ran, her heart beating so loudly she was afraid it would be heard. Her eldest murmured words of encouragement, taking the lead away from her mother and trying to turn them all deeper into the woods. That’s when the closest gunshot became loud and real.

    The baby exploded in Mother’s arms. She had time to gasp “no” as the bullet continued through the child and into the mother’s heart.

    Eldest child threw her brother into the underbrush with a whisper.

    “It’s under the rock. Find it,” she whispered. She had a plan.

    He wiggled and dug in the earth pulling an old plastic bag from beneath him. She snatched it from his fingers and whispered again.

    “Stay here, in the ground, until they have gone home to celebrate. I have something to do.”

    Aged six, her brother understood the action that was needed. He wiggled under the leaves, into the mud, out of sight and mindful of the killers as Eldest bolted away toward the platform. As the trees thinned, she stood tall. She opened the bag. The gun in her hand had been dropped from the platform as an insult when the killers had killed her grandmother and her father. She had taken it.

    She moved through the bush and gathered her cold sense of honor. Her actions gathered the attention she sought.

    “Look, a small one begs for more attention from you, Hunter. It’s only fair you should end her. She won’t survive without her breeding mother and is almost old enough to start breeding herself. Just an animal.” They laughed the hunter back to a spot on the wall.

    The hunter was smartly dressed for this celebration day. She lifted her rifle, focusing her sights on the child, and then abruptly brought the gun down.

    The crowd jeered her as she succumbed to the first thought in her life involving compassion. It didn’t last.

    She raised her rifle again. Two shots rang out in unison. One shot from above, and one from below. The bullet struck the hunter in the forehead spreading brains, blood and skin bits everywhere. The platform emptied screaming.

    Eldest child staggered to her brother and dropped the gun. “Hide it,” she murmured.

    Middle child tried to stop the blood. He was too small to treat such an injury.

    Eldest child’s name was called in the moonlight by a search party of old women. They found her brother shivering and in shock. They found the bodies. They heard the child’s story. Life changed that night. They learned a lesson.

    They could fight back.

  • January 10, 2016 at 11:57 pm
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    Hunting

    It was well past mid-night. A tapping downstairs had disturbed my slumber. I lay awake on my bed. Bright moonlight reflected the silver thread of the bed coverlet that lay crumpled over the foot of my bed. The lace curtains framing the French windows fluttered gently. The sky’s darkness was creased with cloud. I saw crocodiles, elephants, ships and castles travelling past. Something unbidden had entered my home.

    Listening, I dared not breathe. Slow, shallow breaths escaped my parched lips.

    I heard someone on the stairs. Tap, tap, and tap. Whoever it was stopped on the landing. Not that worried tread of my father, nor was it the quick precise heel taps of my mother. My parents had left on a business trip to Canberra two days ago. At sixteen, Papa said I was old enough to be alone in the house for three nights and days. They had left Thursday and planned to return Sunday evening.

    I moved not a muscle. The tapping continued to my door. Frozen I watched the door handle slowly turn. Then it stopped. Jiggle, jiggle. I thanked God and my father for the deadlocks on all our bedroom doors and phone points in each room. My Uncle John said to Papa one day, ‘Dave, what foolishness is this? What happens in a fire, hummm. And you’ve lost the key to one of the rooms. Child or wife unconscious. Smoke inhalation, heh?’

    Papa replied, ‘AH, that is where you’re in the last century, John. They all have a code which is their age and the year of their birth.’ Papa was too clever by far.

    The doorhandle jiggled some more. Not too loud. There was a rustling whisper outside the door. Whoever it was moved on and then crept catlike along the landing to the other three bedrooms and the big family room. I heard him try the other three bedrooms. All locked. He or she continued along to the family room. The padding tread of their feet on the tiled floor was faint, but there. Something dropped with a muffled thud. A whispered ‘Damn!’ and then the silence ballooned. I waited nerve endings pulsing with expectation.

    Gently I rolled over and eased the phone off its stand. Could I call the police? Tapping the talk key, I listened for a dial tone. Nothing. Shook the phone and tried again. Nothing. Whoever was outside had probably cut the line. I looked over at my alarm clock. The digital display was off. No power. Hell. The person invading my home meant business.

    Wait – my mobile. It was on the charger on my dressing table. I eased over on tiptoes. My heart thundered within my chest. I needed to text someone fast. I did not want to risk being heard talking to the police. Richard, that is who I could text. Richard was in my English class at school. He was the only one of my friends likely to be up at this hour.

    ‘Richard hiya, Angela St Clair. I am home alone. Mama and Papa away until Sunday. Help me. There is someone in the house. Call POLICE.’ I waited and prayed that he was awake. A few minutes later the screen glowed.

    ‘Hi Angela. No need for Police. I’ll handle it. Coming now in Dad’s car with Dad.’ Bother. Is he, are they mad. This person may be armed. I texted a reply. ‘Call police also.’ The answer came in short. ‘No need. Be there in 15.’

    ‘CALL POLICE NOW! They could be armed.’

    ‘Do U NO for certain?’

    ‘NO. But don’t assume they’re unarmed.’

    ‘Well then, we are armed. Be there in 14.’

    ‘Armed with WHAT?’

    There was a quite long pause before the reply flashed on the screen. I waited listening for footsteps down the hallway and the landing.

    ‘Baseball bat & Crowbar.’ Richard had put a big smiley alongside another smiley with a tongue hanging out. My friend and his father are madmen, I decided then.. We are ten kilometres from Bordertown. Not exactly the centre of a metropolis. What if there is more than one of them? What if they have a gun? What if there is only one of them and he has a gun and shoots them both?

    Silently I google Bordertown police station. Aha. There it is. 8752 1355. I key the number into the keypad. It rings forever. Finally it is answered. I hold it to my ear tight.

    ‘Senior Constable Finn. Mount Gambier police.’ Holy shit. Mount Gambier. That is over two hours away.

    I whisper hoping the intruder is far enough away not to hear.

    ‘My name is Angela. Angela St Clair. Lot 12 Pigeon Flat Road, Bordertown. Help me. There is someone in the house. I am alone. My parents are away.’ Tears start to trickle down my cheeks.

    ‘I can’t hear you. Again.’

    I whisper into the phone.

    ‘Lot 12 Pigeon Flat Road, Bordertown. How soon? Please hurry.’ The last words are almost a sob.

    I hang up. There is a shuffling noise outside my room. Someone is dragging something down the hallway. I freeze. The person outside is talking.

    ‘No. …Yes. No. I mean I’ve checked it out. There’s no one home. Yes, of course. Of course, I’m sure. Do you take me for an idiot? The bedrooms‘re locked. There’re five bedrooms. All locked.’ An exasperated sigh. ‘All right I will get a crowbar and force open the bedroom doors. Don’t know which one is the master bedroom but I think it is next to the family room.’ Again a heavy exhalation of air. Now confident that there was no one in the house, the man clumped down the stairs. He returns several minutes later and drops something heavy with a thud outside my parents bedroom. Seconds later I hear a splintering sound. Frantic, I begin to look around my room. Where to hide if he decides to force my door? Ah, the cupboard. I slide inside. I lie down on the floor and heap clothes over my head and play dead.

    Not a moment too soon either. I hear a crash. It’s the front door.

    ‘Angela! ANGELA, WHERE ARE YOU?’

    Oh crap, it’s Richard and his dad. They are on the stairs. They are coming up the stairs. I don’t hear the intruder.

    Seconds later, I hear two muffled retorts. There are two gasps from Richard. There is a shout of ‘What the …?’ which is cut short by a muffled Phutt and then another. Richard’s dad moans. Footsteps walking, something is kicked down the stairs. Sounds like a baseball bat tumbling down the stairs. I tremble. Taking advantage of the noise I slide the walk-in cupboard door close.

    Splintering wood. My door is knocked in and broken down its centre. I hear him walk to the bed. He stops by the bed. Mutters to himself. “Shit. Bed still warm. Someone was here.’ He must have seen the open window. He walks over and I can imagine him looking out.

    ‘Angela, my friend.’ He mutters grimly. ‘Where did you go?’ He runs down the stairs and out the front door. What am I going to do? Should I go to the room he’s already searched? My parents’ room. I ‘m shaking. Where do I go? Do I stay put until the police arrive? Soon he is going to come back. If I am lucky, he’ll think I’ve got away and alerted the police.

    I dare not breathe.

  • January 11, 2016 at 2:18 pm
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    The Wild Hunt
    By: Randall Lemon

    His name was Hal Hancock but all his friends called him “The Big Game Hunter” or just “Hunter” for short.

    Hunter and his buddies frequented a drinking establishment near the edge of the Trojan State College campus. The name of the place was ZanziBar. It was decorated with a lot of greenery, flowing streams and various replicas of African wild animals. None of the animals were real because Joe Schnell who owned Zanzibar knew it would “turn off” the more sensitive coeds to be surrounded by a bunch of dead beasts. The music was a mix of popular music and primitive sounding African beats. Often over the music one could hear the squawk of a parrot or the chattering of a monkey or even the roar of a lion.

    The men congregated at ZanziBar because there was a steady flow of young coeds who came in to check out the “wild” life, and that was precisely what Hunter sought to provide.

    This particular night, Hunter had chosen to wear a safari outfit complete with tight khaki shorts, pith helmet and long black whip looped through his belt. He had worn this outfit before and it always drew the attentions of the ladies who showed up at the bar for the first time. After they had quaffed a few zombies or done some jello shots, the more adventurous would even make risque’ comments to Hunter involving his whip.

    Hunter always claimed to be an expert at using the black leather bullwhip and would offer to take the young lady somewhere private where he could exhibit his skills to her. It usually worked. Although Hunter and his chums were all pushing forty and thus considerably older than their standard prey, Hunter kept himself in excellent shape. His khaki shirt highlighted his biceps and the shorts hugged his muscular glutes. He was an Adonis and the hotties were drawn to him like candy.

    Hunter’s best friend, Bob, figured Hunter had bedded forty different girls in the last six months.

    Hunter never went out with the same girl twice. He didn’t want to be caught in the trap of conformity. Some might have considered Hunter to be a heartless Lothario but Hunter would have disagreed. One day he explained his philosophy to Bob.

    “I don’t feel bad about what I do. I give these girls exactly what they want, the wildest night of their life. Believe me, Bob, they all go home satisfied! I’ve even had them come back to the bar and introduce their girlfriends to me to be my next target. I figure out if they want to be treated like a jungle queen or a slave girl and I’ve got the toys at my place to satisfy their individual fantasies.”

    One Friday, Hunter was scoping out the crowd and his eyes were drawn by a particularly striking woman sitting alone at a table. She had a tremendous figure, even if she was considerably older than his usual prey. Hunter guestimated she was in her mid-thirties. She had black, curly tresses that hung down past her shoulders. She wore wide-rimmed, black-framed glasses that accentuated her violet eyes and long lashes. She sported a jungle-print dress which highlighted long, tanned, muscular legs.

    Hunter felt a jab in his ribs from his wingman, Bob.

    “Hey, Hunter, what do you think of that Milf sitting by herself?”

    “I think she’s destined to be the next trophy on my wall.”

    Hunter strode confidently over to his intended prey, but before he could get a word out, she spoke to him.

    “It’s about time. I’d like a vesper. Make it snappy, please.”

    Hunter was thrown completely off-balance.

    “Uh, what? I think you’ve made a…”

    The temptress cut him off mid-sentence.

    “What kind of cocktail waiter are you? You don’t even know what a vesper is? Okay, listen carefully. I want a gin and vodka martini made with Lillet Blanc and a twist of lemon. Got it?”

    “No, I know what a vesper is. But you’ve made a mistake. If you want a vesper, I’d be happy to go to get one for you, but I don’t work here.”

    “When I saw you at the bar in that ridiculous safari outfit, I just figured you were a waiter. I mean, after all, no mature man would really dress like that unless it was a uniform or it was Halloween.”

    “Allow me to get that vesper for you and perhaps I can sit with you if you’re not waiting for anyone special and we can straighten this out.”

    “I’m always looking for “someone special,” but who knows it might be you tonight. Get me my drink.”

    When Hunter returned they sat and chatted and he found out her name was Inara and that she was the new Zoology professor at TSC. Hunter found her a little intimidating but with all his friends watching from the bar he tried to turn charm her and even though he used his best time-tested lines, he got the feeling that she was more amused by his efforts that “turned on” by him. Still, he did manage to leave the bar with Inara.

    Four weeks later, Bob was standing at the bar wondering what could have happened to “the old Hunter?” He was startled when Hunter came limping into the establishment wearing shlumpy lose-fitting clothing. He dragged himself over and collapsed onto a barstool.

    Bob couldn’t even wait for Hunter to order a drink.

    “So Hunter, what happened to you? None of us have seen you since you left the bar with that hot-looking woman four weeks ago. Have you been sick?”

    “Worse than that Bob! I’ve come down with a terminal case of marriage. Inara is now my wife.”

    “You!! Married? I don’t believe it. How did that happen?”

    Hunter shifted painfully on his stool and turned to his friend.

    “Well, Bob, have you ever heard of the movie, ‘Kitten with a Whip?’”

  • January 11, 2016 at 10:14 pm
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    The Purple Berries.

    It felt like I was being watched. I can’t explain it. It was just a feeling. Wet leaves crunched softly underfoot as I moved cautiously through the forest. A thick mist shrouded the deep woods, obscuring everything beyond a 50-foot radius.

    I stopped next to a large tree and shifted my weight to lean against it.

    There was no sound, just an odd, unsettling silence.

    That’s when I spotted the stand of bushes, loaded with purple berries. I forgot my fear and ambled over to sample some. They were delicious: At the peak of ripeness.

    I heard a twig snap somewhere nearby, and suddenly I had that feeling that someone was watching me again. The hair on the back of my neck stood up. I felt a tingling sense of foreboding as I scanned the misty pre-dawn gloom for signs of something out of place. Nothing moved. After a time, I returned my attention to the berries. I was hungry as hell and hadn’t eaten for quite a while.

    Working my way through a whole branch of berries, I moved on to a second, and then a third branch before I noticed that the mist had lifted. I glanced around, with juice dribbling down my chin when I realized my stupidity.

    In the mist and fog, I didn’t notice that the bush I was eating from was in the center of a clearing, this made me an easy target, especially now that the fog had lifted. I should have known; a bush this full of fruit would only grow under a break in the leafy overhead canopy.

    I realized my mistake and began to move back toward the cover of the forest and that’s when I saw him. Crouched next to a tree no more than twenty yards away. He already had his weapon cocked and aimed, leaving me no time to do more than swallow hard, just as he fired.

    ‘Fisssss-shtungg.’ That’s the sound it made as the pointed end buried itself in a tree just above my shoulder. I barely had time to think of options as I watched him reach for another arrow and begin to reload his weapon. I know I should have run, that’s what I would normally do, but I charged him instead. It was a good thing I did, because I was too close to make a clean get-away, and when I charged, he dropped his arrow and leaped to his feet.

    That was fortunate too, because it made him a bigger target. I rushed straight for him and pinned him against the tree. We were face to face and I could see the fear in his eyes. For once, the tables were turned. Eight deadly points could have pierced him with mortal effect, but I stayed my hand, as it were. I held him pinned, my breath in his face, my gaze holding him speechless.

    I wanted him to know how it felt to be helpless in the face of a superior foe, to know what it was like to have someone else hold his fate in the palm of their figurative hand.

    I snorted and pawed at the ground with one tremendous hoof and then took a single step backwards. He stood there with his back against the tree, paralyzed with fear, completely at my mercy. I dipped my head low, pointing my rack of deadly antlers at his most tender abdomen and snorted again.

    All the blood drained from his face; he looked white as a ghost. He let out a high-pitched plaintive whine, which devolved into a whimper. This mighty beast of prey, this man, was reduced to a simpering cow. I took another step backwards to make a more effective charge, but at the last second, I felt a surge of pity and merely swiped my massive rack just across his midsection. Even though I merely grazed him in the process, I snagged his fearsome crossbow on the prong of one of my antlers, and slowly, with as much malice as I could project, I backed away into the clearing, and then dashed effortlessly away into the woods.

    And that, my son, is how I survived another season, came to meet your mother, and sired you. So remember, be ever cautious, listen to your instincts, and never eat the purple berries—except at night.

  • January 12, 2016 at 4:42 pm
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    The Darkness (revised)
    by Emmanuel Malho 2015

    2189.

    The shattered skies harbor only storms. The atmosphere is a bedtime story. Life, at the brink of extinction, continued in underground caves. Oxygen had to be artificially produced there. Life support systems were used by dwellers outside of the caves.

    – Jack, we got less than five minutes!

    Jack dropped the black, gory mass and put away his cutter. He looked at his system’s indicator. 2:47. Now was not the time. Margarida, his dead wife, was haunting him. Again.

    The lack of oxygen, the UV radiation, the heat lurked outside of the caves. A new epidemic was threatening human life, killing millions. People infected with Umbris lose sight on one day, hearing on day two and their heart stops on day three. The use of Nigella damascena delayed the symptoms. In some cases, it stopped them. The plant only grew out of the caves’ reach. Engineers’ teams went on expeditions to collect the plant. Ninety minutes was a tight window as they’d have to search for them and return before they would die – or worse, be hunted by Specters. Specters materialized only to devour their prey. They were said to be the souls of humans who died of radiation exposure. Engineers became rare because of this conflict.

    Jack was ship Aegis’ commander. His team was known as the Specter Hunters. They gained the respect of all other teams surviving a Specter attack and bringing back three of their heads, with 5 survivors. They were the best harvesters, and making a lot of profit out of it.

    Visions of his dead wife have been tormenting him. Margarida was infected with Umbris. She took a joy ride – properly contained – in Aegis. She was already blind. “I want to feel how it is outside”, she whispered to Jack’s ear the night before. He took measures and put her in his ship. His team was against the idea, but they wouldn’t deny her dying wish. Specters attacked. Jack was sure that, without a life support system, she died right before one of the Specters slit her throat. Until she turned her terrified eyes to him. Jack went after that Specter, burning in rage. The killing mist reached him, and Jack saw its fangs shine. He stabbed its head with his cutter. To his surprise, it only dematerialized and didn’t turn into a black splash like the others. His partner Sean had to pull him out of the killing site.
    The trip home was dead silent. Jack knew she would die. He just didn’t expect that suffering, nor the terror in her green eyes.

    A few weeks later, Jack’s left eye lost his light. He was growing blind each passing day. Jack’s body wouldn’t follow the symptoms’ deadlines. “Not before that son of a bitch gets what’s coming to him”, he whispered to himself every time he looked at himself in the mirror.

    The next expedition was coming. Jack was getting his cutter upgraded. The door to his room opened.

    – Sean. Ready for the trip? Heard there’s a swarm there.

    – I’m checking up on you, Cap’. Last turn seemed pretty rough on you. How are you holding up?

    – I’m seeing her more frequently – he dropped his cutter – I want that bloody mist’s head in my hands.

    – I’m not talking about that. I know you’ve been ditching your check-ups since she died. Your moves, it looks like you’re blind from an eye! If I didn’t know better I’d say you’ve got it!

    – So what? – Jack turned away.

    – You’ll jeopardize the whole op just because of your revenge? – Sean yelled back.

    Jack stood silent for a second.

    – When the time comes, you’ll be driving this ship. Now don’t make me cut you out before that! – He burst – We leave at sun down. Go tell the crew.

    Aegis was lifting. Sean looked at him. Jack nodded. The trip to the collection site was silent. Jack didn’t want to confront Sean. Sean didn’t want to pull Jack’s issues in front of the team. They would leave him out if they knew. He might have contaminated the whole team in this trip. But the Specter Hunters were too busy to get their cutters ready. The rumor was confirmed: there was a swarm there. Maybe half the crew would be back in a few hours.

    Aegis landed, Specter Hunters got out and started looking for the plant.

    – Let’s wrap it up! – Jack yelled and they moved. – Where are you? – He whispered to himself.

    Jack just had a vision of Margarida. Not of her terrified eyes, but of how perfect she was on their wedding day. He stopped for a few seconds. A dark mist surrounded him. She disappeared, and there he was. The Specter standing in front of him had a chunk of his head torn out.

    – Keep going! Take them home! Now! – Jack knew he wasn’t going back. Not this time.

    A black mist charged, tossing him to the ground. It stood above him, materializing right there.

    – Margarida? – The monster materialized his wife. Her face drew closer, as if to kiss him.

    He screamed and slit the monster’s throat. Black ooze splashed all over Jack’s helmet. It burned and reached his face. Jack yelled in pain. He saw the mist swirling around him, and all pain was gone. Everything went black.

    Jack didn’t know where he was. He looked at his right hand and saw claws. Specter claws. He yelled enraged, and his whole body dissipated in the darkest mist the world had ever seen.

  • January 12, 2016 at 6:28 pm
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    The Witch Hunter

    We are still five kilometers out, but I swear I can smell her. Cloves, mixed with barley wine and something sharp, like raw onions. Sour, pungent aromas that make my stomach curl like a water-starved leaf. I swallow and remind myself that catching someone’s scent five kilometers out is preposterous, that these are just the echoes of odors of ones like her. Ones I’ve killed.

    My sled hits a rut and I am jostled from my thoughts. In an instant, I become aware of my cold-numbed cheeks, the soft fringe of my fur-lined black hood, the heavy breathing of the sled dogs as they strain against their harnesses. They were born with running in their blood, just like I was born with a thirst for justice.

    My husband doesn’t understand the quickening pulse, the boiling-blood feeling when I read about another witch attack. He’d rather patch the holes in our fence or install another lock on the front door and pretend that will fix things.

    My eldest two are a lot like him–complacent, hopeful that someone else will take care of the problem so they don’t have to dwell on it much. But my youngest understands. He and I share long discussions over rye toast and lox about what it means to be a Venro–a witch hunter. He smiles when I don my black robes, hugs me around the waist, and whispers, “Catch her, Mommy. Make us safe.”

    Tonight, I hunt for him.

    We’re nearing the cottage now. I lead two other Venros and their dog teams; the overhead stars map our way to the north and east. The modest town Birtaverre lies several kilometers behind us, shivering between fjords, cowering under the witch’s watchful eyes. I picture her alone in her house, conjuring black spells and dreaming up tricks to play on the village. She’s a young witch, we’ve been told. Just coming into her own. When we stopped in Birtaverre this evening, some of the villagers defended her, claiming that she mostly keeps to herself. But others were relieved by our arrival. “You can never fully trust a witch,” one wide-eyed man said. “Turn your back, and they’ll snatch up your children for dinner.”

    I nodded at the man, placed a caribou hide mitten on his shoulder. “That’s why we’re here, sir,” I said. “To cut the head off the snake before it can bite.”

    I think about this interaction now and smile to myself. I’m proud of my career. I’m turning the world on a wheel, running my hands over it, and buffing out the rough spots. My family will live in a smooth-edged place.

    A pinprick of light peers at us from the horizon. The hut. I feel my blood tremble through my veins; my grip on the dog sled tightens and I urge the team on. Soon, we will creep up to her door. Soon, we will burst through the home and pin the witch to the ground. We will slice her open and watch the evil flames in her eyes extinguish.

    We will feed her to the fire and listen to her flesh whine as it drips off the bone.

    This is my gift to humanity. This is my gift to my children. My heart rattles against my rib cage as the dog team slows to a stop.

  • January 13, 2016 at 8:30 am
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    Hunt

    Dean Hardage © 2016

    The hunts were occurring more and more frequently. Jeff climbed into the cockpit of his ship and ran through the startup procedures. The turbines spun up to an ultrasonic whine, mostly filtered out by his headset.

    “This is Hunter 6, requesting clearance to take off. Flight plan zero four six beta. Priority launch.”

    The controller’s voice came across the headset, “Hunter 6, cleared for immediate launch.”

    “Roger.”

    “Be careful Jeff,” came the less formal response from Becky in the control center. “It’s a big one this time.”

    “I will, don’t worry.”

    Jeff snugged up his harness, took the controls and pushed the throttle forward. The ducted exhaust of the turbines lifting the craft vertically until it rose to the altitude necessary to clear all of the structures, turned until it was on course and accelerated forward and shifted to normal forward flight. He climbed upward until he cleared the cloud layer and reached the jet stream. Using its velocity he was able to reach his target area well ahead of schedule. He switched on the instrument package attached to the ship’s belly and began his search pattern. All quiet so far.

    The flight remained uneventful for the next two hours and Jeff made the nearly fatal mistake of letting the quiet lull him into inattentiveness. An alarm whooped and his craft was suddenly caught in a wind shear that caused it to lose several thousand feet of altitude in only a few moments. In the midst of his hunt the prey had turned and attacked. He fought with the yoke, desperately trying to regain control of his craft and the altitude he had lost. For a moment it seemed that the turbulent air would defeat him and smash his craft into the ground but he pulled out and up with almost nothing to spare.
    Jeff was able to maneuver through the various layers of the vortex using the information from the instrument package.
    Climbing through the outer wall he was finally able to penetrate to the eye into relatively still air.

    “You gave me a good fight but now it’s my turn,” Jeff said, addressing the vortex as if it were a living thing.

    He allowed the on-board computer to set his course while he checked and armed the missiles mounted in pods under each wings. The screen lit up with a circular course with waypoints marked along it. Each one indicated a firing point, sixteen in all. The course ran him back into the swirling, dangerous air of the wall but it was unavoidable. Gritting his teeth, he set the firing controls on automatic and turned to match the course the computer provided.

    He hit the wall and his aircraft bucked against his control. Though the actual power for the control surfaces was hydraulic the feedback system made it an actual physical struggle to keep to the marked course. He was surprised when the first missile fired but didn’t let that distract him from his task. The ship bounced up and down, his harness bruising where it held him firmly in his seat. As he struggled and fought the computer kept firing the missiles as they passed through each waypoint. A loud beep signaled that all of them had been fired and Jeff grinned tightly. He triggered the rocket assist and the craft jetted out of the wall of swiftly moving turbulence and into clear air.

    Using the additional thrust to his best advantage Jeff climbed to the maximum altitude the ship could reach and turned so he could observe the vortex and insure his hunt was successful.The missiles had all reached their targets and dispersed their payload. Thousands of microexplosives were now swirling about in the rapidly growing vortex. Left unchecked, it would become a storm of epic proportions but that would not be allowed to happen. As Jeff looked on all of the tiny bomblets detonated simultaneously. Their concussions interacted with one another and created an incredibly strong shock wave that completely disrupted the vortex, collapsing it in on itself until it disappeared leaving only a few clouds in its wake.

    “That was a close one.”

    Jeff was thankful that he’d succeeded. The storm would have devastated much of what was left of the populated portion of the nation. The effects of climate change had rendered so much land unusable that only a narrow band of the once thriving nation was habitable. The Hunters’ responsibility was to insure that nothing happened to that remaining portion. Jeff had once again fulfilled his mission and headed back to the base.

    “Hunter 6, this is base. Land, refuel, and reload. We have another one for you.”

    “Here we go again,” Jeff thought. He winged his way back to the base knowing his hunts would never end.

  • January 14, 2016 at 6:01 pm
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    Ducks in a Pond
    By Alice Nelson ©2016

    My name is Brenda Spencer, I’m sixteen years old, and today I’m gonna be famous. Mark this day down in the history books bitches, ‘cause January 29, 1979, is a day everybody’s gonna remember —oh yes it is.

    It’s Monday, and it’s freakin’ cold, so I ain’t goin’ to school. But I don’t need no excuse to not go to school, I hate it; and when it’s cold nobody’s gonna make me leave my house so I can sit in some boring class, listening to some boring teacher, tell me things I don’t care about.

    Since Mom and Dad split, none of ‘em seem to care too much about what I do anyway. And mom…well, she left me here to live in this shitty house with Dad, like we don’t exist no more. I don’t think she ever liked me anyway; she used to look at me like she was scared of me.

    I don’t care though, fuck em, fuck em both. After today, I’m gonna be so famous I won’t need any of ‘em.

    I live across the street from Cleveland Elementary, a shitty little school in this shitty little town. I went there when I was a kid, hated it then like I do now.

    Oh here they come, the little angels on their way to school. Every day I watch these brats come and go, with their Moms and Dads actin’ all lovey-dovey. My folks used to be like that too when I was their age, “Don’t get used to it brats, it don’t last!” Ha, ha, they didn’t hear me, but they’ll hear me soon. I’m gonna make the news, and not just here in this little Podunk town, but all over.

    That weatherman said that today’s gonna be the coldest day of the whole year, maybe that means somethin’. Maybe it’s like some kinda sign that this is the right day to make my claim to fame —could be.

    There’s that principal guy again; every day he opens that stupid gate and lets the brats in. He always has that dopey smile on his face, like an idiot. Soon, he won’t be smilin’, none of ‘em will.

    Dad gave me this Ruger 22 rifle for Christmas, he even got a telescopic sight and a ton of ammo. He thought we’d just use it to go huntin’; I’m huntin’ alright, but it’s huntin’ of a different kind. Bet he never thought I’d do anything like this with it. What better way to get people’s attention? ‘Caus ya gotta do somethin’ big to get famous; and this will be big alright.

    More kids and that dopey principal, now’s a good time to start.

    Look at her, cute little pig tails and that pink backpack, she’ll be my first. Wow, she went down hard. There’s another one, this is cool. Look at dopey principal guy; fucking hero trying to save the kids. Ooh, he won’t be a hero anymore. Where’d that cop come from, I hate cops. Ha, ha one pig down.

    Pop, pop, more down. Now some janitor is trying to help, ‘oh yeah dude, take that.’ Ha, ha, this is a blast. I got enough rounds to shoot at these fools all day.

    Oh shit, I can hear the sirens now. Cool, soon the news people will be here and I’ll be on TV everywhere. Wonder if Mom and Dad will watch?

    Here comes some ambulances now, and they’re making all the neighbors leave. Good, hated them anyway.

    Who’s that calling me? Police probably got mom or dad on the phone to try and make me surrender. Should I answer it? I guess.

    “Hello?”

    “Who is this?”

    “A reporter? How’d you get my number?”

    “Why’d I do it? I don’t know. I ain’t got no reason, I just did it for the fun of it. ‘Cause I don’t like Monday’s and this livens up the day. It’s fun, like shooting ducks in a pond. No more questions, I have to go now, I shot a pig, I think I want to shoot more.”

    Look at that pig with a megaphone, tryin’ to talk me into comin’ out. “If I come out, I’m coming out shootin!’” Ha ha, that’ll show ‘em.

    I’ll just stay in here a few more hours, the cops ain’t going nowhere, and neither are the reporters. Just spell my name right, that’s all I ask.

    It’s been a while now, ain’t no fun no more. I’ll walk out with my hands up, cops won’t kill a kid, I think, even if I did just shoot all them people.

    I’m gonna finish my beer, then I’ll head out. As soon as I walk out that door, I’m gonna be famous.

    Breaking Story: “There’s been a shooting at Cleveland Elementary School, in the quiet
    community of San Carlos. Sixteen year old Brenda Spencer is the alleged shooter. So
    far, there are two dead, and 9 wounded. After a 7 hour standoff with police, Spencer
    surrendered without incident. When asked why she committed the shooting, she simply
    said that she hated Mondays. Back to you Ted.”

    ___________________________

    Guess I got my fame; didn’t last though. Been in the joint for over 30 years, now I’m an old lady and nobody really remembers me.

    Sure, I guess I deserve to be here after shootin’ those people.

    Would I do it again?

    …I don’t know.

  • January 16, 2016 at 3:14 am
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    The Star Hunter

    The Sun shone bright today after a ten day sabbatical. The latest cold wave has hit the people hard. Seven year old Beeru’s house was in the upper reaches of the “Queen of Mountains” – Mussoorie, in a small hamlet called Hathi Paon, literally, Elephant’s Foot. The 50-odd houses there clustered together as if for warmth.

    Beeru’s house was made of timber like the others’ and a small open backyard, with wild bushes as fencing, stood between the house and the vertical drop of the cliff. They were greeted by the rising sun every morning.

    Beeru has been worried sick for two days now. His puppy is missing and he has searched for it everywhere – in the streets, near his school and in the forest trail for hours but to no avail.

    Now that the extreme chill was better, Beeru and his grandmother have resumed sitting in the backyard at nights on their cot, snuggling in their thick quilt, looking up at the bright stars. His grandmother always told him magical stories of animals, kings, and mountains.

    Last night, she told him the legend of a man whose wish came true when he caught a falling star. The poor man desperately wanted to buy a cow. He took the fallen star to the King of Mussoorie and in turn, was presented with a bag of gold coins. The legend said that the poor man not only bought two cows with the money but also built a sturdy house too, and lived happily ever after.

    And that was the last thought before Beeru fell asleep. He too needed to catch a falling star because he still has not found his puppy. His parents assured him they have been regularly searching for it on their way to and back from their farm land. His grandmother told him that his puppy will come back on its own soon. But nothing assured him.

    He pestered his grandmother to tell him how to identify a fallen star. Busy doing her work, she gave him a vague answer that it glittered and shone with light.

    Early next morning, Beeru ran outside to the nearby waterfalls. He wanted to wash his face but something shining caught his eye. He went closer to see that it was a small sharp edged rock that shone as if it was lit from inside. He quickly ran back home and showed it to his grandmother.

    “Dadi (grandmother), I found the star.”

    “What?”

    Beeru silently held up the rock for her inspection.

    She shook her head, “No, son. This is a lava rock,” and went back to her work.

    That day, Beeru took a longer route back home via the forest. Light and dark patches on the forest floor played hide and seek with him. He found a grass-less patch and squatted down to examine it.

    Beeru saw that the soil was loose and glittered. He quickly emptied his lunch box that contained half-eaten parantha and filled it with the sparkling soil. Beeru ran back home and woke up his grandmother.

    “Dadi, see this.”

    Dadi slowly sat up and looked inside the box. She kissed Beeru’s cheek and said, “Son, this is not what you think it is.” Then getting up, she hurried him to change his clothes and eat something.

    But Beeru did not want to eat. He was sorry that the glittering soil came to be nothing. He slowly walked to the fence and poured it out. As it fell down, the mica in the soil caught the sun light and shone bright. His puppy was still missing and he felt like crying.

    Two more days went by. His routes back home kept getting longer and more winding. He would examine any and everything that shone. Once he almost fell into the road side runnel trying to grab at a piece of glass. One time, he found a piece of glitter paper. Another day, Beeru came back holding a leaf that held a dancing drop of water. His grandmother, like always, smiled and ruffled his hair but said nothing. Beeru was now habituated to feeling disappointment.

    The whole time in school the next day, Beeru neither talked to anyone nor ate anything. He tried hard not to cry. He could not bear it anymore and ran away from school. He reached the forest with tears streaming down his cheeks. He huddled near the base of a tall pine and cried hard for his puppy. The legend did not come true in his case.

    Reaching home, he stood in his room. He thought he heard a strange noise. For a second, his hopes were high. He rushed to the backyard. He found his Dadi snoring away on the cot in the sun.

    The next morning, he was woken up by a sound. He strained hard to listen. It was the same noise like yesterday, he realized. But disappointment filled him again. It cannot be what he hoped it would be, he thought. Trying hard not to cry, he slowly got up from his bed. He heard his Dadi calling him to the backyard. The door was open and bright sunlight was streaming in.

    Beeru froze. There stood his puppy silhouetted in the doorway. Hoping against hope, he ran to pick it up to see if it was for real or not. He heard his Dadi saying, “See, your puppy has come back.”

    He felt overwhelmed. His eyes were filled to the brim but his lips trembled with a tiny smile. His grandmother caught a tear drop with the tip of her finger and held it up against the Sun.

    “Beeru, see this.” The tear drop shone like a spark of light.

    “This is your star. It was inside you all the time.”

    Beeru tried to understand what she meant.

    “It was your heartfelt wish that brought your puppy back.”

    Silently, he tightened his arms around the puppy and closed his eyes. His star hunt has finally ended.

  • January 16, 2016 at 8:42 pm
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    Hunt

    It had snowed a good foot, four days ago. Maybell stood at the window peeking through the blinds, wondering what on earth her neighbors across the street were up to now. It seemed like a used car lot over there at times, often they were in and out, surely they were up to something.

    Each day for the last four days at precisely six P.M. a young girl would pull in the drive, get out, find a shovel and dig in the snow. Sometimes she would forego the shovel and get down on all fours. Maybell couldn’t decide if she was hiding something or hunting for something. Either couldn’t be good.

    ~ ~ ~

    Carla was headed out of town the day it started snowing. She packed her car and drove away without saying anything to anyone. A day later when she returned home, she still didn’t want to say anything about what had happened. Everyday after work she would come home and hunt through a section of snow beside the drive way. Each afternoon it seemed someone shoveled more snow on top of where she’d already looked the day before. Making it harder to remember where she’d hunted, but she picked a spot and dug as much as she could.

    ~ ~ ~

    Maybell stationed herself at the window, watching, waiting for most of the afternoon, if only it would warm up, then maybe she could go investigate things further. Maybell sure would like to know what treasure was hidden beneath the snow. The girl seemed more determined with each passing day.

    ~ ~ ~

    Carla finally had to tell her parents, things at work were heating up. Something had to be done and soon, or it would cost her big time. They agreed and joined her cause.

    ~ ~ ~

    Maybell noticed more people out poking in the snow. There must be something awfully good out there, or maybe something harmful. Oh dear, might she dare guess. Suddenly everything stopped for a few days. She carefully tip toed across the street, did a little snooping around. At the sound of a loud thud, she took off for home before really finding anything.

    ~ ~ ~

    Carla had picked up extra work for the weekend and her parents had gone out of town for a few days. Today it was snowing once again. Carla didn’t know what she was going to do. Her boss was not happy about the situation, threatening to make her pay. That night when her parents returned home they talked it over, something more drastic would be done tomorrow if it wasn’t snowing.

    ~ ~ ~

    Maybell had been watching for two weeks now. The neighbors still seemed to be hunting through the snow. Today the sun was shinning, the temperatures much warmer, she watched as the older adults filled a wheelbarrow full of snow from one side of the driveway and dumped it on the other side. They went about this several times before taking a new approach. Maybell stuck her nose against the window, to better see them poking a stick here and there. Some discussion took place between the two, then the missus went inside and the mister started shoveling the drive behind one of the cars. He let out a whoop, did a jig and went inside.

    Carla got home from work hoping the lost had been found. Her dad did indeed have great news, though it was beyond him how she could have lost them out of her pocket, in one short trip to the car and back into the house. Her mom had told him where Carla was parked before they had vanished, he had dug around and found them merely an inch under the shovel Carla had planted in the snow on the side of the driveway. Carla was so thankful. Her boss would be relieved they’d recovered the keys, now she wouldn’t have to pay to have the store re-keyed.

    ~ ~ ~

    The next sunny day, Maybell was out on her rounds. She stopped across the street last. She checked every hole they had dug, to no avail, not one single mouse or rabbit. Carla saw Maybell and gave her a pat,”Sorry old gal, Can’t help you with your hunt today. Go inside and get warm. Now be a good cat and run along home.”

  • January 17, 2016 at 5:12 am
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    Odyssey
    A couple of rats were found in the premises. They had tried conventional methods and used new technology, but the rats nibbled away wires, got their food and were a general menace. The scientists needed to get rid of them. They would breed and cause disturbance to the inhabitants of this new planet Orbio, which had the potential of being the next earth. Plus, Orbio had other flaws.

    Humans of every race and creed worked here. But some of the inhabitants had grown temporary canine teeth; some had claw like fingers and toes; whiskers and hairy bodies like apes. This happened only to a few because of imuno-deficiency to genetically engineered foods and didn’t last long as yet. The rats were immune to any changes. They remained RATS.
    This earth like planet was tough and tested human endurance. Yet they tore their hair over the rat problems. This could be the result of their fear from the time they lived on earth. Apart from this the rats weren’t getting exterminated through old and newly developed methods.

    Brix one of the key scientists, paced about his earthly abode thinking of a solution. He sat by the window to gaze at the beautiful garden that he had developed. His cat was hunting and had found a rat. “RAT, oh my god, I have the answer.” Now to convince his wife!

    His wife was furious. “I have tolerated all your quirks and crazy ideas. Now you say the planet you’re working on is to be liveable for humans, you want OUR CAT should go there to eat the rats! How can you risk his life?”
    “No Darling, you don’t understand, a spacesuit will be built for him. He will be safe all he has to do is to kill those rats before they start breeding; maybe they already have…

    “Then I’m coming with you!”

    “I’ll have to get permission; I guess you could be useful to us.”

    The family and their cat were trained for max fitness. Felix was calm; he had heard the key word ‘rat’, and he knew he was going to have gourmet time.

    Finally after 45 days of travel in hibernation, they reached Orbio, and once Brix swiped the card, a huge door opened for them. They were led to their quarters, and they rested for a few days to adjust to the temperature and climate of the planet. The cat was unusually resilient and ran about the place in their quarters.
    .
    Brix’s work would start once the other technicians completed the workshops. So he decided to try and develop his hothouse here. He had completed with iceberg lettuce, and a rose without a thorn.

    A month passed, but Brix was not ready to risk sending Felix, just yet, he might turn into another animal. Suddenly his wife’s comments rang true, what if something happened to Felix? Brix was eager for his scientific work to start. He team was to make a colony for the earthlings. , They had to work on removing the nits in the system.

    The future colonies would be for the ‘rich and famous’, who would want conditions like they had on Earth, but without the pollution and troubles of earth life– gun problems, corruption. Trump and their ilk etc. would be ancient; there would be nothing to fight for. It would be like being a member of a prestigious club.

    As for food; Robot Chefs would be assigned for each person. Robots were being conditioned to cook every cuisine possible. Cynthia was a Nutritionist and became part of that team.

    But one thing he was sure of was that ‘earthians’, as they would be called, wouldn’t tolerate rats.

    Felix was ready now for the test of killing the huge rats. Brix took him on a long leash so he could go, but wasn’t eaten by any human turned animal. He told Felix, “You take care, we love you.” Felix said, “Meow”

    They reached the rat zone and there were plenty of them roaming around. But strangely enough Felix wasn’t excited. He turned to Brix and opened his mouth, but there was no meow.

    And lo behold he spake : You can’t expect me to kill anything. I’ve turned vegan and don’t even have milk, but a veg burger would be fine. I’m hungry”

    ”What have you gone crazy and how is that you can speak?,” This was a first, in Orbio experience.

    “I’m as human as you are.”

    “You’re not, but you talk, how is that possible!?!”

    “Well don’t keep asking me silly questions, let’s have a tete a tete and discuss politics. I’ve been watching a lot of the News shows you see, and by the way Donald Trump really sucks. I’m from Mexico and he would get me go back.”
    “What am I to do now the seniors will have my hide?” Brix stuttered

    “Then let’s leave and go home.” Felix replied.

    “Maybe we would have to; this whole trip was a waste of time.”

    “Sorry Brix, Dad! Can I call you dad?”
    “No, Okay actually you can!” It made him feel happy like he was a parent. And now, Felix could speak.

    His wife unaware of all this though had another grouse, “It’s Valentine’s Day and there are no malls here. What could you buy me here?”

    “Oh Cynthia, I have something, you haven’t seen before. Just wait a minute. And he picked one of the packed boxes. The other was for his Officer.

    “What’s this you have brought me? I know I’m just a slave, meant for cooking and cleaning…” she cried out.
    Surprised he looked at the box. Oh no, the iceberg lettuce pack! “Oh I’m sorry, just a minute.”!” He brought the rose pack over to her. The iceberg lettuce was another of his projects to grow food, instead if eating frozen, microwave food.

    Cynthia was thrilled. The jewel like rose, glistened and shone in the muted light of their living quarters. “Oh wow that’s so beautiful. Oh darling I love you.”

    He told Cynthia, Felix refused to eat the mice. “That’s strange he so loves to hunt.”

    “But here he doesn’t. He says he’s turned vegan. And he has started behaving strangely. He is talking like you and me.”
    “Gosh, I think that’s dangerous,” Then Cynthia muttered to herself, “he knows a bit too much, how I spend the money on clothes and on gambling.”

    “We have to go back,” She told her husband, “get permission.”

    “We have it. I have to stay there for a while. The team wants me to lab test on humans and animals to check whether mutations occur in Orbio like conditions.

    They left Orbio back to earth once more in hibernation to save energy, and in a trice – Felix ran and caught a rat.

    “Oh you stupid cat Felix you’re a pain, why couldn’t you do this on Orbio.”

    Meow” Felix replied.

  • January 17, 2016 at 8:19 pm
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    Jungle Sniper

    ‘This filthy jungle war,’ growls Rhett for the umpteenth time tonight to no one in particular, balling his sweating hands into fists, while his warm beer squats on the floor between his booted feet.
    This is the third time in a month he endures hearing the torturing of a fellow soldier at the hands of the same guerrilla group.
    He picks up his beer for another swig.
    ‘Eleven lost lives,’ pausing to reckon up the time span. ‘Yep, in just twenty three days, eleven!’

    He remembers Jack and Bluey, gone; and in the most horrendous way possible.
    Both men were part of a small task-force enlisted to search and destroy.
    Bluey, red haired and freckled was a good sport and valued soldier.
    Jack, a strapping lad from the bush, was reliable under fire. He enjoyed the camaraderie among the men and drew strength from it to face the difficulties encountered on this mission.
    Rhett held hopes of him getting rank promotion.
    But on separate foot patrol missions Jack and Bluey were injured survivors when their unit walked into an ambush set by an enemy skilled in jungle warfare along the tree-lined trails.
    Both men had been captured by a group of guerrilla fighters led by a notoriously cruel leader.

    This afternoon Tim has been out on his first ‘search and destroy’ operation. The only enemy the small group encounter are the ever buzzing flies and mosquitoes when suddenly the air explodes…
    He was conscripted, and is into his fourth week in ‘Nam and more recently attached to this task-force.
    The hostile jungle environment is no holiday resort for a twenty one year old fresh from rural Australia.

    Another bloodcurdling scream breaks Rhett from his reverie and he glances around at his mates.
    All of them have endured this at least once if not twice now.
    Every half hour blood curdling screams carry across the steamy night air just three hundred metres from the Unit bunker.
    The men know only too well that Tim is enduring a night of systematic torture to his whole body.
    In the morning the grotesquely mutilated victim is released and sent sobbing and screaming back towards his Unit.
    He never staggers more than several metres before spilling onto the ground, gasping his last ragged breaths, eyes staring at them lidless, fingernails missing, fingers fractured and the body’s torso horrendously mutilated.

    The guerrilla group is attempting to demoralise the soldiers.

    With each renewed crescendo of screaming the soldiers’ collective rage intensifies to flash point.
    Inside the bunker men are battling the fierce urge to head out and rescue their mate.
    Agonising hours drag by and the men give up trying to distract themselves with beer drinking and a game of Back Alley Bridge. Dejected they slink into their beds to spend the last hours of darkness wrestling with their nightmares.

    About two weeks ago Rhett had made a mental note to stand by Tim if things get too rough. He is feeling rotten now at the helplessness of this situation.
    ‘The lad doesn’t deserve it.’
    He battles with every fibre of his being the urge to attempt a rescue, knowing very well that this is the enemy’s tactic. Their snipers will be training their rifle scopes on the bunker entry and surrounds at this very moment.
    To go out there now would only bring certain death to the hapless soldier and possibly to many others too.
    But let’s face it; the diggers of the Great War were wonderful examples of looking out for your mates in the face of extreme danger.
    It’s the Aussie way.
    Rhett listens most of the night to the screaming, struggling with the consequences of what he is about to do. He mentally pictures the terrain between him and the enemy, the rocks, trees, walking trails and he decides.

    ‘It will be good hunting.’

    He possesses the extreme patience and mental fortitude necessary for a sniper. It enables him to enter enemy territory, wait, listen and be constantly alert.
    Tonight requires different tactics and he cannot afford to make a mistake. He must anticipate his quarry and aim for the one shot, one kill.
    Using the pretext of needing the bathroom Rhett is able to get to the bunker entry without challenge, sniper rifle and scope in hand. Once outside, under cover of darkness Rhett slides and eases his body along the edge of the bunker bending low.
    The screaming deepens his resolve to go through with his plan to take out the tormentors.

    One sliding step.
    Stops
    Listens

    Rhett senses rather than hears.
    He stiffens, tightens the slack of his finger on the trigger, and holds his breath hoping for concealment among the long grass standing tall in front, relieved to know the racing clouds are giving him cover.

    Time stops.

    He stays motionless moving his eyes only to sweep the area around him, trying to pick out where the danger is lurking.
    An almost imperceptible movement appears in his right periphery. He trains his eyes in that direction. Then he sees it, the outline of a man just two metres to his right, stealthy, barely moving, pausing to test the air, sniffing for any signs of enemy presence.
    Rhett holds himself still and waits.

    Another blood curdling scream pierces the night air and in that moment of distraction Rhett aims his rifle, eyeballs his scope cross hairs, shifting the sniper rifle ever so slightly to the right focusing it directly over the heart.
    He stops dead.
    This is no enemy.

    The Sergeant had been keeping an eye on Rhett and now he was risking his life to bring his sniper back inside and to save the lives of his men.
    ‘Rhett, you have allowed your heart to take over from your head. I want that guerrilla gang destroyed as much as you do.’
    He placed his arm firmly around Rhett’s shoulders, ‘Your assignment begins in two days.’

    There was no need for further words. Rhett understood.

  • January 19, 2016 at 3:45 pm
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    Rocky and Buster: By Ty Mason

    The same as a farmer watches the weather and pays attention to the its conditions, so does a good hunter. As a matter of fact many a good farmer has been known as a good hunter too. One of those farmers was Rocky who lived on the farm he lived on all his life. The barn was directly in back of the house protecting it from the fierce southwest winds coming from the direction of the farms two-hundred acre field and pasture. On the other side of the house, across the dirt road, stood a large southwest facing hillside covered in a mix of spruce, fir, and hemlocks bearing their needles all year, but also scattered with beech and maple. From the time Rocky was a young boy following the Cold War, he hunted that hillside and got to the point where he knew that hill and the woods beyond well.

    Rocky was resilient, as most farmers are. As he aged, he came to know how to adjust himself quickly to the changes of weather. He would get up at four every morning and go to the window in the dining room facing the barn. Before having breakfast at the table in front of the old, black cast-iron wood-stove, he would simply wave his hand in front of that window. Being single-pane glass, that was all he needed to take an educated guess of what the current temperature was and how the weather might turn out that day. By five in the morning he was in the barn milking.

    When deer hunting season came around, Rocky hired a relief milker so he could take his only vacation of the year and go deer hunting. During those two weeks and three weekends he spent every minute of the daylight hours in the woods tracking and stalking deer.

    Knowing how to handle weather conditions for crops also gave Rocky an edge on his deer hunting skills. He got his deer almost every year with his Remington pump-action rifle. In all his years of hunting, he had learned much about deer patterns, how to figure out what deer do in different weather conditions and he learned about the deer on that hill. He usually came to know those deer individually. He even named some. One of those deer, he named Buster. The reason for this was that Buster was so smart, he would always bust the hunter.

    There was a cat and mouse game between Rocky and Buster that went on for seven years. Usually, Buster had busted Rocky so much that toward the end of the season, Rocky would settle for another buck to fill the freezer and get back on Buster’s track the following year. Rocky came to know Buster on a stormy day late one deer season. He saw the size of the buck’s track and though he hadn’t seen this buck in the flesh yet, was impressed by the buck from the start. Rocky thought about him frequently through the following year, knowing he was going to be even bigger the next fall.

    Buster was already the king of the woods. No other buck matched and Rocky knew it as well as Buster did. Rocky also knew that anyone who thinks that animals can’t think is not a farmer or a hunter. Tracking Buster was unlike any other buck Rocky had ever brought down. That buck would study his surroundings the same as Rocky would study the tracks. There were a few times Buster knew someone was on his track. He would get to where he knew there were other deer and he would bump up all the others and they would all scatter. This would confuse the hunter and give Buster time to get away.

    One year, the weather was iffy and playing tricks that even an expert like Rocky had a hard time patterning the deer by. That was a year he didn’t get any deer for that reason. Earlier in the season he had passed up a couple smaller bucks because he was on Buster’s track. He wasn’t a trophy hunter, but it almost bothered him that a deer could outsmart him so often. He obsessed in that buck. One of the only times he ever saw Buster was on that funny weather year. Rocky was walking along a ravine when he heard a noise in the hardwoods. He watched carefully and saw movement behind a fallen log. What he was seeing was deer antlers. This was the first time he had seen Busters’ large rack. The buck knew to stay low and by the time he was at the end of that log, he was safely behind the crest of a hill. Then he bounded and was instantly out of the hunters sight.

    The hunt for Buster went on like this until one early spring day Rocky decided to scout the woods for any sign of the elusive buck. Rocky searched the woods until he came across a low spot at the top of the hill. In the dip where there were blown over trees, Rocky caught glimpse of a shiny object on the dark, wooded ground. He climbed through the blow-downs to get to the object. This was what he feared. He was looking at the antlered skull of the buck he had been after for so long. He died of old age early in the winter, knowing this by seeing his antlers still intact. There were sixteen points on that rack branching off thick main beams. He would never even know what Buster would have weighed or tasted like fresh off the pan.

    Out of this, Rocky learned an interesting lesson as he hung the antlered skull above the door in the old carriage shed. One can be as well-practiced at something as he can be, but in the end, something can trip them up or stump them. Rocky knew his woods, his deer and the weather, but Buster knew it even better.

  • January 20, 2016 at 8:21 am
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    The Long-Awaited Prize
    © Anika Madison 01/19/2016 (982 words)

    The Introductions:

    A booming sound comes out of a man named Lonzo, “You can’t hide forever Sid!”

    The name Lonzo was given to this man who stands at an intimidating six feet eight inches tall. He was given this name by his boss and mentor, Gunther because it means ready for battle. Gunther knows that Lonzo will always be ready when he is called to fight.

    Gunther only stands five feet seven inches tall, but he still has a menacing presence. It has been said that Gunther is connected to the mob. No one knows for sure and no one dares to ask.

    Lonzo knows that Sidero hates to be called Sid because it takes the power out of his name of evil. Sidero considers his to be a powerful name that strikes fear in people. He gave himself this name as a teenager and no one challenged him because of his dark evil presence.

    The Hunt:

    Sid runs into a run-down cabin to hide located deep into the woods where his captors took him. He can hear sounds of the brush moving when his kidnappers whisk by. The sounds are becoming louder and louder. Sid moves to the darkest corner hoping not to be discovered. Fortunately for him, the cabin is well hidden.

    When he feels it is safe, Sid runs in another direction towards the road. He manages to wave down a driver as he passes by. Sid drags the driver out of the car and takes off. His destination is a place where he thinks he will not be found. He will soon find out he is wrong.

    The Hunter(s):

    Lonzo, his right hand man Jim and his other men go back to their black van with tinted windows. Lonzo has four men with him, but the hunted man belongs to him. Sid owes him the money and had committed another big transgression that angered Lonzo and his boss Gunther. Lonzo has been waiting for the chance to finally get Sid for a long time.

    Three years ago, Sid sat down at a table of gamblers that he now wishes he hadn’t. After losing the game, Sid paid half of what he owed and left. Lonzo was one of the gamblers at that high stakes game. He allowed Sid to leave because he knew about his ability as an art thief. Sid was to lift a Monet from an art gallery to pay the other half of his debt.

    Sid knew that Lonzo and his boss Gunther would only force him into more thefts. Therefore, Sid shook Lonzo and Gunther’s hands in agreement, but went underground to escape any future dealings with them. He committed two of the greatest crimes against this menacing duo by not paying his debt and deceiving them. This made Lonzo look bad in front of his boss, which infuriated him. Now Sid’s greatest fear and Lonzo’s long-awaited moment have both come true as the two finally meet again.

    The long-awaited conclusion:

    Sid is speeding down the winding roads that circle the mountains where he was taken. Just as he gets to the bottom of the one of the mountains, he looks in his rear view mirror to see the black van of his captors. The road before him leads into a small town, so he makes a sharp right and takes the dirt road behind it.

    Sid manages to escape Lonzo and his men. He finds his way back to the main road and goes to a neighboring town. Sid parks behind a diner and orders a glass of water and a quick meal when he goes in. He sits in the farthest corner by the bathroom which is near a back door. As he finishes his meal, he looks up to see Jim looking around the diner. Sid quickly dashes towards the back door but finds it locked so he rushes into the bathroom.

    As Sid watches Jim’s boots pass each stall; he is doing his best not to make a sound. Jim goes to the stall next to him to use the bathroom. After the flush, Sid notices that Jim doesn’t leave right away. Thinking that this may be it, Sid decides to take a chance and dash out of the stall. He didn’t know that Lonzo and his men were inside of the diner ordering food. But before he makes that ill-fated decision, Jim leaves bathroom. Once Sid gets out of the stall, he sees that the bathroom window opens towards the back of the diner. Sid makes his way out of the window, gets into the car and takes off.

    Two days later, Sid is preparing to make an appearance at his high-school reunion. He has to go because a lucrative deal has been set by one of his customers with deep pockets. This customer happens to be an old classmate of his by the name of Andres who wants to purchase a very expensive piece of art from him. Sid told Andres that he is a high-end art buyer that is willing to give him a great deal because they are old classmates. Sid is actually offering a stolen piece from one of his past “jobs”.

    Everything goes well and Sid is on his way out, when he notices Lonzo coming in with his wife. Jim and Lonzo’s other men are not too far behind. Sid finds himself again, having to seek an escape route. This won’t be easy since the reunion is being held in a large room of a theatre owned by Lonzo.

    Sid looks at Andres who is staring back at him with a Cheshire grin. Sid knows he has been set up. The only way out of the room is out the front door where Lonzo and his men are currently located. The trap has been set and Lonzo goes to collect his long-awaited prize.

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