Once upon a Fall evening, a hunter traversed a long mountain pathway toward a village resting in the valley below. His gray-haired, wrinkled face displayed the disappointment of an unsuccessful day as he carried the tools of his trade in a bag carelessly slung over his slumping shoulders.
Dark clouds filled the sky as the hunter made his way, and rain poured down the mountain. The heavy rain soaked the hunter’s tattered clothes and muddied the path on which he walked. Although the storm made his path more dangerous, the hunter could not be deterred. He furrowed his brow and continued down the mountain.
The hunter took only three steps before the path slipped from beneath him, causing him to tumble down the slope like a ragdoll. At the climax of his fall, agonizing pain shot up his left leg causing him to cry out. He looked down the mountain to the distant light of the village. The hunter cried out for help, but only the thunder answered his call.
He could not make it to the village tonight, but perhaps he could find a place to tend to his wound. He scanned his surroundings, looking for any form of shelter. Unfortunately, the darkness of the storm made it impossible to see anything. When all hope seemed lost, a flash of lightning illuminated the mouth of a nearby cave. The hunter hobbled onto his good leg and limped toward his one chance of survival. His painful injury caused him to fall multiple times, but eventually, he stumbled into the cave.
Using materials from his bag, the hunter crafted a fire. Its flickering light allowed him to fully examine his injuries: a few scratches and a dislocated left knee. The hunter took a moment to bandage his external wounds, and he took another moment to relocate his knee. With a wince, a “pop,” and a grunt, it was finished.
The hunter rested his head against the cave wall. He watched as water poured over the mouth of the cave like a waterfall. He listened to the rolling thunder as he closed his eyes and rested.
An hour passed. The fire had dwindled to embers. The storm outside grew in ferocity. A powerful, unnerving bellow of something unknown pierced through the chorus of thunder. The hunter awoke, his heart racing. He fixed his eyes on the cave entrance.
He saw nothing.
He heard nothing.
But he felt something. He felt it reverberating in every bone of his body, every fiber of his being, telling him that something was close, and it was getting closer, telling him that he was not safe.
Several moments of agonizing silence passed. Flashes of lightning became the hunter’s only source of light. In the periods of darkness, the wounded hunter prayed that the next flash of light would not reveal the source of his dread.
When the lighting next struck, the hunter trembled. Something inhuman stood behind the wall of falling water at the entrance of the cave. It stood on four legs and towered over the hunter. Its canid head ducked low to fit its massive antlers into the cave. In its mouth, it held by the throat a freshly killed cow whose body dragged under the creature. Massive black claws, sharpened by experience, clicked on the cave floor as the creature walked.
The hunter’s breathing and heart rate accelerated. He could not run, so he sat completely still. The creature stopped walking. Dropping its kill, it sniffed the air. The hunter held his breath. The rumbling of the storm was silenced by the hunter’s beating heart. The beast lifted its head and opened its mouth slightly, revealing its terrible fangs. It swiftly turned its head to face the direction of the hunter. It crept closer until it stood over him. The hunter shut his eyes and hoped that his demise would be swift.
At dawn, the hunter awoke. The rageful storm was now replaced by the gentle sun whose light shone through the mountain trees and into the cave. The hunter panted and clutched his chest, relieved to have awoken from such a terrible dream. The brisk wind blew in and out of the cave, carrying with it a foul stench. The troubled hunter turned to find the source, and to his horror, there it sat; a bovine corpse picked clean of its meat.
Christian Turner was the winner of Sigma Tau Delta’s Flash Fiction Competition.