A Short Story by Donna Campbell
The moon’s light does not pierce the canopy to illuminate anything on the forest floor far below it. Lack of sight, though does not hinder my pursuit. My prey is not successful in their attempts to cloak themselves. Though the pair believe themselves to be silent and careful, each step they take crushes leaves and breaks twigs. Their steps broadcast their location with a resounding din. I am silent. They have no idea I am following as they follow their own quarry. I know they don’t know I follow, because they don’t believe I am here. I am impossible, at least they imagine I am impossible. The scent of the men mixed with scents of the forest and dirt, floats on the breeze and teases my hunger. Though my appetite urges me to close the gap between us, I slow down. I enjoy the hunt. I enjoy watching them in their proud ignorance. My focus closes in on the leader, the older of the men who moves his hand in signal to the younger that their target is in sight. I enjoy imagining the look on his face when he discovers he is not at the top of the hierarchy as he thinks he is.
This human and his kind insinuated themselves into the food chain; if they want to be the predator, they should know they can also be the prey. The older one lifts his long gun and looks through the scope to better see the bear eating berries in a small clearing. The moon is like a spotlight shining on her, fat and almost ready to sleep for the swiftly approaching winter. The season means nothing to me. I have nothing to prepare myself for. I am constant, the persistent predator and there is never a shortage of my preferred target.
There is malice in their hearts; I know because my own malevolence recognizes its kin. They hunt for sport as much as they hunt for food, perhaps more-so. They want the trophy as well as the meat. They are the kind who leave the blood from butchering on them for the trip home. They revel in their blood-stained hands and faces covered in smears of it. I will have a trophy too, but I will not leave a trace of blood. They will take pictures of themselves butchering the animal, their wide smiles and eyes the only white things on muddy bloody faces. I will remember every moment of my kill without the need of a souvenir. The difference between us, is they do not consider themselves to be evil. I will teach them they are, but the lesson will come too late for repentance. I might give them a moment of hope, then I will rip it from them. I am evil, I am punishment, I am death. I am pride, and I will destroy them.
The smaller and younger of the humans is breathing rapidly, his heart beats faster as adrenaline flows through his system. His scent increases and alerts the lumbering bear to his presence. She raises her head and looks around, I can’t tell if she sees them, but she knows they’re there. She runs faster than her large body seems capable of and is gone, back in the cover of the wood.
The older man releases a string of muttered curses and hits the young man on the shoulder. “Earl, I’m gonna get her. I want that bear. Her skin’s gonna make a great rug. Let’s go.” I should not be able to hear his whispered words, but nothing is concealed from my preternatural hearing.
Earl answers just as quietly, “It’s not even sun up yet, we’ll get ‘er, Stan. I’m not going home empty-handed. There’s not too many more chances. Imagine how proud Pop’ll be of us coming in with a prize that big. It’ll fill our freezers and then some.” Earl hangs his gun over his shoulder, next to his back pack and follows Stan toward the clearing.
I consider taking them there, in the small open space of the forest, so they can see me clearly before I rip them apart, but as Earl said, there is time. Whether they see me or not, they will be terrified, they will die, and they will feed me. There may be no joy in my life, but the gratification of ripping them to shreds, both ego and body is as close as I can get to happiness. The pursuit of happiness is not a true right; it is an imagined privilege. It makes humans think they are entitled to do more than live in balance with the world. They think they are superior to everything. While they chase happiness, they steal it from everything around them. I do not pursue happiness because I cannot attain it; but I do seek to rob them of any happiness they unrightfully capture.
As they stand in the moonlit space, I look at them. All humans look alike to me, they are nothing, but these two resemble one another enough so I can tell they are related. They have the same shade of brown hair, the same shaped jaw, the same broad shoulders, and the same timbre to their voices. The one called Stan is perhaps five years older than the other. The younger is on the cusp of manhood, he might look innocent to some, but I can see into his heart. I can see the pleasure he takes in the hunt, it is almost equal to the my own. The brothers both judge themselves to be noble providers for their family. I judge them otherwise and condemn them for it. They have hunted these woods throughout autumn and the summer and spring beforehand. They hunt now, not for need, but for desire, variety, and selfishness. They hunt to prove they are on the top of the food chain. They’re wrong, there is no top, it is a cycle. Every predator is preyed upon by something. I and my kind alone stand apart from it, on the outside choosing to kill with nothing to threaten us. Killing is my unalienable right.
Do they think because they stand upright it makes them king of this domain, of every place they dare set their feet? They are wrong, they should stay in their own territory if they want to be pretend sovereignty. At most they are regents, but I do not even grant them that title. The two men plod through the woods chasing the bear. They are completely unaware of the stag they pass. I watch him watch them, these men-who-would-be-kings. They’re just fools. They look silly communicating with gestures, ‘stop’, wait’, ‘look’. They may as well shout. The stag runs off, alerting every animal in his vicinity that there is danger. If I could, I would tell them, they are not in danger from these two today; the jesters will fall to me. I will relish the kill as I relish the chase.
Tracking them is easy, I let them walk ahead as I take my time. While a small part of my consciousness follows them by scent and sound, the rest of me reminisces. I have never known contentment. Contempt? Yes. Hate? Certainly. Love? Possibly. It was long ago, years, decades, another chapter of my story, and one I am not in the mood to remember now. Instead, I recall the infancy of my predatory life. I was still learning. I stood in the kitchen of my victim, sated for the moment. On the table, his coffee was still steaming and a newspaper waited to be read. The headline caught my attention, “Fourth Victim of Killer Found” I scanned the article, it took moments for me to read it. The bodies were found drained of blood and missing the hearts. People were terrified and calling me The Ex-sanguinater. Stupid little humans, naming me to fit me into a box and relieve their fear. I was proud to be noticed. Their fear filled me and gratified me like coitus. I have been noticed a few times over the years, I have been given several names, The Vampire Killer, The Eviscerater, and the Black Hills Stalker were a few. Thirty years ago, I was labeled a serial killer with yet another glib moniker. But I am not a serial killer, unlike those criminals, I can change my modus-operandi. These days, I do not leave a body behind, not even a drop of blood for the clever little scientist-cops. The only sign of my presence is the absence of one more vile human in a world of vile humans.
Earl and Stan have stopped again. Stan is gesticulating in a rapid and ridiculous manner as he points his younger brother to fresh bear scat. The pile invigorates them, and they start again following the trail of broken leaves the bear has left behind her. I too am reinvigorated. They would likely catch up to her in an hour or two, but dawn is coming sooner than that. The once black sky is indigo above the cover of trees; the unseen sun is just below the horizon. I have time still. I am fast. I can close the gap between us in an instant, but I want to have enough time to savor every moment. So, I will go in soon, but not just yet.
I deliberately break a branch beneath me. The game increases its intensity as the game I follow freeze, their noses up searching for the source of the sound. I take a step closer crushing leaves and twigs. Stan points and waves his hands like a television army sergeant to his soldiers. Earl pretends he understands the make-believe signs and looks toward me. Although both men look in my direction, their gazes pass over me. I will remain concealed until the moment I choose to be revealed.
I close in on them silently now. Their fear has faded as pride turns it into anticipation. Stan motions, “The bear is there.” He is pointing to a spot twenty-feet from where I now stand, and walks in that direction.
Earl nearly bumps into Stan’s back, he walks so closely behind him. His hands tremor from adrenaline and the boy takes his rifle from his back readying it for the kill he expects.
I break a thick branch in my hands and the crack is deafening to the brothers who once again stop. I toss a boulder and smash it into a tree thirty-feet behind them. They turn as one toward the sound. Their breathing is rapid, their hearts beat duel toccatas. If I had a heart, it would beat faster in expectancy. They are afraid now, they think they are surrounded. They correctly assume that they are in danger. I wait just long enough to let their fear abate slightly. Stan signs that they should continue walking, this time away from the last sound they heard. I growl and let it grow from a snarl to a roar. The uncanny sound fills the forest around the men.
They are pale, they do not freeze this time, they run. They run away from the roar toward what they hope is safety. There is no safety for them now. I fly upward and shoot ahead of them. I land and disclose myself to them. They have stopped running again, their escape is blocked. I am a fierce vision. There is nothing beautiful about me. I am dread incarnate. I pose and posture for them for thirty seconds, so they can take me in. Stan pees himself and drops his gun. His jaw is slack, his eyes are empty. He cannot fathom me. Earl lifts his gun toward me and shoots. He hits the tree to my left. His hands shake violently. He is trying to reload the rifle.
I smile. I laugh. I take Stan’s gun from the cowering quivering heap of flesh he has become. Taking Earl’s rifle from his wobbly hands, I give him Stan’s ready gun. Earl looks at it and me and the gun again. His brain is not making sense of the situation. I touch the point of the gun and lift it to point at my chest. I step back, open arms and act as if I will let him kill me. He is blubbering and seems not to know what to make of the object in his hands.
“Are you not a great hunter?” I ask. “Go ahead, use your little weapon. Defend yourself. I, at least give you the chance to do so.” The sound of my voice must be terrible. It makes me laugh more. Though I would like him to think I pity him, I do not.
Earl finally raises the gun at me on his own. His finger is on the trigger and he follows me with the barrel, the front site as level as he can manage aimed at my head.
I ignore him, walk to Stan, and bend down next to the crumpled man. “Get up! Look at me. Look into my eyes.”
He remains folded on the ground. I grab him and lift him so that as I stand his face is level with mine. He has no choice but to see me now, even through his closed eyes, I am a vision burning too bright. “Open your eyes.”
Astonishingly, he obeys and opens his eyes. He looks as if he is looking into the sun, his eyes squinting against my brutal visage.
I bare my many teeth, my fangs to him. This sight is not two pearly white sharp canines in a mouth of beautiful straight teeth, there are hundreds of them, sharp and pointed in multiple directions and varying shades of white, yellow, and gray.
Earl finally fires the rifle and misses me, though he is standing perhaps five feet from me. Why he has not run, I don’t know. I assume fear turns muscle to jelly and sense to idiocy.
I turn my attention back to Stan. I am holding him with just one arm and I extend it in a show for Earl. I take my free hand and punch it into his chest, his ribcage shatters and his lungs explode. His brain is alive for seconds as he watches me take the first bite from his heart. I drop Stan, I’ll come back to him in a minute. Earl has finally become a bit more rational.
He’s running. Ah, bliss! I walk behind him, faster than he can run. I am singing Teddy Bear’s Picnic, a song I knew once in another life. “If you go down in the woods today you're sure of a big surprise. If you go down in the woods today you'd better go in disguise. For every bear that ever there was will gather there for certain. Because today's the day the Teddy Bears have their picnic.” I catch him. I embrace him, and he faints in my arms becoming a rag doll. I am patient. I keep singing, “Every Teddy Bear who's been good is sure of a treat today. There's lots of marvelous things to eat and wonderful games to play. Beneath the trees where nobody sees they'll hide and seek as long as they please.”
Earl wakes up. I pull him in closer to me and continue our erotic song and dance. “The little Teddy Bears are having a lovely time today. Watch them, catch them unawares and see them picnic on their holiday.” I smile at Earl and allow my smile to widen breaking my face open. My jaws separate. I take delight in the look of horror on his face and the whimper escaping his lips and I bite into his neck. I drink slowly cherishing every drop. Before he loses consciousness and succumbs, I sing, “If you go down in the woods today you better not go alone. It's lovely down in the woods today but safer to stay at home. For every bear that ever there was will gather there for certain. Because today's the day the Teddy Bears have their picnic.” My song is finished but I am not. No prey has ever escaped me, and none ever will. “Come, Teddy Bear. Your end is here.”
I drop the dead man when I hear a voice smash through my head. “Aren’t you a great hunter? I’ve been hunting you, you pathetic puny creature. It is time for our fun to end.”
I turn and see it. It is ghastly, appalling and somehow inexplicably appealing. Its hair is a bright constantly moving mane. Its eyes are burning coals sunk deep into its colorless face. It smiles, and the smile grows larger and larger until it splits its face open to reveal row after row of long sharp teeth.
I am destroyed.