Excerpt from “The Monster in the Woods”

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As the fire crackled, the soft meat of their meal began to sizzle, sending a sweet scent into the air that enticed the men. Their mouths began to water while their lunch neared preparedness.

Right before Adar instructed his son to take the fish away from the flame, they heard the snapping of twigs near the pond. Each man picked their heads up when they first caught the sound and snatched up their bows, pulled an arrow from resting quivers and drew.

The men scanned the woods, eyes trying to focus and see the source of the interruption. Movement grabbed their attention and each spotted a buck slowly making his way to the pond, presumably to get a drink.

Normally, a single buck would signal no threat and the hunters would relax but the animal did not move in a typical fashion and the instincts of the woodsmen kept them alert. The creature seemed to limp and labor with none of the typical agility and balance that a deer normally possessed. The men didn’t move a muscle and breathed slowly as they studied the animal. It stumbled as it tried to clear a fallen log and fell to its knees. It laid on the forest floor for a moment before crawling with a cry to its feet once more and finally reached the water. Once there it fell to its front knees and drank slowly and deeply from the cool pond.

“What’s wrong with it father?” Durbar wondered.

“I’m not sure, son.”

“It looks wounded.”

“I agree, but that means something might yet be tracking it.”

Adar shot his son a glance and then motioned towards the buck with his head and they split up then crept silently in opposite directions to circle around the buck. The animal was on the opposite side of the pond and it took the men a few minutes to flank around the animal. The hunters were worried. Deer were normally very alert, especially when getting water in the open like this one was, but the buck did not notice them. The animal sunk further to the ground and laid on its side taking a break from drinking as though it took much effort.

The men were near enough to see the animal much closer and they watched as it breathed shallow and quick, its side rising and falling rapidly, matted with sweat and what they figured was blood. Typically a healthy deer would have detected the hunters by then but this one did not seem to even be aware of its surroundings.

Durbar stood back several yards away and just watched, but Adar lowered his bow and drew a dagger from his belt then crept closer; pushing his way past some brush. The buck didn’t even budge as though he was in a world removed from the forest pond. The hunter looked up to his son and noticed the young man’s eyes were wide. Adar stood above the animal and when the buck did not even flinch he motioned for his son to approach with a wave.

Durbar also lowered his bow and stepped to the animal and his father. When he reached it, he saw the wounds on its back. There were deep cuts across its back that had not healed. The woodsmen could see and smell that they were infected and could see the animal’s eyes were clouded over.

“Father, what happened to this buck?”

Adar hesitated, eyes darting side to side. “I’m not sure son. It was obviously attacked but these wounds are not like anything I’ve seen. At least not anything I’ve seen in a long time.”

Now Durbar hesitated and searched for the right question. “What does that mean, Father?”

“It means that something large and deadly attacked this animal.”

They each stared at the poor creature while it breathed in short gasping breaths. Flies buzzed around it, already sensing it would not last much longer.

“It’s dying,” the younger hunter suggested.

“Aye, it is,” the elder confirmed.

“What do we do?”

“We end its suffering,” Adar declared as he pulled his dagger across the animal’s throat.

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