chill/chilling · Dan's stories · February

The Hunted

By Dan Seavers

THE snow lay thick on the ground. It came up to the knees of the boy as he waded from tree to tree, gathering whatever wood he could find. He held the branches to him as if they were his greatest treasure.

He kept his head down, protecting his face from the bitter wind. So he didn’t see the sky darkening as night loomed. Or the two people approaching from beyond the next hill.

“That’s quite a gathering you have,” one voice said. The boy jumped, dropping his kindling, and he pulled a small knife from his pocket. It was barely more than a makeshift shiv, a piece of broken glass bound to a stick.

He turned and looked at the two strangers.

They were obviously twins, though of differing sex. They both had pale skin, barely darker than the snow. Their hair was thin and white, the man’s shaved almost to the scalp, whilst the woman’s was long, tied into a pony tail that lay on her left shoulder. Their eyes were grey like ice.

But the most discerning were the thin veins of vivid blue that threaded under their skin, dividing their faces directly in half. On the man, it was his left side. On the woman, her right. So they were but a mirror of one another. The lines continued down their necks, disappearing under their thick fur coats.

“You don’t need to do that” the woman said. She smiled. Her teeth were as bleached as the rest of her. “We’re here to help.”

“I don’t know you,” the boy said.

“I’m Jill. And this is my brother, Jack.”

“Michael.”

“We’re just out here to guard our village. Asÿlum. It’s about two hills over. Where are you from?”

The boy shook his head.

“I don’t know what it’s called. It’s not far. Mother just sent me out to gather wood for the fire.”

“Not far?” Jack said. “That’s strange. We know this area well. And I don’t know of any homestead within two miles.”

“I must have travelled farther than I thought.”

“Well, it’s not safe out here for you,” Jill said. “Maybe we should walk back with you. Make sure you don’t get lost.”

The boy looked at each of them, then nodded, placing his knife back into his pocket.

“Very well,” Michael said. “It’s this way.” And he led the two pale strangers away into the woods.

 

They walked slowly. It was hard going trudging through the snow, made harder by hidden patches of ice underneath. The boy stumbled often, though the two grown-ups stayed steady on their feet.

The trees started to thin as the path grew steeper. Sharp rocks jutted out from beneath the snow, and they used them as hand holds to pull themselves up.

“Would if help if I carried you?” Jack said to Michael as he stumbled for the third time.

“No. I prefer to walk. Mother said I need to learn. To grow stronger.”

“Very well. Just try and keep your body weight forward. It’ll help you grip on the ice more.”

Michael nodded and walked onward, his pace quickening.

 

As the threesome climbed, the weather was worsening. The wind was picking up, tossing sharp grains of snow and sleet into their faces. And the cloud was thickening, making it even harder to see the path ahead. As they reached the hill’s peak, they could barely see the valley below.

“It’s getting worse,” Jack said. “There’s no way we can keep going in this.”

“Are you sure your village is this way?” Jill said.

“Yes,” he nodded, his cheeks now almost as white as the twins’. “We’d be able to see it across on the ridge if this cloud would lift.”

Jack looked at the boy and shook his head.

“The altitude must be confusing you, boy. I know for certain that way is just wasteland and death.”

“I’m sure. At least, I think I am.”

Jack sighed deeply.

“We can’t go on like this,” he said.

“What about heading back to Asÿlum?” Jill said.

“No. They’d never let him in. You know what they’re like with strangers. Maybe if we head off to the right further down, we can keep to those woods. Should give us a bit of protection from the weather. And maybe help the little one catch his bearings.”

“Sounds like a plan.”

 

Jack was right. The woods did offer some cover, and the way ahead was easier without the wind in their faces. But it also blocked moonlight, casting deep shadows all around. A twig snapped in the distance.

The boy jumped.

“What was that?”

“Probably an animal,” Jill said. “Like a fox or something.”

“Or a boy eating bear,” Jack added.

“Don’t tease the boy. Can’t you see he’s frightened enough?”

“Aye. And a good thing too. A scared boy wouldn’t have wandered so far from home. Seeing the harshness of this world is what he needs.”

“By Wodan, you are grim. Leave the lad alone.”

Jack stopped and looked at the boy. His chin was quivering, and his red eyes were holding back tears. Jack knelt down before him and attempted a smile.

“Don’t worry, eh?” he said. “I’m sure it was just a harmless fox or something. Or maybe even a raven. A portent for our journey.”

“I hope so,” the boy said, as he attempted a smile.

“Good. Try not to worry. I’m sure it’s nothing.” He looked back over his shoulder, into the shadows. “Though be prepared. Just in case.”

 

They carried on for quite some time. The snow was shallower, but the gnarled tree routes and uneven ground still made the walk slow and difficult.

Noises ruptured through the woods on occasion. The rustle of distant leaves. The cackle of lonesome birdsong. The thud of gathered snow falling from the trees. Each sound made the boy jump. He tried not to think about what it could mean.

“So,” he said to break the endless silence. “You said you were guarding your village? What from?”

“Oh, the usual,” Jill said. “Mainly wildlife. Bears and the odd wildcat. Though we get a few outsiders too who think we’re an easy target. We ensure that we’re not.”

“But you don’t even have any weapons?”

“Ah. Not everything is as it seems, boy,” Jack said, with a wink. “And Jill, you forgot about the Yeti.”

“I said not to scare the boy. He doesn’t need to know about that.”

“I was only answering his question.”

“What’s a Yeti?” Michael said.

“It’s an Olde World tale. About great white apes that live in the mountains. Taller than a man, and voraciously hungry. We thought it was legend, but one of the traders brought in a tooth he’d found whilst trekking. It was longer than my hand, and cold as frost. Though, I think it was just a prop to boost the sales of his fur.”

“I wouldn’t be sure,” Jack said. “There’s been other signs. That print we found on the west 13 path last month.”

“Probably a rogue bear.”

“Really? Then it must have been quite a beast to have a foot that large. And what about the fur we caught up on Tyr’s Tor? I’ve never felt anything that thick. And it blunted my knife cutting it from the gorse.”

“You’re just adding to the tales, Jack. If there were beasts like that out here, we would have tracked them by now.”

“Aye. Probably be true. But you never know what these mountains can hide. They’ll be the death of us one day, that’s for sure.”

A branch creaked in the woods ahead, and this time, all three jumped.

“Stop with the tales already,” Jill said. “You’re scaring the boy.”

“Well, he did ask.”

 

Sunrise was approaching by the time they found the clearing. Several trees had been felled, to create an open space several yards across. All around, there were large, beast-like footprints in the snow.

“Maybe a pack of bears?” Jill said.

“I really doubt it,” Jack said. “I think we should double back. This doesn’t feel right.”

They were stopped by a roar that rattled the snow from the trees. It was deep, louder than a bear, and deeper than the growl of a mountain lion. Whatever made it, sounded very large.

“Watch out” Jack shouted. A huge tree trunk was thrown into the clearing, straight at them. He managed to dive left under it, dragging Michael with him, as Jill leapt to the left. A jutting branch clipped her leg as it flew past, throwing her off balance and heavily into the snow.

“You okay?” Jack asked, as he pulled himself to his feet.

“Yeah. Fine.” Though she winced as she stood back up.

The trees rattled as the thrower stepped into the clearing. It was a monstrous beast, easily ten feet tall, and almost as wide. It walked on all fours, its hands and feet bigger than a man’s head. White matted fur covered its body. But worse of all, its face was a baleful cluster of large, sharp fangs.

It stared at the group with deep red eyes.

“So,” Jack said. “Not legend then.”

“It’s a Yeti,” Michael said, cowering into a ball.

“Don’t worry,” Jill said. “We have this.”

She thrust her hands to her side, and took a slow steady breath. Her eyes glazed over, turning even colder, as she stared off into the distance. And slowly, flakes of ice grew from her finger tips. Jack followed suit, though he held his hands in tight fists.

The ice grew from both of them, faster and faster, until Jill had two icicle blades poking from each hand. They were almost transparent, and the air hummed as they cut through it.

“Told you we had weapons” Jack said to the boy, lifting his own hands that were now encased in huge hammers of blue frozen crystal. “Don’t worry, lad. This is what we do.”

The twins turned to face the beast, as it rose up on its hind legs, beating its chest with its mighty hands.

Then it charged.

It came stamping at them, the ground shaking with each pounding step. The pair braced themselves, holding their ground until the last minute, then divided just as it was about to charge over them. Jill managed to slide in with a few sharp slices of her blades, as Jack swung his fist around, and pummelled the creature’s rear leg. It stumbled, and rolled across the ground, its momentum tumbling it into a heap.

Jill held her blades aloft. Deep crimson dripped down them.

“It can bleed,” she said.

“Then it can die.”

The monster pulled itself back to its feet, and prepared for another charge. The pair turned to face it again.

This time, Jack didn’t even attempt to move out of its way. He just swung both his frozen fists hard at the creature’s face. Teeth shattered, and blood spewed from its mouth. It stumbled from the pain, its paws narrowly missing Jack’s body, and rolled away to the edge of the clearing.

“One more strike like that, and it should stay down,” Jack said.

The yeti picked itself up from the floor once more, swaying slightly on its feet. A large welt plumed from just beneath its left eye. It roared once more, and charged again.

“It doesn’t learn,” Jill said.

“Must really be hungry.” Jack stood ready to strike, his sister by his side.

“There’s another one,” Michael shouted from across the clearing. The two turned to look. But neither could make out the new threat.

Yet it did distract them.

The Yeti barrelled into them. Jill was slammed to ground, her right leg crushed beneath one of its paws. Jack was tossed through the air, landing hard against a rock. Blood dripped from his mouth, vivid against his pale skin, and his head rolled forward, with no fight left within.

The beast stopped. It turned and faced its attackers.

This time, it didn’t charge. It padded slowly over to Jill. There was no rush. Her leg was a mess of shattered bone and leaking blood, so all she could do was drag herself away from the thing.

It was futile.

It stood over her, smothering her view with deep shadows. It snorted at her, spraying her with flecks of blood, sweat and mucus.

“Don’t toy with me,” Jill said. “If you must take me, do it.”

It opened its mouth wide and lunged at her.

A yell caused it to freeze.

From across the way, Jack was calling it with all his might. He was still slumped against the rock, but he stared down the beast as he yelled a shout that rumbled from the depths of his soul. It was deep like the winter wind, sharp like ice, and chilling like the cold frost of hell.

And from his lips roared a bitter gale that crashed into the Yeti, freezing the monster to the spot. Only once the thing was completely stone cold solid, did Jack end his shout, slump forward and die.

“Maybe not today then,” Jill said. And she thrust her blade up into the creature’s throat. The monster shattered into hundreds of frozen shards.

She lay there for a moment. Pain wracked through her body. She’d never be able to stand again, never mind walk back down from the hills. The only blessing was the glimpse of yellow piercing the sky, as the sun finally started to rise from beyond the horizon.

It was only as she heard a rustle from beyond the clearing, did she remember the boy. Maybe she could make it back to Asÿlum with his help. Maybe she wouldn’t die here like her brother.

“Michael,” she shouted. “It’s okay. You can come out. The monster is dead.”

“Not yet it isn’t,” came the reply. Yet he sounded different. The fear had drained from his voice, and he sounded more confident. Almost cocky. Jill watched him, as he stepped from the woods.

He seemed taller. Broader too. And as he approached, he appeared to be growing.

“You forget,” the boy grinned. “I said there was another one.”

“But there’s no-one else here.”

“Exactly. Not everything is as it seems.”

The clothes tore from the boys back as he rose taller. He shoulders split wide, and long greyish white hair sprouted from his head and body.

And his teeth. They grew. And sharpened. Into cold, deep fangs.

By the time he was stood just feet away from Jill, all signs of his humanity fell away, and he was simply a beast. Not quite as big as the one they had slain, but still a giant of a monster.

Jill readied the ice blades on her hands.

“You killed my mother,” it snarled in words barely human. “And now I will kill you.”

It leapt at her, mouth wide, chilling white teeth glistening like icicles in a cave.

And then, for Jill, it was over.

© Dan Seavers 2016

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One thought on “The Hunted

  1. Good stuff. Had a ‘classic fairytale’ feel to it and the references to Wodan and Tyr do well to place it in that European tradition. The atmosphere was creepy and well sustained too.

    Like

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