Wednesday, April 21, 2010

The Archer (Short Story Series Pt. 2)

A loud twang and the arrow darts across the meadow and sinks into my target. I smile victoriously, my breath appearing before my face as I heave a happy sigh and trek down to my prey; no longer wary of alerting nearby wildlife with my loud steps. It is a cold day, wonderful for hunting. My bow bounces merrily on my back as I trudge through the muddied forest. The trees are spread quite well in this area, making for an easy shot. A timid sun shines through the canopy of leaves just above, illuminating the ground with a pale light. There's a small frozen creek just between me and my kill. I'm not sure as to where it leads, but the thought doesn't stay in my mind for more than a few seconds as I hop over.

The sound of scurrying wildlife nearby is the backdrop as I finally arrive at my destination. My arrow firmly connected just beneath the creature's ear and I grin at my accuracy. I've always been an excellent marksman, never once failing to bring my prey to the ground. This deer is no different -- A simple trophy to be added to my collection. Though, I must admit my disappointment. It isn't nearly as large as I assumed it was from a distance. My arrogant smile shuddered a small bit, but I'm still endlessly proud of my victory over the creature. I pull the arrow from its neck and lick the tip. "The taste of victory," my father always said, "is sweeter than any honey in the market!"

He was a marksman as well, and a mighty great one at that. Since I was only a small child he took me with him, and I immediately caught on. He was immensely proud. I have fantastic talent, and I'm not shy to say it! Very few could trump my shot, and no animal could live to tell the tale. I'm somewhat of a legend in these parts. The women adore me, the forest fears me, and the children praise me. I took my talent in stride and have created a trophy collection the likes this land has never seen. From bears to rodents and from birds to snakes -- I have them all. This deer is one of the more miniature of my catches, but I'm proud nonetheless.

After savoring the taste, I approach the frozen creek. With one mighty stomp, the ice shudders and breaks to reveal a flowing stream just beneath. I lean down and wash my arrow clean of the crimson. A small, dark red trail of blood flows down the water and I watch as it disappears into a thick collection of trees just where the creek runs out of sight. My mind ponders whether I wish to follow this stream or not. I know of no river in these parts and the appearance of the stream is odd. In fact, I don't recall there being any river or pond anywhere near here! Perhaps it is a simple trick of the mind, but my interest is peaked.

The thought immediately leaves my mind as I remember the freshly slain deer just behind me. I chuckle at my ignorance and turn around to find there to be nothing but a puddle of blood. My mind races. Did some larger animal come and snatch up my kill? Preposterous, I would've heard such a creature. Nothing sneaks up on me, nothing! The confusion is overwhelming. It couldn't simply disappear, and it most certainly couldn't have walked away! I take two fingers and prod them into the small puddle of crimson and lift them to my nose.

No smell; no familiar scent of sweet victory. No taste; no sensation on my taste buds that informed me of a wonderful kill. My tongue is numb, not a single taste to be had. I take bread from my pack and attempt to eat it; to get some sensation back on my tongue. Nothing. My mind struggles to understand what's happening. It was a simple kill, nothing special, nothing spectacular to be had today -- Just a small deer. Barely worth killing at all. Now some sort of insane phenomena is occurring. No logical explanation, just a puddle of tasteless, scentless blood and a man alone in the forest.

I should make my way back. This mystery is no more than nature fooling with me. Perhaps I just need a nice, warm meal. I place the arrow into the quiver on my back and turn around to make my back across the creek and up through the sloped forest. My eyes immediately connect with the deer I once believed was dead. I know it is the same one. It stands on side of the creek opposite of me; observing. Before I have time to analyze this ludicrous situation, he charges. I get one glance at the antlers; they're unnaturally sharp and seem to adjust in order to make impact with me. My feet begin to shuffle, but to no avail.

My rib is pierced in several spots by the jagged thorn-like antlers. The small of my back hits the ground with a sickening crack and the air leaves my lungs. I get one last glance at the spot on the neck where I pierced the animal; there is a small circle of pink flesh. It leaves my sight and I hear its distant hooves stamping the ground. The pain hits. My teeth clamp down and I let out a muffled shout. I clutch my ribs and stare at the canopy above. My breath appears before my eyes and I chuckle at the irony. The hunter becomes the hunted, like from a sappy wildlife campaign. I would never hear the end of this from my father.

A pathetic quiver travels throughout my body and the cold becomes comfortable. My hand grips the dirt I lay on and I push myself up. My head slumps over and a mixture of saliva and blood drips to the ground. A miniature puddle forms, but dissolves before my eyes. Appearing to evaporate in a puff of crimson. A final loony thought before death takes its grasp I assume. Perhaps the strangest day of my life, and perhaps the last. The blood pouring from the wounds in my chest doesn't alarm me. No regrets for me. I led a successful life. The greatest hunter around now defeated in a haze of hallucinations.

Colors fade in and out, rapidly flickering. It's hard to keep my eyes focused. I hear the faint sound of rushing water. I stare forward and force my eyes to adjust. The once frozen creek now flows at a steady pace. Ridiculous, but beautiful. I crawl forward, blood dripping into the mud beneath me and then instantly evaporating. My knees give out just as I reach the stream. My hand cupped, I reach for the stream. A small scoop and I attempt to raise it to my lips. Strong shivers snake through my body and the water falls back into the stream. It's strange, the life of the forest is bleak and gray in the winter light, but this creek is bright as day.

Determined to get this water on my lips, I go in again with my hand. I grip the edge of the creek and pull myself forward, feeling the dirt grind into my wounds. My face tightens with a cringe but my lips are inches away from the rushing water. It flows beautifully through this crack in the earth and my eyes shine with awe. I splash water upon my face, expecting frigid temperatures, but instead am greeted by warm and refreshing liquid running down my cheeks. The splash removes all the dirt and grime from my face in a single dousing. A sigh of relief followed by another splash, this time directly into my mouth.

I gulp gladly and taste the purest thing to ever grace my taste buds. My tongue no longer numb, my body no longer frigid, my wounds still pulsate with blood however, and I know this mustn't be true. A mere trick of the mind in my final moments. I soak in my last minutes of relaxation, accepting my fate. After a few seconds of staring into the water, my earlier suspicion of its destination hits me once again. I stare down into the forest beyond where the water flows and my eyes open wide. My determined mind leads my weary body to its feet and I'm soon stumbling down, blood dripping pathetically onto the cold dirt below.

I nearly slip into the creek several times as my feet lazily drag on the ground. My eyes are focused directly onto the dense crowd of trees where the creek meets the trunk of a rather mighty elm. A horrible cough nearly brings me to my knees. I see the blood fly from my teeth and watch it sizzle away into the air the moment it touches the ground. The pace at which my feet move slowly increases as I grow nearer to my destination. A downward slope makes the water run faster and more determinedly, and my feet follow suit. I nearly make it to a jogging pace as I'm mere feet from the trunk.

I collide with the tree and hug it to keep my balance. My breathing is ragged and my knees tremble. The in-and-out focus of my eyes worries me. I have not much time to discover what has been puzzling me. The stream runs straight through the trunk of the tree and each side of the thick tree is densely protected by trees. They stretch on as far as the eye can see, as if sealing off human intruders to what lies beyond them. My fingernails grip the bark of the large tree and the small tree next to it. They are pressed firmly together but I still stubbornly try to rip them apart. My last will is to see what lies behind them, and I will not be stopped. I pound and slam my fists into the hard bark and my knuckles are soon bleeding. No mark is made upon the trees. Much stronger than I anticipated.

My lungs feel as if they may burst. Never have I felt this weak and exhausted. A truly sad spectacle of a man. A burning sensation in my eyes. Tears? Me, crying? Preposterous, I could never. No, no it appears I am. I slump down to my knees and cover my eyes with my dirty, bloodied hands and weep. I've never felt so defeated, so worthless. Goodnight, I. I have lost to my own foolishness it seems. Not even the trees allow me passage. The death of an arrogant marksman.

A peculiar sound, bark ripping, leaves falling, sticks crunching. The deer returned to finish the job? My stinging eyes open to a strange site. An oval opening in the trees ahead, just large enough for me to fit through. Unsure if I have the strength to walk through. Can't see much beyond the hole, it is unnaturally bright. Curiosity claims me once again and I struggle to my feet. My hand couldn't grasp the bark of the tree and I fall through the hole flat on my face. A chuckle at my own frailness. The brightness does a job on my eyes and it takes a moment for them to adjust, but when I tilt my head up to see where I've landed, a truly spectacular sight is before me.

A beautiful body of water the size of a large pond just below the ledge that I fell upon. The stream forms a waterfall that gently trickles down. The water shimmers in the odd sunlight that shouldn't be present in these parts. The dense trees form a ring around the entire area, shielding all from the stunning sight. A familiar noise behind me and the trees close up on their own. The broadest of smiles spreads across my face as I pull myself up; ignoring the large pool of blood that soon evaporates below me. There's a small beach on the other side of the water and my eye catches onto something I didn't expect. The deer.

I pull the bow from my back and sluggishly place an arrow into it. A hunter's instinct, if that hunter isn't half blind and half bleeding to death. My eyes focus on the target and I realize that it is no deer. Just before my hand releases the arrow, my mind catches on to what is on the other side of the beach. There is a young man, lying on the beach fully nude. He's smiling as he stares up, seemingly carefree. I'm dumbstruck as I lower my bow. He catches my sight and looks at me and smiles. He raises his hand and waves. I raise mine and a mighty cough comes over me, blood spouting from my throat. A small wave is all I manage before I collapse on the dirt. I barely catch a glimpse of his smile turning to concern before my mind goes blank. A dirty mess on the ground. A beautiful pond before me, just out of reach. My destination reached, my curiosity pleased. I feel comforted here. I have found my solace in a pool of my own blood.

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