One Winter's Day

By pcinker All Rights Reserved ©

Fantasy

Prologue

Peter and his father were with the hunting team in the forest. There was no better season than the winter, whether for hunting for bigger animals or to take in the environment in all its beauty: white, new-fallen snow gleaming in the sunlight shared between cracks in the ceiling of leaves; the fresh smell of bark.

Peter was a feisty 18-year old with short and slightly unruly blond hair. He was moderately tall and lean, but not the kind of stereotypical guy that you find in every other story. His blue eyes looked relaxed and easy, and he scouted the woods, alert to every little sound breaking the silence.

“What is it, Peter?” his father wondered as the boy suddenly stopped, eyes peering.

One of their buddies had haled as well; he must have heard it, too – sounds of weak trotting in the snow somewhere.

“Can’t you hear that, dad? Mac?” Peter asked, confused, but still he kept his guard up.

They moved on, each watching his angle. A four man cell was perfect for covering a three-hundred-sixty degree angle. Peter recognised this kind of stealth manoeuvre from the military video games, and he wasn’t really too unfamiliar with weapons as he’d cleared both Shooting and Hunting Course.

As they’d stalked the sound deeper into the forest, at one point it completely disappeared. The fellowship stopped and looked around, puzzled at which way they should take: if it had been something as small as a rabbit or a hare, it’d probably have gone underground by now, but if it had been something bigger...

Suddenly the sound returned as a loud rustling in the bushes, but they still couldn’t figure out where it came from. Perception and sense of direction didn’t count as much in the woods in winter, Peter figured.

“Looks like we need to split up,” Peter’s father suggested. “Son, you’re with me. It’d be wisest if each of the pairs had a man who actually heard the sound to begin with.”

Mac and Ratchet nodded. “Roger. We’ll take right. Rendezvous point in one hour with or without the prey,” Mac said and pointed at the ground.

“Roger, let’s hustle.”

Peter and his father followed the path into trees, winding through the bushes. A large hunting rifle was maybe the most convenient tool for going hunting, but a pistol seemed like it could’ve done the trick just as well, Peter thought as his rifle got stuck in and held back by all kinds of plants as they trotted through the white forest.

As they came to a clearing under the clean treetops, the man leaned over to his son and whispered in order to keep the moment of surprise, “What do you suppose could’ve made those sounds?” He pointed in front of their feet where the snow had been trampled and thrown up, and several pairs of animal prints swarmed in every direction.

“I don’t know. A rabbit, maybe?” Peter tried half-heartedly, but he knew that anything as small as a rabbit would have to do better than running around in the bushes to make as loud and continuous a noise as the one they had heard earlier. “You think we should split up? There’s no way we’d catch it if we’re two in the same place,” he then pointed out.

His father nodded and looked deeper into the woods. “I think that’d be a good idea. You take right. See you at the rendezvous point.”

“Yup, let’s hope so,” the boy said and they separated silently.

Peter moved as quietly as he managed: stealth was not the easiest thing with a large rifle in hands and wet snow that crackled every time he put his foot down. The trees around protected from the generally weak breeze, but the still air was pretty cool nonetheless.

He reached another clearing, but this one had a pond in the middle. As Peter stepped up to the open outside, first then, whit the calm breeze now reaching his chin and the birds chirping to each other, he realised the silence. It was almost embarrassing to him as a hunter – where was the thing they were chasing? Had it slipped away because they hadn’t paid attention earlier? He knew it would’ve been wise to set up traps!

Peter held his breath, eyes running from left to right. His heart pumped uncontrollably. He could sense the presence of something or someone, but it was not his dad, nor anyone from the team.

It felt like this creature was staring him down from over his shoulder. He couldn’t get his body to turn around, told his mind it was ok; he was braver than this and it was nothing to be afraid of. The breath of the creature resonated somewhat with his own heartbeats at first, until they merged completely, and a strange, elderly-like wheezing was heard instead.

Slowly, Peter turned his head, his eyes reaching the stranger, but they couldn’t seem to get a grasp of what they looked at...

It was the strangest thing he had ever seen in his life; it reminded him more of Japanese manga than an actual living being. A grey-clothed and flimsy, short body. It was sickly thin - scrawny even. It was raised on four legs, and a long, fluffy tail waved slowly in wariness. Its tight chest was cleaved but most of it was covered by the frightening stooping of the creature.

But what really caught Peter’s perplexed but utterly fascinated attention was the creature’s head. Ok, yes, it had ears and a short, black mane that made it look like a Pokémon from the latest generation, like a Luxio or maybe an Absol... The frustrated and scared shine in the being’s dark, dog-like eyes and the unusual formation of its mouth, separated by a small, canine nose, told him that maybe not all was well in this strange creature’s paradise.

Neither of the the two made a sound nor moved a muscle for a whole minute. Peter figured the other one was probably attempting to psych him into giving in to their little mind game, but then what would he do?

Then he noticed that all this time, he had heightened his rifle to the level of the creature’s face, and his eyes had locked onto it.

The creature started growling lowly; its big, sharp teeth definitely made an impression, and considering the size it could probably do more damage than a vicious cur.

Peter tightened his body and his eyes narrowed in on his prey.

Suddenly there was rustling from behind, and as fast as lightning Peter whirled around and fired into the bushes on the other side. Crap! He’d forgotten that he stood on the border of land and water, and right now had no control of the situation.

He whirled around, but had no time to redirect his rifle as feeling four palms were placed on his torso. He only got a moment to recognise the feelings of warmth and touch before the creature u-turned and sent him headlong towards the icy pond. As he flew through the air, if ever so abruptly, he just barely got a glimpse of the creature as it darted into the forest and disappeared in the shrubbery.

The cold water took him by surprise, though he knew it was coming and how cold seemed to be. The sticky mass immediately numbed him, and as his lungs became more desperate for oxygen and nerves and his skin wanted out, tiny pictures started swiftly blurring before his inner eye. He let his mouth open, tried to scream for help, but the sound vaporised into a million tiny bubbles that did what he could not: ascend to the surface. His physical vision freezing, his lungs exploded as his heart made its final attempt to cling on to life, before slowly giving up.

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