Tuesday, September 15, 2015

The Hunt - Short Story

A dark shadow descended upon the small valley.  Albert looked up, "this shouldn't be happening" he thought to himself,  there wasn't a cloud in the sky. It was midday yet the sun seemed to be getting darker.  Albert had heard stories about the days when the sun would go dark,  followed by the terror.  Nobody could remember the last time this had happened,  only the terrifying results.
Albert looked up the valley and the trees,  he knew there was no chance of getting to his home quickly,  it was just to far away.  Every second he stood still,  the sky got darker and darker.  He knew he had to move quickly,  but where he asked himself. Suddenly,  it came to him,  he remembered a small cave in the woods,  he used to play there with his brother many years ago.  For a split second, painful memories filled his head,  the terrible sickness, refusal to eat,  and watching his brother waste away to nothing.  There was nothing the Elders could do for him,  they had tried all the brews, the spells, the potions, and even bleeding him but nothing helped. The Elders finally said he was possessed and never came back.
Albert turned and started running as fast as his legs would carry him.  He knew it was a long shot but the cave was much closer than his house.  He also hoped the cave would offer him more protection against,  he stopped thinking at that point,  he couldn't finish that thought because he didn't know what he was running away from.  
It seemed like it was no more than a minute that he noted the sky getting darker,  he was running for all his might, but the darkness was encroaching ever faster.  He tripped over a rock and when he got up,  it was almost pitch black.  He tried to orientate himself but it was hard,  he got turned around and no longer knew in which direction the cave was.  He looked up to the sky,  hoping the stars would provide some help but all he saw was darkness.  It was now so dark that Albert couldn't even see his hand.  He listened,  but heard nothing,  nothing but silence,  no animals,  no birds, no rustling of the wind thru the trees.  It was like someone,  or something had cut off all of his senses.
Albert found himself on his feet once more,  walking at a brisk place,  hoping he wouldn't trip again.  He hoped he was going in the right direction. It was so dark,  he didn't know how he would find his way to the cave.
He had been walking for about 5 minutes when he first heard it.  It sounded like nothing he had ever heard before. It was barely audible. It seemed to be coming from behind him,  Albert picked up the pace,  now running at a slow jog. His eyes now accustomed to the dark, he could just make out the tree line up ahead.  He looked behind him but could see nothing.
He had just turned around when he felt a sharp hit across his head.  He fell to the ground,  jarring his shoulder.  His senses told him to move but his body refused to obey. He lay there for a minute,  trying to regain his senses. As he lay there,  he could hear the noises again.  They were still faint,  he listened intently, they seemed to be getting closer.
Albert slowly got up, putting his hands out.  His hands touched something hard,  a tree he thought.  He had made it to the tree line,  he knew it wasn't much further from here,  but the darkness,  he wondered if he would be able to find the cave in this darkness. He started walking slowly,  more carefully,  trying to remember the way and not run into anymore trees.  The ground was uneven and with every step,  he need to concentrate so as not to fall.  The trees muffled the sound but he could now hear it much more clearly,  it was getting closer,  much closer.  Too close he thought and tried to walk a bit faster.  Branches tugged at his sleeves,  brushed across his face.  He could feel,  and taste the blood seeping from the many scratches on his face but he kept moving forward,  fearful of the unknown. His hands extended forward,  feeling his way thru the dense forest,  he moved at a snail's pace.  Not fast enough he thought as the noise got steadily louder and louder.  He just wanted to stop,  sit down and let whatever it was take him but his brain refused to give in so onward he crept.
Suddenly,  the underbrush gave way to a clearing,  there weren't any more trees.  He now knew where he was,  the cave was just ahead under the rock outcropping.  He could make it,  he thought.  The noise was now loud,  very loud. He couldn't hear himself thinking but he kept moving, he had to. His hand came up against something hard,  rock! He made it.  He moved to the right and the rock gave way,  he entered the cave,  feeling his way along one wall.  He kept moving deeper and deeper into the cave,  carefully placing his feet on solid ground so he wouldn't fall.  He knew how sharp the rocks were.
The sounds gradually receded,  he made it.  He sat down,  only then realizing how badly he was shaking from the ordeal. His hands were shaking,  he was winded.  He sat down,  only then realizing how tired he was.  He leaned against the back wall,  closing his eyes for a minute.  He listened but the only noise he heard was the thumping of his heart. Gradually,  the thumping eased, his mind relaxing, and then the rhythmic breathing as Albert fell asleep.
Albert was suddenly and roughly awakened , something had grabbed his foot and was dragging him out of the cave.  He couldn't get up and the sharp rocks were leaving deep gashes in his back. He started screaming and trying to kick but to no avail,  his captors were too strong. He could sense he was outside by the cool air on his face but the darkness was absolute.  He had no idea who his captors were,  of where he was being taken. The pain in his back was unbearable,  the open wounds dragging across the ground was too much and he passed out.
When Albert came to,  he was in a small cage. It was still dark and he had no idea where he was. He reached out and touched the bars of the cage.  They were warm to the touch,  neither wood nor steel.  He could not tell what they were made of but he knew he had to get out.  He tested the bars but they didn't move a bit,  they might have felt flimsy but they were strong. He tried kicking the bars but the only thing he did was to hurt himself.  He thought he heard breathing but when he called out,  he was met with a sharp prod and an excruciating pain he had never experienced before in his life.
Albert didn't have any sense of time,  it was dark,  and time seemed to drag.  The only indicator of time was his stomach, and his stomach was in a constant state of Flux.  He was hungry,  thirsty and afraid,  afraid of what might come. Minutes later,  he heard a commotion,  voices,  screams and the noise of cage doors opening.  It was still dark so he couldn't tell what was happening.  Suddenly,  he heard the door of his cage being opened.  He felt a rope slip over his head and then was pulled roughly out of the cage.  "This is it" he thought to himself.  He was pulled this way and that way for what seemed like hours.  The only thing he knew was that the hard ground had given way to a grassy field. He also heard heavy breathing coming from others nearby,  but remembering the last time he called out,  he felt it prudent to keep quiet.  Apparently,  the others thought the same way.
The pushing and pulling stopped,  the rope was removed from around his neck.  Albert stood still,  aware of others around him,  the heavy breathing,  the sobs, the smells. Suddenly,  a shrill whistle sounded,  startling everyone.  Then he heard a strange voice cry out "RUN FOR YOUR LIFE!". At first nobody moved,  like Albert, afraid of the repercussions,  until the voice rang out even louder "RUN!" This time,  it was accompanied by a sharp rap on the back with a metal rod.  Albert almost keeled over but managed to keep his balance as he started to move away,  slowly at first,  then running as fast as he could.  It was still dark but the sky seemed to be getting lighter,  barely,  or was it his imagination. Albert looked behind him as he was running and what he saw,  or thought he saw scared him.  It looked like a line of 20 or 30 creatures, hairy creatures hunched over all lined up,  jumping up and down, waiting.  Waiting for what he thought?  Suddenly,  the realization hit him,  the old stories of man eating creatures,  the black night they called it where people just disappeared.  
Albert now understood what he needed to do,  he somehow found renewed strength and started running like the wind.  He knew where he was,  he knew these hills,  the woods,  and more importantly,  the caves. He had been running for about a minute when he heard a loud noise from the back, followed by yells.  He instinctively knew what that meant and he redoubled his running,  running for his life.
The tree line was just ahead,  Albert ran for it.  Running between the trees was difficult but becoming easier as the sky was getting progressively lighter. He could hear the death curdling screams of those less fortunate who couldn't run.  He recognized this place,  he turned sharp left and followed a trail up the hill.  If only he could make it over the ridge,  there was a cave there that went deep into the hillside.  He knew he could hide there, if only he could make it.  He could hear the sounds of his pursuers close on his heels,  the constant screams.  Suddenly,  he heard something to his right that gave him cause for fear, a fear in the pit of his stomach  someone,  or something running thru the woods, close by,  too close for comfort he thought.
"Help me" he said.  Albert froze for a split second. He recognized that voice,  "Jason" he asked" "Is that you Albert". "Quick,  follow me and don't make a sound". Albert continued running up the hill,  then turned when he reached the ridge.  A minute later,  he disappeared into a small opening,  Jason right behind him.  The cave was pitch black,  Albert whispered to Jason,  "put your hand on my shoulder and follow me". Together,  they slowly made their way deeper and deeper into the cave.  The sounds from outside giving way to silence.  After a few minutes,  he stopped and sat down.  Jason followed suit,  fearful of making any noise at all.
They had no sense of time but they knew they must stay put.  After what seemed like two days,  their stomachs rebelling at the lack of food,  their throats parched from lack of water,  they slowly made their way out the cave,  afraid of what might be waiting for them.  As they approached the opening,  they could see daylight.  
They cautiously made their way down thru the trees, into the open valley. Blood stained grass attested to the macabre events that had happened.  They were both too shocked to say anything.  They saw cages,  whips,  stages with ropes but no sign of life.  Whoever,  or whatever had done this was gone.  Albert made his way to his house, hoping his parents would be there.  Jason had taken a different path to his house without saying a word.

The house looked empty,  the fire was cold and the door wide open.  He had a sick feeling in the pit of his stomach, he called out.  No answer,  he called again.  He thought he heard muffled voices coming from the back.  He moved quickly to the back to find a large tub turned over,  his parents coming out.  When they saw him,  they ran up to him,  pulling him deep in their arms. There was no need for words,  just tears of joy, they had survived the dark night.