Black Petals Issue #93 Autumn, 2020

Winter Hunt
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Justin Alcala: A Horse for Us All-Fiction
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M. W. Moriearty: Scarecrows-Fiction
Robert Masterson: Sharper Than She Ever Imagined-Fiction
Michael Steven: The Mirror-Fiction
Kevin Hawthorne: The Song-Fiction
Marlin Bressi: The Man on the Box-Fiction
Terry Riccardi: Winter Hunt-Fiction
Stephen J. Tillman: Angry Tammy-Flash Fiction
Andreas Hort: Pay the Price!-Flash Fiction
Sam Clover: Piety and Parm-Flash Fiction
Deisy Toussaint: Parasite in the Shadows-Flash Fiction
Outnumbered-Flash Fiction by Cindy Rosmus
Mickey Sloan: Basement Beldam-Poetry
Daniel G. Snethen: Grandmother Screamed-Poetry
Daniel G. Snethen: Pumpkin Tanka-Poetry
Daniel G. Snethen: Yellow Death-Haiku
Theresa C. Gaynord: The JuJu Man-Poetry
Theresa C. Gaynord: The Widow Paris-Poetry
Theresa C. Gaynord: Funeral at the Louisiana Bayou-Poetry
Theresa C. Gaynord: The Old Hag-Poetry
Loris John Fazio: Halloween Prayer-Poetry
Marilyn Lou Berry: My Darling, My Sustenance-Poetry
Chris Collins: Nature-Poetry

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Art by Noelle Richardson 2020

Winter Hunt

 

Terry Riccardi

 

The door was locked. As Bill opened the window to let in the cool mountain air, a mournful howl drifted into the room. The big man shook his shaggy head and turned to his thin, elderly uncle sitting in the easy chair in front of the window.

"Why do we hafta keep the door locked, Jim?"

A mischievous mountain breeze lifted the white wisps across the older man's scalp and made them gently sway across his pink scalp. Jim shifted in his chair but said nothing.

 “Now see here, Jim, we don't got nothin’ much left to eat.'Cause you’re feelin' poorly, we ain't been out checkin' your traps, and we ain't done any huntin' for days. But we still gotta eat, don't we? Me and the hound’re okay. I don’t wanna leave the house without you, 'specially after all those scary stories you're always tellin' me, but I'll take ol' Poke along, 'cause I'm sure he's gettin' mighty hungry, just like me. Only thing in the icebox is a little dried-up ol' rabbit meat, and that ain't gonna hold him for long. So I best go out and find us somethin’ for supper. Okay, Jim?”

He wagged his finger at his silent companion and went on. “I know you tole me I always gotta be back inside before the sun goes down, and I will, but we got no dinner, and there's still a couple hours daylight left.” Putting on his heavy jacket, he reached for the rifle standing at the side of the closed door.

“Wait.”  The lone word wafted across the room. His big hand on the door handle, the younger man turned, then walked over to Jim. He knelt down to better hear the thin voice that was barely more than a whisper.

“I know you don’t like it much up here in the mountains, Billy. You were only a little boy when your parents...” The old man's voice died, and a coughing fit sending his listener running to bring him a glass of water. He drank, then the papery words went on. “When they died. You were my sister's boy, such a little boy then. You didn't understand why I took you from town to come live here in this old cabin. I tried to tell you why, but I had to stop when you started having those awful nightmares. I think sometimes you still do.”

The old man stopped to take more water as his nephew put his rifle back against the wall, removed his jacket, and sat down on the floor at his uncle's feet. “You're a grown man now, Billy, and you think the things I told you are crazy old-people thoughts, and that the people you see when you go get supplies in town are your friends, but they're not. They're waiting, just like they waited for your parents. They worry that you'll believe me, and that someday you'll leave here and tell others. They--”

Another coughing spasm took Jim, and he sank back in the chair too exhausted to continue. When the old man opened his eyes and sat up straighter, his nephew spoke.

“Lemme talk a bit now, Jim. You rest up a while and drink your water. You ain't the only one with crazy ideas. What I always say about the mountains prob'ly sounds as crazy to you as your stories do to me, but it's not. Sometimes they move all around when I'm outside the house. You can’t see ‘em move, and you don’t feel ‘em move, but I can. You tole me they can’t catch me and make me flatter'n a pancake, 'cause I can run so fast, so I

don’t worry about that no more. But I still don’t like ‘em.” His look of concern eased as Poke joined him at Jim's feet.

“Just like you don't like when I forget to take that ol' silver stick with us when we go huntin'. You say that keeps us safe from the bad people, but

we ain't never used it. Ever.” His thick brown brows drew together in puzzlement.

Jim drank more of his water and leaned forward. “Doesn't matter. Long as you have it with you, you'll be okay. Make sure you take it before you go out now.”

“Okay, okay. Lemme get goin' before it gets any later!” Jumping to his feet, startling Poke, he hurried to their little bedroom, opened the closet door, and drew down from the top shelf the old, tarnished cane.

Bill put his jacket back on, took the old cane and his rifle, and he and Poke went out the door. In his eagerness to be gone, he was already well into the surrounding brush as Jim walked slowly to the door, locked it, and returned to his chair.

Dry twigs and dead leaves crunched under the man's heavy boots. He stopped briefly and fingered the winter-bare branches of some bushes. “Hey, look, Poke. Remember that time we picked lots and lots of berries off these here bushes, and Jim made us a pie? There ain’t not a one left. Nothin' till spring.” Disappointment flitted across his face as the late afternoon wind blew across the back of his bare neck.

He continued pushing through the scraggly trees. Jim's traps held only one dead rabbit. Even Poke looked unimpressed. Suddenly his ears perked up. “It’s startin' to get kinda dark, Poke. Are you smellin' a nice big buck, boy? If not, maybe we should go back.”

A faint howl floated toward them. “Maybe it’s a wolf. Is that what you're listenin' to, Poke? Jim said sometimes there are real bad wolves, and  

they got to be killed with silver. Yep, that's what he says—kill all the bad things with silver.” He stopped and turned as the howl came again, this time a bit closer.

“That sure sounds mean. Let's go home now, Poke.” He looked down, seeking reassurance, but the hound was no longer at his side.

The howling returned, now from a nearby ridge; it seemed to issue from several throats. Then it stopped, and the cold gray-purple light of oncoming dusk illuminated only scattered patches of snow dotting the silent landscape.

Bill spotted a large tree and headed for it. Picking up a thick branch lying nearby, he planted his back against the tree’s broad trunk. Scanning his surroundings in the fast-fading light, he could now see a dozen dark shapes moving slowly down the ridge.

“Them’s wolves, Poke. But how can I tell if they’re the real bad ones?” The sound of his own voice comforted him, and he continued addressing the no longer present hound.

“Hey, look at that big one in front of the others. This one’s bigger’n you, Poke. And his eyes is all yellow, not nice brown like yours. ”

A note of desperation crept into his deep voice. “I don’ like these guys, Poke. Now they’re sittin’ down in a half a circle in back of the big one, all quiet and lookin’ at us real mean-like. This'd be a real good time for you to come back, Poke. And bring lots of your friends.”   

He looked at the walking stick that he'd leaned against the trunk. “Well, let's see what this ol' stick does.” He picked it up, held it straight out in front of him, and lunged toward the pack leader, who had crept toward

him while he turned to get the cane. It snarled but quickly retreated a few feet, then sat down and again regarded him with unblinking yellow eyes.

“You know, that big fella reminds me a bit of Mr. Holder at the liquor store. He got real big eyes that don't ever blink much, either.”  Holding his

big branch at the ready, he leaned against his tree and faced the big wolf and his followers in the semicircle behind him. Then he started gathering all the twigs and branches within reach. “OK, I got some wood, so I can make a fire,” he told the still-absent Poke happily. “That’ll keep them guys away.” Then his shoulders drooped. “But I don’t got no matches.”

In the fast-fading light, the wolves sat, unmoving, their yellow eyes fixed on the man and his small pile of unlit brush.

“Hey, Jim. I got me this kinda crazy idea. Let's see if I'm as good as you say. You tole me I'm faster than the mountains, so let's find out if I can beat these guys. So wish me well now, 'cause I’m makin' a break for it.”

With that, he sprang straight at the head wolf, swinging his branch and the cane wildly and roaring whatever gibberish came into his head as loud as he could. Startled, the animal jumped aside, and the big man turned and headed for home through the almost-dark woods.

Behind him, the brief moment of surprised silence ended as the pack took up the chase. Bill reached the house, hammered on the door, and heard his uncle's chair being pushed back as the old man got up. Jim was able to open the locked door, let his nephew in, and slam it shut just as the lead wolf hurled itself against the stout wood.

 “Hey, listen to them, Jim! Ain't they mad their dinner got away! Honest, though, them critters were so close I figured they'd get me before you got here. Well, they ain't never gonna break that door down!”

He turned to thank his uncle, who had returned to his easy chair. But his pleasure and relief vanished as he looked past his uncle's head. The window was open. Claws scraped the outside wall. Two paws were already visible on the sill…

 

END

 

 

 

 

Terry Riccardi is a philatelist, free-lance editor and inveterate reader. When not creating dark tales, she can be found trying to bowl a perfect game, collecting stamps, and searching for lost jigsaw puzzle pieces. She hopes to be a world-famous author when she grows up.

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