Snow spiraled through the black and twisted branches of the forest, shimmering in the dull sunlight of a gloomy winter day before collecting silently on the wooden railings of the ramshackle deer stand. A silent man hunkered against the dry, icy bark of the tree behind him, keeping one eye open for any movement and the other hidden in the warm material inside his camo coat. His face was covered with a white ski mask; his hands protected by black and white leather gloves. His coat and pants were a brilliant white and brown camouflage material deliberately streaked with dirt and filth to help blend in to the winter canvas of Garrett woods. Not the safest of clothing for a hunter to wear, especially in an area frequently haunted by local rednecks recklessly shooting bows and rifles and God knew what else—but he hadn’t wanted the other hunters to notice him. He wanted them to pass right below the tree stand without even noticing him. Only then could he truly hunt in peace, and truly relish the primal desire to line up a shot, squeeze (not pull, that’s what they said in boot, squeeze, not pull) the trigger, and watch a bullet tear through his prey and splatter innards all over the surrounding foliage.
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He used a rather unorthodox hunting rifle, compared to what everyone else toted around. It was a 257 Weatherby Magnum, long-range scope mounted on the top and the stock and barrel painted bone white with flecks of black and gray. The gun kicked like a mule and usually left its signature on his shoulder, but you couldn’t beat the stopping power. The gun didn’t crack or pop when he shot it, it exploded. The gun thundered and nearly jumped out of his hands with each shot, echoing through the still winter air with a sound like an overhead plane engine, and his target did not take a bullet—it took a swift and deadly sledgehammer blow, and was down and at his mercy with one shot. He smiled to himself and eyed the rifle as it shimmered icily, small tufts of snow collecting on its barrel. One gloved finger rested in the trigger guard, waiting excruciatingly for the chance to bring the trigger back, to set off that explosion, and that familiar rush of adrenaline he hadn’t felt since his time spent as a sniper in Iraq.
Something rustled in the trees ahead of him, the sharp crack of dead branches sending him into the callous hands of a fresh recollection, the violent and haunted embrace of a soldier’s memories. Days spent lying flat on a hot, coarse rooftop beside his spotter (Nick, his name had been) and watching masked men cautiously snoop around civilian cars, setting up their dirty little bombs with no idea they were being watched by someone who could end their lives whenever he wanted. Whenever he decided it was time for them to die. His heart had fluttered the way it was fluttering now as he had squinted into the scope, the crosshair swaying back and forth over their filth-slathered clothes. They were a disease, and he was the cure. They took, and took, and took, and destroyed, and the only acceptable terrorist was one with nothing but a puddle for a face. Such a nuisance, yet so easy to be dealt with. Sometimes the memories troubled him, but once the trigger had been pulled (squeezed) and one of them had pitched forward and slammed into the side of the car, leaving a bright crimson flower on the glass before crumpling to the drifting sandy street, he had smiled and so had Nick. The others had tried to run, but they hadn’t made it very far. Death had come for them as silently and as swiftly as the last breaths they took, and they died wondering what the hell had happened. Such a nuisance, but so easy to kill.
He felt that way now as this thing moved ever so cautiously forward; ever so cautiously into the danger it couldn’t see or smell or hear. He exhaled slowly and narrowed his eyes, his breath pluming out of his hood in damp clouds of vapor. He glimpsed his target stepping slowly through the gnarled undergrowth—and that old rush of anger swelled into him again, blooming like a bright flower of hate inside him. He ground his teeth together and silently wished the thing speed.
(Hurry the fuck up and get what’s coming to you.)
He hated them. He supposed it could be left over emotion from his military time, but it didn’t matter, because hunting them was the only way to shut it off. It was like shutting off a radio when all it would play was static, or changing the channel when the atrocious weather alert signal assaulted the speakers. He sighed heavily as the thing crouched down and waited for something (not too loud, don’t breathe too loud) and the flower curled open with petals that were a dark shade of red. Maybe this one wouldn’t get a single shot. Maybe this one would lose a leg, and then receive the final stroke. Maybe he would let it bleed out.
He hated them because they, too, destroyed. Perhaps they weren’t as much of a threat as the terrorists he had killed in the Marines, but they still destroyed everything they touched. Every year there were more of them; almost as if his hunt the previous year had had no effect at all. They were spreading like a cancer, and if they weren’t controlled, weren’t cured, there would simply be nothing left. They were stupid, mindless animals, who lived for procreation and consumption. Nobody ever stuck up for the things they destroyed, the nature wasted, and so that was what he was. However tame or mundane his new enemies were, however separated from an AK toting terrorist, he killed them to protect. He often wondered if other hunters felt the way he did, or if they just did it for “sport”. It made him uncomfortable to think about it too much.
Despite the cold he had begun to sweat, and—
The animal suddenly darted forward and then stopped again, but this time, it had gone too far. It had signed the grim reaper’s list, and now it was time for the sickle. The man smiled and lifted the heavy rifle to his eye, carefully distancing his eye socket from the scope, pivoting his hips and keeping his arms locked to position the crosshair where it needed to be. It danced along the (filth-slathered clothes) light brown material of the animal’s coat, the tiny red dot at the center of the cross moving slowly from body part to body part, crawling back the animal’s mindless face and down past its neck, across its chest and to its ribcage. Finally, the reticule stopped at the animal’s leg, and the man held his breath.
He slowly squeezed the trigger in until an ear shattering explosion ripped the silent air in half and the gun spat a mushroom of fire from its tip, the barrel leaping into the air and nearly knocking him from his squat. He saw a splash of red through the scope before the lens was tossed away from his eye, and now, he heard the animal crying out.
It cried without knowing who it was crying to. It moaned, but no one was going to help it. It was a long, pitiful wail; the sound tapered off and faded through the windswept trees, falling upon nothing but frostbitten air. The man grinned and slung the rifle over his shoulder, carefully lifting a clumsily rigged trapdoor and easing down the ice-covered planks of wood that served as his ladder. The coppery scent of blood floated to his nose in the winter breeze.
Brittle snow crunched under the man’s feet as he approached the writhing, wailing animal he had shot. He smiled at the pain it felt, undoubtedly something it had never felt before and something it had never expected to feel. It didn’t try to get up; that hurt far too much. The snow around the animal was splashed with a brilliant red, and he saw (with some twisted amusement) that a small tendon appeared to be the only thing holding the thing’s leg together, the bone snapped off and blasted apart, poking jaggedly from the exploded ribbons of dark meat that hung from the stump of its knee. The severed lower leg was bent up toward its ribs at an impossible angle. He nudged it with his boot tip and the animal cried out again as the tendon pulled tight and the leg tumbled over, a fresh, rhythmic spurt of blood arching from the wound. Hopeless, pitiful cries. He shoved his hand into his warm hip pocket and pulled out a digital camera, pointing the lens at the animal’s face.
“How does it feel, huh?” he asked, his eyes dark with hate. The snow swirled down around him as he towered over the crippled animal, almost avoiding him, as if it knew he was too dangerous to even touch. “How does it feel to be a trophy?” He snapped the picture, and the man he had shot blinked with the bright flash.
“W-w-what?” The hunter stammered, his voice shaky and paralyzed with shock. His chest heaved as blood poured from his shredded pant leg, his face already going pale. The snow was melting with the heat of his blood. It wouldn’t be long.
“I said,” the man repeated, reviewing the picture with a wide grin. “How does it feel to be a trophy?” He tucked the camera away and pointed the Weatherby at the man’s frightened face, resting the tiny red dot between his eyes. The man’s rifle lay just out of his reach. He was doomed. He would die; just as soon his captor decided it was time.
“You come out here with your guns and your bows,” the man continued, pressing the barrel of the Weatherby into the man’s cheek hard enough to force his mouth apart, “you find innocent animals and you shoot them. You think you’re anything more than an animal? What gives you the right to take life, so you can hang a pair of goddamn fucking antlers on your wall? They die so you can decorate your fucking living rooms. Now, you die so I can decorate mine.” His shoulders heaved with anger as the hunter still looked up at him, still clueless, still afraid and confused. So fucking stupid, yet so fucking destructive.
“Crazy…” the hunter mumbled, his consciousness slowly fading out like a flickering star in the coldest section of a night sky. The man smiled and rested his finger on the trigger, leaning down to let the hunter look into his eyes, to see into the soul of the man who was about to kill him. Something he had never been able to do to the terrorists. He wanted him to see how much he was going to enjoy it. The blood would hit him, but he wanted it to. He wanted to feel it on his face.
“I’m no crazier than any of you. You hunt animals, I hunt hunters. Some animal would have wandered into your path, just living its life, and it would have died for that simple mistake. Today, you wandered into mine.“
“I’m a… p-per-son…”
“You’re an animal. You die like they die.”
He squeezed the trigger and the Weatherby erupted, this time leaping clean out of his hands and tumbling into the snow. And then, the hunter’s head was no more. It was as if the ground had coughed, spitting up a snowy, bloody mixture of dirt, meat and ice. The hunter’s limbs went slack and the lower jaw (all that was left) tipped to the side, small ribbons of steam seeping from the exposed throat before dissipating into the winter air. A few moments later, the snow that fell upon the body stopped melting. It collected on the brown, blood spattered material of the dead man’s coat, as well as on his shattered cheekbone and lifeless fingers. Fingers that would never shoot a gun or kill anything ever again.
The man lifted the rifle out of the snow and dusted it off, slinging it over his shoulder and turning to leave with a smile and a bounce in his step. The blood stains on his clothes would be tough to get out, but some bleach and some heavy scrubbing would have to take care of it. He’d need them to be ghost white before his next hunt.
"He who does not punish evil commands it to be done"
-Leonardo Da Vinci