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Fiction: Hunters (a Horror Story)
Shortly before I got caught for everything, I spoke with a hunter one rainy evening near the end of my shift at the Co-Op where I worked as a cashier. I was there that summer, saving up money for overpriced textbooks in the fall. It was easier work than waitressing, although it paid a lot less.
The hunter was still wearing his orange reflective vest and green-and-brown camouflage jacket. He was probably just getting back into town after a weekend trip.
Ahead of him in line, there was a younger guy with glasses and a Marmot raincoat. He was buying several packs of tofu, one pack of vegetarian hotdogs, and some other vegan foods—you know, stuff like that cheese substitute that isn’t actually that bad if you try it. Anyway, the hunter took slight offence to this.
When the young man had left, and it was the hunter’s turn, he said to me, in a disparaging voice, “Vegan weenies.” Then, to clarify, he said, “The food. Not the guy.” He then laughed, and further clarified, “Well, maybe the guy too, who knows.”
I’m always game for a conversation, so of course I thought to build on this little observation and see where it led to. I asked him, “You’re not a vegan, I take it?”
He laughed to himself again, and jerked a thumb towards the parking lot. “I have a deer out back there in my truck right now. Shot it myself earlier today. It’s just…”
“It’s just what?” I asked, while I swiped his hamburger buns and Tylenol across the scanner, heard them beep, and then put each into the reusable bag.
The hunter laughed to himself. “Don’t worry about it, I’m just being an asshole,” he said.
People like this always make for the best conversation, so I had to press him to keep talking. I said, “No way, tell me. It’s just what? I’m a bit of a hunter myself, you know.”
The hunter smiled; then hesitated, thinking better of it.; then shrugged, and simply said, “It’s the natural order.”
“Tofu is the natural order?”
He laughed. “Life eating life. My dad used to tell me… I mean, he was old school, but you know, not all of that is bunk, right? He used to tell me, ‘Boy, any animal who isn’t willing to kill, it don’t deserve to be alive in t’ first place.’ And I dunno… You ever stop to think about that?”
I thought to myself, what a wonderful person to have wandered in to the store to come and talk to me. It was like it was fate or something. You understand, right? How hard it is to find somebody who you can talk to about things like this without it getting really awkward?
“Do I ever think about that… let me see… sometimes,” I said with a sly grin. “You tend to agree with him, then?”
“I mean, what’s there to say? Those scientists, you know what, they keep finding out that even those little wee spiders feel pain; when you have ‘em stuck in those glue traps for days, and they’re drying out… it’s misery. That’s what I read. Also, they keep finding out how plants feel pain. Man. Mowing the lawn—imagine the carnage. From the grass’ point of view.”
I imagined a field of semi-sentient green strands perking straight up, unable to get out of the way while mechanical blades swung and ripped through them one after another, sucking the tops of their bodies up into the darkness, and this repeating hundreds and hundreds of times, while the whole field screamed.
“That’s a heck of a thought,” I admitted.
“But you know… I’m not going to stop mowing my lawn.”
“I like that expression,” I said, smiling. “I’m not going to stop mowing my lawn.”
“That’s right.” The hunter shrugged again. “I mean, my pa was right, wasn’t he? If you aren’t willing to kill, you had best just die because otherwise you’re in a bit of a tricky situation to figure out.”
I frowned while I slid the cheese whiz across the scanner twice until I heard a beep.
“I am not convinced that’s right,” I said. I lifted a finger and pointed it at him, then continued, “I can prove it, too.”
“Oh? You can prove it, huh? Let’s hear it,” the hunter said, seeming sincerely interested.
“What about babies? Should we go throw all the babies off cliffs just because they don’t have a killer instinct?”
“Well, no, babies are fine. Throwing em off cliffs, that’s old school evil. Homeric.”
I swiped the last of his items past, a can of ground coffee, while my hand went up to play with the red stone necklace I was wearing, and I thought about my first kills.
“I’m just saying,” I finally continued, “it’s not as natural as you think. I think you have to learn to kill. There’s a cultural component to it. It’s not automatic, it’s more like a tradition that gets passed on to you once you’re old enough. Until then, you might not even know how things work, right? Until then, it’s not like you deserve to die. You’re just a pup. Plenty of people never totally grow up in that way, too—most people, I’d say.”
My manager walked past at that point, and she gave me ‘the look’ as she heard me talking to the hunter about these things while a short line was forming behind him. I think I paled a tiny bit while simultaneously almost chuckling at how awkward that must have appeared.
“Maybe this isn’t a workplace conversation,” I admitted.
He paid for his groceries by tapping a thin, plastic card against the debit machine, and I gathered his bags together. We weren’t still offering free bags, nobody was at that point.
Before he left, he turned, and said, “You’re only half wrong. Name’s Joseph, by the way.”
I reached out my hand and we shook. “I’m Lisa,” I said, smiling.
He asked me for my number.
After that… you know what happened after that. It was all over the news.
The main thing to me however is how nice of a friendship it was growing into. While it lasted.
His perspective was a bit simple, it’s true, but he basically had the right way of looking at things and I felt like we could have some real conversations together. He had this old school way of looking at things, and lived life in a way that was closer to how our ancestors did, except he did so without ending up becoming some weirdo in the woods who couldn’t cope with modern society. A functional adult, not Ted Kaczynski. For better or worse.
One night, I had meant to prove to him that killing is a learned thing, although admittedly, it was something that most creatures learned accidentally or by necessity at some point—but still: humans barely count as the ‘natural-born killers’ that we like to claim we are.
I was about to show him the proof, in full vivid detail, but he stopped me, and he just laughed and smoked one of his gross unfiltered cigarettes and talked about his instincts guiding him through the world.
As if. It was pulp fiction paperbacks, old movies, and adventure documentaries that guided him through his world; not some kind of internal compass called his ‘instincts.’ I adored him for it, but that doesn’t mean he was right.
The thing is, we mostly kill, truth be told, accidentally, while blundering about trying to do something unrelated to killing. As a species, I mean. Scraping coral reefs with fishing nets, for example.
Real killing is something you have to learn to do. When you get the blood on your hands, and it’s sticky, and it gets on your shirt, and you notice a tiny red streak on your chin in the mirror because you touched your face without even knowing, and you have to clean up after yourself, and process the carcass, and then go to work the next day like you’re an ordinary person… even when you’re not… it’s different. You are taking ownership of your actions. You are acting as a mature, educated adult. Somebody who has embraced ‘the natural order’ and has become at peace with it.
He was a stubborn son of a bitch. Hah. Probably still is.
I remember sitting, back then, in my basement, dug out over the last couple of years and full of those wonderful insects squirming under all those tarps, thinking about all of this while I finally decided that… this guy might actually be real. Like me. Not a real hunter in the way I was, but maybe a real human being; perhaps something close enough to what I was that I could feel kinship with him.
And I decided that I wasn’t going to cut him open and watch him bleed.
I decided that possibly I had finally gained a friend.
I’m glad he didn’t see them take me away. I knew there was nothing wrong with the things I did, but… I wouldn’t want to have seen his face when he finally realized what I really was. The poor tough guy would have turned green and been afraid, and I would rather not see him like that.
He was there in the Co-Op, at the other end of the store shopping for some eggs and cheese, when all those officers came to arrest me. Out of sight. I went quietly. It was fine.
I’ll get out one day. Maybe then we can resume our argument, and because I’ve really already won, he’ll have to admit it, and we’ll have a laugh about the whole thing.
Real killers are cultivated beings. It’s not a birthright. It takes a lot of work.
Copyright Nathan Schuetz, all rights reserved
Pardon my inconsistent posting. There was a death in the family. I wasn’t up to writing something new (it was going to be about the Howls from the Wreckage kickstarter, which is really cool), so I’m posting a short story I wrote a few months ago instead.
The story is basically me experimenting with “voice” and implied horror. I’m fond of it, but it’s definitely not perfect. I hope you enjoyed it regardless.
It honestly felt really good to move something from my “in progress / editing” list to my “finished / published” list.
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