by Rekha Valliappan
'But it is one thing to read about dragons and another to meet
—Ursula K. Le Guin
Hunters who break animals unknowingly hunt themselves. This year I
see Zara and something changes—a sense that it is I who am the
monster, the predator. We enter the woods. I see winds scatter the
leaves, trees scurrying, decapitated heads of trophy animals mounted on
walls. It's the usual season of deer culling to control the population.
We are gathered here to slay these 'ferocious' ten to fifteen point
deer. Don't know how it's going to shape up. We are not close to the
animals we hunt, nor to those we eat. Our meat is from the produce
aisles where products are readied and sold. We are close to our land,
our houses, our families, our roads, our front yards, all the places
deer have been spotted this year. So, quid pro quo as our local
dailies headline when dealing with the marauding antics of these savage
beasts. All I can say is I'm one of the sports hunters, licensed to
kill, here for the entertainment like the rest, reporting at my zone,
for hunting duty.
I want to trust my instinct when I first see Zara. She is walking
the forest floor. She looks like a lost tree. Her many arms hang down,
her legs harnessed to the undergrowth. She is not easy to detect, the
camouflage of her leafy face blending in with the shadows leaving no
The sensation of her sentience is not lost on me, the way she
follows our every step, how she lingers, her hesitation of approach to
come nearer, the gliding stride, almost as if with her stops and starts
she would break into dance. The passing look she throws me endowed with
feeling commingles with her gait. Just for a fleeting instant I am lost
in the crystalline purity of her silence, the maturity of her gaze
flowering within the circle of her radius. She captures the essence of
the cosmos with that look.
It is love at first sight. Lot of reasons. I love trees, spindly or
thick, craggy or moist, wiry-twisted or ornamental-like. She is so near
I can smell her. But I cannot place her. A walking species? I have
heard of monocots that actually "walk." But how has she arrived here?
And to what purpose—stalking us? Will she let me touch her?
The experience leaves me chilled, the shout I am about to deliver
to the others whether in alarm or joy, or a meaty combination of both,
it escapes me which, frozen on my tongue. We have been prepping all
summer, me and my hunting partners—veterans all, who without the sport
would have no hunt. Three hours of tracking our elusive target has
taken us deep into forest canopy. We are familiar with the route. Same
trail last year, and the year before. I embrace the prickliness of the
humidity and feel some unease. It will not be long.
And there he is, not ten yards away—a magnificent gray. The moment
is past. Our group misses Zara's presence entirely. When the shot rings
out it screams into her shadow. I jump. The stag with scarcely a
stagger oozing mucus and blood sinks like a dead weight to the ground.
The aim is true. Bulls-eye! We would not have to track an excrement and
stench trail the following day, to complete the kill. A cheer of sheer
relief is felt and expressed as the stag's eyes go dull.
I forget Zara, distracted by my group, by the animal stilled with a
something beautiful that was once living just moments ago. There is no
denying such activities contribute to our households. Deer hunters know
what's afoot in their neighborhoods. My mind empties of all thought as
I wonder who is the more savage, us or the prey, who is the one
occupying whose land, us or the deer, who is the one who is armed, us
or the animal? Modern life has altered my old age. My generation is no
better than the old men who used to hunt rabbit and quail with bow and
arrow. Am I the only one squeamish? I glance around.
In seconds the insect-like stick creature, my walking tree Zara,
without hesitation had scuttled at lightning speeds covering distance
in a twist of sliding indistinguishable movement. Not a sound copies to
our callous ears. A neon green ray of light glows eerily in the jungle.
The light strobes, probes, cording through the trees to where the dead
stag lies in a motionless heap.
In less than an instant the impressive beast stands as if merely
waking from a sleep—restored to its former self. It sniffs the air,
massive antlers shaking mightily in a wild swagger. Its gray coat turns
a creamy white. Clawed into the back of my mind is the sound of its
roar mightier than anything I've ever heard, louder even than the
deafening sound of the muzzleloader.
Or could it be Zara booming out the dark cry of the universe. I
will never forget the look of incredulous stupefaction on everyone's
faces, or their bulging eyes, one for the hunting magazines, as if each
is ready to take off as fast as their legs will carry. We are struck
Before we can move a step, stag and Zara without backward glance
silently gain purchase and escape into the cover of the woods.
© 2019 Rekha Valliappan
Rekha Valliappan is a multi-genre writer of short fiction and
poetry. Her horror, fantasy, scifi, and clifi short stories have featured
in international magazines including Lackington’s Magazine, Thrice
Fiction Magazine, Across The Margin, Third Flatiron, Eastern Iowa
Review, Theme of Absence, Intellectual Refuge, ColdNoon Journal, The
Punch Magazine, Foliate Oak Literary Magazine, Rabid Oak, Friday Flash
Fiction, Mercurial Stories, Queen Mob’s Teahouse, Five:2:One Magazine,
Coffin Bell Journal, and Boston Accent Lit, where she won the Accent Prize,
and elsewhere. She is a Pushcart Prize nominee 2018.
Find more by Rekha Valliappan in the Author
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