Hunter from the Stars
by Evan Rodenhausen
The hunter went away to a dark wood to get food for his family. The sky was hard and bright when he left, but soon it became night. When he came to the woods, he was afraid.
Bushes here did not grow berries. There were no apple trees. It was told that great wild pigs were known to roam the forest, though, and that is why the hunter went, even when no one else did. People from the town and people from the mountain and people from the country said that it was not safe.
But the hunter needed food for his family.
People claimed the wild pigs to be as large as calfs, with plenty of good fat. The hunter believed that if he killed two, he could feed his family until the next full moon when the traders came to town. Even one might suffice.
So he went into the woods. Rifle hitched over his shoulder with a strap. Knife holstered in his belt. He brought no tarp or bedroll with which to make camp, only stone and flint to make a fire and preserve what he killed. It was early winter. Leaves had fallen from the trees, and the sky was clear and star ridden.
The hunter came to the top of a hill, and there he lay flat on his stomach. He aimed his rifle into the valley below. Without the moon, it was too dark to see anything more than dim shapes. But the wild pigs would roam early in the morning, and he would not be caught sleeping.
The hunter waited. He became tired. He became hungry. He shivered in the cold and believed the chill would not allow him to sleep. As he began to yawn, he placed the rifle on its side and sat upright on the hill. From there, he watched the sky.
Stars blinked, as if watching him. Constellations stretched out above.
There was the one that looked like a ladle. There were the two that looked like hunting dogs. There was the one that looked like an eagle. And there was the one that looked like a hunter.
The hunter thought of home. He would often watch the constellations with his children. They would create stories about them. Give names to the stars within.
He tried to remember the names as he drifted off to sleep.
He awoke with his breath coming out in short bursts, his chest heaving. It had grown darker. He shivered as sweat trickled down his temple.
It was deep into the night and he had not slept long. He looked around and could see only dim trees spread far apart on the hill, thickets and brush. Nothing moved in the valley below. The hunter returned his gaze to the sky.
There was the one that looked like a ladle. And there was the one that looked like an eagle. Overhead were stretches of black and empty sky.
The hunter fumbled for his rifle and aimed it at the stars. Sweat had dampened his shirt and it clung to him, freezing him. His teeth chattered, making the only sound in the forest.
And then something rustled in the valley below. He shifted his aim. He gripped the rifle so hard that the strips of metal binding began to cut into palms. “Who’s there?” he said.
There was a snort and something like a squeal. The hunter’s heart leapt. His fear was forgotten. He narrowed his eyes until he could see a bright and lumpy shape emerge from behind a bush, and then he pulled the trigger.
A flash of fire and a trail of smoke. A strange snarling sound as the thing was struck and ran off. But the hunter did not think of it. He went down into the valley, searching for the pig, but could not find it. He grew frustrated and gathered a kindling of dry leaves and twigs and started a fire. He found a dead branch and stuck it into the fire and carried it like a torch around the valley.
There was no pig. At length, he heard a strange whimpering sound. But still he did not think of it. He thought only of his need, and he followed the sound through the woods.
The whimpering drew closer. With it, he saw drops of blood on the forest floor. They glowed strange colors. Bluish-white and copper and yellow. Puddles of twinkling blood.
When the hunter came upon the dog lying on the ground, he thought of his children. He looked up into the sky and saw the stretches of blackness where the constellations should have been. He did not scream. A long and twisted shape of brightness lurched out of the dark, something terrible and old, and the hunter was swept away.
His son had been watching the stars from the bedroom window that night, unable to sleep, thinking of his father. He had watched the stars leave the sky, and then return some time later. But they were bigger when they returned. Fuller. And the child thought that he counted a new star among them.
Clouds moved in from the east, and a cold rain fell on the land. A small fire was extinguished in the dark woods, and the child went to bed thinking of the new star, how it had blinked at him like a watchful eye before the clouds had come and taken it away.
About the Author:
Evan Rodenhausen lives and writes in Philadelphia, PA, where he works in immigration law and advocacy. A graduate student at Arcadia University, his research focuses on the intersection of linguistics and cognitive psychology. His fiction has appeared in ElectricSpec and the Metaworker, among other places. Follow him on Twitter @EvanRodenhausen