THE HUNT Part 25
“Do you see there,” Songbird said, “where the upper branches of the trees reach across to each other, intertwining over the path, yet the trunks of the trees below are limbless and the path itself is free of undergrowth? Does it not have the appearance of a tunnel? If you follow this pathway, it will lead you back to your world. It is through here that the Most-Vile passed. Nor can it return except by this doorway. There are no other doorways on the other side for thousands of miles.”
“We’ll take it from here,” Saint said.
“I would like to restate my willingness, and my overall desire, to come with you,” Songbird said.
“No, I need for you to escort Arly and the others, make sure they get home safe. ‘Sides, this here’s my fight now. Me an’ Dudley-Do-Right, here, I reckon.”
“Thank you for your help,” Joe Clark said to Songbird.
“Then may K’ti guide your steps, my compatriots,” Songbird said, “and also your bullets.”
Saint started down the tunnel of trees. Clark fell in step behind him.
“I’ll say it again, Dudley,” Saint said over his shoulder. “I’m not takin’ any responsibility for you. You get yourself killed, it’s not on me.”
“Understood,” Clark answered. Their footsteps made sucking noises in the wet leaves. “I have to admit,” Clark said, “I’m somewhat surprised that you’d hand over your sidearm to me.”
“Reckon if you’re a cop, that means you know how ta’ shoot,” Saint said. “When we run this dog down, you aim for its head. Body shots don’ do much. I put a bushel barrel worth a’ lead in its skinny belly an’ that di’n seem ta’ bother it much.”
“I think,” Clark said, “I think we’ve crossed over. I think we’re home.”
Saint stopped, looked around.
“Maybe,” he said.
The trees had opened up, and where before most had belonged to some strange species that Saint had been unable to recognize, now they were all cedar trees. But they were cedars of a uniform size and growth, identical trees, and each spaced an equal distance apart. An unnatural forest. But Songbird had said that the pathway led back to Saint’s world.
“Reckon that’s right,” Saint said. “But looks like time must pass differently over on the other side. It was summertime when I left this world.”
“We could be in Canada,” Clark offered. “It was already getting cold when I found my way into the other world. Perhaps we should have asked the Sasquatch where in our world, to be exact, that tunnel would transport us.”
Saint knelt, laid his rifle on the ground next to him, slipped off his backpack and unzipped it.
“Ol’ Songbird wa’n too good with the geography on this side a’ the lookin’ glass,” he said.
“Ah,” Clark said, watching him. “You didn’t give me your only backup weapon, I see.”
“I got a couple a’ little surprises left for our boy.”
Saint brought out the double-barreled shotgun, a breach-loader with the stock shaved down until it resembled the handle of a pistol and both barrels cut off so short they were scarce longer than the ten-gauge shells he loaded into them.
“Now that’s an illegal weapon if I ever saw one,” Clark said. “Cut a man to pieces with that thing.”
“Not a man we’re goin’ after, boss,” Saint said, “an’ you may be plenty glad I’ve got this ‘fore we walk out a’ these woods.”
“I may at that.”
Saint also produced an additional, smaller revolver which he strapped in its holster to his thigh. He slung the sawed-off shotgun over his shoulder by its strap (both ends of the strap attached to the handle), then picked up the rifle and slid back the bolt, checked to make sure a bullet lay in place. He wore a belt of ammo for the rifle wrapped around his torso.
“Gon’ try ta’ drop ‘im with a head shot, from a distance. Hope we don’ have ta’ get in close. But don’ count on it.”
“You’ve done this sort of thing a time or two,” Clark commented.
“A few. Mos’ times I was huntin’ a human bein’, though.”
They fell in step together, neither speaking. Saint had to give Clark credit. The little man knew how to hunt. He made no more noise than Saint himself. He also seemed cool, sharp, concentrating but not breathing heavy. Saint felt pleased that his estimation of the man had proven correct. Clark, like Saint himself, was a pro.
And, worse case scenario, Saint could throw the Mountie between himself and Maka’kahu, buy himself a little time.
The landscape bothered Saint, the unnaturalness of it. Low hills full of uniform cedar trees, no variation. It had grown colder—Saint could see his breath—and the wind started to pick up. Its howling would mask any sounds their quarry made if it came near. And Saint had no doubts the beast was also stalking them.
*It could all come down ta’ one shot.*
Snow lay on the ground now in patches here and there, and where there was none the mossy floor of the forest gleamed wet and black from where it had melted off earlier that day, for it was now dusk, as dark as the constant gloom of the other realm they had just left. Perfect for the eyes of Maka’kahu.
Saint and Clark had never bothered to turn off their flashlights when they’d crossed over from the other realm to this one. The flashlights too might serve as weapons against the monster, or at least a deterrent. In both times he had encountered Maka’kahu, though, all of Saint’s weapons had been but little help.
Don’ think ’bout that, he chided himself. Don’ think ’bout how last time he killed you.
The wind howled. Up ahead, over the crown of a hill and between the cedars, Saint could see light.
He took a breath. Cold as ice, he reminded himself. No fear. No emotion at all. A machine. He took a breath. He smiled. If he allowed himself to admit it—and he never did while on a hunt—he fucking loved this part of it.
When he let emotion cloud his mind, as he had before, when the beast had taken Arly—*Careful, boy. You’re startin’ ta’ like that one a little too much.*—it got him in trouble. It got him killed.
But now he didn’t have to worry about Arly. He didn’t have to worry about anybody. He could relax and enjoy the hunt.
They topped the hill.
“Son of a bitch!” Saint muttered.
Christmas trees. The light he’d seen was coming from dozens of Christmas trees, wrapped up in strings of lights. Yellow, blue, green, red, some blinking on and off, some burning steady, some chasing each other.
“This here’s a Christmas tree farm!” Saint said.
“Fuck!” Clark whispered. “That means there are people around!”
What bothered Saint about that, about what Clark had said—”There are people around!” Clark repeated.–What bothered Saint the most was that it bothered him at all. He didn’t know these hypothetical people. Since when did he give a fuck? Since never. But he felt his heart beating a little faster, all the same.
*When the hell did I grow a conscience?*
“Saint.” Clark pointed. “Tracks.”
Saint cussed. He’d missed seeing them, worrying about the innocent fucking bystanders.
*Shake it off, boy, or you’re gon’ end up dead again. Dead ta’ stay this time!*
His hands around the rifle were sweaty.
He heard a scream.
“There!” he nodded in its direction. He picked up his pace. Clark followed.
Another scream. A squeal. Laughter.
Children’s laughter. Children playing.
Children, in the woods with Maka’kahu.
*Fuck if I care!*
The wind howled, trying to shake the lights out of the trees. They passed a wooden sign, up on four-by-four posts like a screen at a drive-in. Saint turned back to look at the front side of it. ELLERY’S CHRISTMAS TREE FARM. Red letters on a white background, framed by multicolored blinking lights.
“Come on, Carly!” a woman’s voice called.
From another direction, more giggling. Kids having a snowball fight, from the sounds of it.
Just audible beneath the wind, Christmas music from distant speakers: “Angels we have heard on high!”
WAYNE MILLER is the owner and creative director of EVIL CHEEZ PRODUCTIONS (www.evilcheezproductions.blogspot.com, www.facebook.com/evilcheezproductions), specializing in theatrical performances and haunted attractions. He has written, produced and directed (and occasionally acted in) over a dozen plays, most of them in the Horror and Crime genres. His first novel, THE CONFESSIONS OF SAINT CHRISTOPHER: WEREWOLF, is available for purchase at https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/734763
MORTUI VELOCES SUNT!