The Moose wanders the wilderness—an ocean of timber and terror. Heart in its throat. Fear on its back. By the blue burn of the moon, seized by a thousand hands of pine, the moose hunts for the huntsman. Not to kill him; not to run him through with velvet antlers or trample him with heavy hooves, despite being pierced by his arrows. But to show him: the splash of crimson upon the rocks, the desolation of ferns along the forest floor. A fierce keening, blooming beyond the shadows.
The Huntsman holds his love close. Chests kissing, hearts colliding. Together, with graceless feet, they begin to waltz. Loud off liquor, the huntsman throws his silly song to the night; she cackles, and he can feel every breath shake as it escapes, cool as a mountain breeze. It makes him weak. Leaves him hungry. He goes to remove her nightgown, but when she tears away, there’s bloodred handprints left on the fabric. Then, he wakes up. Finds himself alone, having danced with a ghost. Yet not alone—there’s that moose.
The Raven spreads its weedy wings and takes flight. Soaring up and out of the chimney like a wisp of smoke. To fly from the wicked witch. Before she returns and brings a cleaver down upon its slender neck; before she plucks it clean of ebony feathers and feeds on its flesh. So the raven drifts deep into the night of the woods. It frolics in freedom—until it hears the huntsman’s wife. Screaming. And sees the huntsman, following fast.
The Wolf, lone and mangy, patrols the mossy rocks and rotting root-balls of fallen fir upon the spine of the ridge. Prowling for prey. Just as taught. Taught by the huntsman’s wife, the angel of the forest, who rescued the wolf that winter morning; how she kindled a fire to defrost the dog from icy slumber! How she deactivated her husband’s steel traps and barbwire snares—devices of death—so they would not harm it. Which is why, when the wolf smells bloodshed, mingled with her scent, it charges. Howling.
The Fawn lies low and very still. It does not react to the dawning danger. Does not whimper when the animals approach; does not scamper off when the huntsman comes crashing into the thicket of laurel. Crossbow ready—arrows aching. Blood bejeweled upon him. Emerald eyes on fire. In this chaos, the fawn suffers in silence, for it does not wish to end up like the woman. All the fawn dares to do is wait for its mother (who stays away from her odorless child—so she won’t attract predators).
The Bear breaks out of hibernation, beckoned by the forest outcry. Rising eight-feet tall, the bear lumbers like a man out of the cave. The huntsman, bathed in red, stands over his prey: a woman, adorned in a nightgown, splayed over the rocks—a human sacrifice upon an altar. The bear curses the huntsman for killing her—says he has dirty paws. Murdering the witch feels like a bad dream, but the huntsman, sozzled, can’t be sure if he’s dreaming. His wife, in shock, just screams.
Kieron Walquist lives in Mid-Missouri—mostly in the woods, where he tries to catch his shadow. His stories have appeared in Electric Cereal, Flash Fiction Magazine, Gone Lawn, Purple Pig Lit, The Molotov Cocktail and Unreality House, among others.
Artwork: Mandy Tsung, “Float”