(NOTE: I watched a television program recently in which people were hunted for sport, an old, old plot line. Predictably, the tables were turned on the hunter. Even with this positive ending, the treatment of it left me unsatisfied. What follows is the flash fiction version of how I would have done it.)
Marisa tried to quiet her gasping. She leaned her back and head against the tree’s rough bark. She allowed herself a moment to close her eyes, but the waiting images made her groan and she quickly opened her eyes again.
How did this happen? Any strength was gone, dropped over the ledge with Clare. Clare, her other half for the last ten years, since middle school early morning phone conferences about hair and fashion, Clare was dead. This camping trip, planned for months, was their college graduation gift to each other, Clare’s younger but bigger brother, Dane, enlisted to come along as their “bodyguard”.
Dane had been the first to die.
They had been sitting in camp, eating breakfast, when Dane’s eyes went wide. Marisa then heard a sharp cracking sound from a distance away. Dane was looking down at a flower of blood spreading out in the center of him. His eyes went blank just before he crumpled to the ground.
Before they could even react, there was a pinging noise and a pan owent flying as the delayed crack was heard. By the third shot, a limb above their heads falling into the fire, they realized it wasn’t a hunting accident. They were being told to run. The hunt had begun.
All day and through night, the girls ran, sobbing, gasping. Very early, as the sun was rising, they caught a glimpse of their hunter, a man in camouflage, carrying what even the two girls knew was a high-powered rifle, not a regular hunting rifle. He was walking below their hiding place, watching the ground.
Clare was beginning to lose it, to hyperventilate. Marisa gripped her arm, pinching it painfully to get her to collect herself. Once she was certain the man was out of earshot, she whispered harshly, “He’ll follow our tracks up here eventually. Let’s go back the way he came. Maybe that will confuse him enough to give us time.”
Clare’s eyes were wide with panic and grief. “Why is this happening?”
Marisa, hearing the question for the hundredth time, couldn’t decide whether to hug her or throttle her. “I don’t know, but it is. Now come on.”
They had run then, their lungs burning, their eyes stinging, adrenaline their only fuel. Marisa began to feel she was no longer connected with her body. There were countless falls, each helping the other up, taking a moment to suck in air, then continuing the run. All sense of direction lost, Marisa tried to focus only on safety, the miracle ahead. She willed herself not to picture Dane.
As they reached a small clearing, Marisa directed them around it, near the tree line. There was a ledge ahead, dropping 200 feet to another clearing below. At its edge, she stopped suddenly, Clare running into her back. Below was the impossible: cars, SUVs, and people milling about wearing police vests.
Before Marisa could stop her, Clare rushed forward, waving her arms and screaming. Marisa saw Clare’s body jerk a split second before she heard the shot. She lunged toward her, but Clare, turning strangely to look at Marisa, her face a mask of shock, disappeared from her sight and dropped silently over the edge of the world.
And now Marisa leaned against the tree, gasping, numb with exhaustion and grief. She had heard the explosion of shouts and movement from below as Clare fell, but didn’t look. Instead, she turned and walked away from the ledge, back into the clearing. She held out her arms and shouted, “Come on! I’m right here!” Her voice broke, but she continued to scream her taunts, her arms straight out as she paced back and forth in the open.
Then she saw him. The rifle butt resting on his hip, the hunter stepped out of the trees and squinted at her.
“Well?” she called. “What’s the matter? Too easy for you? Can’t shoot unless it’s in my back as I’m running away?”
Her voice didn’t sound like her own, like it was coming from a distance. The man grinned at her, his head tipping slightly.
Marisa took a step toward him. “Why?” she screamed. “Why?”
He slowly lowered the rifle. “Why not?” he said, and all fight went out of Marisa as she stood, weeping and waiting, watching the rifle as it was pointed at her.
She closed her eyes, then heard the shot. Gasping, her eyes few open, and she watched, confused, as the hunter himself crumpled onto the ground, his rifle falling out of his hands. Arms grabbed at her then, people swarming into the clearing, running, shouting… Someone took her arm and walked with her as Marisa slowly moved toward the man who had taken her life from her.
“Is he dead?”
“Soon,” said the agent beside her.
“Why did he do this?” she asked, not looking up.
“He’s not like us,” was the quiet reply.
Marisa walked closer to him. He had blood seeping from his mouth. His shirtfront was covered with it. He was gasping for breath.
Marisa stood over him. “How does it feel?” she asked quietly, flatly.
When he looked at her, his eyes were wide, frantic.
“Are you scared?”
There was a flash of defiance, but then the fear took over and he began to cry, tears streaming toward his hair.
Marisa stared at him a moment. His face blurred and she saw Dane and Clare, and then slowly lowered herself into the grass. With both hands, she lifted the man’s head and laid it in her lap. She stroked his hair as his crying stopped and his breathing slowed. His eyes were unfocused and confused as he looked up at her.
“It’s okay to be afraid,” Marisa said, her voice low, her exhaustion complete. “That’s what makes us human.”
He reached for her and was still holding her hand three minutes later when he died.