Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Fair Game

Rot and skunk filled the air. A figure lay sprawled amongst the brambles. The scents repulsed and allured me. I edged nearer my nose sniff-sniffing.

A man. Flies crawled across his face and in and out of his open mouth. Fear made me gag and I tasted my breakfast in my throat. My head swam. Then, I howled.

My legs trembled. I was alone with a dead man, and I desperately wanted to be anywhere but here. I started away, then glanced back over my shoulder. I didn’t want to look, but something drew me back to the body. The man seemed smaller dead, and helpless. I blinked back tears.

Blood pooled around his head. His dark blonde hair was matted with leaves and dirt. Face scraped and dirty, the front of his clothes torn and streaked with mud, missing one shoe, he looked like he had run in a panic, until, he fell and hit his head. Like something chased him.

The bad odor filled the space around him. I tried to breathe through my mouth, but tasted the putrid air. I felt I knew what it was, but couldn’t place it.

His dead brown eyes stared at me like he was trying to tell me something. I stared hard at him willing him to talk. What a strange place for him to be, half-mile to the nearest road; and not a trail people usually rode on. I thought about the time when I last saw him alive. He’d tried to feed me. Catch me. Mumbled about a new home. I’d growled my irritation and he left; now I wished I’d at least smiled good-bye.

It was about an hour since I’d observed the hunt at the kennels. When I’d heard “Gone Away” on the huntsman’s horn signaling they were on the scent of their quarry. I listened to the silence. I looked at his still form. “What happened to you?” His dead eyes remained blank.

A hound opened, near. His voice was true and strong and the rest of the pack joined him. “Over here.” Hooves drummed the earth. The sound grew. “Help, help,” I yelped. The riders would know what to do.

My composure left, and so did I. I deserted Mike and clawed my way through the brush looking for the hunters. The hounds ran past me, then moved on and circled around Mike’s body baying loudly. The huntsman appeared. He didn’t see me. His eyes were focused on his hounds. He put his horn to his lips and sounded “Gone to Ground”, the tune played when hounds have trapped their quarry. Terrible tearing sounds filled the air.

I gasped. The man was what they were hunting. Someone had covered him with the scent of fox. That was the smell, the familiar smell, used to trick hounds into thinking they were chasing live game. The field of hunters arrived. I stood frozen, hidden in the thicket.

One of the masters raised his flask. “Here’s to good sport. The animal rights people’ll be happy to know we didn’t kill a fox.” He laughed. I stepped back; a stick cracked like a pistol under my foot. The group of riders turned toward me.

“Who’s that?” someone asked.

“A vixen,” one yelled and pointed my way. I looked desperately from one rider to the next. Hyenas watching their next meal.

Dunwood stared down at me, his eyes dark and hooded like a buzzard’s.

“What’s the name of this town foxy lady?” His voice came out a snarl. Spittle formed at the corners of his mouth. My red tail with white tip met my nose as I spun about. I ran.

“Fair Game, girlie. Fair Game,” Dunwood shouted.

I heard the pack move through the tall grass behind me. The huntsman blew “Gone Away” on his horn.

I led them toward the hidden ravine. Fair game, I breathed in, fair game, I breathed out, and watched them tumble over the edge.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Respect Your Elders

The younger man’s chest expanded as he uncoiled his spine, stretched tall. He took a pleased breath, felt in control, pointed to a scatter of blank paper lying on the desk. Time to set things in motion. It was growing dark.

“Write down what I told you before you forget.” He stroked his upper lip, waited.

Green scowled, shuffled the blank pages, tapped them into a neat stack, and laid it aside. With effort he pulled a four inch thick ledger toward himself. He patted the saddle brown leather cover. Gnarled arthritic fingers fumbled as he opened it.

“These old books talk to me.”

“Write the letter.” The younger man flexed, admired the thickness of his forearms. The muscles rippled beneath the tawny skin of his jacket as he made fists of his hands. He wouldn’t mind a little physical persuasion exercise. It would relieve the growing tension teasing his mind.

Green frowned, straightened, shook his head; his brows shoved a trench between his eyes.

“No, I’ll straighten things out. Point of honor. Need to give people a chance to right their wrongs.” He leaned back in his leather chair, swiveled, shoved the ledger onto a shelf. “That’s not why I called you here. We’ve known each other how long?” His hand cut the air in a sharp impatient stroke. “Never mind, not important. Been doing some research myself.”

The younger man tensed as Green picked up a folder. The old man drummed his fingers on its top.

Ba-du-rum, ba-da-rum, the sound hammered against the younger man’s brain. He gulped from his drink. Surely, the folder contents didn’t concern him. The old geezer didn’t have the tools or the brains to follow his trail. Blood pulsed up his neck, heated his face. He felt jumpy, slammed his fist against the desk.

“Watch out.” Green moved a porcelain horse. “You’re restless as a hound after a bitch. Come back when you’re under control.”

The old man was right, he admitted to himself. He needed to leave before he lost control, blew the whole deal.

“Sure thing boss.” The perspiring glass he held hit the desk with a bang. Liquor sloshed out, spilled upon the polished mahogany surface. An insolent nod, a sneering curl to his lip followed the bang. He felt a slight ease in the tension that gripped him like hands around his throat; he coiled his arm around his briefcase, pulled it to his side. The invisible hands loosened even more. A few more days, then he’d strike.

Green, he noticed, narrowed his eyes, lowered his chin, and scowled. He shouldn’t have slammed the glass down, but had been unable to control the impulse. He realized it was a mistake, and mistakes could be dangerous. He backed away, pivoted on his heel. Control. It was becoming his mantra. He thought of what he would soon do. His muscles relaxed, his breathing slowed, his mood improved. Time to leave. He’d be back soon enough, finish the job he’d started.

He pushed through the door, back in control, no old man or two-bit artist could stop him now. The sound of ice rattling in a glass followed him as he left the room. He thought of the old man wiping up the mess he’d left behind and allowed a cruel twist of amusement to play across his lips. Thunder rolled as he walked; he glanced up, the sky was like a dark shroud overhead, as if it was painted black.

His chest expanded, exploded as the lightning struck. The last thing he heard was an old man’s crackling laugh.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Morning Walkout

Foxhounds pushed against me with their lean bodies, hard muscles quivering. Anticipation made them high, eager. I tapped sides with my whip to move them away, breathed in the wet earth-like smell of their coats and the energy vibrating in the air. Youngsters were coupled to seniors with collars linked by brass clips and leather. The huntsman, other whipper-in and I moved to the kennel door, hounds hot breath at our heels. We walked out into the fresh air of May, made the pack wait, settle and focus. A note from the huntsman's brass horn produced a cacophony of voices and we were off.

The trail through the woods tunneled in green foliage offered scents to keen noses.

"Pack to him" I said as a few hounds began to stray. They trotted back into formation. We moved at a brisk pace, covered over two miles down dirt and gravel roads, snaking amongst old forest and young briers. At the pond, we took a break, a special reward for good behavior. The hounds held their place until the huntsman signaled with a soft chirp, then they exploded into the water. Paws against clay, a thousand bird wings beating. The unified splash, a wave crashing to shore.

A horn toot and all left the pond, packed up and followed their leader for the final trek back to the kennel. At the door, the huntsman stood aside. The hounds filed into the main room tongues lulling out one side of their mouths, lips stretched in grins. Content with their outing, happy to be home.

Run by run, the huntsman's eyes bade them to enter. Each hound knew when it was his turn. The last door shut and the room grew quiet. Before I left, I leaned against the wall, muscles quivering, gaze moving from hound to hound, eager to communicate to the pack how much I enjoyed our morning.