The Hunt or Searching for Purpose
Waiting made Eli anxious. Vacant time like this, thinking, was how you could lose your nerve. Too much time to contemplate and question yourself. Can I do this? he thought, compulsively tapping the butt of the rifle like a clock ticking off the seconds of the day.
The hunters had arrived just before dawn and hidden amongst a patch of trees just east of their hunting ground. They were three. A gruff man of generous proportions sporting a well-worn dark ball cap concealing a significant follicular recession; a tall, long haired man with sharp, youthful features whose lips were more often occupied by a cigarette than spoken thoughts; and Eli, the party’s newest and youngest addition, whose patchy stubble betrayed the boyishness it was intended to obscure.
Sunlight now peaked up behind the hunters. Though they remained shrouded in the lingering darkness of the trees the open space stretching out between them and the hunting ground was brightening. A soft orange luminescence warming the cool morning and unleashing wisps of mist. To Eli it looked like waking ghosts, though of course there was no such thing, he knew. Only the hunters were ghosts, invisibly lurking to haunt their prey.
Just across the clearing two beasts had emerged, a pair of females. Eli could easily down them from this distance but to claim a female as his first kill would surely bring ridicule from the others — or worse, make him a laughing stock. Now, though, Eli swelled with excitement. A male had joined the pair as they mingled on the edge of the hunting ground. Instinctively, he raised his rifle and centered the sight on the its heart, his finger finding the trigger…
A derisive hiss stayed Eli’s hand. From beneath his frayed bill stared the burly hunter’s hard eyes instructing patience. Let’s go. Let’s go, Eli silently urged, but he understood the command. By now the hunters had seen at least a dozen of the beasts arrive and certainly many more had entered the hunting ground from elsewhere as well. A shot here would only serve as an alert and risk scattering them before the hunters had even themselves entered. Anyway, the male was young and undersized.
The tall hunter slowly drew on a cigarette, his sinewy locks illuminated by the burning glow. As the lingering triplet slipped inside the hunting ground he turned slowly to his robust companion, a soft nod of understanding. Now the burly hunter met Eli with a nod of his own. Finally, it was time. Taking a deep breath Eli clutched his rifle and ran out into the now sunlit expanse, following the others. The hunt had begun.
Eli’s eyes struggled to adjust inside the dim hunting ground after his dash through the sunlight. Though he knew the loss of sight ephemeral the young hunter was nervous, he had fallen behind and been separated from his companions. Blind but not deaf he recognized the crack of rifle shots from farther off and with them echoed the commotion of confusion and fear and panic. Where am I? What’s happening? Slowly clarity began to return. Heart racing he gripped the rifle tightly in anxious anticipation, ready for anything, as objects began to emerge into focus. Finally his eyesight normalized. There was nothing. Eli was alone.
Solitude suited him. Growing up he had more often been alone than in others’ company. Prior to that day those many months before, when he finally snuck away, being outdoors had rarely been permitted. Cloistered in that drab, expansive house Eli would escape in fantasy, immersing himself in a dreamscape of his creation. Of those fantastical adventures though it was to be the stalking hunter which had enraptured him most frequently — a bat his rifle, the winding hallways a great and forbidding jungle, a maid the pursued creature of his imagination. Wandering deeper into the winding unknown those memories rushed back and calmed him. Though the steel now in his hands was no longer a bat the forest around him felt familiar.
Up ahead the narrow path reached a clearing. As Eli approached the periphery the cracks of rifles again sounded out. More experienced, the others had tracked the beasts easily. If he did not pick up his pace they could claim all the best trophies or at least run off the rest, he worried. Not too fast though, have to remain cautious. At the clearing’s edge he crouched and scanned the space. It was empty but for a few inanimate obstructions of no concern to a hunter. Still, he repeated to himself the advice the burly hunter had often impressed upon him. They are more dangerous than they look. Smarter, more unpredictable. But a distant noise interrupted this recitation of warning, a steady whining which Eli struggled to place. Its faintness sounded beyond the hunting ground.
The distraction lasted only for a moment as a sudden clattering from the far end of the clearing startled him. A figure had stumbled into the open. It was enormous, a hulking male. No doubt in flight from the others it paused for a moment’s breath, not yet noticing the gawking hunter. Eli admired the beast in awe. This was the prize about which he had always dreamed and now there it stood in his sights. But he had hesitated too long, the panting brute had spotted him. Their eyes locked as each registered the other’s recognition. A simultaneous flinch, the beast bolting for an escape and the hunter’s finger squeezing his trigger. Eli was again alone.
Hesitation had cost him a clean shot and the beast was gone. Momentarily Eli was discouraged, having been so foolish as to miss such an opportunity. As he approached where his target had stood, though, a splattering of blood marked the spot. I hit him. His eyes traced the path of escape. More blood, a trail. It was truly now a hunt. A renewed vigor overtook him as he began to follow the blood trail in pursuit of his trophy farther into the depths.
Every few yards a new splatter of blood confirmed he was on the right track. On and on the trail continued, seemingly with no end. How far could he go? With each twist and turn Eli’s heart pounded with anticipation. The beast was clearly strong, determined — and wounded. That was a dangerous combination. A wounded animal was unpredictable, the hunter reminded himself. If caught off guard, particularly by one of such size, Eli could realize the very fate he was intending to mete out. Caution was in order, he knew. Yet fear, just as injurious as carelessness, had abandoned the young hunter. Trance-like focused now, his senses attuned, every step deliberate. Deeper still he pursued, absorbed in the hunt.
The blood patches had become smears, the beast was stumbling. I’m close. Stepping around a bend Eli made out the sound of heavy breathing. It was coming from ahead, within a covert just off the path. The ground at the entrance was streaked red like a crimson welcome mat. Slowing his approach and readying his rifle Eli prepared to confront the beast. Perhaps it was the pause he took which diminished his focus or maybe the furor had just then erupted but a clamor of shouts and rifle reports suddenly filled the silence around him. The tempest of noise was louder and more ferocious than the earlier disturbances. It appeared to be advancing towards him, like an impending cataclysm of immense gravity. And above the din, hauntingly steady, sang the high pitched whine. Much closer now.
He was unnerved but had come too far to flee. What will come will come. Eli looked back towards the covert. He’s in there. No time to waste. Refocused again he slid next to the entranceway. The breathing was within feet, all other sound had faded to distant recesses of his awareness. Rifle up the hunter turned inside and there he met eyes with the formidable beast.
Michael Schiff held his large, shaking hand out toward the gunman as he cowered against the back of the storage closet. It was an instinctive gesture of conciliation, a plea for mercy. His white button down shirt, freshly ironed just the night before, now wetly glistened a deep crimson. The bullet had pierced his abdomen. Wounded too badly to flee any longer he had hoped to hide in the closet but this relentless psychopath had found his refuge.
His mind raced trying to comprehend what had transpired that morning. Who were these people who had stormed the office building? Why had this man — no, this boy! — shot and chased him? For what purpose was any of it? He was just an accounts manager, a family man who enjoyed sailboats. What had he done? It made no sense.
“Why? … What do you… Why?” Michael Schiff begged through painful breaths, searching for clarity from the looming gunman. The only response an empty, emotionless stare. There was no reason with which to bargain in those cold eyes. Even if there were he lacked the energy. His fate left to providence.
Police sirens echoed around the office building. Their high pitched whine had offered Michael Schiff the reassurance of salvation as he had limped through the hallways. Now they felt like a life preserver floating just out of reach. Yet he held out hope that the officers he had heard charging that way just prior to his discovery by his pursuer would arrive to deliver him. He was supposed to take his son out on the boat this weekend.
As the shouts grew louder the gunman gazed down the hallway in their direction. After a moment his eyes returned to the crumpled, bleeding manager. With blurring vision Michael Schiff watched as the maniac calmly seemed to contemplate the situation.
They were almost there. The manager’s muscular chest rose and fell slowly with each long breath. A chill had come over him. Footsteps were now at the end of the hallway.
“Put it down!”
There was no acknowledgment of the command but the defiant raise of the rifle. Michael Schiff thought of sailing. The gunman pulled the trigger.