The Hunter and the Prey
A short story
She never took this way home, through all four years of high school. In the past two years of driving herself, this road was untouched by the wheels of her Wrangler. The trees on each side of the pavement intimidated her, and she could not think of anything worse than hitting and killing an innocent fawn that was trying to make it home safely. Why should she be able to get home at the expense of these poor deer? It seemed unjust, and — for that and many other reasons — this high school senior never even considered trailing off down this dark, narrow road.
The Wrangler provided a minimal amount of heat, and the girl shivered. She reached into her glove compartment to grab a pair of gloves. The steering wheel shifted and the vehicle coasted onto the thin shoulder of the road.
BANG. The girl jumped in her seat. The Jeep shook and hissed. There was a screeching noise — the sound of metal against pavement.
First, she flat out denied what was happening. It’s just something small. It’s no big issue. Just keep on driving.
Then came anger. How the FUCK is this going to happen to me right now? Are you trying to ruin my life? Why, God? Why?
Then came bargaining. Okay, okay. Just let this one go. We can power through this. I can make it home easily with this. It’s not a problem at all.
This was followed by a brief period of resignation. Why even bother anymore? What’s even the point of life? Why am I here? Nothing really matters after all.
Finally, coming full circle, the girl accepted the situation. She pulled over and stepped out of the Wrangler, zipping up her coat.
Low and behold, her back left tire was completely unhinged from the axle. A piece of rusty metal stuck out of the mangled tire. The girl sighed. She knew right then and there that there was no way on Earth she could fix this by herself. It was a lost cause, and so were the hopes of being home in time for her brother’s birthday dinner.
“Dammit.” The girl took a breath and stared down at the hunk of useless metal and rubber. She shivered and held her arms, rubbing for warmth. The girl put on her varsity jacket and quickly retreated back into her Jeep. She pulled out her phone.
She dialed, but there was never any ringing. It became clear this was a dead zone — no service of any kind, and no help in sight. The road stretched for miles in each direction. She had just run a 1600m relay, along with a 400m hurdle relay. Her legs were sore, and walking was not an option.
Just then, a knock came at the window. She jumped and let out a little scream. A man dressed in camouflage and carrying a rifle smiled on the other side of the glass. He had a beard and one long scar running from his right eye down to the corner of his lip.
He addressed the young girl, “Hey there, missy, I couldn’t help but hear the commotion. Need any help?”
She froze. She had seen too many movies and read too many stories to believe that someone would be nice enough to offer a helping hand in this frigid weather.
The girl shook her head. “No, I’m okay… I just called the cops, so they should be here soon.”
The hunter smirked. “Missy, there’s no reason to lie. I know you didn’t call the cops because I know you ain’t gettin’ any service out here.”
“I did. I’m not lying.”
“Come on, little missy, quit kiddin’. Look, you’ll freeze to death waitin’ in there all night. I’ve got a truck and I can take you to my cabin. We have a phone there where you can call help.”
The Devil on the girl’s shoulder told her to not buy one word this man was saying, and even the Angel on the other shoulder agreed. The girl wanted the hunter to just go away. His face frightened her, and she did not feel safe at all.
Then, she noticed bloodstains on his vest. She pointed. “What’s that?”
The man looked and then chuckled. “What? What do you think, I’m some kind of sick killer out here who preys on young girls who need help?”
“I hunt. I came up here for the week with my kids. They’re at the cabin right now, sleeping.”
Kids. Yeah, I bet, the girl thought. He’s just trying to appeal to my motherly nature. Nice try.
“Sir, I’m really fine. You don’t have to waste your time here.”
“Alright, I see what you’re gettin’ at, and I see you’re being difficult, but just think about this…” The hunter took a dramatic pause as he stared at the girl through the window. “I’m sittin’ in the cabin tomorrow and my kids are watching cartoons. Then a breaking news bulletin pops up and it says how some lady froze to death in her Jeep on the side of the road in the middle of nowhere. How do you think I’m gonna be able to look my kids in the eyes when I know deep down that I’m the one who could’ve saved her?”
The girl sighed and cautiously opened her door. The man smiled. “Finally. Now come on, it’s freezing out here.”
She followed him to his truck, which had a dead buck slung across the bed. The young girl gasped.
“Squeamish, huh?” The hunter turned to the girl. “Well you better keep your eyes shut when we get to the cabin. You probably won’t like what you see there.”
The man just laughed and said nothing. They entered the truck and took off down a dirt road.
What’s in the cabin? she thought. Probably skinned human beings. And he says he has young kids? How old is he? Sixty? The girl sat as far away from the hunter as possible, as the rifle lay right between them. She tucked her keys in between her fist, continuously reenacting a “worst-case scenario” inside her head.
“So how far is the cabin?” she asked. If there even is a cabin.
“About a fifteen minute drive. Don’t worry, we’ll get there in no time.”
The man nodded. The girl watched as darkness ran alongside the truck. Just don’t fall asleep, she told herself. You’re a track star. If he tries anything funny, just run away. She could barely see any trees or animals — all she saw was the pitch-black night. It mesmerized her.
Don’t fall asleep… Don’t fall asleep… Don’t fall…
Her eyes closed.
Something light fell over the girl’s left shoulder. Then, something much bigger and heavier covered her. She felt the truck’s tires against the dirt road. The vehicle was still in motion.
The girl’s eyes flashed open. She turned and saw the hunter’s arm inches away from her body. This was her worst-case scenario. She gave no thought to the heavy hunting coat that was now keeping her warm, and she sprung into action.
She yelped and stabbed at the hunter with her sharp keys. He tried to defend himself while simultaneously keeping his eyes on the road. “Wait! Stop!”
“Leave me alone! Don’t touch me! Don’t touch me!” The girl connected with the hunter’s hand.
“Fuck!” He looked down at his injured hand as the girl continued to stab.
The truck swerved and approached a tree. The hunter slammed the brakes, but impact was inevitable.
BANG. The truck accordioned against the thick wood of the tree. The windows shattered and glass rained inside the vehicle.
The girl lifted her bloodied head from the dashboard. She looked to her left and gagged, covering her mouth.
The hunter’s sliced hand was no longer a problem. Now there was a steering wheel crushing his windpipes.
He was dead.
The girl crawled out of the window and landed in mud. She stood to her feet and felt a pain in her stomach. She lifted her shirt and winced at the sight of a shard of glass protruding from her abdomen.
The girl did not know where to go, or what to do, but she knew she had to get as far away as possible. She hobbled in the direction the truck was heading.
The girl finally reached a small, cozy cabin that rested on top of a hill. She climbed the hill and prepared to knock on the door, but then she stopped.
It was too dangerous to knock. What if the hunter’s partners were in there, waiting for a new victim?
The girl climbed through an open window and was as silent as she could be when she entered the cabin. She left a trail of blood wherever she went. She sniffed and tasted smoke in the air — there was a log fire burning. She followed the scent and made it to the source of heat.
The girl turned from the fire and stopped when she saw the most terrifying thing she could ever imagine. Not a rapist, or a killer, or a bear, or even the Devil himself.
She saw two young boys standing ten feet away, with their mouths agape. The girl stayed silent. She looked at herself in a mirror above the fireplace. Who was this mangled, bloody monster, and what was she doing in their father’s cabin?