Casique was jerked out of sleep by a bang. His eyes snapped open, his heart racing. He rises in the darkness, searching for the source of the noise. When he finds it, a now familiar combination of relief and embarrassment wash over him. The woven shutters of the now vacant hamlet had caught the breeze. The hand-crafted wood lightly tapped against the wooden leg holding up the roof.
Casique certainly had not tried to fasten the feeble wall together, and he guessed that the family hadn’t before their encounter with Casique. It wouldn’t matter. The little shelter was only temporary in Casique’s escape.
Casique crossed his arms across his chest and waited for sleep to return.
It wasn’t long ago he, too, was lying to himself just as the pursuers were lying to themselves. Now he saw it as beneath him. They are pathetic, and only he could see it. They were like starving men, begging for food at the heels of their invaders. Like drowning men, unable to swim to shore. Sometimes Casique would try to muster anger at his own, but he has found since his transcendence, nothing comes but contempt. No, loathing, there was loathing in his heart.
A soft spattering of rain started. He opened his eyes. The sound of the pattering rain on the soft ground could give cover to anything approaching. That he could not allow. He would have to start moving himself.
Casique rose and emerged from his seized shelter. The darkness was all consuming, but he could see fairly well in the dark. The wide space provided little for the imagination. A village further down the hill seemed uninterested still, but that didn’t mean others weren’t still coming for him. The village below was unaware of his presence. The two bodies that lie still in the dark to his right was his guarantee no one would be alerted of his presence until he was long gone.
He was being hunted for his beliefs. He was being hunted for knowing the truth. They hunted him because they could not accept the power he had rediscovered.
Five years ago, he had found himself going further up north. Trying, as his elders had suggested, to make peace with the white settlers that were sprouting up like weeds. Casique wasn’t fooled by the lavish lifestyle of their invaders. Instead, being in their presence exhausted him, and slowly dragged his power and confidence down. The settlers are naïve to their lands. Newcomers who knew little of the forest and its secrets.
Survival was not keen to their pasty invaders. Starvation could set in on their outings quickly. Casique used his guiding abilities to slowly get closer to going home. It was during one of these expeditions, that food had become hard to find. Hunting was not helping, and a mishap in a river had sent most of their food to waste. No one would know, Casique realized. He could have just left them, that was no more noble.
No, the entire expedition had been them calling him to his greater power. He could remove what he saw as invaders, debase them, and take on a power meant for the greater spirits. His hatchet made quick work of the sleepers. The next morning, he set camp, and feasted until his belly was full.
Making his way further south, returning home, the hunger followed him from beyond the grave. He had thought his one act might have been enough to satisfy the calling, but it came back to a crippling degree.
Being amongst his own people had also not satisfied the urge. He had still clung to some of the teachings of his people. It had been his own ignorance, which now only made him more self-aware. He stayed on the edges of his home village, hoping the cravings would dissipate. That hunting and a return to his childhood upbringing would see the thirst quenched.
Casique could not take the hunger pangs. A godly force was calling him to his work. He took to hunting the forest, but hunting for two-legged prey. It was difficult in those times. The hills and trees were still mostly his people. He had to venture far from their sphere to find adventurers and settlers that had gone astray. For a time, this satisfied his need.
One outing, he had made a mistake. His prey was too skittish, and a pursuit ended with a musket ball hitting Casique just next to his left armpit.
He had to stay out in the forest for days after that. Tending his own wound less his own discovered his injury. It would be impossible for him to explain. He was sure that the wound would claim him. His body burned each night, and the hunger, the hunger, never went away.
At night, he would have vivid images come to him. The world around him would become foggy. There would be a light that existed from the sky above. Not the sun, not the moon, not even the stars. Just an ever-present light. Hoots became louder, not as if owls were overhead, but as if one large beast covered the land at night.
Unearthly things would prowl the forest floor. Things he had cast out as childish stories from elders long dead. Ghostly images of walking monstrosities would creep between trees. Powerful beings, the likes only found in cautionary tales. Yet he was seeing them, stalking, hunting, hunting for him.
Yet those nights passed, and he found himself moving slowly each day until he returned home. Still healing, the nights did not return with their monsters—but the hunger did.
Casique knew he had passed some great ancestorial test. One they did not speak of, likely as they feared they could not pass the test themselves. As he grew stronger with each day, the more he saw his own people as simple, primitive, and denying their roles.
The crucial day had come, and his hunger was too great. A boy had wonder up to his area. He humored the boy for a while. He was wild and daring as they needed to be. But as the boy bent over to inspect fish Casique had laid out, he saw the strong muscles in the boy’s legs. The tender flesh. The meat that called to him.
A rock made quick work bashing in the skull. Casique slowly picked at the morsels that had opened from the skull. The hunger was satisfied with this, and he began to pick more greedily.
It had not taken long for the village to seek the boy.
Casique could not deceive them all. Even with his budding knowledge, he would be cast out, and then killed for what he had done.
So Casique found himself in the rain at night, wondering how far his pursuers were. The old gunshot wound under his arm throbbed. It often did when it was cold. A reminder that he was a survivor. He was the hunter, too.
He could kill more in the sleeping village below, but that would only consume more time and ensure he was caught. Instead, he turned into the dark and started off in through the rain.
Casique hefted the sack filled with his next meal. They had been the pieces given by the two he had caught unaware before taking to their hut. It could sustain him long enough to find a more suitable hunting ground.
He started north, maybe because of the thought of hunting or, it was the most logical direction to travel.
Casique moved slowly through the hunting and game trails.
As he traveled way out of sight of the hut and the supporting village, he stopped. There wasn’t a sound that drew him, it was something else. Something seemed out of place. A sensation that something was off. He let the rain wash the feeling away. It had to be the fear that came and went with being caught, being prevented from exploring the power he had learned.
There was a noise. There was no way he imagined it. Too low and clear to be imagined. Something just stepped on the dried grass just over the right knoll. With nothing else to do, he darts further down the trail and halts. He waits. A shiver racks his body. Not a simple chill, the world was becoming warmer, but his blood was running colder. A slight fog crested the hill. There were more footsteps, slowly moving just on the other side of the crest. Something moved past two further trees.
Casique’s eyes go wide. Whatever it is, is huge. The body nearly bridged the large gap between the trees. All but blocking out what little light there was. The creature disappears behind the crest of the hill again. It would be at the front of the trail now, but there was nothing there.
The only sound was Casique’s own beating heart. He begins to notice the smell. It lingers at first, like smoke. A rancid stench comes on heavier. Like rotten eggs combined with coppery blood and the undeniable stench of rotting flesh. There comes a lower noise from ahead in the trail. A low growl, like a rabid dog being dragged over rocks.
Casique’s body shook with pure fear now. Something was hunting him, but it wasn’t his people. It had to be one of them. All of his experience, all of his skill, would mean nothing. He means nothing. Bile rises in his throat.
The presence starts to walk away again. The crunching of grass announcing its departure.
Casique stayed motionless. He would not move until he was sure the predator had actually left. The rain came and went, and soon a soft glow started to pierce through the trees and down at the forest floor. He rose and started to move. With how wet the ground was, he was able to move like a ghost himself.
He was right; it had not been his imagination. At the head of the trail where he had lost view of the monster were prints. The prints were larger than his head. Partly hooved, there were odd deeper prints along the sides. Like enormous claws that accompanied some hoofed beast.
They were his hunters. But he knew the human type of hunters were likely not far behind.
Casique moved on, heading further north. There had been a town the whites had set up for years, not much further. Last they had seen, the people had abandoned their town. Not surprising, even among the more cross trained of his former brethren.
Supposedly, there had been warnings sent to the first of the settlers. They had not listened, of course. His people, and those nearby, had used the small valley to banish their sick. Not the physically sick, the ones that became sick of the mind, of the spirit. His own would not pursue far into the valley, and the old, abandoned homes would give him shelter for the night.
There was a large river that cut off the south approach from the valley, but Casique knew of a shallow end of the river further on the east side.
The trek was surprisingly peaceful for how frightening the morning had started. The weather was almost clear. A darkened sky did not curse him with more rain, but kept the harsh sun at bay. It was good as he would need to continue the course for most of the light bearing hours of the day until he reached the shallow section of the river.
Unhindered, he continued. The events only reinforcing that he was innately chosen by his ancestors to revive their true culture.
Casique reached the shallow part of the river. Small fish lingered and darted away as he stepped into the rocky sediment. It was good there was no rain; the river did have a tendency to become wild rapidly, but for now it was barely at his calves.
A light breeze greeted him on the other side. From his wet legs, a chill climbed up him. He had never stopped; he started moving immediately and was just out of sight from the river when he stopped in his tracks.
Off in the distance, standing just outside of the tree line, was a tall figure. It was enormous, towering, and standing still. Even with keen eyes, at the distance, he could not make out the face of the monstrosity. Casique knew it was watching him. There was no doubt in his mind it was the creature from earlier in the morning.
Casique knew it was a monster. The portions were all wrong, even for the largest of beasts. But Casique did not need to rely on just that. As a hunter himself, a hunter of men, it was stalking him, just as he had stalked men over the last few months.
The thing moved. The movement allowed Casique to see the outline of the sharp antlers that adorn the monster’s skull. He could see the malice pouring out of the creature, creating a shimmering around the entire body. Like the body carried the mirage of heat wherever it went.
For a few moments longer, the stare down continued. Then the monster slowly receded back into the brush.
Casique knew now he’d be seeing the creature again soon. He waited longer, ensuring the creature had actually left.
Casique stayed further on the east side, wishing to avoid going near where the creature may be lurking. Moving again, he couldn’t help but wonder if the creature could smell the sweet meat he was carrying. Perhaps the monster was just as hungry for flesh as he was.
Casique walked up the long side of a knoll. Hooting came from above. Loudly, like a bang from one of the settler’s muskets. Then another, and another. Soon it was like Casique was walking along a cavern lined with thousands or millions of owls.
He crossed a small babbling brook at the crescendo of hoots and stepped out into sunlight. Casique could see down the knoll, into the valley below. The town was deserted. Part of it had burned, and only a charred skeleton of a building remained there. But it wasn’t completely empty.
At the furthest point, at the far north end, something moved. A man, a white man, moved about. Slowly lumbering when he stood and walked, like the man was infected. But then he’d bend or squat down and work vigorously. The faint sounds of pounding and sawing crept up from the valley to Casique’s ears.
Casique waited a long while. He had expected the town to still be abandoned, and it seemed it still was. The man had been the only one moving. He was building some sort of structure and doing it alone. It was not like his own people’s work, though. This was very much like the work Casique had seen when he had gone further north and became a guide. It was like the abandoned buildings of the town itself.
Casique started down the knoll as the sky darkened more with the setting of the sun. He could easily kill one man. This may very well be a test from his ancestors. The first strike to getting his people back on track.
Casique was not alien to how the settlers built their homes. He was fine going through the first one he found. A dampness hung in the air, and weeds had broken through the floor, but it was the roof he truly wanted.
A table remained, with nothing else. Casique set his prized meal down on the table and began to unwrap the binding. He used his bone knife to cut a sliver off. He dangled the meat above his tongue and then dropped it in.
It was preferable to cook first, but he didn’t want to alert the man he was here. He would eat first, and then seek out the lone man.
A crunching stopped that thought.
Casique slowly backed into a darker shadow of the building. His knife still in his hand.
Was it the monster, or was it the man?
He prepared his hatchet in his other hand. A humidity filled the room.
A chill scurried up his spine.
Steps came up against the door of the building. A long scraping started at the door. Like the monster was scraping its antlers against the wooden door. Heavy breathing rattled outside.
Casique waited for the creature to ram the door, but it never comes.
Quick footsteps crunched away.
Maybe it was the man?
Casique braved the door. The door had been damaged by something. Carved. Letters from a language Casique did not know.
‘They see you,’ But the writing meant nothing to him. Not knowing the words, the sign only sent anger flaring up inside of Casique.
He’d kill the man. He’d kill the man and eat him.
Casique ran off into the dark through the abandoned buildings. A war hunt now, he would expel the last of the invaders. He’d reclaim the territory that had been his ancestor’s.
An orange light gave way. He was getting close. A flickering light that moved and snapped. The man had built a fire outside the structure he was building. Standing before the incomplete building, he realized the man was building a church.
All the more reason to kill him.
Casique waited in the dark near a fallen building, waiting for the man to return, to tend to the fire so he could strike.
The man never arose from the building. The fire slowly started to consume the last of its fuel, dying, and the man still did not show his face.
Casique would actively seek the man then.
He rose and moved stealthily towards the church. At the cusp of the fire, was the first post to a fence. At a distance, Casique had not noticed the topper adorning the post. Up close, he was able to see. The round topping was a human skull. Rotting flesh still sagged at some corners, making it almost blend in with the wooden post.
Casique passed the morbid display without a second glance.
The large doors to the church had more words across it. With the dying fire, Casique could only barely make out their shape.
“La lumière est morte,” Again, the letters meant nothing, but they looked to be painted in blood.
Casique gently tugged the doors, but they were firm, locked or barricaded. He didn’t want to risk making a noise and announcing himself to his prey. Casique crept along the side of the church and around the back side. He had hoped to find another entrance.
He saw another smaller door that he sought. The field in the back was dirt, a soft worked soil and was gentle on the souls of his feet. He could have easily passed through the field without a second thought, but he kicked something hard. Hard but hollow.
The light was dim, only the smokey moonlight above gave any reprieve of the night. But it was a bone. Not just one bone, dozens.
Casique stepped back and looked at the field, and realized there were dozens of bodies strung out along the field. All bare skeletons, their bones like small rocks in the softly tilled soil.
The back door of the churched opened. No light came, but an ever-consuming darkness. A fog poured out of the darkness. The humidity returned. Distant hooting called, not to him, but a frantic shout of excitement. Like a hunting party closing in on its wounded prey.
Casique turned and ran.
He would not be the prey; he couldn’t be the prey.
Casique flew through the abandoned town. Ignoring that now, the walls were more decayed. Ignoring that once painted wall, were now peeling. Ignoring that, tall standing structures were warped and leaning.
He clambered up the knoll where he had first spied the man.
Just over the knoll and he’d be off into the river. He’d be away.
“Got him!” a voice shouted in English.
Casique went tumbling. Soil filled his nose. Grass and dirt stuff his mouth. He felt hands on him. Too many to be a single man. He screamed and kicked, but rope was already biting into his skin.
He was rolled over. It was not the man he had seen. It was a vaguely white man, and three of his own. Not just of him, but his own from his village.
“It’s the beast,” one said in his native tongue.
“You ran because you knew what you did. You are a coward,” their leader said.
“Is this the one killing people?” the white man asked.
His own brethren betrayed him. They confirmed his sins to the invader.
“There’s something coming!” Casique cried. “The real beast is coming!”
“Cry all you wish. We saw what you did to the boy. We found the families you left in your wake,” the leader answered.
“The beast is still coming.”
“Tie him to that tree,” the leader commanded.
Casique knew this might have been his fate. He almost hadn’t feared it at one point. But the last day had proven there was a reason to fear the stories. “It’s coming!”
The men ignored him as he was lashed to a tree.
“I’ve seen it! It’s coming, you don’t want to be here. Take me with you, kill me if you must. But there’s a monster in that town!”
“What’s he saying?” the white man asked.
“He’s lying,” the leader answered back in English.
“That’s it, you just tie him to a tree?” the white man asked again.
The leader took his knife off his hip. He didn’t answer the white man, because he knew, and so did Casique, what was to come next.
Blaring pain went surging through him. Casique screamed. The pain! The pain! The leader stood back up with a bloody knife. He had severed the hard tendons behind Casique’s feet. Casique had expected this punishment. He expected this to be the start to a slow end. He would never walk again and would be left to die lashed to the tree.
But now, now he knew the legends were true.
“You are fools,” Casique mumbled out over the searing pain.
“And you are dead,” the leader responded.
“Justice served for you all?” the white man asked.
The leader nodded.
The men turned, started to leave.
“You really are leaving me here? Punished by the hand of not just you, but a one of our invaders?!” Casique called to the men, but they walked as if they did not have ears.
Casique had experienced many pains in his life. The shot having been one of the worse. Even the aching throb of his scarred shot wound could not compare to the throbbing pain coming from his legs. But worse was he now had to be vigilant over the pain of any approach. His true hunter now had him.
His wakefulness lasted throughout the night.
Casique had started to wonder if the hunter didn’t like easy prey. Perhaps starvation or bleeding to death would be his demise, after all. But as morning set in, he realized he was not in the world he belonged to.
The sky was dark, like the pupils of so many of his victims. Yet, a light still shined enough. An otherworldly light that allowed a view of the world. A fog had rolled in, casting the field and knoll into a wispy white. The grass that had been so green and vibrant just the day before was down brown, and long dead.
Then he heard the first crunch.
On two long legs, it approached. Arriving out of the fog with a skull head. Long antlers curled and twisted above it. A flap of a former face was stretched between the two antler sets, still dripping with warm blood. Black bulbs filled the skull’s eye sockets. The demon approached unhindered.
I hope you enjoyed the story. Hunted is a segue into an upcoming horror novel. Follow me on all my socials and join the newsletter to get updates on the novel. Don't forget to leave a like and comment!