The wintry morning wind presses gently on Leya's numb red cheek, soft wisps of dark hair falling over her scrutinizing bright cerulean eyes.

With a petulant huff, she blows the dark curl away only for gravity to place it back in position.

Leya sighs into the autumn air, a small cloud of mist swirling tentatively over her flushed lips. She sniffs once and adjusts the heavy camo jacket she wears, snow crunching noisily beneath her figure as a result.

For once, Leya does not mind the disruptive noise as she had been crouched on her belly in the same position for three gruelling hours.

The Forest had been silent, so much so she checked her hearing aids just to confirm that they indeed still worked.

The previous night's Blizzard had settled into a soft hiss of snowflakes falling sporadically and scarcely over the bare woodlands.

Winter would be arriving and most wild animals, at least the large ones, would have either migrated or holed up in caves hidden from Plainview in hibernation.

Time had spread her thin throughout autumn for game, her main source of income, was deteriorating at an unnerving rate. She needed a big kill, one that would sell for a high price— maybe a thousand or two dollars, sufficient money to keep her electricity, water and heat running for the next two or so months of unbearable winter.

If not that, Leya would have to resort to carpentry; and right now, not many people are interested in dining tables or seats. Including the tedious job of sawing down frozen barks and cleaning them in her shed. It would take weeks to produce a set of furniture and by then winter's darkness would have settled over the town like an elderberry skin.

Dipping into your savings is always an option, Leya thinks in dry humour but knows she would never resort to her contingency funding. The money had been reserved for life or death situations.

Starvation and potential hypothermia were not.

Setting her shotgun back down on the snow — a clean Mossberg 500 Field 12 gauge— Leya rises onto her knees and promptly brushes the partially melted snow from her front before tugging at the pink hairband around her wrist with her teeth.

Carding her cold numb fingers through her scalp, she gathers her long inky hair up into a neat ponytail then ties it.

The weight lifted away from her face allows for sharper concentration, and as she settles back down, Leya spots movement on her left peripheral view.

Her body takes on an automatic reaction; stilling completely and pressing flat on the snow, each loud breath dimming to a measured, noiseless draw of air.

As the large dark figure begins to move into view, Leya feels her heart juddering in response; a cold rush of excitement darts down her stiff spine at the sight of the moose.

A male, she notes after a furtive look below the belly area, and alone.

The moose long legs tread through the snow at a leisurely pace. Its winding broad antlers proudly spread on display, the hairs so thick Leya can distinctly see it from where she lies.

For a moment, the hunter is entranced by the stunning sight of the wild animal. The curve of its hunched neck as it sweeps low to graze of undead patches of grass stomped free beneath thin layers of ice.

A cold breeze brushes her reddened nose tip.

Carefully, Leya reaches for the shotgun and props it up on the makeshift wooden block she had carved out. Peering through the extended periscope, she adjusts the visual and watches the animal strut then pause again, as though sensing her presence.

Exhaling a soft breath, Leya reaches up to her right ear, blindly tracing the familiar path of her hearing aid to the back where two buttons lie. Her fingertip touches the control listening program, adjusting the settings inwards such that all she hears is her heightened breathing, then the volume button.

Leya turns it down, and with a satisfying click, her right ear is soundless.

She repeats the same with her left, then hovers a moment in the deafening silence— like a bubble swollen shut around her.

With all distractions cancelled, Leya grows acutely aware of the figure before her.

The moose had paused over another patch of clean grass, its thick neck bent low.

Shutting one eye, she peers into the periscope and skims the crosshair pointer across its lower body, then lowers it a 1/3 of the distance from the bottom of its chest to the top of its back. She places the vertical crosshair directly behind the near side front leg.

Over the past five years as a hunter, Leya had learned a lot in terms of game anatomy, the perfect game shot, yard distance, bullet velocity and which shots to hit that would kill the animal instantly, and not subject it to a damning agonizing slow death.

The heart-lung shot had to be the top tip all hunters preferred if not most. The heart provided little room for error: too far forward and you've got a non-fatal brisket shot; too low and you've hit muscle or broken a leg.

Anything short of that would either result in the animal escaping maimed and her having to track it for a day or two, the game escaping and its leaking blood attracting other predators such as wolves or it turning and attacking her in a blind frenzied state.

A kill shot had always been her main aim. Quick, clean and accurate or none at all.

Pressing her cheek on the cool hardened plastic of her shotgun, she lifts her fingertip onto the trigger.

The moose raises its head then.

Her finger pressed on the trigger.

The sound can be heard from miles away, but Leya hears nothing. All she feels is the sudden heavy jerk as the gun bumps her front shoulder, the heat radiating from metal, and as she peers into the periscope— the sudden stagger of the moose as it jerks back and catapults to the snow.

Leya lifts her face and peers into the distance at its unmoving body. Her flushed lips curl in a relieved smile, and she rubs her fingertips over her chest, soothing her racing heart.

Leaping onto her feet, she slings the gun over her shoulder and grabs her backpack before making for the felled game. Her thrift store timberlands pound on the snow-laden earth, breaking the ice, crunching twigs.

A snowflake falls on her ear.

Leya's steps begin to falter as the distance between them subsides. She sees the animal with clarity; the twitching of its hind legs as though its instinct of running had not truly been processed by the brain, its large snout huffing into the snow, polished obsidian eye glimmering like glass as it gazes at the clear sky shifting on its axis.

A carpet of dark red blood begins to bloom beneath it, soaking through the field of white.

Leya halts by the animal and slowly kneels. 

Her hand, brown and scarred, tentatively reaches out and subtly presses on its fur over the ribcage. Its fur is coarse yet soft beneath her touch, slipping between her fingers like fine sand.

She knows it is wheezing from the erratic pulsing of his chest, and she strokes it almost soothingly until its chest finally stops mid-heave, settling very slowly, like the weight of an automobile settling down on a flat tire.

The beat-up blue truck rattles dangerously and loud as it backs up into the butcher's driveway.

Killing the engine, Leya pushes the door open and leaps off the high seat just as a familiar man steps out of the butcher.

"Hey, kid," Kit, the town's butcher, wipes his bloodied hands on his stained apron which was once bleached white, "it's been a minute."

"I come bearing gifts." Leya cannot contain the grin that eats her face as she rounds the truck and, opening the back, allows the barrier to fall halfway revealing her prized game.

With a dramatic wave of her hands, she mocks a bow while presenting the dead moose stuffed on the truck's bed.

Kit's loud brazen impressed whistle serves the pleasurable warming of her cheeks, bright eyes watching the old man step forward almost in a trance.

"Well I'll be," he removes his Yankees baseball cap and scratches his bald spot, "where the hell did ya get it? I thought they moved up North."

"Apparently not this one," she muses, averting her gaze to the large game. It had been a hustle getting it onto the bed of her truth.

Leya relied on chaining its hind legs then placing a slanted platform with a flat top. With the truck's effort, she dragged the moose atop the platform then backed before exiting and shoving the animal in with her hands and legs.

"Jesus," he smiles revealing teeth that, at best, had a nodding acquaintance with his toothbrush. "The mayor's gonna be over the moon."

Selling wild game was illegal, but people of power oftentimes slipped between the rules like slippery fishes.

Leya rubs her cold hands and blows into them as a harsh wintry chill billow across the town, "How much do you think it weighs?"

"Hm," Kit's beady eyes dance over the creature calculatingly, "it's a bull. Could be around seven hundred and fifty kilograms. I'll probably dress out four-thirty and yield approximately two-twenty."

Noticing the pinch of her expression as she does mental math, Kit chuckles, heartily slamming her small shoulder with his large beefy hand, " 's about two grand, kid."

Jerking his head towards the butchery, he nods her in, "Head on in and warm up while I get my men to take it down. Anna's in the shop, feel free to pick out groceries, on me."

Leya's cerulean eyes widen, gazing up at him in mild shock. "Really?"

 He nods. "You've made my week, it's the least I can do is stock your fridge," a pause, "Nothing more than eighty dollars."

Her small head bops up and down like a bird, "Noted," had he not reeked to the high heavens of sour meat, Leya would have hugged him.

Slipping into the warm grocery store with the butcher set in one corner, Leya stomps her snow boots on the carpet, shaking her body back and forth as the perfect warmth settles on her body like a blanket.

Anna, Kit's daughter, reclines behind the register with AirPods on and a manga open. She glances up and their eyes meet across the air.

Anna nods.

Leya smiles.

Picking a basket, she begins to fill it with necessary items, mentally pulling out a checklist of inventory. Vegetables, fish and chicken, jasmine rice, toilet paper, a plastic kitty bowl with a red paw print at the front, soap and woollen socks.

The small bell above the entrance door tinkers as kit steps in, another man in tow; "...tomorrow night is the lockdown, I also suggest barring up your back door as well…"

Leya stiffens at the familiar voice and glances up hastily. Holden, the police officer, stands beside Kit as they converse amiably, brown eyes flickering in amusement despite the severity of his features.

Her face flushes instinctively and she begins to duck behind an aisle a moment too late.

"Leya?" Holden's voice is decadent enough to ripple thrills up her spine. And for a daring moment, Leya flinches excitedly.

She turns, schooling her features to shock. "Holden?"

He smiles, approaching. "How are you? Kit showed me the catch you made out front," was that pleasure in his eyes? "Perfect shot."

"Game shot," she corrects demurely.

"Game shot," he echoes and they hover before each other. Holden's gaze curiously sweeps over her, "chicken tonight?"

Leya blinks dumbly then lowers her gaze to the basket, "Oh! No, maybe… I mean," she internally flinches and clears her throat, "yes if I have time. Do you like chicken?"

His eyes dance mirthfully, wallowing in her stuttering shyness. "I do."

"Well y'know," Leya rubs at a spot on her inner wrist, "you can drop by for a quick friendly dinner," noting the fall of his expression, she quickly amends "if you're free that is."

"I'd have to take a rain check on the dinner. The full moon is tomorrow night." The second part is spoken with a hardness.

Leya mods. It is hard to forget the full moon when posters are printed all over town, aired on the radio and even set as reminders during breaks on television.

Night of the Beast.

She would have to spend most of her daytime boarding up the windows and doors with wooden planks and silver. Wolfsbane poured around the house like a circle of salt to ward of the Lycan.

"There's another storm heading our way tomorrow," Holden draws her attention back to him, "lockdown will begin a bit earlier."

"How early?"


Lockdown usually begins at six.

Leya nods slowly, "How many days?"

"Possibly one this time around, the alarm will go off when it's clear." on nights when the full moon would remain suspended above them, the beast would prowl for three or four days, smelling out its next victims.

Sometimes the town would lose ten people at once. Houses broken through with ease, bodies dragged from beds and baby cots.

The streets would be bloody the next morning, ropes of shit filled intestines and severed heads idle.

"I'll pass by at noon to help close up your home," Holden reaches out and flicks her chin playfully, "maybe then we can have dinner."

Comments (1)
goodnovel comment avatar
Beautifully written. Truly. Loving the images you paint.

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