The Hunt by Levi Himes

Art by Pavel

The Hunt
By Levi Himes
Published Issue 126, June 2024

The faintest tinge of blue was beginning to seep into the night. Stars still shone high in the sky, clouds of a remnant storm barely shadowed their view of the earth below. Dew was finalizing its settlement upon every available wild surface. Wind whistled through the trees, and over the empty alpine tundra. This early hour remained one of rest and stillness. A gentle fog hovered amongst the branches, visibility was slighted to all, even one sole individual with an artificial light. 

Subtle cracking twigs, the compression of years worth of pine needles and other tree debris, would go unnoticed by the mountain, but there in the vicinity of the forest, the sounds echoed. The man paused regularly to adjust his stance. Mostly staring at the ground, he had to judge the sturdiest foot placements in an attempt to reduce his noise making. There was a ridge about two and a half miles out that he hoped to reach before the sky gained too much light. The truck was probably a mile and a half behind him now as he paused to blow warm air into his hands. His headlamp had been dimmed as low as it would go, only needing to see right in front of him, he didn’t want any wild thing to know he was here. 

He had his pack on and his bow atop of that. A revolver on his hip just in case. There were plenty of wild things out here that he was looking for, but a few might be looking for him as well. Pulling his hat further down over his ears he continued on. There was no time to slow down. Up, up, up he went as the blue hour became ever more prominent around him. Birds could be heard leaving their nests and more little rodents would occasionally cross paths with him. 

Once the trees started to thin he paused again. Pulling his monocular from a shoulder strap he attempted to get view of the hillside across the gully. This definitely wasn’t the spot as he looked uphill and then at the lighter blue of the sky. He kept on, breathing heavy, every exhale visible in the light beam from his lamp. The trees became thinner and shorter as he took a more aggressive trek straight for the alpine area he hoped to reach in time for sunrise. The ridge eventually made itself known and he took shelter behind a boulder as the morning light moved away from the blue hour. 

This was base for now, he unbuckled his pack and set it beside him. He also removed his bow from the top. When he turned away to get it prepped, an old name tag was revealed, a thick strap clipped securely to one of the loops, embroidered letters read: JOHNSON. He switched off and removed his headlamp. He was kneeling behind the boulder, continuously looking over the top. Even with squinting his eyes, the opposing hillside was still too dark to see anything moving. 

Now, as he settled back down behind the boulder he let out a few slow breaths. 

Inhale, exhale. Inhale, exhale. Inhale, exhale.

Taking note of his surroundings, there were still a few shorter trees around him, and a few other large rocks. More light floated in, but there wouldn’t be any true sunlight for another hour or so. The sun was rising east to southeast. There were two peaks stretching the horizon skyward, holding back the direct light and warmth. He peeked over the boulder again to scan the opposing hillside. Slowly moving his monocular across the low trees and open rocky landscape, he thought he could see something shift. A tree seemed to be moving beyond the scope of the wind. He didn’t take his eye off the area. Then just on the far side of the moving tree stepped a massive bull elk. Immediately he felt his heart rate increase, he let out another breath and tried to keep his hand still. The animal’s movement kept it visible, but he feared he’d lose it at any moment. It was still too far away for a clear shot, he either had to hope it moved closer, or he would have to get himself within a good shooting range. Taking note of the direction he’d need to move, he took his monocular and bow. Leaving his pack he turned to head along the hillside just below the ridge. Just as he moved around the boulder, he noticed lion scat. His heart dropped. It was right on top of this boulder he’d been set up behind. Those droppings could be within a couple hours they looked so fresh. 

Nervously scanning the area again, he rested his hand down atop his gun on his hip. He let out a few more breaths. His eyes shifted back and forth, continuously arguing with himself inside to stay alert, stay focused. 

Inhale, exhale. Inhale, exhale. Inhale, exhale. 

Unsure of whether or not he should leave his remaining gear behind in this spot, he hesitated turning back. Conflicted still, he quickly lifted the monocular to where the elk had been. Nothing. He began to grow more concerned, frustrated as he jerked the monocular back and forth across the area, trying to find the animal again. The slight crack of a twig shot into the silent expanse. He dropped the looking device, spinning around to check his surroundings again. His pack was suddenly pulled out of sight. The hunter slowly crouch down, leaving his bow and monocular in the brush. Taking a step towards the boulder, he unclipped his revolver as he gave the hidden space distance and quietly made his way around. The pack simply rested on its side as though it merely fell over. 

A rough scratching sound shot to his ears. The mountain lion leapt from over top the boulder, its claws dragged on the rough limestone surface in a flash of time as though death had come for him. The man’s revolver was out, he was on his back, and the wild odor of a massive cat blanketed him. Eternity was here. An explosive shot filled the wild void and the sunlight poured over the mountain tops. Blood poured out.

Levi Himes was born and raised in Indiana, and currently lives in Colorado. He is the author of The Good Vibe.

This is Levi’s debut with Birdy. Keep your eyes peeled for more by this talented writer.