The Hunter and the Hunted

A man walked authoritatively through the threshold leading to his back yard. Dressed in a heavy camouflage coat with dark green army cargo pants and equipped with his hunting rifle and knife, he cautiously strolled down the concrete steps. His bleach white horse looked longingly at him, ready for a new adventure, but the hunter could only pet the horse's velvety nose and refuse.

"Not this time, Sunshine," he muttered. The horse grunted and turned away, as if she understood her owners' words.

The origin of the horse's name came from a birthmark the horse had located on her upper right thigh. The mark deeply contrasted with its colorless fur, an ebony circle with six wavy lines stretching from the center, replicating the arms of the sun. Although 'Sunshine' doesn't seem to be a suiting name for a horse belonging to a scruffy and very masculine man—it would fit a man with untamed hair and a girlfriend named "Flower" or something of the sort—he thought fit the horse better than any other name.

He had a short staring contest with the audacious sky, the cold wind playing with his thinning hair. The day had shown its bright blue, with a hint of wispy clouds here and there. When he broke his glance, the hunter tested the strength of the rope connecting the horse's bridal to a leafless oak tree. Although she was a good horse, he had to make certain that she would stay put. Saying his goodbye to Sunshine, he walked confidently into the forest. His gut feeling told him it was going to be a good day, but he did not know what truly lay ahead.

The man started on his usual trail. About one hundred meters in the woods was his limit, for if anything were to happen—whether it be a wound of some sort or his lucky day of hunting—he would only have to go a short distance back to his small house. Also, the city's population was scarce, with people scattered about the large terrain the closest communication was three or four miles away from his location, so he had to be on the safe side.

His feet crunched over the autumn leaves; a sea of browns and reds and oranges lay ahead. Immediately, he found his little niche, which was a small hiding area in the knot of a tree concealed by a pattern of twigs. It consisted of a suitcase with extra supplies and a few cans of non-perishable foods, almost all of them beans. Upon reaching his destination, he turned in all directions to see if by chance someone was spying on him, but to no avail, no one—human or animal—was to be found. Crouching beside his stash, he leaned his rifle against the tree and began to fish out "breakfast", or in this case, cold beans. The hunter sliced it open with his knife and, reclining against the tree, began eating and waiting.

Noon neared and, after several hours of no action, the man started to give up. It was not like he brought game home everyday, but the hunter did not want yet another week barely getting by on the wretched canned beans. He could go to the town with Sunshine, but he lacked in money, anyway. So, in a somewhat renewed stamina, he sat and impatiently anticipated anything...until he noticed a green blob in his peripheral sight. The man slowly twisted his head towards the creature, groping for his gun as well. It was an animal smaller than a doe, but still had some mass to it. The creature seemed to be a very light tan, or possibly an off-white; he couldn't decide. All he knew was that it had four legs, it had meat, and he was famished.

Aiming his rifle with one eye shut and his cold forefinger easing on the rusty trigger, the hunter fired the gun at its shoulder, quickly rising to capture the creature as if it had a chance of escaping. But something held him back, not something physical, but what he had heard. It did not cry out like any animal he ever shot before; its yelp sounded human. Right at that second of realization, a bullet seared through the air and dug deep into the man's left shoulder and he screamed in surprise and pain. Desperate to get food—not even the slightest bit worried about himself—he hustled to the dying animal.

It was face down in the leaves, twitching as blood oozed from the wound. The hunter nudged the creature right side up, the man's curiosity eating at him like vultures, and he jumped back in fright. He saw himself lying on the ground, naked and dying. The man couldn't believe his eyes as he paced back and forth in front of himself. Oh god, oh god! I shot myself! No, I couldn't have, that's impossible!, his mind raced with a million thoughts. Who was that who shot me? Oh god! The hunter looked behind him in suspicion, playing this as if it were a dirty trick and expected anyone to jump out at him. He screamed out, asking if anyone was there. Furious, scared, and in pain, he took one last disgusted glance at himself, and then scurried back home.

Once he had reached the clearing, the pure sunlight beating down on him once more, he heard the scream once again which made him even more jumpy. The man hastily untied Sunshine with his right hand, the other arm limply held onto his rifle. Sunshine whinnied, expelling her frosted breath, as she too became anxious. The hunter winced as he roughly climbed atop of his horse. He could barely hang on as he steered to the nearest town.

The few minutes of galloping did no good for his injured shoulder, but he had to press on and notify someone, anyone. By the time he reached town, it was about one o'clock according to the position of the sun. It was a very small town, indeed, just a short, straight row of shops on either side of the street, before it turned back into a heavy forest as it was at the start. He felt dizzy for the amount of blood he lost and he cursed whoever had shot him. The hunter dismounted his horse and fell to the ground. The man struggled to get up, grunting and stumbling as he went into a diner.

"Help!" he cried, "Anyone!"

A couple sitting in a booth with their backs facing him continued to eat as if no one was disturbing their lunch. For a few seconds, he just stared at the couple, recognizing something similar about the two. Hobbling over to them, almost tripping over a red leather chair in his path, to his horror he found two more clones of himself eating the lunch.

"How's it goin'?" they said simultaneously.

He stumbled backward over a table then retched as the pain worsened. Wiping his mouth, he looked up and saw yet another one of him standing right in front of him.

The clone grinned, in a certain attempt to show all thirty-two teeth. Acting as if he were the owner of the diner, he wiped a glass and said, "What's the trouble?"

The hunter's eyes widened in terror and he limped to the exit of the diner. "This can't be real!"

He screamed at the periwinkle sky in all naivety—he was almost positive he would die, for the pain was not even close to being bearable. His yell for help called attention to all of the businesses on the street. He ran down one side of the street, banging on the windows as he passed by screaming. The barber, shoe salesman, grocer; everyone he had known changed, which was even more chilling. The entire town was one hundred times more of him.

All of them crowded around him in a jagged circle, asking genuinely "What's goin' wrong, sir?" and "How ya feelin'?" But their faces weren't as convincing as their kind voices. Their expressions were menacing, their beady eyes showing nothing but cold hatred, and the hunter didn't know why, why at all this would be happening. Had he gone crazy? Was this a cruel joke?

They were closing in on him. The hunter spun and spun, looking for a conceivable exit. The horrible faces neared, almost ten feet away, now nine, then eight. His fearful eyes saw a glimmer in the barber's hand; a skillfully harmless tool was now a weapon. Seven, six five. Not knowing what else to do, the hunter raised his rifle to his head in an unsure manner as he started to weep. And the last thing he saw was the sunshine.