There's a deer on the breeze, but I know I'll never be able to take it down. This weak, that far away and with no pack to corner it? Useless. A waste of energy.
A rabbit over here, a squirrel there. Hardly a mouthful, not worth the chase. Their meat would barely even fill my mouth, let alone my stomach.
But the cold logic of the hunt doesn't stop the rumble or the pain inside. I have to find food soon.
I can smell...something... on the wind. It's a mix of strange scents, but there's one that's somewhat familiar. I can't remember exactly what it-
I'm not stupid enough to go wandering straight into human territory, where they and their pack can bring me down with their bang-sticks or those claws they keep on clubs. I've heard of too many of my kin felled by their own idiocy, by being the deer who walks straight into the middle of the hunt.
But if one of the humans has wandered into my territory...the principle is always the same: find the weakest; separate from the rest; devour.
I've seen the humans "hunt". They're not fast, not spry. They can barely even stay upright, walking on their hindpaws, constantly falling on rocks and branches.
You barely even need to chase a human.
But what they do have is offence. I don't know how they've managed to take their teeth and claws out of their bodies and hold them like they do, but they're effective. And those bang-sticks of theirs? So loud, so brash, but you can't deny their results. The humans have the advantage on the attack.
So that's it, then. I've got the speed, they've got the power. Can't let the human attack. Have to get in first.
Wait, what am I thinking? Trying to take down a human? Am I just as stupid as so many others, the ones who've gotten themselves killed in the search of an easy meal?
Or am I just as famished? Just as ravenous? I think I'm beginning to understand my moronic brethren. Even the stupidest idea starts looking good if you're desperate enough.
And I'm very desperate. And so, so hungry.
The snowy ground rushes beneath me as I lope forward after the scent. An easy, controlled pace; I can't rush in, need to save my energy to run down my prey. The air is cold and crisp, with just enough breeze to let me follow the human's path.
There! A bit of blood on the snow in the distance. It's wounded! Even better. So much less energy wasted on bringing down already injured prey.
Wait – I can't smell blood. How can that be? That bright, that fresh? It should smell vibrant, pungent. What's happening here?
I can see the answer when I get close. It's not blood, just a blood-colour shred of that odd fur the humans use to cover themselves. If this was moose or deer fur, then I'd know the prey was sick, shedding and nearby – an easy target; but with the humans, I don't know what to make of this.
Still, there's a scent on it, and more of the scent trailing into the woods. The human shouldn't be too hard to find.
Is that what the human wants, I wonder as I lope deeper into the forest. Is it trying to lead me somewhere? When the pack hunts, a few scare the prey toward where the rest are waiting to take it down. Is this the human's version?
I can't smell any other humans around. Maybe it's not a trap and the human is just stupid. Or maybe it is, and I'm the one who's stupid. But I can't take the chance. I need to eat. I can't afford to wait for another chance like this to stumble by.
Another few minutes of following the trail and now I can tell I'm very close. Freshly broken twigs, footprints in the snow. I crouch low and stalk forward, using the foliage to hide my shape.
There it is, just ahead in a little clearing. The human in its blood-coloured fur. It's smaller than I anticipated, but the humans have always been far more dangerous than they looked. I'm not going to let my guard down just because it might be the runt.
A quick step and a pounce away from the runt and another scent floods my snout. A fresh kill, meat and blood and food, the delicious aroma wafting on the breeze. And close, too.
I pause for just a second – stupid, stupid! – as I breathe it in. The runt slowly turns toward me. It doesn't attack, but it should have. The hunger overwhelms me as I stand there, frozen in front of a damned human. I'm no better than my idiotic kin.
But the runt is frozen too. I can smell the fear on it. It stands there, staring at me, shaking ever-so-slightly.
It's not worth my time, I suddenly realize. I can smell the kill – no, kills – deer and moose and eagle and beaver and a dozen more, the smell of their blood mixing together on the wind. There will be so much meat, more than even another pack or a bear could handle. I'm sure I can at least steal some away while they feast. More than I'm likely to get out of this scrawny, bony human.
I leave the blood-furred human standing there as I shoot off toward the kill, heedless now to the need to conserve my energy. I can feel the saliva wetting my muzzle as I run, barrelling through bushes and branches alike.
Another scent stops me short and I quickly tumble into the bushes to hide myself. There's more human on the air here, hidden beneath layers of blood and meat. I skulk forward until I can see the source of it all.
I can see a ramshackle shelter, one of the ones the foolish humans sometimes make out here in mine and my brethren's territory. It is naught but fallen trees stacked on one another – how do the humans not freeze to death?
The scent of meat is stronger here, much stronger. It is all I can do to not charge headlong for that delicious aroma. But I can smell the human who uses this shelter. It has been here recently, but it's not here now.
Slowly, cautiously, I creep forward, keeping my body low to the ground. There are large, flat shapes looming ahead. They don't move, save to occasionally flutter slightly in the breeze, and they smell odd; there's meat and flesh and fur, but something else, something foreign. The shapes are spread all around the shelter, strung up on bits of wood like a bat unfurling its wings beneath a branch.
As I skulk forward, careful to use the shapes to break the line of sight to the shelter, I notice a pattern on one of the shapes. It looks deer fur, and, beneath the odd foreign scent than bites and burns at my snout, I can smell a stag, long dead. The next one, larger, looks and smells like moose. The next, larger still, reminds me of bear. I've seen and smelled things like this before, as the remnants of a kill fade and rot under the ravages of the storm and the wind. But never like this; they never last more than a few days, but these things smell like they've been here for weeks, and they haven't rotted at all.
And where is the meat that goes with all this fur and skin? What is happening here?
Past the looming flat shapes and out of their cloud of acrid stench, I round the side of the shelter and find my snout assaulted once more by the overwhelming aroma of fresh meat. It's so close now, such a feast, that I can barely contain myself. More saliva wells up and drips onto the snow as I edge toward the source – a hole that leads under the human's shelter. The wonderful smell draws me closer and I slip down the angled path and into the darkness beneath.
I pause for a second as my eyes adjust to the sudden darkness. The only light comes from the hole I just entered, the winter sun's weak glow barely extending into the blackness. There are more shapes in here like the ones outside, flat and swaying slightly from the disturbance to the air I've caused. There's something familiar about their scent too, but I barely notice it under the delicious scent of meat.
I creep forward slowly, one or two of the flat shapes brushing against me as I walk. One of the shapes is wet and leaves a sticky residue on my fur, but I ignore it, pushing on toward my goal.
I can see it now, as well as smell it. A large hollow shape, filled with ice and snow and various different types of sweet, sweet meat. There's deer and moose and eagle and beaver and –is that wolf? – and more that I don't even recognize.
My empty stomach screams at me in pain, and I can resist no longer. I charge forward and leap for the ice-cave and its delicious bounty.
As I leap, though, I hear a rustle of movement and the ice-cave suddenly closes it front of me, a heavy shape slamming down on top of it, sealing the meat away. I should be terrified or angry, preparing to attack or flee, but I'm near insane with hunger and I pound away on the metal ice-cave, struggling to remove its heavy lid.
The hunger has made weak and the seal won't budge. The meat remains trapped in its icy hollow, separated from me. As I let out a howl of frustration, I see a shadow pass in front of the hole from which I entered.
The human! It slips into the darkness of the under-shelter; I can see the light glint off one of its claw-clubs as it tries to hide behind the fluttering shapes.
Ordinarily, I'd have the advantage. Dark, with naught to guide either of us but ears and nose? I should win this fight easily. But the hunt, the stalking, the mad dash for the trapped food, has taken a lot of out of me. I've been so hungry for so long I've barely got anything left.
The human suddenly charges out of the darkness, and my lethargy leaves me reacting a second too late. Its claw-club catches my flank, drawing blood as I dodge to the side. I wince as a hot flash of pain shoots up my side and dash for the safety of the light outside. The human's claw-club delivers another stab of pain to my tail and I dart sideways, into and inside the wet hanging shape. It falls onto me and stays there, the slick substance sticking fast to my fur, almost completely covering my eyes.
I push on for the light and feel the claw-club just barely miss my hindpaws as I run. Half-blinded by the thing stuck to me, I bounce off one side of the tunnel and stumble out onto the open ground around the shelter.
I can hear the human behind me, barrelling through the hanging shapes after me. I take off into the woods, dashing past the looming furs, clipping a couple as I run. I hear the human crying out something behind me, but I run on, pushing myself despite my ever-growing hunger.
A few minutes later I slow, my stomach twisting in agony as I try to gather my bearings. The thing hanging over me is stuck solidly and doesn't budge despite my best efforts to work it off using trees and rocks. I manage to get it to slide enough that I can see out of holes in the shape and I even manage to align my muzzle with another hole, but the rest remains, drooped over me and dragging on the ground. The scent of human fills my snout with every breath – that human must have been near this thing quite recently for it to smell so strongly.
I want to run, flee deep into the woods, get this damn thing off me and start the hunt anew once the sun sets, but my insides twist and my paws shake with hunger. Every part of me is struggling under the lack of nourishment – my muscles feel weaker, my breaths shallower, my mind hazy and vague. I need to find a meal soon, or I fear I make not make it to the next sunrise.
Through the fog that clouds my brain I notice a scent, lingering on the ground. It is fresh enough that I can smell it even with the thing draped over me flooding my snout with its musk. It takes me longer than I'm proud of to recognise it.
It's the runt. And it's nearby. Maybe I'm not doomed yet.
I consider the situation as I set off along the scent trail, following the path of the runt through the winding trees. It was scared of me last time, frozen in fear, so I should be able to take it down before it can muster a counterattack. It may even lay there and let me devour it, like the doe who knows she's beaten and can run no more.
The runt's path winds in and out of the treeline, darting over to a bush here or a creek there, meandering all around bunches of wildflowers that have popped out through the snow. The long, circuitous path takes even more out of me and I'm feeling close to my end when I spot something sitting on the snow. A bright shape, blood coloured and with a sweet smell. The scent reminds me of the fruits my kin and I occasionally snack on between hunts in the warmer months.
I devour the fruit whole, its sweet juices dancing and flashing on my tongue. My whole mouth sings with the sweetness as I swallow it down and it provides a tiny respite from the agony in my belly.
Slightly more energised, I push on along the trail until I see another shelter made of fallen trees, this one much smaller, on the bank of a river. The runt's trail enters the shelter but I can't find a trace of it leaving. It must still be inside.
Perfect. It's almost as though the pack has trapped it for me.
The fruit has cleared a bit of the fog in my brain and I start to plan my approach. I could smash my way in, but if the runt is expecting me, it may have prepared an attack. I could try to lead it out here, but if it's smart it'll never come. So the only other option is stealth; sneak in and leap from the shadows.
I edge my way around the shelter and find another hole leading underneath, the same as in the previous shelter. My snout is still clouded with the thing draped over me, but I can't smell the other human, the one with the claw-club, on this hole, so it might be safe. It occurs to me as I sneak in that the thing draped over me doesn't smell like the human with the claw-club or the runt, but it has a third human scent on it. I chastise myself for not noticing earlier, through the hunger and the fear.
The under-shelter is dark, like before, but this one has another path leading up, to the wooden bottom of the shelter. There appears to be piece that is separate from the rest – I can see light streaming around the edges – and when I push on it, it moves upward. I slide into the shelter, careful to drop the wooden piece behind me slowly.
The shelter is small, with more bits of wood scattered about the place. A covering made of something like fur lays on one large, flat, horizontal piece of wood directly in front of me. Crouching behind it, I can see the open entry to the shelter and the runt stepping just outside – damn! It would have walked right toward me! The runt looks like it's looking for something, but now that I'm inside I can wait and surprise it upon its return. No sense chasing something that's going to come to you.
I breathe deeply and the scent of the shelter fills my snout. It is absolutely covered in the scent of the third human, the one who's scent permeates the thing that covers me. I can feel the energy from the fruit pushing away at the clouds in my brain, and I suddenly realise the scent I recognized on the shapes in the other human's under-shelter. There was the scent of many more humans all over those flat shapes, the same as there was the scent of deer and bear on the shapes outside. The same mixture of weeks-old skin and fur and something acrid that the human must have added to stop them from rotting. The human with the claw-club must have been collecting those furs for quite some time.
As I ponder this, the runt turns and re-enters the shelter in front of me. Now is my chance. Scare it, and it will stand there and let me eat it.
I try to leap up over the flat horizontal wooden thing in front of me, but the shape draped over me catches on its edge and I roll over it, my claws catching the covering and pulling it around me. I hit the ground heavily and struggle, tightly wrapped in the fur-like substance.
I turn and stare full forward in the face of the runt, who, to my surprise, is not frozen in fear. It seems to regard me almost like I'm a member of its pack. It looks at my covering and at the wet thing draped over my head and it looks neither hostile nor scared, but almost friendly. I watch it as it looks at me for a second.
Then its eyes meet my eyes and I can see fear. Its eyes travel to my ears and I see its hands shake. Finally, its eyes travel to my fangs, poking slightly out of the wet shape, and it screams.
The scream is loud and piercing as I struggle to untangle myself from the covering that has wrapped me. The runt stands frozen as it screams, almost waiting for me, as I finally get myself free, turn, and leap.
The scent of the other human fills my nostrils at the same time as its claw-club catches my side. It crashes through on side of the shelter and flings me over the runt. I land heavily, smashing though something wooden with a painful crash. The human with the claw-club is there, faster than I thought possible. I snap at it, trying to bring my powerful jaws onto its weak neck, but it catches my snout and points it away while it grabs another claw-thing and slices at my belly.
I howl in pain, my cries muffled by the human's hand, as it pushes something heavy into my belly. I struggle, but the human has more strength than my hunger-ravaged body can muster and I cannot get free. The runt continues screaming.
The human grabs the skin on both sides of the cut and pokes a length of something through it, closing the wound it opened. It picks me up as I writhe and beat and snap, fighting with every ounce of energy I have left, but I cannot overpower it. Fear floods every part of me, but even the insane strength of terror cannot overcome the human.
The human drags me outside and throws me into the river. I begin to sink immediately, unable to claw my way to the surface with the heavy weights in my belly. My last vision of the human is as it walks back to the runt, leading it away toward the other shelter where the flat shapes hang in the darkness.
I settle on the bottom of the river. Water fills my mouth, eyes and snout, blood trickles from my belly. My limbs struggle weakly against the pressure and the rushing water.
As the darkness closes in around me, all I can think is that even though my belly is full, I am still so hungry.
Author's Note: This is an entry for the Labyrinth Writing Contest for December. The topic is Write the back-story for a villain from a fairy-tale of your choosing. What events led them to become the antagonist?
When I first saw this topic, my immediate thought was the Big Bad Wolf. I wanted to try a story using that old adage "everyone's the hero of their own tale," and my original intent was to portray the wolf entirely sympathetically. But as I started writing him his natural predatory nature came out and coloured his own story a bit, turning him a bit more villainous than I intended. Anyway, I hoped it turned out well.
Of course, a hero needs a villain, and from the wolf's perspective the Woodsman is the bad guy, so I tried to run with that a bit more and make him just a smidge detestable. Let me know if I've overstepped the line a bit.
(Also, I'm sorry about the word count. If I get time, I'll try to cut it down a bit, but I'm lucky to get the time to write this between work and holiday obligations, let alone edit a big chunk of story to cut down on extra words. Please don't hate me. :P)