Hank Morgan: Hunt of the Monarch (Fiction)

Southern Legitimacy Statement: ‘I write stories found between the crevices of bark on the Treaty Oak, and other natural monoliths populating the Canaan of the South’

Hunt of the Monarch

Morning had eaten me whole. On the ground, a pupa shaped sack of mixed material squirmed trying to pull sleep back across his head. I knew I had to get up. My ears were already crammed with birds’ chirping. It was their desperate enticement to a sun that would not rise for another hour, as it had been the day before and would be for thousands of days after. Birds are stupid. Two wild hounds pawed at the sleeping bag. Fun had expired as soon as this trip began. I slinked out here after the news determined to bring something presentable to the reception, but I was now more desperate to leave.  Hands flung wildly around my head trying to scare of the pests. My ornaments of bow, arrows, and quiver shook from their placement across my body.

The journey was one where I forgot my tent and regulated myself to a spiteful sleep on the ground, instead of the sensible action of a decent bed. Hidden somewhere behind dense foliage was the Ranch House, but despite parking my car in the driveway and walking past the porch, I was determined to sleep among the cold and bugs. I was not going to be the first one to open the doors.

That was when the Monarch saw me.

An arm creaked with a hollow pop. The bowstring grew taut. Two fingers ran along the arrow’s feathered tail. The bow’s wooden frame pressed into the left thumb. My gaze followed the arrow’s view. The Monarch’s eyes twitched. His deep irises patiently jumped from shrouded bush to low hanging branch, searching for a predator on an opposite bank. My breath rose and fell with several shifting cattails. Bow and arrow lifted. The Monarch’s hoof pawed the ground. His maroon coat, when cascaded under sunbeams, shone with muddy streaks etched into fur. He sucked in morning fog. Dark nostrils extorted one long-winded sigh. Rusted sunbeams pounced his portrait.

The Monarch was a constant squatter on our land. For his crown, he wore a pair of pristine antlers, crafted with heavy pen strokes, sheared into deep stone, and christened him ‘Lord of the Wild.’ Broad shoulders frame a thick chest. Locks of dirty blonde hair cropped upon his head. Steel blue eyes bore outwards from his face. His fat dirty hide grew thick from meals of choked stalks. Scrawny beasts set eyes upon the elk. Their gaunt figures tear marrow from prey’s bones. Their silhouettes gorge in shadow. I inherited their aspect. The Monarch sniffed around searching. Eventually, he will retreat into the far off woods and sleep hidden beneath moldy brown leaves. Barely visible, his outline began to slide away under faint speckled sunlight. His form grew smaller after every exhale. The bow momentarily remained notched.

My breath cooled, in a twirled wisp. The fingers released their grip. The arrow stung out. The bowstring continued to twang; but it was overtaken by the arrow’s whispered sound from flight. I felt a thunk from when it landed deep within an old oak stump. Immediately, the Monarch took off. Another arrow let slip and nestled within his right shoulder. He fell down. His head strained back towards me. A third arrow pelted his neck.

A powerful wind tossed away any lingering evening clouds. The Monarch closed his eyes, and breathed in the first warmth of morning. I stumbled a few tentative steps forward. My toes wriggled in cramped hand-me-down boots that were unable to keep the muck out. The Monarch’s mouth shrilled an elegant whimper.  His reign coated the topsoil.

My pace slumped as last night’s clothes became unstuck, and looked to crumple on the ground.

This ranch’s first miser was a gnarled, old oak. His coat of wrinkled bark distinguished him. He wore a gaunt, misshapen crown. Its brow split with crooked branches. This ancient obelisk was a sole survivor of his plot’s first clearing. A small ramshackle abode used to be concealed beneath the oak and his family. Small round owls nested in hollows between limbs. Those old gangling branches never catered to a child’s swing set or a baby’s bassinet. Small stalks of ivy tangled the roots and crept around his trunk. The Monarch’s corpse would not hang from this craggy behemoth.

His corpse needed to be raised quickly. Urine, resting inside the bladder, baked under hot sun and spoiled meat. I tied the Monarch’s back legs to a young Acacia tree and hoisted him upwards. A bowline knot looped around his neck helped raise the carcass into the tree, an easy way to commence the gutting. His innards were stewing, flavoring the meat with a gamey taste. I cut open the chest. Black, blue, and grey organs plopped out. My nose wrinkled. I stared dejectedly at piles of entrails strewn over feet.

As a child, I jumped over badger’s burrows and sidestepped spindly cattails. My bare feet pranced away borders of mud puddles, fleeing future scrutiny by porch light. White tailed deer respected no boundary and leapt over any fence we put up. Their frosty backend rose high when they retreated to the comfort beneath their canopy. Hens lived in coops. Goats crept in pens. I slinked between lines of barbed wire.

I sheared the hide, and reminisced on entanglement.

It was never fun to hop fences. I only attempted the dangerous feat after spending my last striking stick. Three metal strands hung between two wooden fence posts. Barbed wire slows cattle, but is ineffective if dog’s chase cattle. Every so often, I would see a wild pup limp away from the cattle’s lining. For me, barbed wire left many tattered clothes and much torn skin. It is a delicate art to sneak between lines. A firm grasp of the fence risks a deep cut, but a delicate pinch separates them, creating a hole to jump through. One hand lifts up the middle barb. A boot stomps down. While edging between, a mayfly might tumble into my eye, my grip ended, and the wire snapped shut. The white tailed deer avoided that problem. They jumped fences.

My arms ached from shucking free meat from bone. My fingers smelled from wrapping the flanks in paper. The gifts, layered inside a plastic cooler, sat in the bed of dirty rusty pickup truck. I was about to lift my haggard form into the driver’s seat, when I heard a trill ringing. It came from a smudge on the horizon. As I approached what appeared to a black tripod, I recognized a pattern. The rattling metal feeder chimed while it dropped pellets to the ground. A large herd surrounded the container and chewed the feed. It was a trap set to collect deer.

One swift kick knocked down a leg of the tripod. I struck again, jamming my foot into the monstrosity. All I produced was a yowl. The deer did not scatter in fear at my incessant pounding. They were reluctant to forego the spilled bounty my tantrum had unleashed, and continued to munch the feed that encased their attention. Enthusiasts set these traps in winter to teach the deer. In summer, the feeder’s singsong notes were replaced by thunder crackling from a rifle’s barrel. The pure laziness of the endeavor repulsed me, but it did not drive my anger. I smashed my foot on the box, because I knew who had placed this infernal contraption. Grandpa had finally been able to repurpose the damned machine.

It had been years since we pushed the gears of day into night to pull out a bounty from the soil. No longer did they toil to produce crops between blood and rocks, but took only what it attracted from others. It was the resting place of antlers. I spied a pair lodged beneath a bush. My body stretched into the brambles and tried to pry the artifact free. A loose branch scratched me and I quickly ducked out from the underbrush. I tussled my nest of hair to see if any fingerprints returned red. A smoke shack loomed overhead.

Gluttonous to receive more guilt from the land’s abuse, I shoved the doors open. Colorless strands of hair huddled in small tufts on the heads of the shack’s residents. They rested in long lines with each bare belly pressed against the back of the inhabitant in front of them. Each hoofed leg was tied together and hung directly opposite the meat hook thrust in the occupant’s back. All the denizens’ eyes peered out from the slaughterhouse and gazed lifelessly past me. Each cadaver was a tribute to a kill on our land. I could not end the plague of white tailed deer, because we fostered it.

The dilapidated state of rusted and overturned fences, of abandoned dwellings and discarded belongings, was intentionally cultivated to remove life from the land. Families had been cut from their livelihood. No one lived here.