Nocturnal Hunt

Luckily, I have good ears and I heard the convoy in time. I squatted a little, tensed my legs and leaped up to the lowest branch of the tree beside me. Just in time—the pack of dogs was already coming up the path. One of them sniffed me and started barking. Alarmed, the other ones squirmed, catching my scent.

I let them howl all they wanted and climbed hurriedly as high up as I could, and then I stuck to the bark, melting into it. When the riders came up, they couldn’t see me from the ground.

I waited a little; the dogs noticed that they had lost my scent and settled down, then ran down the path, sniffing frantically who knows what. I didn’t left my hiding and I just looked down through the thick foliage. I saw enough to know that I wasn’t dealing with a party of soldiers of some local nobleman, in a quest of punishment or scouting. They weren’t merchants either to be accompanied by mercenaries guarding their goods.

Judging by the pack of hounds, I should have assumed they were hunters. The hounds, though, were used in hunting fast game—rabbit or deer—on open ground. Here in the middle of the woods lived bears or boars, large stags with branchy horns, even big aurochs or wild oxen with long sharp horns. Those were animals willing to fight fiercely, and the dogs to hunt them should be aggressive, stubborn ones, which never let go once they sank their teeth in.

The men perched on the horses wore ring-mails and light helmets, thick-leather high boots, heavy canvas warm clothing and long cloaks. All their clothing was dark color—black, brown or dull grey. They had short spears fit for boar hunting (but suitable to get the better of other strong animals either), sturdy crossbows (perfect for killing aurochs or wild oxen), long knives and heavy axes. Those were proper weapons for killing both dangerous beasts and two-legged enemies. The horses they rode were resilient, sturdy horses, capable of walking days on end without rest. But they were not racehorses capable of galloping, even on short distance. In other words they were warhorses, fit to carry men in heavy armor in battles without being afraid of noise, fire or screams, blood scent or death rattles.

I watched the line of riders and their horses passing underneath and didn’t realize who they were or what they wanted. They hadn’t come into the woods for fun and games. They didn’t joke or laugh, didn’t even talk to each other. Judging by their dogs, they were hunters, but there was no clue as to their prey. I guessed that—given no other clue—I had to consider the nature of the group and I gather that they followed one of their own for some real or fancied wrongdoings.

When the last rider was past me, I jumped on a branch just over the path and followed the convoy, leaping from tree to tree. I didn’t make much of a noise, just a rustle perhaps due to the wind or the play of some small game. Anyway, no rider turned his head to show he had heard something worthy of consideration.

*

I didn’t even see the night was falling. The riders stopped in the first glade they came across, near a creek with crystal-clear water, and set camp for the night. They didn’t carry tents with them, but they needn’t to, because the weather was warm and the sky was clear. The men watered the horses and tied them up in the middle of the glade so no beast could stalk them. Some of them snuggled near the animals to guard them from dangers. Others built fires, cooked some food they then shared with the others, then lay their blankets near the warming coals. A few stood watch, walking at times around the camp. The dogs curled up beside the fire and some of them got up and followed the guards on their rounds.

After a while, in the glade you could only hear the snoring of those sleeping, the snorting of the horses or the yelping of the dogs that dreamt they were chasing rabbits or cats…

During all that time when the men set their camp and prepared for sleep, I stood on a high branch in a tree at the edge of the forest, without moving, barely daring to breathe. Stood and watched. I was trying to figure what was their purpose in these woods and what game they were after. I couldn’t. I was watching them uneasily, and then relaxed a bit only after the dogs fell asleep.

Somehow I was scared by the sheer luck that I had. I couldn’t believe it was true.

The moon rose over the glade. It was up some while ago, but it was hidden by the trees. It only now became visible, after it had reached the zenith.

I thought now it was the time to act. If I was to wait any longer, daybreak would come soon and I would risk failure.

I got off the tree and hurried towards those who were sleeping. I picked up a guy that snuggled a little far off of the others and got to him in one leap.

His blade was sheathed and sat near his hand, so he might grab it at once if need be. Near the blade he’d put a spear stuck into the ground. I perched on that stick and peered at him, focusing on his head.

After a few minutes I managed to enter his mind and saw what I was hoping for: a dream.

The man was dreaming. A quiet, pleasant dream. A lavish, vigorous and alluringly tasty dream.

In the dream the man was young, walking on a meadow full of flowers. He walked alone, stopped once in a while, tore a flower, smelled it, and then smiled. He was in love, happy.

I felt like drooling with lust.

I couldn’t miss that fortunate moment.

I sneaked into his dream under a petty disguise so he couldn’t notice me and woke up too early: I was a tick that got—with a strain of will—on his neck. The young man walked on, admiring the flowers, being happy. Maybe he was dreaming the date with his first girlfriend. Anyway, I didn’t wait for the girl to show up and started to suck his energy.

I could’ve sucked that energy from any part of the dream: a blade of grass, a flower, or a sunbeam. But it was… more convincing to draw out the food from the main character, as if I was sucking the very blood of the man dreaming…

I stopped after a while. I had stuffed myself and now I felt a sweet torpor luring me to sleep… Then I realized my movements would be clumsy and I was likely to be caught while getting back to my lair, so I gave up that tasty, rich meal reluctantly. I got out of his mind while he slept on peacefully and showed up in the real word at the top of that spear stuck near his shelter.

I looked around: everyone went on sleeping, snoring, and the horses snoring at times… Nothing had changed while I was feeding.

I jumped off onto the grass, and reached the trees in a few fast leaps. I perched on a tree and headed straight for my lair, hopping from one branch to another.

The day was breaking—the sky cleared above the trees and the forest turned from a dark stain into many dim outlines getting stronger features with each passing moment.

Panting, I reached the tree where I had set up a proper hole for a cozy shelter. I clamber up to the shelter and fell belly up inside.

I had eaten too much, but I partook of the best food ever.

Many creatures dream, but the dreams of men are the sweetest and the richest. Dogs and cats have pleasant dreams, but not as tasty as pigs’ dreams. Bears, wolves and aurochs dream simple dreams, fit for quenching your hunger, but they are not real treats.

A dream of a mouse or a squirrel is full of fears and emotions—in other words, spicy and enticing—but not very rich. A dream of a duck or a hen (wild or domestic) isn’t too tasty or rich, but there are moments in life when you must be content even with that.

Only those who ever tasted the dream of a skylark know what a real treat is…

I stood there, belly up, trying to breathe slowly and steadily, not to push down on my overfilled stomach. And breathing so, I fell asleep.

After falling asleep, I started to dream.

In my dream I was in my lair, on my back onto the soft bed, asleep. My lips were carrying the delightful smile of a happy sated creature.

And that other me watching from outside of my body heard a noise near my lair, but didn’t panic. It waited, as with a sort of ill curiosity, to see what would happen.

Somebody peered into the tree hole—I saw just an eye and part of a hairy face—and whispered:

“It’s here. Go on!”

Somebody pushed a hound into my tree hole. A hound like those in the pack that I’d stalked the other night.

The hound wasn’t a real dog. It was one from the dreams. Because it was floating through my tree hole, using his ears as wings. Yes, he flapped his ears like a goose fluttering its wings, getting closer to me, the “me” that was sleeping belly-up.

When it reached my body, it stopped moving its ears and came down beside me. His long snout turned into a long thin trunk with a pointy end. That dog smiled—yes, incredible, it moved its lips and jeered—then he stuck its trunk into my nape.

And it started to suck my brain in foul gulps!

I tried to wake up convinced that only by getting back to my real life I could be saved.

I couldn’t.

Then I tried to struggle, to do anything I could to take that trunk out of my head.

The hound looked at me with its large mild eyes and told me, this time without moving its lips:

“You know, I don’t even need to stick my trunk into your head. That’s just conventional. I could as easily take the energy of your dream from the walls of your tree hole or from a hair. So, calm down. It will be fine for both of us, especially for you. Soon you’ll wake up. And you’ll be as good and docile as you are now, and you’ll be doing exactly as told…”

So then, still submerged into the realm of the dream, I realized what was the game those riders were after, and I knew they had caught it.

— Translated into English by Dan BUTUZA

Liviu-Radu

Despre Liviu RADU

Liviu RADU a scris 3 articole în Revista de suspans.

Radu Liviu (n. 20 noiembrie 1948, București) este un scriitor și traducător român contemporan de science fiction și fantasy. În 1971 a absolvit Facultatea de Automatică, secția Calculatoare, din cadrul Institutului Politehnic București. Este membru al Uniunii Scriitorilor din România și al Societății Române de Science Fiction și Fantasy. A debutat în 1993 în revista Quasar cu povestirea Fața nevăzută a planetei Marte. Debutul editorial (în volum) s-a petrecut în 1999 prin romanul Trip-Tic publicat la editura Dacia. În decursul timpului a colaborat cu numeroase publicații și periodice de gen: Jurnalul SF, Anticipația CPSF, ArtPanorama, Tritonic.ro, Lumi virtuale, ProScris, Nautilus, almanahul Anticipația. De asemenea, a colaborat și la volumele colective (antologii de proză science fiction și fantasy): Nemira '96 (1996), Plaja nudistilor (1999), Don Quijote, Prostituata si alte personaje (2000), Timpul eroilor (2001), România SF 2001, Alte lumi, alte legende (2002), AtelierKult: povestiri fantastice (2005), Millennium 1 ( 2009), Millennium 2: șase ani de ficțiuni (2009), Dansând pe Marte și alte povestiri fantastice (2009), Alte țărmuri (2009).

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