“Winter’s Prey” By A. L. Mundt

It was, even among other undesirable qualities, an ideal place to hunt.

There was no way to camouflage the risks and jeopardy of the snow-rimmed forest floor, no way to dress in guise the steep, bowing drop-offs or the crick-crack of crunching ice that struck the air with the toll of a bell. Even the night sky could not cover it all up; it glistened with the stars and the moon, told all who passed through, “danger, danger, this is not your road to travel.”

Perhaps the people of this frozen Canadian wasteland were so apologetic because their land was the contrary. They had no choice but to be forgiving, not when the world before them would gape and swallow them at any sign of resistance. Here, Death not only bit, but held on fast with teeth like clamps.

Evening was brewing fast overhead, the sun bleeding into the treetops with watercolor movement. All there was to feel was cold, and it was enough to open a man up, split him right down the middle, and let the wind soak every bone beneath brittle skin. Pine needles glittered with vigor on all sides, shining a bruised blue as the light died. The forest was not alive, did not feel, and yet it pierced, held itself up in defense, as though fending off thousands of unseen enemies.

There were wolves, too; their howls caught the rising moon and prodded it higher, forced midnight into full bloom. Their wails were grating, looming, tumbling down mountainsides. But there was nothing to fear from them, so long as one remained on his or her feet—for wolves fed only on those already soaked in a corpse’s stench.

At the sudden gush of a zephyr, a snowy hare trembled beneath her spruce, feeling the flecks of snowflakes drip against her gray-dappled winter coat. Even she did not dare travel here, on the tightrope-thin line between safe passage and certain failure. She retreated to her den, let the snow hold her in a safe embrace.

She would not be snatched up or shaken out into the dark, not tonight.

In the dusk, snowfall began to pick up in haste, plunging forth like an avalanche down a slope, gaining a sort of lethal momentum—white piles smacked from the heavens in beating, unceremonious plops.

Soon there was no seeing more than an inch beyond human eyes. There were no trees, rocks, sky, ground, not anymore. Just white, a soup of it too thick to stir. It casted everything in shades of red and blue; blue, that unfeeling blue, that hue taken on by bodies preserved in ice.

The nearby howling intensified, projected by the cliffsides. There was no death here now, but wolves were coming all the same, like they could sense that which was yet uncertain. They offered no mercy and possessed no faith, assuming there would be lost victims; there always would be, just the same as the moon would always come out to smile and greet its alpha below.

It was, after all, an ideal place to be hunted.

 


A.L. Mundt-known to some as Alaina, and others as Letty, has been putting stories to paper since she was just three years old. Admittedly, though, they weren’t any good back then. Now a full-time, pizza-guzzling, nineteen-year-old student, she studies creative writing and frequently authors in St. Norbert College’s Graphos. A love for the sublime in the northern wilderness fuels her writing, with her Messengers trilogy’s first installment, Water and Earth, marking her first novel publication. Aside from writing, she dreams of one day owning a pet squirrel named Daniel and a kitten named Mika, witnessing Eyjafjallajökull (and its proper pronunciation), and learning how to stop getting sucked into unpopular television shows.

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