‘TELEPHONE’

Submitted for the #mmpoetrybattle prompt word: curls.
https://twitter.com/AndanteJungle/status/1457368173066424322?s=20
https://twitter.com/AndanteJungle/status/1454537621552566275?s=20

When we were kids,
You called me on 
the telephone,
and when you did,
for a minute 
I felt less alone.
Now that we’re grown,
what fills my ear?
All that I can hear --
just a dial tone.

Turning the page,
it curls and breaks
just like the waves
after an earthquake.
Words in an array
dancing like a ballet;
my heart on display,
arranged in a bouquet,
for a woman named …

Written by Jungle, (C) 2021, all rights reserved.

‘TEMPERANCE’

Submitted for #vss365 prompt word: treacherous.

Lost my frame of reference,
could pain be my preference?
This path is so #treacherous,
testing my endurance,
but fire leads to temperance.

Written by Jungle, (C) 2021, all rights reserved.

‘CATALYST’

Submission for #vss365 #accident.

This wasn’t an #accident.
This feeling, so adamant.
I am intransigent,
a hopeful romanticist,
the lonely protagonist,
and you are the catalyst.

Written by Jungle, (C) 2021, all rights reserved.

‘INTIMATE’

Submitted for #vss365 prompt word: taboo.

Lips locked up like they’re glued.
Color me blue, I’ll paint you too.
Three words to say, “I miss you.”
“I’m sorry,” I can say with two. 
I promise, someday I’ll follow through.
Drive alone, eyes up on the rear view.
Worlds apart but we share the same moon.
Intimate: a taboo I never knew. 
Wait for me until the day I debut.
I promise someday I’ll know you too.

Written by Jungle, (c) 2021, all rights reserved.

‘A VISITOR’

I know this place.

Four white walls, a white ceiling, and a matching floor, all smooth and spotless. A bare cot in the corner of the room illuminated by one lonely lightbulb.

How long has it been since I left this shithole?

“Wake up, Celestria.” A monotone voice addresses the room with its grating drone. The tiny hairs on my forearms jump upright, wavering like a tightrope walker crossing a perilous line. My brow furrows. Looking back towards the cot, I spot the hazy outline of a little girl sitting by herself. She hugs her knees to her chest as if they were a shield. So helpless – a feeling long forgotten. What I haven’t forgotten is how I suffered on that little cot, though.

It’s always strange to see yourself in a dream. How many days has her stomach gnawed at itself? Since her cracked lips knew the touch of clean water? It was difficult to keep count of those things. And there it is – that telltale knock, knock, knock of bony knuckles on sheet metal. It was time for another examination. Her tiny frame shudders with dread as the door swings aside…

My eyes snap open and I freeze. Something is hovering inches away from my face. Nostrils flare, hungrily devouring my scent. Two eyes, shadowed and vacant, sit affixed beside gaunt cheekbones. I don’t move. I don’t even breath. Am I still dreaming? No, the stench of gore is too vivid for this to be another dream.

My hands curl into fists. Soft cotton sheets meet my fingers instead of the smooth rosewood of my sword’s hilt. Where is my sword…? My heart beats like a war drum on a steady approach. It still hasn’t moved. Time ticks on in silence as it studies me, each grain of sand slipping through the hourglass one… by… one…

It straightens up. A lantern flickers in the corner of my eye. The silhouette stands tall and motionless like a monolith. It radiates an intense aura – deep purple, the color of loathing. Scan the room without moving my head, looking for my sword – no good, the lantern barely casts any light. Just shadows and the stranger beside my bed. Wait. Just shadows? What about the children? The mother? I can’t sense them at all. Goosebumps up and down my arms now.

That’s when I notice the sound. Drip, drip. Drip, drip. Right beside the bed. My surroundings begin to sharpen. The visitor is holding something at its side, but it’s too dark to see clearly. Could it be a thief making off with my host’s belongings? The thought energizes me to action and I sit up in bed. Sword or no sword, I can handle a thief.

“Come with me.” The voice of a man, scratchy and hoarse. The visitor turns away and steps towards the door, into the light of the lantern.

My lips part and my heart dives into my stomach. I lock eyes with the little girl who had begged me to save her mother just this morning. Her severed head, along with her mother and brother’s, hang suspended by a fistful of hair. Vacant eyes, scared and pleading, mouths agape. The door swings open and they disappear with the specter, but not before the sight burns itself into my memory.

Rage. You won’t get away with this, you son of a bitch! I spring out of the bed and grab the lantern. My sword. Where is my sword? Stomp around the cottage looking for one thing and one thing only – my sword. Where is it? There it is, propped up by the window. Grab it, rip the scabbard off. A bloodcurdling scream from outside. Someone saw it? Lantern in one hand, naked blade in the other, I burst out of the cottage with murder in my eyes.

Two hazy outlines in the street before me. I recognize one – the specter, radiating a hatred that might match my own. A slumped figure lying on the ground behind it – another victim? Another life cut short? Quick footsteps carry me forward and I rip my katana through its back, biting into the bone. Not deep enough. It staggers forward, snarls, and turns towards me. Face to face again in the middle of the street. Dead, white eyes. Eyes like mine. It bares its teeth and I respond in kind. Neither of us move.

Angry shouting in the distance. It’s getting louder. I see lights approaching from a distance.

“What are you?” It snarls at me. Don’t speak, just die, you bastard! My blade slices through empty air as it ducks down. It’s fast. I follow up with another cut, but it doesn’t connect and I stumble forward. The specter takes the opportunity to dart past me. Square up again, but it’s already gone. Disappeared into the darkness.

Where did it go!? A sharp hiss as I inhale through clenched teeth. It’s not human. It can’t be. It’s too quick. I can’t see well enough to tell where it might have gone.

“Don’t move!” I turn out of reflex. Something hard cracks me in the jaw and the world spins sideways. I stagger and fall to the ground. Flagstone on bare skin. A circle of lantern lights dance a drunken waltz before everything goes black.

Floating now. Head hurts. Heavy footsteps. Loud voices. Make it stop. I want to go back to sleep…

My eyes are open again. It’s dark and I’m alone. My head still hurts. I still feel stone pressing against my back. My sword is missing again. So are my my sandals and my satchel. Did I leave them in the cottage? Groan. What is this place?

“Hello…?” My jaw throbs as I call out to the darkness.

She’s awake now.” Someone thinks. A man nearby. No aura. Is he in another room?

“Where am I?” I ask. A warm light filters through the window in front of me, parted by three iron bars.  

“You’re in prison, witch.” A man’s voice calls out from behind the light. I can’t see his face. Looking around, I confirm that I am sitting in a dingy prison cell. Shit…

“Why am I here?” My question is met with a gruff growl.

“Why do you think, witch?” The guard spits back.

“I wouldn’t be asking you if I knew, asshole!” Now it’s my turn to snarl. I stand up and nearly fall over – it’s still hard to balance. My outstretched hand finds the wall and I use it to steady myself.

“Has the magic rotted your brain, witch? Or are human lives so insignificant to you that you cannot remember the four you just ended?” His voice burns with righteous anger. Oh no. They think that I killed them? Didn’t they see the culprit flee!?

“You idiots! It wasn’t me. I fought the murderer! You let him escape!?” I snap back at him.

“We caught you red-handed. I’ve got your bloody sword right here, too. You’ll be hung tomorrow morning without a trial, so enjoy the last few hours of life you have left. Don’t get any big ideas, either!” The fire in his voice lingers. I groan again. How am I going to get out of this mess? A deep sigh escapes my lips.

Alright, Seles. Calm down. Think. You’ve escaped from a prison once before, haven’t you? Yes, I have. First thing’s first.

Athos… can you hear me?” My thoughts echo into the void. Silence. A cold sweat creeps down the back of my neck. Did they break the mirror!?

“Yes, my Queen. I can hear you.” A familiar voice that only I can hear.

“Where are you, Athos?” I hear the guard shuffling around outside.

“I am in the cottage, my Queen. The cat is here with me.” The cottage? Damn, I must have left my mirror and my sandals there. How stupid of me…

“Come forth then. I summon you to this world. Bring Porthos with you. I need your help.” My familiars might not be as powerful in the real world, but they can at least fetch my things for me. I hear a feline meow loudly in protest.

“Already bossing me around? Sheesh. I was just taking a nap.” A new voice now – that must be Porthos, The Goblin Cat. My new familiar.

“You belong to me now, cat. You are bound to my bidding. Now, listen carefully. Porthos, you are to fetch my belongings from the cottage. Take my mirror, sandals, and satchel, then wait for us on the edge of town in a secluded place. That is your task.” I rapidly rattle off my orders.

“You’re making me carry your things? Why me? Can’t the bird do it instead? And why is my name Porthos? Don’t I get any say in that!?” Porthos hisses back.

“Because I said so. Stop arguing with me and do as I say, or your new name will be Mr. Stinky Bottom!” Didn’t I tell Athos to show him the ropes? Another sigh escapes me.

“Fine…!” He yowls.

“What are your orders, my Queen?” Athos chimes in, as loyal and obedient as ever. I hope he rubs off on Porthos soon.

“Come to me. I need to borrow your sight so I can get out of here.” I respond. No need for directions or a location – Athos can sense my presence.

“At once, my Queen.” Athos responds. With that, silence returns. Only one thing left to do now and that is bust out of this filthy prison cell. How am I going to do that…?

A sly grin creeps across my lips as I step towards the door. Peering out the barred window, I spot the guard sitting next to the door, back against the wall as he smokes a cigarette. Seems like it’s just us here. This must be solitary confinement. Perfect. I couldn’t ask for a better set-up.

“Hey, you. If you’re just going to hang me without a trial, I think I am entitled to a final request.” My voice is sultry, radiating with hidden power. The guard doesn’t bother to look at me, though.

“Let me guess… you want to get laid one last time before you die? Nice try, witch, but I’m no fool.” The guard’s response is as gruff as ever. Looks like I’m dealing with a seasoned veteran here. No matter.

“Don’t flatter yourself. You wouldn’t be able to handle me anyways.” My voice continues to ooze with the hidden power of suggestion. He won’t be able to hold out for long, not when he’s sitting a few feet away from me.

“… What is it then?” He asks. That’s right, fall under my spell…

“I want a smoke. Isn’t it proper to give someone a smoke before they’re wrongfully accused of murder and executed?” My voice softens, pleading with him, but my eyes are glittering with anticipation. He’ll fall for it.

“Get your own, witch.” His voice has lost some of its edge, but he’s still holding out. We have a tough customer here, but he’ll crack.

“But I want one of yours. Besides, I didn’t kill anyone… I mean, just look at me. I’m not a witch! I’m a medicine woman!” I pretend to pout. C’mon, you bastard. Take the bait!

“If I give you one, will you shut up for the rest of the night?” Finally, he turns his head to look up at the window framing my face. I nod my head emphatically. Just a little more…

“Fine then. One cigarette. Just one.” Now he stands up and reaches into his pocket before withdrawing a small, flat tin. He opens it, revealing several cigarettes. He fingers one and flicks it through the window bars. It hits me square in the forehead before it falls to the floor. I crouch down and pick it up, then place it between my lips.

“I need a light.” I ask with my sweetest, most innocent voice. I grab two of the window bars and press my face between then, cigarette dangling from my lips. Just a little more…

“Fine. Hold still.” The guard fishes a square metal lighter out of his pocket, then flicks it open and strikes the wick with a practiced motion. Not bad. The flame draws near to the end of the cigarette and I can’t help but smile. Too easy.

My hands dart out from behind the bars to grab his wrist. My fingers find the bare skin on his forearm. Just like that, I’ve won.

“You belong to me now.” My voice reverberates throughout the inside of his skull, impossibly loud. His eyes go wide and he freezes in place. Not so tough now, are you, big guy? You’re mine for the next five minutes or more. I release his wrist.

“Light my cigarette. Now.” The guard proceeds to light my cigarette. My lips pucker as I take a long draw before blowing a cloud of smoke in his face. His eyes water and I note the tinge of sapphire emanating from his pupils – the telltale sign of a successful possession.

“Unlock the cell and let me out.” The guard doesn’t hesitate to pull the keyring from his belt and after a few moments, I hear the cylinders in the lock beginning to turn. A second later, the door swings open and I calmly step outside of the prison cell.

Fetch my sword and give me the keys.” The guard complies with this command as well. He’s nothing more than a puppet on a string now. As I grasp my sword, I feel a sense of relief wash over me. Nearly done here, soon I’ll be on my way… but what to do with this dolt?

“Give me the keys. Strip naked, leave your clothes on the floor, then get in the cell and go to sleep.”  My final command. The guard does as he’s told and I lock him inside the cell before I help myself to his cloak, boots, and some of his other effects, donning them all to make a somewhat convincing disguise. My sword finds its home again, inside my waist sash, then I draw the hood of his cloak tight around my face. Lantern in one hand, cigarette in the other, I make my way down the hallway, keeping my head down to avoid making eye contact with anyone. Piece of cake.

There is hardly a soul awake to interfere as I use the lights along the ceiling as waypoints to mark my way. The guards that I do pass by pay no attention to me. This place seems pretty understaffed. I wonder why? Probably getting drunk somewhere. No matter — soon enough I find myself walking out the front door of the prison without anyone raising a finger to stop me.  

“I am here, my Queen.” I hear a familiar voice once again and I look up. A bright orange aura catches my eyes. It’s small, like a bird. It must be Athos posing as a crow again. I nod to him.

Fly overhead and guide me out of this town. You are my eyes now.”  With that, Athos unfurls his wings and takes flight, circling high above the town. His bird’s eye view of the settlement and its roads flashes before my eyes.

“I need directions. This city is like a maze to me.”

“Yes, my Queen. Take a right into the alleyway after another twenty paces.” He chirps in reply. Such a faithful little friend. What would I do without him?

I keep my eyes on the ground in front of me, careful not to bump into anyone or anything as I follow his directions. After all, I can’t see more than a few feet in front of my face, not even in broad daylight. Magical eyes are not without their pitfalls, I guess.

After walking for some time, the flagstone gives way to loose gravel. The din of the taverns and gambling halls are long gone now. A small, light red aura appears in the distance. The silhouette gradually becomes clear – it’s a small cat. This must be Porthos. He hisses as we approach, but thankfully he’s much less intimidating in this form.

I kneel down close so I can see him better. A little black cat, nondescript except for his ruby red eyes and streaks of white radiating outward from his wet little nose. Reaching out, I offer him a little pat on the head, but he turns away and saunters off. Fine, be that way. I pick up my satchel and sling it around my neck and shoulder.

“Well done, you two.”I offer my familiars a heartfelt job well done.

“Thank you, my Queen! It is a privilege to serve you.” Athos offers his regal reply, formal as ever. Porthos just meows and keeps on strutting down the road in front of me, tail raised high. The world begins to brighten now – that must be the dawn sun creeping over the horizon. The sun… something I’ve only seen clearly in drawings, pictures, and paintings.  

“Where shall we go now, my Queen?” Athos’ query reigns in my wandering mind. I ponder as I put one foot in front of the other, keeping the cat in front of me as the little crow bounces down the road beside me.

Good question. I’m not sure where I want to go next, but I know I want to put everything that just happened as far behind me as I possibly can. Would I like to avenge that little girl and her family? Of course, but even if I could find that specter, I’m not confident I can kill it. Even if I could, it won’t bring them back. What’s done is done. They were strangers, kind ones, but strangers nonetheless, and tragedies like this happen every day. I’m no hero. Heroes wind up dead.

“To the next township, Athos.” And so it goes.

“A VISITOR”
Written by Jungle, (C) 2021, all rights reserved.

‘HUNTED’

Mapping my way with feelings,
Stumbling, head is reeling.
Shadow of doubt still creeping,
Blood leaking through clenched teeth.
Misinterpreting meanings,
This trail is so misleading.
Glass in my feet, keeps bleeding,
Marking my way through this dream.
When will I find my way out?
I’ve seen these trees before,
like the warnings I’ve ignored.
The home of my greatest war:
a corridor with no doors.
I know what I’m looking for,
It’s time to settle the score.

“HUNTED”
Written by Jungle
(C) 2021, all rights reserved.

‘HEART VS. BRAIN’

Submitted for #vss365 prompt word: #river.


I heard a song that goes
"My brain’s the cliff, 
my heart’s the bitter buffalo," 
but no, I don’t think so.
See, my brain’s a running #river
and my heart is at the bottom
tied up by its burden.

Written by Jungle, (c) 2021
All rights reserved.
Line referenced is from “Heart Cooks Brain” by Modest Mouse.

‘ANOMALY’

Submitted for #scififriday prompt word: #anomaly.


It just occurred to me that I might be crazy.

I think now I can see I’m an #anomaly.

My thoughts are mystery, I must love misery.

My observatory, solitude’s victory,

or could this really be a lunar aviary?


Written by Jungle, (c) 2021
All rights reserved.

‘SHINOBAE’

Queen of the arcade machines.
Eyes that shine like aquamarines.
Her high score is just obscene.
A smile that outshines the screen.

Hey, hey hey! Won’t you show me that combo someday?
Shinobae! Will she slow down for you? No way! 
Hey, hey hey! Won’t you show me that combo someday?
Shinobae! Hope to play against you one day. 

Quick with the sticks, ready to fight.
Dressed in twilight and neon light.
For her, it’s all about the game.
For them, she’s a crown to claim.

Hey, hey hey! Won’t you show me that combo someday?
Shinobae! Will she slow down for you? No way! 
Hey, hey hey! Won’t you show me that combo someday?
Shinobae! Hope to play against you one day. 

‘SHINOBAE’
Written by Jungle, (C) 2021.
All rights reserved.

‘THE HUNTRESS AND THE LOST CUB’

Trust yourself. Believe in the vision.

I crouch in wait at the base of an aging birch tree, drawing the gray fur of the Wolf Mother around me to ward off the chill. The familiar smell keeps me calm and drives away the anticipation of the hunt. Even still, I am cold. Off in the distance, I can see the great stone wall marked by a crescent moon. Behind it looms the True Moon, full and bright. With or without its light, I see all – moss draping the wall, a snake slithering through the dead leaves on the forest floor, a lone hare warily sniffing the air, the horned owl staring at it from a nearby tree bough… nothing escapes the eyes of a hunter.

Heavy clouds threaten to hide the moon and drench me in rain. I grit my fangs and growl a warning at the sky. My prey could arrive at any moment, so I cannot afford the smoke of a campfire. Arté saw the hunting party beneath the light of the True Moon. Her visions always came to pass. This is the third night of the True Moon, and it could only last two more nights at most. There is no mistaking the landmark either – there are other walls in the world, yes, but I have seen none marked with the sign of the moon besides this one, the one that guards the Fields of the Fallen.

I scaled that wall once when I was young and curious. Inside the walls, there is a valley of iron that houses a field of sand, perfectly flat and full of forgotten bones. None of the skulls I saw belonged to beasts. I recognized it as a sacred place, a place that Death visits often. I pondered its purpose, knowing life must be taken so that life may continue, but I had never seen a beast that could consume so many. As a younger woman, I was puzzled, but now I grasp the truth: they were consumed by the Moon, a beast so great that it can chase the Sun across the sky. Knowing this, I would not choose to disturb the dead again. Let them rest: they belong to the Moon now. It is the way of the seasons.

The owl swoops down from its perch and tackles the hare, rending the rabbit with its talons, beating its powerful wings to stay upright. The hare struggles and cries out as it is ripped apart. The owl squeezes tight with its claws and tears at the hare’s throat with its beak. The hare goes limp, and the owl begins to peck away at its meal. Life is given so that life may continue. This is the way of the seasons; as the summer burns away the spring, so does the winter bury the fall, and so it goes.

The sound of fluttering wings fills my ears. I look up and spot a cloud of bats take off into the night, off to the east, near the great wall of the Moon, where a city of stone lay in ruin. My prey has arrived… and they are clumsy. I stand and pull the great bow off my back, fixing one end in the earth and bracing it against my boot. The Ashwood bow staff stands as tall as I, and with a shaft as wide as my wrist. The wood creaks as I bend and string it. The bowstring hums quietly as I pluck it once to test the tension.

Arté had noted that the invaders carried rifles. She worries too much and she also thinks too highly of the rifle. A gun is just a tool, a loud one. The hunter is the one that kills, not the tool. This place is a full day north from our home, the Ivy City. Every time the Unfed have come to raid our home, they have come from the north. Killing three men with a bow would be easier than killing dozens with a rifle. Arté could not argue with this, and so I set out alone.

Long strides carry me through the forest and towards the stone forts and towers. Their empty windows gaze at me like dead eyes, silently watching each step. The winds that carry the gray clouds moving overhead pass through the windows and whisper their secrets to me. The stone towers are now home to bats and other beasts that might give away my presence, so I stay outside. A hunter’s greatest tool is surprise. The wind also carries with it the smell of my prey; the scent of liquor is strong and it is not carried by any beasts besides the ones I have come to hunt.

I soon find myself standing atop one of the many bridges joining the winding roads that crisscross the city. My father had a word for this type of rock: concrete. It was made by hands, not by nature, and it was difficult to destroy. Surveying my surroundings from up on high, I see nothing but cold stone forts staring back with their empty eyes. It was a place like this where I’d lost him. Blood trickles from my lip as I bite down on it, stifling the memories of the past. The hunt was not the time to remember the dead. The pain brings focus with it.

A stag bounds into view and it pauses at a crossroads, unsure of where to run. I fight the instinct to draw an arrow. The resounding crack of a gunshot startles the stag and it leaps away, now bounding down the road. I drop into a crouch and peer over the edge of the bridge. The sound of angry voices and stomping boots echo against the stone ruins lining the streets. By the time the hunting party made it to the intersection, the stag had run off down another road, out of sight again. The confounded men now stand in the middle of the crossroads, arguing with one another.

“You fucking idiot! Why did you shoot!?” One man’s gruff voice rings out above the others. He stands tall and I am reminded for a moment of a brown bear rearing back onto its hindquarters. He and the two other men turn and confront the fourth. I can tell the fourth is the runt of the pack by his small size as well as his slumped shoulders. No, I am mistaken; the fourth is not a man, he is just a pup.

“I had a clear shot! It’s not my fault, it’s this piece of shit rifle! You guys took the good ones and left me with this garbage!” The runt fires back. His barks are shrill and tense, full of fear. I continue to watch as I reach behind my head. My fingers close around the feather fletching of an arrow, which I draw from its quiver and notch against my bowstring.

“Give me that!” Another one of the men, also much larger than the pup, stows his own rifle by slinging it behind his back, then he grabs the runt’s weapon. He holds it up, aiming down the sights for a moment, then pulling the bolt back and inspecting the breach. I can see his lips move as he murmurs something but he does not give the rifle back to the pup yet.

“I told you already. You don’t shoot alone. You wait until the rest of us have a shot too. That is how we operate! You just cost us our first real meal in days!” The leader speaks again, still angry. “You shot first because you wanted to say you killed it, dumbass!” He ends his angry rant by cuffing the young one with the back of his fist. The runt’s head snaps to the side with the impact. No response from the runt here. The men turn away from the stunned pup, whispering to one another, and I can’t make out their words. I can guess what they’re saying though. Arté’s visions have always come true. I think about how many paces it would take to reach the pack: about sixty, I’d say.

“Alright Petros, it’s been decided…” The leader speaks to the runt as the other two men circle behind him. The young one looks over his shoulder nervously, not sure what to do. I can sense fear and desperation now. One of the men slams the butt of his rifle into the runt’s back and he yelps in pain. The other man follows up by kicking him in the back of the kneecap, dropping him to all fours. The leader continues to address the pup.

“Since you scared away our dinner… you’re going to take its place, Petros.” The leader lowers his voice now and I can barely make out the words. He levels his rifle at the runt. A new scent invades my senses as a little pool begins to puddle up by the cub’s knee. One of the men notices it, points, and starts to laugh. The other man waves his hand at the leader and points at a machete hanging from the leader’s belt. My jaw clenches in disgust. These are the Unfed.

“You’re right, not worth the ammunition.” The leader says as he slings his rifle and draws the machete instead. The man standing behind the boy kicks him in flank, flattening him out onto the concrete. He slings his rifle and kneels so that he can wrench the boy’s arm away from his body and straighten it out, pinning it flat against the concrete. The third man plants a foot on the pup’s back, pressing his weight down on him. The muzzle of his stolen rifle rests against the back of his head.

“This has been a long time coming, you little shit…” Now the leader positions himself to take the pup’s arm with his machete. I stand up and take aim. The muscles in my arm flex against the mounting tension of the bowstring. Breath in. I imagine the arrow piercing flesh and adjust my aim. Breath out. The leader raises his machete on high and the tension disappears as I let the arrow take off towards its target: the only one with a rifle in his hands.

“What the fuck!?” The leader yells as my target staggers forward and slams into him. I notch another arrow as I breath in again. The second man releases the boy’s arm and stands up, fumbling for the rifle slung over his back. I picture my arrow piercing his chest as I breath out and release. The man raises his rifle and turns towards me just as my second arrow tears through his flesh and impales him. Blood leaks from between his clenched teeth as he falls to his knees. One left.

“Wait! Don’t kill me! Don’t!” The leader shoves the dying man away and raises both hands in surrender. He looks around with the wild eyes of a doomed animal and his machete clangs against the concrete. I notch another arrow and breath in once more. I can see the final shot hitting its mark. I breath out, pause, and release the straining arrow.

It whistles through the air before finding its new home in the leader’s throat.  The leader falls backwards onto the street, clutching at the wooden arrow shaft sticking out of his neck as his boots kick the ground in agony. All three of them bleed out before I can make my way over. The young pup is still curled up on the ground like a newborn, passed out in a puddle of piss and spilled blood. What a sorry sight.

“… Boy.” My voice does nothing to rouse him. I nudge his leg with the tip of my boot a few times. Still nothing. I stand over him now, planting one foot on either side of his torso. I bend at the waist, leaning down to slap his cheek. Still nothing. Did he die of fright? I slap him like I mean it this time and then he wakes with a start.

“W-w-wolf…!” He yelps as he looks up at me in fear and confusion. I cock my head to the side, then realize what’s going on. Right. I peel my skull headdress back to reveal my face, but it does not bring him any comfort. I should have expected this kind of reaction. After all, a minute ago he was about to become a meal.

“W-w-woman!? Wolf woman!? Wolf woman!!” He continues to cry out in fear as he holds his hands up in front of his face, as if that would protect him. I sigh, looking up at the True Moon for a moment. Don’t doubt yourself, Roré. You know this boy’s value. I look back down at the boy and plant one hand on his chest to keep him from moving. Then I ball my other hand into a fist and strike him through an opening in his guard, careful to hold back so I don’t kill him by accident. My punch connects squarely with one side of his chin and his head snaps to the side. His eyes roll back into their sockets. All is quiet.

I look down at the boy and inspect him. He’s young, maybe fifteen or sixteen years old. His hair is so short that he almost looks bald and so I can’t tell what color it is. The blood splatters on his face glisten in the moonlight. It looks like his lip is split, but otherwise he’s not too badly hurt. His complexion is pale and judging by his cheek bones, he wasn’t very well fed. Truly the runt of the pack. No matter to me, I’m not here for a meal.

Not long after, I find myself entering the woods south of the city, this time with a teenage boy slung over my shoulder, bound and gagged, but still alive. This young cub, betrayed by the Unfed, would prove to be a valuable source of information for my pack. He knows where our enemy sleeps, he knows their number, and he knows their habits. Whether or not he is able to run with the pack is less important than the information he will provide us.

The hunt is over and it is time to return home.

THE HUNTRESS AND THE LOST CUB
Written by Jungle.
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