Savage- An Original Short Story
The trip down highway 20 is refreshing. It’s been too long since I’ve been on a run through the forest. The recent spring rains have made the world feel fresh and new. I can smell the earth and hear the trees calling.
My Jeep bumps and jostles over the road as I take a turnoff that will lead me down to my favorite spot in my forest. It seems as eager as I was to get out of the steel and conceit city. I’d prefer to stay out here in my forest but the demands of blending into the world outside keeps me away more and more as time passes.
I call this “my forest” but to clarify, I don’t “own” it in the sense that you may think. It’s “my” forest because I’ve spent several decades running through it, nurturing it, and protecting it. It’s “my” forest because this is where I’ve my connection to the earth as druids have for millennia. We’re a dying order but I keep the old ways as much as possible in these modern days.
I push the old Jeep’s suspension to its limits and finally find the spot I’m looking for. I hop out and spend a minute taking in the smell of the dew on the leaves, the soft decomposing layer of leaves under my feet, feel the light dappling my skin as it tumbles down through the canopy of leaves dozens of feet above me. This forest is old. Almost as old as me. That’s why I like it. Most things my age aren’t something you’d want to come across alone, but this forest is pure beauty and life and almost completely wild this far in.
I strip down and leave my clothes in the car. I won’t need them when I run. I kneel down and say the old prayers to the earth and trees and the gods of nature I’ve worshiped since I was a child. They’ve grown nearly completely silent, if they haven’t died already, but I can still feel their power flowing.
I take a deep breath and reach for that power through my feet and bring it up through my body, every cell of my being electrified by the contact.
My body ripples as my center of gravity shifts. Limbs change, lengthen, break and reform in new ways. It’s hardly more than a second or two but I savor it for an eternity. There’s no pain because this is completely natural to me.
I stand just above four feet at the shoulder and a solid 6.5 feet nose to tail. I’d be a prize buck with the set of antlers on my head but spring isn’t the season for hunting a stag. I take another second to savor the smell of the woods through my even more heightened sense of smell and hearing. It’s music to me after the sound of cars and people non-stop. I feel the energy building in me and bound off eastward, towards the direction of the soft breeze sliding over my fur.
I don’t always take the form of a stag when I run. Sometimes I might be a large bobcat or mountain lion. I might chose to fly as any number of bird or even run up and down the tall trees as a squirrel. All of nature’s animals share my skin but today I want to feel the strong power and grace of being a stag.
Time means nothing as I bound through the forest, leaping over felled trees and small streams. Eventually I stop at a pool to take a drink. The water is crisp and cool and refreshing. Then a smell hits me an instant before a blinding pain burns in my side. Instinct tells me to dash away but it’s too late. Another flash of pain hits me on the flank as I try to run and I’m down.
I’ve been shot. Twice.
My form shocks back to a human but the pain is still there, blood painting the leaves crimson. I steady my breath and pull power from the earth as a verdant green light flows through the air to cover my wounds, sealing them up and soothing away the pain, but the rage replaces it. There are humans in my woods and they are hunting my animals.
I hear them crashing through the woods, confident that they’ve made their kill. I lay still and let them approach. My tanned skin isn’t too far off from the color of my fur as a stag in the dappled sunlight so they get within a dozen yards heedlessly before I stand.
They’re taken aback by seeing a naked man where they expected to see a dead stag. The smell that hit my nose before the shot was alcohol of all things. Day drunk and hunting out of season in a protected forest. Protected by both their laws and mine.
“What the hell man? What are you doing naked in the middle of the woods?” the first one asks and I can smell the vodka on his breath.
I can tell he has money. He has the voice of someone used to telling people what to do unquestioned and his clothes are spotless. He and his friend probably came here on a whim, bought out the local REI and decided to “rough it”. No doubt their luxury SUV isn’t too far. I realize now that I’ve ran farther than I thought and ended up only a few miles from a trail.
“You shouldn’t be hunting here. It’s forbidden.” I say in a flat toneless voice, not acknowledging their questions. “Leave now.” They laugh.
“We’ll shoot whatever we want, wherever we want, whenever we want.” The other chimes in. “My family practically owns this entire forest and more than half the rangers roaming around here. Why don’t you go find a moose to fuck and get out of here?” He turns to his friend, “C’mon, that fucker can’t be too far.” They start to walk away.
I reach out with my power and call up thorny roots that rip from the ground and wind around their feet and legs, holding them fast as they shout in surprise. Vines whip from the nearby trees and lash onto their arms and down to their upper bodies, their guns falling to the ground.
The two are held fast but continue to struggle. My grip on them is absolute. They aren’t going anywhere. I send another tendril of power out into the trees. There is a howl in response.
“I said, you shouldn’t be hunting here.” I repeat and step forward to claim their rifles, which are far too overpowered for the game they would find here in any season.
“Hey!” the first man shouts in protest. “I don’t know what the hell is going on here but don’t touch those! They cost more than your life! I’ll have you locked up if you even try stealing from me.”
“Stealing from you?” I look at him with an arched eyebrow. “I’m not stealing anything from you. I’m destroying something unnatural that doesn’t belong here.” Energy flows through me and lightning sparks across the gun, turning it to powder in my grasp. They are shocked and haven’t really processed what has happened, or what kind of trouble they’re in. They will.
“Now that I have your attention I want you to understand something.” The two look at me, their eyes wide and faces pale.
“What the hell are you dude?” the second says. I can smell the urine running down his leg. I don’t answer questions.
“This is my forest, my trees, my animals, and you are not welcome.” I look back and forth between the two, holding their gaze. “I am willing to forgive your ignorance in exchange for your word that you will not return.” I wait for their response. The first man snorts and spits in my direction. It misses. “Fuck you man! I’m going to come back here and…” His words dies in his throat as a growl rumbles behind me. Four wolves emerge from the ferns and undergrowth, power and strength wrapped in fur and on four paws. They lunge at him with my mental command. I knew the two would not yield and they will pay for their stubbornness.
The second man, clearly the more cowardly of the two, screams as his friend is devoured utterly by the wolves and struggles to break free of my vines, blood dripping down his arms from his tearing skin. I look at him and release the vines and roots.
He falls prone and his rear, staring in wide eyed horror at me.
I take a step.
“Run.” I say, the last word he will hear, as my form melts away and leaves a wolf where a man stood, even taller and stronger than the ones that killed his friend. He scrambles backward like a crab muttering at the impossibility. He is not fast enough. I knew he wouldn’t be.
My teeth and jaws silence the possibility of a scream. I have dealt with many hunters in my time and have mostly let them hunt freely. These men were not hunters and now they are nothing.
The woods are quiet again. I take in the sound of the forests again. The breeze in the trees and the echoed chirps of the birds. I enjoy the sound for a moment and continue my run, this time with a pack.
image source: https://www.artstation.com/artwork/QK3m8