By Paul Lubaczewski
The moon had to have been amazingly bright at that moment. The forest was ancient, the canopy perched high up above the loam and rock, and yet still shapes were visible in the light provided from the world beyond the interlocking leaves and branches. On most nights the darkness at ground level can be almost total, but not this one. The hunter noted this, he was a good hunter and knew that he must remain absolutely motionless if he had any hope of catching his prey unaware on a night like tonight. If his prey was alerted, and if the hunter’s aim was not true, it would be all too easy to imagine their roles being reversed under a moon that luminous.
He was a hunter, to him it was more than a word, hunter was something that defined him now, it was what he was and what he was good at. While another man’s body might twitch involuntarily, another man might remove his finger from the trigger of his heavy gun, to scratch or probe his ear or nose to relieve his boredom, he was not another man. He was a hunter; he was one of the best at bringing down this type of prey. Of course, with this sort of quarry, only the best survived long enough to do it more than once.
The hunter had tracked and trailed the beast, weaving a web that only the hunter knew about. Slowly he had become surer of the beast’s movements and was able to cut down the amount of space the web needed to cover. Its lair must be somewhere nearby, the hunter had his suspicions as to where, but only a fool tracks a beast like this to its den. This animal was deadly in the open air, cornered in its very home, who knew what it would do when trapped? Better this way, to know the thing’s paths and to lie in wait for it.
There! In the distance, a soft rustle of fallen leaves on the forest floor. Nothing visibly moved in the dead air of the night at first, yet something had to have disturbed them! The hunter’s eyes, accustomed to the gloom, squinted out into the depths of the somber forest searching for the cause. He allowed himself the briefest of smiles, he could see the gray shape weaving throughout the ancient trees, loping on its appointed rounds. Taking a path that would bring the beast right to where death lay waiting for it.
The hunter raised his gun and aimed, not at the spot the beast was now, but where he was sure to pass. He had one shot, if he missed, one of two things would happen, neither of them good. The best-case scenario would be that the beast would bolt, and the hunter would be forced to begin his hunt all over again. The worst? The thing could move like lightning when aroused to do so, it could be on him before he would be able to chamber another round. The hunter would be lucky to fire off a rushed and panicked second shot. He had no intention of putting his life in the hands of luck tonight.
The hunter’s breath was shallow, his hand was steady as the beast resolved itself from a gray ghost into the monster that it was. His finger began to tense on the trigger…
The hunter felt the presence behind him, hearing nothing at all as it had approached! He began to turn when a flash of white exploded across a black background behind his eyes!
The creature, startled by the sound, barely even took time to register the one man thing standing over the collapsed other before it veered and bounded off into the night looking for safer hunting.
Pain. Pain and darkness. Eyelids flutter open, a blur of dim light, then shapes and blobs, finally they resolved themselves into rocks and trees in full daylight. Pain at the temple from some kind of blow, pain from the wrists and shoulder…. realization, pain caused by arms strung up cruelly to a tree limb above him. Him, him being a hunter who did not realize that he had been the prey all along.
Across from him in the clearing where he hung sat a man atop a boulder, who appeared to be waiting for him to regain consciousness. To judge from the cut of his clothes, he was a man of high breeding and wealth, an older man to judge from his hands and what hair was visible. His face gave no indication of his age for one simple reason, the mask portraying the laughing visage of Thalia, the muse of comedy, that stared out at the hunter instead.
“Good, I see you’re awake,” the man said using a well-made walking stick to rise up from the rock.
“Who are you? Why did you do this, what you interrupted was for the good of all!” the hunter snarled.
“Never mind that, you sir, are called Didier Pelletier, you are a huntsman by trade, a very noble profession, at least at one time it was. But at the time I apprehended you, you were engaged, simply put, in poaching. As such, of course, you shall need to be punished,” the man replied calmly and urbanely.
“I was trying to kill a monster that was a threat to all in the area!” Didier barked, coming fully awake, fueled by his anger at the ill-treatment, not to mention the beast getting allowed to roam free. He tried to move but he found that not only were his hands tied tightly to a rope looped over the limb above him, his feet were tied to metal stakes driven into the ground. He could barely move at all; he could hardly even relieve some of the pressure on his shoulders and wrists by standing up a little straighter.
“I assure you; it was not. It is a source of experimentation, sir! But it was still poaching on private land regardless. For your trespass, my associate will now deliver your punishment. He is younger and will surely be more effective in administering it than I would,” the mask seemed to smile even more widely at the thought.
Didier heard footsteps coming up behind him. He turned his head as much as he was able to view this new variable to the situation. As the other man suggested, this figure was indeed broader and more youthful than the first man, with a wide powerful chest clad in a flowing shirt, and a mane of unruly auburn hair. His face, was replaced by Buskin, the weeping mask practically managing to leer at him. Almost no sign of the man at all was visible, but his eyes glowing feverishly behind the visage of tragedy. Didier’s didn’t linger on the mask, his real focus was the whip the man held, along with Didier’s own hunting blade!
Didier tried to struggle away from the man in a panic, the voice of the first man only came to him through a fog of animal instinct towards flight, “Oh don’t be such a baby about it, you might get hurt much worse if you wriggle around too much. A stray blow might even take out an eye!”
Didier could feel the man behind him grab his sweat-soaked shirt and pull back on it. A moment later he felt the razor-sharp knife cut through it smoothly. He felt the air cool on his back as the homespun was torn away from him. Didier could easily suspect what this was all a prelude towards, but with the knife hovering so close to his own skin he dare not move too much!
After the last of it was torn away, he heard the embodiment of tragedy’s footsteps receding away from him. Illogically his fear poisoned brain began to hope for a moment that this was all that would happen. His heart so wanted to believe that now a miracle might occur and the pain would not come! That hope was dashed as the lash cracked across his exposed skin!
Comedy spoke again after the first painful blow had left a bleeding welt across Didier’s back, “I believe the punishment for poaching, according to the Whipping Act of 1530 was…. well the name says it all, doesn’t it? Shall we say fifteen lashes?” The man waved his hand languidly, “Proceed please.”
The next crack came to his back almost instantly! The combination of stinging and cutting made Didier gasp out loud! He tensed waiting for the blow that would be following, but his tormentor knew his business too well. He paused for a long moment to let the first pain begin to fade or dull just a little before there was another cracking of the air and another ripping pain across Didier’s exposed flesh!
So it continued, each strike timed with exquisite perfection to inflict its own unique brutality upon its victim, each one perfectly placed to create new and individual bleeding marks upon his back. Each of the blows measured fully to make Didier scream and grunt in agony! Long before the end of his torture, Didier could feel the blood and sweat mixing, running down his abused form, pooling at the top of his trousers. He could feel the blood begin to congeal almost in a small puddle where the pants pulled slightly away, growing tacky as it dried there.
Didier hung limply, held upright solely by his bonds by the time it ended. Comedy approached closer and raised his victim’s face up, “Well you survived that, good for you. Soon we will be leaving you, and you will have lived, and is that not the greatest triumph for the hunter? To still be alive at the hunt’s conclusion? There is but one more act to this farce before we humble players leave you.”
The man let go of the hunter’s face and stood back, Didier was able to keep his head upright on his own, but barely. It might have been an illusion caused by the lighting and the shadows, but it seemed to the hunter that Comedy laughed at him, not only with his mask, but also beneath it, “We will, of course, be leaving you here. It will become apparent why, but rest assured I have no fears about you being able to extricate yourself eventually. When you do, you should know that we are some miles from your crimes. In fact, we are on the edge of the properties of a financier who fancies himself a noble. I personally don’t care for the man myself.” Comedy pointed behind him and to the left, “His home is over there,” pointing to the right he added, “the village that serves the manor house is over there. I’m sure you can fill your needs at one of them.”
Tragedy suddenly came around into Didier’s field of vision between where he hung, and where Comedy stood. In one hand he held the hunting knife, it gleamed in the sun as he twisted it one way then the other, forcing it to become the focus of Didier’s entire attention. The man in the weeping mask took a step forward, and allowed the blade to caress along Didier’s jawline, forcing a shiver out of the hunter as he heard the steel scrape and rasp across the bristles!
Didier audibly gasped when the man stepped away again, taking the blade with him. The man proceeded without saying a word to hold up his other hand so Didier could clearly see it. Slowly, without making a single utterance of any kind, the man became the cause of the mask’s weeping as he dug the blade into and across his palm! Instantly blood welled forth from the wound and began to drip down into the grass and loam bellow him.
Having shown Didier his self-mutilation, the man stepped back to his original position behind the hunter. Didier tried to find the strength to get his feet under him, so he could turn and view what the lunatic might be about. Before he had even been able to relieve the pressure on his bonds, he felt the man’s hand on his wounded painful back! A cry escaped Didier’s lips as the man put pressure directly on to one of the 15 wounds that streaked his skin! He winced and moaned and cried each time as the man proceeded to do the same to each of the slices crisscrossing Didier’s abused back!
Didier was left whimpering, head sunk low on his sweat covered chest by the time this new torture was finished. Comedy stepped forward to laugh at him again, Didier could see his feet in front of him, but no longer had the strength to lift his head to view the mocking visage he knew was there.
“And now you have been baptized in blood! You know what you were hunting,” the man said. “As I said honestly to you, it is a source of some experimentation on my part. I have curbed the beast’s appetites, I have to some degree, domesticated it. Occasionally a poacher such as yourself may lose his life in the process, but is that my fault I ask you? If a trespasser falls into a cave on my property am I to blame for that one’s folly? But you Didier, I knew what you hunted and knew you for who you are, you, I had different plans for.”
Didier managed to find his strength to growl, “What? To whip me? To sadistically torment me? This bizarre blood ritual? Fine! You’ve had your warped pleasures, now cut me down!”
“You learn things through experimentation hunter,” the man replied, turning his back, “which is why I know you’ll have no problem escaping on your own tonight. We live in the scientific age of the locomotive and the automobile Didier, and I have used the sciences to learn much! You see, while the beast is indeed magical, its affliction is also transmitted like a disease, not unlike rabies. The blood or the saliva of the infected passes it on to the uninfected!”
The man began to walk away from Didier towards the other edge of the clearing, he paused and the mask looked back at him, “There is a full moon tonight hunter. I’ve pointed out the manor house and the village, I’m sure you’ll remember when the time is right.”
The man continued to walk away, and the huntsman heard him call out one last time over his shoulder, “But should you ever wish to become more domesticated hunter, you need only ask!”
Paul has done a lot of different things in his life to draw experiences from, caver, photographer, Scadian, brewmaster, musician with the late 80’s early 90’s punk band The Repressed, music critic for Spark-Plug Magazine, DJ, as long as it’s interesting. Originally from Philadelphia Pennsylvania, he’s lived all over the United States, finally settling in the mountains of Appalachia for the peace, and adventure they provide. He loves his wife Leslie and his three children, two adult children living in his native Pennsylvania, and a teenage boy living at home, and with the boy about it’s a wonder, he gets any writing done at all. His last name is pronounced “Loo vah shev ski”, no seriously, that’s it.
Mainly known for short stories, his debut novel “I Never Eat….Cheesesteak” was on the Amazon best seller list for vampire horror, and more novels are coming in the near future.
You can find Paul at: