“I’ve got you now!”
A long bead of sweat slowly worked its way down my throbbing forehead as I struggled to focus on the prize before me. Squinting through the lens of my hunting rifle’s sight, I shifted the crosshairs to my right until the great beast filled my view in all of its glory. Its dark hooves dug into the low grass as it shifted its massive weight, while its long, billowing tail swatted away the half-dozen flies that buzzed around its rear. I suddenly made a conscious effort to slow my breathing. I swallowed hard, and concentrated all of my energy and attention on this behemoth of an animal–my prey.
I had been tracking it for several kilometers, I reminded myself, and finally, finally my patience had paid off. This is it. The animal was pausing to graze, confident that it was free from danger, unaware of the fact that I’d been watching and waiting. It was a beautiful, Grade-A Canadian Bison, and after several hours of planning my hunt, I was finally ready to strike. I smiled. We’re gonna have one hell of a feast tonight.
I took one final breath, and as I held the air deep within my lungs, I gradually began to pull the cold trigger towards me. I pulled it closer, and closer, until…
“Damn it!” The rifle dropped to my side as I whipped out my cell phone as fast as I could, fumbling with it as I silenced the ringer. I swore to myself as I glanced at the name on the display–one of my clients (an “emergency”, no doubt)–but I swore even louder when I looked back up towards the plains. The bison was gone.
“No meat again tonight, huh?” Jessica, my sixteen year-old daughter, smirked at her mother and I as she slipped into an empty seat at the dinner table later that night. “What a surprise, what a surprise…” She pulled a bowl of freshly picked berries towards her and began to pluck them out, one by one, inspecting each one closely before dropping it onto her plate.
“Cool it, Jess,” my wife Maddy scolded as she set several other large dishes at the center of the table. “I’ve gathered plenty of fresh fruits and veggies for us to enjoy tonight, plus–I know, honey, I’m about to tell them (she smiled down at our young son, Alby)–your brother brought home a whole bagful of nuts from the valley near Barry’s place.” She patted Alby’s head. He looked up and gave his sister a toothy grin, then adjusted his thick-rimmed glasses before continuing to sort the nuts on the tray in front of him. I sat at the head of the table, resigned.
“I was close this time,” I lamented, to no one in particular, “very close.” Maddy glanced over at me and smiled, the glint in her beautiful emerald eyes not betraying the disappointment that she must have been feeling. “If it hadn’t been for that damn…”
“Rosalind’s dad killed two bison just yesterday–the big and muscular kind, not those skinny ones,” Jessica interrupted as she rolled her eyes. “She said they’re gonna have a huge neighbourhood feast this Sunday. Mom, can we go?”
My wife looked up at me and studied my sullen face, “If it’s okay with you, Nate, I’d love to go. I could definitely use some fresh meat. It’s been awhile.”
“Tough day at work today, huh?” A man with a red and white ball cap smiled as he took a seat beside me on a bench overlooking the sparkling city harbour, setting his fishing gear and a bag of fresh fish on the ground in front of us. He had a firm handshake, his grip vice-like.
“You can say that again,” I replied. “But it only gets tougher from here, don’t it? I’m screwed for dinner, that’s for sure.” I looked back out at the water, chuckling as I watched a few businessmen (from the financial district, by the looks of their finely-pressed suits) untie their boats and prep their fishing gear. “Is it an obsession,” I asked out loud, “when we deliberately make things more complicated than they need to be?”
The man in the red and white cap looked down at his bag of fish, and then back up to me, “It’s the way we live, brother, the way we live.” He licked his lips. “The moist skin of a plump, freshly picked tomato, the cool silky taste of fresh cow’s milk, not to mention the smoky aroma of a freshly killed bison. Wouldn’t have it any other way.”
I shuddered at the thought. “I only wish there were a better way, an easier way. Out there, somewhere.”
The stranger looked me right in the eyes, catching me a bit off-guard. “You sound like a man in need of some help.” He took a deep breath. “I know of a place, a secret place,” he whispered to me in an even tone, his lips barely moving, “a place with a long-lost Golden Treasure, that just might be what you need.”
“A treasure?” I repeated, before he held up his hand, quieting me.
“One that can provide more food–more meat–than you could ever imagine. Not too many people around here know of it, but,” he broke out into a wide grin, “today just happens to be your lucky day.”
My heart beat a bit faster as I drove past the first checkpoint on the stranger’s map and gripped the leather steering wheel of my SUV a bit tighter. I had been driving for four hours straight, leaving at first light, before finally passing the landmark. It was a small indication to myself that I wasn’t being sent on a wild goose chase. I was far north of the city by now, I confirmed as I checked the coordinates on my car’s built-in GPS system. But as I glanced at the crudely-drawn map on the piece of paper on the seat beside me, a cold chill ran down my spine. My ultimate destination lay far off the beaten path, in a place even my GPS system failed to identify. The reception of my cell phone was gradually fading. Sooner or later, I would be all on my own.
Several hours later, just as my eyelids began to grow heavy from watching the monotonous road and the barren fields, I suddenly sat up straight. Something out in the field to my right had caught my eye. Something had moved. Bison? I felt past the map on the passenger seat for the cold, metal barrel of my hunting rifle, reassuring myself that I would be ready just in case I happened upon some prey. But it was no bison–not even close.
As I continued to push forward, I saw more movement in the fields, on both sides of the road this time. What I saw shocked me. There were people, hundreds of them, slowly moving about the fields. On each of their shoulders, they carried woven baskets. Their eyes darted back and forth between the dozens of bushes that were scattered throughout the fields. I stared at them in wonderment, furrowing my brow.
At first I thought that they were moving through the fields systematically, covering each segment of it equally. But I was wrong. They were moving back and forth from bush to bush erratically, like rats sniffing through garbage. As one of them discovered something of value–a bush teeming with ripe strawberries, perhaps–those nearby would make an immediate bee-line towards them, surrounding them. And that’s when they fought. Like ants jostling amongst one another, they pushed those beside them away as they each fought to collect as many berries as they could.
In a field up ahead, one of them–a gangly old woman–had managed to fill her basket with berries and turned to dart away from the bush where she had found them, away from the others. Her sudden movement was a mistake: those who were racing towards the same bush quickly changed direction and pounced on her, pulling her to the ground. But she held on to her basket, guarding it with her life. Six of them now surrounded her, pulling at the basket, pulling at her arms from both sides. Just as I drove past them, I gasped–the desperate group tore her arms clean off, leaving her feeble, maimed body to die on the ground as they fought amongst themselves for the berries that remained. I shuddered as my blood ran cold. What had I just seen? Was this journey just a big mistake?
The blaring ring of my cell phone shot through the grim silence of my thoughts. One bar left, my reception was hanging on by a thread. “Yes, sir, I’ll get on it as soon as I’m back at the office. No, sir, that won’t happen again, you have my word. I know, sir.” Before my boss could respond, however, a deafening gunshot rang through the air. The people in the fields immediately froze in place like statues. I swallowed, waiting.
“Hello? Nathan??! Nathan, are you there????!” my boss shouted.
Another gunshot. The people in the fields suddenly sprung into action, scattering every which way, making a run for the safety of the surrounding forest. I gripped the steering wheel even harder with my left hand as my right pressed the cell phone against my ear–but the reception had gone dead. I pushed forward, picking up speed. I was close, I could feel it. My GPS signal stuttered, but I stole a quick glance at the map beside me. A Golden Treasure that would provide everything we could ever dream of. I had to keep going. Just beyond the forest ahead…
Then I heard a third gunshot, even louder this time, and my SUV immediately began to lose control, swerving left and right against my will. Another ear-piercing gunshot later and my SUV was in a ditch, the rear wheels propped up in the air, still spinning. But all I see now is darkness. I was out cold.
I woke up in a dark forest. I was lying against the trunk of a tree. The ground below me was damp, and a wave of billowing fog swept through the trees. I lifted myself up and checked my watch: it was 5:30 in the morning. Shaking my head to clear my daze, I tried to orient myself. Taking a step forward, I almost tripped over something long and metal–my hunting rifle, I realized. I picked it up and checked the gauge: one shot left. The map to the treasure had been stuffed into my back pocket. Thoroughly confused, I squinted at the map and did the only thing I could think of: I kept moving forward.
An hour later my spirit was rising. I had hiked several kilometers, and according to the map, this Golden Treasure, whatever it was, was just beyond the next clearing. I was almost there, just a bit further. And that was when the tree trunk in front of me exploded.
“How does it feel, brother, to realize that the hunter has become the hunted?” The familiar voice–a bit darker than I remembered–echoed throughout the woods. I froze. Standing still where I was, surrounded by fog, I felt helpless.
“What do you want?!” I shouted, my blood pumping.
“Like I said, brother, it’s the way we live, the way we live.” The stranger–the man in the red and white ball cap–cackled eerily, but I still couldn’t see him. “You want it easy, brother, I want a challenge. Wouldn’t have it any other way. Now run!”
The ground behind me exploded and I sprung forward, running as fast as I could. The man was insane. I ran blindly through the woods, the incessant fog blurring my vision, surrounding me, swallowing me. The branch of a tree beside me exploded with another gunshot just as I passed it, my body flinching in response. I clutched the rifle in my right hand and the map in my left as I forced myself to run harder, my lungs aching.
Just when I felt like I had nothing left, the fog disappeared and I blew into a clearing, an open field at the edge of the forest. My eyes squinted in response to the glowing sunlight that was rising on the horizon. The sound of another gunshot snapped me out of my confusion as I heard more cackling coming from the forest behind me.
“I’ve got you now, brother!”
I dove to the ground and began crawling across the field on my hands and knees, stuffing the map back into my pocket, still clutching the rifle. The grass was high enough to conceal me–just barely–and I moved through it as fast as I could. Another gunshot filled the air and I froze in the middle of the field. I pressed my body against the cold, wet ground, trying not to make a sound. My hands were shaking uncontrollably. A few minutes later, there was still silence. I listened even more closely… nothing. Taking a deep breath, I peered over the tall grass.
There he was, stalking through the field far ahead of me, scanning the area around him as he went. I slowly rose up above the grass, my hands still shaking. A long bead of sweat slowly worked its way down my throbbing forehead as I struggled to focus on the man before me. Squinting through the lens of my hunting rifle’s sight, I shifted the crosshairs until the ruthless hunter filled my view. I slowed my breathing, swallowed hard, and concentrated all of my energy and attention on the target. One shot left. One final breath. I held the air deep within my lungs, pulled the cold trigger towards me, and fired.
Looking up from the sight, I released my breath. This time, I didn’t miss.
A Golden Treasure it sure was. I walked towards it with a slight limp, positively beaming. The golden arches towered over me, casting a long shadow in the late afternoon sun. Though it was well after lunchtime, the parking lot was still bursting with cars. A long lineup of vehicles was building on the far side of the building, inching forward every few moments. As I opened the door, I heard a once-familiar phrase–“Would you like fries with that?”–and I smiled. We’re gonna have one hell of a feast tonight.
John Krissilas is an advertising guru and tech startup founder from Toronto. By day, he spends his time looking for the “big idea” to use for his next great ad campaign or tech startup. By night, however, he’s brainstorming the “big idea” to use in his next great story. John is currently working on a novel and publishes updates about his writing at www.JohnKrissilas.com