The blood of the last deer in Minnesota dripped from Paul’s lips onto his ragged, red tartan shirt. He was so hungry.
One hundred years ago, when he was a younger man, living was easy. Game was plentiful. People waved as they passed him in the woods. Everyone who knew him loved him and his constant companion, Babe.
But time diminished the giant lumberjack and and his faithful companion. Their legend became a bedtime story, and the bedtime story got old. Like all old things, time finally forgot them altogether. Cold and uncaring hunger set in. Weak and fading, he craved more and more each day, and more and more he ate.
It wasn’t easy. Animals were fast. He could never catch the birds, but their nests made delicious breakfasts, especially when they were filled with tiny, fragile, blue eggs. The rabbits were easy pickings once they fell asleep. He could punch his mighty fist straight through the ground, crushing them in their warrens, where he’d pull them out like so many potatoes and pop them in his mouth.
And he had his axe. A quick swing could sever the heads of a herd of deer, allowing him to drink their still pulsing blood from their long, furry necks. Then he would set the heads in a clearing and wait for the wolves. A cairn of slick, steaming skulls lured them in. He flattened the pack with the broad head of his axe, and wolfed down the stringy pancakes.
Little good it did him. Their plodding no longer formed lakes. Their tales weren’t tall enough these days, and Paul was no longer the burly lumberjack he’d been. He was an unkempt brute. When he’d stumbled blood-drunk into a clearing twenty years ago, the Lake of the Woods campers had been so scared at the sight of him they turned and ran screaming to their shiny machines.
This was the last deer, but Paul couldn’t leave the protection the wilds afforded him. He’d wandered for days to find it, hungrier all the time. All the while, Babe followed lovingly. Her knees creaked with age and her ribs rippled beneath her thinning frame. It had been a week since he’d encountered a group of backpackers. Despite telling himself he’d never eat a human, he’d sunk his jagged teeth into them.
Beneath the lonely moon, Paul looked at Babe with his dark, sunken eyes. A blood-tinged tear slid slowly down his face. One more meal and maybe he’d have the strength to make it to the fresh hunting grounds of Canada. He looked at his glistening axe and wondered just how immortal the blue ox was.
Nolan Liebert hails from the Black Hills of South Dakota where he lives with his wife and children in a house that is not a covered wagon. His work has appeared in or is forthcoming from Gone Lawn, ExFic, theNewerYork, Map Literary, and An Alphabet of Embers. He can be found on Twitter @nliebert.