The Huntsman

       

Even the coyotes couldn’t find enough to eat this winter. Bellies flat to spine, paws clean of blood. So you’ll forgive me for taking this job with the Queen. A gruesome task, I’ll admit, but the pay is good. Not that I agree with her to be the fairest in the land. Can’t pay rent with fair, I say, I just need a few coins to keep the debts down. Keep that in mind when I tell you she ordered me to take this child, white as snow, into the woods and stab her to death. So deep in the woods, would she know if I used a gun—something quick?

Did I mention the pay was good? Sweetened even more when the Queen requested the child’s liver and lungs as receipt, proof of death. Declared she’d cook them with salt and eat them. It was enough to turn my empty stomach … but the thought of those gold coins, some ale, a steak. I signed the contract, services rendered by end of week.

Picked the child up Tuesday morning. Time to walk far from the castle. She was a typical teenager, misunderstood, mad at her step-mother, father worked all the time. I tried not to listen, tried not to think of her lily skin, virgin thighs, would she …
ever find a boyfriend so far out in the middle of nowhere? Where are we going? Who are you? So many questions from those glistening lips.

I couldn’t decide between the gun or the knife— brought both. Unsheathed the knife and began carving the likeness of a small person out of a branch that had fallen to the ground. I was passing minutes that seemed like the end of sand. Etched a small hat on the dwarf ’s head. She was amused, asked if she could keep it, I was so talented. I looked at her throat, wrists; hands quicker than the eye, I grabbed her hair, lunged. Didn’t know a girl could scream so …

Birds flew in flocks from trees small eardrums ruptured. Then, the tears, the pleading for her life, curses I’d only heard in taverns. So much anger in such a little thing. So beautiful, but I pity any man who ends up with her. She was so lost, wild animals would devour her and my hands could stay clean. I released, yelled, Run!

Like a prayer answered, a young boar trotted by and I struck. Such a feast! I saved the lungs and liver, exchanged them for riches it took me months to spend.

It’s spring now and I’m perusing a wolf this time. Hired by a farmer who wants to protect what’s left of his sheep. Deep in the woods, deeper into the woods, I behold her red cape, smell her cakes, ripe wine, ask What else are you carrying under your apron?

Distracted by flowers, she satisfied my desires. I promised to lead her to the right path, but our diversions led to death, you know the story: Grandma, what big … The better to … she was eaten by the beast.

As I was passing the cottage, I heard a familiar scream. Face to snout, I couldn’t complete this job either—not with her inside. Forced my knife down the throat of the wolf. It wasn’t too late, she knew what she had to do. I watched as she cut from the inside out and set herself free of me.