Natural Selection

by Claire Marie De La Grange

Jacob knelt and washed the blood off his hands. He sloshed his knife in the stream. Stabbed the sand and scrubbed the blade clean. It had been a long hunt, but a good one. The fat hiker would render nicely. Provide lamp oil for a month. He'd butcher the other woman in the morning. Hang her in the smokehouse. She was lean and sinewy, but would make good jerky.

An Osprey screeched. Jacob looked up and smiled. He wasn't the only lucky hunter. A mouse wriggled in the hawk's talons.

"What the. . ."

Jacob blinked. He blotted an eye with a shirt sleeve, leaving a red smudge. The mouse had been dripping blood. Jacob splashed water on his face. He wished he had heard the mouse cry, when the Osprey first hooked it.

Bang, bang, bang. "Let me out of here, you sick fuck!"

Jacob sucked in a breath. The skinny one was awake kicking the shed door. Jacob looked at his knife and felt nothing. He wiped the blade dry on a pant leg. She'd wait until morning. He'd rattled the shed lock on his way to the cabin. Say goodnight. Poke the blade through a few cracks. He always fell asleep faster, when he heard them screaming.

#

An owl hooted in the distance. Jacob rolled over and vomited. Blood ran from his eyes, drooled from a corner of his mouth. Water. . . he needed water.

The canteen sat on a table in the glow of an oil lamp. Jacob staggered across the room, using the shotgun by the bed as a cane. He reached for the canteen. His hand balled into a fist. Jacob frowned. Then he screamed as his thigh muscles knotted tearing loose from the bone.

Jacob belly flopped onto the table. He slid to the floor. The oil lamp catapulted into the air. It spun in a circle, fell, and shattered at his feet. A serpent of fire slithered up Jacob's legs, across his back, along his arms. He smelled his flesh cooking, heard the fat under his skin sizzle. Jacob thought about the plump hiker hanging on the meat pole. Wondered how sweet and tender, she would have been.

#

The Osprey chicks were peeping loudly. They had finished the Deer Mouse. Only bones and Hantavirus remained.

Frank Hardy heard the chicks. He glanced at the nest tucked in an elbow of the tower. Smoke billowed from the trees in the west. Frank pressed the talk button on his two-way.

"Command, this is Firewatcher 6. We have a hotspot in grid twelve."

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