Spring is upon us, and the Equinox nears. People are beginning to leave the warmth of their homes in greater numbers, and for lengthier periods. Even children; after long months parked in front of an Xbox, unconsciously crave that long forgotten marvel, known as ‘the outdoors’. While the northern side of the equator welcomes the impending longest night, my mates and I make preparations down here in the Blue Mountains of NSW, Australia. This year, just as every year for generations, The Great Hunt is being put in place. The unforgiving bushland south of Katoomba will once again be the hunting ground, and we have come close to collecting our quota of prey, for the night of the glorious Blood Moon. Eleven down, two to go. Each representing one of the thirteen moons in our lunar year, so far, our haul looks promising. They are quite a lively bunch. Some even look like they might have a few tricks up their sleeve… we’ll see.
We are a small circle. An unobtrusive pack who blend in with the humans, as we have done for hundreds of years. The first of our bloodline to reach these shores came over from England on the first fleet. Most of them still hunt to this day, along with their descendants, our mountain pack included. We are already blessed with unnatural strength, but O, when that lunar power takes hold, and we cast aside our human skin! With only one more day until the Blood Moon, I feel… we all feel the anticipation… the bloodlust escalating within. The moon is big in the sky, as we pile into the beat up Bedford van, its windows sprayed black throughout the back.
Thee Unnamed, as always, is at the wheel. He’s a no nonsense bloke. Tear ya throat out, soon as look at ya, he would. Right now though, he is calm. Frighteningly calm, as he waits for us all to bundle into the back. Legion claims the front seat, with a playful snarl at any who would challenge his assertion. He is a staunch, fearless predator, with more than a hundred savage kills to his pelt. The wolf within always threatening to burst forth, he lives as close to his true self as discretion will allow. The rest of us get to bounce around in the back. Oftentimes such as like now, it turns into a mini moshpit, with the latest ‘Blakk Infinity’ tracks blaring through the speakers. There are a few more of us scattered through the mountains, but tonight, it’s just us, the core group. There’s me, Legion and Thee Unnamed, as mentioned before. There’s Maggot Man (he likes to bury his food just that little bit longer than most), who is the most depraved and “inventive” of us all. He would disembowel you, while simultaneously giving you the courtesy of a golden shower. Then he will sit with your defiled corpse, and discuss life, death and the universe with you. He’s a deep fellow.
Storms is another kettle of fish altogether. He’s a Wildman, and he loves to party. There have been plenty of close calls, where Storms has written himself off to the point where he begins to lose control of his skin. There is almost always someone there to either calm him, or take him away and let him ride out the lunatic wave, away from prying eyes. There have been times, however, when there was nobody to coax the beast back beneath the skin. None escape and live to tell though, when Storms assumes his true form.
Ether is the strategist of the pack. He knows the hundreds of trails, the peaks and dips, caves, rivers and creeks scattered throughout the vast mountain ranges. He organises the hunts, and gives us all a designated role. We never question Ether, when he puts a plan to action. His cunning is flawless, and his execution… merciless. We haven’t got to me yet, but right now there’s a tale to be told. We’ll get to me later. Our spirits are high, as we head west along the Great Western Highway. The van begins to slow a little, then picks up speed again. A disappointed chorus of ‘aawwww!’ and ‘aaarrgggh!’ sounds from the back of the Bedford, and the moshing resumes.
As we enter Blackheath, the van once again slows. This time it stops, the stereo goes off, and we all sit deathly silent and still, straining to hear the conversation taking place.
I hear Legion say, “There’s seats in the back”, and Thee Unnamed simply say “Get in”, before the door slides open, and two teenagers; a boy and a girl of about seventeen or eighteen, lean forward to enter the van. Several hands reach from the gloom and pull the surprised pair into the back. The door slams shut, throwing the back of the van into darkness, and its new occupants into a panic filled state of terror. We now have our thirteen. The stereo kicks back in full blast, to add to their horrific experience, and the moshing resumes. This time though, with a bit more celebratory oomph.
We will take these last two back to our den with the others. An old, long abandoned mine, just outside of Woodford, we have taken up residence in; courtesy of Ether, of course. Though the accommodation might be crude… six small cages to house the thirteen participants… and apart from the branding, we take good care of our prisoners. We make sure they are adequately fed, allow them out to bathe once a day, and for half an hour each day, we chase them through the bush, while Ether monitors the prisoners intently from his vantage point atop a large rock, before herding them up and returning them to their cages. We don’t molest them, or otherwise harm them in any way. We have chosen them because they look as though they might have a sliver of a chance. We want our prey to be as close to the top of their game as they can be, under the circumstances. We cannot dishonour the Hunter’s Full Moon with broken, compromised offerings.
The Bedford veers off the dirt track, and bumps along a few feet, before rolling straight into a mass of foliage. The van is swallowed up, and the vegetation resumes its form (Another Ether discovery). Legion jumps out and pulls the side door open. With a shove, our two terrorised captives tumble out onto the grass. Before they can stand up, we are all around them. Legion turns towards the den and strides off.
“Walk”, grunts Maggot Man, and gives the girl a light push on her shoulder. The boy moves fast to put his arm around her and lead her away from Maggot Man and into line with Legion’s footsteps; his heart thumping up his throat and making him hiccup uncontrollably. We all fall around the huddled pair, as they stumble and trip their way to the shaft opening, carefully hidden by a large wattle, which Ether had transplanted there as a sapling.
I unlock the last cage housing only one occupant, and the new recruits are ushered in. They’ll be a little cramped, but it’s only for one more day. These are the three freshest catches, so fair’s fair. Most of the prisoners carry a defeated, blank gaze. Some display a quiet, calculating rage. None say a word. The first bloke to open his mouth, was dragged from his cage, held spreadeagled on the floor, and branded on his chest with a full moon circle. He was returned to his cage, and then one by one, each prisoner met the same fate. Punishment or reward… We won’t have anyone missing out. We only had six of them at the time. Those six were privileged with two moons, when the ninth captive decided to show some spunk. Numbers ten and eleven were filled in on proper protocol the moment they were caged, as is now the case with the final two. As a result, we have an obedient, albeit morose lot.
Maggot Man is in deep contemplation as he lights the fire in the large clearing outside. As the following night draws ever nearer, we all fall into an introspective silence. Legion wanders out of the dark, with a nine foot diamond python draped around his shoulders, its head lolled over his dirt covered fingers. Looks like dinner’s on, and there should be enough to go around. Maggot Man pulls the dead snake from Legion’s shoulders with a wry smile, and whips out a razor sharp blade, expertly skinning and gutting the creature in less than a minute. Cut into three sections, the python is skewered across the open fire, and we wait for our meal in silence. Ether is inside the mine, looking over the captives, as he determines which of these doomed wretches will put up the most fight. All eyes peer back at him, huddled in the farthest corners of their cages. One of them; a woman in her early twenties, crawls forward and begins to speak. Ether pounces from his squatting position to all fours just before the cage door and raises a finger to his mouth in a gesture of silence. The woman jumps back at the sudden advance and returns to cower by her cellmate, another woman, slightly older looking and with strong, proud features. She puts a protective arm around the young woman’s shoulders, pulling her into her breast. Ether stares them both down for some moments, an evil smirk across his visage, before returning to his squat position.
“I hope you all like snake”, I address the captives as I enter the den with a large plate, piled high with cooked sections of the python. “Tomorrow night, you will all need your strength. Eat up. Eat up.” Going from cage to cage, I hand each prisoner their meal. The girl we have just picked up is crying. Her male companion is trying to console her. He takes his portion and reaches his hand out again for hers. Just as his fingers touch, I pull away with a malicious grin. “Let her take it”, I say, then turn my attention to the frightened girl. “Look. It’s good”. I bite of a chunk of the stringy flesh and hand it to the girl, who just stares at me with enormous, tear filled doe eyes.
“Please, just take it”, her friend pleads with her in a nervous whisper. Reluctantly, the girl lowers her eyes to the ground and slowly reaches for the snake, snatching it as soon as her hand makes contact. She doesn’t eat it, just holds it in her hands, her eyes closed, imagining the warm safe comfort of home, as the heat from the food radiates through her hands.
“There ya go”, I tell her with mock reassurance. “Eat it while it’s still warm”. Ether is still in his squat, watching the captives eat. Some nibble timidly on the unusual delicacy, while others devour it as though they haven’t eaten in weeks. He is starting to form a mental database of the captives. Some show a bit of promise… a naïve will to survive. Others, not so much.
I wander outside to the fire, and turn my gaze to the Moon. She is beautiful. The tiniest lick of shadow hugging her curve, I undress her with my eyes, and imagine her blushing a deep shade of scarlet. Storms is sitting across the fire from me, drumming feverishly with two sticks, on an assortment of different sized rocks he’s gathered, to constitute a primitive drum kit. I pick up a hand sized rock and take a seat by the fire. While Storms blast beats and drumrolls on the rocks like a man possessed, I join in by bashing the rock against a larger stone intermittently, throwing the beat deeper into chaos. We are joined by the rest of the pack, each taking up a spot around the fire, and belting out a cacophony of disjointed rhythms that echo through the mountains for miles. The prisoners sit in abject horror, as outside, the drumming gets wilder and is now accompanied by growling screams, whoops and howls that reach a crescendo, and continue to keep rising. We are all in a state of pure ecstasy, awash in the maddening lunar rays. Our ritual continues through the night, until dawn begins to make its presence known, then we retire to the den to sleep.
* * *
It’s mid-afternoon before any of us begin to stir. I sit up and look over to the prisoners. They’re all awake, and look like none of them have slept a wink all night or day. Thee Unnamed has gone out to rekindle the fire and boil up a big pot of oats. Good energy food for the prisoners, because fuck knows, they sure look like they could use it. I am feeling very agitated right now. Last night’s marathon has left us all energised and on edge. Tonight, we hunt under the Blood Moon, and that time can’t come fast enough. Conversation has been minimal, almost non-existent for the past day or so. We have been mentally preparing for this night, and gradually shrugging off our human guise and accompanying habits. As the day begins to fade, our communication will be relegated to no more than growls, grunts and gestures.
I squint as I leave the den into the bright afternoon sunlight. We have a few hours of daylight left. After breakfast, we’ll take ‘em down to the watering hole, where they can wash and shit, or whatever. Maybe we’ll chase ‘em around a bit first… just to warm ‘em up.
When my grandfather came here on one of the first boats, he came as a convict. Shackled ‘round the neck and chained to the front of a line of convicts. Once ashore, he had snapped the shackle in his bare hands, and killed all the crew, before setting the convicts free. He kept that chain of shackles, and passed it down the line, to end up in my possession. We have used this with every Hunter’s Moon. The broken shackle which rode my grandfather’s neck was the fourteenth in the chain, which made it the ideal herding tool for the ritual hunt. I open the chest in the far corner of the room, take out the shackles, and walk over to where Ether is once again squatting before the cages as the prisoners eat. This time, he’s speaking.
“We are all going to take a little run out to the waterhole. Work off that big breakfast you’re all eating. There, you can clean yourselves up, and take care of any bodily functions that might be needing your attention. Tonight, you honour our big sister in the hunt. Beneath the Blood Moon, you will be set free. You will have a head start for as long as it takes us to prepare. If you survive until dawn’s first rays, you get to keep your life. It is our obligation to make sure that doesn’t happen. It would be advisable to go your own separate ways, to ensure a greater chance of escape, but it would also be advisable to not stop running. We will find you, and we will eat you beneath the Moon’s soft rays. If any of that isn’t perfectly clear, you are already dead.” With that, Ether spiralled up as he stood, and strode out of the den.
“You. Out.” I motion to the new girl as I open the cage. She grips firmly to her friend; legs pulled tight up into her body, and starts to babble hysterically. Reaching in, I grab her ankle and drag her from the cage, kicking it shut as she is removed. She’s screaming now, and that is really beginning to grate on my nerves. I put my hand around her throat and squeeze, just enough to cease her excruciating racket. She instantly falls limp and compliant, and I put the shackle around her neck. When I open the gate, the boy moves with a mixture of hesitation and urgency. It’s clear he wants to take his place behind his friend before the remaining cellmate gets in first. I nod to him, and he obediently crawls out, lowering his head to bear the second shackle. None of the other prisoners put up any kind of fight or argument, and the convict chain is full. Taking my grandfather’s shackle in hand, I lead the prisoners out of the den and into the blinding sun.
“Run!” Legion jumps in front of the chain of prey, his arms outstretched to seem unnaturally long, eyes blazing like yellow lamps and fangs glistening in a crazed snarl. It’s comical, watching them freak. They all try to run in different directions, only to yank eachother backwards into a tangled pile of frantic bodies. We all run in and lower to our haunches, yelling “Run!” and snapping at their exposed, struggling flesh, until they manage to writhe to their feet and huddle in fear. Thee Unnamed walks to directly face the jumble, and calmly says, “Run.” Awkwardly, as a unit they step forward a few paces, until they manage to get a bit of synchronicity, then they begin to pick up the pace. Of course, they begin running in the wrong direction, so we herd them, biting them and howling playfully. The excitement is showing in each and every one of us. The more our excitement mounts, and the more animalistic we become, the deeper their terror grows.
With the formalities out of the way, it’s time to leave. The prey are herded off to the Bedford, and we pile into the back with ‘em. Once the door slides shut, the darkness returns. This time, there is no mosh. No loud music, just the darkness, and four pairs of yellow eyes glowing hungrily and silently at our quarry. The trip out to Katoomba is only twenty minutes away, and Thee Unnamed navigates the highway patiently, avoiding any attention from passing motorists, and the odd highway patrol car. We still have nearly an hour until the sun bids farewell, for its shortest sleep of the year. Unfortunately for these poor souls in our captivity, the sleep will not be short enough. The van bounces onto rough ground, as we reach our destination. Pulling up around behind some trees, we all pile out into the impending dusk. Storms grabs the broken shackle and starts dragging the prisoners along behind him, eager to get the hunt underway.
“Wait.” Maggot Man walks along the line, securing blindfolds on each prisoner. “Right. Go.”
We walk for twenty minutes, until the last light of the sun stretches its fingers desperately up behind the mountains to the west. The party enters the clearing where the Great Hunt has always commenced. We round up our prey in the centre, and surround them as their blindfolds and shackles are removed. Completely disoriented and hopelessly lost, after their blind trek and with daylight fading fast, the thirteen rabbits stand petrified. Darkness swallows the last of the sun, and the night creatures begin their cacophonous song. We watch the sky, with salivating jaws, and aching muscles, until she makes her appearance. The thirteen witness the air change around them. Begin to electrify. Her light precedes her, and we feel the rush begin to build.
“RUN!” I scream at the stunned humans, just as Legion literally explodes into wolf form, his transformation almost instantaneous with anticipation. The prisoners scream and instantly scatter, as Legion sits primed, like an athlete at the starter block. His guttural howl rattles their bones as they disappear into the trees. All except one, who fainted at the horrific sight of Legion’s transformation. I kick him repeatedly in the leg, until he rouses.
“Run!” My face is distorted as I scream at him. They have until we all turn, and then the chase is on.
It takes hold. I feel my bones snapping and reforming. My brain is on fire and feels like its bursting through my entire skull. My insides are twisting and rearranging themselves. The agony is exquisite; quite akin to a full body and mind orgasm. I hear my brothers all howling in unison, and I realise I am howling along with them. The Blood Moon is enormous above the trees, and she smiles her blessing down upon us. We all look to Ether, who gives us each a quick glance, then a nod in a particular direction… and it’s on.
I tear off in the direction given to me, hardly able to contain myself. I keep alternating between running upright, and on all fours, just wanting to run faster. I already have a scent. This one won’t make it far. Keeping my senses sharp, I continue at full stride, until I see movement up ahead in the shadows. I leap up into the lower branches of a eucalypt and climb higher into the tree tops. I then continue my chase from above. This one has been too easy. No challenge at all. Moving from tree to tree, the prey hears my approach but doesn’t know where to run. She just squats down in terror with her hands over her ears. She never knew it was coming, as I land on her from the tree above, crushing the life out of her. The night is still so young, and I wager some of my brothers will have found similar success by now. I decide to make a meal of this one, and give a howl to indicate a kill. Sure enough, two more howls sound in the night. I recognise them as Storms and Legion. That’s three down already. I tear the clothing in shreds from the corpse, and gorge. My first human meal in weeks, and I savour every bite. Her guts are bittersweet, and I dig up beneath the rib cage for her precious heart, while I strip her thigh of flesh with my slavering jaws.
Another howl sounds out, and then another, and another still. That’s six already. This lot aren’t putting up much fight at all. I leave my prize, and lumber a few paces. Holding her still faintly pumping heart in my claw, I turn my head to the sky, and try to pick up another scent. There’s someone a little way east of me. The scent is vague, but it’s there, and I am on it. This one has made good ground in the time elapsed. I have honed in on this target now, so its time is drawing to an end. Biting down into the heart, blood oozing deliciously down my throat as I chew, I drop to all fours and bound off through the trees with a triumphant snarl. I detect a change in direction, so I change my course to intercept. The direction is short lived and the scent begins moving away north. It seems as if they‘re circling back. Clever, this one. Either this person is purposely and regularly changing direction, in an attempt to throw us off the scent, or is so hopelessly lost, they are running in circles. Either way, I must now rely on intuition, and foresee every change. I must put myself in the kill zone, ahead of my prey.
My body shifts instinctively left, and I move through the thick bushland; the power of the Blood Moon saturating my being, and driving me intently towards my next prize. My instincts serve me right, and I have circled around to meet my prey head on. Now I lie in wait. This one can come to me. Within minutes, the sounds of heavy footsteps, crashing through the bush betray the victim’s approach. Three more howls; two in unison, and one closely following, indicate that nine of the thirteen have been killed. That leaves my mark here, and only three more. Another howl, this one Maggot Man, spurs me to action. Instead of waiting, I charge straight towards the oncoming prey, who doesn’t see me until I am on top of him. Now he sees no more, as I have bitten most of his face off. He still has the capacity to scream though… which he does. I put an abrupt end to that, by ploughing my fist through his abdomen and digging my way up to his heart, before squeezing the life out of it. Thee Unnamed howls a moment before I throw my head back, and joining my chorus, Ether heralds the final kill.
As one, the pack howls to our beloved scarlet sister, now sitting high in the night sky. The Great Hunt has been a success, as it always has, and we all bask in her power. Cascading over me like waves of blood, I sit in awe of her beauty. I will sit here until her beauty fades into dawn, and I once again walk the paths of mortal men..