Horned Altar

Sloppily slipping down the ridge and sliding on wet leaves, mud slick boots cracking acorns as he fell, Jah-Red cursed and watched the horned beast disappear into the morning’s mist. He had been sitting silently on his haunches, knees stiff and legs burning, for an hour, high on the herbs of the old witch. His legs had fallen asleep and when the buck game to lick water from the creek stones, he had stood, stumbled, and now he sat, soaking wet and beginning to shiver in the chill air.

He would return to the fire, he decided, before the cold hit his bones. He would return empty handed and the oldies would stare at him and spit his name from their lips in shame. They would know he had been to the witch, that he had gone hunting alone, and that he had failed. His pride would fall from him. But he would be alive and perhaps, someday, redeemed in their eyes.

He got to his feet and turned to climb the hill. Above him, the buck stood on two legs, a broken antler in its twisted hoof, sharpening the horn against a rock. The shhhppt of the bone sliding against the whetstone hit Jah-Red in the teeth, shook his jaw, and caused him to vomit into the mud at his feet. Laughter, much like a small child’s, came from the hill above. Jah-Red looked up from his sickness into the face of his prey.

The deer parted the fur on his stomach with the slick, sharp antler and slipped it into flesh. The blood stank and steamed as it flowed, nearly black so thick did it come running. And kept coming. The laughter began again and Jah-Red smelled his own piss. The hillside ran with rivulets of exsanguination and where he had stumbled and left boot prints, the low places filled with the beast’s fluid, gently and steadily. Bubbling like champagne freshly poured, the buck motioned for him to drink and the swirling behind the beast’s black eyes whispered Yes, Yes.

He stooped to drink and felt the first blow of the horn to the back of his skull.

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