Chapter 19:

019 ┃ Hog Hunt

The Isle of the Forgotten

Spud would swear he had fired at least two hundred times. Dawn was strict, but her advice had been more than valuable. His fingers were wounded and his whole hand hurt, but by midday, he could at least consistently hit the target.

Dawn had congratulated him and told him he was progressing at a breakneck pace, but still, Spud didn't feel as if he had improved. Perhaps he had made some slight progress with the bow, but hitting a static target ten meters away was still far from being able to kill a stalker if Dawn was in danger.

When they finished eating, Dawn rose from the table and headed towards the door.

“I'm going hunting. You're in charge of the cat," the girl informed him as she grabbed the bow and quiver.

Spud quickly got up upon hearing that and followed her to the door.

"What? But if you take the bow, I won't be able to keep practicing," he complained.

"Don’t worry, we'll continue tomorrow. You're doing well. You can rest for today," Dawn said kindly, but Spud didn't seem to calm down.

"I don't need to rest. I can keep practicing," the boy assured her with conviction. If he only practiced for a little while each day, months would pass before he would be able to help Dawn. He needed to progress as soon as possible.

Seeing his strange behavior, Dawn turned to him and examined him with her gaze.

"Even if that's true, you should rest, or you'll hurt your fingers. Also, I need to go hunting or we won't have food for tomorrow," the girl explained, waiting for his reaction.

“Then… can I go hunting with you?” the boy asked, pleading with his eyes.

"Spud, even though you can now hit the target, hunting is more complicated. I think you should practice a few more days before…” Dawn advised, but her companion interrupted her.

"Please, let me accompany you. That way I can learn how you do it. I promise I won't be a problem," he begged, bowing his head.

Dawn observed him for a few seconds, puzzled.

"Well, if you insist so much, I guess you can come. But why so suddenly?" she asked, inquisitive.

"That doesn't matter now. Let's go hunting something, quickly," Spud urged, pushing the girl out of the house.

“Hey, wait…!” she complained as they left.

Spud was hiding among the bushes, aiming the bow at a peacefully grazing boar. Drops of sweat fell from his forehead, and his fingers were burning with pain, but this was going to be the one, for sure.

Next to him, Dawn was watching him rather than the prey. Her expression was a mixture of bewilderment, curiosity, and concern, which was normal. If he had ever made his companion think he was a bit weird, he had just confirmed it.

They had wasted the entire afternoon because of him. Spud had selfishly asked her to let him try hunting a prey, and his companion had not been able to refuse. When he missed that shot, he asked her to let him try the next one, and the next one... but he couldn't hit any.

He knew he was being selfish and that his behavior was at the very least worrisome, but he couldn't get them out of his head. The images of the skeletons from the lake family and the beheaded head of Dawn in his dream pursued him wherever he went. The memory that everything he knew could vanish in an instant and that he lacked the strength to prevent it caused a sharp pain in his chest. So, even if it was selfish, he had to get good with the bow as soon as possible if he didn't want to be a coward and useless.

Now they had been stalking that boar for at least an hour. Spud was so afraid of missing the shot that he had been waiting for the perfect moment all that time.

“Control your breathing," the girl advised.

Spud tried to listen to her. His muscles were perfectly still, and the tip of the arrow pointed to the boar's head. He could do it. He took a deep breath and released the string.

The arrow cut through the air with a slight whistle and hit a tree just centimeters from the head of his prey. At the noise, the boar let out a roar of surprise and ran away through the trees.

“Damn it!” Spud exclaimed, clenching his fists in anger. "Why can't I hit?!"

Dawn placed a hand on his shoulder carefully, as if she was trying to pet a scared dog.

"It's your first day practicing with the bow. It's normal that you can't hunt yet," the girl comforted him, still puzzled by his behavior. “Is everything okay? You've been weird since this morning.”

Spud turned to look at his companion, but instead of seeing her, he could only see the image of his dream. The beheaded head was in front of him. It looked so real that Dawn's green eyes seemed to pierce his soul.

With labored breathing, he swatted his companion's hand away and ran in the same direction as the boar.

“I'm going after it. I can still catch up if I hurry,” Spud informed, grabbing the bow tightly.

Dawn tried to stop him, but she was so surprised it took her a few seconds to react. She looked at the sky with concern. It was starting to get dark and she hadn't even noticed. She clenched her teeth and cursed under her breath.

“Spud! We have to go back, it's dangerous!” the girl exclaimed as she started running after him.

“I just need a moment,” Spud pleaded between gasps as he tracked the animal. He could see it in the distance fleeing from him. If only he could get a little closer…

He dodged branches and bushes as he tried to close the distance between them. Several minutes passed like this, and Spud thought his lungs would explode. He could swear Dawn was calling him from behind, but he could only hear the beat of his heart thundering in his ears. He was running out of breath, but he almost had it in sight.

The boar jumped over a fallen log and disappeared from his view, but not for long. As soon as he reached the log, Spud jumped over it, hoping to pounce on his prey. Instead, he found a steep hill full of trees and bushes. He had no time to back down. He cushioned his fall as best he could and started rolling downhill, barely having a chance to cover his body.

“Spud!” the girl shouted in desperation as soon as she reached the precipice.

A few meters further down, Spud got up with difficulty. His whole body was in pain, and he had scratches on his arms and face, but it seemed he hadn't broken anything.

“I'm fine! Don't worry!” the boy reported without even turning around. His eyes were fixed on the hog, which was running a few meters from him. Now it seemed to be moving slower than before. "It's getting tired. I've almost got it."

Spud resumed his pursuit, ignoring his companion's warnings.

"We need to go back now!" she exclaimed. Upon seeing that Spud wasn't listening to her, she muttered several curses and flung herself down the hill.

After some time stalking it, Spud finally found the perfect opportunity. His prey had stopped at a nearby stream to drink water. With a triumphant smile on his face, the boy aimed at the boar from a nearby bush. After so much effort, he had finally cornered it. He fixed his gaze on the body of the animal, though he had some trouble focusing. Was it his imagination or was it getting darker?

Just before he released the string, he heard a noise very close to him. It was a branch breaking.

A chill ran down his spine when he realized. It was already night. He turned to aim the bow in the direction of the sound. He only had time to see its silhouette. A gaunt body and a mouth unnaturally wide open with sharp fangs. Before he could shoot, it leaped from between the trees like lightning and pounced on him.

A. Hoshino