Cry of The Hawk
“Let the ‘We’re Hungry in Montana’ death match begin.” The Gamemaster spoke over loudspeakers. “The only rule is kill or be killed.”
He opened the electronic locks on our cages. Eleven contestants would die, but I hoped to survive.
Twelve of us scattered into the four-hundred-acre wilderness contest zone of northern Montana. My backpack flopped as I ran toward the downwind fence, holding my bow. I found shelter and hid.
Sniffing the wind with my hypersensitive nose, I identified hundreds of scents wafting toward me. Rotting vegetation, mice, a male coyote, female skunk, and stagnant water did not interest me. But the faint whiff of a sweaty man, hyped on adrenaline, assaulted my nose. He smelled large, aggressive, and brutal.
If he got close, I’d die. My hand to hand and knife fighting skills are pathetic. Worse, I’m short at five feet six inches, weak, testosterone deprived, and skinny. But I have this wonderful nose. I smelled him long before he could see me.
The Gamemaster allowed only ancient weapons. I cherished my short recurve bow and stash of poisoned arrows. A sword is useless and I’m too weak to use a mace or hammer. My best weapon is my nose. It forewarns me when I’m downwind of an attacker.
His scent grew stronger, probably within thirty yards. I waited behind a downed tree and saw a muscular giant wandering toward my section of the woods.
“Twang.” The bowstring snapped the leather guard on my left arm before my arrow struck his massive chest. His face froze in pain as he grabbed the arrow, kneeled to the ground, and collapsed. The toxin I use on broadhead arrows kills quickly.
Twelve people entered the contest, signed release forms, accepted micro-chip injections, and hoped they would survive and win. One man or woman would receive a large prize, after the other eleven died. I needed the payoff so I could repay enormous debts and support my wife and two children.
In five days, I would be rotten meat or triumphant.
At the end of the first day I had killed the muscular giant and a wickedly fast knife fighter. Fortunately, my arrow reached his throat before he sliced me.
The wind changed direction, and I scrambled downwind to settle in for the night. Biting insects tormented my sleep. I woke, shaking after a disturbing dream about Hawke, my runaway sister. Beef jerky, and my wife’s cornbread broke my overnight fast.
An hour after sunrise I sniffed a woman approaching. She smelled of stale sweat, womanly secretions, and arrogance. She zig-zagged behind trees as she approached, almost invisible. This Amazon warrior stood taller than me by half a foot. Her muscles bulged. My heart pounded. She wore barbaric red face paint.
I shifted position, and she advanced toward my hiding place. I crawled a dozen feet, peeked from behind an enormous tree, nocked an arrow, and waited. Moments later she burst from the forest, raised her sword, and growled as she charged. I screamed in shock, half raised my bow, and launched an arrow from waist high. It stuck in her gut, and I leaped to one side.
She moved faster than me, and her ferocious attack could have killed me. I jumped away from her sword hand, so she didn’t get a good swipe at my chest. The cut on my shoulder hurt only after I recovered my breath and confirmed my poisoned arrow had killed her.
My wife had filled a first aid kit with herbs, potions, salves, and bandages. I patched my shoulder and thanked God I had survived. I pushed the Amazon’s body under bushes and wandered, half conscious, downwind toward a tall tree.
I woke from an exhausted sleep, smelling something wrong. What creature exuded a bear odor combined with the rotten sweetness of pond scum?
My stomach tightened in fear. I crawled, pushing my bow ahead of me. The scent intensified. The animal could attack me in seconds. I reached a tree, three feet in diameter, and stood while nocking an arrow. A twig cracked to my left, where minutes before, I had slept. The intense odor emanated from a filthy man, large and strong. He had coated his body with fresh bear dung and rotten swamp grasses as disguise. He knew about my gift.
I stepped from behind the tree and launched an arrow. He opened his mouth in shock as the arrow struck him. The warrior clutched his chest and fell to the earth. I waited, confirmed his death, and hurried away.
That night I slept poorly, haunted by nightmares about an Amazon warrior who cut my throat. A mighty bear sliced my gut open in a second nightmare. I woke when the sharp cry of a hawk pierced the otherwise still night. Afterward, I slept for several hours. As the sun rose, I sniffed and hoped surviving contestants had not located me. I remembered hearing the hawk’s cry during the night. It was an ominous sign.
By noon I had killed another man, an archer like me. I smelled his grease covered body as he approached. He fired first, but the arrow whizzed past me, inches from my chest, and scared several years of life from my psyche.
My first arrow missed. I crawled undercover hoping to elude him while I sniffed to find his new location. His second arrow flew inches from my face. I turned and fired, and God guided my arrow into his cheek.
He shouted, “Ahhhh, I’m hit.”
The archer went silent and minutes later I sniffed death. Providence favored me again.
In late afternoon, another odor assaulted my nose. It smelled angry, and greedy. I knew that scent from childhood. It was Hawke, my runaway sister.
I waited, listened to her approach, sniffing again and again. Years ago, both of us had escaped from a brutal stepfather and our violent childhood home, hating, and blaming each other.
She yelled, “John, my brother, The Nose, I hear you behind the brush. I know you smell me. We are the last two alive. Show yourself and I’ll make your death painless.” The voice sprang from behind a downed tree a dozen yards distant.
“Hawke, you shouldn’t have returned. I offer you the same painless death if you surrender.”
“Nope. After our stepfather beat me, I became a warrior. I’ll kill you, win this contest, and disappear forever. Remember, I never quit. I’m tougher and faster. And I’m an excellent archer. You’ll not win against me.”
I yelled back, “I have stronger motivation. I need the prize to support my wife and children, people I love. I doubt you love anyone.” Her scent changed; she had moved closer and to my right.
I nocked an arrow and crouched. Hawke had proved she was deadly and ruthless by surviving several days in this violent contest against larger opponents. I might not get a second shot.
Her arrow stuck in a tree, passing near my ear. I rose and unleashed an arrow, hoping I had sniffed her position.
It missed by several feet. She launched another arrow that sliced my gut below the ribs. The poison hurt like the burn from a red-hot iron. I yelled, “Missed me. Now you die.” I shot again through a scrawny bush, expecting to hit her. My wound throbbed and smelled like spoiled pork.
“Owwww.” She screamed, and I sniffed oozing blood moments later.
Hawke told me. “Our stepdad molested me, so I stole money from him. He beat me and said you ratted me out, you jerk.”
I moaned as the poison weakened me. “I told him nothing. And he swore you said I took his money. He broke my arm, and I ran away from home.”
Hawke screamed in pain. “You poisoned your arrows, as I did. I’m dying. He lied and manipulated us into hating each other. I’m sorry, I wish I could do it over. I don’t hate you.”
I said, “I returned years later and killed him. He was an evil man and deserved to die. He ruined our relationship.”
With the last of my strength I crawled to her and wrapped my arms around her shivering and dying body. “Hawke, I’m sorry. Goodbye.”
The Gamemaster examined vital signs reported from contestant GPS chips and said to the Contest Owner, “They’re dead and the match is finished. No payout again this year. That makes five straight years. If they hadn’t died, I would have released a neurotoxin from their implants and killed them.”
He smiled. “The TV ratings should be great. Share a celebratory drink with me?” They strolled from the control room to their private lounge.
The bodies of Hawke and The Nose rotted in the Montana wilderness under a harsh and lonely sun.
Writers’ workshop and writing group