creative writing, Fiction

“Hunters in the Snow” by Pieter Brueghel the Elder (1565)

Beaten down by a merciless winter, the dogs, lean and hungry, chased after something darting across the snow. All they found was a skinny rabbit. We had been gone since sunrise and nothing to show for our efforts but this one catch. The animals were hiding, or else dead – whether from the elements or some other predator, we will never know. We hung the skinny rabbit on my spear and trudged home through the deep snow, boots sinking into the ground, the cold reaching through the hide and under our skins. We passed Thelma and her children, who were feeding fuel to a blazing fire. Did her husband bring home something more substantial than a mere rabbit? Was there a deer hiding inside the home? She eyed the rabbit on my spear and nodded at me as if to say Fate, eh?

“The children are young,” Abe said in a hard voice, “They only know hunger and games, they do not see themselves growing thinner with cold.” Abe was married to my sister, as I was to his. We lived as neighbours on the bridge above the river. From the hill beyond the hamlet, I spotted Abe’s wife gathering firewood, a black smudge on the landscape. We decided the day’s catch would become stew for the children. There was the question of the dogs, too. How could Abe and I afford to feed them, keep them alive, so they in turn continued to feed us and keep us alive? I tossed them bones too hard to chew. They chased down birds on occasion but even the birds were becoming wary, soaring the open skies and coming to rest on high branches, away from desperate jaws.

Abe was right about the children. What happens when there is not one skinny rabbit left? Hannah is already looking out for mice. Last night she told me how our last loaf of bread was chewed up in a corner. It’s a good sign, she sighed, her voice an odd mix of hope and despair. “I can lay out the traps and cook them while the children are out to play. They won’t know the difference.” I held her hand in the dark and closed my eyes. “Abe and I are to hunt tomorrow. Maybe I will bring our boy with us. You will not have vermin for dinner.”

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