Hunters and Hunted

The deep dread you feel is a sure sign that one is nearby. Set your crossbow: you’re about to feed your family for a month.

We all expected mutants after the big one, ironically, commenced on our annual observation of H-Day, Hiroshima Day. Up here in the Great North, we were surprised by the nutrition they provide. It should come as no surprise, given how difficult they are to kill. We sit around our fires and speculate whether the mutation is uniform across the continent, that the radiation fired up the same weakness in a single gene, or whether the intensity of the blast caused the expression of different mutations from the same gene, or whether racial differences played a role in mutant distribution, but here we are, hunting mutants for food.

Up here, at least, ours mutated with an impenetrable armor across the forehead, protecting that all-important central nervous system. Shotgun blasts to the face don’t even knock these monsters off their stride. They are impossible to approach from behind, and any powder-fired ammo that might reach them unawares is expensive, far more expensive than the risk of bow-hunting these steaks and roasts walking upright.

Most of them make a move, when they see you, to induce fear, raising their arms and giving a shout. When they do that, if you can resist the fear reflex, you have just enough time to unload a bolt or an arrow into their nasal cavity. It doesn’t matter whether you go in by the nostril or by the mouth, as long as the business end of the arrow is underneath that armadillo face-shield, headed toward the brain.

On occasion, the veterans of their number know better than to give you a chance to shoot. That’s when things get interesting. With one motion, they swat you down by the head and then kick you in the kidneys. If the swat doesn’t knock you out cold, the kick to the kidneys will render you immobile, and they pounce. A good hunting partner will put him out with an arrow to the back of the head.

They normally run in packs, and if they see you, you’re a goner. You might as well set your weapons aside for someone else to find them because you’re not going to have the time to test fortune on a single one of them. What we’ve taken to doing, instead, is setting watch for the weak. You have to watch for the weak ones wandering around alone. Not the diseased, mind you: the weak. You can’t always tell the difference, but the weak don’t ever smell bad. The diseased ones sometimes do. Regardless, a diseased one is just as dangerous as a healthy one, so it’s good practice, even if it is inedible.

You cook them up just like you would any large animal: steaks, chops, ribs, loins, etc. Even though we’re generally hungry, I, personally, can’t bring myself to enjoy the offal. At first, for us, anyway, we had to intone to ourselves, “They’re mutants; it’s not cannibalism. They’re mutants; it’s not cannibalism. They’re mutants…”

It’s not like you can’t recognize intelligence in their eyes, when they lay their eyeballs upon yours. The surprise you see is what gets to me. I’ve been jerked awake from a pleasant sleep by those surprised eyes. They’re surprised to be dying, after all this. They survived the nukes, and they survived the mutation, yet a simple bow and arrow has drained the lifeblood from their brains in just a few seconds, and they’re off. Besides, they’re hunting us. One of them told me so over his surprise, but I didn’t need to be told.

That’s why I’m writing this. If you find this, and you’re having trouble finding food: the mutants here own the above-ground world. It’s a crying shame that they won’t sow or reap so that we could set up trading posts, or hire ourselves out to work for them, or what-have-you. No, they love the taste of our flesh more than anything in the world, so they’re hunting us. That part the movies and alt-fic got bang-on correct: they have an insatiable appetite for non-mutant flesh (I don’t even feel guilty about being non-mutant anymore, or appropriating that term to ourselves. We aren’t the ones with armadillos living on our faces). Every spring we give thanks to God that some number of us survived.This kind of terror is proof that there is a God, that’s for sure.

To them, hunting us is like searching for turtles’ egg nests: a soft spot in the ground is enough to tell them that a doorway to a non-mutant enclave is near at hand. They search in great circles whenever they find a vent or a chimney.

We’re adapting, however. We’re busily recovering as much copper wiring as we can, developing electrical circuits to set traps for them. We need a larger voltage source, and that will take some doing. Afterwards, we’ll debate the ethics of farming the mutants. I mean, they really are delicious.

Inspired by the great @spivonomist, who ought to be continuing this series soon.

Hunters and Hunted

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