The Head Hunter

By: Wayne Keisler

Jared hating going to his uncle's house. For one thing, it was way back in the woods and didn't have the things he considered the necessities of life. No TV, no Internet and he wondered if he had ever gotten electric power? How could someone live this way? And why would they want to? It seemed as though Uncle Steve had always liked him. He really hadn't made a great effort and couldn't understand this, but his uncle had pleaded with his parents for him to come up for the summer. Jared couldn't imagine a more boring place to spend his time. It could have been that shoplifting thing from last summed that did it. He never really intended to steal anything, but his buddies had talked him into it. In short, they got caught and obviously his folks weren't taking chances this year.

Now, he was on a train to who knows where and a meeting with, well, nothing. That sounds like a funny thing to meet, but what could one find in a remote place with nothing but trees, wild animals and the occasional lake. Heck, Jared had grown up in the city. He wasn't into that nature stuff. He had never been fishing or hunting and was really not interested in learning. He did however take a number of books with him, but how long could they possibly last? He was to be here all summer and he feared what was going to happen when they ran out and he was bored again. Maybe Uncle Steve would take pity on him and let him use a generator and VCR or TV sometime during his stay.

Jared roused up from his daydreaming and looked out of the window. There was nothing out there but woods and more woods. How long could a person stare at the trees? They looked the same and blurred into each other even as he watched. He got up and walked to the lunch car to get something to eat. It was late in the evening when the train finally stopped. The conductor came back and told him that it was his stop. He left the train with his meager bags and went into the small terminal. It was dimly lit with those usual florescent lights and he looked around for his Uncle and saw no one else. He heard the train leave on its way and he was left alone there. He chose a hard chair over in the corner and sat down to wait. He drifted off to sleep sometime during the night and woke to the sound of a voice.

"Jared. Jared, boy, wake up," he heard.

Jared woke up slowly and immediately wished he had not fallen asleep the on those hard chairs. He hurt in almost every place on his body as he looked blearily up at his Uncle.

"You were supposed to meet me here last night," Jared spat angrily!

"I know, I'm sorry," Uncle Steve said sheepishly. I was doing something and lost track of time, but I'll make it up to you. We'll have a good time, I promise."

"Yeah, right," Jared said. He was still mad with his Uncle. He had always had the reputation of a lackadaisical joker type. He was a man that inherited money and spent most of his time off who knows where, doing who knows what. The thing that really made him angry though, was the he envied him so. What fifteen-year-old would not envy having to answer to no one and having money enough to do what you wanted? He shook his head as they approached the Jeep. It was an almost new Jeep Wrangler. Just the type of thing he would have pictured Uncle Steve in, but he guessed that it was practical for this terrain. It was red with a soft-top and with the good weather; the top was down now. Jared jumped into the Jeep and threw his stuff in the back and they were off.

Within but a few miles they left the pavement for a rutted dirt road. Jared found himself mellowing out and enjoying the ride. The road was heading up in elevation and the vegetation was changing. What had been scrub brush were rapidly turning into firs and the more hardy of the hardwoods. Jared found that he could see farther into the wood and even imagined that he saw an animal of some type. The drive seemed to go on forever and Jared yelled over to his Uncle and asked," HOW MUCH FARTHER!?"

"OH, IT'S ABOUT TWELVE MILES YET," his Uncle yelled back. Soon enough, Jared saw something loom out of the trees and found himself wondering at the size of the house before him. He guessed that he had expected some type of little cabin or something. He asked his Uncle about it.

"Just because I don't have power or some of the other niceties, its no reason to be uncomfortable," he said smiling. Jared had to admit to being impressed with this remote mansion. It had to be all of 3000 square feet! They stopped at the front and went up the steps. Steve showed Jared where his room was and started on lunch as his nephew got settled in. The young man made it back down stairs and sat down at the Oak table. There was stew and several types of vegetables that he really didn't recognize. It all tasted good though. As he ate the stew he realized that it had no meat in it. He thought this was just a bit strange, but said nothing. It was good after all. They went out, with his Uncle saying that he would clean up later and walked around the house.

The back yard was very small. There was this neat deck that had a table on it, but when you went down the steps you were almost immediately into the woods. His Uncle explained that although he wanted a large house, he wanted to impact the forest as little as possible. They walked down a narrow trail and came to a creek. Jared wanted to know if there were fish in it.

"Oh yes, there are several types of trout in there and we'll give fishing a try tomorrow. They went on and the young man saw a deer wander out into the path. He wanted to touch, but forgot that the animal was wild. This wasn't the petting zoo where he had seen the only one he had ever seen before. Just in the short walk, he had seen squirrels, deer, ravens, a chipmunk and even a skunk! He knew enough to not try to mess with that animal. Few people, no matter how city bred they were, could fail to recognize that one. His Uncle pointed out so many things that he would have never even seen if they weren't pointed out. He was beginning to enjoy himself even as he told himself that he would not.

They went back inside and Jared was shown the house. There was an impressive library, even though he didn't read much. It also had two baths and three bedrooms, a large main room and another room where his Uncle was reluctant to let him go.

"It's my former trophy room," he said sadly. "I was once one of those that are called headhunters. I have taken animals on almost every continent in the world, but that was before..."

"Before what Uncle," Jared asked?

"It doesn't matter," Steve replied in a tone that left his nephew no doubt that he wasn't going to explain any farther.

Then, only after Jared begged, his Uncle let him go a short way into the room to see what was there. Jared was shocked! There was the mounted heads of so many animals, that there were some he had never even seen. Almost every animal on the North American continent was represented here as well as from Africa and Asia. The worst thing was that Jared knew that his Uncle had taken all of these beasts. "What an incredible waste of nature," Jared thought. He could see why Steve had wanted to keep him out.

"Why don't you just get rid of them if they bother you so much," Jared asked?

"This is all that's left of them," Steve said," and I keep them in here as a sort of monument to their greatness. I know it sounds lame, but it's true."

He put his arm across Jared's shoulder and led him out of the room. The gravity of the moment was over then and they both laughed and went on through the house. His Uncle was rather proud of the water system in the house. It was fed by a spring from a nearby hill and a gas-powered boiler warmed part of it. It was an ingenious system that took advantage of gravity. All in all, it was a really nice setup, with a nearly unlimited water supply and warm water to boot. Jared began to think of being able to survive here.

They went in and had dinner. It was basically warmed over lunch and Steve told Jared that he hated to waste anything. Jared didn't care, because had he enjoyed it earlier also. When this was over, he went upstairs and had a shower. He felt somehow cleaner that he ever had before, after the shower. That was silly though. After all, water was water. He put his short pants and T-shirt, which he usually slept in on and went back down to the den. He sat there waiting for Steve to get back and looked around. He realized then, that this was the time when he usually got online or watched TV. He was kind of lost now though. All of his familiar things were gone till the end of summer.

Jared decided that he might as well go to bed. He was still sore from last night and wanted to get some sleep and with the lack of things to do, is was not a hard choice. He had been in bed a while and really didn't know how long he had slept. He got up to go to the bathroom and heard a noise downstairs. He padded silently to the balcony and watched his uncle almost silently, open the door and go out into the night. He had been carrying something and Jared couldn't see what it was. He decided that Steve had forgotten to take out the trash and went back to bed. He woke the next morning and yawned. He was lying there in the bed; trying to decide whether or not to get up yet, when he heard the door open again and someone come in. That couldn't be his Uncle coming just coming back. He must have gone out early to jog or something.

Jared dozed again and finally went downstairs to the smell of breakfast. Uncle Steve was setting the table as he went down.

"Have a good run," Jared asked?

"Run," he asked in confusion? "Oh, yeah, it was OK," he replied.

A question began to form In Jared's mind even if he didn't realize it yet. Things were going on that didn't add up. He lay awake the next night and listened carefully. Again after he should have been asleep, his Uncle went out. This went on for over a week and Jared really wondered where his Uncle kept going at night. He decided to follow him the next night and find out. The boring life was getting to him and a mystery offered at least some excitement. He lay there until he once more heard the door open and went quietly to the stairs and crept down. He went out the front door after his Uncle went out the back. He moved silently around the house, cursing the dark that made him stumble. He thanked his luck for what light was coming from the moon.

He watched the man come down the stairs. He was carrying something again and as the dim light hit it just right, Jared recognized it as one of the heads from the trophy room. The man sat it on the table and took out a pouch of something, which he appeared to sprinkle on the head. Jared heard him mumble something, then take the thing and seemingly putt it over his own head. As this happened, things seemed to blur and Jared didn't thing he could trust his eyes. What had before only been a head, was spreading downward and consuming the human it covered. He strained to see details and shivered at the same time.

The thing that had been a man fell to front feet and the rest of the body swelled and became animal in truth. He heard the faint clopping of hooves as the thing pranced on the wood deck. It lifted its head to the sky and seemed to sniff. Then without a sound, it bounded off of the deck and disappeared into the woods. Jared hurried onto the deck and found a pouch lying there. This was what Steve had put onto the head before he had put it on. Jared was fascinated at the thought of what he had just seen. He couldn't resist the thought of trying it himself. He got another pouch from his room and placed some of the substance into his own receptacle. He would do it the following afternoon, when his Uncle went into town for supplies. He readied an excuse for staying and went to bed. He dreamed weird dreams that night and got little sleep.

The next day dawned bright and clear. Steve told Jared to get ready to go, but he begged off. He said that he wanted to explore some today. Steve, remembering what it was to be young, readily consented. He hoped that the young man had finally come to love the wilderness like he did. He went out and got into the Jeep and drove off. He had given Jared the usual warning about wild animals. When he was gone, the young man went into Steve's room and after searching a bit, found the key to the trophy room. Now, what did he want to try? There were so many there it was hard to choose. He shivered when he thought of the predators. That didn't appeal to him. He had no urge to hunt another animal and that limited his choices somewhat. Then he spied it. There was an awesome Whitetail buck there with four points to either side. He went to it and stroked the muzzle. This was what he was going to try!

Jared carried the head out onto the porch. There he lay it on the table and prepared to do as he had seen his Uncle do the night before. He took his small supply of powder and sprinkled it upon the head on the table. It seemed to shimmer and become more lifelike before his eyes. He nervously reached over to feel of it and it felt so real to him, like it had never been dead. He doffed his clothes and reached for the head. He carefully lifted it up and ducked his own head to slide the thing over his own. The soft skin enveloped his own head as it slid down and in a last moment of indecision, Jared tried to remove it. It was stuck!

As the young man tried again and again to get the thing off of him, it slipped farther down upon his own head. The thing blinded him and a pressure was building at the top of his head. His breathing was muffled and he felt like he was going to suffocate, when with an almost audible pop, his head and the buck's head became one. He breather through new nostrils and got an explosion of information in return. His eyesight was back, but in muted hues of gray and black. Even though it was dark, he found that he could see incredibly well. As he turned his head, Jared felt a great weight there and reached up to feel of his antlers. As he pulled, he realized that they were now his own.

As he stood there in wonder, things changed once more. His neck grew steadily longer and more sinuous. He could feel the cape of the buck slipping farther and farther down his back. It was like the thing was eating him. It crawled down his arms and onto his hands. His fingers fused and lost feeling as hooves formed. The cape crept over his back and a tail burst forth from his spine. He used new muscles to make his flag wave. The young man shivered as the change reached his groin. His last vestiges of humanity were rapidly being taken over! He suddenly lost balance and fell onto his front feet. His back was in a strange position for a moment that caused pain, until with crack, both pelvis and back attained a new shape and the cramping muscles eased off.

Lastly, his legs cramped as muscles changed. His thighs were very much flatter and the rest of his legs became so thin they were almost frail looking. Within but a few moments more, young man, now buck, took his first steps as a deer. This kind of took some getting used to and he found quickly that he could not consciously control his new body. This brought a moment of panic! The truth of it was, that his brain was used to a human body and could not control this four legged one. He stood there for a moment when a thought came to him. He stopped trying to minutely control every movement and just concentrated on what he wanted to do. His new form provided the necessary information and he was off in a flash and into the wood.

The new buck slowed down almost unconsciously and stopped. Anyone who had been there would have seen it raise its head and test the air. It was the instinct of the breed showing through the humanity still there. Scenting no discernable danger, he moved more quickly into the forest and soon started to run. Those new legs might appear fragile, but they sure had power and Jared began to enjoy himself. He ran with the speed of wind and leapt over a huge log. Finally he slowed to a panting stop and stood there in thought. If he still could have, he would have grinned. Tonight was going to be fun. He loved this!

Steve was the first one back to the house the next morning and stood there on the deck waiting for the change that always came with dawn. He had gotten back late and the dark house told him that Jared was already asleep. He just had to go out! He had chosen the form of owl for the night. He had only just learned to fly in the nights preceding his nephew's arrival and couldn't seem to get enough of it. He had almost broken something the first time that he tried it, but after he got the hang of it, it was great. It had been the most frightening of transformations for him though. The head of the owl was so small, that he couldn't see how he could possibly get it over his head. He was surprised when he places it on top of his head and the thing had slipped downward just like before. It felt as though his head was being squeezed and the first that he knew of it being successful was when he turned his head all of the way around.

As the light hit him, there was an audible pop, and once again his head was his own. His body rapidly shed feathers and became human once more. He rushed inside and got a shower. After dressing and fixing breakfast, he went up to get Jared and found a bed that had not even been slept in. He had a bad feeling about this! He hoped that the young man hadn't gotten up and seen him change. If he had, he had probably run for his life. He went into the den and grabbed the keys for the Jeep and rushed outside. He was going to hurriedly head out and go down the road towards town, hoping to find his nephew. As he reached the bottom of the steps, he almost ran into an animal standing there.

Jared had so enjoyed being a deer. The senses were incredible and no one had ever seen a forest or more exactly smelled one until they had done so with the senses of a deer. He finally looked up and noticed that it was getting light. He quickly trotted back towards the house. He hadn't really considered what would happen when the night was over. Like many of the young, he had never planned that far. With a sick feeling in his stomach, he realized that he didn't even know how to change back! The deer knew that way back to the house and he quickly was in the yard at the foot of the steps. He stood there trying to figure how to navigate the steps, when Steve rushed out and literally ran into him. He and his Uncle both grunted as Steve looked up to see what he had hit.

He had lived here for many years and he had never had a buck this close to the house. He stepped back cautiously and waited to see what it was going to do. To his surprise, it came even closer and pushed against him with its muzzle. With a sudden realization, Steve asked," Jared?"

The deer shook its head up and down in a motion no real deal would have ever made. Then with even worse feeling, he asked," Did you say the incantation?"

The buck just looked at him almost in askance.

"The incantation, the INCANTATION," Steve yelled!!!

The buck looked up and shook its head from side to side.

"Oh God," Steve moaned," do you know what you've done?" "That incantation was the necessary part of the spell that allows you to regain human form in the morning!"

Jared finally understood why his Uncle was so upset. He bleated out in fear and staggered backwards. His Uncle had just told him that he was stuck like this! He shook his head and concentrated as hard as he could to no avail. When he opened his eyes, he was still a deer and he stood there stunned. Steve came up to him and hugged his neck saying," I'm sorry Jared, I'm sorry. I never meant for something like this to happen. I was so caught up in this thing, that I thought I could hide it from you. I just couldn't resist." He sat down on the steps again and looked up at the magnificent buck that was his nephew. Thoughts went through his head at a mile a minute. Jared waited for his Uncle who was obviously deep in thought.

"How was he going to explain this to the boy's parents," was his first thought. "No one would believe him. They would thing he had done something dreadful to the kid!" The old shaman from whom he had gotten the powder had said there was no reverse for this spell except for the incantation and the young man hadn't even realized that it was a part of the thing! There was no where in the world he go to get away from what had happened and as he was so fond of Jared, he couldn't leave him like this. Then a thought came to him. It was the only answer. He looked to Jared and said," wait here and don't go anywhere."

Jared stood there wondering what his Uncle was going to do as he watched him rush into the house. In but a few moments, he came back out carrying something heavy and a bag. The former human instantly recognized the bag as the one that he had stolen powder from and saw what his Uncle carried. He cried out, trying to tell Steve not to do it, but all that came out was a bleating snort. He also tried to get up the steps, but stumbled as the unfamiliar terrain got the best of him. Steve poured the remaining powder on the head and quickly pulled it over his head. In a split second, the massive head consumed his own and for the first time, Jared clearly saw what it was to transform in this way.

He had felt it last night when he had changed and imagined what it must have looked like, but reality was shocking. The eyes were the first things he noticed. In but a few minutes, what had been glass eyes of a mounted animal became the real thing and showed intelligence. The pelt rapidly spread over the rest of the body and Jared saw hands and feet become hooves; with the legs above them becoming those of the animal. The neck stretched as shoulders rearranged. The form fell to four feet and its body was now perfectly level. Its size grew as the fur completely covered his Uncle. Jared saw a tail flick and knew then that it was over. He backed away from the deck and waited for his uncle to come down.

Steve had made his decision and put a quickly thought of plan into action. He could never stay here and face the authorities or Jared's parents accusing looks. He loved the young man and he decided to join him. There was a form that he had used before and really loved. The power and massive size of the animal should allow him to protect Jared also.

Jared watched the huge form bound to the ground and went over to it. He had never before seen a moose in person before and had no idea how large it truly was! He had thought the beast ugly before when he had seen one in a picture, but now his mind was changed. Steve/moose went over and nuzzled his smaller relative. Together in silent agreement, they went off into the forest. Steve wondered what the young buck was feeling and if he would miss his family. He regretted once more what had happened, but could do nothing more about it. They had to get on with their lives and as Steve led, the buck followed. He led him deep into the National Forest, hoping to further protect him from hunting. There were other problems also. While there was a resident population of moose up here, Steve couldn't remember ever seeing but a few a Whitetails. There were many mule deer however. Well they would cross that bridge when they came to it. This was all new.

A Forest Ranger out on a patrol, looking for two men that had disappeared, saw a strange sight. Out in a secluded meadow, there were two animals grazing. That alone wasn't unusual, but one was a moose and the other had to be a Whitetail Deer! He shook his head in wonder, ever amazed at nature. He had to get back to the search!

End

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