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Fiction #15
(published Late in the Year, 2000)
by Michael Hoffman

James is a fine hunter. He does well at what he does, and does what he does well. He hunts well, and he hunts always, constantly, without cessation or even pause. I know this because I know very well what James does, and this is all I need know until he is dead.

We weren't always enemies. We hardly even knew each other at all. He brought his ship into my lagoon, and my lagoon became his home for a few weeks at a time during his endless circular journey around the island. During the fairer months of the year, during the dry season, I might cross paths with his men. I might, perhaps, perchance, be lazing about in the water, drifting never-you-mind about the shallows, when a fine party of men would cross my path, disgruntled from a day of fruitless hunting. During the rainy, high-water months, our paths were quite separate, even though my own territory would wax with the tides of the season. The men, when the sailed into my lagoon, would never, never go out onto the land, under no circumstances would they venture into the interior during the darker months. Not that this mattered to me, since I had little interest in their stringy, fatty flesh. Until I met James.

James, as I mentioned, is a fine hunter. He hunts birds, he hunts fairies, he hunts boys. These he hunts well, but never, never catches. But catching and hunting are surely separate activities, and not to be confused the one with the other. He hunts well, using swords and knives and the pretty little thing I left him with.

It was, I seem to believe, a fair day during the dry months. James was about and out upon the deck of his ship, casting his eyes into the single cloud in the otherwise empty air. Hunting for whatever he always hunted for, glancing and glowering. Peering intently into the cloud, shielding his brow from the glare, watching. The same way, I imagine, that I watched him that afternoon as he looked up for his elusive targets. Why, one might ask, did I take interest that day?

James, so perfectly focused and focused so perfectly upon his anticipation, upon his crowning achievement in a life of great victories, never saw what I saw: his men, upon departure for their daily rout inland, had failed to close the gate to the ship's boat. Nothing but air stood between James and the water, and he was backing along the railing towards that spot. Slowly, ineluctably, he moved closer to my territory.

Stringy? Undoubtedly, he was tall and lithe and his face was bedecked with hairy adornments that gave little reason to relish the thought of snatching him up and snarfing him down. Fatty? They all have some fat, hidden somewhere unpleasant and unexpected, in my experience. It seems to be in their nature to hide a fatty part some place.

And yet, I had never, never had such an easy chance to eat one of them. James, walking backwards into my gaping mouth, reaching for the railing as he falls a slight ten feet, my jaws closing onto his... his wrist. Yes, after all that anticipation, after all that eager salivation, all I got was James' hand. And his name, as his bosun yelled it into the air and snagged his collar. Snagged his collar, leaving me only a small bony, nasty morsel. And the refuse they cast after me, gliding back into the lagoon: a pencil, a compass, and a noisy clock, forever ticking away inside my belly, reminding me that I will have another chance. I can be as good a hunter as James, if I simply wait. Patience, there's the virtue. Never, never give up, and never, never stop watching. He knows I'm here, I prefer it that way. His prey must know it is hunted by an expert, by a master at the finest of arts. A perfect cycle of observation, a perfect circle of perception.

James waits, and I wait. Slowly, time ticks on, and no matter the capture: the hunt is the goal, the hunt is perfection, and never, never let anyone tell you otherwise.

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