Updated: Dec 16, 2021
Brown Horn Hunts was a well-respected outfitter in northern Hungary. They knew the best places in the Bukk Mountains to find Red Deer, Fallow Deer, goats, elk, and all types of birds for hunters to chase from around the globe. They had been in the hunting business for many decades and the ownership passed down through the family. Their pedigree had attracted the attention of a group of so-called Coffee Barons.
These Coffee Barons were friends who, despite competing in their own businesses, went on lavish vacations together in their personal life. Usually these vacations were where they ironed out plans to make waves in the coffee industry. They never tried to hide it, and essentially flaunted their unofficial monopoly on Columbia and Brazil’s coffee industry.
Alejandro, the lone member who spoke German, scowled at the owner and their own broken German. It was difficult enough to carry on a conversation outside of your native language, but when there was only one language both parties spoke and it was neither’s native tongue, it was a whole other nightmare.
Juan, Raul, and Samuel stood near the front of Brown Horn Hunt’s office. “I don’t understand what’s taking so long?” Raul complained in a quick-cadenced Spanish tinged with the occasional Portuguese.
The other two threw up their hands in annoyed agreement. “We paid for a week. They should give us a week,” said Juan.
The office was built of hard wood reddened with stain and polished to shining. There were antlers hanging from the ceiling holding lights which gave horned shadows to the walls and floor. Large windows let in a soft gray light and overlooked the forested edge of the Bukk Mountains.
Raul adjusted the brim of his iconic fedora. He had worn it for so long there was a dark stain on it’s edge from where the oils of his hands had soaked into the cashmere. You could scarcely drive through a town in Colombia without seeing his fedora-clad face smiling at you from advertising posters hung from every third street. Now, he adjusted it out of a nervous tick. Raul was the money-man on this particular vacation, and if he wasn’t making any money here, he was losing it. Even vacations were business opportunities. Ek Chuah’s didn’t offer down divine blessings unless you showed the ability to do it yourself.
Alejandro made his way back over to the group, looking equal parts frustrated and entitled. “That asshole isn’t going to help us,” he said all in Spanish save the curse, which he spoke in German. The owner lifted an eyebrow from behind the counter, and had clearly heard him, but had enough professionalism and restraint to avoid further confrontation.
“Well, what are we going to do?” asked Raul. “I paid them months ago.”
Alejandro shrugged. “They are offering to take us next week or give us a full refund.”
Samuel crossed his arms over his chest, resting them on top of his quite rotund mid-section. “That’s just not going to work. We are not going to be here in a week, and they promised us five days of driven hunting. I’ve already cleared the wall where I’m going to put the thing,” he said, emphasizing, ‘thing,’ spitting and sputtering in annoyance.
Juan nodded along. “Yeah, why can’t they take us out? It’s already paid for.”
It was Alejandro’s turn to shrug. “I don’t know for sure. My German’s not the best, but it sounded like there’s something out there they don’t want to mess with.”
“What, like a bear?” Raul asked.
“No, they called it a Tuzsemek. I don’t think it translated very well.”
“What in the white hell is that? They don’t want to take us out to get our fairly paid trophies because some fucking bogeyman?” Samuel thundered. The owner didn’t know a word of Spanish, but it didn’t take a translator to know he was pissed, but they didn’t budge an inch with a face that told the Baron’s they were more scared of this, Tuzsemek, than the Barons themselves.
Coffee and rolls of money would not solve this problem, and these men were above getting their hands dirty coercing people themselves, so they all did the only thing they could. They cursed, grumbled, left the outfitter’s office, and went into the mountains alone. They were the Coffee Barons, and by god they could drive their own hunt.
Raul had done hunts of all kinds. He had done hunts from blinds, hunts where he stalked his prey for days, and hunts where he sent dogs into the brush to scare out his targets. Raul’s favorite type of hunt though, was driven hunts. They were complex, of course, but with that came significant reward.
The Coffee Barons were on their own as they went up into the forested mountains. They did not have the man-power they had expected that morning, but four was still sufficient. They would make it work, and Raul would have his prize.
“What was that word they used again?” Juan asked.
“Tuzsemek, or some such crap,” Alejandro said.
You ever heard of that before?”
“No. Maybe we’ll catch one. That’ll show those cowards,” Alejandro laughed. He leaned his rifle barrel into his shoulder and hugged its stock close to him to dig around in his pockets. A moment later, he pulled out a semi-crushed packet of cigarettes. A few seconds and more juggling and Alejandro puffed lightly on his cigarette.
“We won’t be able to catch anything if every deer in a square kilometer can smell you coming,” Juan said.
Alejandro simply smiled in response and puffed again, blowing a thick cloud of smoke out through his teeth. It made him look like some great dragon admiring a large steak.
“Are you two going to hurry up, or should we leave without you?” Samuel called down the hill to the pair.
“He’s in a hurry,” Raul grumbled.
“Samuel will be out of breath inside an hour,” Alejandro countered, smiling again through his smoke before pitching it out on the ground where it smoldered in the moss and leaves.
They four were heading up into the mountains aiming for a small pass with a smaller lodge. It was supposed to be their base camp for the hunt after leaving their cars outside the forest, and they decided to use the lodge anyway, despite accepting their outfitter’s offered refund.
The trip up to the lodge took the rest of the afternoon thanks mostly to Samuel’s unacclimated lungs and Alejandro’s cigarette breaks. Once they arrived, the Coffee Barons easily sorted out the lock with one strong strike from the butt of Raul’s rifle, and Juan set the generator to running, giving the lodge power. They pulled out some food and their hunting map along with a bottle of tequila.
“I don’t want to sit and wait on this one,” Juan started. “I need to get the fresh air and stretch my legs,” he said.
“I’m too old and fat to run the deer,” Samuel added.
Those two were easily picked, but Alejandro and Raul argued back and forth until the tequila was gone. They both wanted to lie in wait for their prizes to come to them, and neither wanted to wait another day to try their luck.
Alejandro stepped outside for a smoke in the crisp night air and, in his drunken state, tripped on a loose board on the way back inside. He rolled his ankle and with it, won his place with Samuel waiting to shoot the biggest deer he could find.
Raul crunched through the sticks and leaves on the ground as loudly as he could. He was the distraction, the big scary monster used to force the prey away from him and toward Alejandro and Samuel’s positions a few kilometers down the pass. He grumbled because although Alejandro had a rolled ankle which provided a sincere excuse, Raul still felt cheated.
The whole morning had passed without incident and, unfortunately, without opportunity either. He jangled with every step he took from the brass bells clanging on a strap on his hip. The four didn’t want the wildlife to have any chance to miss Raul’s trek through the forest. He was there to rile them up after all.
Juan was somewhere off to the west also making his way down the slopes. Raul could hear his clanging bells occasionally too. They had worked out the fields of fire the other two would use so as to not put Raul and Juan in their lines. It had the added bonus of giving Raul a slightly easier walk down the forested mountain than his partner.
Raul came over a small rise and found an area where the trees were less dense. From the rise he could see a family of three deer, and a wide greedy smile creased his face. To hell with letting Samuel and Alejandro have all the glory.
As quiet and swiftly as he could, Raul knelt down on the mossy ground and detached the clanging bells from his belt and took his rifle off his back, wrapping its leather strap around his forward arm and pulling the butt stock tight into his shoulder. From there Raul lowered himself down into the prone atop the small rise. He put his right eye to the glass scope and scanned left and right.
There were no deer. They had been just there on the edge of a small clearing. There had been three, and now there was nothing. Raul scanned again, this time slower. He took care to cover every tree and bush in case they were hiding behind them digging for some morsel among the leaves. Raul’s search turned up nothing and, with a sigh and a grimace, he got back up and put his rifle back over his shoulder and across his back. He reattached the clanging bells and gave them a good shake. If he couldn’t get a shot at the deer, he would at least move them in the right direction.
An hour passed in clanging frustration and yet, he didn’t hear a shot. Raul must be getting close to the hide where Alejandro and Samuel waited. He recognized some of the trees and landmarks. As he scanned the area around him, Raul just made out more movement off to his right. He dropped to a knee and unslung his rifle again, but this time held it low. He squinted into the setting sun which glinted through the foliage above him.
“Raul, is that you?” Juan’s voice came calling toward him.
Raul sighed and stood up. “Yes, I’m over here. Have you seen the deer blind?”
Juan took a heavy step upward onto a fallen tree trunk, his boots knocking some old half-rotted bark from the top. “It’s just down that way maybe a hundred meters, but it’s empty. I just came from there.”
“Maybe they are out recovering a kill?”
“There weren’t any spent casings in the blind and you know neither of them cleans up after themselves.”
Raul checked his rifle over once before slinging it back over his shoulder. “Did you find any sign of them?”
Jaun nodded. “That’s why I was coming up this way. I only stopped when I heard you coming. The trail is over here.” The two made their way over to the west where Juan indicated. There were large drag marks in the mussed dirt and leaves of the underbrush, and there was blood.
“What is going on here?” Raul whispered, eyes darting around the second he saw the blood.
“I don’t know,” Juan replied. “Whatever is happening, it isn’t good. Let’s get back to the lodge.”
Raul nodded in agreement, and they retreated back down the valley.
A large part of Raul expected to find Alejandro and Samuel already back at the lodge with a deer carcass hanging in the shed. He hoped that’s what he would find. He wanted to be angry at the pair for leaving them out there, and then demand they drive the hunt the next day to make up for it. Raul wanted to be angry because the only other option was the truth.
Friend or not, Raul could not show weakness in front of Juan or any of the others. He knew they would pounce on him the second they spotted the chink in his armor. He knew because he would have done the same to them. They didn’t become the Coffee Barons by sitting around on their asses. They were sharks, all of them.
The pair returned to the lodge and didn’t find any sign. Everything was where they had left it either last night or this morning. Empty bottles still sat on the counter in the kitchen, and spare boxes of ammunition sat on the small table where Raul had loaded his weapon this morning. They checked the shed as well, but there was nothing there either.
Then, like the shriek of a banshee, a wailing howl cut through the tense quiet. It flowed down from the pass carried on a sudden hot wind that smelled of decay and horror. Juan’s face turned into the hot gust, squinting against the bits of leaves and grass it kicked up. “We should get back inside,” he said.
Raul didn’t respond, only closed the shed’s door and wordlessly moved off back towards the house. They just made it to the porch when the shriek sounded again, this time much closer. It was near enough to recognize the voice. It was Samuel.
The wind shifted, blowing sharp and cold uphill. It kicked up swirling dirt devils that spun and whirled, pulled up the mountain. Raul spotted him then; Samuel was racing down the slope. He leaped over a fallen tree, windmilling his arms through the air as he jumped. Every fifth stride, Samuel looked over his shoulder wildly and as though he were pursued by some monster Raul could not see.
“What is it?” Juan asked. He held his rifle’s scope up to his eye, sighting down it in Samuel’s direction. Raul’s couldn’t see what Juan was talking about and so brought his own rifle up as well.
He only caught only brief glimpses of movement between the trees, but Raul saw what looked like a deer. It was larger though with cracked and split antlers, matted fur, and most alarmingly, half of its head missing. The wound could have been from a large caliber rifle like the one Alejandro preferred, but there was no way it should have been able to move. More than that, deer weren’t aggressive like this one was, chasing Samuel down through the woods.
“Kill it!” Samuel shrieked, finally close enough to see the pair standing on the porch. “Shoot it. It’s coming.”
With no more prompt required, both Juan and Raul began firing at the fast moving antlered monster. It was a long way off, moving fast, and Raul’s adrenaline had spiked. The pair peppered the ground around the monster as it chased Samuel, but they couldn’t hit it. Samuel was still two hundred meters off or more, and the monster was moving faster than him. If Raul and Juan didn’t kill the thing, it would catch Samuel.
The wind shifted again, back to the hot rotten breeze, and Raul reloaded as quickly as his shaking hands would allow. Then, raising his rifle back to track the monster, he realized there were more. Now there wasn’t one, but four massive half-dead deer chasing Samuel. As he tried to catch one with his first round, Raul saw it change direction at the last second as though it had anticipated where he would fire. They were intelligent, fast, and angry.
Before he could fire again, one of the others jumped laterally from a small rise, and its antlers caught Samuel around the shoulders and pulled him howling to the ground. Juan took a step off the porch, almost going after his friend, before his better sense of self-preservation and greed reasserted itself. Two more descended on Samuel who’s cries drowned into gurgling tearing noises so loud and violent Raul could hear them from the porch.
Before the beasts could finish their meal, Juan ran inside. Raul followed him, slamming the door behind him. “What the fuck was that? What is going on? Deer don’t act like that.”
Juan’s hands were shaking more than Raul’s even, and he fumbled with the box of ammunition. He dropped several rounds on the ground before he was able to load another magazine. Juan slammed the mag up into the belly of his rifle. “I don’t know. Tuzsemek maybe?”
“That’s crazy. That’s not a real thing,” Raul countered.
“Neither are deer that hunt humans with half their heads missing.”
Raul locked the front door and pushed Alejandro’s overstuffed bag in front of it. “Ok, what do we do?” he asked, more to himself than Juan.
“I don’t know alright!” Juan said, dropping his rifle out of his lap. The rifle hit the carpet with a soft thud. Raul walked over to him and scooped up the rifle.
“Hold your shit, or you’ll get us killed.” Raul said, handing Juan back his weapon. Then, looking up and out the living room window Raul saw one of the monsters stalking towards the lodge. Blood coated its antlers and ran slick on its face. This one had all of its head, but a massive hunk was missing from its side and more blood oozed from an open wound revealing its ribs. Juan sucked in a breath and pointed out the window on the other side. Raul spun and saw another of the crazed and monstrous deer standing outside in plain view. They wanted to be seen. They wanted to scare the hunters, and they wanted Raul and Juan to know it.
The wind shifted again, changing back to its sharp cold gusts swirling up the slope. Raul saw the trees strain and bend while the cold air rushed down the chimney, cooling the lodge’s interior. “They’re trapping us. We have to move. We have to get out of here.”
“It’s an hour to the truck if we hurry. We can’t outrun those things,” Juan said.
Raul finished reloading his own weapon and pocketed another box of bullets. He left his pack where it was. It would only slow him down. “What other choice do we have?” he asked. Then after readying himself, he opened the back door and took off running down the mountain.
The blood coursed through his muscles as they churned down the slow. Raul spared barely a glance over his shoulder as he ran. He didn’t need it. He had seen exactly how these beasts hunt. He knew they were even now, racing to encircle him and cut him off.
Juan didn’t want to leave the lodge. He figured holing up there, bracing the door and windows would keep the monsters at bay. Raul had seen the furious hunger in their eyes and knew they wouldn’t stop and nothing would sate their desire to kill him. Juan’s screams followed Raul down the mountain. He had lasted exactly one minute.
That was a full minute Raul used for his head start. The Coffee Barons were no more. Now it was just Raul and the monsters alone in the dark wilds of the Bukk Mountains- alone with the screams. He pushed the sounds out of his mind and focused only on pounding of his chest and the terrain in front of him.
Raul leaped a small stream and heard the splash of something landing in the water only a moment later. Then a quick breath, hot and rotten, followed him step for step. Raul scrambled around the base of a large tree who’s roots sat at the stream’s bank, greedily sucking up the water. The roots had grown fat and were as thick as Raul’s waist. He slid down against them just as antlers slammed into the trunk, sending chips of bark raining down on his head in splinters.
Quick as he could, Raul rolled forward, unslinging his rifle as he went. He didn’t have enough time to get it up to fire, but he braced it in front of him in a sudden turn, correctly expecting the monstrous deer to try and impale him again. The rifle’s body blocked the sharp bony antlers. Raul twisted to his right, keeping his firing arm as far away from the beast as he could, knowing every second at this point was a gift from Ek Chuah, but his god was on another continent and couldn’t keep him safe for long.
The beast twisted with him. Its mouth foamed with rabid hunger, and as it leaned outward it broke free from Raul’s rifle. The monster reared up on its hind legs determined to stomp downwards at him. Raul had only a blink to move, but he used his time wisely. He pulled back and fell onto the soft mossy ground, buying himself the vital space he needed to bring his rifle’s muzzle into line with the deer’s chest. He fired as it descended, and the blast forced the creature at an oblique angle, only grazing him as it fell, dead. Raul had shot it through the heart.
He lay there on the ground, heartbeat thudding in his ears so loud it blocked out almost everything else. He couldn’t stay there long. He needed to catch his breath, but there were others coming. Raul couldn’t believe they hadn’t chased him out yet. Then, almost as if answering his suspicions, the wind shifted again. It alternated between hot and cold, up the valley and down it, fresh and rotten.
Raul rolled over, staying as low and cautious as he could before peeking up over the thick roots of the tree. At first he couldn’t comprehend what he saw and, once he did, he wished he still couldn’t. There were dozens of the monstrous, half rotten deer standing at various distances and in various directions. But one and all held their eyes locked on him. Raul noticed the wind change back to sharp cold almost pulling him up the slope towards the beasts and his eyes followed the wind. There, he finally saw the wind didn’t just tug on his clothes, but pulled at his very essence. Raul spotted Juan then, or what was left of him. His corpse floated just off the ground, moving up the slope carried on the wind.
Raul had assumed the deer was the Tuzsemek, the outfitter had spoken of, but he had been wrong. Tracing the path Juan’s body made up the slope past the lodge, Raul saw then why he had missed it. He had missed the biggest clue, the one which would have foretold him of his mistake. He found himself looking up the slope to four gigantic tree trunks that weren’t there before. He craned his neck up and up and up. Yet these trees held no branches, no canopy, no leaves. Raul followed them up yet further, up into the twilight sky, the sun nearly blocked out by the body of a creature so large it created the hot, rotten wind every time it exhaled.
The Tuzsemek, the real Tuzsemek, shook its head and bodies fell off its shoulders like motes of dust, each a monstrous half-rotten deer in their own right. They stood up and joined the others encircling Raul now. The Tuzsemek snorted once, a swift blast of dismissal, and the horde came for him. There was nothing he could do. The staff of Brown Horn Hunts heard the rifle bark once, twice, and then go silent. They knew it was done.
History would devour the memory of the Coffee Barons and the Tuzsemek would pay a small penance of its power to Ek Chuah in restitution for killing its chosen as was custom.
And thus the story is ended, the tale told, the chapter closed.
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