The Smartest Man in Novy Lokatui

He watched the clearing carefully, concealing his meager presence behind a thicket of varicose branches that had denounced their natural guise to favor the enveloping sheets of white rime. There was a man. No, there were two men. Cloaked in the subtlest of cream, it was hard to distinguish them from the ambiance, yet their wispy beards that retained their last ounce of black betrayed them. At a distance, he eyed them meticulously, crooning his neck for a better vantage point. The scythe in his hand glistened in the moonlight, its edge sharp enough to carve puppets out of the mightiest oak. He cracked his knuckles, like a pianist in an auditorium.

The snow came down in thick blankets, suffocating and blinding the men. But these men weren’t ordinary men. Veterans of northern Siberia’s weather, they ventured forward, leaving the subtle refuge of the overarching trees that took hit after hit of frost. The man that led waded through the snow effortlessly, with long, exaggerated strides akin to the romantic brushstrokes of a delusional artist. His compatriot wielded a mid-sized axe tightly in his right hand and followed with his head down, bundled in coarse fabric. Conceivably an apprentice.

Perhaps they had filled their stomachs with brandy and decided to venture out into the vast nothingness that stretched on beyond the horizon in their desperation to survive, the onlooker thought. Maybe they hoped they would run into the occasional ibex, segregating from the males out of tradition; food was non-existent in the winter and wildlife was scant. Firewood was another plausible reason to leave home, lest the home itself become their icy grave.

He blocked any adulterating thoughts from his mind as he began to anticipate their inevitable fates. Go on, he urged them silently. The leader abruptly looked up, as if he had heard the thoughts of the watcher, and began to scan the woods quite near to where he was now pressed to the ground. He raised his hand to alert his companion. The world snapped still; time came to a halt. The heartbeat of the spectator permeated the night. The moment hung in space for a suspicious second, and then the adventurers took one more step forward.

It all happened too fast for the human eye to capture. As the first man stepped forward, something snapped underneath his feet. It was almost like he had stepped on a stray branch, but there was a hint of rope that gave it away. Sure enough, he felt the ground hastily pull away from under him instantly. His companion too, was whiplashed violently upward as the net closed in on all sides.

Within milliseconds, both men went from cautiously treading the spotty vegetation of the north to being suspended four feet above the ground from a bare taiga tree. Both of them had made a similar sound, almost what you would expect from a dog that had been punted in the torso. The second man dropped his axe during the ensnarement. Gasping for air he frantically tried to claw his way out of the mesh. The net had been used for fishing before, and would certainly hold its own. They were a tangle of limbs and anxiety as the fiber bit into their flesh .

The hunter emerged unhurriedly from his sanctuary, gritting his teeth to maintain some feeling in his face. He had waited far too long for this. Sleepless nights, days of starvation and isolation. He needed this. Certainly, he had been craving this. Walking up to the axe, he lifted it from its place, brushing fresh snowflakes off its edge. It was an admirable piece of craftsmanship.

He approached the closest tree to the taiga, a small birch that appeared rather malnourished, and began to take slow, meticulous swings at it. Thud. Thud. Thud. His heartbeat slowed; his senses now more aware than ever before. He would reap the rewards of his disposition. Amid the cries of his prey, he collected his firewood. An onlooking gray wolf shuffled further into the forests.

The man’s stomach growled instinctively as he smelled the fear of his captives. Sensing the hunger in their assailant, they frantically began to say their prayers.