Lil’ Red’s body rests beneath the Cross River, his stomach transformed into a cavernous cavity by greedy wolves who live nearby. Sometimes when they feel their bellies are not full enough, they swim down to his corpse and nibble and gnaw at him as a snack. Other than that, he looks unchanged, unweathered as if the rushing waters fear ruining his good looks. This is all true, as told throughout the Southside. He’s as beautiful as the day the hunter—fresh from the day’s hunt— spotted him slinking from his backdoor, chest bare, a crimson shirt in his right hand. Dressed always in blazing red. Always wandering, smiling. A gangster. No, a gangsta, looking for redemption. That was what they said. The word on him. Few knew if there were any truth hidden in that, but Lil’ Red sure was handsome. Thin mustache. His head of hair resembled the Cross River in its rolling waves. No mistaking that man coming out the back of the hunter’s house. The man’s wife had cheated before. How could she work so hard to cleave herself from him? Hey, he called. Hey, get your ass back here. Let me talk to you. The hunter dropped his satchel of dead wolves and chased the handsome man, this cunning Red Wolf. They dashed from the neighborhood to the woods. Lil’ Red ran along the river, flecks of mud splashing onto his bright red clothing. The last words the woman said to him was, My husband’s more than a little off. He think he own me. Lil’ Red dashed. The hunter dashed. I just want to talk to you, he said. And he did just want to talk, but when the hunter caught up to Lil’ Red, the murderous intensity burned just beneath his skin. When he was close enough, the hunter gritted, paused his gait and shot Lil’ Red through the back. It wasn’t like the killing of wolves or nuisance cats. Lil’ Red had a heft and gravity to him. The hunter turned him over and watched the light leave the man’s beautiful face. He sat with Lil’ Red for hours, shooing wolves who came to lap at the fresh blood. After dark, the hunter flipped him into the water. He went home that night, smacked his wife and got so drunk, he stood and toppled over his couch, never standing for the rest of the night.
The hunter woke that night at three in the morning, staring at the ceiling, imagining the man’s face twitch in a way that it hadn’t. He became convinced the man’s twitching face had reached a seizure pitch. At the first light of day, he loaded up his wolf hunting gear—the traps, the dried meat. He checked his weapons. Kissed his wife’s bruised face and walked to the Wildlands and at the very spot he killed the man, Lil’ Red lay dead, beautiful except his hollowed out belly. Wolves had torn Lil’ Red’s guts from him and all that remained of the space between his ribcage and his pelvis was a meaty red mess. The wolves swarmed back and forth, watching the hunter with accusing eyes. He shot erratically, a man with no control. The wolves laughed and ran. The hunter flipped Lil’ Red back into the river and the body sank.
And the next day he arrived to see Lil’ Red’s body lying again in the soft earth by the river’s edge. A snarling wolf stood by it. The hunter shot into the air and the wolf dashed through the forest. The hunter admired the man’s wide eyes, his small nose, dimples—dormant as he was not smiling, but he could still see them. The hunter packed Lil’ Red’s hollow stomach with rocks and shoved the man into the river.
On the fourth day, the hunter’s face twitched just as he thought Lil’ Red’s had. The wolves only retaliatory tool was to drive everyone to insanity, he thought. Not a wolf had died by his hand since he killed Lil’ Red. How shameful. How could he pretend to be part of the proud fraternity of wolfers without killing wolves. And then, his wife, unemployed and untrustworthy, but still his, depended on the daily haul to survive. If he didn’t sell enough pelts and assorted wolf parts, then she’d just have to cook wolf meat. All that is not possible while he remained an impotent hunter. He reached the waters and didn’t see Lil’ Red, just a group of snarlers and howlers. Snarlers are the mean cusses, the howlers, their scouts. The hunter raised his gun to shoot, when their faces started twitching in unison. All of them, howlers and scouts alike. The hunter shot, but his hand became shaky. A strange wolf stood apart from them all, one of the laughing wolves, the playful kind that can turn mean as a snarler in a blink. His eyes were a deep crimson. His fur flecked with various tins of red. His stomach curved inward as if it had been kicked in. The hunter shot twice in the direction of the wolf, but the canine howled and snarled and laughed. The gun fell from the hunter’s sweat slicked hands. The twitching of the wolf’s beautiful face. The hunter removed his hat and his jacket. Dropped his bag next to his gun. Removed his knife from his hip. He had to see. Had to take a look at the man he had killed, make sure he was still there. Glimpse that beautiful face one last time. The wolves watched the hunter dive into the Cross River and no one ever saw him again.
Rion Amilcar Scott has contributed to Fiction International, New Madrid, PANK and Apparatus Magazine among others. Raised in Silver Spring, Maryland, he earned an MFA from George Mason University