There once was a young man who simply felt inadequate. He wasn’t good at anything, especially hunting. The other young men in his village put him to shame. Whenever Freddy Hicktoe tried to hunt, the animals would always run free. This wasn’t because Freddy was a pacifist. No, it was because he couldn’t shoot a bow and arrow if his life depended on it.
Freddy tried time and time again, practising alone by himself in the woods. But no matter the hours he put in he couldn’t straighten his arm any further or pull the string any tighter. His body was holding him back.
It was time for the daily hunt and Freddy was busy preparing arrows in his small thatched roof hut. He sat at his wooden table, made by his father, and sharpened each arrow head. He then put the finished arrows into his quiver made of goatskin.
He left his hut to join the crowd gathered in the centre of the village. Freddy felt everyone’s eyes on him as he approached. He slipped into the back of the hunter’s circle. In the centre stood Gregory Toothsaw, the best hunter in the village. While the older men had gone to raid other villages for supplies, Gregory remained to make sure these young men were prepared to provide for the village by themselves.
Gregory paced around the circle looking each young man in the eye. ‘You know the drill,’ barked Gregory. ‘First one back with a slain pig, deer, or three rabbits will win today’s challenge. No stealing, fighting, or deviance of any kind.’ The boys gripped their bows, waiting for the moment. Gregory raised his voice from a growl and into a shout, ‘Hunt hard!’
The circle immediately broke up and everyone raced out of the village and into the woods. Freddy ran with them but made a hard left. The boys went their separate ways, running past trees and jumping over roots. Freddy clutched his bow tightly to his chest as he stumbled over rocks and fallen trees. He made it further and further from the other hunters until he was alone in the woods, with nothing but the sound of insects and birds in the trees.
Freddy looked in each direction but he could see no movement. His eyes took to the ground in search of animal tracks. Nothing. He continued walking until he noticed a snapped branch at the height of his knees. Freddy examined the area, even sniffing the ground for a trace of his prey. A strong whiff took Freddy behind a shrub where some large droppings lay. Boar droppings. He poked at them with a stick. Still fresh.
Freddy felt cold droplets of rain reach his bare skin. He looked up through the gaps in the trees to see dark, gloomy clouds. He knew he should turn back, get to shelter. But he was hot on the boar’s trail and he wouldn’t go back without its hulking carcass draped over his shoulders.
Freddy followed the trail left by the boar. Broken branches and disturbed earth led the way deeper into the woods. He made sure to follow quietly. Slow footsteps, minimising the crunch of leaves and twigs underfoot. Freddy felt his hairs stand up on the back of his neck, more from anticipation than the cold of the rain. The boar was close.
Freddy reached into the quiver on his back and retrieved an arrow which he fed into the bow and held it there. He brushed past more low lying shrubs, following the well marked path the board had left for him. Carefully stepping once more, a crunch of leaves sounded behind him. Freddy turned and pointed his weapon at the source of the sound. Nothing. Something didn’t feel right. A loud guttural roar shook the earth and the air around him. Freddy gasped and whirled back around. His arrow pointed at a jugular, a human jugular. It was Axel, one of the hunters. ‘Expecting something else?’ Axel smirked. ‘Best put that bow down before you hurt someone, namely yourself.’
‘I-I… sorry’, Freddy stammered.
‘No harm done Fred. I’m sure you would have misfired anyway,’ said Axel. ‘So, looks like we have the trail of some beasty then.’
‘Hey, I found the trail first.’
‘Now, now, is that the way to treat one of your fellow men? C’mon, first one to deadify that boar, wins.’
Freddy nodded reluctantly.
‘There you go,’ Axel punched Freddy in the shoulder and pushed forward along the boar’s trail. Rubbing his shoulder Freddy tailed right behind him.
‘So Fred,’ Axel toned down to a whisper. ‘What makes today so different huh? Do you really think you can take a big ol’ beasty on your lonesome? You find a bunch of performance enhancing berries or something?’
The rain was falling at a steady downpour now. The trees gave only little protection to Freddy and Axel as they explored the woods.
‘You don’t give up do you?,’ said Axel. ‘Well, maybe you should. Not everyone is cut out for hunting. Wait, I lied. Everyone in the village can hunt, except… well, you. Best stay back and let the professional deal with this. I’ve killed ten beasties in just this past week. What’s your track record? A rabbit carcass with its insides gutted by a wolf?’
Freddy continued to trudge silently behind Axel but his hands were clenched now and blood was rushing to his face.
A guttural growl sounded in the distance. This time it was the real deal. Axel pushed aside a branch and peeked through to a clearing where the boar lay in wait.
‘Boy it’s a big one,’ Axel reached into his quiver and procured an arrow.
‘It’s mine!’ Freddy snapped and smacked the arrow out of Axel’s hand.
‘You fogwitting poxhole!’ Axel fell to his hands and knees in search of the arrow.
The boar turned in the direction of the noise. Freddy steadied his bow and pulled back the string. He looked down the bow and began to shake. Freddy put every bit of himself into the arrow. Axel, the village, the other hunters. None of it mattered except the kill. Time slowed. Every breath was slow and constant. Pulling tighter, the string began to creak. Freddy released it. Fwoosh. The arrow broke out of the bow’s grip and sailed through the air. His eyes followed the arrow as it descended down toward its target.
Axel got to his feet and looked to the clearing. It was empty. The boar was gone. ‘I don’t believe it, you hailfrecken cheated and you still let it get away.’
Freddy’s arrow was stuck into a nearby tree. His heart sank and a hot cloud of embarrassment washed over him. He threw down his bow and ripped the quiver off his back.
‘What in Hawrick’s name are you doing?’ Axel gripped Freddy’s wrist.
Freddy broke free and ran back the way they had come, his eyes burning hot as he left Axel standing at the edge of the clearing. He ran until his feet bled, and continued to run still. He could never be a hunter. He could never be like the rest of them.
Freddy burst through some trees to find himself standing by the edge of a lake. He had taken a wrong turn, but instead of turning back Freddy sat by the water’s edge and carefully put each cut foot into the water. The lake was empty and Freddy looked into his reflection in the water. His eyes were red.
Something danced beneath the lake’s surface. Freddy recoiled as something tickled his toes. There in the water was a school of wildly animated fish. For what seemed like a lifetime Freddy continued to stare at the fish as they brushed past his feet.
And then it hit Freddy. Wild boar, deer, and rabbit weren’t the only meat the village needed. He may never be a hunter, but one day he could make a good fisherman. Freddy retreated back into the forest to find the perfect fishing spear.
It didn’t take him long. Soon Freddy had constructed a crude spear using a large branch and a spare arrowhead. The rain had stopped. Freddy approached the lake with renewed optimism and stabbed the spear down into its murky depths. He pulled the spear out, dripping with water, eager to see his impaled victim on the end of it. It was clear of all fish life. Puzzled, Freddy tries once again, plunging the spear into the lake. He pulls it out. Nothing. Freddy keeps at it, frantically impaling the water again and again. With a pained scream and a hefty toss, Freddy thrusts his spear into the air. It lands in the lake and gently floats away.
Freddy trudges back to the village. The pain from the earlier boar incident still stung, but now he truly felt defeated.
‘The thing is Fred, we aren’t the same,’ said Deremi Golkton. ‘Each of us have our own unique abilities. You just haven’t found yours yet.’ Inside a modest little hut Freddy nursed a cup of hot carrot soup. Aunty Deremi sat on a nearby chair propped up by cushions.
‘That’s what I thought you’d say,’ said Freddy, slurping as he drank the cup. ‘Then how come the rest of the boys can hunt? Why am I the only one who struggles?’
‘I can assure you you’re not the only one. Have you told the others?’
‘I don’t have to, they already know. I haven’t caught a living thing yet.’
‘Then what if one of the other boys was having issues? Just like you?’ Deremi pointed to the window. Freddy looked out to see Axel showing off his fresh boar carcass to Gregory Toothsaw.
‘What are you getting at?’
‘I’m getting at the truth Fred. Everyone struggles and a lot of the time they won’t admit it. It’s embarrassing.’
‘What’s embarrassing is how I handle my bow. How can I improve on that? No one is as bad as me.’
‘Practice. Patience. And something else beginning with P.’
‘Pain?’ smirked Freddy.
‘Exactly. One has to go through a lot of pain when learning a new skill.’
‘But I’ve practiced for hours. Days even.’
‘Then maybe it’s more about how you’re practising then the amount of time you put in’.
‘I had the same training as the rest of them. I did all the homework.’
‘As I said, everyone is different. Everyone learns at a different pace.’
‘What if I’m incapable of learning?’ Freddy mumbled into his cup. Now devoid of soup, chunks of carrot were left at the bottom.
‘Then you’d best leave,’ said Deremi, standing up and snatching the cup off Fred. ‘Why are you even here?’
Freddy got up. ‘I just wanted somebody to talk to.’
Deremi watched as he turned and left the hut.
Freddy entered his own hut and sat slumped on the floor, his head resting against the side of the bed.
‘Perhaps some people are meant to be failures,’ he sighed. He felt his eyes close all by themselves.
Freddy awoke to two solid knocks on his door. ‘Just a second,’ he half groaned. Freddy got up, wiped the saliva off his chin and opened the door.
‘Nice hairdo,’ said Jeremiah, one of the young hunters. Freddy took a hand to his hair and tried to flatten it rather unsuccessfully.
‘I’ve come to train you,’ said Jeremiah.
‘What, in hair styling?’ said Freddy.
‘If only. I’m afraid I only know how to hunt,’ said Jeremiah. ‘Deremi told me about your predicament…’
‘… and yes I know you took the same lessons as the rest of us, but my father shared a few tricks with me before he left.’
Freddy bit his lip.
‘You do want to hunt don’t you?’
‘Yes. Yes of course I do. But I can’t. I don’t think a few tricks are going to fix anything.’
‘You can use my quiver,’ said Jeremiah as he handed it over.
‘Are you sure?’
Jeremiah nodded and Freddy took the quiver full of arrows.
‘Alrighty. Let’s go then. I know just the spot,’ said Jeremiah.
Freddy left his hut and followed Jeremiah to a clearing just outside the village.
‘Here we go,’ said Jeremiah. He readied his bow and took an arrow from the quiver still in Freddy’s hands.
‘But there’s nothing here,’ said Freddy.
‘You just need to look hard enough,’ Jeremiah pulled the bow tight and with a quick release the arrow sailed through the air and into a tree. Freddy looked puzzled as Jeremiah walked under the great oak tree and put his hands out. A bird’s nest fell neatly into Jeremiah’s outstretched hands. Inside the nest lay two speckled eggs, unbroken.
Freddy stood stunned, his mouth agape.
‘Now you try,’ Jeremiah passed the bow to Freddy. He cracked the egg and sucked out its insides. ‘Just pick a target and shoot.’
‘Look hard enough huh?’ Freddy readied his bow, scanning his surroundings. He focused on a little green apple still clutching onto its branch over 100 yards away. Freddy pulled the string tight.
‘Now just before you fire – here’s the tip.’ Jeremiah paused for a few moments just for emphasis. ‘Forget about the arrow. Forget about the bow. Concentration is killer. Instead, focus on say… a fine cup of mead or the blonde by the well. ‘
Freddy closed his eyes and began to picture the blonde by the well pouring a cup of mead. Jeremiah smiled.
‘Um.. the visualising is good, but you may still want to keep your eyes open. Just an idea.’
‘Oh’. Freddy’s eyelids fluttered open.
‘Okay, here goes… well, nothing.’ Freddy released the string and the arrow flew through the air. 100 yards away an apple fell from a tree, falling to the ground in shards.
‘By Hawrick I think he’s got it.’ Jeremiah gave a friendly wallop on Freddy’s back.
Freddy dropped the bow to the ground. Just as before he stood stunned, his mouth hanging open.
‘See it’s not as hard as you thought. Have a play, I’ll see you later for the hunt’. Jeremiah walked back into the village.
Hours later Freddy sat on a tree stump wiping his brow. 100 yards away dozens of green apples lay broken and scattered amongst the roots of the trees. Freddy swung the empty quiver onto his shoulder and walked back into the village with a smile on his face.