The country lane he knew so well, that he had walked
along with his load of traps every Sunday for years, was
slippery. The frosty morning air had seeped into the
straggly line of grass that struggled to survive along the
middle of the path, and had soaked the two narrow
earthy channels either side that were forever under
attack from the overgrown border. Here and there, a
few insects had clambered to the top of some of the
taller stems or sprigs in the hope that the faint morning
sun would dry out their wings. As the man passed
by, a few of them made clumsy attempts at escape;
others simply huddled within their wings. But heavy,
heedless boots marched on and the more careless, if
they sprang the wrong way, were crushed into the
ground or swept into the mud.
The world was stirring then, still not awake, and the
man took advantage of this state of slumber to practise
deceit upon sparrows, rabbits, hedgehogs, and other
He also had the shotgun with him that morning.
The hunting season had officially opened ten days
earlier. Although his vocation was to keep his victims as
intact as possible, he simply could not resist the allure
of a spray of shot. The sight of the blood fortified him.
A bird’s flight abruptly arrested, the frozen silence
that followed the gunshot, then the animal’s graceless
plunge, all lightness gone, the few yards of bolting
inertia from a rabbit, or the headlong tumbling of a
fox (he sometimes got one), and the yelps that reached
his ears, more startled than pained. All of this filled
him with a morbid frenzy. He would close his eyes, and
wait for the dull thud upon the grass, or the ringing
splash; he would part his lips and suck in death’s
breath, a mouthful of death. And think, “There. Now
His passion for taxidermy had come to him when he
was already grown up, but he had known it immediately
as the bedrock of his own being. Perhaps subdued,
perhaps still uncovered, but his own nature, nonetheless.
The two stages of his work, first the capture of
his prey and then its successive preparation, fused his
sadistic nature with the pleasure of atonement.
As he walked on, his head lowered, the jars and
traps clattered together, beating out a broken, rhythmic
rattle that would have resonated in his victims’
ears like a warning they would understand too late.
Understanding would dawn just as the sound itself, an
ever distant vibration, dwindled away into the blackness
of the approaching end. It would pour out of
fatal wounds, draining away the searing image of the
hunter, impressed upon desperate retina, until that
too had disappeared. Not one of those animals managed
to warn its fellows. He didn’t give them the time.
There and then, he killed them. There was a time, when
he had first set out on his adventure, when he used to
bring his victims home, just the way he had trapped
them. But killing them somewhere else, different from
where he caught them, didn’t give him the same
pleasure. To tighten his hand around a nightingale
stuck fast by the quick-setting resin he used to the
branch on which it had so witlessly settled, to hold that
trembling warmth and then to give its neck a brisk,
effortless, twist, to savour the stiffening of its legs, then
their limpness, to feel the struggle in those feeble
wings that soon began to droop, more defenceless in
death than it had been in life, galvanized him. And just
as the animal began to grow cold, he was suffused by a
sudden burst of love. It was only then that he came
into contact with what they were, or had been. He
would cosset them, give them a name, start talking to
them. Perhaps that was why he had become so good at
the techniques that preceded the stuffing itself: it was
his way of showing respect, of communicating with
them, of loving them. He beheld himself in their grey,
veiled eyes; he and he alone saw the messages, the
thoughts that lay within. The world itself conformed to
his way of seeing and understanding existence. He
made his peace with life. He chatted with death.
And how languid, how sensual was his remorse.
On that day, after walking for a good half hour,
accompanied by the swish of his steps and the clang
of the junk he carried with him like some priceless
treasure to keep him company, he spotted a bush that
looked perfect. He cut across the meadow and stopped
in front of the thorn tree, examined it closely, decided
which branches were the most suitable, and set his
equipment on the ground, the shotgun last of all. From
a grey canvas army bag he took a clear glass jar with a
hermetic seal. He turned it over in his hands, and the
thick amber liquid inside sluggishly submitted to the
laws of gravity, as slow and irrevocable as his own will.
He placed it on an ash tree stump riddled with fungus
and rummaged in his bag again. From a side pocket
he took a bristle brush, flat and encrusted, wrapped in
plastic. He placed that beside the jar. Then he checked
the branches once more, tested their toughness, examined
the matted thorns to make sure no nests were
present, and sat down on the ground.
The damp soon breached the fabric of his trousers
and reached his buttocks. When he felt he was soaked
enough in that morning fluid he breathed in deeply
and began his hunt. Even as he rose from the ground
his expression changed and became radiant.
“It’s about to happen,” he said.
His excitement was thickening, becoming tangible.
His imagination was racing, and as he savoured the
holocaust to come, his salivary glands pumped his
mouth full with an almost unpleasant, almost painful
flood of spittle.
Once the brush was unwrapped, he took up the jar
and began to cover the chosen branches with the resin.
He was careful not to brush on too much, or too little.
When he had finished with the branches he turned his
attention to the stump, which glistened brightly for a
few minutes. Then the resin began to dry and gradually
lose its sheen, until it formed an invisible, treacherous
layer. Although the man had become quite proficient
in the preparation of his glues, which were always
odourless, he took some little bottles of essential oils
from the pocket of his parka. He checked the labels on
each and chose two. The others he put back in his
pocket. He unscrewed the tops and shook some drops
of rosehip oil over the bush and some musk over the
tree stump. He did not really know if these little details
made any difference, but they were part of the hunting
ritual, and the preparations were as exciting as the
From another bag, more colourful than the first,
almost a shopping bag, he took a creaking tin, battered
and rusty, which contained earthworms. He glued a
few, by one end, to the stump, where their thrashing
about would make them all the more visible, and stuck
a few others onto the thorn branches. He put the lid
back on and ran the index finger of his left hand round
the metal rim to clean it. He rubbed his thumb and
index together and sniffed his sticky fingertip. He
rubbed his finger down his jacket and brought it
closer to his nose. It smelled of saliva, nothing else.
He put the tin back in the bag and took out a piece of
dry bread. He crumbled it up and scattered it on the
ground. He looked round in satisfaction, gathered up
the rat and hare traps, shifted them onto his shoulder
along with the two bags and his shotgun, and headed
for some thick scrub some fifty feet away. That was
where he would disappear among the foliage. It was a
good spot to watch from.
From a hunter’s point of view it would have made
more sense to set more traps, to cover the area in collection
points, but that would have prevented him
from observing panic seize the imprisoned animal. His
joy was distilled in being there, in being present, and
thinking, There, it’s about to happen. It’s going to
happen now. And I’m here. So he preferred to return
home with less bounty and take care of his victims personally,
one by one, so he would know and remember
with morbid precision just what each one had done.
How they had reacted, if they had tried to flee, what
had flashed by in their eyes as he approached them.
Like an expert playwright, he sketched out the background
for their common story that closer acquaintance
later would help him fill out. Some of them, the
smaller birds, for instance, simply died of fright. He
never grew fond of them, because they deprived him
of the pleasure and the power of giving death.
When he had reached the edge of the scrub he
turned round. The distance was just right. With the
sharp knife he kept in his pocket he cut some twigs and
stuck them in the ground, in a semicircle, between two
poplars. He arranged his traps and bags, leaned his
shotgun against one of the smooth trunks, made sure
that the first rays of morning sunlight didn’t strike the
shiny surfaces of the jars, as the glare would have
frightened his prey, or drawn their attention and made
them suspicious. He took off his parka and folded it a
number of times until it formed a soft and comfortable
cushion and then he sat down to wait.
A drop of resin had stuck to the knee of his right
trouser leg. He picked up a twig and played with it.
Each time he touched it to the resin the glue sucked at
the twig and held it. The man pulled upwards and
the fabric of his trousers followed the movement and
formed a peak. Then he pushed a little harder and, with
an almost imperceptible sound, the twig broke away
from the trouser leg, which dropped back onto his
knee. He did the same thing over and over until the
resin was too dry to be any fun. Then he massaged the
little finger of his left hand. What was left of it. Ever
since they had amputated the last two phalanges he
had had to manipulate the stump a lot, especially in the
cold and damp. If he didn’t he developed terrible pins
and needles. He rubbed his eyes and looked curiously
through the twigs.
He had known that spot for years. Since childhood.
A rustling noise behind him distracted him from his
memories. He turned round.
A thin hunting dog stretched its nose towards him,
nostrils twitching. Its front paw was raised. He had
once taken one. It was called Homer now, because the
glass eyes hadn’t worked out properly and its gaze was
blank. But one dog was quite enough for his collection.
They were big animals and took up too much space.
He made an aggressive, abrupt gesture and the animal
whimpered and turned tail. Shortly after he heard the
muffled steps of the dog’s master. They were probably
headed for the river, along the canal. Huge colonies of
hares lived in those untended fields, and one often
came across pheasant strolling in the shade of the
willow trees snatched from the river banks, searching
for an easy meal of worms among the exposed tree
roots. In their unchecked spread, the twisted roots
had encompassed the smooth white stones of the river
banks and seemed to be petrified in the act of devouring
them, mouths open and stones almost completely
digested. The river banks had been his domain when
he was a boy. He handled with expert ease the flat
round stones from the river bank that he sent skipping
over the water many times before they disappeared.
He was equally expert with the nearby gravel pebbles
which were deadly against the lizards he managed to
strike. As a lonely spectator he applauded the struggles
between stag beetles in the mating season, as they agitated
their fearsome pointed mandibles and hurled
themselves against one another in lethal flight colliding
terribly. Hoping vainly that his solitary child’s shadow
would be joined by another, he loomed over the carcass
of the loser, which was immediately assailed by ants
that emptied it with great precision until nothing was
left but the chitinous shell. He would then pick up the
dead, take them home, display them proudly on his
window sill or on his desk and give them a name, contenting
himself with their silent company.
An imperious movement in the air drew his attention
towards the trap. A magnificent example of Egret alba,
the white heron, flapped in the air and then landed.
Its long neck described an S. It was very rare to see one
at that time of year because, even though they weren’t
edible, hunters frustrated by a poor day’s catch would
often vent their anger on the birds. The herons usually
stayed in their nests at the top of the poplars and flew
down at night to feast on frogs.
That particular heron must have been very hungry,
because it carefully snatched up all the bread crumbs
in its long yellow beak. Then it spotted the two worms
on the log. Its dark, thin legs moved cautiously towards
the rotten trunk. The bird looked about it then pecked
at one of the worms. The worm stretched unnaturally,
pulled at one end by the heron and stuck firm at the
other by the resin. When the heron released it the
worm seemed to shrivel up like a worn elastic band.
The heron’s expression revealed a certain surprise.
Warily it closed its beak on the other worm and pulled
listlessly at first, looking around, then yanked on the
worm, which split. The heron stood still, a piece of
worm dangling from its beak, its round eyes ever vigilant.
It swallowed the worm and attacked the other half.
The resin held firm. The heron spread its wings.
The man studied the long, straight flight feathers,
which were easy to keep intact but so very heavy that
it was difficult to maintain the bird in the position
designated by the taxidermist.
The bird bounced forward onto the log, where it
thought it could finish off the job with greater ease.
The resin stuck to its feet as soon as the bird touched
the log. The frightened heron cawed and beat its wings.
“Now,” said the hunter, ordering himself into motion.
He slipped from his hiding place and rushed
towards his prey. He knew he had only a few seconds to
The graceless bird was terrified and kept its balance
using its wings. It lifted first one leg then the other. But
one limb always remained stuck. Strident notes gurgled
from the base of the long neck that had lost all its
elegance, and caught in the animal’s throat.
The taxidermist was just three feet away when in a
supreme effort the heron’s mighty wings managed to
free the bird from the log and carry it to safety. A few
seconds later it had disappeared among the treetops.
The man looked at the remaining half of the worm
and squashed it under the sole of his boot. The resin
showed the tread of his boot.
Three feet, just three feet. He had seen the bird’s
sphincter open in fear; he had caught the stench on
the wind. Now all that was left was half a worm and a
grey-and-white splat of excrement. The excitement of
the hunt gave way to a blind rage. He tried to calm
down, to control his breathing. He lay down on the still
damp ground. He buried his face in the grass and
spread his arms. The smell of musk and mushrooms
filled his lungs. He sank his fingers into the earth and
felt the wet grains of soil burrow under his fingernails.
He stayed that way until he thought he had regained
control. Then he got up, went over to his hiding place,
folded his parka, took another worm from the metal
box and glued it to the log. The prints left by the heron
and his boot were slowly fading. To the touch the resin
seemed to be working still. The other worm was barely
moving. He tickled it and it began twisting again. He
shivered. His sweater was soaking wet. Once back at his
lookout he pulled on his jacket but that too was wet,
and he resigned himself to feeling the cold.
He wasn’t afraid to wait. He had never returned
home empty handed before. Sooner or later something
would die in his hands that morning.
But he still felt frustrated at the heron’s escape.
And his frustration kindled his anger. His hiding place
became oppressive. The muscles in his legs were beginning
to cramp. He punched his own thighs in an effort
to control them. Then he bolted to his feet, beaten. He
needed to move. He left his arsenal where it was and
began walking. He had taken a few steps when he
thought it might be better to have at least the shotgun
with him and went back to get it. A veiled sun spread its
listless light over the damp countryside.
He reached the man-made canal that supplied water
to the rice fields and the power station. He inspected
the concrete embankment. On a cracked kerb a rat was
sniffing the air. The man pointed the gun at it, aimed
and prepared to fire. It was an easy target but the animal
would have fallen in the water. He returned the gun to
his shoulder. Only then did the rat notice the danger.
It bolted along the kerb, lost its balance and splashed
into the canal. It swam for a bit with its nose held high,
slicing through the water and leaving behind it two
little double waves that forked before fading away into
the canal’s muddy calm. The hunter hurled a stone at
the rat, which disappeared under the water.
His boots swished along the path again. In the distance
he saw the path widen and turn right towards a
small pond, a smear of stagnant water surrounded by
reeds. Only then did he notice car tracks in the mud. It
must have been the usual lazy hunter. It was not
uncommon to find cars parked in the clearing by the
pond. It wasn’t possible to go any further as the trail
faded away to a thin grassless line that went down to the
river. He began walking more quickly and in a few
minutes his suspicions were confirmed: a blue runabout
was parked in the middle of the field. Its mudguards
were rusty and there was a very visible dent in
the driver’s door. His curiosity piqued, he decided to
examine it. There was something unusual about the
car. There was no mud on the floor mats, nor boxes of
cartridges, nor the old blanket covered in hairs in the
back, for the all important dog. And, even stranger, he
could see a woman’s handbag sticking out from under
one of the seats. He cupped his hands to his temples,
leant against the window and peered beyond his reflection
to see inside. The black bag in punched leather
had a brass buckle and a short handle. It was the kind
of bag women used when they went walking in town,
where there is little risk of getting themselves dirty.
The kind of bag that had just enough room for a purse
and some make-up. Hardly suited to the countryside.
And women didn’t like hunting. It was very rare to see
any women about, especially at that hour. The driver’s
seat was set back from the wheel, so unless the car was
driven by a giantess, it probably belonged to a man.
And a young man judging by the stereo that had been
imprudently left in its slot and the piles of cassettes
in the glove compartment. The original knob on the
gear stick had been changed to a garish gadget that
reflected a fervent devotion to sport. On looking more
closely, the man noticed a little box in a corner of the
back seat. The box was hard, open, lined with velvet
and had a slot to hold and display a ring. He couldn’t
make out the upper part of the box completely but
from the few gold letters he could see he concluded
that it came from a jeweller’s in a nearby town. Beside
the box there lay a printed note and a heart cut roughly
from card. He could just make out a date. It was that
Sunday. He walked round the car and changed his
viewpoint. In a side pocket he recognized a box of
condoms. One of the back windows was slightly open
and he breathed in the smell of tobacco and woman’s
perfume that came from inside. The tobacco smell
struck him as being from a cigar and the ashtray confirmed
his supposition, because, although there were
no butts in the tray, the ash was thicker, heavier than
cigarette ash. He didn’t recognize the perfume. It was
fruity, sweet. He caught hints of vanilla and tuberose.
The other elements were smothered by the thick smell
of nicotine. His eye was drawn to something that glittered
beside the hand brake. A little golden cylinder,
ridged on the surface, reflected the sunlight. A lipstick.
And the man lost himself in that lipstick, or, rather,
in what it evoked. He slipped into a fantasy full of
women’s lips; shiny, scarlet, perfectly outlined by the
compact smoothness of the make-up. He pictured them
kissed by other lips. Upon contact, the lipstick smeared,
melted, blended into the man’s saliva . . . Yes, there was
a male as well, a male he didn’t want to recognize . . .
and one woman. Two familiar lips. The initial composure
disintegrated . . . the woman’s passionate,
yielding look . . . her chin unnaturally red . . . The
male unlaced himself from the embrace and brushed
his finger over the woman’s lips. Domination. Contempt.
Attraction. He smeared the lipstick around that
victim’s mouth. The woman’s eyes closed, like a doll
tilted back. The mouth, like an ulcer, became
deformed. It opened wide to reveal its depths.
The man bolted upright. He clenched his jaw. His
wide eyes filled with tears. He ground his teeth.
“No,” he whispered. “No.”
He gave a savage kick to the dented car door. He
couldn’t bear the metallic retort and fled into the reeds
around the pond. He was holding the gun and gripped
it spasmodically. The woman’s provocative panting
still rang in his ears, torturing him. He dropped the
gun. He clamped his hands over his ears, even though
he knew it was pointless, because that obscene panting
came from inside him, where he was dirtiest.
To his great surprise the panting did stop.
His mind cleared and reason took command. The
hunter’s senses began to tingle. Wary now, he tried to
make as little noise as possible. He strained his ears.
He caught the hissed breathing again. At times it
became a kind of high-pitched moan that spread
unexpectedly through the air and faded away gently
in a smothered sigh. He strained to hear again, and
caught a different sound, a kind of low grunt, slimy,
that covered the first noise. The man drew himself further
into his hiding place and tried to pinpoint the
source of the noises. They were coming from his right,
it seemed. He would have to turn round. He did so
carefully, pushing aside the reeds. He saw some planks
of wood buried under the vegetation: a little jetty
spanned the marshiest part of the pond. He craned his
neck and made out the far end of the jetty, anchored
to two thick poles stuck firmly into the water. Rotten
ropes swayed in the air. He had never noticed the landing
point before. He continued to push aside the reeds
with caution, in an attempt to widen his field of vision,
and caught sight of a patch of colour. A corner of a
blanket. He could see nothing else from where he was;
just a patch of tartan blanket. Green. The breathing
sounds were coming from there. If he wanted to see
more he would have to move closer and further to the
right. He picked up the gun. Driven by an implacable
curiosity, and trying to make as little noise as possible,
he pushed on through the bulrushes. Hairy pennants
swayed down as he went past. Every inch gained made
him more nervous and more courageous.
A rather reckless couple, he thought. They hadn’t
stopped their obscene practice when he had kicked
their car door. The shore finished abruptly and the
man fell face first into the marshy waters. He pulled
himself up, covered in mud and frightened.
The two lovers stared at him in amazement.
The hunter may well have run away at that point if
he had not seen a third man, his sparse white hair
plastered against his forehead, crouching behind a
bush. The third man had a firm grip on his trouser zip.
He was holding something. The hunter saw himself
reflected in that filthy old brute. He heard a voice
spiral out of his past, imperious and terrifying.
Loading the shotgun he started to walk through the
stagnant waters and pulled himself easily onto the
jetty. In his path, a few steps away, the pair of lovers.
The young man sprang to his feet at the hunter’s
approach. His trousers were round his ankles and his
shirt and sweater were rolled up to just under his arms.
That defenceless flap of white flesh shrank before the
intruder. The woman was naked and huddled beside
her lover, covering her pubis.
He was just a step away, now. He opened fire.
The spray of pellets, spreading like a rose, hit the
woman side on, mutilating her right breast and carrying
on past her into the young man’s stomach, lifting
him off the jetty and throwing him backwards into the
water. The woman howled and clutched at a dangling
scrap of flesh.
The hunter walked past her without so much as a
The old man, petrified with terror, understood that
the other was coming for him. By the time he made up
his mind to flee it was too late. The shot caught him in
the side, knocking him to the ground. He hadn’t even
attempted to get up before the hunter snapped open
the smoking gun, took two new cartridges from his
pocket and loaded.
The woman on the jetty screamed, and tried desperately
to attach her breast, paying no heed to anything
else, turning round and round, as if chasing herself.
The hunter stood over the old man, who dragged
himself along the grass. He kicked him over onto his
back. The old man’s hand, still clamped on his zip, was
wizened like a leech. The hunter leaned the barrel of
his shotgun against the old man’s hand and squeezed
the trigger. The recoil almost toppled him. Mute, the
old man raised his stump of a hand. Blood spurted
into his face, blinding him. There was no more zip. In
its place, an oozing hole.
The second shot exploded his heart.
The hunter turned towards the woman, who was still
The jetty was awash with blood. He set the gun down
and took out his knife. He cut off a strip of the tartan
blanket, staunched the wound, and then lifted the
dangling breast, so soft and big, but almost empty. He
put the mangled scrap of flesh back in place, cut off
another strip of blanket, wrapped it round the woman’s
chest and tied a firm knot behind her back. She
wasn’t a woman, but a girl, no more than eighteen years
old. She had full lips. Her chin was stained with lipstick.
Blood spurted from her wound, following the
heart’s own rhythm, and flowed down her stomach. It
ran like a stream and pooled in her groin and drained
off into her pubic hair, the same blond colour as the
hair on her head. He hugged her to him and gradually
she stopped screaming. An unnatural silence fell
When he had calmed the girl down he smashed her
skull in with the butt of his gun.
On his way home, as he brushed the mud off himself,
he forgot to gather up his tools, otherwise he
would have seen a magnificent swallowtail that had
unwisely landed on the resin-coated ash tree stump.
A curious hunting dog looked on as the butterfly madly
beat its black-veined yellow wings. Every time the insect
opened and closed its wings it revealed the red eye on
the underside. The dog cocked its head and whined. It
pawed the stump, inviting the butterfly to play.
A high-pitched whistle from the dog’s master called
The dog hesitated for a moment and then gambolled
off. The butterfly also managed to pull free.
It was the second time that day that the hunter’s
traps had failed.