Wilhelm hears the pop of cracking twigs long before the animal comes into view. A wolf, fur the colour of granite, steps towards the rushing water. An alpha, judging by its size. Most likely the alpha he’d heard howling at the waning moon these last few nights.
A fine animal. A fine feast.
There’s easily enough meat beneath the creature’s thick coat to feed their bellies throughout the coming winter. Not to mention the fine boots and clothing its pelt will make for Wilhelm’s growing boy.
He smiles, lowering an eye to the rifle’s sights.
He was starving. He’d eaten nothing in over a week.
The early snows and frost had all but poisoned the meagre assortment of vegetables he’d ripped from his fetid garden. What little he salvaged, he’d given to his wife and son.
This was his last hunt, his last chance to put food on their bare table, before the hunger and the weakness subdued him.
His failing eyes caught a flash of white tail against the scrub. A rabbit.
He lined up the shot, arms trembling beneath the weight of the wooden stock. The barrel wavered.
The shot went wide. The rabbit bolted.
The voice made Wilhelm jump. He swung the rifle around. It was swatted away by the red-skinned man perched on the rock behind him.
‘Careful there,’ the stranger smiled. Sharp teeth. ‘You’re more likely to harm yourself than me.’
‘What do you want?’ Wilhelm asked.
‘I’m here to make a deal.’
The great wolf stops and sniffs the air. Cautious.
Wilhelm isn’t concerned. He is too far downwind for his scent to carry. His eyes never leave its flank.
The wolf bares its teeth, gives a low growl. It sniffs again and circles before dipping its head to lap at the cool stream. Its body is obscured from the hunter by the moss-covered husk of a fallen ash.
Wilhelm curses and focusses on an exposed sliver of undulating throat. An impossible shot.
‘What kind of a deal?’ The staving hunter asked.
‘The kind that will feed you, feed your family,’ the red-skinned man climbed down from the rock, proffering a hand to Wilhelm. ‘I’m–‘
‘Amongst other things.’ He stared down at the rifle Wilhelm was using to steady himself with. ‘What would you say if I could offer you a bullet – no, seven bullets – that will never miss their mark?’
The hunter holds his breath. His heartbeat grows steady.
The wolf hasn’t moved. Its throat the only visible flesh.
‘Fliege,’ Wilhelm mouths covering the trigger with his finger.
‘What’s the catch?’
‘You do me a disservice, Wilhelm,’ Der Teufal laughed, ‘but, as you mentioned it, you will have complete control over six of the bullets. The seventh will do my bidding.’
‘Which is the seventh?’ The hunter turned them over in his frozen fingers.
‘Now, that would be telling.’
The bullet flies.
‘Vater!‘ a young boy shouts.
A flash of red skin.
F is for Freischutz
A Freischutz (Free-shooter) is a hunter who, through a contract with the Devil, obtains seven magic bullets that will never miss their intended target. Six are wholly influenced by the hunter, but the seventh is under the control of the Devil and will only hit the target he wishes it to hit.