Hunter’s Eye by C.S. Houghton
by C.S. HoughtonTheron slipped the eye into the pocket of his winter coat. He’d found it in a pile of entrails but felt sure it had belonged to a hydra. Fifteen or twenty years ago he’d seen one when he was a hunter. The outer ring of the eye had already hardened, moving as they do from a viscous jelly to something glassy and final as a stone.
Theron walked down the same trail through the heather that he took every night, but now he had the eye. That didn’t feel ordinary at all. He swung his arms a bit wider than usual to enjoy the feeling of something heavy and important shift his pocket. Too often lately they’d been empty.
But Theron grew short of breath, so he sat down on an old millstone where he sometimes rested. He folded his hands over the top of his cane to support his head. Above he heard birds. They circled high so he couldn’t see them, but when Theron awoke from a nod he caught a little nightmare of hairless black wriggling backwards out of his pocket.
“Out! Out!” he cried. He pulled at it, but the creature craned its head around and nipped the flesh between Theron’s thumb and forefinger.
He pulled his hand back and the bird flew off on leathery wings that hissed on the wind. Theron sighed and his breath hung in the twilight like white smoke. When he pulled out the eye and set it in his palm he saw that the center, where it was still tender, had been hollowed out by the bird.
Theron walked the rest of the way to town more slowly. It was still good though, he told himself. Wasn’t it? There’d been no word of anyone bagging a prize as valuable as a hydra for months. It was still something. Another man’s careless oversight, but it was still good. Wasn’t it?
Never mind that, Theron thought. It’s all I have.
He didn’t open the big door to the Royal, although he put his hand on the cool brass handle. He didn’t want a drink so much as he wanted to show off his find, but that was gone. Instead, he walked across the empty street to Signio’s place. Maybe there he’d get enough to pay off his drink tab. He had a right to that much at least, didn’t he?
“It’s still good,” Theron said, passing his fingers over the now firm middle. “You know it’s big and someone will want it. I’ll want it even if you don’t.”
“Take it back then.” Signio said. “You brought me down from dinner for this? It’s garbage.”
“It’s a good eye.”
“It’s worthless, and you know it. I’ve six others now, all better.”
“Five then?” Theron asked.
“I’ll give you two, but it’s not worth one coin. I’m going to grind it for powder.”
“That’ll buy no more than a pint. I find a jewel, and I get a swallow of porter. How do you like that?”
Theron took his shillings to the Royal where he saw all the men gathered around the longest table. For a moment he thought he might go sit in a corner away from their noise and laughter, but he finally joined them. At the head of that table sat Canon wearing a grin and his patchy beard. Theron had known the man’s father well.
Canon talked animatedly about the heads. He talked of the tentacles and the hydra’s eyes too. They were great big eyes. Theron bet they had fetched a good price from Signio.
Theron took the two coins out of his pocket. “The next one’s on me,” he called out.
Canon raised a hand and nodded his thanks. The young hunter enjoyed that pint and a few more while Theron clapped and carried like everyone else.
After things settled down Theron smoked his pipe with a couple of old friends. He never mentioned the eye.
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