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Haunted by the Hunted

I set the chilled wine on the table, opened it, and poured it into two glasses. General Zaroff took his glass and tested it almost as if he were at a tasting, moving the glass not to quickly but not too slowly in a small circular motion and letting it settle, then slowly sipped it. The intense gaze from those dark eyes moved from the glass to me and he spoke to me in his thick but smooth accent.

"I'm going to turn in. I know it's unusually early, but I'm tired. I go to a job where I must be alert all day. It's exhausting."

"I understand, sir," I replied. And I did. Zaroff was a hunter. He was awake all day-very awake. Those brown eyes were wide and almost never blinked.

"Bring some chilled wine up before you turn in, will you?"

"Yes, sir," I said without showing my true discomfort. The basement was a place unfit for the lowliest creatures of the earth. It had no lights, was covered in cobwebs, and was unusual smelling. It was eerie. I could feel the rats, crawling creatures of the earth, and other creatures forced from the other two levels of the house because they were horrible and despised, even by Zaroff. Zaroff moved quickly up the stairs the stairs leaving his book on the table. He was obviously in no mood to delay sleep at any cost.

"Well, I might as well get this over with. I must get the wine, and I should probably do it now if not to get it over with then to get it before I forget."

I grabbed the flashlight and headed down. Each step down the lights got a bit dimmer until it was completely dark, and I had to turn the flashlight on. I went over to the cold, dark wine cellar in the corner where Zaroff kept the wine, but as I pulled the bottle from the wine rack I dropped the flashlight. For a few brief seconds it landed on a thing I had never seen before. In the cement wall, there was a window-like opening that started at hip level. It was easy enough to climb through physically, but once you saw it it was hard to accept emotionally. You can never unsee the unseeable, a fact I am sad to say is a part of life after I understood for the first time what Zaroff really hunted. There were heads on plaques reminding me that Zaroff had slaughtered them as if they were animals and a few other things Zaroff was apparently proud of, an occasional leg snagged from a Burmese tiger trap, or a heart. The sad part was that I remembered all these people. Zaroff had met them all, talked with them over wine. I grabbed the wine bottle and went upstairs, very conflicted and shaken. Should I tell Zaroff that I knew? If I told him, he might kill me. If he intended for me to know, he would have told me already. On the other hand, if I didn't tell him and he found out I knew, I could die. Either way, I could end up like all the other hunted in the basement, just another prize for Zaroff to show others before they perished. I ended up never telling him, but everyday after I finished up at the house, I followed him. From that day forward I witnessed every person who sank into the quicksand outside our house, every stab and shooting, and most of all I witnessed the day Rainsford killed Zaroff and retired him from hunting forever. I lived it all in silence. I was truly haunted by the hunted.



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