The traveler loves the hunt, loves to waste and wander and find the faded bone of the antler in the gully, loves to draw and clack them together and polish them. The traveler loves his jewelry, his implements of silver, his blades, bone-handled and turquoise inlaid hilts fit to the fine and calloused hand and stowed under blankets and sheaths of hide. He carries his wares in carts to market and sells the bones and hides of the dead and loves his money. The traveler hates the single-horned elk, antler rooted, sky-pointed and air sucking they bramble, split and stretch, and the bone bark wraps around the marrow core and the roots take in the life and the mountain. Those roots, this terrible antler. The traveler hates the sheaf-hued coat swaying with the water’s surface and the ocean of the water lapping at the pond, the edges of the river running down the shoreline. The water slowed but tugged, bending the soft fur that the traveler hates shed in tufts. The traveler hates the black neck and shoulders, a mountain range fired in silhouette and smoke. The burning trees, the pine beetle popping in the sap and the tree exploding. He hates the granite shoulder, the ridgeline of neck. The traveler hates the rock as old as everything is old and its might and its buckled and shifting fault lines cracked. Tectonics, the traveler hates, and he hates the turn of stones over and over and the taste of grass in the blood of the quarried doe. He does not eat the heart. He will not touch the heart, the ragged torn tongue a smear in the grass and the traveler hates the liver, that dark filter, does not stop blood like a sponge over the knuckles and down the forearms, and the traveler hates the ice, hates the eyes that stare with no concern until dashed into the forest and gone. The traveler hates the loneliness. The traveler hates the single-horned stalker, the forest in white whose war has been leveled at him for all of the years since the first death, the first time the rock split skin the body consumed by crow and wolf and coyote and bear and became bones bleached in the sun in a nook of stone and who took from the stone its cleave until the bones grew and the white hair and the single horn came up to prick the sky. A single horn to scratch the moon and enrage the traveler. And the elkicorn killed again by the traveler again rises, the bones carrying the blood another year and the traveler hates most of all the bugling in the winter night, the pines stirring and creaking and the stars falling down like snow from boughs coming down on the traveler’s head. The traveler shakes and shutters a dance by his fire and he warms himself and this wind is warm and inside he is void and cold and he leaps in his dance and hates the elkicorn and the sound of his belled shoes rejuvenates the hunt and the hunt goes on and the snow falls and the wind flies and the traveler hates most of all his lonely self. One pair of prints scored around the fire. The coals burning in their hole. Their heat making water of the winter and the traveler’s dance making mud and the mud is put on the fire to put it out and the mud keeps the heat inside his boots. The porous stone on the knife’s edge makes the metal glint to cut the hide to cut the finger and remove the roots from the skull of all the forests and bleach them white and grind them until the powder falls from bough like snow and the earth buried in bone meal chokes. Sound stops. The traveler, chalk white and wandering, silt on beard and shoulders and under boot and dusting the silver blades. He unfurls from the whitest fur the single horn that pierced the sky, its bark hollowed and holding steel. He dances in the night and twirls the spear until the dark grinds away the bone. And this, when the dream he stalks in the forest lies dormant by his hand, the traveler does love.
Danilo John Thomas, raised in Butte, Montana, earned a PhD in creative writing from Florida State University and an MFA at the University of Alabama. He is the author of the chapbook The Hand Implements, from The Cupboard Pamphlet, and is the managing editor for Baobab Press. He resides in Sparks, Nevada, with his wife, two daughters, two dogs and an aged, toothsome cat.
“The Traveler King” is the winner of the 2017-18 Ryan R Gibbs Flash Fiction contest, judged by Matt Bell. Please see our contest page for more information.