Every fourth Thursday in November, families across the country gather together in celebration of the love and appreciation they feel for one another. This of course takes place over a delicious Thanksgiving feast of turkey, yams, dressings, and pies! At least that’s the Hallmark definition, but most of us just show up for the food.
Nowadays, we purchase our turkeys and hams from the grocery store, but— not so long ago— men ventured into the woods to put food on their tables and pelts on their backs; they plowed their fields by day and their women by night… All without expressing any form of emotion for that was considered the ultimate sign of weakness.
In fact, there are some who continue to honor these traditions even now— like my family… Oh! No! Not me or mine! No; my wife and I don’t take stock in all that old world crap— neither do my brother and sister for that matter. I’m referring to the people we came from— our parents and grandparents…
I know you’re thinking— if they’re that terrible, I should just cut them off— but it’s not that simple. If it was a matter of money principle, I would have moved to the other side of the country long before reaching this point, but it’s so much more than that…
There’s really no way to explain it except to start at the beginning… You’ll get the wrong idea if I reveal my family’s Thanksgiving tradition without context… But— I must warn you— this is a long one; if you decide to stick around, you better get comfortable. I know I’m gonna pour a drink first, so feel free to do the same.
My name is Avery Hunter, but this story actually begins with my several-greats-over grandfather, Hank— a poor man who was forced to settle in an even poorer community while his wife gave birth to their second child. It was 1721, and times were hard in this particular slice of Ohio; if you had food in your belly, it was a blessed day… Well, it wasn’t actually Ohio yet, but we’re not here for that kind of history lesson.
Now, one thing to understand— the event we know as The First Thanksgiving took place in October 1621 (yep, October), but it wasn’t an actual holiday yet; that wouldn’t come until much later. The fact that Pappy Hunter’s story takes place in November is merely a coincidence.
All through the summer, food had grown more and more scarce, and now that the first snow had fallen, they were trapped until spring. Hank tried to rally the other men for a final hunt— before it was too cold to survive a night outdoors— but no one would help. When the time came, he departed alone with a small pack, a full canteen, a large knife, and a rifle he could fire only once. Before he even began, his body was so weak— so frail— that every step was like a kick to his very soul… Yet an entire community was depending on him…
And at that moment— with that realization— he resented them all very much. What did he owe them, anyway? If he did happen to make a kill, was he really going to steal food from the mouths of his hungry children just to feed those who lied on their backsides while he risked his life? No! With every stumble and twist of his ankle, he became more and more certain that he would be doing no such thing.
With the land’s resources long exhausted, he knew it would be an arduous hike before finding any game, but what choice did he have? His wife and sons would perish if he failed. He marched through the slushy snow, his toes already numb as moisture seeped through his worn boots.
Finally, as he neared the incline’s peak, he laid flat on his belly and crawled the last several feet, so as not to risk startling anything that might be grazing on the other side. With the sun already setting, he knew this was his last chance for a kill; he would soon be forced to make a fire before the darkness resigned him to a cold death.
…However— as he looked over the rise— it wasn’t a deer or boar he saw but another man… A man who was just starting to make camp himself. At first, Hank felt a twinge of disappointment; if there had been any game around, that man surely scared it away…Then he looked a little closer and was overcome by a wave of jealousy.
The stranger had a heavy winter coat, fine boots, and a large pack that appeared to be full of supplies. He also had the makings for a fire ready to burn… Without fully understanding why, Hank remained hidden with his belly pressed to the cold ground and continued watching.
The temptation of warmth was almost too much to resist, but then the stranger removed a loaf of bread from his bag… An audible growl escaped Hank’s stomach, and he decided it should be him sitting down there with that warm coat and bread… Besides, travelers disappeared all the time— especially lone travelers…
He had two choices; take the man out with his rifle, or wait a little longer and slit his throat under the cover of darkness. If he chose his rifle and missed, he would have to rush the man without knowing what weapons he carried… Yet, if he waited, there might not be any food left…
That settled it for him; he needed that food to make the trip home. Before he knew it, the rifle was in front of him— taking aim— and then he squeezed the trigger with a loud bang! A spray of blood painted the tree behind the stranger, and his body fell to the ground… But a loud, anguished groan let Hank know that his work wasn’t finished. He raced down the hill, horrified to see the man was actually beginning to rise.
Now closer, he could see the large canyon carved across the top of the stranger’s head and the fragile bone beneath… Without hesitation, Hank slammed the butt of his rifle down onto the man’s fractured skull with a loud thwack! And his body dropped back to the moss-covered earth.
Overcome with relief, Hank fell next to the deceased traveler, completely spent from his final dash down the slope. Then— remembering the bread— he sat up quickly, eyes darting around the fire in search of his prize. He found it laying in the dirt but barely paused to dust it off before consuming the remainder in three large bites. After draining his canteen, he saw another leaning against the tree— next to a large pack— and brought them closer to the fire.
He began untying the bag’s pullstring but paused before peering inside; if it contained more food, his family would live a little longer… If not, well…. At least he would have the energy— and resources— to make it home for a proper goodbye. Perhaps he would even find the strength to give his wife and children proper burials before joining them in the afterlife…
Finally, with a deep breath, he pulled the string loose but stopped short of looking inside when he was suddenly interrupted by a high-pitched— almost scratchy— voice.
“I wouldn’t do that if I were you…” He spoke directly next to Hank’s ear, who instinctively jumped to his feet, simultaneously drawing his knife.
The pack fell inches from the flames, but he hardly took notice. The voice had been that of an old man, but where did he come from, and where was he now? His eyes scanned the area, but there was nothing! When he later recounted this story to his children, he recalled thinking it was the traveler’s angry spirit— returning for vengeance…
But then he heard him again, and this time, the old man snapped his fingers before speaking. “Down here, Hunter.”
Hank shifted his gaze downward to see a frail, elderly man wearing a hooded cloak. The newcomer was no more than 4-foot-tall, yet his bare feet were much larger than Hank’s own, and his jagged, yellow toenails made their disproportionate size all the more unsettling.
“Was he your son, then?” Hank gestured to the corpse between them.
“Haha, hell no! Get it?” He snickered, “hell? Because I’m an Imp! My summer house is in hell, ya know! Get it? Summer— hot! Hah! I slay myself. I hope I’ve got my face right; I put it on for you, ya know! Humans tend to get skittish otherwise, hehehe!”
The little man hopped around the campfire like a hyperactive child as he spoke, and the flames shot high into the air— illuminating his disfigured face. His grotesquely overgrown brow sat atop two bulbous eyes and a lumpy, crooked nose. His cheeks sagged with heavy wrinkles, and loose flesh hung from his chin and jawline as a result.
Even in his heightened state of distress, Hank was in awe that a man of such years could be so nimble. “You’re mad is what you are! I am sorry for your companion, but there is nothing I will not do to save my family… Including murder…” Hank’s grip on the knife tightened as he prepared to lunge, but the old man suddenly vanished into thin air with an audible poof! And the flames instantly returned those of a dying fire.
Consumed by a mixture of fear and disbelief, Hank turned circles in search of the old man, but he was alone once again. “Or perhaps it is I who is mad…” He muttered to himself.
“Hehe! Oh, don’t be so hard on yourself, Hunter! Afterall you did just commit your first murder. You’re a natural, though! You can trust me on that, hah!” This time the voice was coming from above him, and Hank looked up to see the wild little man sitting on a branch, swinging his stubby legs over the edge with giddy delight.
“But how?! How did you—” Hank started but was abruptly cut short.
“Well that’s what I was trying to explain when you so rudely interrupted me with your nefarious intentions! Hahaha! You should be grateful! It’s not every century that I grace a mortal with my company— let alone my aid! So whaddya say, Hunter? Care to try again? Hmm?” The old man peered down, and his eyes glowed with an internal fire…
“Why do you call me Hunter? It is neither my name nor my occupation.” Hank asked, confused.
The old man vanished with another poof and reappeared sitting on a log opposite the fire; only, now, he was smoking a pipe. “Hehehe, silly Hunter! But it should be both! For that is exactly what you are, aye? It’s in your blood! Sit! Sit! Hear what I have to say!”
He gestured towards an adjacent log which hadn’t been there moments before, and Hank sat without comment.
“Good! Good! Yes! Hehehe! First, introductions; I am called Nod, and you are Hank! Soon you will be Hank the Hunter! Your father was a Hunter, was he not? And that’s what your brothers are, yes? Why do you deny your birthright? Why settle into such a poor community?” Nod paused as if expecting an actual answer.
Hank began to speak but was silenced before he could utter a sound. “No, no, no! Shush now; questions later! It’s always the same— some woman! Hah! Lust is a bitch ain’t it? Yes, take the pretty girl out west! Start a new life! Rarely goes according to plan, though! Your appearance shows that you’ve learned that one the hard way, hahaha! I bet you’d like to go back in time, aye? Wind back the clock, as it were? Hmm?”
Here, Nod paused again; Hank only stared in confused silence, but— when the little man still did not continue, he finally spoke up. “I do not know if you implore simple trickery to deceive the eye of man, or if a devil has granted you the powers of a witch, but I’ll not lose my soul to any creature bearing a snake’s tongue! Begone! Foul—” This time, Hank is cut off by the Imp’s loudest roar of laughter yet. The hideous old man rocked back and forth with delight, and— when he leaned closer to the fire— Hank could almost see a different face behind the one he wore; sometimes it appeared as if he possessed only a handful of yellow, crooked teeth… But other times there were two full rows of fangs dripping blood down his chin…
After several minutes, Nod finally collected himself. “Well, too bad! Hahaha! Time is beyond my control, but perhaps I can offer you something even better! Yes, yes! Even better! And it won’t cost your soul, either! Cross my heart! Get it? I don’t have a heart! Hah! But we’re talking about souls! Bleck— disgusting, slimy, little things; nope, I’ve never had a use for ‘em… I mean… There are demons who’d be willing to trade for it… But no, no… Then I would have to make a special trip to hell… It would be a whole thing. No, I’d rather deal directly with you.”
The old man clapped his hands, and the flames shot high into the air, illuminating the area around them, but only for an instant. Though they immediately returned to normal, Hank once again caught a glimpse of something inhuman— something with long, curved horns.
“Now, down to business. You need the dead man’s pack to contain food. You would be mighty disappointed to find nothing but a change of clothes and a tin cup, wouldn’t you? Well! What if I told you that I could make it so that it was filled with bread, grains, potatoes, apples, and corn? Eh? Doesn’t that sound nice? No, wait! There’s more, hahaha! You’re wishing there was meat, but— tell me, Hunter— what of all that meat lying just behind you? Are you just going to let it spoil?”
“You’re vile! I would never! How dare—” Hank began, disgusted by the suggestion.
“Okay, okay… Sheesh, men who reek of your bloodlust are usually more fun. I can see you’re the exception to the rule. Fair enough. Probably best to just show a guy like you, aye? Hehe!” In the time it took Hank to blink, Nod disappeared and reappeared directly in front of his face; the old man was now some otherworldly creature— an Imp from hell— in an old man’s suit. Its skin was covered with lumpy wrinkles, its long horns curved outwards, its giant ears were pointed, and its eyeballs were yellow with red irises.
Nod’s hands shot out, and he stuck two long, stick-thin fingers to the center of Hank’s forehead, transporting him to another place and time. Suddenly, it was one week later; he was sitting down to a family dinner because they still had meat and grain; the children’s cheeks were plump and rosy, and his wife’s smile had finally returned… They were happy.
Next, time rushed forward, and he saw himself months later, in the spring; they were leaving their home for greener pastures. He saw an entire lifetime of success and happiness inside of a big house with his wife and their many children— each of them healthy and thriving…
Then, he was suddenly ripped away from them and thrust back into the cold, harsh reality of the present. He opened his eyes to see Nod’s face just inches from his own; the Imp had reverted back into the deformed old man, but his inhumanly wide, snaggle-tooth grin was almost as terrifying as his true form. Hank yelled and fell backwards from his log, prompting another outburst of laughter from Nod. “Haha! You see now, don’t you? Yes! I can give you all of it! Hurry! Up! Get up, up, up! Times a wastin’, and this deal needs makin’! Hahaha! Just sign the dotted line and leave this miserable place behind!” Nod began hopping foot to foot again as Hank stood and patted the dirt from his clothes with shaking hands.
“You said it wouldn’t cost my soul, but what exactly is your price?” The suspicion in his tone was clear.
“Oh, don’t think of it as a ‘price’ per-say… Think of it as negotiating the terms of a partnership— an eternal one that will be passed along to your descendants long after you leave this world. Don’t you want your grandchildren to enjoy the same prosperity as you? You could guarantee their happiness for as long as they are willing to maintain your side of the deal… That sounds like a pretty fair arrangement, wouldn’t you say?”
Nod raised one eyebrow and his entire overgrown forehead moved with it. “It depends upon the terms… The ones you have yet to define…” Hank struggled to keep his voice steady.
“Hehe, fine, fine! Picture it! You are a new man venturing to a new land; you become the founder of a community that blooms into a thriving township and ultimately becomes Huntersville! As the contract holder, your direct descendants and their spouses shall enjoy all of the same benefits as yourself. This includes— but is not limited to— immunity to random acts of violence and nature; i.e., you and yours won’t have to worry about things like outlaws or plagues. Think of it as being imbibed with a surplus of good luck.”
“Are you saying we can simply do whatever we wish without suffering any consequences? We’ll be— immortal?!” Hank’s words were barely a whisper.
“What?! No!” The Imp was insulted by such a vast misinterpretation. “Were you even listening?! Aw, why are the strong ones always so dumb… Fine, fine; let me try an example… If you’re in a saloon minding your own business and pistols are drawn— you won’t ever catch a stray bullet… On the other hand, if you were to challenge someone to a duel… Well, anything could happen…” Nod searched Hank’s face for any sign of understanding.
“Oh… I see…”
“Eh, no offense, but I’m not sure that you do… Maybe you should repeat that back… Just to be safe…” Nod narrowed his eyes suspiciously.
“Perhaps you should define my side of the bargain before it is rendered moot.” Hank narrowed his eyes in return.
“Hehehe, you win! You win! You’re a bit of a nag, aren’t you? Well, first, there’s the immediate trade. Afterall, you’ll be going home with bags full of goodies by the time we stuff your own with all that meat! Oh, don’t look at me like that; it’ll be the best thing you’ve ever tasted! You’ll want it everyday! Hmm… I guess you could have it everyday, but I have to advise against it. You’re no good to me with your neck stretched…”
“I assure you, that will not be a problem. Perhaps we could—”
Nod continued as if Hank hadn’t spoken. “We can fry some up as soon as the deal is signed, and you’ll see! Mark my words, you’ll see! Err, I mean, taste! Yes! You’ll taste it! Hehehe! Alright— plain and simple— here it is. Every November you’re gonna bag a human for us, and we’ll split the spoils. I only want the parts you wouldn’t eat anyway; just treat it exactly as you would a deer, and I’ll collect the rest. I’d do it myself, but there are rules about these sorts of things…”
Again, Nod proceeds as if Hank hadn’t spoken. “We’ll do this first one together! It will give us a chance to bond! You’ll also set a place for me at the opposite end of the dinner table each year; you won’t see me, but I’ll be there. Hahaha! No, no, the rest of the terms; of course, of course. You want the catch— the stick— the screw!”
“That wasn’t the catch?!” Hank exclaimed.
“Eventually, you will grow old— much older than you would have without me, mind you— and the time will come to renew our contract. This requires a very specific type of ritual… Instead of hunting a stranger, you will be hunted by your heir, and then consumed by myself and your family. Thus the cycle will repeat until broken by a Hunter. So, how ‘bout it?”
“I have questions…”
“I’ll bet you do,” Nod snickered.
“Are you saying that I would have to condemn my entire family to a life of cannibalism?! And that they would eventually be forced to eat me as well?!”
“Oh, come now; don’t be so dramatic… I’m offering blanket protection over every snotball you shoot into your wife! The least they can do is share a meal with me once a year. Any descendant who doesn’t consume a portion of the main course will forfeit their rights to those graces! Permanently! Hahaha!”
“Yet so long as they follow this rule, all of my descendants will retain this protection forever?”
“Hmm, I think we’re going to need more examples for this one. Let’s say two sons grow up to have families of their own. Both sets of grandchildren would fall under my protection so long as you remain the contract holder… But— when the contract is passed along— only one can inherit. Their direct descendants will become my new Hunters; the others will be cut loose to live their lives as most humans must. This will hold true regardless of how many offspring you ultimately produce.”
“I see… And what if I ended my own life instead of forcing my son to hunt me like an animal?” Hank felt certain that he could not accept these terms, yet he was compelled to continue the conversation anyway.
“The contract would be null and void; your Final Hunt— and those of your descendants after you— will otherwise be entirely at your discretion. Have it next year or when you’re 70 for all I care— just make sure it happens in November. Bring one heir or ten; it makes no difference… I will, however, offer a bit of advice. You may be tempted to skip a proper hunt. Perhaps you would prefer to simply bend your neck and pass the torch…But I wouldn’t do that if I were you…” A malicious grin spread wide across Nod’s face.
“I supposed that would void my contract as well?”
“No, no; not at all… Well, not that specifically. This event may be your Final Hunt, but it will be their First Hunt. You need an heir strong enough to not only hold their own resolve over the years to come, but the family’s as well— a leader! Not all children are born to be leaders, this I promise you! Hahaha! The hunt is like a test! It will allow you to die in peace, knowing the family remains in safe hands. Plus you’ll still have your soul, aye! You’ll be reborn before you know it— probably as another Hunter! So, you see? This contact has the potential to benefit you for lifetimes!”
Hank sat in silent contemplation, and— for the first time since he arrived— Nod also refrained from speaking.
“Oh! I know what might help!” In a flash of movement, Nod reappeared before Hank, and pressed his long, pointed fingers into his forehead yet again…
This time, he was only transported a few minutes into the future— after declining the Imp’s offer. He felt a great sense of relief when the creature vanished from sight and slept until dawn… On his journey home he failed to encounter a single living creature, and his wife wailed with grief at the knowledge her baby would soon be dead…
Suddenly, it was two days later, and— with no lumber for a coffin— he was forced to bury his son in old rags. His wife died four days later, and her funeral— if you can even call it that— was much the same… Only Hank no longer had the strength to dig a proper grave, and— by morning— the vultures had her. He thought of trying to catch one, but— by then— he didn’t want to survive.
“Enough! No more! I’ll do it… I’ll do it…” Hank slapped Nod’s hand away with a defeated whimper. The visions left him shaking and dripping sweat. The cold, night air would have been too much if not for his new coat…
“Hehehe! Excellent! I knew you had it in you! Now, let’s get this silly paperwork out of the way so we can have some real fun! I’m telling you, Hunter, you are not gonna believe what you’ve been missing! And I don’t cook for just anyone, you know!” With a snap of his twig-like fingers, a scroll appeared in Nod’s hands; when he allowed it to unroll, it fell to the ground and didn’t stop until the end was several feet past where Hank stood.
“One second; here we go.” Nod rerolls the contract until the end sits directly at Hank’s feet. “Just let a few drops of your human juice fall onto the dotted line, and it’s a done deal!”
Hank lifted the parchment and leaned into the firelight. The paper was completely filled with a tiny, cursive script; there were no paragraphs, or margins— just a wall of text. He desperately wished to read its contents in full, but— seeing it now— he realized that wasn’t an option regardless of any time constraint…
His hesitation lasted only a moment before remembering the sight of his wife and child lying dead in his arms… With the parchment in his left hand, he drew his hunting knife with the right and made a small cut in the fleshy pad of his thumb; then he pressed it to the bottom line. The moment it lifted from the parchment, the entire contract disappeared with another snap of Nod’s fingers, and the fire roared with new life, illuminating the entire area as if it were morning.
“Now for the fun part! Hehehe!” Again, the Imp disappeared only to reappear over the dead man’s body. He then spent the next several hours teaching Hank exactly how he wished his offerings to be handled.
When they were finally finished, the sun was rising, and Hank had more food than he could carry. The traveler’s pack was filled with the goodies promised by the Imp, and his own was too small to hold all the meat he spent so long wrapping… Where the wrapping-paper came from, he did not know or care; it was such a small detail in the grand scheme… Ultimately, he fashioned a makeshift sack from an old shirt for the rest.
Then— after a few final words over the most delicious breakfast of Hank’s life— Nod gave him a long rope and disappeared. “But what’s this for?” He called out to the empty air.
“A Hunter should always carry a good rope! Hahaha!” Nod’s voice echoed all around him, but there was no sign of the little Imp… It was only a few hours later when Hank happened upon a goat and tied the rope around its neck; they made the long journey home together.
Fearing desperate neighbors may be watching for his return, he tied the goat to a tree and stashed his gear in a nearby trunk well before reaching the tree-line. When he stumbled out of the forest it was shirtless and shoeless. As he suspected, every man in their community— the very ones who were too weak to accompany him just the previous morning— were suddenly strong enough to surround him in the darkness.
Torches were soon lit, and the disappointment was apparent on every face. Hank said he was robbed— that he barely made it back alive; he shivered as he spoke, and his skin was losing color at a rapid pace. His neighbors hung their heads in shame and dispersed with little more said.
His wife cried tears of joy to learn the truth, and she was quick to agree with the Imp’s contract; the relief Hank felt at her words was every bit as satisfying as the delicious breakfast he had only that morning…
After allowing enough time for the neighbors to be fast asleep, he returned to the forest for his bounty. By some miracle, the goat remained completely silent on their return walk, and they were able to stretch their supply through winter. On the first day of spring, Hank ventured to each neighbor’s home to confirm there were no other survivors. Being on their last two days of food themselves, he took a measure of comfort in knowing he truly could not have saved the others. He wasn’t sure how they were going to survive out in the open; without horses to pull their wagon, the whole situation felt hopeless. He began to fear Nod had betrayed him after all… Then— just as they were about to leave most of their possessions behind— the couple suddenly heard the hoofbeats of many approaching horses, and they were pulling wagons! Upon seeing the small family, the travel-worn group came to a stop, and the Hunters instantly knew the Imp’s vision had been true.
With all the potential dangers ahead, they were more than happy to loan Hank the horses for his wagon, and— with the help of a few volunteers— they were quickly back on their way. Along the way, Hank not only proved himself to be an excellent hunter and tracker— but compassionate, intelligent, and brave— all the qualities they sought in a leader. It was also thanks to him that the wagon train avoided a deadly ambush, and discovered the land they would ultimately call Huntersville— which is where our family still resides.
Well, that was even longer than I expected, and we’re not even at the halfway point…But— to be fair— I did warn you to get comfortable. I tell you what, let’s refill our drinks and stretch our legs, shall we? Great! Meet me back here in five… Err, maybe ten…
[10 minutes later]
Ok, is everyone back now? Splendid! So, let’s jump ahead to the 70’s, so I can tell you a little about my dad before we get to my childhood. I also want to clarify— I don’t mean to speak of good fortune and prosperity in a way that misleads anyone about our wealth. Again— no souls were sold— we aren’t the “1%, Richie Rich” kind of rich; not even close. Financially speaking we’re considered “upper class”, but we don’t own mansions, yachts, or have car collections. We also have actual jobs and careers that earn that money; it doesn’t just come from nowhere… Ok sorry, just wanted to make sure that was abundantly clear.
Anyway, back to the story. The next thing to understand is that there’s a big difference between Pappy Hank and the Hunters who came after him. You see, he knew what it was to starve— to live with the awful knowledge that any meal might be their last… But his children— and theirs, and so on— they never knew this fear. They misunderstood their good fortune and full bellies as a right— not a privilege— and each generation became a little more entitled, selfish, and cold…
In the early 1900’s there were cases of siblings killing one another for the chance to hunt their father. In order to prevent this, a rule was made that anyone who harmed a fellow Hunter would automatically forfeit their claim to the contract, but that didn’t completely solve the problem. As you can probably guess, my family history is filled with tragedy and deceit on all sides— especially where that Imp is concerned; it will come as no surprise to learn he left out a few key details… Not that it would have made a difference; what else was Hank supposed to do? Watch his family starve while knowing he could have prevented it?
You see, luck is a complicated thing… Our universe relies heavily upon balance. Where there is great evil, there must also be great good; to have an upper class, we must also have a lower class. This concept can be found in one form or another in every culture across the world, and the same principle applies here. When someone experiences an excess of good fortune, there must also be an excess of mis-fortune; for example, have you ever noticed that you might win $500 on a slot machine one week, but then your transmission may go out the next?
This process repeats so much through our lifetimes that we don’t even consider the events related, but if you were to make a list of all the good luck you’ve had and compare it to a list of all the bad— most of you would have a fairly balanced list. Yes, obviously there are exceptions to this rule— much like myself— but this will be true for an overwhelming majority. At the end of the day, our universe prefers balance, so— unless some unnatural force has the power to thwart that preference— you can be damn sure the universe is getting what she wants.
Nod said that anyone who does not participate in his yearly feast would no longer fall under his protection… Yet he failed to clarify this meant the universe would immediately begin collecting debts. When there was a change of contract holders, the newly excluded family members would begin to experience stretches of horrible luck— everything from accidents to financial ruin or worse— but the worst tragedies befell those who left voluntarily…
There haven’t been many over the years; most of us are too frightened to quit. The first time it happened was in 1889 when 18-year-old Maria Hunter secretly eloped. She and her parents were at odds over the man she wished to wed, so she simply ran away. The young couple were married in the spring, and— by fall— she was with child.
Before Thanksgiving became an official holiday, the family would perform the ritual during the first week of November, but— as the years passed— traditions evolved. It became more practical to simply take a “vacation” every Thanksgiving; it’s almost like the two were meant to coincide… So, as November drew near, her family begged her to return home for the holiday— even if only for the day; regardless of their hatred towards their son-in-law, they very much wished to ensure that Maria and her baby remained under Nod’s protection…
Unfortunately, when she revealed the family secret to her husband, he was appalled; he reacted how most people would and forbade her from further contact. His fear of being an outcast was the only thing which prevented him from contacting the authorities.
Maria’s parents worried for her quality of life but not her very safety. In fact, some tell the story as if they were planning an extra “special” Thanksgiving for the following year. It was too late for Maria, but— if they could be rid of her husband— her child might still benefit from the protection she forfeited. Don’t forget, the mortality rate for infants in general was still quite high in those days…
Sadly, the situation was far worse than they anticipated. During the first week of December, Maria lost her life in a house fire along with that of her husband and unborn child.
Newspapers wrote of a stray spark from the fireplace and called it “a tragic turn of fate”; if they only knew… The story was much the same for any Hunter who forfeited their rights, though not all lost their lives… Some only wished they had… Those who were excluded due to contract transfers, however, got off a little easier; it seems as if the excess bad luck is distributed amongst the group rather than focused on a single individual…
Ok, that was a longer detour than I expected, but I think you’re finally ready to hear about my father— just a few basics before we dive into my own childhood— for context. Dad was born one minute after his twin sister, Diane. She was a very impressive woman; Grandpa took them hunting as children, and she was a natural. Her tracking skills in particular were unmatched, but— thus far— only men had been allowed to participate in the Final Hunt, so it was always assumed that Dad would automatically inherit the contract…
Then, Grandpa announced that 2013 would be the year of his Final Hunt, and Diane was allowed to compete. Dad was furious; I was only six at the time, but I remember his being furious and not understanding why… Then— after a few days— he apologized and made amends with his sister. They agreed that— no matter who won— they would always support the other…
To this day, we aren’t sure if his plan was always to drug Diane the night before the Hunt, or if it was a last minute decision, but I would put my money on the former. Since it was only the two of them, Dad was able to wake up and kill Grandpa with none the wiser; by the time Diane regained consciousness, the deal was done…
Shortly after, she was involved in a car crash that killed her husband; she also broke her arm and became addicted to pain pills; it took her three years to get clean, and win back custody of her children. Obviously she never spoke to Dad again; we aren’t even sure what state she lives in or how she’s been doing since. Mom only learned that much because she was the one who paid Diane’s lawyers.
I should also clarify; though an extra seat was prepared for the Imp each year, no one had ever seen him except for the contract holders, and— even then— it was only the one time… Most of our family’s history has been passed down through journals, but these meetings are largely glossed over as if the authors were too distraught to recall the encounters in great detail.
Since my siblings and I were still minors at the time of Grandpa’s Final Hunt, we were simply told that he suffered a stroke. Children aren’t trusted with the truth until their 18th birthdays ever since a close call in 1897. When my brother found out, he became a completely different person; he suddenly didn’t want to go hunting anymore, and he distanced himself from not only his friends but me as well. He was normally a funny, outgoing guy, but then he began spending all of his time locked in his room…
Then I learned everything two years later and did the same thing to our sister, Wendy… It’s hard to “act normal” when you have this incredibly huge, dark secret that would change everything the other person believed to be true— especially when you know they’re going to be blind-sided by later anyway…
I’ll never forget a single detail of that night. I still dream about it sometimes… We had a family dinner at my favorite restaurant and then drove out to the hunting lodge for a weekend of hiking and fishing… After everyone went to bed on that first night, Dad called me into his study, gave me a beer, and told me everything— including the details about Grandpa’s death…
It took six hours to track him and another half-hour to end his life. The man fought back every step of the way; Dad’s first approach was too noisy and earned him a rubber bullet to the shoulder. He stressed how important it was that the Hunt had to be real—for the sake of future generations… How the contract holder was responsible for the family first and himself last… You should probably know my father was also a major hypocrite, but we’ll be covering that in greater detail shortly…
On his second approach, he aimed for a headshot hoping to ensure Grandpa wouldn’t suffer. A wave of both relief and guilt washed over him as the body dropped to the ground, and he mistakenly believed the hard part was finished… Unfortunately, it wasn’t until he actually approached the body that he understood the gravity of what he had done and what he must do next.
There was nothing recognizable left of the face he knew so well, yet that’s all he could see as he went to work. He had helped Grandpa process every Thanksgiving kill since his 21st birthday, but even his first time wasn’t nearly as difficult as having to do it to the man that raised him— even if he was an asshole. Dad cried through most of it. Arranging Grandpa’s organs in the “just so” way Nod preferred was every bit as difficult as the actual butchering, but he did it for us— his children and future grandchildren— because that was the responsibility he agreed to carry. He already knew it would be Josh or I to succeed him. Wendy is the kindest, gentlest person I know; she couldn’t even shoot a deer without sobbing uncontrollably, and she didn’t speak to us for three months after learning the big secret.
I also learned what Nod said to Dad on the day he signed the contract… If there’s one thing the Imp can’t stand, it’s a cheater; according to him, it was Diane who inherited the true “Hunter’s spirit.” As far as he was concerned, Dad was a cheap imitation, but— rules were rules; his hands were tied… Well, for the most part…
Nod placed one pointed finger against Dad’s stomach and said, “be sure to visit your physician regularly,” before vanishing with a long, cackling laugh. Dad said it felt like something was actually passing through the Imp’s finger and into his gut— “something foul”— and it terrified him. From that day forward, he received regular checkups every six months, but— until this past year— the worst news he ever received was high blood pressure and a few stomach ulcers caused by excessive stress.
Mom theorized that Nod did nothing more than plant a suggestion— one that would cause Dad to punish himself worse than the Imp ever could— but Dad knew better… Somehow, every test missed the cancer spreading through his body until it was too late. At just 50-years-old, he was given less than a year to live if he began treatment immediately…
It was June when he received the news; that meant we only had five months to prepare for his Final Hunt… A hunt that should have been another twenty years away… We are by far the youngest Hunters to participate in a contract transfer yet…
So, that finally brings us to the reason we’re all here— to chronicle my father’s Final Hunt. First off, there were a couple of issues that might not be immediately apparent. It’s hard to see past the whole “murdering our father” thing, I know; I apologize.
But see? That’s why I had to tell you the whole story from the beginning. If I had led with this part, you would’ve ran off before I could explain. Now, am I right, or am I right? Hah, I know I’m right.
Anywho, remember the whole bad luck dispersal theory? We would normally all have families of our own before the Final Hunt— hell, maybe some grandkids… But Josh just got engaged— to a man— and they don’t even want kids. Wendy is still in college for fuck’s sake… I’ve been married less than a year, and our daughter is barely 6 months old… What exactly was supposed to happen to the losers? We were all terrified.
Not to mention, Wendy had never even been on a Thanksgiving Hunt, and now she was expected to participate in killing our own father?! Josh had only been on three, and last year was my first… It’s nothing like you expect it to be… Even when it’s a stranger…For those, we travel to a different state each year, and we have special ID’s and vehicles for the occasion; we have to evolve with the times, after all… Then we clean and process the kill, wrap it up like any other meat, throw it in the cooler, and head to the lodge— where all of our Thanksgiving dinners are held.
It’s also where all of our Final Hunts are carried out; we own over 100 (mostly) undeveloped acres, and it’s surrounded by hundreds more on every side. A large chain link fence topped with barbed-wire surrounds the property to ensure our privacy, but that wasn’t installed until the 90’s.
Each generation continues to build upon what began as a small cabin on a single plot of land; that cabin has now become a two-story home complete with an attic and basement. We used to need a generator for electricity, but now we use solar panels, and a well supplies our water. I had a city friend in college who thought that meant we had one of those round, stone wells outside, and we would go fetch a bucket of water whenever we needed it. So, for the record, we got running water inside just like all of you. The only difference is that it doesn’t come from the city; an electric pump sends it to our pipes from the well.
Now, that does mean it would need a generator if the power went out, but that’s not exactly a common occurrence when you have solar panels. Our real homes are the same way; why pay for utilities when you can supply them yourself? Whew, sorry I should stay on point. I think the whiskey is getting to me. As I was saying, none of us were feeling very good about this Hunt— especially Dad. It was hard to ignore Nod’s message— or warning, rather— behind it. I honestly don’t know if any of us would have tried to hurt the others… Fear makes you do some crazy things… Especially when you have your family to think about…Josh, Wendy, Dad, and I arrived at the lodge on November 20th— which was a Monday.
The plan was to spend a little time together before the actual hunt… I think each of us were anxious to both get it over with and put it off at the same time… Dad’s health had declined significantly in the five short months since his diagnosis; he was always in so much pain… We knew he was ready to go, but that didn’t make the task ahead any easier… Then there’s what happened the night before… As I’ve said, Wendy had made her feelings abundantly clear, and she planned to abstain from the Hunt. Meanwhile, Josh has always been the typical bigger, tougher, older brother; we kinda just always assumed that he would be the one to do the deed…
My participation was mostly to keep Dad happy so he would go easier on Josh. He was kind of a closed-minded prick when it came to my brother’s sexual orientation, but Josh was his golden boy until he brought home a Michael instead of a Michelle… I knew Dad would come around eventually, so I played along in the interim— just to relieve some of the pressure… Only he got sick before that could happen… And now, my brother was being fueled with a different kind of motivation.
It’s not surprising at all that Wendy wanted us to call the whole thing off. “Think about it, the smartest thing we could possibly do is refuse to participate! We’re young! The bad luck would be split between us, mom, Kaylie, Abby— oh, Josh, maybe you and Michael could elope before December 1st!”
“You selfish little bitch!” Josh jumped to his feet, instantly furious. “I wouldn’t put him at risk to save your pathetic life!”
“Ok, hold on; let’s calm down for a second.” I went to stand between them, and Josh returned to his seat.
“Wow, and you just called me selfish! I’m trying to keep us all alive! But I guess you would have a problem with it since you’re the one who’s gonna be safe anyway!” Wendy glared at him like he had already taken the shot.
“That’s not true; Dad would probably shoot me on sight and wait for the straight son; you both know I’m right.” There was a spiteful tone in his voice that stung like only the truth can.
“He would have come around, man…” I wish I could have said it with more confidence, but the words were more hollow than ever now.
“You don’t know that.”
“Fine; have your wedding later. All the more reason to end the ritual now— once and for all. At the rate technology is advancing, how much longer do you think we’ll be able to get away with this? Do you want the world to find out our entire family is a bunch of cannibals?!” I’d never heard Wendy argue with such conviction. She was determined to make us see it her way.
“I don’t know if I could really pull the trigger, anyway… I’ll go along with whatever you two decide…” It was the most honest thing I could have said; I’ve never been a leader, and I just couldn’t imagine doing this year after year… “Thank you! See, Josh? Avery gets it! Just think about having to commit murder year after year for the rest of your life. Think of all the work it is to maintain separate identities and travel around the country— just so you and Michael can be a little safer than the rest of us.” Wendy utilized her big, wide eyes and saddest voice, but Josh wasn’t ready to quit just yet.
“And how do you expect Dad to handle this news? Do you think there’s a line that a stubborn, old bastard won’t cross if it’s for the good of his legacy.”
“Yea, he’s a stubborn bastard, but what’s he really gonna do?! Especially if we stick together!” Wendy’s conviction only grew; she had clearly been thinking about this for some time.
“You mean besides torture us into compliance? He’s only left you alone because he had us— and now he still has Avery— but he wouldn’t just sit back and let it all end, Wendy!”
“Ok, fine then; we won’t say anything. You two can just do a really bad job at hunting him.”
“You’re such a child; he can barely move! Do you really expect him to believe we couldn’t find his sick ass?” Josh rubbed at his temples in an attempt to quell an oncoming headache.
“Make up your mind Josh! Is he a scary monster or a feeble old man? You can’t have it both ways!” She had a point, but her volume could have been lower.
Several minutes passed before Josh responded, “fine,” and went to bed noticeably angry.
“Maybe we should go to sleep too; this won’t end in a day, you know? Tomorrow will only be the beginning. It won’t take Dad long to get wise to what we’re doing, and— whatever his reaction— it won’t be fun.” I offered Wendy my hand, pulling her to her feet.
“I know, but it’s for the best; I understand how it made sense in the old days, but we can’t go on like this. We see it, and— though he may not be ready to like it— Josh sees it too. Dad might be a victim of his generation, and— whether that’s an excuse or not—we have to be better.” Sometimes it’s easy to forget my little sister is actually pretty smart. I knew she was right… It was just really hard to remember her eloquent phrasing while an Imp was creaming at me.
The next morning, Dad set off into the forest while I and my siblings secretly slept in…Or, so I thought… That’s before I was ever so rudely awoken by a large glass of cold water being dumped onto my head.
“Wake up you imbecile! Why are you new Hunters so damn determined to ruin me?!” A shrill voice screamed into my ear.
The next instant I was somehow on my feet, staring at a very short man dressed exactly like the Monopoly guy down to his monocle. Nod’s features were no longer deformed; he perfected his disguise over the centuries, and carried it rather proudly. “Well?! What do you think you’re doing?!” He stomped his foot impatiently, awaiting my answer.
It’s difficult to speak when you’ve just been awoken by an angry hell Imp drenching you with ice water, but I did my best. “I… We… Quit… I’m sorry…”
“This would have never happened with Diane’s kids…” Nod sounded every bit as old as he looked. Sinking into the nearby armchair, he removed a bottle of aspirin from his inside jacket pocket. After taking a generous amount, he added, “try again, kid,” in a much softer tone.
“Well, uh— sir— you see… My siblings and I have decided not to participate in this tradition any longer… And I apologize for any inconveniences that may cause on your end, but—”
“Then, can you tell me why your dear brother was gone at sunrise? Hmm?” The Imp blinked several times in quick succession; his patience clearly stretched thin…
“He… Wait; he what?!” My heart sank at his words, and I ran down the hall to confirm Josh’s room was empty.I couldn’t believe he was willing to cheat after what happened to Dad, but he later clarified that he didn’t see it as a deception. He genuinely meant it when he agreed to our sister’s plan… But then he chickened out at the last minute… “Yes, shocking… I know… But the question is what are you going to do about it, aye?”
For nearly 300 years, the creature hadn’t shown itself outside of a contract transfer, yet it was now in my room; surely that could mean only bad things, right? Well, it depends on your perspective. “I mean… He’s the better Hunter—” I was cut off before I could finish the thought.
“That idiot wouldn’t survive the first year, and your sister is a pansy! It has to be you!” The little man was back on his feet, pacing and flapping his arms about anxiously.
“Is this because he’s gay?” I didn’t understand why else he would be so opposed to Josh when my brother was the obvious choice.
“What?! Damn, you aren’t much smarter, are ya, boy? Well, no matter; I won’t let you brats ruin three centuries of hard work! Are you perfect? Not remotely. But you are my best option. I don’t know what this world is coming to; everyone is more concerned with their feelings than surviving… ‘Is it because he’s gay?’ Like I care what he does with his floppy little meat stick. You primates have one-track minds; it’s embarrassing!.”
“Ok, ok, geez! I’m sorry! I didn’t know that Imps were so progressive…”
“I don’t want your apology! I want you to kill your worthless father before that idiot finds him!” Nod suddenly began growing taller with each step, and his human mask fell away. He came to tower over me— his height now well above 7 feet— and he jabbed his bony, pointed finger into my chest a little harder with each word. “I have been impatiently waiting a very long time to be rid of your father, and I am at my limit with these games! So help me, I will skin each of you before I endure a single day of working with that— that man-child!”
“Isn’t that cheating? Are you allowed to do that?” I was still terrified, but— to an extent—the Imp clearly needed me, and that instilled enough courage to at least find my voice.
“You don’t want to talk to me about cheating, boy! You don’t want to talk to me about anything beyond the best way to reach your father before the idiot! Why are you still not clothed?!”
When he yelled, the entire room shook; I opened my mouth— though I have no memory of what I intended to say— and was consumed by images of my sweet Abigail lying dead in her crib. Kaylie stood over her, sobbing uncontrollably and screaming, “how could you do this to us?!” My heart shattered; I could barely remain on my feet, yet somehow I managed to dress and ready my rifle.
On my way out, I paused at Wendy’s door, listening for any movement, but the Imp quickly put such thoughts to rest. “Keep it moving! She won’t be awake for some time yet… Glare at me all you wish, just keep moving! You’re lucky she’s alive; she’s a whiner, that one… I Hate whiners…” Nod used his pinky to dig inside of his ear. When he removed it, the finger was covered with a green waxy substance that he studied with half-fascination, half-disgust before flicking it onto the floor…
Once outside he guided me straight to Dad’s hiding spot. As expected, he didn’t make it far; had Josh not been led astray by a false trail, he would have found him well before I had gotten out of bed.
The old man was hiding in the brush; I heard him before I saw him; no matter how well he hid, he couldn’t help those wheezing breaths. Nod had guided me towards his rear; I knew that the bastard wouldn’t hesitate to shoot at us, but— due to the situation between him and Josh— I worried he might be packing something heavier than rubber bullets.
I took great care to remain completely silent as I crept closer for a better vantage point. If I missed the first shot, we could very easily end up in a full-on gunfight— which would also reveal our position to Josh… That almost proved to be a fatal error…The extra few steps are what placed my left foot squarely into a bear-trap. I’ve never felt such instant, blinding pain… It didn’t feel like something clamping onto my ankle; it felt more like something snapped my leg off at the hip like we would snap a twig from a branch. I don’t remember screaming, but I remember stopping because a large, sticky, skeletal hand clamped itself over my mouth to result in the most putrid sensory experience of my life.
“Shut up! Shut up or I’ll cut your throat myself!” Though Nod was back to his normal size, his hand remained unusually large as he pressed it tighter against my face— all but cutting my airflow.
I gritted my teeth against the pain— and smell— to stifle my screams until the Imp disappeared entirely. That’s when I heard the footsteps and suddenly understood Nod’s urgency; they were almost on top of me, and I had dropped my gun. “Hey, please. Look, I’m sorry… Just… Please get it off, please! I can’t take it!” I had no clue if I was speaking to my father or my brother, and I didn’t care; I would have said or done anything to get that thing off of me.
“Avery?! Goddamn son! I’m glad it’s you, but I taught you better than this! You always, always look where you’re putting your feet, son! We don’t have time to get you out— not after the way you were screaming.” Dad knelt down and handed me my rifle; he had the biggest smile on his face, and a fresh wave of resentment washed over me.
“Pete’s sake, I thought you were your sister! Hey, you nearly got me with a heart-attack; that would’ve been a first, huh, partner!” He gave me a chummy shoulder slap with the last line and sent a fresh shock of pain coursing down my leg. It took everything I had not to cry.
“Dad… Please… I’m begging—” But that’s as far as I got.
“Son, I know it’s not fair to ask this of you so young, but you’re a father now, too; think of little Abby and the life she’ll have— that you and Kaylie will have with her.” He scooted back several feet to give me a clear shot.
“But Dad, I—”
“There’s no time! Josh is getting close; don’t you hear him?!”
I could, and he was indeed getting too close for comfort… With shaking hands I raised my weapon, but I was in too much pain to hold it steady. The sound of my brother’s approach only added to my anxiety until I felt as if I would simply faint. “Dad, I—” I tried once more, but, again, to no avail.
“Boy, you pull that goddamn trigger now! Do you hear me?! I’ll haunt you for the rest of your miserable life if you let that sissy boy fa—” bang! I didn’t consciously pull the trigger; I wasn’t even aware that I had stopped shaking… But my father’s head exploded into a fine pink mist that I still see every time I close my eyes. I used a larger caliber to ensure he wouldn’t suffer… I just didn’t expect it to be so— so graphic… I should have never been so close, either… The shock of it made me forget the pain for a few seconds, then the sound of Josh’s voice brought me crashing back to reality.
“Avery! Hey! Where are—” When he found our small thicket, he first laid eyes on the carnage that used to be our father, and several emotions flashed across his face in quick succession. Most prominent were the anger, rage, and grief… Then he turned towards me, and I watched as hatred gave way to surprise and something akin to pity. He clearly wanted to say something about my breaking our agreement, but— considering he had broken it first— there wasn’t much to discuss on the matter.
Instead, he simply said, “I can’t believe you stepped in a bear-trap… Dumbass.” Then he released the claws of death, and I told him about Nod’s visit while he wrapped my ankle. I left out a few details in favor of highlighting the threats against my daughter, but Josh didn’t have much to say in response. After pulling me to my feet, he said, “alright, you can stand, so I’ll leave you to it.” And just like that, he was gone…
“Hehehe, finally!” Nod immediately reappeared kneeling over my father— this time holding a large knife and pitchfork with thick strands of drool hanging from his chin. “Since it’s your first time, I won’t penalize you for the mess you made of my delicious brain, but it’s a delicacy; don’t let it happen again! Hehehe!”
This is the moment that I remembered what Dad had said about Grandpa’s Final Hunt, and he was right; the worst part was definitely butchering the corpse. Nod forced me to make every cut all by myself. “You have to learn now; this is the only time I’ll be here to instruct you. Besides, just think how easy it will be to skin a stranger after you’ve done it to your own father! Hahaha!”
Overall, it was by far the longest, hardest day of my life. When I returned to the lodge, Dad was nothing more than individually wrapped slabs of meat, I was covered in blood— plus fluids I didn’t care to identify— and every part of my body ached.
Josh and Wendy had both left; they can no longer participate in this particular family tradition, so I didn’t blame them… I’m sure I would have done the same, and their luck wouldn’t expire until December 1st, anyway. I was far more worried about myself at that moment; I still had to explain everything to Kaylie, and I honestly didn’t know how she would react.
When we discussed the different possible outcomes, the idea of me becoming a murderer seemed to upset her far more than the idea of enduring a bad-luck streak… But I also had to believe that was only because she didn’t consider our daughter’s death to be one of the consequences.
She initially took the news pretty hard, but, ultimately, she came around like I knew she would. We’ve also agreed not to have any more children. As long as our little girl pulls the trigger when the time comes, she’ll be set for life… And if she chooses to have more than one kid, well, I won’t be here to deal with the drama anyway…
Whew, can you believe we’re finally at the end? That may have been even longer than I expected… Let’s see, what else, though? Hmm… Of course Thanksgiving dinner went off without a hitch… There was even a moment that— from the corner of my eye, for just a second— I thought I saw Nod seated in his special chair… But it was probably my imagination…
The truth is, I was feeling much better towards the Imp by that point. My ankle was already healing faster than the doctors could explain, and I’d had ample time for my temper to cool… Plus— as horrid as it is to admit— that very well may have been the best meal I’ve ever tasted. Honestly, I feel like I was a bit of a drama queen about the whole ordeal.
Now that I’ve had time to really process my emotions and reflect on the events of that day, I’ve never felt more alive! In fact, I’ve already begun planning next year’s hunt. My boss called yesterday, and I’ve been given a generous promotion that comes with extra vacation time, so the world is my oyster… Well, maybe just the country. That’s probably not a hobby to take internationally given today’s customs security.
Please don’t mistake my excitement as heartless. I am all too aware that December will soon be upon us, and my concern for my siblings grows with each passing hour. I have offered my support in every way I know how, but they still aren’t ready to speak with me— which is fine; I’ll be here when they are… I only hope that time isn’t brought about by tragedy…
Well, friends, I suppose that’s it! I can’t thank you enough for listening. Mine is a heavy secret to bear, yet you’ve made it a little lighter. May you all be blessed with the Luck of Nod this Holiday season!
Credit: Page Turner
Please Note the Author of this Creepypasta does NOT give permission for it to be used for any podcasts or narrations
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