When Orion Hunts

The full moon hung heavy over the water, its orange belly fat with the harvest. Irene had looked forward to this all day, her nightly ritual, the one that had started by accident on that first May night as she had rowed across to the Evergreens. Back then her arms had been too weak to get her there and her shoulders had ached in their joints, so she had secured the oars in their locks and leaned back into the prow of the wooden dingy, letting the boat drift. She had charted the stars spinning overhead—Cygnus, Virago, the Ursas, Orion chasing them, bow drawn. She had tracked the moon as it swelled and ebbed across the months, pulling the earth’s waters this way and that. By July, she had learned to trace her own humors and flows by the moon’s stately course, its pregnant body leading her spinster frame. Or, she had looked up at the opaque lid of a summer rainstorm. She had let the boat rock in the thunderstorm that had descended upon her Tennessee Valley until her stomach drove her to shore.

Some nights, she tried to remember what the sky here had looked like a scant decade before when she had come for her grandmother’s memorial. That, of course, was before the dam was built and the fields flooded. Now, the town was wired and lit and popped into the twentieth century. Were the stars still as bright now that an ombre glow lit the eastern ridge?

On this October night, she needed to wipe clean the piddling concerns of the store and stock room. She hoped disappear again into the swirl of sky where heaven and nature met.

It was the smell that stopped her. The scent of burned flesh made her turn around, pause with one leg still on land. It lingered on the crisp air, acrid and sulfurous. Underneath it now, she could smell the smoke, heavy and musty like a bonfire smothered in wet leaves and left to age. Behind her, the moon sparked on the water. She nudged the boat back to shore.

She could probably have reached the bricked chimneys in the dark without scuffing her Oxfords. Over these last few months, she’d memorized the wooded path to the forge, to where Peter waited with a picnic spread on a thick blanket, his dog collar and jacket tossed over a branch. He always looked up when she entered the clearing and said, “You came!” as though surprised to see her.

Tonight, though, the familiar forest felt suddenly eerie. She retrieved her Eveready lantern, glad she had changed its battery. She trudged up the mud bank, following the small circle of light. A breeze skittered through her. She wrapped her cabled sweater tighter and wedged the light into the crook of her crossed arms. She stepped into the clearing around the forge.

In her favorite books, the heroines always gasped or fainted when they were surprised or terrified or thrown into a reality so incomprehensible and horrific. But Irene just froze, stared at the half-naked man above her.

His back was to her. He was suspended over the dying embers. His bare feet dangled where the fire once licked. Dark trousers hung off his narrow hips. Her sphere of light caught on his bare shoulders and back, now torn bloody as though he had been caught in a bear’s raking embrace. The thick rope ringed his neck, pushed his head painfully, inexorably to the left. A clean snap at the end, then.

The wind caught him, rotating him slowly. She saw the crotch of his trousers was saturated with blood. Then the tattooed snake curling around his left pec, tongue flickering toward his heart.

Irene fell to her knees. The light dropped. Rolled. She wanted to look for the ink stain along his left index finger. She wanted to see that mark of papers read and graded, letters written, pamphlets drafted. She wanted to confirm that it was him. But she couldn’t raise her head.

Eventually the noises of the forest found her. A shifting in the downed leaves. The creak of empty branches. She couldn’t be found there, kneeling and still. She couldn’t be known as a witness, not when she was horrified rather than jubilant at this vigilantism.

Her legs didn’t work. She fell forward and crawled, out of the clearing and off the path, into the covering darkness.

The one thing that she would never confess, not even to herself when she thought back over this night, was that she got back into her boat, planning to row for home. She first cast off into the splintered moonlight for the safety of the Evergreens and its cracked Corinthian columns, the safety of the island where her grandmother rotted beneath a carved obelisk just up the hillside.


Violet eased the screen door shut, careful not to let it slam behind her. A useless habit tonight. There was no one in her cottage. James wasn’t snoring in their bedroom, safe and tucked away from the world. He was out, again, as he had been for too many nights recently.

She knew her momma and sisters and girl cousins were whispering when she wasn’t in the room. Not that she thought he was actually running around on her. His hands still felt a hair too grasping, wanting, hungry when they touched her. But he wouldn’t stop his nightly work—not for her, not for the children—not even if she begged him. It was time to use that last weapon in her arsenal, even if it made her feel foolish and dirty. She was going to have to make him think she’d leave him and go back to Harlem. Because the men were talking, too, stopping their whispers when she walked in the room. Their words scared her more. She sent the kids to her mother’s, took a nip and pieced together tonight’s costume: robe, scarf, slippers.

10 thoughts on “When Orion Hunts

  1. Nicole L Ochoa says:

    I like the title, it drew me in immediately. I think the meat of the story starts when she smells the burnt flesh, that could probably be moved to earlier in the story, maybe the third or fourth sentence, then as she walks toward the body have her think about the stars and moon. I’m a little confused about when the second chapter is set, is it before or after the finding of the body, but that might be explained further on.

  2. Gerry Gainford says:

    It starts off quite slowly and then it gets to the finding the body and this is well written and draws me in. Then she just leaves and I’m wondering what happened? There’s not enough to keep me reading to find out what happened, so if there was more on that scene and less of a build up I think I would be hooked.

  3. Joy Perino says:

    It’s an engaging read, and the characters intriguing. I liked the descriptions of the place, of the water and the coming of electricity. I was jolted though by the stepping into the story – it didn’t step in smoothly. You start off with her in the boat, then talk about her having one leg still on land. It made me rewind to check if i’d missed where she was. Then she nudges the boat back to shore, with one leg in it. Confusing.

    The inconsistencies, and the odd missing word, threw me a little, but it was an interesting beginning.

  4. Tayci says:

    The writing is good.

    I’m not sure how she knows its burning flesh and why she would go to investigate it. I’m also not sure why you mention the brick chimneys if thats not where she’s going. She was planning on going out on the lake right and the body isn’t at the chimneys?

    Also why would she not want to be found with the body? Is she a suspect or been found with one before? Is it because of the person it is?

    Besides that I liked the start of the second chapter and the descriptions.

  5. Alex Zaykov says:

    The title is catchy and the beginning is good. I think the reader needs to know more about the dead man. Judging from the “vigilantism”, he was obviously a bad one, but in order to relate to her feelings we need to know more. Did she know him personally? Did he hurt her in the past?
    Regarding the language, I think it flows well, but while some expressions sound fancy, I can’t figure out exactly what they mean: “splintered moonlight”, “its pregnant body leading her spinster frame”.
    The second part confused me and I couldn’t figure out when was this happening, how it is related to the first part, who James was, etc.
    Good luck!

  6. Jack says:

    Everyone has said this but it bears repeating: great title. I’m curious to see how it ties together the story as a whole. I would definitely read on but there are a couple things that I think need to be looked over. First is that the identy of dead man should probably be explained, or at least alluded to more explicitly. The only description available is that he seemed to be some sort of teacher, and possibly a bad guy. Thus, I found that I didn’t really experience any emotional reaction from the fact that he was dead. Also your voice is good and flows well, but sometimes it lacks uniformity. The voice used in the lines “Irene fell to her knees. The light dropped. Rolled.” seemed somewhat out of place to me because the rest of your writting is more descriptive. Lastly, in the lines “She wanted to look for the ink stain along his left index finger. She wanted to see that mark of paper…….horrified rather than jubilant at this vigilantism.” you start 5/8 sentences with the word ‘she’ and it reads awkwardly.

    All in all I would read on! it looks very promising.

  7. Jryan says:

    Interesting introduction! I formed my opinion before reading the comments and found my ideas echoed the ones already expressed.
    Beautiful language. You obviously have a grasp on how to manipulate words to evoke the feeling you want. To improve: tighten those inconsistencies. One reader commented on the chimneys and another on the one foot in the boat. I would add the disdain she had for heroines who faint… And then she drops to her knees. Even though there’s a paragraph between those two, we have to assume she drops fairly immediately. That she couldn’t raise her head confused me too. Didn’t she just look at the body in detail? I also think you should give a tiny bit more detail about her relationship to the man? Is he the one she meets here regularly? Is it a romantic relationship? Why would vigilantes want him brutally or ritualistically murdered? On the other hand, I want to know more. So I would keep reading! Well done.

  8. Gentle Reader says:

    The title of your piece is interesting. I’m sorry to say that I the writing needs some work.

    1. “Irene had looked forward to this all day, her nightly ritual, the one that had started by accident on that first May night as she had rowed across to the Evergreens.”

    This sentence is awkward as written with the “had looked”, “had started”, and “had rowed.”

    2. “Back then her arms had been too weak to get her there and her shoulders had ached in their joints, so she had secured the oars in their locks and leaned back into the prow of the wooden dingy, letting the boat drift.”

    This sentence is long and cumbersome. Read about how to use the word “so” here: (http://www.grammaruntied.com/blog/?p=894).

    3. Too many sentences in your first paragraph begin with “She had…”


    “She had charted the stars…”
    “She had tracked the moon…”
    “She had let the boat rock…”

    And some other sentences with “she had” near the beginning:

    “By July, she had learned…”
    “Or, she had looked up at the opaque…”

    Writing with varied sentence structure will make your writing more interesting.

    4. “Underneath it now, she could smell the smoke, heavy and musty like a bonfire smothered in wet leaves and left to age.”

    In order to have a closer POV and allow the reader to get more into the character’s head, eliminate using phrases like “she could smell.” Every time you use the word “she,” you pull the character out of the story. Instead, say something like:

    The smoke, heavy and musty like a bonfire smothered in wet leaves, filled the air. (The wording can be whatever you want, but the idea is to get rid of the word “she” in the sentence.)

    Think about this every time that you write.

    5. “Behind her, the moon sparked on the water.”

    What? Perhaps you meant to say “sparkled” here.

    However, if it is behind her, you shouldn’t be describing it. Remember you want to be in your character’s head.

    And, don’t forget the famous Chekhov quote:

    “Don’t tell me the moon is shining; show me the glint of light on broken glass.” — Anton Chekhov

    Ok, I think that’s enough to say for one day. Please don’t be discouraged by all of these notes. I only took the time to write all of this, because I want your story to be the best it can be. Revisions are just part of the writing process.

    Keep writing, and best of luck!

  9. Gentle Reader says:

    Oops. There’s no way to to edit.

    “I’m sorry to say that I the writing” should read “I’m sorry to say I feel the writing”

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