Excerpt

The Cougar’s first memory was of meat. She and her sister had just begun to notice their mother’s absence when one day she returned clutching a leg of deer in her mouth, the flesh bright and bloody, the hoof smeared with mud. The Cougar and her sister sat in rapt silence as they watched their mother, paws clutching the disembodied leg as she stripped the meat from the bone, rasping it clean with her tongue, the white fur around her mouth becoming stained with blood.

It was not long after that they left their lair for the first time. The Cougar and her sister followed their mother along the lakeside, through tall grass. Molten clouds hung above the horizon where the sun had made its descent. A dampness crept into the air as darkness cooled the forest. The cubs stayed close to their mother as she led them through the shadowed trees.

The Cougar was amazed by her own ability to see into the dark, as if everything produced its own light. Aside from this distracting power of sight, she did not understand the many sounds coming from all around her. She tried to pinpoint a single source, but there was too much at once and she became afraid. The Cougar stopped and yowled, but her mother continued on, calling for her to come.

They followed a path worn into the forest floor, a sheer rock face at their side. The air was damp. Ahead she heard the sound of crickets. The rock came to an end and they were at the edge of a thicket of dense bush. The Cougar smelled it on the air, then she saw the deer on the ground, looking as if it had merely laid down to rest. She saw the set of antlers like branches sprouting from its head. Its body was enormous. The Cougar herself was barely the size of its rump. She believed her mother must possess great skill and cunning if she could convince such an animal to lay down its life for her.

But when the Cougar and her sister stood before the deer they saw the nature of its death; its head thrown back, its neck ripped open, shredded tubular matter glistening in the moonlight. The Cougar knew then it had not been as simple as commanding the deer to lie down. There was something dangerous about this exchange and she was struck with a sense of awe at the strength and mastery this would require.

Their mother stood waiting, watching into the trees as the cubs ate quietly, distracted by the sounds in the surrounding night, their ears twitching at every snap and skitter in the dark. It was difficult to apply focus in such chaos. But their mother stood by, unmoved. It seemed she was not afraid.

When the Cougar and her sister had eaten their fill, their mother began scraping up dirt and twigs to cover the deer. She retrieved a fallen branch from nearby, its dried leaves rattling as she dragged it over. The Cougar and her sister watched, taking note of this strange ritual. In the end, the deer was not completely covered, but it seemed the point was not to bury it, only to mark it as claimed.

They walked along the lakeshore on their way back to the lair, the half-moon reflected on the surface of the water. An owl hooted as the cougars passed. The Cougar’s Mother turned, looking toward the trees where the owl perched on a branch. The Cougar looked into the trees, trying to see the owl, but she could not find it. She was displeased that the owl could see her but she could not see it, that it would call out, alerting others to their presence, and she decided then that birds were not to her liking.

Description

In the tradition of Life of Pi by Yann Martel and The Bear by Claire Cameron, The Hunter and the Old Woman is a breathtaking debut novel told through the voices of Cougar and Man, two creatures utterly alien from one another in mind but united in their shared destiny.