With Illustration by Jenny Mure
For one day every year, the trophy hunters from all across Urph would gather for a competition. It was an excuse to show off their prowess and earn some modest recognition along the way. Every year Wilma would come last.
It was the same year in and year out, twenty hours with naught but a single weapon and the clothes on one’s back to slay the most fearsome beast one could find and return with evidence of the kill. It was a test that required focus, to find and follow tracks in the earth; insight, to know where the creature may go next or where they might sleep or rest; and patience, to be able to hold still and wait for the perfect opportunity to make the kill. Wilma had the first two down, however she severely lacked the third. Her repeated failure had earned the huntress the unfortunate nickname ‘Bloodless’ which referred to the cleanly state her sword would always return in.
But this year the rules were to be changed, and Wilma saw an opportunity to rise in the ranks. For the first time in the contest, each hunter must declare which type of beast they are intending to slay. If they were to return with anything else, even something fiercer than what they first announced, they would instantly lose.
‘I will claim a cyclops,’ declared the first. ‘I will pluck its eye out like a grape by the end of my spear.’
‘I will claim a chimera,’ declared the second. ‘For I shall have three new heads to mount upon my wall.’
‘I will claim a sphinx,’ declared the third. ‘And I will cut its throat rather than answer to its riddle.’
Finally, all eyes turned to Wilma.
‘And what would you hunt bloodless?’
‘I shall claim a snail,’ she declared. ‘For I rather fancy my chances in the endeavour.' (Or, at the very least, she fancied them more than theirs.)
With the claims named and written, each of the hunters fled to the woods. All except Wilma, of course, who instead turned her attention to a dead and rain-dampened stump. It didn’t take long to find her prey; a silver slip of ooze left an easier trail to follow than any hoof or claw.
‘There shall be no long fruitless hours in a thicket or up a tree this time’ she smiled as she plucked the creature from its hole. She held it aloft as it shrivelled within itself, admiring the unusual glamourous sheen to its shell while it was still in one piece.
‘Wait’ came a voice, ‘before you make your kill, perhaps you would hear an offering?’
Wilma stepped back in confusion. She could not understand where the voice had come from. All the other hunters had already gone. The only living thing within speaking range was the...
‘I am no ordinary snail. I can grant you a single wish, anything you like, but only if you don’t squish me.’
Of course there had to be a spanner thrown into her plan. She’d never trusted witches or other such beings who promised they could fulfil wishes, often they had no such powers at all. She didn’t have enough experience with snails to judge whether they were trustworthy or not, however this snail could speak, which probably meant it had some sort of power.
‘What manner of thing could I wish for?’ asked Wilma.
‘Whatever your heart desires, I can make it so. But only one, as I have not the power for anything more…’
Wilma’s mind raced. She could stop them calling her Bloodless, or better: punish them when they did…
‘…you could wish for great strength, or formidable wisdom…’
…she could wish for the body of a dragon to appear and win the tournament. She could wish to win every tournament…
‘…perhaps immortality, or invulnerability…’
…maybe wishing to be the best hunter on Urph could be a good way to go about it. That’d put a damper to their smug little faces…
‘…one wish and you could have all the money in the world. You could wish for someone’s health to be restored who rests on death’s door…’
…money wouldn’t hurt. Wait, no. Money wouldn’t help her show off to the other hunters, they admired skill, not wealth…
‘…you could reverse death. A soul passed away could return with just a simple wish…’
…alas, that would be funny. She could just imagine how startled they would be when their kills suddenly got up again and walked off. But she still wouldn’t win, that wouldn’t help at all!…
‘…you could wish for- ’
‘Oh, I do wish you’d just shut up and let me think!’ yelled Wilma.
The snail never spoke again, not even to scream as it was crushed under the bitter huntress’ boot.