Emma finds another dead sheep Thursday morning, bringing the total to seven. She stares at the eviscerated carcass, still steaming in the dawn chill.

“Wolves,” the sheriff said the first time. “Ranching ain’t a picnic, ma’am. Get a gun if you’re set on stayin’.”

She heard him perfectly: you aren’t welcome here.

After the third, she stopped calling. There is no wolf. Wolves never leave a kill torn open but uneaten. Plus, the scene always looks unnaturally tidy–no paw prints, no stray drops of blood. This is a warning.

A threat.

Gooseflesh prickles her neck. She’s being watched. Furtively scanning the misty woods, Emma drags the sheep into the barn, then finishes her chores. Cows need milking even with death at her door. She maintains her calm facade as she ambles back to her cottage, but her heart pounds unsteadily, a moth at a lightbulb. On the porch, she makes a show of kicking off her boots. Her message: I’m alone; I’m vulnerable. Come get me.

Inside, she pads down the hall, searching her coat pockets for her keys, then unlocks the cellar and scoots down the stairs. From her new security system, Emma watches her neighbor sidling closer. She knew it. He’d turned feral the moment she rejected his offer to buy her dinner, whispering poison behind her back ever since.

As he reaches the front door, he pauses to pull out his knife.

He still thinks he’s hunting sheep.

She smiles grimly, loading her pistol.

How adorable.

Written in January 2023 for the second round of NYC Midnight’s 250-word Micro Fiction Challenge 2022. Hunted won first place in its group, winning me a spot in the finals (announcements due in April 2023). You can read my first round story here and my final round story here. Read more Newsletter Exclusives here.