The Hunter: by David Case
The Hunter is probably David Case's great story of record. In it he demonstrates how men make beasts of themselves: it is not that they are defying their nature; it is, perhaps, that they are giving way to it.
Beginning with a series of terrifying killings in a remote part of rural England, which leaves the local constabulary baffled, the story switches to a Gentlemen's Club in London, where a retired big game hunter laments the company he keeps. Weatherby is the sort of man for whom civilisation is a retirement, a well-earned rest. His quiet life is not at all jaded because his life has been unquiet. His past permits him the luxury of a drink and a pipe because it so often placed those pleasures in doubt; those around him have no such claim to make and so are jaded by lack of doubt, by lack of danger. He is unsurprised when the police seek his help in catching the murderer, whom they now believe to be a wild beast rather than a man. Weatherby accepts the charge, not in the spirit of a last hurrah, but as a favour to his past, which has given him a splendid retirement.
The case is not straight-forward. Weatherby's calculation of tracks suggests two beasts at work, or one beast that transforms into another while in pursuit of its prey. This leads to panic as the press speculate about a Werwolf. People withdraw to their homes as the police roam the area in an increasingly desperate cordon. A killing indoors suggests no-one is safe. Weatherby obsessively stalks the fields and lanes, convinced he is being watched and stalked in turn. He is painfully aware of a fact that the police seem unwilling to act upon - that at the centre of the killing zone stands the stately home of another hunter: Bryon. Weatherby and Byron have history. They have a past. And it is that past which now erupts into the gentle countryside of England, as Byron becomes a murder suspect in Weatherby's mind, and Byron baits Weatherby about his retirement, which he insists has not been earned as Weatherby is a man of all reasonable precaution. Hunt without harness, advises Byron, stalk with only one bullet and the beast will show itself to you... a sporting stalk.
The Hunter is in some ways an academic exercise - two old hunters, re-fighting past campaigns, pitting two different philosophies of gamesmanship against each other for old times' sake. But the games are played out by spending other people's lives; and it is here that the story is most affecting - because Case writes superbly about people. There are no incidental lives to be lost in The Hunter - a fact that is lost to Byron, but not to Weatherby. Their final duel pits a force of nature against a force of human nature.
The Hunter is contained, or to be found rather, in the Twelfth Pan Book of Horror Stories, where it accounts for 82 out of 190 pages.