* a continuation of The Blinking Moon
Typically, a Beretta 391 makes its wielder feel powerful and safe. Typically, however, the wielder is the hunter. Not tonight.
The sun set over an hour ago and now twilight is fading into black. There's no moon tonight and he curses his timing. He had noticed the new moon symbol on the calendar before he left to come here, but was incensed from the local sheriff's decision to stop the search for his sister and her boyfriend. Even if he weren't, he's not sure if he'd have noticed the significance, anyway. But now, with three of his four rounds already fired from his 12-gauge and his ammunition box floating somewhere down a river - along with the rest of his pack - he's more than aware that he can't see. He can occasionally make out the silhouettes of the top of the trees, but most of the forest is too thick to navigate reliably via the stars. There was a brief consideration of staying put and walking out in the morning, but whatever is hunting him is clearly maneuvering him deeper into the woods.
Had he more ammunition, he'd fight such a manipulation. But he doesn't. And now he can't see.
He can, however, hear it growling. It seems to know the forest well, so well that it knows when sounds will bounce off of slight elevations in the terrain, almost random rock formations, and thickenings in the woods, making tracking by ear impossible. This is no surprise to him. Why wouldn't it, after all? This is its home. The old cliché applies here: the man is alien and intruder.
The river, he knows, is somewhere behind him. That he can barely hear the rushing water is good news. Without the ability to safely cross the rapids, the river is nothing more than a wall to be backed in to, and with one round left, being cornered is not something that appeals.
An owl somewhere reminds him that he's going to die.
All Hunting Permits Are Revoked Until Further Notice. The sign was hastily scrawled, probably by some young deputy whose usual job is answering telephones at the sheriff's station. It was placed underneath a professional sign that read No Hunting. One of those flip signs that forest rangers would drive around and open up when the season started.
His sister and her boyfriend had gone camping the week before hunting season would officially open. She was a bit of a nature lover and it was theorized that she might have confronted an early hunter, and such confrontation had turned ugly. But the blood and tissue that was found at her campsite suggested something else. A bear, maybe, or a mountain lion. Still, though local law enforcement has yet to release their findings publicly, something about the way they tried to describe the scene to him hinted that this was no animal, either.
He felt that they were being honest with him and was fine - as fine as he could have been - with letting the sheriff handle the search. But their cancellation of it changed his mind.
Sneaking past the rangers and the deputies was easy. There is just way too much land for a small sheriff's department and an even smaller forestry service detachment to cordon off. Finding the camp site had been easy, too. Investigators and rescuers had tramped their way to the tent and back out again. Plenty of foliage had been broken and stomped through. Indeed, finding the trail of the animal that might not be an animal was just as easy. Easier, probably. It had left sign everywhere.
It never even occurred to him that whatever it is had done so on purpose.
Its growl is terrifying. He's heard similar creatures, including wolves, but one can typically follow a wolf growl as it encircles a position. This one goes silent and reappears elsewhere, often behind him. There's been a few times that he swears he heard it coming from the trees above. Only a few hours ago, such a notion would have been silly to him, but now he's not so sure. He's not sure of anything. Including the wind.
Is it moving branches? Or is that a gentle breeze?
Were there more light he could've seen the shadow move, as innocuous or malicious at it is, but he's blind. There's only the sound of the shotgun blast. Then nothing, save an owl. The same one?
Another hoot again reminds him that he's going to die. He can only hope that the thing doesn't know his gun is empty.
Had he not succumbed to a heart attack in the middle of the night, he'd have discovered that he hit it. And that it isn't the only one out there. Had he made it back to his truck and checked his voicemail, he'd have learned that his other sister is on her way out to the woods. And is unarmed.
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