Estimated reading time — 26 minutes
“Relax, son. Close one eye and keep focused on your target,” my father spoke calmly from behind me. I tried to do as he said, letting my muscles relax. One eye closed, ending the double vision I had from having the rifle’s sight so close to my gaze.
“That’s good,” he continued. “Now, when you’re ready, hold your breath. Don’t hold it for too long or you’re gonna start shaking. Just enough. Then, slowly squeeze the trigger down. Like you’re milking a cow.”
I had to chuckle at that.
“Dad, I’ve never milked a cow before,” I spoke as I glanced up at him. He furrowed a brow and adjusted the baseball cap on his head.
“Well, that’s how my dad described it to me. You know what I mean.”
I smiled a bit and shook my head. It wasn’t the first time my dad described how to shoot to me. Or the second. Or even the third. He tended to repeat himself sometimes. I didn’t mind though. I looked back to the target through the sight and concentrated. I still took everything he said in. I relaxed, letting muscles loosen enough. I shut one eye, focusing on that bull’s-eye down at the end of the barrel. My breath held in my throat and, slowly, I squeezed the trigger down.
The rifle jumped in my hands, jerking heavily as it bounced back. My head jerked backward a bit, uneasy of the weapon as it leapt up. I was still a bit nervous since the last time I went to the range and the scope smacked me in my eye, bruising and cutting the brow.
I couldn’t see from where we stood at the shooting range station, but I felt good about the shot. My dad leaned in to the spotting scope we had set up and looked through it. A small nod and I saw his lips curl into a smile.
“Not bad. Take a look.”
I rose up and shift to look through the scope myself. It took a bit of a moment to focus through it before I could see the small, black hole in the target down at the other end of the range. It wasn’t a bull’s-eye being just a bit high and to the left of the center.
My dad nodded and placed a hand on my shoulder.
“If that was a deer, it’d be a clean hit.” I smiled at his words and turned back to him.
“You think I actually have a shot at hitting something this weekend?” He shrugged his shoulders and then let out a breath.
“It’s possible.” He said. “We’ll sure as hell try. Now, see if you can actually hit the bull’s-eye this time.”
I chuckled and shook my head. And back to the station I went. I lift the rifle up and focused again. Maybe, with a bit of luck, we might come back with something on this hunting trip. That’d be a change.
* * * * * *
I haven’t shot since that day at the rifle range. I wasn’t too worried though. Apparently, I was a pretty decent shot. No bull’s-eyes, but hey, close enough really. And I was getting used to the .300 short-mag Browning rifles my dad got for us to use. They packed a hell of a kick but with the padded stocks and a firm grips, you could keep them under control.
My dad had been planning this trip for a while and got the two Brownings specifically for it. The plan was that my dad, my Uncle John, and I John would head up to this out-in-the-middle-of-nowhere place where my dad used to deer hunt with his father and do the same for the weekend. To be honest, I wasn’t really big on the whole outdoors thing. It meant being too hot in the day, too cold at night, bugs everywhere, and a constant overwhelming feeling of needing a shower. However, I wanted to do it for my dad.
My father, Fred, wasn’t doing all that hot. Recently, he had cancer and a severe case of vasculitis. It really knocked him down a few notches. A couple of years ago, I remembered a strong and fearless man who could make someone back down with a hard stare. Now, he was immensely different. A lot a skinnier and he had the look of a man who had stared real death in the face. It rattled him. And made me realize that I may not have as much time as I thought with this man. Probably what my uncle was thinking as well.
John wasn’t my dad’s brother but my mom’s. He was a bit more the city type, like me. He taught at one of the local high schools and delved into a number of random hobbies. Lately, it had been photography. Even as we drove up, I could see that he had the fancy new Nikon DSLR camera set about his neck on the strap. We brought three guns with us: the two Brownings and my dad’s old .30-30 rifle, but we didn’t expect John to shoot anything unless it was with his camera. I figured the only real reason my dad brought along his .30-30 was because of the nostalgia rather than for all of us to shoot. It was the gun he used with his father and he kept it like it was brand new.
Even with the proper care and maintenance, it was still old. And the new Brownings were much more solid. He even got them set up with brand new scopes and shoulder straps. The works. If a deer came across our path, we’d have the gear to take it down.
We arrived at our hunting ground in the afternoon. It was a few hours from where we lived and then another hour driving along a dirt and gravel road. That was the most boring. The car couldn’t go more than fifteen miles per hour on the road with all the bumps and dips. Finally, we reached out spot, which turned out to be a bit of a clearing in the middle of a large group of trees. I don’t remember the exact location just that it took quite a ways to get there.
We set our camp up, just a large single tent for the three of us, and unpacked some of our gear. John had made sure to grab some of that nice camping cook gear and my dad had pre-cooked some ribs and chicken that we’d just have to warm up. The first thing we did after setting up was eat.
“So, Fred,” John began as we munched on some ribs. “What are the odds of getting a deer out here?”
“As good as anyone else’s.” My dad shrugged. There was a bit of a pause before John spoke again.
“Let’s say we get a deer. Then what do we do then?” John quirked a brow as he focused on my dad. It seemed an innocent question but I knew where it was going. The question meant, if we got a deer, how did we plan on taking care of that heavy thing in the middle of the brush? Or, more specifically, how did my dad plan on taking care of it. John’s a good guy but he might’ve been overly concerned for my dad. My dad lost a lot of his strength in the hospital, but he wasn’t feeble yet. And Dad hated it when people thought he was.
“We’ll lug it up and carry it back here.” He spoke shortly, a bit of annoyance slipping into his voice. “David can handle it. Right, son?” He asked me with a bit of a smile. I returned it with one of my own and nodded.
“Yeah, I can take care of it. I’m stronger than I look.” My dad’s smile grew and John shrugged his shoulders.
We finished soon after and the sun was starting to show the first signs of beginning to sink down toward the horizon.
“You know, we’ll have a couple of hours before it gets dark,” Dad said as he gazed up at the sky. “You want to take a bit of a walk and see if we get lucky?”
“Sure,” I replied quickly. “Why not?” John nodded in agreement and, soon, the three of us were trudging off into the trees.
Only Dad and I carried our guns, both of us wielding brand new Brownings. John was content just having his camera. Dad moved on through the thin path, leading the way as he seemed to recall memories of himself and his father. I trudged along behind him, my rifle slung about my shoulder. John had the rear, his hands lingering near his camera. Every once in a while, I’d hear a soft click as he’d shoot a picture of some sort of eye-catching scenery while we walked.
We didn’t find much. No deer and, hell, we didn’t even see any animals except random birds and the hordes of bugs. I was starting to get tired and my legs began to hurt. It had been a long day and I wanted nothing more than to go sit down and relax a bit before conking out. The cold started to set in as the sun sunk lower, nipping at me even through my jacket. Dad pushed on before he stopped and bent down.
“Find something?” I asked as John and I both came up and looked down at the ground. My dad pointed out something in the soft dirt. A set of cloven tracks pressed on through the dirt, running along the path for a bit.
“Deer tracks.” He smiled a bit and rose, carefully moving to follow them along the path. “They go along here and then…” He trailed off as he furrowed a brow and crouched back down to the ground.
“Then?” I asked as John and I approached. Dad, once again, pointed to the ground. We could see what he was looking at. The prints suddenly shift and seemed to move toward the forest, off the path. But that’s not what was unusual. There were two more footprints in the dirt next to the deer’s and pointed in the direction the deer ran off in.
“That a bear?” John asked my dad while he focused on those two prints in the earth. I thought they might be from a bear myself, but they looked… odd. My dad noticed it too. Bear prints have a distinct shape where the paw lands in the dirt with five toes though you might miss the little one depending on how the bear was moving. These prints had only three toes and an elongated print where the base of the paw fell. And the claw marks above those three toes dug deep into the ground. It almost seemed like if you gave a person three toes instead of five and threw on some thick, deadly claws that he’d make this footprint. And the size of them didn’t make me feel all that comfortable looking at them.
“Not the right shape.” Dad finally spoke as he stood. “And it’s not a mountain lion either. Hm…”
“Bigfoot?” I asked with a bit of a nervous chuckle. I tried to lighten the darkening mood.
“Well, they say he could be out here,” Dad remarked with a bit of a grin though I could tell he was only joking back with me to raise the mood as well. All three of us could feel it. An uneasiness that was starting to set in. A chill ran through me as I stared at those prints and not from the cold.
“Maybe we should call it a day. Before it gets too dark,” John suggested. Nobody argued. We turned and began to move back down the path. I kept a hand on the shoulder strap of the rifle, ready to slip it off if I needed to. I noticed Dad was doing the same.
We didn’t say much when we got back. John started a fire before it got too dark and the three of us sat around it for a little while as night fell. It actually seemed rather peaceful. I could hear the light chirps of crickets in the woods and even the flutter of some night-time bird flying by. Light banter began to start up again and we found ourselves forgetting about those weird prints. John and my dad spoke about random things like the shows they watched on TV or the memories my dad had of this area. I sat back and just relaxed. Even though I was a city-boy, it was nice to get out with my family. I could tell my dad was enjoying himself. He seemed fuller, much more alive. Maybe the memories of good times were helping him recover. I hoped that making some more helped him too.
We went to bed not long after that. John put out the fire and the dark night fell over the camp, only the stars and moon shedding enough light for us to get comfortable in the tent.
As I drifted off to sleep in my sleeping bag I noticed one thing though. Maybe I was just too tired to really care or my mind forced me to ignore it but it seemed strange when the sounds of the forest seemed to stop. The crickets ended their song and the shifting of hidden, nocturnal animals ended. I could feel a familiar uneasiness building back up in my stomach as sleep claimed me. The same feeling I had when we all gazed upon those strangely shaped tracks with claws that seemed to sink deep into the earth below.
I woke up from a dreamless sleep to a smell that flew in and hit me right in my core.
I rose from my sleeping bag, slipped on a new set of clothes, and moved outside of the tent. John stood at the camping fryer he got, frying up a fresh batch of bacon while my dad double-checked the guns, making sure they were ready for today’s trek.
“Morning, David!” John spoke with a grin as he held up the pan. “Almost done here. Got some eggs, too.” Oh, bacon and eggs in the woods. I wasn’t complaining.
We ate breakfast happily, joking around a bit and fantasizing about all the different ways we were going to cook the deer we were sure to nab on this trip. Last night’s weirdness was completely forgotten.
After breakfast, we cleaned up and Dad handed me one of the Brownings.
“You ready for this, son?” he asked with a bit of a smile. I nodded and took the rifle before slinging it over my shoulder.
“Oh, yeah. Be good to get an early start this time too.”
Both father and son readied their weapons as John made sure that his camera was fully set for the day. He even snapped a photo of the two us, grinning at the camera. I felt good.
It had been a while since my father and I had gotten a chance to really do something together. The time in the hospital had been long and stressful. I still remember walking into his room, seeing him hooked up to all those machines with this look that screamed “help me” but I couldn’t do a damn thing. And before that, we’ve had a bit of a rough patch. Just stupid years of me being a dumb teenager leading up into being a dumb young adult. Now, I felt closer to him than ever. I felt like we were building up the family again. I’ll never forget that feeling.
Then we strode off into the wild, Dad on point and John taking up our rear. We moved along the path again, our eyes peeled for anything moving in the woods and ears listening for just the slightest sound.
Overall, it was a quiet morning that led into a quiet afternoon. We walked and moved, climbing over fallen trees that obscured the path or slipping through overgrown areas where the plants worked to reclaim areas that man and animal (mostly animal) trudged through. I’ll admit, I was starting to get bored and tired. You can only walk so long and not see anything before you get a bit dispirited. Dad didn’t show any signs of exhaustion though. Even after getting out of the hospital this soon, he moved like he had a purpose. I figured we’d eventually come across a tree a bit too large or an overgrown patch a bit too thick but he moved on through without a word of complaint.
It turned out to be worth it all.
We stopped as my dad held up a hand, both John and I halting in awkward poses as we immediately put our feet down mid-walk. In the distance, it took me a moment to see what he was looking at. It was hard to make out through the brush and trees, but I could see the light-brown form of…a deer! It stood off in the distance, through the trees, lightly grazing on something on the ground. And, with our luck, it was a buck! Two sets of large antlers rose from its head, tall and proud before they broke off into two branches a piece. A forked-horn my dad would call it.
It didn’t seem to see us yet.
My dad looked at me and gave me a grin as a hand motioned to the rifle on my shoulder.
“You want to take the shot son?” he whispered to me. My hand lingered on the rifle before I slipped it off. The gun felt heavy in my hands then, much heavier than at the range. The shot seemed so far. And the brush was all over.
“N-no,” I said as I shook my head, a bit of embarrassment flooding over me. “You do it, Dad. I don’t know if I can hit it that far away.”
He hesitated and nodded as he turned back, unslinging his own rifle and raising it up. I was hoping he wouldn’t have been disappointed that I couldn’t take the shot. I… I just didn’t want to ruin this moment by missing. We finally come across a deer and I screw it up by failing at my shot. Dad would get it though. I knew it.
He looked about and I could almost see him silently cursing to himself. He was looking for a place to balance his rifle on. Right now, there wasn’t anywhere very convenient. You always want to make sure to steady your rifle. He drilled that fact into me. Shooting standing up with no rest was the worst way to do it. You only do it if you have to. And if you have to, at least remember everything else. You’ll need every advantage to hit something without any kind of rest.
My dad ended up moving to sit down on his rear in the dirt, his knees rising up. That way wasn’t as good as finding a rest for your gun, but you can use your knees to steady both your back elbow and your front as you aimed.
The deer’s head rose and began to look about. Our welcome was thinning with it.
Dad aimed down the sight and I heard him take in a short breath, not daring to let it out. His finger slowly fell upon the trigger.
The shot rang out and I saw the buck jerk and stumble in the distance. It staggered for a moment and then burst off in a sprint through the trees, away from us. My dad rose and lifted his head, looking after it. John and I finally made our moves and stepped up to him.
“You get it, Fred?” John asked as he looked off in the distance. “I don’t think you got it.”
“Oh, I got it,” Dad said with a confident smirk on his face. “I got him.” He looked to me and I smiled back. The deer seemed like it was hit, but I couldn’t tell. I’d rather think my dad got him than missed.
“Should we go after it?” I spoke as I looked off to the spot the deer had been in.
“Oh, yeah,” Dad replied as he began to push on, rifle slung back over his shoulder. “It can’t have gone far.”
And so, through the brush we went, the three of us searching for the wounded deer. When we came across the spot it had lingered in, the result was clear. A fresh patch of blood had covered a nearby tree and splashed the dirt on the ground. My dad just grinned and sent an “I told you so” look over to my uncle before he took a few steps. Sure enough, in the direction the deer ran off in, another splash of blood had stained the earth.
“Got him.” My dad said with a triumphant pump of a fist. “Now, let’s get him back. He’s not going to be too far I bet.”
The blood trail led on for a good distance. At times, there were sections where I lost the trail completely. I couldn’t tell if we took a wrong turn or if the deer had maybe stopped bleeding. My dad kept right on it and, sure enough, we’d find a new splash of brownish-red that mixed in with the dirt. The trail led straight to a large overgrown set of brush that appeared trampled and squished, like something hard fell upon it. A large pool of blood lay splattered over those plants and sunk into the earth below them. It seemed like the clear idea was that the deer had staggered here and then collapsed onto this brush.
But no deer.
Only the blood and torn up plants indicated that something heavy and bleeding had fallen here. My dad once again adjusted the ball cap on his head and moved up to investigate.
“That’s weird. Looks like he should be right here.” He commented as he ran a hand along one of the bloody leaves of the plant. “I don’t think he could’ve got up after falling with a hit like that.”
John and I stepped forward to look as well. It did seem like something had fallen here. It had to have been the deer. What else was recently wounded and bleeding?
John was the first to notice something strange. He had moved around the back of the brush and found an area behind it trampled to the ground. Blood streaked along the leaves and the ground below before moving off into the woods.
Like something was being dragged.
John waved my dad over, who took a look with a thoughtful gaze.
“You think something took off with it?” John questioned.
“Maybe, but this quick? Doesn’t seem possible.” Dad sighed and shook his head. I stood back, both curious and nervous, the memory of a certain set of footprints coming back into my head.
“Let’s take a look,” John suggested after a moment. “It shouldn’t be too far.” Curiosity must’ve got the best of all of us and we began to walk in the direction of the blood streaks. These were very different from the splotches we saw on the way here. Instead of the more circular splatters, each bit of the blood trail rolled along the earth in a curving line before stopping, only to resume again a few feet onward.
I didn’t notice the chirping of birds and animals stop. Or the cessation of the buzzing of insects. I did notice the faint sound of something squishy being and torn. My dad must’ve heard it too and he slipped the rifle off of his shoulder as we all hunkered down and moved as silently on as we could.
I was the first to see it and, dear God, I was thankful for the brush. Otherwise, I might’ve seen all of it head-on in the daylight.
In the distance, through the trees, appeared to be a creature crouched down over something. It was hard to make out through the brush and the distance, but I could distinctly see brownish-black fur or skin and a muzzle. All three of us stopped and watched it in awe and silence. As I looked closer, I thought I could see that the fur only seemed to be in patches on it and there looked to be blood starting to coat areas of it. It leaned over and bit down into something on the ground which…was the deer! I could see a bit of those forked antlers sticking up. I also saw what I thought was a hand raise up, large scythes of claws gleaming on a three-fingered hand before it lowered to dig down and tear more into the meat.
I felt sick. Like I was going to throw up. This…thing made those tracks earlier. I knew it. Dad was looking off in quiet shock while John seemed to finger his camera, debating whether or not to take a picture.
It was then that the creature snapped its head up and I caught my first look at gleaming, blood-shot red eyes.
It stared directly at us.
A screech then emitted from it, high pitched and grating, like the vibration of the sound was causing part of its inner throat to tear apart. It then launched itself in our direction, still screeching that
My dad rose to his feet and angled the gun, standing as he yelled something to John and me. I assumed it was run because John turned and took off. I rose and held my ground as dad fired off a shot that I knew would miss. Through those trees and with a moving target, he’d be lucky to hit it with a rest, but standing? No chance. The shot did cause the thing to veer off and into the trees toward our right side. That’s when my dad turned and began to run himself. I bolted off with him, my heart jumping into my throat as I ran.
I could hear the trees crashing on our right side, then our left. Could it switch that quickly? That screech emitted once again and, this time, I felt like the terrified deer running through the woods as impending death loomed over me.
I don’t know how long Dad and I ran for but enough that I felt my legs start to cramp up and my breath to wheeze. Dad wasn’t looking too hot either. He stumbled and gulped in ragged gasps of air. His recent issues must’ve been finally catching up. Still, he pushed on. And I did with him. I never left his side. Even as he slowed. Like hell was I going to leave him while that thing was chasing us. I could tell he wanted me to push forward. To leave him and escape on my own.
My mind went to a joke my dad used to tell of two campers and one brings running shoes. The other asks why he brought running shoes and if he expected to outrun a bear. His friend answers, “No, I just have to outrun you.” Well, this wasn’t a joke.
I don’t know how we managed it, but soon the two of us burst into our campsite, gasping and wheezing for air. Dad coughed and moved over to the car, leaning against it with an arm up. He coughed and spat as I bent over and gasped. I looked up to see him still coughing and lurching and I felt my stomach twist. He wasn’t doing well. Slowly, I came over and put a hand on his shoulder.
“Dad?” I asked quietly. “Are you okay?”
“Yeah,” He spoke in a ragged voice in between coughs. “Just, I’m okay. Are you okay?” He still worried about me when he was the one that looked like he would cough up a lung.
“I’m all right,” I reassured him before I lifted my head. That’s when I realized something as I looked about our solitary campsite.
John was nowhere in sight.
I stepped away from dad, my eyes looking around the camp. It looked untouched, just the way we left it this morning. But John wasn’t here. I looked back to Dad, who seemed to finally recover and push himself away from the car.
“John’s not here,” I told him as I looked around. My dad cursed and his gaze wandered back toward the woods. Where that creature had been. My eyes followed him and I swallowed down some of the bacon and eggs that tried to come back up. “You think he’s out there? You think that thing-“
“We’ll find him,” my dad cut me off as he drew in a breath. “Get some fresh water ready for us and some food. Make sure you got ammo.” He commanded. I didn’t question him. I moved and refilled our canteens with water and stuffed some of the quick snack foods we brought with us into small bags. I double-checked my ammunition and found my clip still full. I hadn’t fired a shot. Dad moved to the car and pulled out a box of .300 short-mag rounds before setting it on the hood. The clip in his rifle came out and he replaced the two shots he fired swiftly before oddly hesitating as he went to slip the clip back in. Instead, he turned to me and extended the clip out.
“Here, son. That’ll give you an extra one,” he said firmly as I gave him an odd look.
“Dad, what about you?” I asked as I lift my hand to take the full clip from him. He turned back toward the car and reached in again, soon slipping out his old .30-30 rifle. Without a second thought, he began to load it with ammo from an old and beat-up .30-30 box he had brought with him. I shook my head and came up next to him.
“No, Dad. That gun’s old. And we’re going to need power if we come across that thing. We have a short magnum, Dad. The thirty-thirty-“
“-is my gun,” he replied quickly and curtly. “It’s reliable. I used this gun for 30 years and it still shoots like it’s brand new. I know it and it’ll be plenty. Besides, you got the short mag.” After loading the rounds he turned and put a hand on my shoulder. “We can take care of it. Now, are you ready?”
I looked away from him and to those woods. Those same woods, which, before this moment, did not seem so dark or ominous. Even in the daylight, the trees seemed to suck up the light like a vampire, leaving shadows where a sickening, patchy-furred monster might be waiting to creep up on us and tear us apart.
“We’re going after John?” I asked as I kept my gaze focused on that forest, trying to pierce the darkness and hoping I didn’t find two bloodshot eyes staring back at me.
“We’re going to get him back.”
A deep breath and I nodded before slipping the extra clip into my pocket. My hands went to unsling the rifle from my shoulder and I finally looked back to my father.
“Okay,” I spoke, my voice coming out much quieter than I meant it to. “Let’s go.”
Our search began in late afternoon, while the sun seemed like it was in a losing battle of staying high in the sky. Journeying back into those woods while that…thing was still out there terrified me like hell. I had already witnessed it tearing apart that deer and now John was missing. I secretly hoped he just got lost on the way back and we’d find him trying to get back to the path. I hated to think I was hoping he was just lost but the alternative meant that monster…
I forced those thoughts from my head and gripped my rifle tightly. My eyes wandered over to Dad as we moved. He stepped swiftly and carefully, eyes looking about him. Every once in a while, he stopped and would just listen before moving on. I was glad he had that hunting experience. It would really help us now. Still, I could tell he was nervous. The hands that gripped his trusty gun were gripping too tightly and shaking just a bit. Oh, dad, I had that same fear in me too.
The sky grew darker and still we searched. Thankfully, the most I heard and saw were bugs and small animals scurrying around. No creature yet. That didn’t mean it wasn’t still out there, watching and waiting.
Suddenly, I saw dad stop and bend down near a large tree. I moved after him carefully and as quietly as I could. He reached down and picked up what looked to be the mangled remains of a DSLR camera. It looked crushed, the body smashed in and the lens broken off. The worst thing was that I could see the smears of blood that coated the camera and the neck-hanger.
I couldn’t hold back anymore. I turned and retched. My body fell over as I let loose what remained of bacon and eggs in my stomach all over the forest ground. My Dad didn’t say anything. He just looked down and sighed. He knew. We both knew.
As I knelt on the ground, trying to recover, I saw my dad rise to his feet and step off through the trees. A few long breaths and I pulled myself up after composing myself before sprinting after him. He walked for a ways, every once in a while glancing down toward the ground and then looking up. I didn’t dare look. I knew what he was following. I just… didn’t want to believe it.
It wasn’t long before the smell hit me. The coppery scent of fresh blood stung at my nostrils and I held my breath. No, no, this wasn’t it. We’re going to find a deer. A bear. A…well anything. Not this though. Not this. I tried to calm myself down. I just…lied to myself.
We soon found John. My dad tracked the blood smears I refused to look at to a large one splattered against a big tree. He was slumped over in the branches, hanging down as drops of blood fell down to the base of the tree, mixing with wood and dirt. I only could look for a moment before I had to turn away, but it was enough to see the gouge marks running along his arm that hung limply over the branch, swaying in the light wind and the bits of flesh and intestine that threatened to spill out with just the slightest movement.
My dad grimaced and curled his lip. He just stared up and I could see moisture building in his eyes. He looked form the tree and over to me and I knew what was going through his head. John’s dead. My uncle and his brother-in-law are dead. And the two of us were still stuck here with the killer. I was in danger. I knew what he was seeing in his head. Dad saw me, hung up in that tree, blood dripping along a lifeless body. He turned away quickly and reached a hand to grab my shoulder.
“We’re leaving,” he said so quickly and quietly it took me a moment to understand. Already, he began to drag me through the trees back toward camp. I moved along listlessly, in a daze at the recent events. It was getting to be too much. One of us was already dead and we could very well join him soon. I bit back tears and moved faster. I wanted out. I wanted home. I wanted away from this sickening thing!
Darkness swiftly poured in. I didn’t realize how long we were searching and how quickly night fell upon this area. As the darkness fell, our pace increased. Soon, it almost felt like we were running again back to camp.
My thoughts wandered back to this afternoon. I nearly choked as the fresh memory of that creature screeching and barreling after us rose up in my head. I could almost hear it out there, running along with us through the trees, ready to pounce and rip us to shreds.
I let out a sigh of relief when my dad and I slipped back into that camp clearing. He didn’t hesitate. He took one last look around for John and then moved for the car.
“What about our stuff?” I asked as I came up behind him, motioning to our gear. We still had our tent, the cooking supplies, the food, and everything else we took just lying about.
“We don’t need it,” Dad said as he threw open the car door. “It’s all replac-”
That screech, that fucking screech cut him off. From the side of the car, I saw it. It burst out and reared up. I only saw it up close for a second but it felt like more. I seemed to have enough time to see every detail. The reason why its brownish-black fur looked to be in patches seemed to be because there were parts of its black skin that looked diseased and rotted. It was tall and scrawny, overly scrawny with bones that jut out in a way that made them seem like they’d tear through thin skin at any moment. It had a canine-like muzzle with jaws that opened into thick and sharp, yellowed fangs. It was reared up on thin, back-legs that ended in elongated three-toed feet equipped with three long claws that dug into the earth where it stood.
A three-clawed hand rose and smacked my dad in the chin, causing him to be flung back and to the ground. The .30-30 rifle fell away from his grasp and landed in the soft dirt a few feet away from him. The creature then turned to me, those blood-red eyes focusing on mine as I looked up into its gaze. My mouth hung open in shock as it snarled down to me, sickly black-colored drool oozing from its jaws. I at least remembered my rifle and brought it up to point the barrel at it. The creature’s arm shot out, hand grasping around the barrel and, with a strength I didn’t think that scrawny form could have, wretched it out of my grasp and chucked it away from me. I backed up and was about to turn and run when it leapt.
I felt a heavy form crash over me, sending me back down into hard dirt. I could smell it as it tackled and held me down, a stench of rotting flesh and dried blood assaulting my nostrils. I’m going to die now. God, I’m dead. That’s all I could think as I saw it raise a clawed hand up.
A loud sound echoed suddenly, the sound of something hard smacking into flesh and the creature stumbled off of me. I took that moment to turn and crawl away, panting heavily before I risked looking back. I saw my dad standing there, both hands clutched together in front of him after he apparently sent a hard haymaker into the back of the creature. Hell, I didn’t know he had that strength left in him!
The monster already recovered and rose back up, this time hissing and screeching at my father. My dad glanced at me and my breath caught in my throat. He wasn’t hoping to beat it. He just wanted to distract it. Get it away from me.
My dad was going to let it kill him. To save me.
The creature rose and struck out with those claws at Dad. It struck him in his arms, leaving three gashes as my father fell backward to the ground.
I needed to move. I needed to get up. I needed to run. He was going to sacrifice himself for me and all I could do was sit and stare as it happened. I pushed myself up with my arms, eyes locked on the scene before me.
My hand brushed against something metal. I looked down to see my father’s .30-30 lying next to me.
The creature stepped forward and fell over my father, looming over him and pinning him to the ground.
I yanked up the gun and readied it in my arms.
If you can help it, son, always find something to balance your gun on. Don’t ever shoot it just holding it unless you have to.
I adjusted my position, sitting down and raising my knees to rest the gun on them, like my dad did when shooting that deer.
Dad yelled something at me. I thought it was run but I couldn’t hear it over the sound of the creature hissing.
Relax, son. Close one eye and keep focused on your target.
I rolled my shoulders, forcing my muscles to relax and closed an eye, letting the sight focus in on the drooling head of that monster.
The monster opened its mouth and screeched in my dad’s face, drool oozing out and over my father as my dad shut his eyes and turned away.
Now, when you’re ready, hold your breath. Don’t hold it for too long or you’re gonna start shaking. Just enough.
I held took in a breath and held it, the gun steadying in my hands as my breathing halted for the moment.
The creature’s arm rose, claws lift and readied to flay into my father. This was it. I’d have one chance. If I missed, my dad would die.
Then, slowly squeeze the trigger down. Like you’re milking a cow.
My finger slowly squeezed down on the trigger as I tried my best to imagine what milking a cow must be like.
The creature’s clawed-hand fell downward.
The shot rang out and I could hear a sick crunching noise mixed with that of a splatter. The creature howled and lurched off of my dad, its over-sized hands grasping its head in pain. I could see what I thought was blood pouring out of the side of its deformed skull. It jerked around, stumbling on its feet before it turned and snarled at me.
Then it turned and took off, running back into the woods. I sat there in silence, panting as sweat poured down my face. Soon, my eyes moved back to my dad. He was lying there, not moving. Swiftly, I rose and slid down next to him.
“Dad!” I cried out to him. “Dad! Come on!”
He blinked and stared up at me before his arms rose and wrapped around me in a tight hug. I hugged him back and closed my eyes. We were okay. Both of us were okay.
Soon, my father let go and pushed himself up to his feet. He glanced back toward the woods as a hand rose to wipe some of that foul-smelling drool away from his face.
“I… I…” he began with a slight stammer before he lifted a hand and placed it on my shoulder. “I taught you good.” He spoke and I couldn’t help but let out a small chuckle.
We didn’t waste any time. The two of us got into that car and drove. Neither of us said anything until the car pulled out of that winding, bumpy road and onto solid highway nearly an hour later. I was the first to speak.
“What do you think it was?” I asked quietly as my head turned toward him.
“I don’t know,” was the only reply I got.
“What are we going to say about John?”
“The truth. He was attacked by… an animal. We shot it but we think it got away.” He sighed and hung his head. I knew he felt responsible for John. It wasn’t his fault though. That thing. It was that thing’s fault. And nobody would believe it if we said a monster got him. So, an animal. It had to be an animal.
We were silent for a bit longer before I spoke in a quiet, nervous tone.
“What if that thing comes back?” I asked as my eyes focused on my father. “What if it follows u? Comes after us again?”
My dad did something surprising. He smirked. He smirked and shook his head.
“I’m not scared if it does.” That surprised me. I gave him an odd look, like he had finally gone crazy.
“Dad, that thing took a bullet to the face and you’re not scared of it?”
“Son,” He began as he glanced to me, a confident look on his face. “You shot that thing in the head and it howled and ran away. That means it was hurt. Means it was scared of getting hurt more. And if it’s scared of getting hurt more…” And that grin on his face grew wider. “…that means we could kill it.”
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