Sam laid and stared at the green alarm clock blaring endlessly inches from his face. In his groggy state, he had to think about what the arms of the mechanical clock were telling him as he clicked it off.
“4:30” he said out loud to nobody as he shook his head. He contemplated going back to bed for
a moment, but he drove himself all the way up to the family farm and wasn’t going to be for nothing. He sat up slowly, then dragged himself downstairs to Mr. Coffee. It finished dripping the coffee happily as he blankly stared at it. Sam filled his thermos and then poured a separate mug for his breakfast. He choked down stale muffins and drank his coffee. Got to eat something, he thought to himself. Once he finished, he started to prep his gear. Crossing items off the list in his mind as he stuffed items into his rucksack. Binoculars, hand warmers, and his flashlight. He made a sandwich for the day and then checked his watch. He felt urgency at the sight of 5:02am. The sun rises in an hour and he would have to be in the deer stand before that happened. Sam quickly dressed in his thermals under his sweater and jeans, then a jacket and wind pants over it all. Sam was worried about his thin gloves. He figured his hot packs would be enough to compensate for the cold weather.
By the time he got all dressed up and loaded with his gear, he was sweating and was eager to
get out into the brisk morning air. He put on his blaze orange vest and hat, then set out the door. He got about 100 feet out of the cabin before he laughed and ran back inside. He forgot his gun. “Deer ain’t going to kill themselves.” he said as he laughed. He quickly grabbed a rifle off the gun rack and checked to make sure it was not loaded. It was his grandpa’s Winchester Model 70. The gun is a relic in his family, being a pre-1964 model it dated back to when his grandfather bought their land and built this cabin. Its all-wood body scratched and decayed from years of use looked beautiful to Sam. He checked the safety then loaded it with three 30-06 rounds. He shoved a fist full of rounds into his pocket. Then he ran out the door.
It was 5:04am by the time Sam started walking the trail. His flashlight flickered as he turned it
on, and sam cursed. “Don’t fucking do it you bitch” he muttered as the light choked on its batteries. He stubbornly pushed on, hoping he could walk the two miles before the light completely fizzled out. After 10 minutes of walking the light quit completely. Sam remained optimistic. I know where I’m going, he assured himself. The trail leading into the woods was a clear path. If he stayed on it, he would not need a light. So, he continued walking, careful to not lose his way. He listened as he walked. He took in the sounds of squirrels scratching at tree bark as they climbed, barking at him as he walked by. Birds sang and bats squeaked. Sam was happy, and even happier he had not decided to go back to bed.
He walked for a bit then stopped to light a cigarette. He checked his watch as he smoked, it read 5:18. “making good time” he thought to himself cheerfully. He breathed in the smoke and thought about his family. Wishing his dad was up for the weekend to help drag the deer that gets bagged. Sam stood there daydreaming gleefully of his kill. Then he spun around at the sound of crunching leaves. He looked around carefully, into the brush and through the deep volume of trees surrounding him. He couldn’t know for sure without his flashlight but unslung his rifle anyway. “Hunt might be over pretty quick” Sam whispered to nobody. And then the deer, as if knowing Sam was armed now, ran away deeper into the woods. He finally let the air out of his lungs. Sam was relieved he didn’t have to take a shot in the dark and hoped it wasn’t a mountain lion preparing for breakfast. The situation made Sam shuffle down the trail a bit quicker.
He was sweating now. The weight of the gun in his hands was beginning to wear on him
as he speed-walked. All he could think about was how hot he was under all the layers, and how badly he had to pee. He decided to stop and relieve himself. As he peed on a tree, he looked over his shoulder. Nothing behind. He looked to both sides. Nothing to his sides. Not that he could see anyway. His body sweat, but his hands shivered. Sam wasn’t sure if it was the nerves or the cold. He zipped everything up and put his belt back on. He lit another cigarette. As he stepped away from the tree he had to double-take. What’s wrong with this tree, he questioned. He sat and stared at it for a second, and then he realized. Not the tree, it’s what’s past the tree. Is that a light, he thought. A dim glimmer in the distance, in the direction of where the trail leads. Poacher. This would be the first time in years that anyone had been caught poaching their land, and it was about to be the last.
Sam angrily paced towards the light. Angry that he had to do this. Angry that this person was so
close to the deer stand he would hunt out of. He slung his gun over his shoulder and kept a brisk pace. Sam wanted to get this over with quick, his watch read 5:27am. Suns coming up soon. As the light got within a few hundred yards he noticed it wasn’t a flashlight, it was flickering. Like a torch or oil lamp. It swung as the person moved. “We got a fucking pioneer over here” Sam breathed as he paced towards it. He didn’t want to yell and scare all the deer away as he got close, but he also didn’t want to get shot in the dark by an excited hunter, being that sam was lightless. So he called out. “Hey!” Sam called as quietly and as loudly as he could. No response. He was still at least a hundred yards away. So he walked closer, and called more loudly this time, “Hey man! What’s goin-?”. And before Sam could finish his sentence, the flame vanished.
Sam stopped and was at a loss for what to do next. He figured the poacher was making his
escape now. He stood there waiting and listening but didn’t hear any fleeting steps in the distance.
Standing motionless for what seemed like forever, Sam thought. It’s gonna be light soon, I can’t fuck
around with this. In an impulse, Sam Fired a round into a nearby tree, hoping it would scare the hunter away if he hadn’t already sneaked off. In Sam’s mind, he knew that was a really dumb thing to do, but this poacher was on their land and wouldn’t have much to say to the cops if he went to them. Sam continued walking the path, confident the poacher wasn’t sticking around after that. He thought his dad would be proud.
Then Sam’s pride fizzled into fear. All he could think to do was turn and run at the sound of
someone sprinting right towards him. Sam wildly ran into the woods with footsteps approaching rapidly behind. How close, sam wasn’t sure. Then suddenly, as if sent by God, a deep runoff appeared for Sam. Sam kissed the dirt with a face-first plummet into the hole. He broke his fall partially with the rifle, then rolled onto his back. He laid completely still. No sprinting steps anymore, just someone walking nearby, then nothing. He laid without breathing. What is happening right now? Sam thought. Is he going to try and kill me? Am I going to have to kill someone today? His mind raced, and panic set in. He quietly flipped the safety off his rifle and waited for something to happen.
He wasn’t sure how long he laid there like that. Nothing made a sound, no leaves crunched, no
squirrels scurried, no birds chirped, no bats squeaked. Absolute silence. It was as if the whole forest had stopped to see what happens next. Sam looked around as best he could without moving his head, nothing. The minutes felt like hours as sam laid there panicking. And then as suddenly as Sam had fallen into his hole, a man’s jovial thunderous voice shot through the darkness, “You know you smell amazing, right?”. A puzzled look laced with panic and fear spread across Sam’s face as he processed the words.
Before any tangible thoughts could be made, the man continued to speak. “Fear is a fickle thing. It
comes and goes, just like that.” the man said, followed by the snap of his fingers. “It’s like waking up from a nightmare. As soon as you realize it was all fake, boom, fears gone. Oh oh better yet! Say you’re moments away from unavoidable conflict; you’re scared of it, but as soon as it starts, the adrenaline kicks in and you don’t have any time to think about how scared you are. You just start shooting until it’s over, you know what I mean?” the man asked with nearly uncontainable excitement. Sam’s eyes began to well with tears. He tried to not sob and give his position away. He held his breath as the man began to speak again, “I’m sure you of all people get that, but back to my main point. You smell amazing. Fear is the sweetest, most deliciously pungent smell of them all. God, it is orgasmic. Busting open the gut of a deer while skinning it? One of my favorites, but not quite as good. You of all people should know what that smells like. You’ve done it nearly every deer season so far, Sam.”.
Sam shook now, not from the cold but from a gripping sense of terror. He felt like he was in a
dream. He fantasized about his bed and home. Not the cabin, but back home in Missouri. He wished he would’ve just been lazy and stayed in bed, made a proper breakfast, maybe taken the trail bike out. Now he laid in a hole in the middle of the woods, praying to a God he didn’t believe in. The hole seemed to have gotten deeper as the dusk turned to dawn slightly. The light of day peeking through the overcast sky, dimly lighting the forest floor. Still too dark to see anything past his soon to be grave. The excited voice began to manically ramble again, “I luckily get to smell fear you see, I’m blessed. It’s not a skill learned, but a skill given. And as it happens, today I’m feeling mighty generous. Today, I will bless you. Isn’t that something? I’m generous!”, the man yelled. “But your window of opportunity is going to quickly expire, once that suns up, I have to go. I don’t like the sun you see. You see? But it’s ok, fear is fickle like I said, so you don’t have to worry a bit.”.
Sam laid there for god knows how long. Shakes slowed as he began to gear for action, “it is now
or never” he thought. He gripped his rifle and waited for it to be a bit brighter so he could get a proper shot at the fucker. He felt drugged and hazy, then after a few hour-long minutes, Sam shot up in a moment of pure adrenaline and faced the direction of the voice he heard only moments ago, pointing his gun and completely prepared to shoot a man.
What Sam saw paralyzed him all over again. Only feet away stood a naked man patterned with
gunshots. Some fresh, some scarred, patterning his whole body. His head caved in on certain spots, his jaw looked broken and loose, but when he spoke again the words came out just fine, “Ready?”, he asked with genuine concern. Sam shot at the man’s face, with a clear hit right under his eye. Even in the pale dawn, Sam could see the blood and brains shoot onto the tree behind the creature. And at that moment Sam felt pain in his shoulder he glanced down quickly and realized he had splintered the stock of the gun in his fall. The creature laughed gleefully. “nice fucking shot! Nobody’s ever made a shot like that! Bet you can’t hit it again, but be careful you only get one more chan-“. Sam had already jacked his last round and fired again. This time hitting the forehead. The creature wavered and shook his head then leaped forward faster than sam could react. All sam could do is fall backward and try to shield himself with his rifle. As the creature made contact, it began to scream. Shrieking like a pig about to be put down, like a dying rabbit being ripped apart by coyotes, like a deer being mauled. It shrieked so loudly Sam had to cover his ears. The thing stood in the ditch screeching and clawing at the butt of Sam’s rifle protruding from its chest. Sam climbed out of the ditch as fast as he could and took off down the trail. Running faster than he ever has in his entire life. He eventually found the trail and took off towards home. He heard the shrieks grow distant, and what seemed like only a few minutes later he was back at the cabin.
It took longer than he would’ve liked to grab his bag and run to the truck. He started it up and
shot down the gravel towards the main road. Driving and looking over his shoulder for a naked creature peppered with gunshots. As Sam turned left onto the pavement, he hit the gas and took off faster than he should. He needed to get cell reception fast. As he hit eighty down the two-lane road, Sam continued to look in every direction, then screeched to a halting stop. He stared wide-eyed into the open fields of their property. On the hilltop, was seemingly every animal on their property. Coyotes walked among deer, turkeys strutted, squirrels hopped, foxes leaped, cougars walked. And among all of them stood the naked creature. Cradling a fox in his arms like a baby, staring directly at Sam’s truck. The gash in his chest poured black blood all over his body. He smiled and pointed at Sam and began shouting into the air. Sam took off as fast as he had stopped and never looked back.
Even at the distance Sam could tell what had been mouthed and shuddered at the thought. He
gripped the .44 magnum he loaded before leaving tightly. “I’ll find you”, the creature had said.
Credit : Sam Burke
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