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What Waits in the Cold

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Estimated reading time — 35 minutes

Jess steadied her breath as she saw the buck. She was behind a fallen log dug deep into the blanket of snow that lay across the ground. She brought her rifle up to her shoulder and rested it on her cover, moving ever so slowly as to not startle the buck in the clearing. She felt the wind blow her hair behind her head, she had positioned herself downwind of the animal, as to not give away her position with her scent. The buck had broken from the herd, which were moving through the dense woods past the clearing, all of whom were most likely searching for water or any other source of food that hadn’t been claimed by the snow. A 3-day long blizzard had passed a few days ago and Jess knew the animals would need to drink and eat, just like her and Frank.

Their supplies had been cut short by the unexpected storm and they needed more desperately. Normally, Jess wouldn’t be hunting alone in such a harsh environment. However, that was her only option as Frank had become ill. While it wasn’t life threatening, he certainly wasn’t in any position to be doing anything in the bitter cold, much less hunting. Jess didn’t mind, helping her husband was something she always prided herself in doing.

Jess peered through her scope and steadied her aim on the buck’s body, just over where its heart would be. She saw the buck tilt its head towards her before suddenly darting out of the clearing and through a thicket of trees, followed by the rest of the herd.

Jess didn’t move at first, confused as to why it had been startled so quickly when she hadn’t moved. She planted the butt of her rifle in the snow and began to pick herself up, as a bright light shone in her eye. She looked down at her scope, seeing the sun’s reflection off the glass.

“Damn” she cursed quietly to herself. “Buck must’ve seen the glint and got spooked.” She picked up her rifle and began to move towards the clearing, breaking from her concealment behind the log. “Need to get this thing off after I find him.”
Jess moved to where the buck had been standing just moments ago, kneeling to the ground. She saw tracks planted deeply in the snow. A faint smirk crossed her face, finding that buck again wouldn’t be any trouble, she had hunted game with trails far more indiscernible many times before. Jess got up, slung her rifle over her shoulder and began to follow the tracks.

The forest she trekked through was laden with snow. The heavy wind had sent several branches to the ground and had even taken a few of the weaker trees down. Several inches of snow covered the ground, covering the entire forest in a thin blanket. The large tracks she left behind made Jess feel exposed in some way. For all she knew, something could be hunting her as well.

However, Jess had some comfort. She moved her hand down to her thigh, placing it against the holster wrapped around it. She wrapped her hand around the grip of the gun that lay in the holster. The revolver was chambered in .50, more than enough to bring down anything. Frank had bought one for both of them after a close encounter with a bear a few years prior. The same that left Jess with a large scar prominent across her back and part of her shoulder. She was lucky Frank had been there, else she would’ve never made it out of those woods.

Eventually Jess found the buck, although now he was behind a few trees, not nearly as exposed as the clearing. The rest of herd was now with him, making the shot even harder to pull off undetected. Very slowly, Jess moved, keeping concealment behind trees as much as she could. Eventually she found a point where the buck was fully visible. She lay prone on the ground and slowly laid her bag next to her. Opening it as quietly as she could, she pulled out an Alan wrench and brought her rifle close to her. She unmounted her scope, all while keeping eyes on the buck, in case he moved or noticed her. Soon, Jess had the scope off, and began to line up her shot. She had to be much more careful now, the buck was roughly 20 yards away, a shot she had to make with only her iron sights. She hoped to bring it down in one shot, she didn’t want to chase a wounded animal through the snow.

As Jess was still lining up her shot, she saw the buck peer over to where she was laying. Jess thought it was about to bolt again. Panicking, Jess fired her rifle, not knowing whether she had struck a hit or not. The herd all ran together as Jess cursed to herself for being so careless. Quickly she picked up her bag, slung her rifle, and ran to the tracks. Among the several footprints that lay in the snow, Jess saw drops of blood. The bullet had made contact, most likely by the buck’s leg. It wouldn’t be able to run for long.

Jess ran after the trail. She knew the animal was going to collapse soon if it hadn’t already, and she needed to be there soon after it did. The screaming of the buck would be a dinner bell to any predators in the area, the last thing Jess wanted was to have her kill stolen, as she had already been hunting for several hours.

Jess sprinted through the dense forest. Her rapid breath visible in front of her. She moved quickly, while attempting to be careful at the same time. Branches and other debris cluttered the ground, all of them covered by a veil of snow. Jess couldn’t afford to lose any time, much less an ankle were she to trip on something and land wrong.

Jess knew she was close, there was only a single set of tracks now. Soon, she heard the buck, wailing in pain. Jess began to slow down and reached into her bag. She began to get her rope to tie the thing up and drag it back. There was no way she’d be able to carry a full-grown buck all the way back to her house. She also got her hunting knife from out of her pocket, after all the animal would have to be dead before it could be moved, and a quick mercy kill was the best Jess could offer.

Jess broke though part of the forest and into another clearing. She stopped, looking down at the tracks, following them with her gaze. Eventually it landed on the buck, laying on its side towards the edge of the clearing. It was kicking its legs, yelling, though it had become quieter now. Jess moved towards the animal, readying her knife. The buck saw her as she got close, it began to kick its legs harder, trying in vain to get up and run. Jess knelt in front of it, and with a saddened sigh, plunged her knife into its neck. The buck screamed one last time, before going limp. Jess always hated this, she never liked making an animal suffer more than it had to. The only condolence she could give to the animal was a faint “Sorry” before removing her knife.

Jess got her rope from her bag and began to tie the carcass. There was no other way to move it besides to drag it. Eventually, she wrapped it tight, and tied the rope to her bag to act as a harness. She got herself situated and began to walk back home. Jess knew these woods well; she and Frank had hunted in them for many years and she knew how to get back home from anywhere. Even if she were to get turned around, she could always just follow her own footprints, as there hadn’t been any more snowfall since she left.

Jess hiked back through the woods, dragging the large buck along with her. Her legs ached due to the strain caused by the weight of the animal along with the snow that crippled parts of her movement. However, she ignored the pain and kept moving. Focusing on the thought of her own survival and more importantly, that of Frank.

Jess made it back to the clearing where she first saw the buck. She looked back at her own tracks as well as those of the animal she now carried with her. However, something seemed off. By the clearing, she noticed an extra trail, one that she didn’t believe had been there when she had chased after the buck. She took off her bag and went towards the trail. She arrived and inspected the tracks. They appeared to be that of a deer, however, they were larger, maybe twice the size of normal tracks. They trailed off to where the herd ran, however, the distance between the prints indicated that the animal had been moving slowly, calmly, nothing like the prints of a frightened animal.

Jess didn’t know what to think. In all her years of hunting, she had never seen prints that large on something that seemed to be a deer. She didn’t believe Frank had either. She immediately wanted to go after the tracks, to find whatever creature had left them. However, she still had the buck, one that she needed to get back home before something else claimed it, whether it be an animal, or decomposition. Jess couldn’t let the kill go to waste. She decided she’d head back home, maybe ask Frank about the prints, see if he’d ever seen something like them. If they were that of a large deer, the amount of meat on the animal could keep them fed for up to a month should they ration it properly. Jess grew excited at this thought and made up her mind. She’d rest for the day and tomorrow she’d go back out and see if she could find the animal. She would have to dispose of the buck’s carcass anyway, might as well try and find whatever was out there.

Jess trekked back over to her bag that lay in the snow. Small flakes of snow speckled the top of it. Quickly she went back to the strange tracks and took a mental note of their direction. The coming snow would most likely cover the tracks, Jess didn’t plan on losing whatever made them. She followed the tracks with her eyes as they exited the clearing and back through the woods, following those of the other deer. Jess went back to her bag, picked it up, slung it back around her shoulders, and began to drag the buck the rest of the way home.

Eventually Jess made it back to her house, smoke emanating from the chimney. Jess smiled, Frank was awake, and seemed to have gotten some of his strength back, enough to get up and move around the house. Jess went to the small shed that lay a few yards from the house, dragging the carcass along with her. She pulled the buck inside and let it rest in the middle of the room, it was secure now, and she could leave the rest of the work for a little later, after she caught back up with Frank. Jess untied the rope from the carcass and her bag, before putting it back away.

Jess walked through the door of the house to see Frank tending to the fire.

“Back so soon?” Frank said as Jess walked through the door.

Jess unslung her rifle, propping it up next to the door. “Frank I’ve been out for like 5 hours, by the looks of it you just got up.” Jess removed her revolver from its holster, placing it on a small table next to the door.

“That may or may not be true.” Frank said glancing at Jess with a smirk. “Manage to get anything?”

Jess took her bag off her back. “Yeah I got a buck, pretty big one too. I’ll skin it in a few, I need a break.” Jess laid her bag on the floor in front of their couch before laying down on it.

“Coffee sound good?” Frank said looking over his shoulder at her.

“When does it not?” Said Jess returning Frank’s gaze.

Frank nodded and moved to the kitchen counter where their pot laid. He made Jess her brew and gave it to her. “Finish that up and go work on the buck, I’ll clean your rifle in the meantime.”

“Is that really necessary? I only fired one shot.”

“Come on Jess, you know that’s my thing.” Frank smirked.

Frank wasn’t wrong and Jess knew it. Caring for their guns was something Frank always loved doing and he always looked for any excuse to do it. After any trip they went on, any expedition, Frank made sure their weapons were clean and pristine, no matter how inane the task may seem.

“Fine go on at it.” Jess smiled, rolling her eyes.

Frank took Jess’ rifle and went to their dining room table, he already had his cleaning kit ready and waiting. Jess could hear him taking apart the rifle from the couch as she finished her coffee. She then got up, washed out her mug, got her knife from her bag, and moved back out to the door. Jess made it to the shed, the buck still laying in the center. She then got to work on it. Skinning the buck was the easy part, getting the right meat off of it and making sure there wasn’t any bones was much more difficult.

The task only took Jess about an hour and a half. Once she had finished, Jess got up and inspected the carcass, somewhat pleased with herself for doing it in such a short amount of time. She placed the last of the usable meat in a cooler that lay in the shed, before taking it and rolling it back towards the house.

Jess managed to get the door open, dragging the cooler along with her through the snow and through the entrance. She rolled the cooler to a freezer that lay a bit deeper in the house just past the kitchen and put the cooler inside of it. Her and Frank couldn’t afford to let a kill go to waste in their state.

Jess walked back to the living room, seeing both her rifle and revolver now shining brighter than ever. Jess looked at Frank laying on the couch, who had resigned himself to a book.

“I didn’t even take my revolver out of its holster until I got back, did you really have to clean it?” Jess said, shooting a questioning gaze at Frank.

“I told you I like cleaning them, plus you were taking too long with the buck.” Frank replied, a hint of laughter in his voice.

“Well, I could have done it faster if I had some help.” Jess said jokingly to Frank.

“Oh, but how would my sick body be of any use in that cold! Why I would just surely die!” Frank held his hand over his forehead theatrically.

Jess stared at him, shaking her head, and smiling.

“Now, you haven’t told me the story yet.” Frank said, lowering his gaze back to Jess.

“What story?”

“How you got the buck.”

Jess retold the series of events that had taken place. Beginning at where she had found the herd, all the way up to when she killed it. However, she then got to her part of the story about the large tracks in the snow. Jess told Frank about the tracks, wondering if he’d seen anything similar before.

A puzzled look crossed Frank’s face. “No don’t think I have, you said they were twice the size of normal tracks?”

“Yeah, or something like that. I was planning on going back out tomorrow to see if I could follow them, I need to bring the carcass out anyway.”

Frank tilted his head towards the window, snowflakes fluttering just outside. “That’s gonna be difficult, snows already coming back in.”

“I know where the tracks were leading to, hopefully I’ll be able to find them if they pick up again.”

“Whatever you say, anyways are you planning to kill the thing if you find it?”

“That’s the plan yes, if that thing really is as big as the tracks made it appear, the meat on it would last us a really long time.”

“I don’t know Jess, could be risky, if that thing sees you and decides to attack, you could get hurt pretty bad.”

Jess grinned at Frank. “Hey, it’ll be alright, after all you just cleaned my last resort.” Jess pointed over her shoulder to the revolver on the table. “I’ll be fine Frank no need to worry.”

Frank returned Jess’ grin. “If you say so, but if it seems like it’s too dangerous, I want you to head back here alright?”

“Of course, I’m not looking for both of us to be out of commission here either.”

The rest of the day passed by quickly, mostly filled with Jess preparing her bag with more supplies, re-packing her magazines, and bringing along one extra just in case. Frank cooked up some of the fresh kill for dinner, before both of them went to bed. Jess planned on getting up early the next day.

The time on the clock read 6:20 as Jess stirred in the bed. She got up and put on her clothes, seeing small amounts of snow still falling. She left the bedroom, got her bag, rifle, and revolver ready, before turning back to the bedroom. Frank was still asleep. Jess wrote a small note saying that she had gone out and she’d be back once she found the thing, or it got dark. She put it on the bedside table next to Frank, kissed him on the cheek, then left for the door.

Moving out to the shed, Jess noticed that there was less snow on the ground, only about 2-3 inches now. Jess was happy at this sight; less snow would make dragging her kill a lot easier. She once again tied the carcass to her bag, then began to trek back out into the woods.

The animal was a lot lighter, now that most of the meat and bone had been taken out, Jess walked about half a mile away from the house, a good distance to leave the animal for the rest of the forest to claim.

Jess dragged the carcass to a group of trees and laid it in front of them. She removed the rope from her carcass and her bag, putting it back away. She got up and began to follow her tracks back towards the clearing where she had seen the strange prints the day prior.

Eventually Jess came back across the clearing, just as barren as it was when she had passed by yesterday. Jess walked to where the tracks had laid the day before, expecting them to be there somewhat, just maybe not as pronounced as before. She saw light tracks of the other deer that had run away, as well as those of the bigger animal. The tracks were just barely there, but Jess could still see them. She felt more than confident enough in her abilities, she’d be able to find this thing in no time.

Jess got back up and followed the tracks on the same route she had taken yesterday. The loss of some of the snow allowed for Jess to see more of the ground and the obstacles that had lain beneath. This was good, if Jess had to chase the animal like yesterday, she’d be at much less of a risk of falling, making it much easier.

Eventually Jess made it back to the clearing where she had killed the buck the day before. The trail of now dried blood that the buck had left was still pronounced against the pristine snow. However, Jess noticed something else. The tracks of the larger animal were no longer following those of the other deer, rather they had turned and were now following her tracks.

Jess didn’t know what to think. It was strange enough that what seemed to be a deer was following tracks, it was even stranger that it had chosen to follow hers, rather than that of the other deer. This also made Jess realize something else, the thing had most likely been near her when she found its tracks, it may have even followed her back to her house. Following her trail back to the previous clearing proved this theory, Jess could see the thing’s trail following hers back home.

However, Jess realized a possible way she could use this to her advantage, if it had followed her before, there may be a chance it would do it again. If the thing were already starting to track her, it would soon be at this clearing, not giving Jess much time to get ready. She quickly ran back to where she had finished the buck and posted up against a log facing the opening of the woods she had gone through. All she had to do now was wait.

Timed seem to drag on, the next half-hour felt like days to Jess, but she never moved from her position, she was dead set on killing this thing.

Eventually Jess saw movement in the tree-line. She held her rifle against the log in the ground, steadying her breathing just as she had the day before. She watched as an animal moved through the trees into the clearing. Jess was correct in her previous assumption; the deer was at least twice as big as normal. Aside from its size it appeared to be normal, even the antlers on its head had a normal number of points, although they were much larger.

The animal stopped as it entered the clearing, almost as if it knew something were there. Jess stayed perfectly still, not daring to move even to line up a shot yet, not while it was this alert. The animal moved its head from edge to edge of the clearing. Jess saw its gaze pass her and look off to her right. Jess knew this was the best chance she had, quickly she lined up her sight over the animal’s neck. Its gaze slowly turned back to look at Jess. She felt the animal’s eyes focus on her, and without hesitation she fired.

The animal’s yells could be heard even over the sound of the shot, Jess immediately knew she had scored a hit right on target. Jess saw the animal turn and flee from the clearing, without a second a though Jess gave chase. She was confused at this point but determined, it seemed impossible that the animal would’ve survived that shot, the bullet had most likely gone through the thing’s torso, hitting several vital organs along the way, it seemed impossible for it to be moving.

However, Jess didn’t care about the logistics right now, all she knew was that it was running, and she wasn’t planning on losing it.

Jess followed the thing at a decent pace, the fresh trail was plainly obvious, she knew once again the animal wouldn’t be able to make it far after the hit she had scored. There was no point in tiring herself out now, she would need all the energy she could muster to be able to drag the massive animal back home. Eventually Jess no longer heard the animal’s cries, it must have died, and by the looks of the trail, Jess knew she was close.

Then Jess passed up a thicket of trees and saw the animal shaking on the ground.

The only thing Jess heard was the snapping of bone and the tearing of flesh. The animal laid convulsing, not making any sound of its own accord. Her eyes widened as the saw the thing’s legs begin to split open, revealing pitch black limbs underneath. The thing’s back was torn open as a black mass emerged from it. Its head exploded as two large antlers replaced the ones already there. Jess stared in a frozen horror as she watched a massive creature come out of the deer’s body. It stood on two legs, it must have been 10 feet tall, if not, even taller as it was hunched over. Its arms reached down past its waist, long, sharpened fingers barely avoided scraping the snow it stood in. Its head resembled that of a deer’s skull, the set of antlers resting on top, their ends sharpened to thin points. Its entire body was black, though it seemed thin, the outlines of its bones could be seen through its skin.

Jess began to walk backwards slowly, never letting her eyes off the thing. The creature then tilted its head towards the sky, letting out a bloodcurdling roar, the cry of a deer with the pitch of a bear’s roar. It was deafeningly loud; Jess could feel the ground rumbling beneath her. She was still backing away as the creature yelled, it then slowly turned its head around to face her. Jess stared directly into the creature’s eyes, they seemed to be burning bright red, resembling hot embers. Jess then turned around and sprinted away from the creature as fast as she could, only after she had gotten a decent distance away did she look over her shoulder. The creature was gone.

Jess began to slow down, gripping her rifle tight. She kept moving forward, all while turning to scan the tress for any sign of the creature. Soon she did, she saw red eyes staring at her from behind a few trees, Jess raised her rifle but by the time she did it had already disappeared. Jess quickened up her pace while keeping eyes on where the thing had been, then out of the corner of her eye she saw it again, staring at her. She aimed her rifle to where it had been, only to be met with the unmoving trees.

Jess believed she had an idea of what the creature was doing, it was toying with her. It kept appearing, disappearing, and reappearing to scare Jess and wear down her nerve. Worst of all, Jess knew it was starting to work. She felt her breath begin to quicken, and her entire body begin to shake. She had to think of something fast, something that would allow her to get control over the situation. She turned and saw a pile of branches on the ground about 50 yards away, she had her plan. The next time Jess saw the creature out of the corner of her eye, she waited, not turning to face it immediately. Jess saw the creature emerging from its concealment behind the trees and begin to slowly move towards her. Jess then quickly turned and fired a blind shot at the creature, she saw the thing duck, turn, and run back into the woods. The thing was gone for now, but it would be back soon, and Jess had to act fast.

Quickly, Jess turned and ran for the pile of branches, pulling her scope back out of her bag. She remembered when the buck had been startled by the glare earlier, and the best idea Jess had was to make a lure for the creature. Jess saw a log a few yards to the left of the branches, one big enough for her to lay behind. Instead of taking the shortest route, Jess went around the left side of the log, then began to move towards the branches. She placed her scope in the pile, and pointed it to where her tracks had been, she then began to walk backwards towards the log, slowly, and making sure she only walked in her already existing footprints. She then got back to the log, and proned, aiming her rifle towards the branches.

Hopefully, when the creature began to follow Jess’ tracks again it would see the glare of the scope and try to get behind it. When it did Jess would be able to get a clean shot on the creature, one good enough to seriously wound it, if not kill it.

Jess waited for what felt like an eternity, her heart still racing as she lay still. Any second the creature could appear from what seemed like anywhere in the woods and Jess had to be ready for it, she knew it wouldn’t fall for the same trick twice, she knew she had to get a good shot on it else she would be at even more of a disadvantage. If she were to shoot at the creature and miss, she would not only alert the creature, but still be on the ground, making it even harder for her to escape the thing should it attempt to chase her. The thought of this made Jess even more terrified than she already was, but then she noticed something, something that made her heart sink deeper into her chest than it already had. Jess watched as the vapor from her breath exited her mouth and over top of the log, plainly visible to anything following her trail. Jess got the looming feeling something was watching her, slowly she turned her head to look over her shoulder.
She stared eye to eye with the creature, looming over her.

Jess screamed as she rolled onto her back, attempting to level her rifle on the creature. Just as she did, the creature pinned her arm to the ground along with the rifle with one of its hands. Although it seemed frail it was immensely strong, Jess was completely unable to move her right arm, her dominant arm. The creature then used it’s other hand to push down on Jess’ chest. The creature was beginning to crush Jess’ chest, she could feel air escaping from her lungs, as a sharp pain pulsated through her chest. However, Jess was able to pick up her legs and kick the creature in the stomach. The creature let out a small, pained cry, before loosening its grip on Jess’ arm. Quickly, Jess took her knife from her pocket and drove it into the arm pinning her down. The creature yelled louder as Jess twisted the knife. The creature let go of her and grabbed at the knife in its arm.

Jess didn’t waste any time. She quickly got up and began to run from the creature as fast as she could. Jess felt the brush of sharp claws on her jacket, she turned her head to see the beast had just narrowly missed her. It pulled Jess’ knife out of its arm, throwing it into the ground, it then began after Jess.

She knew the creature was mad and it was done toying with her. There was no chance that she’d be able to outrun it for long and she couldn’t get the distance to hide from it. The only thing Jess could think to do was to try and shoot it. Jess turned and fired her rifle at the beast, hoping to hit it in the leg. However, the shot completely missed, and the beast hadn’t slowed down. Jess didn’t have the time to fire again, she turned back around to continue running.

Jess could hear the thundering footsteps of the beast following her closely but Jess didn’t stop. She knew that if she were to be caught by this thing there’s was no way she’d be able to escape it.

Jess’ lungs burned and her legs ached, she was beginning to tire, but the creature didn’t show any of the same signs, it’s pace hadn’t slowed down in the slightest, and Jess knew it was getting closer. As Jess ran through a thicket a root caught her foot. It had been completely obscured by the snow. As Jess fell she rolled onto her back, in some vain hope that she’d be able to hit the creature. Jess hit the ground hard and was only just able to aim her rifle at the beast. She got one shot off and hit the beast in the chest. However, it didn’t slow down. Just as Jess was about to fire another shot, the beast was on top of her. It swiped at the rifle, knocking it out of her hands and sending it several feet away from her.

The beast then grabbed Jess by her neck. It lifted her effortlessly off the ground with one arm, bringing her over its head. Jess tried in vain to get free, grabbing onto the beast’s arm with both of her hands trying to pull it off. It was hopeless, the beast was too strong. She tried again to kick it but she couldn’t land a good hit, the best she could do was a few light taps against the beast’s head. Soon it retaliated.

The beast dug its free hand into Jess’ left leg, right below her waist. Jess screamed in pain as the beast drug its claws down her thigh, slowly. The beast wanted to make Jess suffer, it wanted her to feel the same pain it had felt when she shot it. Jess’ death was going to be slow. The beast tore its claw out of Jess’ leg, just above the knee. Tears began to trickle down Jess’ face, as she yelled in pain. The beast didn’t move for a moment, it simply watched as Jess tried even harder in vain to break free.

Jess’ life flashed before her eyes. She saw herself as a young girl hunting with her father again. She saw herself graduating school along with her friends again. She saw herself marrying Frank again. Then she saw the memories that hadn’t yet been made. She saw her daughter looking up at her in a crib, her son learning how to walk. She saw herself teaching them both how to hunt, just as Jess’ own father had.

Seeing these visions constructed a burning will within Jess. She was not going to die in these woods to the hands of some sadistic creature. She was going to make it out, she was going to see Frank again, and she was going to start her family.

Just then, Jess remembered something, a trump card she hadn’t played, her last chance of escape.

Jess removed one of her arms from the beast’s grip and moved it down to her right leg. Jess watched as the creature reeled back its free arm, it was planning to strike. Jess got her hand around the grip of the revolver and pulled on it. The fire within the beast’s eyes grew brighter as it anticipated the kill. Jess tore the revolver from its holster and leveled it with the beast’s head. Its eyes turned to track the revolver, meeting the barrel just as Jess pulled the trigger.

The noise was deafening, the powerful shot had knocked the revolver free from Jess’ grip and had been thrown away from her. The beast screamed as it lost its grip on Jess, sending her falling to the ground. Jess hit the ground hard, dazed, she looked up to see the creature writhing in pain, its hand covering part of its face. It turned to stare at Jess, the one eye visible now burning with an unimaginable fury. It removed its hand, showing Jess the massive hole the revolver had blown out of it, a quarter of the beast’s head was missing, yet somehow it was still moving. The beast, still crying in pain, began to stumble towards Jess, swinging its arms wildly at her. Jess turned and crawled towards her revolver as fast as she could, the beast was a lot slower now, only just barely moving faster than Jess while it was on its feet. Jess could hear and feel the thing getting closer, the revolver was in arm’s reach. Jess reached out as far as she could, only barely able to get the revolver’s grip. She turned to see the beast close, moving towards her still flailing its arms. Jess fired twice, both shots entering the beast’s chest. The beast let out a demonic cry, staggered, and fell towards Jess. She let out a cry of pain as the beast fell onto her legs.

Jess dropped the revolver next to her, her wrist in pain due to her frantically poor grip, and the power of the cartridge. She leaned forward and tried to push the beast off her. With all her might Jess was able to push the thing off her, her hands now soaked in its blood, along with her jeans, now stained a deep red. Her leg was still bleeding heavily although it seemed by some miracle the beast had missed her femoral artery, for if it had, she would’ve already been dead. However, she would bleed out if she didn’t stop it. Jess had forgotten to pack a trauma kit in her rush to get the creature, so she had to improvise. She took the rope of her bag and wrapped it around the base of her leg, she got the knot ready to tighten, clenched her teeth, and shut her eyes. Jess pulled as hard as she could, the rope cinching tight around her leg, her scream echoed through the woods due to the immense pain. She let go of the rope and stopped for a second to wait for the pain to subside.

Jess took her revolver from the snow and placed it back in it’s holster. She tried to stand, only for a sharp pain to flash through her leg. The gash left by the creature made it impossible for her to put any weight on it. Jess saw her rifle laying a few feet away from her. She crawled over to it and took hold of it. She removed the magazine and cleared the chamber, she would have to use the rifle as a makeshift crutch, and she wasn’t planning on accidentally shooting herself after surviving this hell. She planted the butt of the rifle in the snow and pushed down as hard as she could, barely managing to lift herself off the ground. The pain in Jess’ leg was immense, but she knew she had to get moving, else she would soon die in these woods.

Jess limped her way back through the forest, even in her damaged state, she knew the way back to the house. The makeshift tourniquet on her leg allowed Jess some relief, it had slowed the bleeding, but hadn’t stopped it completely. Jess had to ignore the pain and keep moving if she ever wanted to see Frank again, and to have her visions of her family come to fruition.

Jess could feel her strength beginning to wane. A combination of the freezing cold along with the loss of blood. Every muscle in her body burned as she could feel her heart rate begin to slow. Her body was begging her to stop, to take a break and lay down, the cold snow seeming like a warm bed to her. Jess began to lose hope, she still had a long way to go, and doubted she’d make it back. Jess began to slow down, her head now cast down towards the ground.

Then Jess heard something, something that made her bring her gaze back up, that made her heart race, something she couldn’t believe.

“Jess!? Jess where are you!?”

It was Frank, he had left the house to find her. Although Jess had no idea what tipped him off to her being in danger. However, that didn’t matter right now, all that mattered was that Frank found her.

“Frank! Frank I’m over here I need help!”

The two continued to call out to one another, Jess could hear Frank’s voice coming closer. Eventually she saw Frank in the distance.

Frank quickened his pace when he saw the state Jess was in, he could see her limping with her rifle, a thin trail of blood behind her. Once Frank reached Jess, he carefully moved her rifle, and moved her arm over his shoulder, supporting her better and allowing her to move faster.

“Here, I got you, what the fuck happened out there!?”

“It was a fucking demon Frank.” Jess said, feeling tears begin to well in her eyes.

“A demon? Jess what are you talking about what did this to you?”

“A demon Frank, the tracks I saw yesterday belonged to it, it almost killed me.” Jess could barely get the words out of her mouth; she was losing her strength.

“Well clearly, you beat it, that’s all that matters. We’ll get back to the house and I’ll patch you up, you’re gonna be ok, I’m not letting you die on me.”

Those words gave Jess a faint smile, even in this dire of a situation, Frank never failed to make Jess feel safe. However, Jess knew something was wrong, her vision was fading, her legs began to buckle.

“Jess, stay with me darling you’re gonna be fine just keep moving.” Frank said quickly, attempting to hide the fear in his voice.

It was then that Jess legs fell out beneath her and she was unable to bring them back up. Frank caught her as she fell, pulling her back up level with him.

“Come on Jess you can do it we gotta go!” Frank was becoming frantic.

Jess tried again to stand but was completely unable to. Jess’ vision began to fade as she was completely immobilized.
“Jess? Jess!?”

Through faded vision Jess saw herself being carried by Frank, she was barely able to hear what he was saying, everything was muffled. Her vision began to fade in and out along with her hearing, she was moving in and out of consciousness. Eventually through faded vision, Jess was able to see the house, everything then faded to black.

Jess awoke back in her house, or so it seemed. She laid next to a fire, underneath several blankets. Beneath her was a small mattress, most likely moved from one of the spare rooms. She tried to get up and move, but a sharp pain was sent through her now stiffened leg. Jess removed the blankets to inspect her leg. The left leg of her jeans had been cut off, bandages were wrapped tight around the gash left by the beast, stained a deep red, a proper tourniquet wrapped tight just above it. Jess could see that the bleeding had stopped.

Jess called out to Frank, if he were in the house he’d want to know that she was awake. No more than a few seconds had passed when Frank came into view. He almost ran to Jess as soon as he saw her, embracing her tightly when he reached her.

“Jess thank God, I thought I’d lost you, I thought you’d never wake back up.” Frank’s voice was broken, tears welling up in his eyes. “You passed out completely when I got you in the house, I cleaned your leg and wrapped it best I could and kept you by the fire. I did all I could but I was still terrified.”

Jess did her best to return Frank’s embrace in her weakened state. “How long was I out?”

“For a few hours, like I said I was worried you wouldn’t make it, but I think deep down I knew you’d be fine, you always were a fighter.” Frank let go of Jess and turned his attention to her leg. “Here let me check your bandages.” Frank moved the blankets and inspected the bandages. “Your bleeding’s stopped, that’s good, but I need to give you a new set.” Frank got up from Jess and got his kit, carefully he cut the bandages from Jess’ leg. The large gash across it was still prominent, although it had almost completely clotted. Frank wrapped a new set of bandages on tight, once he was done he looked back at Jess. “Jess…what the hell happened out there?”

Jess recounted her experience to Frank the best way she could in her weak state. Her voice quiet, and weak. Starting from her leaving the house all the way until Frank had found her. She spared no detail, not even about the beast she had seen. She had no doubt Frank would believe her; her leg was all the proof he would need. Once she finished, Jess asked Frank a question of her own. “Frank, how did you know I was in danger? Why come find me?”

“It’s simple” Frank said. “I could hear you, more specifically your rifle. I know you’re a good shot and the only reason you would have to shoot that much is if you were in danger. Especially after I heard you fire that.” Frank pointed with his thumb towards the dining room, Jess looked and saw her revolver laying on the table. “So naturally, I came to find you, and thank God I found you when I did.”

Jess smiled. “Yeah, I had the feeling you’d come.” Jess’ smile then fell, a saddened frown taking hold. She turned her head away, towards the fire. “I-I’m sorry Frank” Jess’ voice had become quiet, subdued. “I could’ve gotten myself killed, I should’ve prepared more, been more careful. I shouldn’t have messed with-”

Frank quickly interrupted. “Jess stop” Jess head quickly turned back to Frank. His face far more serious than she had ever seen it. “It’s not your fault you got hurt. You couldn’t have known what that thing was, and it’s only natural for a hunter to chase an unknown trail. You think I wouldn’t have done the same thing?” Frank let out a small chuckle. “Whenever you told me about the tracks I was jealous I wouldn’t be able to come with you, I just didn’t tell you. Couldn’t steal your excitement.”

“Well, I at least could have waited for you to feel better, I should have known it would be dangerous.” Jess stammered over her words.

Frank quickly replied. “Every hunt is dangerous Jess, like I said you couldn’t have known this would happen, who in their right mind would expect to get attacked by some shape shifting demon? Once again if the roles were reversed I would’ve gone after it too.” Frank kept his smile at Jess. “And if you’re still worried about how you could’ve died, that doesn’t matter. You didn’t die and you even managed to kill the thing.” Frank kissed Jess on the forehead. “You’re strong Jess, don’t ever forget that. Now let me help you to the bed, it’s probably a lot more comfortable than the floor.” Frank let down a hand, Jess took it and pulled herself up. Once again, Frank supported her and helped her walk to the bed.

The next several weeks blurred themselves together in Jess’ mind. She was unable to get up from the bed for the first two and had to rely on Frank to help her with everything. He brought her food, water, coffee, anything she needed. Luckily with crutches she just barely managed to get to the bathroom on her own. Every time she got up, she had to convince Frank she could make it on her own so long as she had the crutches, much to Frank’s chagrin. Jess knew Frank was only trying to help, but she never liked having to rely on other people, even her husband.

Luckily, a few days after Jess was attacked, Frank had gotten better and was able to hunt. He only needed to once, as the buck Jess had killed provided them more than enough food for a few weeks. It was only at the beginning of the third week was she able walk. They needed more food, and Jess, although she could walk with a limp, was in no shape to be hunting. Frank would have to go on is own.

Jess’ began to grow concerned as she saw Frank loading his rifle and prepping his bag. Frank looked over at Jess on the couch, he could see her eyes were wider than normal, she was tensely looking out the window, shaking. He had to calm her down somehow.

“Jess I’ll be ok, after all you killed it right?” Frank knelt next to Jess, laying his hand on her shoulder. The thoughts of such a recent event coursed through her mind, a never-ending barrage of images, not only of what she had seen, but also what could happen to Frank.

“How do we know that for sure Frank? What if it survived? What if there’s more of them?” Jess looked at Frank, a look of concern painted across her face.

“Listen, we’ve been hunting in these woods for years, and neither of us have ever seen anything like that. There must have been only one of them not only because we’ve never seen it with our eyes, but we’ve never seen anything like the tracks you saw either.” Frank said calmly, never moving his hand, or breaking eye contact with Jess.

These words put Jess to some ease. Frank was right, it most likely was only a single occurrence. Not only had Jess never seen something like that before, she’d also never heard of anyone telling a similar story. She had heard other legends of creatures, but nothing like what she had seen. “You have point.” Jess paused for a second. “Yeah you’re right, that thing is gone.” Jess didn’t know whether she believed what she said or was just trying to convince herself that Frank wasn’t in danger. “Just…be careful Hun, I’d hate if something happened to you.”

“I will Jess, I promise.” Frank kissed her, got up, took his rifle and his bag, then walked out the door. Jess watched through the window as Frank moved out into the still snow-laden woods, her fear somewhat relaxed, but still ever present. The only thing Jess could do was wait; it would be best if she found something to distract herself from her thoughts. Jess’ eyes panned to the bookcase sitting in the living room, hoping for something to catch her eye. She got up and took a book, she wasn’t looking for anything specific, just something captivating enough to kill the time. She went back to the couch and laid down; she began to read.

Time quickly slipped away from Jess, she had become captivated with the stories told by the pages, before she knew it, over an hour and a half had gone by. However, Jess was immediately pulled to reality by a loud thud on the front door. Her heart began to race, her mind immediately went to the beast. Slowly and as calmly as she could manage she put down her book and got up from the couch, she went in the bedroom and got her rifle from the cabinet. Slowly, keeping her rifle towards the door, she moved to it. Her breathing was heavy and her heart pounding in her throat. Jess came to the door and opened it slowly. She screamed when she saw him.

Frank’s body laid in the snow just in front of the door. His head aimed at her, pale, his eyes glazed over, their irises as white as the snow. A large pool of blood beneath him, beginning to freeze. Jess dropped her rifle and fell to her knees, tears falling down her face. Frank had been disemboweled, a large gash displayed on his stomach, several long gashes laid along his arms and his legs. Jess couldn’t move, the only thing she could do was wail and hold Frank’s corpse, her head still aimed at the ground. She then saw two black legs move into her field of view, slowly she looked up and saw the beast standing there. Jess didn’t have time to react. The beast grabbed her by the throat, pinning her to the ground. Jess tried her best to scream, in vain hope someone would hear her and help. However, nobody would come. The beast raised is clawed hand, the fire in its eyes burning brighter than ever. Jess screamed as its arm tore through her chest.

Jess woke up with a scream. She looked around the room, she was still laying on the couch, the book that was once in her hands had now fallen on the floor next to her. The night terrors she had since she encountered the beast had still not gone away. Every night was the same, she’d be back in those woods, back with the beast. However, she’d never be able to escape it, and her death would always be near. However, this was the first one that involved Frank, making it far worse.

Jess stayed on the couch for a second to calm down. She cupped her face in her hands and sighed. She then got up, limping to the kitchen, she needed coffee, she didn’t want to fall asleep again, seeing the beast was something she dreaded every night. Once her coffee was brewed, Jess knelt back down to the book that lay on the floor, she decided the dining room might be a better place to read, it would be harder to fall asleep in a chair.

After about another two hours had passed Frank came back in the house.

“Hey!” Jess said excitedly. “Manage to get anything?”

Frank returned Jess’ joy. “Yeah I managed to get another buck. Damn thing almost got away though.” Frank took his rifle off his shoulder, placing it next to the door. He did the same with his revolver which laid in a holster in front of his waist.

“I’ll go out and clean it in a bit.” He turned his attention back to Jess. “How’s your leg doing?”

“How about I show you.” Jess got up from her chair and stumbled over to Frank.

“Jeez, I didn’t know you day drank.” Frank said chuckling to himself.

“Oh shut up and come here.” Jess said, laughing along with Frank. They embraced and she kissed him on the cheek. Then without warning, the image of Frank’s body flashed through Jess’ mind. His glazed eyes burned into her head, she shuddered.

Frank noticed Jess tremble. “Hey, you ok?” Frank said with a hint of concern.

“What? Yeah I’m fine, just been sitting down for a while, my leg still hurts you know.” Jess had told Frank about the nightmares, but she didn’t want to tell Frank about this one. She didn’t want to retell it and have the scene play in her mind once again.

The rest of the day went by normally. Frank skinned and cleaned his kill before serving it for dinner. Jess and Frank talked and played games just as they had been doing for the past few weeks. They then went to bed. The next few months were the same. Once Jess leg healed, the two hunted together, neither of them wanting the other to go alone, just in case the beast was still out there.

Eventually the bitter cold of winter was washed away by the calm rains of spring, followed then by the harsh heat of summer. The memory of what had happened that day never left Jess’ mind, but her fear of ever seeing the thing again did. If it wanted to find them, to kill them, it would have done so already.

It was a warm summer’s morning when Jess and Frank went out to hunt together. They had found tracks left in the loose soil and were tracking whatever left them. Eventually, they passed a clearing, the same one where Jess had first shot at the beast. She looked over it, the memories of that day shot through her mind.

Frank noticed her gaze. “Hey, you still with me Jess?”

“What? Yeah I was just thinking” Jess looked back at Frank, trying her best to hide her thoughts. However, Frank knew her too well.

“Don’t worry about it Jess, that thing is long gone.” Frank said with a smile.

“Yeah I know.” Jess returned his smile. “But, the worry is still there, as unreasonable as it is.”

“I know, I ain’t expecting you to forget about it, but just know we’re safe.”

The two continued walking, following the trail. Absent mindedly talking about whatever came to mind. Then Jess paused, she noticed something towards the edge of her vision. She looked harder, then quickly took her rifle off her shoulder and aimed it at the thing.

Frank heard her gasp and her breath quicken and turned readying his rifle as well. “Jess what’s up? You see the deer?”

“No Frank. It’s back.” Jess centered her aim on a buck, twice as large as normal, its eyes afire. “It’s fucking back Frank, that goddamn demon is back.” Jess’ voice was calm, feeling safer with Frank and more confident in her abilities.

Frank aimed his rifle as the thing too. “Dammit, your call what should we do?”

Jess was silent, she wanted so badly to shoot at the thing, to kill it just as she had before. As she had before, she had already killed it and it had come back. Who’s to say that if she were to kill it again that it wouldn’t just come after her again?

“Jess? Come on talk to me.”

It wasn’t moving only staring.

“Jess you want to shoot it or not?”

Jess remembered that day, the pain she had endured, her leg that took over a month to fully heal, and the nightmares she endured for twice as long. Jess lowered her aim but didn’t break eye contact with the creature. “No, lower your gun.”

Frank looked at her confused. “Are you sure? What if it comes at us?”

“It won’t. If it wanted us dead it would’ve attacked already, it wouldn’t have let us see it. It’s only watching us.” Jess paused and remembered what had antagonized the creature in the first place. “It only attacked me when I shot at it first, before then it was only following me.”

“It could’ve just been waiting for a good time to attack.” Frank said, a mix between confused and concerned with Jess’ actions. “It could be doing the same right now.”

“That’s a possibility, but not a likely one. Like I said, it wouldn’t have let us see it.” Jess put her rifle back over her shoulder, and signaled Frank to do the same. “Let’s just keep going after our animal, and just keep an eye on that thing in the process.” The two watched as the fire in the creature’s eyes was snuffed out. It then turned and walked away from them.

Frank let out a relieved sigh. “Good call Jess, if I were out here alone, I definitely wouldn’t have passed that shot up. Let’s get going.”

The two managed to find the herd of deer that left the tracks, managing to score two kills, enough food for a month. It was around this time that Jess brought up the idea of starting a family. However, both agreed that teaching their kids in an environment that had such a dangerous and unpredictable creature was not a wise idea. Even if the creature seemed peaceful unless provoked, it was a risk that they were not willing to take.

It was at the end of summer that the arrangements were made. They packed their belongings and left their old home behind. They started their journey to a new point in their life, on the other side of the country, far from the horror of the past.

They were able to sell their old land and house, both of which were still in exceptionally good condition. The new plot of land laid no more than a few miles out of a small town, one with good schooling and safety. One perfect for a family that should no longer subsist off the land exclusively. Their new house was much larger than their old one, two stories and three bedrooms, perfect for their ideal family.

Several years had passed since the day that left Jess with a new scar, one with a far more interesting story than the one left by the bear. Everyone she told it to always brushed it off as ghost stories, but that excuse could never explain the scar. Jess and Frank now had a steady family two kids, their son Cayden, and their daughter, Andrea, just as Jess had seen all those years ago. Her and Frank had jobs inside the town they called home and were also able to make a good amount of money in hunting. Cayden was now old enough to begin hunting himself, with help from his parents of course. It was the night before they were supposed to bring him out to teach him the basics, hopefully getting him a kill.

Frank had already gone to bed and Jess was readying herself in the bathroom. She then walked out, seeing Frank already asleep. She smiled to herself, her life was good, and she couldn’t have been happier. She walked over to the window, looking down at the tree line that lay a few yards away. She then saw something in the darkness, her blood ran cold, her eyes widened, at the edge of the woods, stood a Buck, twice as large as normal, dim embers burning in its eyes.

Credit : Aaron York

 

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