THE HUNTER

 

He slowly followed the river downstream. Stepping carefully.  Picking his way slowly amidst the rocks, snow and ice. The lake would be frozen. Less than a foot of snow would make walking easy. The crossing would be manageable. He saw little sign of game. Tracks of deer and coyote circled each other in an endless game. The other side of the lake held more promise. More cover and more game. He continued working downstream stepping carefully.

 

An opening was showing through the trees. A vibrant blue sky and fluffy white clouds could be seen through the breaks. The moist snow crunched under his feet. He listened to the river growing louder and more excited as it approached the lake. The sky was wide open and endless as he broke into the clearing. The flat white surface of the lake stretched out two miles before bending to the right. He knew it was four miles in total length. He would follow the right bank.

 

He listened to the methodic crunch of his boots against the backdrop of a wild and singing wind. He could feel pleasant moisture and heat on his face. He took off his mitten and put his hand to his face. It was warm to the touch. He slung his rifle over his shoulder. He allowed his breathing to slow then resumed walking. He could not remember it ever being this warm in January. The crunch of the snow and song of the wind began to carry him as his mind drifted. 

 

There was a noise; a noise that was wrong and did not belong. He stopped walking. He was about halfway to the bend. He had walked about a mile. The wind was still singing. He had returned completely to the present, but he did not know what it was…what had snapped him out of his reverie. He took another look around, shifted the backpack, and then resumed walking.

 

His boots again crunched the snow. His mind again was drifting and slowing. He again heard something, and at the same time the bottom fell out from under his feet. As a child he would drop large rocks into buckets of water. It was kind of like this sound. He was wet. Fingers of ice were beginning to wrap around his body. He held onto the ice with his left hand and slipped his right arm out of his backpack and rifle sling. He switched hands and repeated the process. The backpack slid down his back. He felt the rifle bounce off his lower leg. He grabbed the ice with both hands and leaned forward while pressing down. His upper body slid up onto the ice. Again that sound…a rock dropping into a bucket of water. 

 

He again leaned forward and pressed down on the ice. This time when he fell back his head went below the surface. He coughed and sucked in cold air. Somewhere in the distance the wind was still singing. He leaned forward and pressed down with his arms. For a minute he was confused. He looked down at his arms. Nothing was happening. The enormity of the betrayal was beginning to dawn on him. His left hand slipped off the ice. He was willing it to rise, but nothing was happening. Then his right slipped, and he was sinking. As he sank he was watching himself as a child run across the backyard.

 

He put his hand to his face. It was warm to the touch. He could feel light on his face. Someone was speaking to him. There were no words. She was holding him. Her eyes were moist. Her mouth relaxed with the hint of a sad smile. Again someone was speaking, “It is OK…it is over.” They were not spoken words. They had landed softly and quietly inside his mind.

 

He looked at her face. She was watching him. He felt a tearing inside. He was reminded of the fall turnover on the lake. The cooler thoughts and memories were sinking displacing the lighter warmer more buoyant thoughts and memories below. These bubbled to the surface. He remembered her. He had always known her. They had always been together. She had come here to meet him. She had known he was coming, and had come and waited for him. They were one. She was laughing now.

 

She put a hand up and gently closed his eyes. He could feel her inside him. They were together as they had always been. He put his hand to his face. It was warm to the touch. Suddenly his thoughts stopped. There was a noise; a noise that was wrong and did not belong.

 

He opened his eyes and was looking across the lake. There was an explosion 10 feet into the underbrush. A deer broke from cover. Flashes of brown raced between the trees. His rifle was off his shoulder and in his hands. Swinging slow…tracking as the deer gained on the iron sights. There was another explosion.

 

He could see red against white. The deer was down and thrashing in the snow and underbrush. He dropped to a knee waiting. Slowly the movement ceased. All was quiet on the lake and in the forest. After the brief calm the wind began to speak softly with the trees, “It is OK…it is over.”