Evidence of Absence: Chapter 4

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Photo by Kalen Emsley on Unsplash

Chapter 3 is here.

visually followed the parting of tall grasses to trace the bear’s path. The animal had crossed straight over the dried swamp and reentered the woods on the other side, heading west, opposite the way the moose was going.

Satisfied he had a bead on the bear’s location, Jim returned to the moose tracks heading east from that point. He rose from his squat and followed the moose through the swamp and into a copse of white birch trees. Tracking grew more difficult as the ground got rocky full of big clusters of ferns, but moose are hardly creatures of finesse. Beyond the birch trees spread wide meadow. Beyond that, denser evergreen forest.

Jim didn’t like the idea of crossing the meadow’s open space because the moose might see them out there. He also didn’t like it because there’d be no place to hide if the moose, or the bear for that matter, decided to get froggy.

Most hunting guides wouldn’t be too concerned about that kind of thing. Despite popular myths and horror movies, animals rarely attack human beings. One of the things Jim had picked up from eight years in the 2nd Ranger Battalion, however, was an obsessive level of caution. His desire to take chances had disappeared years before in Mosul, Iraq, the very first time a sniper’s round cracked the air over his head.

Civilians watching war movies think of special operations guys as cowboys, but that was far from Jim’s experience. The way he’d learned to see the world was that only the mentally weak get cocky, and only the selfish get careless.

Fools gamble. Warriors prepare.

Still, the way around the meadow was rough-going and would take them hours of hiking. Redling had paid for up to three days of hunting, but Jim wanted wrap things up as quickly as possible so he could figure out what the hell had happened to Clay.

He stopped at the border between the birch trees and the meadow and looked back at Redling.

“Keep your eyes up. Things sneak up on you in the grass.”

Redling nodded gravely.

Jim stepped out into the meadow. Tracking there was easier because he could follow the path the moose had cut through the high grasses and flowers. The parting atop the vegetation was slight and would go unnoticed to the untrained eye, but Jim’s eye was the polar opposite of untrained.

They were halfway through the meadow and cresting a small hill when Jim saw the moose. It stood below in a rocky streambed, licking at water trickling between cobblestones less than a hundred yards away. It was an easy shot for Jim and a makeable one for Redling.

Jim unslung his backpack and flattened on the top of the hill, moving slowly so as not to alert the moose with sudden motion.

Redling crawled up to join him.

“Can you make that shot?” Jim whispered.

Redling nodded.

“Be sure. If you miss the kill shot, you’ll give him painful end. We’ll be tracking it for hours, too.”

Redling nodded again.

“I can hit the kill shot clean.”

The businessman dug his elbow into the ground and raised his rifle to his eye. He was steady, Jim would give that.

He flipped his safety off.

Jim nearly interrupted him to say thanks for having the safety on in the first place. It never ceased to shock him how many otherwise intelligent, sensible human beings will run around in the woods with their safeties off. That’s why there were so many news stories about hunters blowing their own balls apart or accidentally shooting their best friend’s face.

Redling was alright, all things considered.

The CEO steadied his breathing and lightly pressed his finger to the trigger. He was about to pull off his shot when a loud grunt startled him. He whipped around with rifle at the fore, eyes wide with fear.

Continued here.

Copyright 2020 Jeff Suwak

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I’m not in the Matrix. I AM the Matrix.

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