I glanced over at the other hunter as we trampsed through the woods. It was early February, a rare warm day after a cold winter. The snow hung heavy on the trees, and the silence of the forest was broken only by the occasional wet plop as a chunk of melted slush fell from a branch to the floor below.
The other hunter’s face was set in an angry grimace, and he clutched his rifle tightly to his chest as he stomped through the brush. He had shared the cabin with me the night before, but had been anything but friendly.
If anything, I had to admit to myself, he had seemed… vengeful.
Suddenly, the man held up one gloved hand, signaling a halt. In a flash, even as I came to a stop in the wet snow, his rifle was at his shoulder.
“Do you see anything?” I whispered, trying to peer through the leafless twigs. I didn’t see any movement, but the man nodded, peering through the scope of his rifle. The weapon barked in his hands, and I saw a patch of brown suddenly resolve itself into a deer, jerking away.
The animal was clearly wounded, but it still bounded away, and the other hunter cursed loudly. His hand racked back the slide of his rifle, chambering another round. “Shut up!” he roared.
“I, I didn’t say anything,” I began, confused.
“Not you! Him!” The man spun around, his rifle still up at his shoulder. The barrel swung past my face, and I threw myself down to the ground, flopping into the snow in a mad attempt to avoid being shot.
My newfound hunting partner was clearly insane. He fired off another shot, over my prone body. “Stop running and face me like a man!” he shouted out into the forest.
“Are you insane?” I hollered up at him. “The damn deer’s gone!”
“No, he’s circling! Taunting me!”
Terrified, I lifted my head up from the snow. To my surprise, I did see a flash of movement in the trees around us. As it moved from tree to tree, I saw that the deer was still hanging close. It paused between a couple of large oaks, and I could swear that it seemed to be moving its lips at us.
The man let out another yell and pulled the trigger of his gun again. This shot finally connected, and the deer collapsed down onto the ground.
Moving with caution, I lifted myself up to my feet, brushing the loose snow off of the orange vest I wore over my coat. “Good shot?” I offered, glancing warily towards my unhinged partner.
He was still wearing a scowl on his face. “Fucker,” he cursed, spitting in the direction of the deer. “Well, I shut you up! Who’s impotent now?”
This man was clearly insane. “Listen, I think I’m going to try branching off in this other direction,” I ventured, cocking a thumb over my shoulder in the opposite direction.
The man finally took his eyes from his dead prey and looked at me. His face seemed to relax, losing some of the anger, but I kept on edge. “Suit yourself,” he said in a much milder tone. “But all the deer are off in this direction. Trust me on that.” His face tightened with anger again. “I can hear ’em mocking me.”
As I slowly backed away, the man jerked his rifle up to point into the branches of a nearby tree. “Shut your damn holes!” he shouted, pulling the trigger again. I saw a squirrel go scampering away, chattering in the branches, as the man fired another shot after it. “I’ll get ya! I’ll get you all!”
I turned tail, not running, but definitely not walking slowly. Time to get out of here, I decided. This was probably the wise choice.