The autumn sun had just spread its rays in golden slivers through the forest’s canopy, and she paused to absorb their warmth by crouching down on the frosty meadow. She felt the comforting heat on her exposed face and nose while allowing it to soak deeply into her gray-brown hair. He waited with her; snuggling together, they breathed in the cold morning air and exhaled their balmy vapors as one. The mist of their lungs floated up to blend with the low ground fog as they briefly postponed their hunt to take in the daystar’s majesty.
He moved on ahead and she rested a moment longer to observe her life-mate. He too was gray, grayer than her, but his body was still brawny and lean. Although their four boys were already grown and gone, she didn’t consider her companion old; she preferred the term mature. He looked back, implying that they should stick together to give their quarry less chance of picking up their scent. She took the hint and quickly but quietly joined him.
He nudged her to take a look at the fresh deer tracks and then took the lead attempting to stay as low as possible to hide in the tall wild grass. She stuck close behind and recalled the many times they’d hunted with their boys. She remembered the kids had regularly frustrated him by either being too hurried or too loud. It’s amazing that they’d ever caught anything with such a rambunctious clan. Today they wouldn’t have such problems, but still, she felt a tinge of regret that her sons were not with them.
She nearly ran into him when he abruptly stopped and huffed an inaudible admonishment. Ahead in a clearing, nearby a small lake, was a grand whitetail buck. Most hunters bag eight-point deer, but this beauty had at least twelve antler points. In relative age, it was about the same maturity as the two gray hunters. The old deer was unaware of their presence and calmly chewed some shiny seductive moss growing on a felled tree trunk.
She waited for his signal, but before he got his chance, a shot rang out in the chilly October air. It was quickly followed by two more in rapid succession, and the buck let out a final dismal roar before falling to the earth with his lifeblood pouring out of at least two holes in his neck and upper shoulder. The two hunters cautiously remained hidden as four drunken men noisily approached. One of them swallowed down the rest of his beer and tossed the can aside to callously pick up the buck’s head by his enormous rack and boast his kill.
“Lookee at my trophy! Twelve gawl-danged points!” he exclaimed with a greasy grin.
Another man slung his rifle and pushed the other aside. He pointed at the bullet hole in the animal’s chest and challenged, “You just grazed his neck…my shot went right into his heart! This kill is mine!”
The two began to scuffle while the other two laughed and egged them on. She was sure that her boys would’ve never behaved so foully. Besides that, it was bow hunting season; firearms were not allowed until early November! As she was thinking these things, she saw her partner grumble, and she feared that he was thinking the same thoughts, but unlike her, he was about to confront the interlopers.
Regrettably she was spot on. Her mate stridently leapt into the clearing but before he could express his anger and frustration, one of the two men observing the fight immediately aimed his rifle and fired. He didn’t just fire once, but ripped off a string of six or eight shots. There was no doubt; the hoary gray hunter now lay dead next to his quarry.
She froze; they shot him! They actually killed him! Beasts!
She knew there was nothing she could do, and without a second thought she turned and bolted. As she fled, she heard more echoes of rifle fire and one of the thugs shout, “There’s another one! Get ‘er!”
Her breathing was starting to become labored by the time she reached the road. In the far ditch was a rusty red pickup truck. She figured it belonged to the four murderers. Looking back into the forest, she noted her position so she could possibly return. For now, she decided to head up the road in the direction that the truck was pointed, thinking that the criminals had come from the opposite direction and would return home that way.
As she hiked along the roadway, she stayed in the ditch to avoid traffic. Nobody stopped to help her, and a semi-truck only honked at her to keep off the road. She hesitated as she approached a small town, but glancing back she noticed the blood-red pickup! Frantically, she ducked under the porch of a bar and grill before the killers noticed her. Lucky for her, the truck blew right past the place, and she breathed a sullen sigh of relief.
She was tired and miserable, so she decided to rest in the shelter she’d found until dark. As she slept until well past midnight, she had fitful dreams of her mate and his awful fate. She awoke to the sound of the barkeep locking up for the night. Once he was gone, she slunk out from under the porch and headed back the way she’d come.
The traffic was lighter at night and nobody noticed her as she wandered slowly back to where she’d escaped the forest. Once there, she used her practiced hunting skills to locate the clearing where the reprehensible deeds were done. However, the buck and her mate were nowhere to be found. The men had taken them both away in their hellish red truck.
She sniffed the pools of congealed blood and glanced despondently at the nearby lake. The first full moon of October, the hunter’s moon, reflected brightly off its calm waters and she looked to the sky. She was now a lone wolf, so she let out a forlorn howl of grief and desperation at the tragic and senseless loss of her dearest loved one.