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THE HUNTED ARE AMONG US story

Story ID:3979
Written by:Richard Laurent. Provencher (bio, contact, other stories)
Organization:Retired
Story type:Fiction
Location:Truro Nova Scotia Canada
Year:2008
Person:Richard L. Provencher
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Snowshoe rabbit prints were hasty in their scampering need to keep ahead of the hunter. Powerful back legs thrust downwards, gaining purchase on the softness of newly fallen snow, as the animal leaped forward in fearful jumps.

Silently and without pause, the relentless pursuer followed. Only the barking of his slight cough punctuated the naturalness of the land around him. His pair of pine wood Algonquin snowshoes, weathered and pear-shaped, created their own impressions one determined step at a time. Dark shadows remained within craters, as if to mask any malevolence in the hunter’s mind.

A willow branch hid beneath the crusty covering, a reminder from last night’s drop in temperature. Then scraping free from natural bondage whip-lashed backwards, thus announcing its presence in the crisp stillness of morning. A hand reached up to his face, remembering an earlier branch’s sting.

The task of following newly laid rabbit prints in the snow began at six am. It was almost an obsession for the man, an act of perseverance in tracking down the owner of these prints. Working from experienced he created an “S” trail until he turned up fresh tracks. He noticed the animal’s early morning jaunt had turned into hasty flight, since the man had been observed.

The rabbit’s trail now proved more challenging than first imagined, as it drew from its own bag of escape-tricks. At first it was more like a game, the rabbit bulldozing its way under a stand of scratchy raspberry bushes. Then ducking under overlapping spruce branches. To taunt his tormentor, the animal twitched its tail in derision dropping fresh samples of poop for the pursuer to ponder then circled around several times, crisscrossing its own path.

The animal’s footprints led the hunter through a harvest of hardwood, stretching tall over a period of perhaps twenty years. From a rabbit’s point of view, it was more like the perfect hideaway with a sprinkling of fallen branches gathered in clusters.

Keeping both ears tuned to the continuing pursuit, rabbit raced across an open expanse of beaver meadow. Then shuffled downwards into the shadows of a ravine. It was ideal since sunshine had little chance to penetrate clumps of brush and fallen trees. The prey rested within the masking sounds of a trickling stream. The rabbit’s animal-breath steamed, nostrils quivered.

Deep inside, a veteran heart jack-hammered. Seemingly loud enough to be heard beyond the ridge just vacated. Was it too much to hope the "shush" of water might provide a blanket of respite? Was it possible to cloak shivering sounds of fear as the four-footed animal trembled within these deep woods?

Nature’s Book of Menus brought the pursued back to reality. A hurried crunching from the chaser came like a summer thunderstorm in the quietness of this crisp morning. The hunter's approaching form sent new tremors racing through the tiny white body. And the animal leaned forward seeking a fresh escape route.

Ears strained for a return to earlier moments. Not so long ago, rabbit was safe nibbling quietly on twigs leaping from beneath a snow-laden field. Slender branches now whipsaw noisily from the man’s movements as he plowed through their midst. Willowy limbs wiggled free from their icicle connections attaching themselves to the snow-filled land surface.

A restful pause allowed the hunter a chance to capture his second wind of energy. In that short period of time, the forest scene provided a sense of awe for both hunter and hunted. It encouraged one last opportunity to remind them of nature’s beauty, before the main menu of the journey was to complete itself.

The fierceness of this hunting trip is determined by scowls tumbling through the hunter’s thought patterns. He tries to shy away from disappointment in missing this same quarry last time out. He was certain this was the same elusive foe. The man had carefully reviewed his topographical maps, determining where every ravine may lead. No longer would he wander aimlessly seeking his quarry.

Today, he was better prepared and the proof hid nearby.

The man’s determination decided it was time to push away Nature’s scenic beauty. And focus on the present situation; to force new logic into the equation of this hunt. One leather mitt patiently pushed aside pesky willow branches, allowing a full panorama of the dense woods.

The view introduced a winding stretch of forest from Balsam and Scotch trees to Poplar stragglers, acting like a swath of darker white on white.

Scattered birch, proud with aged memories reached high into the sky accepting reflecting sun’s blink across shredding birch skin. Tamarack and others not yet named in the hunter's repertoire of knowledge also seized space aside the hillside.

A brown shade moved boldly across the hunter’s view, gracefully stepping into a cove of trees. The suddenness of the deer’s foray aroused keen interest from the hunter. For the briefest of moments, he was tempted to retrace his steps to his station wagon. Back there rested his .30.30 caliber rifle, just the right answer for such a haughty buck.

But, that adventure was for another time. The hunter surmised he already invested too much time and energy on the set of rabbit tracks before him. The sight of the majestic buck, however, prodded old memories. On many occasions he and his father, now laid in the good earth, spent many seasons in these same woods.

The hunter paused a few moments to enjoy the view, reflecting on those past adventures. Then he made a decision, deciding to enjoy this campfire-spot under a large blue-tipped spruce. It was fitting to share space within the lure of virgin forest, where he and his dad once sat and talked about life.

He used one snowshoe to scrape away a circle of snow right to the frozen ground. Then placed a foundation of wood in preparation for smaller bits. Dad taught him the right types of wood to select. Placing wood tepee style was the best method to create the quickest start.

Before long, bare hands warmed over the fire. Curling flame produced a scent, reaching deep into his heart, encouraging the fondness of former memories.

“Always prepare a little fire, when you’re on an outing,” his father said so often. “It helps you relax, think, and recollect.” That was dad always encouraging his son. The hunter thought of his wife back home, and four children who depended on him. They understood his need to get away.

The family went on trips together, but on occasions it was necessary to be alone, to reflect and gather his wits.

He reflected on the death of his father several years before. And how painful it had been traveling from Nova Scotia to Toronto to attend the funeral. “A massive heart attack,” mom said over the phone. Death was so final, this son thought. And now he was pitting his hunting skills against a most worthwhile foe, a wily jackrabbit.

The man was proud of his wood lore, and his prowess at tracking prey. Patience is the key. And yet, raising a cold-barreled weapon of death made him reflect on his reasons for this particular hunt.

Beneath this majestic tree, the man knew he was an intruder. As he mellowed in life, he wondered why he needed to continue proving his manhood. Must he always shoot deer, partridge and rabbits? Why such a desire to overpower, to prove man’s dominance over nature?
His question was revealing and had no place in this adventure today. Or, did it?

The fire soon crumbled into a mass of smoking embers. And the man raised himself to full stature, stretched then prepared to resume the hunt. Except, it was no longer so important to extinguish the spirit of this brave rabbit. He knew the animal was nearby, filling nostrils with wood smoke, waiting and wondering what the relentless pursuer was going to do next.

The man checked his rifle making sure snow had not entered the barrel. Then he re-loaded the breech, flicking on the safety.

After ensuring the fire was out he mounted his snowshoes, turned and began to follow the last seen tracks. Not far away was a collection of deadfall, with a scattering of brush perhaps hiding his potential target. The man approached in a steady rhythm, each lift of snowshoes easing forward, eagerly, anticipating.

Finally, the rabbit could stand the emotional strain no longer. His presence was made known through an explosion of movement. Bolting from the shadows came as a desperate last-ditch effort to shake off his stubborn hunter-predator.

But the man was waiting for this precise moment. Stalking through the woods, patient in pursuit of a worthy foe, the prize now ran before him. The scene unfolded as if on replay with his father on similar hunting trips. He often wondered about the level of fear from their victims. It was a hint of memory that attached itself to his thoughts. However, the man knew this rabbit’s dash for freedom was much too late.

He quickly raised his .22 Cooey repeater to his shoulder in one fluid motion. Super accuracy in the hunter’s skills were fashioned through long hours of practice from firing at tin cans and bottles, during his march from youth to manhood.

An energized "POW! POW!" impatient from inactivity, would soon create an echo of mutated sounds. And then reverberate with a melancholy throughout the valley. The shuddering shock would surely be painful to the rabbit as it penetrated tender flesh. And a second intrusion would forge a deadly intrusion between its valley of bones.

Hunter and hunted had finally met; one prepared to shoot, one accepting its fate. The script was a replay of intensity, captured from ancient tales of the Hunt. Chapters of strategy, in planning and stalking were now complete.

The human’s heart hammered with excitement, exhaled satisfaction arising from an inward cheer. Yet, at this precise moment the slender instrument of destruction was lowered. Like breaking sunlight, a rippled smile slowly covered the hunter’s face.

Less than fifty feet away a jackrabbit panted with exhaustion. It was not yet laying on its side, covered in crimson, nor thrashing in anguish. However, this veteran of many seasons was prepared to face a loss of future. Today’s flight was at an end.

When was the hunter going to fire his weapon of anger? How soon would blood gush from a fatal headshot staining the whiteness in an area of final rest? Somehow Rabbit knew the mask of death approached.

The serendipity of this morning provided an air of uncertainty within the stillness of a proud forest. High above, a crow's “Caw-Caw” signaled a desire for a declaration of truce between man and beast. This feathered creature did not wish to depart to a more tranquil valley, while something unusual was taking place below.

Victory shouts did not rush from the man’s grizzled throat.

Instead there was gladness in the finality of the moment. With a lighter heart the man realized chasing wild creatures through the forest no longer was a reason for his being. Respect for this creature of the forest overwhelmed him as a blanket of compassion.

The man was certain his decision was an acknowledgement of success.

And yes, his father would understand. No longer the hunter, the man lowered his rifle, bullet unspent, a smile expanding beneath tears in his eyes. “This one’s for you, dad,” he managed to say. Uttered softly at first, words were barely heard by the rabbit awaiting its final sentence. Suddenly the hunter’s shout lifted high above the silence in the crisp woodland air.

“Dad! I MISSS YOUUUUU!” became an echo of love, from ridge to rocky ridge.

Snowshoe rabbit was uncertain of the momentum in this moment. And most surprised to be alive, not expelling the last of life’s breathing. The man’s exuberant shout faded, acknowledging the end of today’s hunt. Then turning towards home, he cradled an empty rifle against his chest.

And rabbit was allowed to live in the domain of his inheritance.

* * *

© Richard L. Provencher 2007

Richard and Esther Provencher invite you to read their first of three novels ‘FOOTPRINTS” now available from www.synergebooks.com. “Someone’s Son” and “Into The Fire” will also be available soon by the same company. These books were written during the first several years while Richard was recovering from his stroke, which felled him in 1999. He is still recovering.

The link to “FOOTPRINTS” is as follows: http://www.synergebooks.com/ebook_footprints.html