Chapter 2: Danny Collier's Hunting Trip
Danny was in the woods well after sunset. If a Fish and Game Conservation Officer caught him, he knew he would be royally screwed. But, from what he had heard at the Nashua Fish and Game Club, the officers had swept through Mont Vernon last week. Sure, they could change up their rhythm, but there had been a rumor of poaching in Greenfield. Danny was sure the officers would be working that area over the week.
He stepped along the path, using night-vision goggles to follow the slim game trail. Another hundred yards or so, and he'd find his trail camera and figure out if anything was coming around the salt lick he'd put out the week before. Danny paused, shifted his deer rifle from his left shoulder to his right, and debated whether or not to stop and take a leak.
Definitely shouldn't have had those beers at Henry's, Danny thought.
Deciding he'd go later, and not anywhere the deer might catch wind of it, Danny continued on.
A few minutes passed, and he came to the small clearing where he had set up his salt lick. His trail camera was still attached to the young elm tree he'd chosen, and Danny grinned. He opened the camera, pulled the SD card, and then dug his small digital camera out of the front pocket of his hunting jacket. Even with his gloves on, Danny managed to slide the SD card into the camera. A moment later, he flipped his goggles up and was accessing images from the trail.
Most of the initial stills were just of a raccoon passing by, but then he caught one of a good sized doe. After that, he had a pair of does, and finally a buck with a six-point rack. He checked the time-stamps on the pictures and noticed they had all been taken between six and seven PM.
It's only quarter to six now, Danny thought with a grin. He scanned through a couple more pictures of the wandering raccoon, one of a border collie, and then he stopped, his breath catching in his throat.
The picture showed a man. An old man with a large mustache and a broad-brimmed hat. He wore an old three-quarter length jacket and a pair of jeans with old boots, and he was staring at the deer lick.
But Danny could see through him.
The outline of the man was barely visible, and through the man, Danny could see the other side of the clearing and the distant dark shape of the old Kenyon house on the crest of a slight hill.
What the hell? Danny thought, finally exhaling. He flipped through the next few pictures, but saw nothing else. Shaking his head, he turned his camera off, put his goggles back down, and returned the SD card to the trail camera.
It was then he noticed there were lights on in the Kenyon house, which was another thousand yards across open ground. Danny remembered there had been talk down at Henry's that somebody had bought the place.
Turned out it was true.
More luck to them, Danny thought.
With a grunt, Danny walked around the edge of the glade, staying in the tree line until it cut away sharply to the right. His hide was there, and he settled down in it, getting his rifle set and making sure the safety was off. For a moment, he wondered if the new owners of the Kenyon house would be upset about him hunting on their property, and then he chuckled. He'd have a kill field dressed and ready to go long before anyone could get out to him.
Getting comfortable, he waited, neither moving nor making any sort of sound. The slight pressure of beer on his bladder vanished as he focused on the salt lick.
Minutes slid by, and Danny got in the hunting zone, perfectly happy to be doing nothing. He breathed easily, in through his nose and out through his mouth. He waited, watching.
Soon he heard a soft crunch, the faintest of sounds. Silence followed, and then a few minutes later, the deer appeared. It was a doe, and while Danny would have liked the six pointer that had shown up before, he was happy with the animal in front of him.
Lifting his goggles, Danny took a deep breath and slowly lowered his face to the stock of his rifle, the wood cold against his cheek. He looked through the night scope on the rifle. The built in light suppressor in the optics would ensure that the light of the shot wouldn't blind him. Danny watched the doe amble cautiously up to the salt and start licking it.
Smiling, he took careful aim at the shoulder of the animal, at the heart, and slowly squeezed the trigger.
The recoil on the rifle was slight, the sound brutal in the stillness of the night. The doe leaped away in fright, managed a single long step, and fell to her side.
The shot was clean.
The doe was dead.
Danny dropped his goggles into place, picked up the hot brass shell casing from the ground, slipped it into an outer pocket, and quickly collapsed the hide. He stuffed it into his shoulder bag and hurried back to the trail camera, undoing the Velcro strap and sliding the entire assembly into a side pocket on his pants. Shouldering his rifle, Danny jogged out to the doe. He dropped down to his knees, slipped his gutting knife out of its sheath on his belt, and got to work.
A few minutes into it, Danny had the doe open and the offal tossed to one side, the smell of blood hot and stinking of iron in his nose.
"Iron," a voice whispered.
Danny stiffened and looked around.
He couldn't see anything.
Suddenly uncomfortable, Danny turned back to the doe and started working on the rest of the --
"Salt," the same voice whispered.
Danny got up to his feet, took a couple of steps and looking around, he turned sharply and slipped in the doe's innards.
"Hell's bells!" Danny swore, dropping the knife so he wouldn't stab himself. He hit his head and knocked the goggles off into the doe's stomach.
"You've got to be kidding me," he groaned, already feeling the blood seeping into his pants.
"Iron and salt," the voice whispered.
Danny scrambled to his feet, slipping again in the bloody grass before he was able to stand. Twisting around, he found the speaker.
It was the old man from the picture on the trail camera, but he was still just as see through.
Danny felt a chill sweep over him as the old man looked at him with a pair of tired, hazel eyes.
"Iron and salt," the old man said once more. "Iron and salt."
Something unbearably cold wrapped around Danny's heart, squeezing it mercilessly. Danny collapsed to the ground, falling onto his left side. Unable to move, unable to breathe, he heard the old man again.
"Iron and salt."
Danny's vision slowly collapsed, the old man's face the last thing he saw.