Wednesday, May 22, 2019
Seven Skinny Cows: Duckworth
Orion and Fidelis moved slowly along the edge of the grassy marsh in the gathering gloom of evening. They moved east with the wind at their back, a nearly inpenetrable scrum of thorny scrub to their left and the partially frozen bog to their right.
Fidelis was a great hunting dog and Orion was a very good hunter...for a human. But even a mediocre dog can turn a good human hunter is a great hunter if they can work as a team.
Rumors of deer sign had come to Kate’s Store even as winter belatedly showed the first signs of loosing its jaws on the land. Orion was looking for rabbits or the elusive deer. Either would be a welcome addition to the pot.
Orion moved slowly and stopped often. Rabbits will hold tight if the hunter keeps moving but will bolt if they fear the predator is triangulating a fix for the pounce.
The rabbits along the edge of the marsh had not been hunted by humans much. They would run thirty yards and then freeze. That was a pay-day shot with either shotgun or .22. Orion carried the smaller gun, the .22 as the shells were far more plentiful and either were equally deadly when put in the right place.
The .22 was decidedly on the light end of weapons for deer but Orion had taken them before. Close shots between the eyes meant the deer dropped in its tracks. A shot to the heart or lungs took longer. The key was to wait an hour and let the deer bleed out. Consequently, Orion was dressed in expectation of a long wait in the gathering wind.
It felt like it was going to storm as the wind was coming in gusts and was slowly clocking from west to north.
A half mile from where the hunter started out, a rabbit scooted out from beneath a tent of cattails. It stopped thirty-five yards out, which was just a little farther than the hunter was comfortable shooting given the gusty wind. Edging forward, the rabbit darted another ten yards out.
A game of cat-and-mouse resulted in Orion investing twenty minutes before harvesting the rabbit. Only then did Orion realize that Fidelis was missing.
Back-tracking, Orion found where their tracks diverged. Following the tracks Orion found Fidelis caught in a snare with unseeing eyes bugged out. The poacher had used a spring pole and a cam-lock. Fidelis never had a chance.
A smoldering rage grew Orion. Somebody had been snaring deer and not sharing them or taking the excess to Kate’s Store. That would account for the scarcity of deer. Orion knew that families were snaring deer on the north end of the neighborhood and sharing among themselves. Nobody hunted where they had their snares set.
Orion saw the trail stomped by boots leading northwest from the snare. Orion followed the trail the way a buck follows a scrape-line, walking parallel from the track, ten yards to the downwind.
It bee-lined to Carson Duckworth’s property.
The smoldering rage became all consuming.
Liars lie. Thieves steal. Cheaters cheat. Duckworths had been a bur under everybody's saddle, including Orion's ever since Ebola hit Michigan.
Thinkers think. Planners plan. Hunters hunt.
Orion moved back toward the snare and made a small prayer to Fidelis’s soul. Fidelis would understand. Fidelis was a hunter, too. Fidelis’s body was bait in the great hunt.
Orion waited for two hours. It was beyond full dark when a flashlight came bobbing through the tangled brush toward the snare. Orion had his back turned to ensure that the flashlight did not cause night blindness. Nothing is more recognizable at night than a human face or eyes reflecting light back to the holder of a light.
When the poacher bent over to examine his catch, Orion shot him in the back of the head. The gentle cough of the .22 with the supressor was swallowed up by the snow and wind. The poacher had been given just as much chance as the poacher had given Fidelis.
Looking at the poacher, Orion saw that it was Cameron, Carson’s 19 year old son. Cameron had been pulling a sled.
Orion set up in another concealed position. It seemed likely that Carson would come looking for his son when he did not return, either to help drag the deer or to see what the problem was. Orion did not want to be surprised disposing of Cameron’s corpse.
Ninety minutes later, another flashlight came bobbing down the track. That confirmed in Orion’s mind that poaching was a family project and that both were culpable for Fidelis’s death and for poaching.
Orion killed the second Duckworth from a range of fifteen feet as the senior Duckworth slowed to push aside some thorny canes Orion had woven across the track at belt and head height.
Orion had a long night but nobody was waiting at home for Orion’s return.
Orion dragged the two Duckworths, one at a time into the marsh and deposited them into an old drainage ditch. A fringe of brush grew along the cusp of the ditch. The coming storm would fill the ditch with snowdrift driven by the north wind. The snow would not melt until April.
Then Orion took Fidelis back home and placed him in a plum thicket that grew on a rise in the marsh. There was no way to secure Fidelis’s body from scavengers but Orion knew that Fidelis would not mind.
Finally, Orion scrubbed the blood out of the sled and dragged it back to Duckworth’s property. Orion left the sled on the west side of the property beneath some spruce trees.
Then Orion walked home as the snow fell thickly and covered the story that had unfolded that night.