He just nodded. “Kota, it’s different when a girl best friend wants to date a guy best friend. It’s… complicated, because if something goes wrong, I’m going to have to kill him. And I don’t want to kill him.”
I nodded. “I understand that, definitely. That’s why I haven’t done it.”
“So Connelly is treating you right? Not trying anything?”
I smiled. “Well, I guess I might be going on a double date with him, Ivan, and Sue tonight.” Dale tensed. “Sue said Ivan had already asked him and he said yes, but I don’t know what he said yes to, the double date, or us just hanging out with her and Ivan.” I shrugged.
“Well, like I said before,” he started, but I finished for him.
“Call you if I need anything.” He nodded and I smiled. “C’mon, get your gun.” We all three headed into the living room, where I had left mine and Sue’s shotguns. Dale came in after me, carrying his 300 win-mag. Chase returned a few minutes later carrying his own shotgun, then Louis, Jack, and Jason with theirs too.
“Kota!” Jack said happily when he saw me. He scooped me up in a big hug. “I didn’t know you knew these guys!”
“Yeah, guys, why didn’t you tell us you knew her?” Jason asked Dale, Louis, and Chase as he hugged me too.
Dale shrugged, “How were we supposed to know? Anyway, are we ready to go?” Everyone nodded and we piled into Louis’ bronco. The guns all went in the very back, all in their cases, while I sat in the front between Louis and Dale, and Jack, Jason, Sue and Chase sat in the back.
“This is a little crowded, don’t you think?” I asked, feeling a tad squished in between two burly guys.
“How do you think I feel?” Sue said and as I glanced over my shoulder it looked like she was practically in Chase’s lap.
“No whining!” Dale said as he cranked up the music on the radio.
“Yeah! Those who whine will be left behind!” Jack yelled and everyone laughed.
Then right before we left, Chase and Sue couldn’t take it anymore, so they hopped out and rode in his truck.
Twenty minutes later we were leaving town and Dale turned the music down, then finally off. “So, how long has it been since you’ve been hunting?” Jack asked from the back.
“I haven’t been in a long time.” I said and Dale and Chase agreed. “What about you?”
“We just went the weekend before last,” Jack answered and Jason agreed. “Me, Jason, and Louis.”
“Oh yeah, what were you hunting? Get anything?”
“We were hunting the big game,” Jack said.
“But we didn’t get anything,” Jason added.
“Louis, you know where we’re going?” Dale asked after a few minutes.
“Yeah,” he nodded, “I know a perfect spot.”
By the time he finally stopped, we were a few hours outside of town, where all the roads were little more than dirt tracks. When the bronco stopped, we all jumped out and went to the back to retrieve our guns. “So,” Dale said as he loaded his gun, “What’s the game of the day?”
“Deer,” Chase suggested as he and Sue met back up with them.
“I like that,” I agreed. “The biggest buck wins, and two do equal a regular sized buck.” Everyone nodded.
“Loser team buys the winner team lunch,” Jason added, and everyone nodded.
“Okay, teams; Jack and Jason, Kota and –”
“I got Kota,” Louis interrupted Dale just as he was probably about to say he would be with me.
He tried to hide the look in his eyes, but nodded, and finished, “and me and Chase. Sue, you go with Louis and Kota. Anything happens, two blows will do. Two blows and then one long blow mean we’re done and heading back to the bronco, got it?” He was gesturing to the whistles we all had around our necks. Everyone nodded, and then we all separated in different directions. Dale threw me a look that said ‘Be careful’ and ‘call me if he tries anything’ before looking at Louis and then disappearing through the trees with Chase. I looked to Louis, who nodded for us to follow and thought, Louis, you are going to get yourself killed if you keep this up.
Sue and I shared a look. “Just follow my lead.” She nodded and then we followed after Louis.
We headed south of the bronco, fanning out from each other and stepping quietly. The trees above were mostly evergreens, so at least we didn’t have to worry too much about a ton of dead leaves. Instead we had snow. I scanned the perimeter ahead and around me, then glanced over at Louis, who nodded that the coast was clear so far. I glanced over at Sue, who was looking around and when she caught sight of me looking she nodded too. There was no telling how long we would be out here, or if we would even catch anything, but I didn’t care. To me, there was something about being in the forest, so far away from civilization, that changed me. I felt freer; I could follow my instincts more readily, and in a way it was like I was allowed be more animal because that’s how you found the animals.
Time felt different in here too, so I wasn’t sure how long we were out there before we heard the first shot. It was to our right, and birds left the trees fleeing to the right. We froze, our shotguns ready, and only our eyes moved, quickly scanning the area over and over. We waited, and listened. Nothing. Glancing at each other, we nodded and then continued, stopping every once in a while when we heard something.
And then finally, I saw him.
He was a beautiful, fourteen point buck. Tall, clearly defined muscles, and a shining pelt. I glanced at Louis, who was still walking and hadn’t seen him yet, and pointed. He followed my finger and then froze, nodding, and then I did the same with Sue. We all raised our shotguns, but they allowed me a courtesy shot as I spotted him first.
After quickly making sure it was loaded, I locked the gun in place in the crook of my shoulder. I looked through my scope and aimed with his chest in my cross-hairs. He stood, looking around with his ears up and alert from the other team’s shot. This kill would surely get us the prize.
I breathed, slow and steady breaths, but then just as I was pulling the trigger back, something huge and covered in black shadows dove at the buck. My gun went off and the creature, whatever it was, careened away and back into the trees with a loud screech that pierced my ears. The buck, scared to death, went darting through the brush to the right, but I just stood there.
It had all happened so fast; I had no idea what to think. What the hell was that thing? Louis was suddenly by my side and echoed my thoughts. “Kota, are you okay? What the hell was that thing? Kota?”
“Yeah, um, I have no idea,” I managed to say.
“You shot at it,” he said, glancing back to where it had disappeared. “As a matter of fact, I think you hit it.”
“I think we should go now.” Sue was standing close beside me, holding her gun and looking around warily.
“I was already pulling the trigger back, and when it came down I guess I aimed for it instead… reflex,” I said, still running through it over and over in my mind.
“Well, come on. Maybe we can still catch that buck before the others.” We followed him up to where the buck had stood and found the tracks and where my bullet went into a tree. “Well, you hit it.” He waved us over to a bush. There were dark red drops on the leaves and the ground underneath.