Jandrax 72

It would be necessary to go inland to hunt but Jean doubted his ability to do so on foot, so he found a creek, furled the sail and bent over the oars. The flood washed about him as he struggled upstream. He had drawn the sideboards up to reduce both draft and drag. After half an hour of struggling he had not gained a hundred meters. The flood was simply too strong. He let the gig slip back downstream. He was too tired to curse.

Jean rode the current out into the lake, caught fish, and ate them raw. The pain in his leg became excruciating from the unaccustomed strain at the oars, but the pain inside his chest was worse. Once again he had been frustrated; once again the verdict of his peers had been vindicated – he was a cripple and therefore unworthy.

***

That night he relived in dreams a portion of his island ordeal, and when he woke he could not sort the memory of dream from the memory of reality. Had the whole affair been hallucination? A comforting thought, but Jean found himself clinging to the memory. He feared it, but feared more to lose it.

By faint moonlight he let semen fall into the water, then lay back, scarcely relieved, to mourn the passing of a fantasy.

***

He made a final pull on the oars and the gig grounded against the gravel beach. Shipping the oars, he lifted his bad leg overside, then pivoted on the gunwale and dropped into the shallow water. He took the painter and painfully dragged the gig higher up on the beach. Jean was going hunting. He might not return, but he refused to acknowledge the doubts that tried to unman him. He took only his rifle and ammunition and the clothes he was wearing.

At this point the shore consisted of a beach backed by a steep embankment which Jean tried unsuccessfully to climb, then turned down the beach searching for a break. He found it in the form of a small stream which had cut through and won free to the lake. The ditch was too steep and muddy to negotiate, so Jean stepped into the stream and walked up the stream bed in knee-deep water. His feet had been numb for an hour in the snowmelt and now that numbness crept upward.

Out on top he was in a low jungle of mixed bushes, none of which were more than man-height and all of which had grown since the melt began. The first sprigs of gluegrass were appearing but would not become a gummy carpet until the waters had further receded. He could not see twenty meters ahead.

Here he would hunt. Here the reduced visibility gave even a slow-moving cripple a chance to blunder upon game. Of course, hunting alone like this he was not likely to survive long, but at least he could go out like a man.

Twenty minutes later something stirred in the bushes before him. Moving inland meant moving westward into the prevailing wind, so Jean could reasonably expect to catch the animal unaware. He moved carefully through the ankle-deep mud.

Trihorns! Of the creatures he might meet, only the longnecks were more dangerous. Jean faded back into a clump of siskal and waited, his rifle ready. There was a bull with two cows, all in full antler, along with three calves. He could probably kill the bull with his first shot; he might kill one cow with his untried underbarrel. Even if he were that fortunate, the other cow would kill him. more tomorrow

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