The first storm of winter hung poised above the California mountains. It had paused, but now it was ready to descend once again.
A buck yearling deer struggled through the snow, searching out food. He moved downslope, breaking the drifts with his chest as he heaved through them. In the lee of a drift, he munched some frozen whitethorn, then moved on. Suddenly, he was startled and leaped sideways. There, half covered with snow, was a thing. He would have run, but the snow was too deep, so he froze with his eyes glued on this unknown object. A slight wind from his rear carried the unknown’s scent away from him.
The object did not move. The yearling came closer, carried by a curiosity that an older deer would not have indulged. He caught the scent of Man and prepared to run, but the wind drifted snow over the upturned face. The young buck moved closer, finally sniffing cautiously at the face.
* * *
Tim was brought back to consciousness by a soft caress. He opened his eyes and looked directly into the face of the young buck. It was already leaping back, startled by the flickering eyelids, when Tim lunged. His outstretched hand caught a forehoof, but the deer pulled free and plunged away through the drifts.
Tim staggered to his feet and searched about for his weapons. Plunging into the snow, he cast about desperately, finding one spear, then the other, and his atlatl. His bow was gone and his quiver was empty. Ignoring the pain in his ankle, he ran after the deer.
Neither Tim nor the deer could make much headway. Here in the hollow, the snow had drifted deep Tim staggered over the snow, following the path the young deer had broken. Without his crude showshoes, he would have stood no chance at all. He was not quite running, but he was making the best speed he could. He would keep on until he caught the deer. He would not give up this time.
This deer would be his or he would die. He could not last through another night if he did not eat today. He knew this like he knew his own name. In the snow back there, he had been as near to death as anyone can ever get.
Tim ran on, throwing up snow in his wake. He fixed a spear to his atlatl The deer was expending a tremendous amount of energy in tearing through the drifts. Tim shuffled alongside his trail, supported by his crude snowshoes. As the trail dropped down into another hollow, Tim caught sight of the deer ahead. He was gaining on it, but too slowly.
Tim and the deer crossed the second hollow and plowed up the other side. The deer plunged into a thicket of manzanita and turned left. Tim wheeled around the thicket, staying on the open snow, leaping along, trying to clear the worst of the drifts.
His ankle hurt with a white hot pain.
The deer turned into a copse of cedar and pulled up to look back. It was invisible against the dark background, but Tim saw the flicker of movement as it went to rest. Instead of turning toward the deer, Tim ran in the direction they had both been going until he was shielded by a fir, then wheeled toward the hidden deer. The deer bolted, but Tim had gained precious yards.
They stumbled upward, cutting diagonally across the rough slope. Here the drifts were lighter and the deer began to gain distance. Then it stumbled as something turned under his feet, and when it leaped to its feet again, Tim cast a spear. more tomorrow