Tim was pleased, especially when his second spear struck the same target. Gathering his weapons, he decided that his bow might not be very good, but at least the spear thrower felt natural in his hands.
He had no idea how far he had wandered, or in what direction, after his fall into the river. He could be sure that he had wandered away from civilization because he had seen no one, and had heard no deer hunter’s gunshots. It was not reasonable to believe that he could simply walk a few miles now and be out of danger.
He was considerably better off than he had been a few days ago, but he was weak and terribly hungry. He could not survive on pine nuts alone. Game was scarce, and soon it would snow. Normally, it was best to stay in one place if you were lost, but he had been in one place for days already.
The simple fact was that no one was coming to rescue him. He had put himself beyond help by not telling anyone where he was going.
While he thought it out, Tim had continued to hunt and an unexpectedly lucky shot had skewered a squirrel. As Tim bled it and tied it at his waist, he decided to check and disarm his deadfalls, and start walking out.
Then he saw the tracks of a mule deer – walking on three legs.
It gave him a strange feeling. It could not be coincidence, that this particular deer was here now.
His first shot, so many days ago, had seemed clear and true, but the deer had not fallen. When he continued the hunt, it had brought him to disaster. Had his fall into the river been clumsiness, or something more? The thought made his hair stand up along his neck as he thought of some of his grandfather’s tales. Last night the deer had haunted his dreams and now it was back with him once more.
Was it a spirit deer?
Still, he was hungry, and that deer might mean life or death for him. He had no desire to chase him further, but it was an opportunity he could not pass up.
“I’m sorry, Deer,” he whispered aloud. “I don’t want to kill you any more, but now I have to.”
He knelt to examine the spoor. The ridge of dirt between the halves of the hooves had collapsed and the edges of the track didn’t seem fresh. He worked along the ground, closely examining a whole series of tracks. The deer was favoring his right foreleg, carrying it mostly, but stepping gingerly on it from time to time. Where the right foreleg made prints, they hardly bruised the dry ground, while the left foreleg’s prints were deep. The left forehoof was fraying under the strain. Its tracks were a bit less smooth in outline than the rear leg tracks. The good foreleg would be tender from doing more than its share.
The tracks were several hours old. They came out of the maze of brush that extended from his camp to the edge of the ravine. The deer had apparently used that cover to sneak through the ravine without coming in sight of the camp.
The tracks went straight down the ravine and into the brush. Tim followed them slowly, not wanting to overtake the deer too soon. It might be a long stalk, and he would have to be cautious and study the deer’s habits in order to get close enough for a kill.
The tracks led to a cut where some shift in the landscape was starting a new stream. more next week