In stalking the deer, Tim had followed Dog Creek to its source, had topped a minor divide, and had descended into a broad shallow depression. Here the firs grew more sparsely, giving him less cover, but allowing him to see the deer better. He snow was deeper here, so Tim had to carry his crutch and stumble along without its help. The activity seemed to do his ankle some good; it hurt, but some of the stiffness was going out of it.
He had given up following tracks; they were so plentiful now that they broke the snow everywhere and he had no way of knowing fresh from old. He was following a pair of antlerless deer, whether does or buck fawns he wasn’t sure. From time to time he would see them feeding, but they seemed to keep the same distance from him. It was as if they had become accustomed to his presence and considered him no threat at that distance. If so, they were right.
He slipped from cover to cover, trying to circle about and come at them from some unexpected angle. The wind stirred occasionally, but the gusts were mercifully short lived. Such cold! Soon he would have to build a fire. Desperate to finish this stalk before settling in for the night, he pushed down toward the pair of deer. They had been out of sight for several minutes, and he hoped that he was equally invisible to them. Moving quietly through a thicket of cedar, he broke into a clearing. The deer were gone. Following their tracks with his eyes, he found them a quarter of a mile away and higher up, looking back at him with more curiosity than fear.
* * *
The carrion he had feasted on was gone, but the festering sore, the blindness in one eye, and the damage to his nose remained. The rage, also, remained, and grew. Black bears are normally harmless, though unpredictable; this one was acting more like a grizzly. He rampaged through the forest, ripping everything that crossed his path, and headed up Dog Creek.
* * *
Now it was the eleventh day since Tim had left his house to go hunting. He woke before dawn in a tiny, crude shelter to find his fire nearly out. He built up the fire and began immediately to make his shelter better. Such cold! He worked on his shelter for several hours, staggering with weakness and stopping for long rests between each task. He was no longer thinking of survival. Survival had become too much to hope for. He was simply determined to never be so cold again.
Death was very near. He did not accept death. He would fight to the end, but he no longer had any real hope.
Finally, he rose from the fire and went out, leaving his useless crutch behind. He needed snowshoes, so he cut some cedar boughs and bound them to his feet with strips of bark. They were crude, but they would keep him from sinking into the snow.
It was a different kind of hunt this time. Tim did not think out his actions. He simply went through the motions, staggering half dazed through the snow and carrying his weapons carelessly at his side.
He topped a slight rise and started down into the hollow beyond. He tripped, rolled, and lay still.
The wind stirred the powered snow, and covered him. more next week