Route 7 Review - Page 117

the foliage with their teeth. Twilford arranged the binoculars and focused before locating the animals. A buck and a doe. They both had antlers but as was natural the buck’s were the prize, a glorious rack. He counted seven points on one side, which doubled equaled fourteen, his head not too dogged for simple arithmetic. Sighting a pair like this, a buck and a doe, was a rarity. The doe usually stuck with her fawn while the buck ambled solo. Twilford waited three full minutes as the pair inched past a wide oak and into a clearing. He raised the rifle and took aim at the buck, the crosshairs falling easily onto the animal’s torso just behind the front leg. His finger trembled on the trigger. At the last moment, he redirected the barrel toward the doe. He fired, dropping her. The buck bolted. He knew he’d done a bad thing. Does were off-limits during rifle season, a lost license and a heavy fine the penalty, not to mention scorn and derision from hunters who caught wind of the transgression. He regretted it, but now it was too late to fix. He arm-wiped sweat from his eyes, re-loaded his gun, and put fresh chew to his gums before walking to the carcass. When he got to the spot where she’d fallen, the doe was gone. It hadn’t been dead but only wounded. He told himself to be calm. He had tracked wounded prey before, and often. No injured deer had been left by Twilford in the wild; no reason to think this precedent. Blood had pooled where the creature buckled. He spotted additional drops a few feet away, in the direction of the pond. With rifle shouldered he followed the trail, stepping as fast as possible without raising a ruckus. Blood glinted on the leaves, on the dirt, as sunsh ine stabbed through the awning of trees. He found her at the water’s edge, prone on her side. He knelt beside the doe and touched her flank. Blood flowed gentle and dark from her nostrils. A peaceful feeling settled into Twilford as he hoped he could ease her transition, but then something beneath the hide jabbed dully against his hand. She was pregnant, the fawn still alive. He pulled the knife from his belt and sawed carefully, a flood of innards cascading as he worked her length. He reached in and took hold of a little beast, hairless and brownish-red and coated by the juices of the sac. On the ground it writhed, mouth issuing a plaintive gurgle, kicking for life but finding none. It was too small, and Twilford realized he should have left the thing in the warm comfort of his momma until its light faded. Another mistake, another death, and Twilford’s hands bore the blood. He rinsed in the pond and was about to head back to his Thermos and gun case when the buck rushed him. It charged headlong, all two hundred pounds barreling into Twilford, knocking him down and raking his face with its rack. One of the points punctured his neck, the thick hook of antler scratching his windpipe from the inside. Then the buck was gone, clumping away through the brush as Twilford tried but failed to crawl. He lay beside his gun in the weeds. His chest was crushed; gasping for breath felt like inhaling fire. He knew if he didn’t get help soon he would die. A gunshot wouldn’t bring other hunters near; they would navigate away from wherever the sound came. His cell phone was in his pants pocket. Wincing, pressing one hand to his bleeding neck, he managed to retrieve it. A signal, although weak, meant he could try. He considered dialing 9-1-1 – knowing this was the logical choice – but speaking with a faceless, anonymous operator during perhaps his last moments on earth was a thought as crushing as the pain in his chest. He needed to hear a familiar voice. He realized, though, as if for the first time, that only two peoples’ numbers were programmed into his phone: Elsa and Jeremy. A handful of other numbers were in there, too: but only restaurants with delivery service. How had he reached midlife with but two friends? Sadly was the answer. He dialed Elsa. He needed to at least profess something to her. Something . . . but what? Not love, exactly. Not anger, either. All of the rage seemed to have flowed out from the puncture in his neck. Had he failed her as a boyfriend? Surely, yes, although no specific failings entered his mind. But Elsa was a kind woman, a person of character who would not stray without cause; he bore at least a share of the blame. He heard two rings. Then a young man’s voice: “Duncan’s Pizza, may I take your order?” Twilford’s thick thumb had pushed the wrong