Previous Challenge Entry (Level 3 - Advanced)
Topic: It's a Colorful World (12/03/09)
TITLE: Salvation in the Snow
By Ann Grover
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But seldom is there opportunity for regret to become redemption.
If I’d been watching the skies that late fall morning or listened to the whispering wind with the hint of snow on its breath, I’d not have shot at the deer. As it was, the sight of the eight-point whitetail buck weaving its way through the scrub willow was irresistible. Large beamed and impressive, the rack was like that of an elk.
Heart pounding, I took aim and fired.
The deer leaped away .
I grunted an expletive into the icy air.
Disappointment gripped my guts, and like lightning, heated and quick, it exploded into outrage. I repeated the expletive while I loaded another shell into the chamber and set the safety.
I would find the buck. I wouldn’t miss the second time.
Contemplating the whitetail’s probable line of travel, I circled the willows, keeping downwind. I couldn’t find any discernible tracks, only a multitude of blurred, milling hoofprints. Concentrating on the vague indentations, I didn’t notice the new snow falling until the wind suddenly shrieked, an Arctic scream that sucked the breath from me and pelted my face with razor-sharp shards of ice.
The low slung sky was black, heavy-bellied. In a heartbeat, as I gasped raggedly, the horizon disappeared in a tide of whirling white. Trees faded into shadows, then vanished, black to grey to white.
I cursed the wind. I cursed the buck. It was out there, and I was determined to bring it down, to return home with my booty, my well-deserved trophy. A little flurry wasn’t going to stop me.
Tree branches rattled like dry bones in the howling wind and flakes froze to my lashes; I brushed them away, barely noticing the numbness in my cheeks.
In honesty, shooting the buck would mean more than back-slapping praise for bagging such a prize. We hadn’t had meat for weeks; in fact, we hadn’t had much of anything for months. But, it wasn’t my fault the crops had done poorly, or that the cow had sickened and died, or that I’d been fired from my town job when my ancient truck had refused to budge in the cold weather. Why was I blamed for the wife’s paleness and faded dress or the kids’ shoeless feet and runny noses?
I needed to find the buck. Put things to rights, so to speak.
The snow was a churning mass of whiteness, colourless, nothingness. It took me a moment to realize I’d fallen into the downiness, so comfortable and pillowy I was instantly warmed, as if I were resting against a soft bosom.
I awoke with a start. I may have slept a second or an hour, but it was long enough for my legs to become leaden and melted snow to freeze on my deadened face.
The deer was gone, along with all thoughts of returning home as a victorious provider. Chilling tendrils of remorse and regret licked at my insides. I closed my eyes.
Bury me, Snow, in this insignificant grave of whiteness, with only the wind to speak my eulogy, a tribute to my pride and stupidity.
But, insistently, visions of the buck danced in my mind like the colourful chips in a kaleidoscope. I opened frost-fringed eyes, willing myself to move.
In the snow, inches away, a crimson jewel glowed.
A drop of blood.
Not from me, for I’d no injury, but from the buck, wounded after all.
Dragging myself up, I saw a scarlet trail, like rubies in an ocean of whiteness. With every step a monumental struggle with the wind and cold, I followed, sometimes losing sight of the crimson pearls, but they always reappeared, like embers gleaming in the snow.
Even then, I wanted the deer.
The blood led me, drop by drop, to a stand of heavy timber, and I recognized the woods above my own hay meadow. There, beneath a stately spruce, already shrouded in powdery snow, lay the buck, eyes dull.
I left the deer. I knew that mere yards away was a haystack, one of the few I’d been able to harvest. Labouring through the drifted snow, I felt, rather than saw, my way to the hay, and burrowed deeply into the sweet-smelling golden haven.
Going home to die, the whitetail had led me home, too. To live.
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