When he saw the boot prints in the snow, he dove to his belly. There shouldn’t be anyone near this land—not for at least three miles.
Holding his breath, he surveyed the area. They possibly already sighted him. The slightest movement or even a puff of his breath could betray his position.
If they were to kill him, they could poach those woods without fear of ever being discovered. That worked both ways, though. If he caught them, they’d never be seen or heard from again.
A few minutes passed in silence. Not even a breeze rustled the limbs. Finally, he exhaled. A fine mist floated away. He expected to be shot within seconds.
The forest spared him.
Darkness would ruin the day within a few hours, and he still had to trek a mile back to his cabin. To complicate matters, he needed to do so without leaving a trail—no easy task in a foot of snow.
Today proved fun.
Tomorrow would be even more interesting, for he meant to kill whomever trespassed upon his land.
The next day, he packed only the essentials—ammunition, rations, water, a portable shelter, a pickaxe, and a shovel.
Moving carefully, quietly, he used the environment as camouflage. Other than the soft steps of his snowshoes, he remained soundless.
He intended to find the same spot as yesterday, to follow the tracks wherever they led. If necessary, his provisions would permit survival for days.
Almost an hour elapsed. When the sun broke through, he came across fresh boot prints. Prepared this time, he shouldered his rifle while dropping to his chest. He pointed the barrel toward the direction that the tracks traveled.
As he peered through the scope, he saw the barrel of a rifle pointing back. That’s all—just the barrel. He didn’t see a man. He didn’t even see an eye.
Just the barrel.
He scooted backward fifty yards before he got to his feet, turned, and ran.
It seemed he underestimated his opponent.
This would not occur again.
The deer meat sizzled in the pan when he heard the pounding against his door. Bears were known to paw at his cabin. He even once had an elk inexplicably ram it. He scared both of them off with a rifle blast. But this rapping utilized a cadence, a rhythm. Fortunately, he could employ the same tactic as against the animals. Gunfire frightened man even more than beast, for man understood the meaning of death and yearned to avoid it.
However, he had no doubt that the person outside his door would be the very same man who could have killed him. This threat wielded great intelligence and likely had a gun trained on the front door.
But who could it be? None took up residence this far out in the wilderness. No one had the stomach for the constant willpower, work, and pain it took to endure even a single day. He’d lived in that cabin for twenty-seven years; his survival was not by accident. Whatever awaited him outside, it would not be the death of him.
The cabin featured no windows to reveal his movement. Throwing on a pair of boots and a parka, he next grabbed his rifle before sliding through a trap door that led out the back. With the temperature already below zero, he wouldn’t last long wearing so little, but he didn’t need much time for what he planned.
Ever so slightly, he crept along the cabin and then peeked around the corner with his rifle pointed at the front door.
He saw nobody in the waning light.
“Lower your weapon and face me.”
He lowered his rifle while turning, slowly, to see a well-insulated man standing behind him with a Colt .22 handgun held aloft. In his other hand, he clutched a case.
The stranger said, “What’s your name?”
He refused to answer.
“All right, fine. Name’s Cayden. I’m your neighbor.”
He tightened his grip on the rifle, but left it pointing downward. Sting corrupted his fingers. Numbness would soon follow.
“Not the talking type, huh? Look, I know I’m not your neighbor in the traditional sense. After all, I had to travel over fifteen miles of public ground to get here. And, yeah, I admit I’ve been trespassing for a while now. Been watching you.”
The rifle lifted a few inches.
“Look, I’ve been there for ten years. You didn’t even know, did you?”
He couldn’t suppress the shock upon his face.
“Yeah, you’re good—a real survivalist. But me? I’m better. I’ve known about you for a decade and you didn’t have a clue I existed until I left those prints for you.”
The rifle almost reached a ninety-degree angle.
“I’ll shoot you dead,” Cayden warned. “I will. I’ll shoot you dead, kick in your door, drag you in, and let the animals have at your carcass. If anyone ever finds this place, they’ll think some bear had at you.”
“What do you want?”
Cayden replied, “So you can talk. You’re logical. Strategic. A good competitor.”
His patience wore thin. If this would be to the death, he wanted it done already.
Cayden held up the case. He asked, “You want to play chess?”
“ … You’re serious.”
Cayden answered. “Lately, I’ve felt a might lonely. Hoped we could have a standing game night.”
“I don’t play chess.”
“I’ll teach you,” Cayden said.
“I didn’t say I couldn’t; I said I wouldn’t.”
“If this takes any longer, you’re going to freeze to death,” Cayden said. “Either pull that trigger or invite me in. Your choice.”
His fingers—he couldn’t even feel them anymore.
“We’ll have to go in the back way,” he said. “Front door’s barricaded.”
While following him, Cayden asked, “You going to tell me your name?”
Copyright © 2019 by Scott William Foley
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are products of the author’s imagination or used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events or locales or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.
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