Excerpt for Vectors by , available in its entirety at Smashwords

VECTORS

By David J Naismith, copyright 2017



A wind was circling, high in the sky, a movement unfelt to those below, an idea not yet realized. Down on the ground, Old Pete Price regained consciousness in long, grey grass beside an equally ancient cottonwood tree. Black, gnarled limbs glared at him from latticed heights. A metallic rasping of crickets filled his ears, and from somewhere in the approaching dusk, an owl softly hooted. Spitting out a little earth, the man staggered to his feet, leaning on the tree for support.

He could taste nothing but rye, hot brown and in his pores. Swaying, he straightened out his threadbare Harris tweed coat, and then Old Pete gazed down the quiet country road to his left. The sun was setting there, in the west, and when he looked to the east, he could see the cold cloud front building for tomorrow's storm. He brushed away some leaves clinging to his sleeve, thrust his hands into empty pockets, and began shuffling down the hazy lane. Little puffs of dust rose from his creaky feet.

Old Pete was halfway through his plan. His eye followed a bat as it flitted across the road, and he thought about part two. Part one, which had involved drinking a forty and a half of Five Star, had been suitably accomplished. He stopped to dislodge a pebble from his shoe. As he leaned over to do this, he lost his balance and sprawled heavily to the ground in the middle of the lane. He cursed loudly and rolled onto his back. The sky wheeled overhead, and he almost blacked out again.

In his youth, Old Pete had been a Navy man. He’d been a sailor on a destroyer in the North Atlantic, hunting down German U-boat wolf packs. He could tell you tales about depth charges and torpedoes, and what it was like to float in an oil-slicked sea for three days before being rescued.

After the war, he’d gone back to his inland roots and took up farming again, working the family plot as his ancestors had done for generations. He got married, raised a family. The farm prospered, and everyday he tilled the soil, and harvested the rewards.

That was so long ago, it seemed almost like somebody else’s life to him. His fields lay fallow now, as they had been for years. There was no money in it anymore. No kids to pass it on to; they’d long since fled to the city. No more energy left in himself to turn a profit from the tired earth. He had grown tired himself. Worn. A tired, old man, who now spent most of his days alone, or down at the Legion with his cronies, where the drinks were cheap, and the war-talk never stopped.

Mosquitoes rose from the alder and cat-tail lined ditch. They bit his hands, his ears. With great effort, he dragged himself up off the road. The last of the daylight bled out into the braided fields, golds and reds. He had to get home, Old Pete did. There was work to be done.

Just over the hills, not so far away, there huddled a small pack of canis lupus lycaon, a subspecies of the great Timber wolf, who had gathered quietly in the wood. Tension and excitement hung in the air about them; this night was a hunting night. The smaller, subordinate wolves skulked around the clearing, yipping, snarling, keeping their eye on the Alpha wolf, their leader. He was a large, black-coated male, powerful and in his prime. He lounged in their midst, calm, silent. Ears forward, he sniffed at a tuft of rabbit fur.

For days, the pack had been shadowing a scattered herd of white-tail deer that were slowly making their way to their seasonal yarding regions, secret enclaves hidden deep in remote cedar thickets and hemlock stands. Long had the wolves stalked them, biding their time, waiting for the precise moment to engage the herd. The pack was hungry, impatient. But it was the Alpha wolf that would signal to the others the right time to move. He did not follow their impatience. He took his cue only from heart-whispers embedded deep by eons of the hunt.

The sky began to melt into cool blues and flagrant purples as a copper sun struggled below the horizon. Then the dark noises began – peeper frogs, crickets, nighthawks – and small things scurried for shelter with the fleeing of the day. The Alpha wolf rose to a stand, stretched his lean frame, and took in the orchestra of sound. Nothing escaped his hearing. He listened long, and the stories came to him.

The pack sensed the change. They shivered, and their blood began to pound. The Omega wolf uttered a thin, low whine. All around, the forest spoke of the warmth of the deer. The wolves began snarling and pacing anxiously, waiting for their leader to move. The gloom of the woods deepened rapidly now. The Alpha wolf raised his head to howl, and as one, the pack joined him, and together they began to sing their hunger.

Old Pete paused in his dusty shuffle long enough to listen to the wolves howling. He had never hated the wolf, like many of his neighbors did. He rather liked them. Their high, lonesome cry had always sounded like strange, wild music to his ears, both sweet and frightening at the same time. He leered through reddened eyes back to the shadowy lane. It was still a good three-mile stagger to his place. The road wobbled.

From behind, a dented old Chevy pickup approached, tires crunching the gravel. Yellow headlights passed over Old Pete, casting his shadow long and black down the road. The truck halted beside him, and the passenger window stuttered down.

Why Old Pete, I thought that was you,” Earl Inker, a neighbor friend from years back, said heartily. A round, squinty-eyed face smiled out from the dim cab of the Chevy and studied Old Pete for a moment. “Gad Pete, ya look like ya been through the ringer and back!” Earl flipped the door open. “C'mon, git in. Where ya going in a state like this? Jesus, yer a mess, old man!”

Half sitting, half falling, Old Pete lurched in through the door and sunk deeply into the seat. Earl fired up his customary ramble as they drove off. “Yep...I'm heading over to Sadie Willy's place, gotta drop off her load of deck posts. She ordered 'em last April. Are ya going home, Pete? I kin drop ya off, if ya want.” Old Pete didn't answer. “Say... you been up to the Legion for a few, eh? Oughta get home Pete, get some sleep.” The truck bounced around a corner, then shuddered up a blue washboard hill.



The young white-tail doe moved cautiously across a rusty span of scrub oak, browsing on acorns. Her family was threaded nearby among the trees, meandering slowly but surely towards their fall yarding grounds, still far away. The hunger of deer is almost never satiated, and though the pickings were sparse now, it had been a lush summer, and so the herd was in good health.

Every autumn, they migrated away from the croplands that provided corn and apples, and returned to the deep forests and dense thickets which gave shelter from the winter winds. Here they would wait for spring to come and once again release the land from the prison of snow and ice. Now, the days grew short, and frost was not far away. Soon would come the time of real hunger.

The doe came to a small bubbling brook, and lowered her head to drink. Her long, silky ear twitched rhythmically at the persistence of a late-season mosquito. She suddenly became alert, her head tall and motionless. For a long, long moment, she surveyed the area around her, listening, scenting the air. In the world of the deer, an enemy's presence is sometimes felt long before it is heard or seen. There are warnings that can pass across the land quicker than thought, quieter than a breeze. Sure enough, from far, far away, a faint chorus of howls reached her ears.

Immediately she turned and loped off in the direction of her family. The doe skipped easily through the centuries-old game trails her ancestors had carved through the bush. She leapt a long-overgrown fence line of rotten cedar poles, and through the veiled forest she caught sight of the white flag of her buck, the big deer who led their herd. The rest of her clan was already huddled around him.



Shotgun? What in hell are ya gettin' yer shotgun for, Pete?” Earl grabbed a plug of tobacco and began to chew. “Christ, it's too dark fer hunting. Ya jacklightin' or somethin'?” Old Pete watched as a lone mailbox flowed by, its reflectors glowing red in the dark. On a rising hill, a decrepit barn shined briefly in the yellow headlights, then vanished into the blackness. He shook his head slowly, and said no more.

For a moment, he considered telling Earl his plan. Old Pete wanted to tell someone, to talk, to unburden himself. He decided against it though, and kept quiet.

Earl didn’t wait for an answer anyway, he just like to ramble on, always had. His head still thick and spinning from the rye, Old Pete grunted and continued gazing out the window with his beleaguered old eyes.

Hell Pete, I remember back in seventy-one, me an' Wood Parker went fer moose at two o'clock in the damn mornin'. They was thick as flies that summer...that was some crazy night. First time I ever went jacklightin', well, first time that drunk anyway. Wood, he brung this floodlight, it was an old landing light he took off that Otter that used to be parked at the lake, remember? Had it wired to a car battery somehow. Well, we had one big bastard moose in a field all lit up, the light froze him. They just stand there when the light’s on ‘em, stupid buggers. I had him all lined up in my scope. That's when that old floodlight started smoking, then I seen a flame come out of her, and she popped like a firecracker...”

The cool, primeval scent of a marsh filled the cab as they rolled across a small dirt bridge. Old Pete's thoughts drifted over Earl's endless chatter, and remained on the grim task ahead. It was a dirty job coming, but it had to be done.



They moved through the forest as only they could; silent, like mercury, like breath on frost. Across blankets of moss and over decaying logs they flowed. The wolf pack was one in its motion, sleek and vanishing.

The large Alpha wolf coursed over the rugged terrain, leading his pack like a shadow-arrow through the bush. The other wolves fanned out around him as the designs of the hunt issued ancient, immutable commands. They ran. To hunt the white-tail was to run; a lone wolf could almost never outrun and bring down a healthy deer on its own, but as a pack, they formed a single intelligence with multiple bodies. Each animal's role in the hierarchy of the unit was shaped by instinct, and strategies that had emerged at the dawn of creation channelled every wolf's position and duty.

The black wolf glided under a hanging spruce, and then entered a long stand of scrubby white oak trees. He leapt a fractured creek bed and sprinted down its bank, as if pulled along by a wind. The strong, hot scent of the deer suddenly flooded his world. They were close. A ravenous hunger scorched his belly; he ran, almost floated through the oaks, the rest of the pack falling in line behind him.

They came quickly to the edge of the oak stand, where the hardwoods gave way to an endless ocean of cedar and fir. The Alpha paused, analyzing the narrative of the scene. On minute currents of air came the story of the deer, and through an alchemy unknown, he could discern how many there were, what their state of health was, and even what they had been eating. Quickly now, he resumed the chase, and the wolf pack diverged into an attack formation behind him. Like a needle through cloth, they slipped into the dark woods.



He had not needed to hear the lugubrious confession of one of his oldest friends earlier that day at the legion, but after so many drinks, Old Pete and his associates would often become nostalgic and emotional. Occasionally, amid the sloppy revelry, things slipped out. Buried things. Things which should have always remained secret.

The celebration had started off with the usual impassioned war stories, but many drinks later came the shattering moment of confession. Old Pete had learned that one of his dearest friends had seduced his wife, who was now long dead, while he was away at sea as a young man. Neither of them had told him this, in all these long decades. His friend, now old and wizened, half blind and pickled by booze, was weeping childlike across the table as he let the secret out. He was ashamed. He was sorry. He begged Old Pete for forgiveness. He cried, and apologized. But it was not enough.

For men like Old Pete, the code of honour still guides reason and action. He knew in an instant what he must do; there could be only one answer to such betrayal, no matter how distant the transgression. He drained a shot of rye, grabbed the bottle, stood up, and walked out of the Legion without so much as a backward glance, leaving his stunned comrades at a table of sorrow under military flags and low light.

The truck swerved sickeningly, and Earl Inker let out a whoop as they fishtailed around a bend. “Skunk!” Earl laughed. “Big one, too. Jeez Pete, where would I find me enough tamater juice to park this ol' pig in? Ha!” Old Pete looked out the window in time to see the black and white striped animal amble off the road and into the ditch. There were two of them, he realized; the rye was still doing its job.

Stink always reminds me of the time Sleet Murphy's dog got into one three summers ago. Remember that? Ya can still smell the bugger on 'im...” Earl sighed. “Hey, here we go, Pete.” The truck slowed down. Through bleary double vision, Old Pete could see his houses coming up on the right.



The doe rejoined the rest of her kin, who now stood pale and ghostly in the dim light, huddled against the night. The loose family group consisted of several does, two with fawns, and a couple of yearling bucks, their antlers stubby and small. And, there was their leader as well, an older buck, greying around the muzzle, but intimidating in size and power. He sported an impressive rack of antlers, fourteen points, a trophy by any standard. His muscled form was scarred from years of battle and forest warfare. He stood alone at the edge of the group, ears and eyes straining into the dark.

As she strode over to her sisters, the young doe could feel the familiar uneasiness rippling through the herd. They were frozen; like statues amid the trees they stood, and not an ear twitched. They waited, watching the buck.

Their perceptions stretched out through the wilderness until time itself stopped, and then ceased to be altogether. Still they stood, rooted, chiselled from stone. As their senses ached, the forest grew quiet, and the darkness took on a weight. Hearts began to beat hard in their chests. The old buck snorted a terse blast of air through his nostrils. He stamped a foreleg into the earth, a warning to his clan, then stood motionlessly again. The silence became deafening.

In them rose swiftly an ancient call, a fire that seared the blood like a comet across a starless sky. Run.

As one, the deer family turned, and fled the approaching enemy.



Old Pete stumbled on unsteady legs into his kitchen, flicking the grimy switch on. Yellow light filled the room. A tinny country song played softly from the clock radio on the chipped wooden table top. The buggy hum of the refrigerator began, as the wheezing compressor kicked in and gasped for oxygen.

The place was dishevelled and unkempt. The sink was full of dishes, as it’d been for several years now. The drapes above the sink were moth-chewed and stained. Empty rye bottles lined every surface, fallen soldiers on a Formica battleground. He leaned against the fridge for a moment, and gazed down at his boots on the floor.

Old Pete wasn't much for the housekeeping chores he had inherited when his wife of forty years had passed away. For a long time, he’d tried his best to keep the place the way she had. But as the seasons dribbled by, it began to matter less. She wasn’t coming back. No one was. After a while, even the neighbors stopped coming around for visits. He didn’t mind, so much. This inevitable decay, it was not a disagreeable thing. It was quiet, and it made sense.

There were days when he felt lonely, though. When those days came, and he needed some company, he went to town, to the Legion mostly. Like today.

He climbed the creaking staircase up to his room. From the top shelf in the closet, he pulled down the dusty long-box that housed his old Browning shotgun, and placed it on the unmade bed. With a shaky hand, he flipped the lid open. The cold blue steel and walnut stock of the twelve-gage glowed up at him. Reverence, and the faint odour of gun oil reached his nose. He ran a trembling finger slowly down the immaculate barrel. This had been his daddy’s gun. It had taken a lot of game birds, and sent a lot of coyotes packing, in its day. This was the first time in many years it had been held.

For a long moment he sat on his bed, the gun resting on his lap. His eyes returned, as they always did, to the faded black and white photo of his wife on the wall opposite the window. A wave of pain surged through his chest. Its power surprised him, and he tried to choke it back. Then he pumped a single red and brass shell into the chamber. The action made a slick metallic sound. He did it again, with a second shell. Then he stood, and headed back down to the kitchen.

From a pewter hook by the door, he grabbed the keys to his old Dodge pickup out in the barn, and then stepped out onto his sagging porch, the screen door squalling shut on rusty springs.



Grim hunters flew through the trees, running in strategic formation. Although they used no sound to communicate, and were unseen by their pack mates, each animal was nonetheless acutely aware of his brethren's position; it was written in the air.

The wolf pack’s tactic was to advance on the deer from downwind as swiftly and as silently as possible. Then they would fan out into a U-shaped configuration to encircle the white-tails, once they had gained the appropriate distance. When the deer panicked and scattered, they would close in on an isolated animal and run it to exhaustion. With luck, there would be a sick, old, or inexperienced animal that could easily be caught.

For a millennium the wolf has hunted in this way. Across all time, wolf and deer have been no stranger to each other. The blood-dance of predator and prey has been stitched into their genes, and eons of the game of survival have made them inseparable. Together, they have shaped the very face of the land itself. And no matter how shrunken and fragmented their forests may be today, that dark ritual of the hunt must continue, and will, until both are no more.

The black Alpha suddenly caught a strong scent of the deer, and swiftly corrected his fleeting course, now pinpointing the location of the racing white-tails. The pack around him also shifted their approach, loping fluidly along his flanks through the night. The deer were on the move, evasive, fast; the wolf pack knew they had lost the element of surprise. It did not matter. In moments, they would be upon them.



Sitting in his truck, the engine idling, Old Pete turned the rear-view mirror so he could look himself in the eyes, one last time. The shotgun was propped up in the passenger seat, gleaming softly in the half-light of the dashboard, a happy passenger.

He was tired. His eyes wanted to shut. He cranked the window down, and inhaled deeply the night air. The smell of pine and skunk drifted into the cab. He studied his eyes in the mirror. They were old eyes, he thought. Old, and witness to much. For a moment, he began having second thoughts about this foolishness, and considered shutting this damn truck off and going back into the house. Yes, upstairs, to bed. He reached over to the shotgun and caressed the stock. It was greasy cool to the touch.

The Legion, he had to get back to the Legion. His memory faltered, but the pain in his heart was strong, sharp. The Legion…What had they been celebrating back at the Legion tonight again?

Ah, yes...his birthday. Today, Old Pete had turned seventy-seven years old. He stared in amazement at his reflection. Seventy-seven...

He wouldn’t have believed it, if you’d told him he’d live this long. Seventy-seven was old. Too old to have his heart broken anew, to have his memory of love destroyed with a carelessly blurted secret, spilled across a drunken table like that.

An ethereal ground mist began drifting in from the fields, vaguely luminescent. Old Pete felt unsure of himself in that moment. The engine sputtered, and then resumed its gentle idle. He should totter back upstairs, and put the shotgun away in its box. He should forget this whole mess and crawl into bed, and push the swirling thoughts of vengeance from his mind. He should forgive. He looked in the mirror again, and studied his reflected eyes. He was surprised to see that they were not old eyes anymore. They were young.

Old Pete dropped the truck into gear and tore off down his driveway, slinging gravel.



Branches snapped, and twigs jabbed at the deer as they bounded erratically through the understory of the clawing woods. They could sense the wolves rather than see or hear them, for the craven hunger of the beasts permeated the air like a stain. The young doe was lost in panic; blindly she followed the old buck as he led the small herd through a maze of cedar thickets and fir stands.

Racing, the stag guided them abruptly down a shallow rocky slope, then scrabbled around, and craftily doubled back they way they had come. The wolves were surrounding them, he could sense it. But this old deer had been hunted for a long time, by wolves, and by men. He was wily, and possessed an uncommon degree of acumen in the art of escape. He punched through the trees on a zig zag course, and then steamed back up the slope, family in tow.

They reached a plateau, and the buck slowed, allowing the herd to get ahead of him. More branches cracked through the trees; they were here. The old buck snorted and charged alone back down the slope. He knew that if he could slip through the closing ring of wolves, he could draw them away from the does and fawns, and buy them some time to escape.

He leapt boldly toward the tightening noose of predators. Through the gloom there slashed two white blurs, and to his left, a black shadow vanished. He flew over a downed log, and saw three more wolves coursing to his right, their burning green eyes fixed on his. It was working; he had diverted them from the herd.

The panting buck scrambled through the assault. The young doe was still following him.



Gravel kicked in a cloud of flak as Old Pete roared down the lightless road. Mist swirled out from the fields and formed dancing, alien shapes in his path. Bleached fence posts pulsed by hypnotically. Old Pete slipped into a trance. The road, the truck, the night, it all melted away. He was standing beside water...he shook his head, and tried to re-focus on the wheel. The sun was setting, bouncing and silver on the water...the truck hummed along, but Old Pete was on was not in it anymore.

Waves lapped at his feet. The sun blazed orange, glowing like embers in the pools of mud surrounding him. Something caught Old Pete's eye, there in the mud.... something moving. He squinted, tried to see.

There was a person there, half buried in the oily muck, slowly writhing and flailing pathetic arms. Old Pete hissed, not believing his eyes, not wanting to see. The thing in the mud moaned hideously, lurched about spasmodically, clawing at the thick, black ooze cloaking its twisted frame.

It turned its slimy face towards Old Pete, incandescent eyes flaming with accusation and imprisonment. Old Pete sank to his knees, paralyzed by the vision before him, for he knew then what it was. It was his own face that leered back at him through the mud, it was he who swarmed beneath the festering black glue. Me, it's me, it's me...

He wanted to weep, to reach out to the sodden, mired man, but the water suddenly turned on him then, attacking like a lion. In a roar, Old Pete found himself back in the cab of his speeding truck. He pushed the pedal to the floor.



The dim forest resounded with the echoes of the chase. Hooves and pads flew across misted earth and wood, thundering in twists of speed. The buck pounded up a rock slope, scrabbling and clicking on the stone. The wolves, he knew, had abandoned him, and were now focused on the young doe struggling to follow.

She was halfway up the rock face when the attack came. A silver blur slashed along her side, knocking the legs out from beneath her. She toppled, eyes wide and rolling in fear. In a second she had regained her feet, but the grey wolf had spun around. As it leapt for the doe, two more exploded from the bush, gnashing fangs glinting in the moonlight.

The buck reared and charged down the slope, head low, antlers forward. He slammed his deadly rack into the ribs of the grey wolf as it leapt mid-air at the doe. The buck flipped it yelping into the bushes. At the same time, a second wolf attacked the buck from behind, but he spun to face it, his menacing antlers pale in the moonlight. The wolf leapt out of the way, narrowly avoiding evisceration.

The buck reared again, flailing his hooves, stabbing at the attacking wolves, sending them reeling. The panting doe bolted blindly through the fray, sensing open ground nearby. She leapt a tangle of fallen cedar branches and smashed through a thorny wall of raspberry bushes; then, with a twenty-foot jump, she broke into a wide, fallow field. She bounded madly through the moonlit clearing, away from the fury of the violence-torn forest, consumed with panic. The receding sounds of the deer and the wolves in eternal combat echoed in her ears. Across the field she fled, beside herself with fear. She did not notice the formless black shadow of the Alpha wolf as he carved the tall grass mere paces behind in her wake.



Only a few more miles to town. Old Pete would go to the Legion, and head inside. He knew they would all still be there, putting the drinks away until late into the night. He wondered how they would react when he walked in and levelled the shotgun in front of his so-called friend's head. He could almost see their faces melting into horror as he revealed his wrath to them. He would attack without mercy, without compunction. Then it would all be over, and he could rest.

The starlight glowed with a blue cast over the towering walls of conifers flanking the crooked road. The speedometer read a hundred and twenty, far too fast for these gravel tracks. But the old man did not notice the dizzying speed as he hurtled through the night; his mind was drifting between his vision and his vengeance. Like a bad taste in his mouth, the dread image of the thing that wallowed in the black mud kept searing across his mind.

Damn it...he rubbed his red-rimmed eyes with the back of his hand. The meaning of the vision eluded him. He pushed it away with his rage, a rage he welcomed. It flowed in like a red tide, stealing him, replacing him. He was Justice itself now, God's hammer, with a twelve-gauge and a Dodge pickup truck. It will be my final act, Old Pete knew. He would do the job, and keep one shell for himself. He reached a demonic speed.

As Old Pete shuddered around a hairpin bend, a leaping deer suddenly flew out of the roadside bush and leapt directly into his path.



The silver brilliance of the headlights flooded the doe's eyes, and had she not been sprinting for her life, she would have been mesmerized by the blinding glare, unable to move. The slavering black wolf was only seconds behind her. As she bounded wildly into the dark lane, the beast too leapt into the road, going in for the kill.

Old Pete yelled and spun the wheel hard. Missing the doe by a hair's breadth, his speeding truck swerved in a tumultuous blur of dust and gravel shrapnel, headlights spinning madly across the ditch and forest beyond. With a heavy thud, the pouncing wolf slammed into the side of the twisting Dodge, and bounced off the door with a sharp yelp.

The truck stopped spinning and finally stalled out amid a haze of fine dust, sideways in the road. The doe, unharmed but shaken and temporarily blinded, staggered slowly through the beams of light like a spectre in the fog. She limped across the road and disappeared into the shadowy evergreens.

Old Pete was slouched forward, head resting on the steering wheel. He was breathing rapidly, and a cold sweat broke out on his brow. Dust drifted in the window and settled on his shoulder. He could hear the ceaseless song of the crickets, and from not so far away, an owl hooted. He opened his eyes and saw the shotgun lying on the floorboards at his feet. Slowly he lifted his head and peered out the window.

He watched the stunned black wolf rise slowly to its feet. It shook its head, then stood there for a moment, gazing intently at the old man. It then turned and trotted off the way it had come, melting into the inky forest. Old Pete sighed. The truck started with a clank and a grind, and he turned around, slowly heading for home, and bed.



Just over the hills, high atop a lightening-blasted white pine, the great Grey Owl slowly turned its head. A circling breeze had descended from the black sky. Tonight was a hunting night. Unblinking yellow eyes scanned the darkened fields and patchwork of forest. Although its eyesight is preternaturally sharp, it is the keen sense of hearing the owl possesses that is its best weapon.

From over a kilometre away, the owl could detect the small, warm animals rustling about the land on their nocturnal doings. Tonight, the Great Grey would hunt the rabbit, as it fed on clover by the starlight.

The owl hooted, then launched from its lofty perch and sailed into the night sky, a silhouette of magnitude, and direction. Its wings made no sound. It glided far and wide, just a few feet above treetop level, searching for signs of life. A patchy sea of scrub brush and little trees unfolded beneath the owl, and suddenly an imperceptible noise caught its attention.

Lighting noiselessly on a skeletal oak crown, it paused to home in on the tiny sound. In a moment he had his bearings. There, near the edge of a small fallow field, was a rabbit, loping in sporadic movements along a thin creek bed. It meandered towards a tall cottonwood tree, pausing to sniff some bent long grass. It hopped toward the center of the clearing, where it stopped. Its long ears turned and absorbed the night, its nose twitched. From the treetop a half mile away, the owl saw it all; its eyes blazed.

As the owl leapt to the wing, the rabbit fled across the field.



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