Jason was up in the hills, back in the bush. He stopped for a smoke before heading back to town. The wind was coming from the East and the sky was rotating toward evening. He leaned against the seat of his quad and lit a Players Light. His stomach growled. He’d forgotten his lunch back in the truck: a ham sandwich on brown bread and a couple of granola bar things he’d found in the kitchen, left behind the last time he’d had the kids. He could’ve used some coffee, something warm; the evening air was damp and it turned his knuckles a cold stiff white. But his thermos was back in the truck too, next to the lunch on the passenger seat. The thought of drinking made his bladder ache, so he opened his fly and pissed onto the ground of the clearing, onto the sticky mud and fallen leaves.
His rifle was heavy across his back. The strap of the slip dug into the muscle near his armpit. There hadn’t been much point in bringing it out with him. Dennis had cancelled that morning, said he thought he had the flu. There was no way in hell Jason could take a moose by himself; he’d be stuck out here with a tonne of meat, trying to drag it out alone.
Alright, he’d said to Dennis on the phone. I’ll go out and take a rip around anyhow. Maybe scout a new camp.
Yeah, Dennis said coughing into the receiver, I’ll be good to get out. Get your mind off of things with Kristie for a while.
Jesus, he winced and tried to laugh. Everyone’s a fucking therapist lately.
So he was out there keeping his mind off of things. The sky was darkening, a clean black-blue. The Aspens had turned a hot orange against the darker spruce. The sound of wind in the leaves sent a shiver through his skin. He’d felt this before. He was alone, but there was something else out there too. Observing him, listening. Parallel and invisible.
Then a bird screamed and flew out toward him from the trees, jerking him out of his reverie. Jason shook his head. There was a sudden thought of Kristie, an image of her flashed in his mind’s eye. Just her face, maybe a picture they’d had up somewhere in the house. Maybe, he didn’t know. He couldn’t remember. Then it was gone. Then he thought about the money. What he owed her. And the kids. He squeezed his nose between his eyes with his cold fingers.
Time to go home, he thought. Take a shower. Open a bottle of Jack Daniels and try to sleep.
Jason threw his cigarette onto the muddy ground and hopped on the quad. He turned the key to start the engine, but it just hiccuped and spat. The fuck? He checked the fuel gauge. The gas tank was half-full. This had never happened before. He tried again, twisting the keys in the ignition until the flesh of his fingers burned, but the engine didn’t respond.
There was something moving through the leaves behind him. An avian screech made his stomach turn. That same fucking bird. He started to sweat. Jason shivered and twisted in the seat of the quad, trying to see behind him. Did he see a flash of fur? A dog? He squinted. He needed a flashlight. Christ, he shuddered. What if it’s a bear?
Hey, he yelled back into the clearing, trying to make as much noise as he could.
He heard the sound of something breathing. Coming closer. He tried the keys again. They slipped in his hands, useless to turn over the engine. Jason stood up on the footrest of the quad, trying to look as big as possible, and gripped the rifle with half-numb fingers. He turned back and pointed the rifle into the deepening darkness. He thought about shooting. He thought about Kristie.
What? He screamed. Fucking what? But there was just silence.
He stood alone, listening to his thumping heartbeat, for a long time. His own panting.
It’s okay, he said out loud. Then he sat down, bowed over the rifle in his lap, and waited for the night to receive him.