Karl lay flat on the damp leaves under the pines, trying to catch his breath. It had been a long struggle up hill to this point, and he didn’t want to give away his position with his heavy breathing. The dozen or so deer were about 400 meters in front of him; all doe except for one annoying buck that was interested in more than food.
Once he caught his breath, Karl scanned the area. The deer were in a small clearing in the middle of the forest. Naturally nervous about open areas, they were hugging the edges but were attracted by the vegetation out under the sky. The smaller ones—yearlings—had less caution and advanced a bit ahead of the rest. Meanwhile, the buck was trying (and failing) to approach some of the older, larger doe.
Karl wasn’t interested in the buck. It, too, looked like a yearling, with only a couple of short, spiky antlers. But several of the doe were at least 100 lbs, enough to provide meat for weeks if not months.
Still in his prone position, Karl unslung his rifle from his back, cautiously made sure that the shell was chambered and the safety on, and tilted his head to look through the scope. As the largest doe came into focus, he noticed slight movement in the trees beyond the far side of the clearing.
A gunshot broke the still morning air, and the deer immediately scattered, running in several directions. Karl didn’t notice that, however, because his eyes were trained on the image in his scope: a man, his skull bloody and seemingly exploded, fell backward from the cover of the trees to land with a thump on the ground.
Karl watched, frozen with fear. Long training kept his rifle still, though his heart was suddenly racing. As he watched, another man, dressed in an orange hunting vest, stepped out of the trees, walked over to the body, carefully pointed a pistol at it, and shot three more times.
The man with the pistol lifted his head and scanned the area. Karl held his breath, sure that his own bright clothing would give him away. But, no, the eyes flickered past him, and the man turned and walked back into the woods.
Karl realized that he had been holding his breath the whole time; it seemed like minutes, but was probably only a few seconds. He let his breath out cautiously, still unwilling to believe that he was invisible. He wondered if he should try to help them man who had been shot: with four gunshot wounds from close range, however, it was unlikely that there was anything Karl could do.
He tried to get his bearings, and moved the scope slowly from left to right across the clearing. On the right side, past the tree line, he could see some distant power pylons, and he knew where he was. He had parked his truck on the road by the power-line cut, and had headed south in pursuit of the deer. They had apparently traced a semi-circular route, and he was now looking north back towards the same powerlines. That meant that his truck was only a few thousand meters in that direction, but that was roughly the same direction in which the unknown shooter had gone.
Karl pulled out his phone and checked the time; he decided that he wouldn’t do anything for five minutes, and lay back down to wait. It seemed like an eternity, with every stick and rock beneath him making itself known. But he forced himself to watch the time on his phone and, when the five minutes was up, he cautiously stood up.
Again, he scanned the clearing and saw nothing. Before heading back to his truck, he headed over to check on the dead man.
Karl had seen blood before; he had killed and skinned many deer in his life, and he had even helped attempt to rescue a young family from a gruesome wreck he encountered on his way to college when he was only 19. Nothing really prepared him for what he saw when he reached the body, however. The head was nearly gone, with bits of blood and gray matter scattered around the ground. And there was a single gunshot wound to the heart.
Karl knew enough to not touch anything. He also knew that scavengers—birds, cats—would be here within minutes, so he very carefully took pictures of everything: the body, the woods where the two men had come from, the shell casings still lying on the ground, and the faint, indistinct footprints in the damp earth. He knew that the phone in his camera would record the location via its internal GPS, and he assumed that the police could use that to find their way back here.
Feeling like there was nothing more to be done, he turned and, giving the body a wide berth, headed back towards his truck.
Thinking about what he had just seen, he was scarcely paying attention as he drew close to the road and heard voices ahead. He instantly froze and warily peered through the trees. He could see his car where he had left it, parked by the side of the road about 50 meters in front of him. Immediately behind it was the local sheriff’s cruiser, lights flashing.
Karl let out a sigh of relief and realized that he had been holding his breath. Someone had heard the shot, surely, and called 9-1-1. He moved forward another few steps and saw the sheriff standing behind the cruiser. He seemed to be talking to someone. As Karl approached, he suddenly realized that the person to whom the sheriff was speaking was the same man he had seen through his scope.