Authors: W.C. Hoffman
t sounded like a distant rolling thunder, only it was not thunder and it certainly was not distant. The copper-jacketed lead rounds zipped through the woods tearing away at every leaf, stick and tree trunk between the deputies and the twins as they ran down the hillside. The eerie sound made by the rifling slugs as the passed overhead was unmistakable. As if a whirling, zipping pocket of air was being ripped open directly above them, the boys continued their sprint through the foliage making their way to the river. The deputies did not follow in chase. The unknown steep terrain of the hill kept them in place on the game trail.
“Hold your fire! Hold your fire!” the sheriff demanded. After all the fire had stopped as they looked at each other in disbelief.
Coleman's shotgun rang off another round from behind the rest of the group startling them all. They all looked at him with disbelief. “What, I saw something move,” he explained with his usual shit-eating grin.
“What the hell just happened?” Magee thought out loud, “And why did he only attack Aurora?” Upon hearing this, reality began to set in with the group. Someone had just killed one of their own. A deputy was dead.
“Gather some of these rocks and help me bury her” Ravizza said. He then added, “We say goodbye, then we go hunting.” Ravizza was not talking about hunting in the traditional sense and the deputies knew it. This was no longer a manhunt, with the death of Aurora it had become a mission of revenge. They gathered rocks and covered up the dog. Even doing so quickly, it took an hour’s time to complete the task.
Picking up the last of the rocks that circled their fire pit, Henderson found the remainder of the arrow Tomek had shot. Pulling it from the coals the stone head glowed red hot. “What is that?” Coleman asked, seeing Henderson remove it from the pit. She ignored him, knowing full well that the only reason he was looking at the fire pit was because she was bent over it.
“Sheriff, come look at this,” Coleman proudly demanded as if he had found it himself.
“Who put that in there?” Magee asked.
“Probably Henderson!” Coleman answered quickly as she shot him a look. “He put it there” The sheriff answered to break up the pending argument between his employees.
“Who, me? Not me...” Magee pushed forward.
“Not you. Mowgli was here in our camp while we slept,” the sheriff explained, pointing toward the barefoot tracks in the game trail. “We are not dealing with a normal kid. He has been out here for too long. He has learned to kill and at this point Mowgli is nothing more than an animal we must hunt.”
The sheriff took the arrow and examined it closely. From the cedar-made shaft all the way to the now cooled-off head. He set the arrow down and began to remove his backpack and overcoat. The group just watched, circling around their boss with their eyes fixed on his every action. The sheriff reached down the front of his shirt, pulling out a loosely braided necklace. Attached at the end of the necklace was another arrowhead.
Holding them up to each other, the group could see that it was a direct match. Both heads were the same size, color, type of stone, cutting pattern and weight.
“You see, me and Mowgli have a history, it seems.”
“He made that necklace for you?” Coleman’s question made the others roll their eyes in mockery.
“No, the arrowhead on my neck was not made for me but it was meant for me. It came out of the shoulder blade of an elk. Not just any elk, though. It was embedded in the shoulder of the elk I hit when I put the cruiser into the laundry mat. I had wondered why that elk was sprinting through the middle of town and I found the answer to that question when I opened him up to harvest what was still good of the meat. Someone had shot that bull just prior to my hitting him. Someone who used arrowheads exactly like this one.”
Magee agreed that the heads were identical but remarked, “That was years ago and Mowgli would have just been a toddler.”
“Yes, it was,” the sheriff said again, examining the matching arrowheads. “Whoever shot that elk made both of these heads. Or they taught our Mowgli how to do it himself.”
Walking over from his spot in the circle Ravizza took the arrow head from the sheriff and declared, “He killed your elk like he killed my dog. I now, too, will wear this head in a remembrance of our fallen Aurora until justice has been served.” Ravizza cut a piece of rope tying a half-hitch knot around the head and draped it around his neck. The sheriff and his crew had no idea how right his thoughts on the origins of the heads were. Uncle had indeed made both of the heads.
ith justice in mind the group set course at daylight for the next point given to them on the GPS. They were headed directly for the orchard and again would be within close distance to not only the twins themselves but also their home.
Hours passed as they now hiked on trails that were nonexistent. Bushwhacking through thick brush and swamp land slowed their pace to not much more than a crawl. Not to mention they had been steadily climbing uphill through the day putting them near the ridge of the valley. A summer sun and no breeze did not help with the mosquitoes and black flies who feasted on their hosts’ bodies. Hot, tired and angry, their defenses were down.
Even Ravizza and Henderson did not notice the tracks they walked upon. Paw prints went unnoticed as did the tufts of fur floating on the tops of the knee-high ferns. Step by step, slice by slice as they cut their way through the brush, they got closer. Stopping for a break, Coleman leaned against a tree trunk. Sitting there drinking from his canteen, he raised his head, pouring the water over his face to cool down. His canteen empty, he brushed away the remaining splashes from his eyes only to realize what was above him. Their eyes met and Coleman froze. Not being able to process exactly what it was, Coleman only could mutter a broken word.
“La, La... La... Lio...n!” Coleman was not given the time to finish the warning. The rest of the group had seen it just as he did and although each of them was armed and could have easily shot at the attacker they all instinctively fled in various directions. The traumatic events surrounding Aurora’s death mixed with their weakened and somewhat lost states of mind made the group of deputies panic and along with their leader, each ran crashing through the bush and swamps.
The cougar let out a shrieking roar as it soared down from its perch on the branch above. The big cat’s fully extended claws dug deep into Coleman’s shoulder as the impact took him to the ground. Fumbling for his shotgun, he rolled to his side as the cat sank its teeth deep into the thigh of the screaming deputy. Coleman quickly clutched the knife from his belt and thrust it into the left eye of the cat. The combination of the knife hitting bone and the blood on his hands made him lose his grip on the knife as the cat whipped its head away from Coleman’s leg. With all its power the cat was still much smaller than Coleman, who had now wrapped his other leg up and over the top of the lion’s back, scissoring the animal while he pulled its solid head to his chest in an attempt at breaking its neck. Interlocking his feet together, he rolled his body weight with all he had, spinning both him and the beast down a small drop off and onto a sandy ledge.
There in the full sun the man and cat slowly regained their balance and broke free of one another’s grasp. Now both on their feet, they circled one another on the small landing. Both warriors bleeding profusely from the wounds their respective challenger had inflicted and neither yet willing to die. Coleman glanced down to his left and saw bones. Looking to his right there were more. Piles of bones.
“So this is your pussycat graveyard, huh?” Coleman said to the cat as he realized he was now in the lair of the hunter. Claw marks on the nearby trees were evident from years of scratching and sharpening, as was the strong musky odor of the cat itself. It was the perfect spot for the cougar to lie, eat and stalk prey. The ledge overlooked the entire valley and it was clear to see that he had been watching the deputies’ ascent all morning long.
Shotgun in hand, he knew the fight was over. Still he waited to pull the trigger, admiring the predator that had chosen to take him on. Nearly showing the cat a modicum of respect, Coleman was going to let the animal run off if it so chose. He knew that Henderson would have been an easy kill but the beast had chosen the largest of the group. The cat did not run, but continued to circle the deputy leering at him through the one uninjured eye as best it could. The cat lowered his back, digging his exposed front claws into the soft sandy fern covered ground. As the tension built in his powerful hind quarters, both of them knew that this was the moment.
Coleman quickly shouldered the gun just as the cat’s front paws left the ground to spring toward him and pulled the trigger.
The firing pin rang against the hammer inside the unloaded Remington 870. They say in these moments you can see your life flash before your eyes. Coleman did not see his life, he only saw one brief moment. The extra shots he rang off upon claiming to have seen something earlier in the day as the twins made their escape to the river had come back to haunt him. The degrading looks he received after firing off the two shots that were wasted, one of which was needed now more than ever had distracted him from replacing the empty shells. Coleman knew in the brief second it took for the lion to close the distance between the two of them in the air that he was going to die with an unloaded gun and a pocket full of ammunition.
Bracing himself on his ripped open leg he waited for the impact of the cat’s lunge. He closed his eyes and accepted his imminent fate. His only hope now was that the rest of the group would return to the scene and not allow his body to become part of the ominous bone pile.
However, the impact from the leaping cat did not come in the following seconds. The cat roared with the same fury of the previous attack, but Coleman felt no new pain. Only the throbbing sensation of blood flowing from his clawed shoulders and the gaping puncture wounds in his leg. Coleman opened his eyes to what sounded like a tree limb snapping. He watched a four-inch round ironwood tree flinging and flying upward through the air from the ground like a missile and into the canopy of the trees. The once-bent tree now stood straight up the way nature had originally intended. The cougar was then yanked onto its belly out its midair death pounce, slammed to the ground and drug away off of the edge of the ledge. Swinging and fighting, pawing and clawing at the air as it now hung six feet off of the ground, Coleman dropped to his knees in shock. Thankful to be alive at the moment, the blood and dirt soaked deputy did not care who had built the trap, all that mattered was that they did and for that he was extremely grateful. Looking at the still-struggling cougar he began loading shells into the magazine, one by one.
Shhheeee click, shheeee click....
Full well knowing that it would only take one shell to kill the hanging cat, he planned to use them all. The receiver and magazine was full after five rounds as he placed the butt of the gun stock on the ground. Utilizing the gun as a modified crutch Coleman pulled his hulking body up to his feet. Bracing his weight on the gun, limping and dragging his mangled hamstring through the sandy fern-covered ground he made his way slowly towards the still roaring cat. Shouldering the gun, he shot the cougar, killing it while it swung. Then again, again and again. All five rounds found their mark and he took a long, deep breath realizing he had escaped death and the battle was over.
Coleman knew damn well that cougars were not normally this far south but that they had taken a few complaints from farmers in the area losing livestock. He had to get a closer look and walked directly under the dead cat. While admiring the killing claws and fangs of the lifeless hanging cougar, his feet left the sandy soil and stepped onto a large patch of ferns, he felt his foot give way. Looking down he knew it was not his injury that caused this. Unable to back up quickly with his injured leg, he fell forward into the fern pile.
The small twigs holding up the false fern floor snapped as the massive weight of the deputy broke through the top layer of the hidden pit trap. Tumbling uncontrollably into the pit, Coleman landed at the bottom of the eight-foot wooden spike-lined pit. Impaled, he looked at his chest to see a three-inch round wooden spike extruding through his navel.
Looking up with blood now coming out his mouth, he knew it was over. From the bottom of the dark pit, the hole above seemed so bright. Much like a train tunnel his vision grew blurred and the tunnel began to close off, the light growing dim. Coleman focused his eyes once more to see the cat hanging there dead and the silhouettes of two faces leering over him from the top. He raised his hand to ask for help as his eyes struggled to see Tomek and Drake looking down on him. His arm dropped to the side as the last of his life faded way.
The twins had been in the trees the entire time watching the battle. Having again heard the groups slashing through the brush they were not hard to track. They had set both traps weeks ago in hopes of removing the problem cougar, but until today they were unsuccessful. Now not only was the cougar dead but he took with him the biggest of the intruders.
Drake just looked at his brother smiling and said,
“Two birds, one stone.”
he twins sat above the hole in the ground they had dug months ago basking in the effectiveness of both of their traps’ deployments.
“Where are the rest?”
“They ran like rabbits from a lion,” Tomek answered his brother with a giggle. “How many are left?”
“There was five, plus the wolf.”
“Four, we can handle four no problem.” Tomek’s confidence had grown with each killing. “And one of them is a woman.”
“A woman she might be, but there is something about her that is different than the rest. I am not sure about it but she maybe the most difficult for us to deal with.”
Tomek scoffed at Drakes notion of taking out Henderson. Tomek had never dealt with women. Adding to the fact that he had never had a conversation with anyone outside of Uncle and Drake, there was no way he could know the power Henderson held over the two of them. With her interrogation skills and overall compassionate demeanor, the only way the twins would stand a chance was to eliminate her from afar.