Saturday, March 1, 2014

The Stalker - Part II

Read Part I here.

By Bettyann Moore

It took him a while and he had to use the flashlight in the darkening gloom, but Digg’s heart raced with joy when he saw Bo lying on the porch as he approached the house.

“Hey boy, hey Bo!” Digg hollered. The dog raised his head and Digg could see his tail thumping, but the pit bull didn’t get up. Digg rushed to his side, unsurprised to see a large, bloody gash in the dog’s side.

“Oh, Christ. Oh, God,” Digg moaned. “My poor boy.” He sat down next to the dog and scratched him behind the ears. He poked a tentative finger into the wound, but Bo snarled at him.

“It’s okay, buddy, it’s okay,” Digg soothed. “Fucking lion, fucking cat! Bet you put up a good fight, huh, boy?”

It was 15 miles to the nearest vet and Digg hated doctors of all sorts, but he gathered the dog into his arms as gently as he could and carried him to the truck, which he’d left parked on the culvert. By the time he climbed into the driver’s seat, though, he knew Bo was gone. Digg never cried and he didn’t cry now. He pounded on the steering wheel and screamed for the blood of that big cat. And her brats, too.

Without bothering to take off his dripping clothes or his muddy boots, Digg stomped into the house and headed to his gun safe. He left Bo’s body in the truck; first things first. Although he’d never been hunting in his life, Digg was about to do a little hunting now.

“Handgun or rifle?” he wondered aloud as he stood before the safe. The .41 mag would do the job, he knew, but it required accuracy. Digg winced, remembering his poor performance on the range in Baltimore with the handgun. Instead, he reached for his .243 Savage rifle and scope.

“This oughta do it,” he said, rubbing his hand along the stock. He loaded it, jammed a handful of bullets into his breast pocket and headed back outside. The ringing phone stopped him short. His phone never rang.

“What?” he said into the receiver, impatient to get going. The voice at the end was obviously recorded.

“This is a reverse 9-1-1 call from the county sheriff’s office. Please be advised that there is a flash flood warning in effect for your area. We strongly advise that you leave your premises now and make your way to safety. If you decide to shelter in place, the county sheriff’s office cannot be held responsible for your safety. To repeat ...”

Digg slammed down the phone. “Nobody tells me what to do,” he said, and headed outside.

It seemed to Digg that the rain had lighted up a bit. “What the hell do they know? Stupid cops.” he grumbled. He jogged toward the spot where he’d found Cleo’s blood and hair. It took him a while to find it; all the damn pine trees looked alike.

“Couple of bloodhounds would be nice right about now,” Digg said as he scanned the ground as best he could for any more signs. The rain had washed away Cleo’s blood and hair. All Digg could do was head deeper into the woods and hope the cat had gone that way.

All the locals said that the deer population was down and that was why the cats were going for loose dogs, but you’d never know it by all the deer droppings Digg saw. It was slow going, despite the deer trails he followed. He swept the Savage back and forth as he walked, looking high and low, hoping he could find his way back.

A sudden movement to his right made the hairs on the back of his neck stand on end. The cat wasn’t very big, probably one of the cubs, and it seemed oblivious to Digg’s presence. It looked like it was eating something. Cleo? Digg didn’t hesitate. He turned and shot wildly, splintering the trunk of a tree. The animal raced deeper into the woods.

“Stupid idiot,” Digg swore at himself. “Why didn’t you wait for a clean shot?” He knew he’d never get close enough to the spooked animals now and darkness was coming on. He’d never find his way back out in the dark. Besides, he needed to bury poor Bo before his body stunk up the Dodge.

Digg awoke to the sound of water, not unusual these days, but it sounded closer than usual. After burying Bo in a shallow, muddy grave that he topped with heavy boulders, he’d taken a long, hot shower. He had meant to rustle up something to eat, but had fallen over onto his bed while he was pulling on clean socks and didn’t wake up until three in the morning. Groggily, he groped for his sweat pants and went in search of the water sound.

“Holy shit!” he cried at the top of the basement stairs. He could see murky water streaming over the lowest step. He ran to the bottom of the stairs, then stopped. The electricity hadn’t gone out yet, but he knew he needed to kill it, right then, before he set foot into the water. He raced to the breaker box on the porch and threw the master switch. The rain drummed down on the tin roof of the porch. He’d never been anywhere close to a waterfall, but Digg felt like he was under one now.

As he shined the beam of his flashlight down the cellar stairs, Digg knew there was nothing he could do. The freezer full of (illegally) obtained venison and elk would be lost. He lit on the hope that the flood insurance the mortgage company had forced him to buy would pay out. He wondered if they would believe him if he told them he had a freezer full of lobster and prime rib. The possibilities were endless.

The basement could wait. There was nothing Digg could do about it anyway. He had an uneasy feeling about the creek and the truck sitting atop the culvert. He should have moved it after burying Bo. Thinking about Bo and Cleo sent his blood pressure sky-high. Come drier weather, there would be hell to pay for one mama mountain lion.

The last thing he wanted to do was go out in the soaking mess outside, but Digg couldn’t bear the thought of just sitting inside in the dark. He rested the flashlight on the bed and pulled on some dry clothes and the tallest boots he had. Then he opened the footlocker at the end of the bed. He wasn’t about to go outside unprepared. In fact, he hoped he’d run into the big cat. It was time for some real firepower.

He’d gotten the AR-15 the day after 9-11. It was hard to get then (not like today), and its weight never failed to soothe him. He’d only fired it once, at some fence posts at Rocky Flats, but what it lacked in precision was made up by the sheer number of rounds it could put out in a few seconds.

“It’s chicken soup for the gun man’s soul,” Digg said, proud of his little play on words. He pulled its long strap over his head and let the weapon dangle across his belly. He reached back into the footlocker and took out one of his emergency kits; he had four of them. All he needed from the kit was the heavy-duty rain poncho. It was piss yellow, but it would have to do. Digg put it on and made sure he could wear the darn thing while carrying the AR-15. He was pleased that he could and that the plastic would protect the gun as well. He pulled up the hood, then added his wide-brimmed Stetson for good measure.

It was near sunrise, but Digg could tell he’d never see the sun that day. He didn’t need the sun, though, to see that he now had a river swirling through his property. He stepped tentatively off the porch and cold, muddy water coursed over the top of his boots.

“Shit!” he swore.

Digg slogged back onto the porch to reassess his situation. Maybe it would be a good idea to get out of here, he thought, as if it was his own idea. He remembered the sign at the entrance to the canyon: Climb to higher ground in case of a flash-flood. Was this really a flash flood? Could he even get to higher ground? He eyed the ridge behind the house. It looked like a waterfall and it was too steep anyway. The idea of leaving his house unprotected went against his grain. But then again, he doubted anyone up to no good would be out skulking around at this point. But what if he couldn’t get back to the house afterwards? Digg hated indecision.

Either way, he needed to get to the truck. He cursed himself for leaving the Dodge out near the road, but it always made him feel safer and more isolated when he used it to block the entrance to his property.

Once again, Digg stepped into the swirling waters. He was surprised at how strong the current felt. It seemed like the water was getting higher, too. He looked back at the house; before too long the water would be up over the porch. Maybe the decision had been made for him.

Digg slowly made his way toward the road, picking his way past displaced rocks and rapidly moving branches. The curve in the drive and the trees between the house and the creek blocked his view of the culvert, but he could see a faint glint of metal through the leaves. He kept his head down, the rain sluicing down the Stetson’s brim and out of his eyes. When he finally got beyond the trees, the current was twice as strong as the water coursed down the canyon road and the creek. The noise was deafening.

Just 20 feet from the truck, Digg raised his head for the first time. At first, his brain didn’t register what his eyes were seeing. Once again, his blood ran cold as he realized that the mama lion was crouched atop the truck cab, having found the only spot that wasn’t under water. She eyed him warily, but even Digg could see that she was worn out, her chest and flanks heaving as she panted with exhaustion.

Only a second or two had passed, but to Digg it felt like an eternity before the tense muscles in his arms loosened. Keeping his eyes on the cat, he brought up his big gun under the cover of the yellow poncho. He’d have to shoot right through the flimsy plastic. Digg didn’t look away from the lion’s hooded gaze, but out of the corner of his eye he saw something big, something fast, coming toward them. The roar in Digg’s ears seemed to be getting louder.

Everything happened at once. The cat’s haunches tensed and she sprang away from the man. The man raised his gun and pulled the trigger. And a massive, roiling wall of water, boulders, hunks of asphalt and tree trunks roared down the canyon and slammed into the truck, the culvert and the man, washing them all away.

It wasn’t until late the next day that sheriff deputies found Digg’s body half a mile from his house. The bright yellow of his poncho alerted the searchers.The waters might have carried him farther, but the strap of his gun had snagged on a tree and held him fast. No one claimed his body.

The mother mountain lion relocated her cubs to another canyon, one where the deer were more plentiful and had the added feature of mountain goats. Even in the winter, food was plentiful; she’d lost her taste for dogs.

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