Martin and Perry were deer hunting. They heard shots that were within a quarter mile.
“You think you have the woods to yourself,” Martin said.
“You never do,” Perry agreed.
That would kill the day. The deer were gone now. But then they heard a scream. A man’s scream. Then another from the same man, such that they felt that they knew him. And a third.
They ran in its direction. A man knelt at the edge of a clearing. The dead grass was high. He was almost lost in it. His lower half swallowed.
Perry and Martin got closer. A body rested on the ground, as if it’d been laid there and hadn’t fallen. It was leaking through the temple closest to the kneeling man’s leg, soaking the rough outerwear of his coveralls. He talked and half-screamed at once, but they understood the gist.
He’d killed his friend, he said. He thought he was a deer.
Perry began to attend to the man on the ground, while Martin moved the kneeling man away so that he wasn’t in the light. Perry’s fingers were covered in blood. They didn’t look like fingers. They had no shape. They were missing. The same as if they’d been cut off. Had never been. Were a rumor.
Martin heard the sound of a metallic edge grazing against fabric. A rush like a wind that is slightly impeded. An unintended scraping in the lead-up to an entirely intentional act.
The kneeling man who was now standing had taken his hunting knife from his holster and was bringing it to his throat. Martin sprung upwards from his crouch and tackled the man around the waist, jarring the knife from his grip. He fell backwards onto the frozen, dustless ground, the two bodies pressed together. Martin didn’t know where the knife had gone. The man had a big coat. They all had big coats. It could have been in a fold between them.
He braced for a puncture from beneath his weight, but none came. The man sobbed.
Martin stayed on top of him until Perry was done, which was just a few seconds more.