The morning was new as it began to shine over the snow-topped trees of the Alaskan woods. Pipelines, effectively pathways through the trees, opened up corridors deep into the foliage that hunters used to easily find their way to their various lucky spots. Off to the side of one of these pipelines, still rather close to an old country road, Ben Godfrey had staked out his spot.
This spot had been staked out for a few years, part of the hunting lease that he shared with a handful of hunting buddies. It had yielded plenty of family dinners over the years and he was in no hurry to abandon it for greener pastures anytime soon. Ben sat behind a hunting blind, covered in fresh snow and clad in camouflage. His rifle rested beside him, leaning into his lap and ready to grab at the first sight of whatever unfortunate beast (legal, of course) that offered itself up to feed his family over the next week.
The thrill of the hunt was always nice, but Ben cherished the quiet moments as well. It was a close as he felt he could get with God, whatever that turned out to be in the life after this. He wasn't a theologian and didn't overburden his mind with thoughts of the meaning of life and what came next, but out here with nothing but nature surrounding him, he couldn't help but feel something. Whatever it might be, it was peaceful. Separation from the populace and other people did a man's mental health a proper cleansing.
Not to say he didn't enjoy being around people. One of the greater joys in his life was sharing his passion with his seventeen-year-old son, Kenny, who was set up in his own blind close enough to be heard, but far enough they didn't get in each other's way. Kenny was a good kid, and he figured the majority of fathers out there considered their kids good despite what they may grumble, but Kenny was a true straight arrow. He thought enough of his old man to drag himself out into the cold woods once in a while when most kids his age were either still sleeping, or still awake playing Mario or whatever kids these days played.
Ben appreciated the gesture. Hunting wasn't so mind-numbing for Kenny that he only tolerated participating, but it wasn't at the top of his list of things he'd rather be doing on a freezing Saturday morning. Kenny liked it enough that it wasn't a chore and Ben would take that for as long as he could until the kid grew up and went his own way, marrying some local girl (probably end up being that deputy's daughter and that was fine with Ben) and starting his own brood of kids that sacrificed the occasional free time to enjoy time with their dad. Or Grandad, Ben allowed himself to think but was in no hurry to be that old or for his kid to grow up that fast.
A slight crack of a limb brought him out of his reverie. The quiet reflective times were nice, but this was what it was all about. The thing that got him out of bed in the mornings where his bones and muscles ached from the previous days' hard work. That special thing that allowed him to get up even as his still lovely wife was wrapped up in the warmest blankets sleeping peacefully on a comfortable bed. The thing that made his blood rush and gets his heart pumping.
Ben brought his rifle up, sighting down the barrel as he surveyed the surrounding woods. It could have possibly been the wind, perhaps an innocent squirrel, but to Ben the distinctive crack that wood makes while being trod over was unmistakable. Part of him hoped that he wouldn't see whatever game had made the mistake of letting its presence known and that it would wonder on a few hundred feet into the path of his son, who, while having seen several deer and moose had yet to score a kill. One near miss that irked Kenny to this day, but no heads on the wall and no food on the table.
He would be proud, as any good father would, of his kid's success, but that greedy hunter's soul that was buried deep in his very being wanted to be the one to pull the trigger and bag the unfortunate critter.
The rustling in the woods grew more distinct. There was no doubt left in Ben's mind that something was setting itself up for dinner and with that bloodthirsty thought, he cocked his weapon.
A few yards to his right, away from Kenny who was set pretty close to the country road their truck was parked, Ben noticed leaves shaking. Higher in the trees than he would have suspected, it seemed to be too much racket for a small tree-dwelling squirrel.
Below the rustling canopy of the trees, Ben could make a figure forming between the tree trunks and he swiveled the barrel of his rifle in that direction. Something didn't seem right about this, he realized as he sighted on his target.
His barrel made a slow arc up before almost falling from limp hands as Ben let out a terrified scream.
Kenny Godfrey did enjoy the time in the woods for much the same reasons as his father. It forced him to get away, make sense of his thoughts. He was quickly growing from teenager to young man and felt a lot of the time things just weren't clear. It seemed to be a falsely held idea, at least to him, that the older you grow, the more the fog lifted from your brain and you simply knew the answers.
Yes, some time to sort through his emotions distraction-free was never bad. He did like nature. Growing up in a small Alaskan village gave you no choice. You either learned to love it or be driven crazy with cabin fever and shack up in your house and become a drunk. The thrill of the hunt, however, never really fell over him, even in the midst of it. He could understand how people like his dad craved it. Not to say he didn't enjoy it, but it wasn't his life, not by a long shot.
That was a riddle he was still trying to sort through. His life. What he was to be. Ellie Prowz. Ellie Prowz most of all. Her dad was the deputy of Ragunda and that might have been intimidating, but Ray Prowz was an easy going guy who seemed to genuinely like Kenny. Those green eyes stared at him in his dreams and he couldn't shake the image of her shoulder-length red hair out of his mind. Was he that stricken with her? Was it a bad thing if he was?
Pretty girls were everywhere, especially at this age, and Kenny had dated a couple. Something about Ellie, and he couldn't quite put his finger on it, set her far and away above any of those other pretty girls. Looks were a part of it, no doubt, that's how he had been attracted to her in the first place, but there was an otherworldly kindness and grace about her that defied easy explanation. That she would be the perfect girl for him possibly in the forever sense was not the question. The question was why he could hope she would ever see the same in him?
What made Kenny Godfrey special enough to deserve perfection? Average looks, average charm, and perhaps a bit too self-deprecating. When Kenny thought of himself, all he saw were the flaws. Would Ellie want to permanently be with a guy who might not ever get himself out of Ragunda? If he could just figure out where his life was going and the best way to get there, he might be able to see how Ellie could see herself fitting into it.
His biggest fear in life was that she saw him as nothing more than a temporary fling.
Then, in the short distance, he heard his father scream. It took him a second to identify it as his father's, for at first, it was much too high pitched and primal. After reality registered to him during the second bellow of fear, gunshots rang out in the chill air and Kenny's fear became much more solidified.
"Kenny!" his father's voice carried over the freezing air. "Run! If you can hear me, get to the truck and get out of here!"
Kenny was on his feet as he heard more gunshots. Part of him screamed to go to where his dad was and see if he was okay, but most of him was too petrified to even try. Shame tried to fight it's way through, but terror ruled the day and Kenny followed his dad's orders and shot out from behind the hunting blind toward the main pipeline.
Kenny ran as fast as his heavy hunting coat and crisp snow allowed. He didn't want to stop to ponder what it meant that he could no longer hear gunshots or his father's voice. The shame, however, had managed to creep it's way past the terror and Kenny suddenly found his feet heading toward his father's blind instead of away.
"Dad!" he screamed as he ran forth but heard no answer.
Blood pumping, Kenny burst through the brush into his dad's hunting area. The blind sat still against the snow. Behind it, huge tree limbs had fallen, littering the area with a snow-covered brush.
"Dad?", his voice was quieter. "Where are you?"
Kenny walked up to the blind and stopped short as he spotted an item amongst the fallen brush. His breath caught and he wheezed as a lone hunting boot stood upright between the limbs. Slowly, Kenny walked toward the boot, every sense in his body somehow both alert and numb as he tried to clear his mind of what he was potentially on the verge of discovering.
Kenny picked the boot up and looked into it and while he was miraculously able to hold in the vomit that wanted to spew forth, he still dropped the boot with a startled yelp.
Looking around, his body no longer just shaking from the cold, he didn't notice anything other than a mess of tree limbs. Then, for someone who had had a lot of problems making decisions without thoroughly second-guessing himself, he made the simplest decision of his life.
Back in the major corridor of the pipeline, Kenny's only motivation was to make it several short yards to the backroad where Ben's pickup was parked. A part of his brain found itself relieved that he convinced his dad to let him drive and so the keys were in his pocket, but on the other hand, his dad had never had an issue letting someone else take the wheel if he didn't have to fight the wintry roads.
Fingering the keys in his pocket, Kenny almost had a premature heart attack as a loud crunch echoed through the woods behind him. Forcing his eyes open, tears of fear freezing at his cheeks, he pushed past the fear and mentally kept his body moving. Forward, forward, no looking back. To look back was death.
Kenny looked back.
What he saw, he was never really sure. His brain didn't seem to have the processing power needed to make any sort of sense of the thing behind him. Hardly believing what his eyes thought they might have seen in the distance behind him, he turned back around and pushed himself forward.
A cramp attempted to fight its way into his calf muscles, but Kenny pushed it away in a powerful surge of willpower he wasn't even aware he was using. Unsure of the actual distance of the thing behind him, he only thought of the truck waiting before him. Single-mindedness was the only way to keep his brain from finally snapping. One objective. Get to the truck. After that, he would worry about that then. As it was, his mind was ever on the verge of falling into madness and shutting off all but the basest survival instinct was the only thing that kept his wiry frame trudging tirelessly through the pathway.
Kenny couldn't help but cast another glance over his shoulder, still not quite comprehending what his eyes were surely seeing. Was that a fur-covered foot? Was it possible it could even be the size he thought it was?
All he knew was that what he thought might be a foot attached to something incomprehensible was closer than before. His body was on the verge of simply freezing up, leaving him unable to move, to flee. He realized that if he were to stop for a second, the thing would be on him and all over him.
His dad's hunting boot flashed in his mind and he was able to continue to push forward. And thank God, because there was the gate leading out to a small street. The crashing of trees grew louder as Kenny threw the small gate forward and passed through, somehow managing to double his speed.
To his right, the small Chevy S10 sat on the side of the road, a light dusting of snow covering its roof. Kenny prayed they had not been out here too long for the engine to take its sweet time warming up.
Running toward the truck, he pulled the keys from his pocket. He fumbled with them a second before finding the fob with the automatic starter on it. Desperately, Kenny thumbed the clicker and to his eternal relief, the engine fired right up. He came close to smiling in relief, but a loud crack of timber an ever-growing shorter distance behind him sped him to the side of the truck.
Panting, cold air billowing from his mouth, Kenny yanked the door open and jumped into the driver's seat. He hit the gas, causing the car's engine to idle almost to the point of blowing, before cursing himself and putting the gear into drive. Hitting the gas again, the little truck spat onto the country road, skittering and sliding before the chains on the tires took purchase.
Kenny looked into the rearview mirror and for the first time had enough sense to scream. Keeping his widened eyes on the mirror, Kenny paid no attention to the road, slamming his foot into the gas pedal until he could longer see the horror in the reflection of his rearview.
Author's note: First draft of a novel. This is chapter one and will lead into a story about a couple of tabloid reporters (this will be set as the internet is starting to come of age, so to speak) who chase stories that they believe to be true. Kinda like X-Files if Mulder and Scully were reporters instead of agents and the roles were reversed. Anyway, I'm always up for helpful feedback about how I can improve writing and story, or even the title, which I suck at; and of course would love to know what works for you as well.