rslspringThe high pitched yelps of a dog pack rose from the woods below.
Lying prone at the crest of the hill above the remote corn
fields, Matt pulled his stare away from a ground hog’s burrow
hole and turned toward the sound. Nothing moved in the
stubble of the corn field that sloped away in front of him,
nor in the woods beyond. The yelps pierced through
the woods. He pivoted the rifle resting on the daypack
in front of him, and put his eye to the scope. He ran the
cross-hairs along the farther side of a wrinkle that split
the hillside below. As the cross-hairs slid across the apex
of the crease, a German Shepherd dog burst in the scope’s
eye. It broke from the dark woods into the sunny autumn
empty corn field. Six more dogs bled quickly from the trees
behind it. Matt pulled back from the scope and watched them
coalesce into a bubbling pack at a ground hog burrow in the
adjacent field. The dogs nosed, pawed, barked, and growled in
a cauldron of growing pandemonium of chase fever.

The shepherd viciously attacked the hole with its paws, clawing
furiously at the rocky Pennsylvania dirt. Matt swung the
rifle back to the burrow entrance that sat at the bottom of
the field in front of him. Once again he peered through the
scope into the black dot of the burrow hole. The dog
pack boiled to a frenzy. Matt shot a quick glance at
the pack and, back to the hole the rifle pointed at.
That pack’ll push this hog out–another twenty-five dollars
of the United Farmers Co-op’s money in my pocket, he thought.

Or if that burrow’s deep enough, and the hog wily enough,
the hog will simply move back and wait. Matt pulled the
rifle to his shoulder, moved slightly closer to the daypack
in front of him, slipped the gun’s safety off, and eased his
eye to the scope.

The hog poked its nose out of the burrow into the sun.
A beady eye flashed black in a sun ray as the animal’s head
wagged back and forth, searching for danger and an escape route.
A short, sharp crack of a 22 rifle shot froze the hog’s head
for an instant. Matt squeezed the trigger and the tiny sound
of the 22 disappeared into the boom of his 8 mm rifle shell explosion.

The heavy rifle slug caught the hog above the right eye and
drove it back into the borrow. Matt pushed himself up off
the ground and scanned the area for the shooter of the 22.

In the adjacent field, the dogs stood statuesque, posed,
all staring up the hill at Matt. The 22 cracked again. A
small puff of dust lifted slowly off the dry ground a few
feet in front of Matt. He watched the puff of dust lazily
sift away. Then, he instinctively dropped to a knee. The 22
cracked again and Matt went down on his stomach. “What the
hell!” he yelled. “Stop shooting!” he yelled. He waited. No
response–only the dogs feverish barking. “I’ve got
permission to hunt here!” Matt yelled. The crack of a 22
long rifle came the response. Matt reactively jerked his right shoulder down.

He felt the bullet fly over. “Someone’s shooting at me,”
Matt spoke to the cool autumn air. Once formed into sound, he
reacted. He began to belly slide back away from the peak of
the hill. He paused, grabbed the stock of the 8 mm Mauser,
hooked a loop of the daypack with its front sights, and
pulled it to him. The dog pack’s excited voice switched to
bays as the animals recognized the prey’s scent. Matt
listened to it move up the scale. From raccoon hunts e knew
what that meant. The pack was in a hunt fever; dangerous.
The snarling sound seemed to run smoke like up the
slant of the hill toward him. Matt slid back until well
beyond the apex of the hill, rolled onto his knees and was
up, moving away from the threats. If they were after him . . .
He’d seen the remains of deer that had been taken down by dog packs.
With that thought, he jacked another round into the Mauser’s chamber,
caught the ejected shell, and moved across the flat top of the hill.
Who’s shooting at me–are the dogs after me—should have gotten
permission to hunt this farmer’s fields; best to move, ran through his mind
as his legs began to move him faster.

Over his shoulder he saw seven dogs crest the hill and
come straight at him. The shepherd and two other large dogs
arrow-headed the pack at him. For a moment he considered 111111
shooting, but knew he could only knock down one or two of
them before they reached him. Or would the sound of the shot
stop them.

He swore and vainly put on speed. He knew the dogs
would catch him. The hilltop dropped abruptly off into the
dense woods of a steep, tight valley between two hills. Matt
stepped off the edge, and took well practiced, long steps
down the steep hillside, while grabbing tree branches to stay
up right. As he pogo legged it down the hillside, the dogs
came over the rise and plunged down after him while
breathlessly howling the infection of the chase. The howls
were punctuated by a gun blast. A clump of tree leaves
disappeared along with a chunk of a tree trunk to Matt’s
right. The white wood of the inner tree stood out starkly
against the dark bark of the tree.

“Shotgun!” Matt heard himself yell. He jerked his head
back to where the blast had come from. An image of a man clad
in coveralls and farmer’s hat stood silhouetted by the sun at
the crest of the hill. The figure stepped off the crest and
dropped out of Matt’s sight–the shepherd lunged at Matt:
snarling, lips stretched back, teeth bared, roaring
savagery. Matt reactively dropped the rifle muzzle at the
dog’s chest to fend it off. Gravity and the dog drove at the
muzzle. The blow pinched a muffled “woof” out of the
animal’s chest. The weight of the dog pushed Matt back. His
finger jerked against the trigger and the weapon fired. The
impact of the slug blew the dog off the rifle barrel. The
two dogs behind the shepherd stiffened their front legs,
driving paws into the loose earth to stop.

Matt teetered on his heels and went over backwards.
Gravity caught up the two dogs into Matt’s roll and they
boiled down the slope through brush and trees. The rifle’s
strap caught between two low tree branches and jerked Matt
upright like a dog caught by its collar on a chain. Matt
flopped back to the ground. He jerked at the gun. It let
loose and he rolled up onto his knees. A 22 bullet snapped
into a small branch of the tree that had caught him. The
rolling dogs scattered below him into the brush and arced a
circle back toward Matt. The four smaller hounds flushed
into the frenzy and circled around Matt, snarling and teeth
flashing.

Fury rose in Matt’s mind. It drove him. He swiped the
rifle at the dogs. “Dumb dogs,” he swore at them. He hated
to kill a dog. Why were these damn people chasing him? He
jacked another round into the Mauser. “Ok, let’s fight,” he
yelled, and quickly raised the rifle and fired at a tree
trunk in the direction of the last shot. The circling dogs
and the two coming back up the grade peeled away at the
boom of the rifle. Matt stood and ran to the right, skirting
the dogs.

The meaningless word, “shit, shit, shit,” began to run a
staccato loop through his mind as he ran. The dogs came
together behind him and followed. Matt heard a motorcycle
engine join the chorus of barking. Between gasps he followed
the sound of the dirtbike’s engine as it circled the bottom
of the hill and began to climb the crease of the valley.
Matt quick-stepped around an outcropping on the hillside. He
broke out of the trees onto a large, treeless shelf of land
that hung halfway down the hillside. Matt knew this place–
the old Moodrow farm.

He ran from the trees through knee-high wild blueberry
brush, scanning the ruins of the farm. He reached the knoll
above the stacked stone foundation of the old barn. The 22
cracked. Matt let momentum carry him over the back wall of
the foundation and into a patch of blackberry bushes that
covered the fertile old barn’s floor.

A shotgun blasted from behind and the pellets zinged
from the stones. One caught Matt on the cheek and like a
scalpel opened it to the bone. His head slammed back from
the force of the beebee and his instinctive reaction. He
rolled with the drive and piled against a bush covered wall.
Matt pushed back from the stone and shook his head, trying to
clear the bursting lights from his eyes. The lights blinked
out and Matt’s eyes focused on the stacked rock wall. This
is crazy, flailed through his mind. He raised a hand to his
cheek, but quickly jerked it away. “Fuckin’ crazy!” snarled
from his mouth when he saw the red sticky fingers..

The gash showed clean edges to the next tentative touch
of his finger. He shuddered. His face felt numb. His brain
felt numb. Dully he wondered if he might be in shock. His
brain gained control, “No, too quick for shock,” he spoke
to himself. He took five slow, deep breaths and focused.
“Okay, let’s fight,” he gritted through his teeth. Hotness
rose in his cheek and the sharpness of pain pushed at him.

He scrambled to the back wall of the three sided
foundation. It faced the line of trees he had just come
from. Matt took a quick glance over the weed covered top
stones of the wall. Nothing, but he heard the dogs muffled
barks as they mulled around in the woods. “Come on you
bastards,” he called.

He bobbed a look over the wall: nothing, but the soft
brown/green of the trees below the low sun above. “Show me
something and I’ll put a hole in it!” he yelled d at the
trees. “If you know me, you know I can do it. What the hell
is this about?” The 22 cracked, instantly followed by a
shotgun blast. Did they come from the same direction? He
wondered; couldn’t tell. Matt hunched down behind the wall,
and considered: A 22 rifle over a twenty gauge shotgun,
maybe? Or a rifle and a shotgun–two?” he mulled. The cycle
engine ripped into the dogs’ cacophony. “Two.”

A hollow voice called from the trees: “Sic ’em.
Sic’em.” Matt glanced over the wall to see the dogs spread
fan-like out from the trees and coalesced into a triangle
heading straight toward the foundation. A hundred yards to
the left of the dogs the bike and rider came out of the
curtain of woods. The rider cut a diagonal path across the
opening straight at Matt’s position. He held a two barreled
shotgun in his left hand laid across the handlebars of the
bike.

Matt raised the rifle over the wall and aimed at the
biker. He easily found the bike with the scope and led it
for a second, couldn’t pull the trigger, dropped the weapon,
turned and ran out the old entrance of the barn.

The blackberry bushes clung at his legs. He lowered to
a crouch as he came around the end of the foundation. Over
his shoulder he caught a glimpse of the frenzied dogs as they
came around the opposite wall. In front, the biker was less
than fifty feet away to his left. Matt saw the right barrel
of the shotgun flash before he heard the roar of the twelve
gauge. He dove to his right as the pellets splattered at a
keystone for support of the old barn’s hanging hayloft. A
dog yelped. Matt rolled up on his knees and brought the
Mauser around. The rifle butt caught a black dog as it
lunged at him. The dog dropped. Matt let the centrifugal
force of the rifle swing pull him to his feet. He turned and
ran. The black stone slabs of the hillside spring house
caught in his sight. He ran for the maw of the open door of
the spring house. One of the smaller hounds latched onto the
back of his canvas hunting coat. He clubbed at it with the
rifle as he ran. It fell away and Matt plunged through the
doorway.

Melrouse spring house _zIcy water filled his boots. He sloshed deeper into the
blackness. Staccato dog barks reverberated around the small
stone room. Matt spun to face the dogs. One leaped at him
from the bright light of the doorway. He lifted the rifle in
both hands across his chest and stepped back to brace for the
impact, but nothing met his boot. He lurched over backward,
let out a squawk of surprise, folded up, and plunged down
into the water. The dog grabbed onto the rifle’s strap and
pulled furiously at it. Matt flailed with his free arm,
trying to find a handhold. His other arm jerked with the
action of the dog. Icy coldness enveloped him. The dog let
go of the rifle strap and Matt felt himself quickly fall
away. The weight of the rifle seemed to push him plunger
like down into the cold water. Down he went and his already
over worked lungs began to burn.

To be continued, Chapter 1, Kim A. Rush Early work, late 80s

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