The Hunt

By Lyn
Copyright 1999

Chapter One

Buck slid across the ground on his stomach, moving no part of his body that he didn't have to. His eyes watched the bird in front of him as it searched the ground for food. With a quick snap of his hand, he let lose of the rock, the projectile finding its target. The quail toppled over.

Buck rose to his feet and retrieved the bird, adding it to the burlap sack nearby. He decided he had enough birds for their supper that night and decided to head back to the station.

Buck had been feeling restless lately and had finally decided the night before that he would spend the next morning hunting. Not just shooting an animal, but actually hunting, like he had as a child, something he hadn't been able to do regularly in recent years. He needed to get out and become one with the land, seek his prey by using all his senses. It's not that he enjoyed killing, he did it only out of necessity, but he enjoyed the act of tracking, and wanted the spiritual aspect of the hunt.

So he had risen before dawn, Ike being the only one to see him leave. His friend had awoke as he was leaving and Buck quietly explained where he was going and that he would be back mid morning. He had exchanged his boots for moccasins so he could run, and had dressed in his most neutral colored clothing, leaving his hat and vest behind, so he would blend in to the landscape. Then he had set out at a steady, mile-eating trot, the physical activity feeling good and refreshing his soul.

He had spent several hours flushing out eight quail, thinking that they might make a nice change of pace for their supper. He harvested some wild onion, sage and cattail tubers as well as wild grape leaf. These were in a separate burlap bag tied at his waist. He had also spent this time breathing in the fresh air, watching a hawk soar through the sky in search of prey, watched a pair baby raccoons frolic through the underbrush and a doe and her young fawn search for their breakfast.

Most of the morning he'd had the feeling of being watched, but kept telling himself that it was his imagination, or that he was feeling guilty for not being at the station to help with the chores. So he ignored the little voice in his head that warned him to be cautious. Still, he'd look around, using his eyes and ears to search for whatever watched him, just to find a crow perched in a tree or a squirrel collecting nuts that would stop in its task to stare at him.

He began the five mile run back to the station, still not shaking the feeling of eyes on the back of his head, but trying to lose himself in the run, clearing his mind as he ran. By the time he had gone a mile, the eyes had been forgotten.

As he was running through a wooded area two miles from the station the feeling came back. He stopped and looked around him, finding nothing, and resumed his run.

Buck, he thought, you're imagination is getting away from you.

Then he fell flat on the ground, his vision swimming and pain exploding at the back of his head. The bag of quail flew from his hands into some bushes. He pulled an arm to his side and began to push himself up. He felt something slam against his head a second time, knocking him to the ground again. He heard voices as his vision went black.

Chapter Two

"What is it Ike?" Teaspoon asked the young man. Ike had started acting nervous about an hour before lunch, looking to the southwest every few minutes. He finally approached Teaspoon with his concerns.

Buck should have been back hours ago, he signed. I'm getting worried.

"He probably just got distracted. You know, caught up in the hunt, or maybe he stopped for a swim. It would be a beautiful day for one."

No, something happened, I know it. He said he'd be back mid morning. He always does what he says. I want to go look for him.

"Well, you're right about that. When Buck says he'll be somewhere at a certain time, he's always there. Why don't you go saddle a couple horses. I'll go with you."

Ike ran off and Teaspoon went looking for Emma to tell her where they were going.

"It's probably nothing." He told her. "But Ike would feel better if we go look for him, and I will too. We shouldn't be long."

Buck had told Ike the direction he was going, intending to hunt a wooded area to the southwest. They headed in that direction. They traveled through the woods and when they came to the edge where grasslands once again took over, they turned around and searched the woods closer. The area was large and there would be no way they could search the whole forest region in one day, but there were several trails running through the woods and they concentrated there.

Finally Teaspoon picked up moccasin tracks, and surprisingly, horse tracks following them. The footprint would be the right size for Buck. They followed, finding signs where the man on foot had knelt, where he had laid down and crawled into some shrubbery, and finally where he had headed out of the woods. The horse tracks followed the same route.

They followed the tracks out of the woods and along a creek bed, then into a pastured area. They were headed straight back to the station. The tracks lead to a small road and they became clear and easy to follow. It was also easy to see where the man on foot had fallen, where his body had been drug and placed on a horse, and where that horse had ridden. The two men looked the area over, trying to find an indication of who the man on foot was, although Ike was already convinced it was Buck.

When Ike produced the burlap bag full of quail from the bushes, Teaspoon had to agree. Buck had been here and had been taken by force.

"Go get the others, son. Have them pack for a long trip, and bring my gear. I'm going to follow these tracks."

Ike nodded and kicked his horse into a run.

"Buck, what kind of trouble are you in?" Teaspoon said to the empty air.

"Over here Teaspoon!" Cody called out. The group of riders had lost the horse tracks and had spent the last hour looking for them.

"Did you find them?" the older man asked as he approached.

"I think so. But now there're three sets of tracks. Look here." The boy pointed at one print. "This is the one we've been following, right?" Teaspoon nodded, looking at the markings from the horseshoe.

"But look here. These are different shoes. The markings are different. Two more horses joined the first."

"Yep, I'd say you're right. Now look here." Teaspoon pointed a few feet away where the horse tracks came from. "The first rider got down and walked over to one of the new horses and back to the first horse. The tracks going away are deeper than those coming back. He was carrying something. Probably Buck."

Both Cody and Kid studied the tracks, seeing the differences Teaspoon pointed out as Jimmy and Ike joined them. Silently they all mounted and followed the tracks once more, until it became too dark to see. They then made camp for the night, none of them getting much rest as they worried about what had happened to their friend. They were mounted and ready to go before the sun was up the next morning.

On to Chapter Three

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