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Dry leaves crumple under worn boots on a dirt path. The sun sits low, casting long shadows over a rocky wilderness. The Hunter, outfitted in dirty camouflage from his baseball cap down, walks with an even, measured gait as he makes his way down the path, periodically adjusting the wood-stock rifle slung over his shoulder. Shifting his eyes and sniffing the air like a predator, his facial muscles are constantly in motion. Yet, he never smiles; his elusive prey has yet to lend him cause.
The Hunter peers at the tree line as he comes to a high-point on the path. The green tapestry is speckled with bright spots where the light-colored gravel road peeks through. Following the pattern toward the horizon, it is broken only by an unnatural bright red. The Hunter quickens his pace to a jog.
The Hunter slows and crouches as he approaches the road. His movement is deliberate and precise. He kneels at the edge of the road and peers down the sight of his rifle. A red Durango, empty bike rack on top, sits on the side of the road, nobody around. The Hunter approaches the Durango. The inside is mostly empty, the doors are locked. A path leads into the forest next to the car.
The Hunter’s movement becomes more careful, more calculated as he moves deeper into the forest, his senses heightened as he hears laughter ahead. The Hunter is nearly crawling as he catches sight of a tent in a small clearing. Slowly he approaches. He removes a knife from his belt. Slowly, so slowly, he brings his rifle to his hip. He lightly touches an anchor on the tent as he makes his way around.
One bike lays a few feet from the opening. The Hunter unzips the door just enough to fit a finger in. He rips it open and drops to a knee, finger on the trigger. A man and a woman, adorned in blood with gaping wounds across their necks, stare down the barrel. She a blonde, he with his head shaven. Both young. The Hunter removes two white t-shirts from a bag in the tent and places one over each head. He leaves the tent.
“Damn it,” he spits. “Beat me again.”
A single tire track, which splits to two as it turns, leads to a path between the forest and a steep decline. The Hunter follows this path, again looking for anything that will lead him to his prey. The track disappears but again reappears as it passes through the bottom of a small, muddy basin. Another path meets this one, reaching an intersection from the eight o’clock position. Three more bike tracks enter the path. And footprints. Four sets of footprints rest in the mud, flanked on either side by dark gouges where the tires dug in.
The Hunter runs after the tracks. He sprints with his head down and seizes the rifle from his shoulder. Three more murders by his adversary would be devastating, insufferable. He grinds his teeth and squeezes the rifle.
The Hunter steps over a fallen bike, its rider bloodied in a heap to the side. He spots another bike and another fallen rider. This one lay on his back with his chest convulsing, blood flowing out of his mouth, covering his cheeks and chin. A hooded woman stands over a third victim, her hands pinning his wrists. Blood seeps from a circle on his chest.
The Hunter trains his sight on the woman.
“How many is that? Is that ten?”
“You’d hate that,” she laughs. “Wouldn’t you?”
The Hunter lowers his rifle. He walks to the woman and extends his hand.
“Well done, sis.”
“Thanks,” she beams while shaking hand. She pulls a revolver from her belt. “Do you wanna? Maybe you can get a partial credit, so it’s not a shutout.”
The Hunter kicks the bodies strewn along the path as he makes his way back from where he came. He winces as a final shot breaks the silence of the wilderness.