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Ice in the Swamp - a Short Story

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DW has 19 yrs teaching experience in elementary & middle school & is licensed in every core area. He's published 9 YA Novels.

ice-in-the-swamp

Ice in the Swamp

It was cold. It was the kind of damp, biting, penetrating cold that pierced right through Bradley’s Army surplus field jacket, his flannel shirt, his thermal undershirt, and his t-shirt to chill him right down to his heart. His “waterproof” boots had long since soaked through, as had his wool socks and the cotton liners he wore inside those. At least his feet didn’t hurt from the cold anymore; he couldn’t feel them at all now. His hands were stiff and cold inside his Thinsulate® gloves. Stopping for a moment, he rubbed his hands together, trying to get some warmth into them. The bow and quiver slung across his back felt like they weighed a ton. He reached for the Nalgene® bottle suspended from his web belt but remembered he’d finished the last of his water on a previous pause.

Abandoning the blood trail he was following and making his way to the highway never crossed his mind. In his youth, his father drilled into him the hunter’s responsibility to track his wounded prey to ensure an end to its suffering. Leaving the deer he shot an hour before to suffer and die with his arrow embedded in its shoulder was not an option for him, not while he could still track it. When he took the shot, he accepted the obligation, and Bradley Lassiter always met his obligations.

Ice in the swamps of southeastern North Carolina was a rare thing. Annoyingly, it was just thick enough to make Brad think it would hold his weight, but then as he stepped forward, it would crack and give way. If he were lucky, his boot would only sink an inch or two. Too often, the icy water would flow over the top of the boot, adding to the mess already sloshing around his numb feet.

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Rather than get discouraged by the hindrance to his progress, Brad was reassured by the amount of work trailing the buck required. Judging from the holes he saw in the ice, his quarry was struggling as well. When Brad came upon a rough oval of broken ice, complete with a smear of blood in one corner, he knew it would only be a short time before the deer finally succumbed. With this discovery, Brad felt his waning energy surge just a bit.

Less than a hundred feet later, Brad’s patience and persistence paid off. Following the buck’s trail through a thick stand of brush, Brad pushed his way through to emerge into a small clearing atop a slight rise above the swamp’s ice and water. There, just shy of the top of the rise, lay his buck. It was lying on its belly with its legs under it, head up but drooping. The animal turned his head towards Brad as he came into the clearing but made no move to rise. Its breathing was labored, and red-tinged foam rimmed its nostrils. Noting how deep the shaft of his arrow was embedded in the buck’s shoulder, Brad was astounded the animal had led him so far through the swamp before finally surrendering to its wound.

Approaching the animal warily, Brad reached for the sheath on his belt and withdrew his hunting knife. He owed it to the buck to end its suffering quickly now that he’d caught up to it. Closing in on a wounded animal is always dangerous, but the buck made no effort to resist. Instead, it took one last rattling breath, almost seemed to nod to Bradley, lowered its antlered head to the cold ground, and the hunt was over.

© 2020 DW Davis

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