ANTI-MAN by Dean R. Koontz

The trees went by at a steady clip. It was slightly over two miles before I saw the opening at the end of the woods and the fields beyond. With a hundred feet to go through the tunnel of wood, I tramped down on the accelerater. The sled leaped ahead. I could see that the remainder of the path was wide and free of branches. The only thing I did not see was the white-tailed deer to the left of the hole leading into the field. He moved in front of my exit just as I reached it . . .

I hit the brakes almost instantly, but it was too late to avoid him completely. Startled, he tried some evasive action of his own, turning and leaping back. The sled smacked into his brown rump, leaped into the air, came down on its magnetic field, slapping the surface hard, tilted onto its side, and careened along the field for fifty feet, nosing into the snow until the propellers became clogged and the motor stalled.

I had not been able to get free, for I was strapped tight. Perhaps it was fortunate that I rode out the wreck. Otherwise, I might have been thrown off and had my neck broken. As it was, my goggles had been rammed down onto my nose with such force that the old proboscis had started bleeding. My back had been wrenched, and the stiffness reached up into my neck. A little bit of a whiplash and a bloody nose, I thought. Not too bad. Not considering.

Then I remembered the sled. And the long walk without it.

And I was suddenly much more concerned about it than I was about anything that might have happened to my body.

I unfastened the belt and crawled away from the sled. The snow had blown off this field and had packed in among the trees, so there was not more than two and a half feet on the surface. Halfway up my thigh. Which made for tough walking, but which, at least, could not gulp me down and smother me. I turned around and moved carefully to the sled. It was lodged in the snow, only a few inches of the side sticking out. I set to work scooping the snow away from it, wishing my hands could reform themselves as His had. Ten minutes later, I was able to pull it free and turn it right side up in the hole it had made. The underside looked amazingly intact. The drive box had not been breached. I thumbed the ignition, and was delighted beyond words when the propeller fluttered and the motor hummed.

There was a noise behind me, perhaps twenty feet off. I turned, startled, and remembered the deer. There were about two dozen of them, standing in an area where the wind seemed to have scoured away all but three or four inches of snow. I could not tell which of them was the one I had hit a glancing blow with the sled. They watched me, snorting among themselves and blinking their large, dark eyes.

I turned back to the sled, muscled it up out of the snow and onto the undisturbed surface, its motor idling, the field on and holding it on the thin crust. I climbed aboard, buckled up, and started out again. I kept it at a decent twenty miles an hour as I had at first, and I kept it like that until I had come down through all the foothills and had reached the fence at the edge of the park.

Beyond the fence, there was a plowed and cindered road banked with snow on both sides. I realized that I could not be far from the main gate where He and I had first entered. But, of course, it would be nothing but suicide to go back there. The World Authority coppers would be congregated at the first ranger station, would have secured that primary gate. All gates, in fact. If I were to get out, I would have to climb the fence.

I lugged the sled to a clump of brush, brown and dry and dead from the battering of winter. I tucked it into them, then stood back and examined it. It was still noticeable from the road, I was certain. I went behind the bushes, dug out snow and threw it on the sled. Five minutes later, I was satisfied. The contours of its hidden shape were irregular and unnatural, but the smooth blanket of falling snow would take care of that in another hour. I went back to the fence and spent a good fifteen minutes climbing and falling off before I went over and dropped in the snow on the other side.

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Categories: Koontz, Dean