ANTI-MAN by Dean R. Koontz

Fifteen minutes later, a male elk trotted out of the trees and stood at the brink of open land, sniffing the air and pawing the ground a little. I waited until he had ventured out far enough, then, still sitting strapped in the sled seat, raised the rifle and fired. The shot missed, and the animal leaped forward, startled, and began heaving itself through the snow that came up to its knees. It started down the slope, heading toward another arm of the forest. I dropped the rifle, clutched my pin-gun, and, steering with one hand, took the sled after him.

It was hard going for him. The snow retarded his progress, flew up in his face and blinded him as he ran. I glided past him, fired a burst of pins. But he had seen me going by and had executed a turn to his left.

I went after him, came in on his right flank. He bellowed. I fired.

This time, he went down, twisting his neck, his legs kicking for a moment before he slipped into unconsciousness.

I stopped the sled next to him and got out, carrying the rifle now. I placed the barrel against his head, then realized I could not watch what I was doing. I turned my head sideways, pulled the trigger, then put the rifle back on the sled.

He was much too large to load on the sled all at once. I would have to do some butchering before I could move him. I got my knives out of my backpack and knelt to the chore. I needed a meat saw and cursed myself for not thinking of that earlier. I hacked and ripped with the two pieces of cutlery I carried, managed to saw off two large slabs of about forty or fifty pounds each. I loaded them in the back seat of the sled and took them back to the cabin. I tossed them down the steps to the cellar floor, closed the door, and went back for the remainder of the meat. He had not said anything, and I did not feel like initiating a conversation.

The trip back to the sight of the killing seemed much longer than two miles. And I could not help thinking about the new Jacob Kennelmen, the slaughterer of animals. When I finally arrived at the butchered elk, I just wanted to get this thing over with as quickly as possible. I jumped out, waded to the bloody meat, and dragged the main mass of it back to the sled. I was almost finished loading it when a bright flashlight swept the sled and me, outlining us against the sparkling snow.

The gun, the heavy rifle, was standing on the seat, its butt against the leatherette, its barrel pointing skywards. I grabbed, swung it into my arms, and came around, firing. There was a startled yelp. The light fell into the snow, face down, and was effectively shut off. For a moment, I felt a little exhilaration. Then I stopped to think for the first time in several minutes, and I realized I had just shot a man.

A man. Which is different from an elk. Much different.

I stood very still, looking out at the humped form of the body. I prayed that more of them would come out of the trees, that he would prove to be a WA soldier bent on killing me. That would make it self-defense, you see. That would make it, in some small way, pardonable. But he was alone. There were no back-up forces. When all my excuses failed me, I dropped the rifle and started off toward the man I had shot, walking at first, then running, pumping my legs up and down, my lungs afire, snow flowering up around me as I kicked it out of the way.

I fell down beside him and rolled him over. He was not in a uniform. He was a man of forty or forty-five, tall, relatively thin, sporting a gray-black moustache. His mouth was slack now, his eyes closed. Frantically, I searched him and found where the bullet had struck. It was not as bad as I thought. It had lodged in his right thigh. I probed through his uninsulated trousers, could feel no broken bones. He was bleeding freely, but it was not gushing. He was unconscious, evidently, because the force of the impact and the realization that he had been shot had been enough to throw him into a faint—and probably into a state of shock.

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