ANTI-MAN by Dean R. Koontz

Two or three minutes later, I found myself staring out across the snow, daydreaming. Think, Jacob! I yelled at myself. Don’t let it crack you up. You’ve shot a man. You. You’ve got to face it. And you’ve got to do something. Fast. If I took him back to the cabin, I could get the bullet out with kitchen utensils if I had to. I could stop the bleeding. Then the shock . . .

The next thing I knew, I was loading him into the second seat of the sled. I looked for a weapon, found he had been carrying none. He probably rented a cabin just like Harry’s, a cabin hidden behind this rim of trees, perhaps. He had heard me shooting, had come and had found the elk, had waited to see if I would return. Just a good man trying to catch someone poaching game on government reserves. Now he had a hole in his leg.

I swung into the driver’s seat, strapped myself down, and accelerated away down the slope, moving around trees, going much too fast. I was almost to the fence, twenty minutes later, when I realized I was not taking him back to the cabin. I was taking him to the hospital and to hell with being recognized.

But by then my emotions were a bit settled. I began to think more rationally again. I had shot a man. Not fatally. Sure, it was up to me to see that he received good medical care. But it wasn’t up to me to jeopardize everything now, not now that we had come this far and achieved this much towards His goal. When I decided what I should do, I felt better. I turned the sled toward the main gate and the chief ranger station.

I stopped the sled five hundred feet away and looked down the road at the building, the windows warmly lighted. Quickly, I undid the straps binding my victim, hefted him more easily than I would have thought possible, and went down the road to the front door of the place. I stood him up against the door, leaning him into it so that he would not fall, then rapped sharply and ran.

Back at the sled, I jumped into the front seat and watched to see what would happen. Several seconds passed, so many that I began to think I would have to go back and knock louder. Then the door opened and my victim fell forward into the arms of a ranger. I swung the sled around, accelerated back up the mountain, broke over the snowbanks and into the open fields, moving fast . . .

The ranger would see the wound. He would get the man to the Cantwell medical center faster than I could, for he would have a jeep. The bullet would come out. The blood would stop. There would be no gangrene. But I had still shot him . . . It was still my moral responsibility. I would never forget it.

I did not want to return to the elk, but I knew I had to. It had fallen off when I was getting the victim in the seat, and He needed that meat.

He. . .

Suddenly, I realized that I could have taken the wounded man to Him and that He could have healed him in moments. The man could have been well, would not have had to suffer this long. I realized that I had been doing a great deal of gut-thinking these last few hours. If I didn’t manage to return to my accustomed logicality, I was going to be in a great deal of trouble. They say the first signs of madness are changes in the most common of thinking patterns. A man who has always been a slow-mover begins flitting about in a great rush. A man who has been friendly withdraws; the loner begins seeking companionship. And the logical man begins letting his emotions rule him . . .

I loaded the elk aboard and took it back to the cabin. I tugged and twisted and heaved at it until I had it to the cellar steps, thrown inside to crash down the steps to the floor. I looked down at the frozen meat and said, “I’m tired.” It sounded like someone else’s voice, a distant, metallic ringing that was faintly like syllables, like words, but only faintly. It was the sort of voice you hear in a fever dream when demons and gnomes crawl at you. “I just can’t do any more.”

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Categories: Koontz, Dean