“Shh, watch ‘em now. We’re down wind so he won’t be able…Ooph, heh, thought he was about to look our way.”
They’d been on his trail all morning, past lunch, into early afternoon. Vlael and Andy spotted the buck sipping water from the Columbia river and followed him into the outskirts of Portland.
“They don’t feel it—huh.” Vlael said, almost a question.
“Animals? No.” A trio of crows sat on a building’s upper edge. Their heads jerking from side-to-side, watching. “If he goes in deeper we’ll have to back off. I don’t do good in it.” Andy grimaced.
Vlael lifted her rifle, nestled the stock into her shoulder, leaned her face against the warm wood, and looked through the scope. The elk dipped his head, ate some grass, took a half step, ate some more. She let out an easy slow breath.
“Good. Nice and easy. Finger off the trigger until you’re sure.”
Vlael’s finger rested against the guard. The elk’s broadside sat in view, a better shot couldn’t be asked for, but her finger wouldn’t move to the trigger. She swallowed. Sun glinted off a broken window and cast a rainbow across the ground near the elk. It lifted its head, paused, looked one way, then the other. Alert, wary.
Vlael grit her teeth. Yeah, thanks, don’t need you telling me that. I know. Come on, do it already. She tried to will her finger into place, but it wouldn’t go. Something wouldn’t let her.
“I can’t.” Vlael shook her head. “I’m sorry, I can’t.”
“Why…Oh, hey—you okay?”
“Yeah, I’m fine.” She wiped at her eyes. “I don’t know why, but I just can’t. Not this time.”
“That’s more’n two-hundred pounds of meat,” Andy paused, “food that’ll keep your family’s restaurant going for weeks.”
“I know that.” Vlael pointed the rifle skyward. “I know.”
“Look at him.” The moment she decided not to shoot it was as if a band of tension was severed between her and the buck.
“Yeah.” Andy smirked.
Vlael gave her head a small shake. “Not this time. Maybe I could have an hour ago. Maybe I could an hour from now. But right now I can’t. It’s too perfect. I’m not supposed to kill him.”
“Then we might as well start heading back east, get out of this damn Pressure. Even this little bit starts driving me nuts. I can’t handle it.”
“In a minute,” Vlael said, watching the Elk. “Look at him.” The buck was still eating. He seemed as though he knew was safe. Knew his life—so close to ending—would continue. At least for now. “At least for now,” she said. “I won’t always let you go.”