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Author: Gwen Hunter (aka Faith Hunter)
2015 Reissue Edition
5.5"x 8.5" Trade Paperback
ISBN 978-1-62268-083-2 print
ISBN 978-1-62268-084-9 ebook
And Cain said to
his brother, "Let us go out into the field." And when they were
in the field, Cain rose up against Able his brother and killed him.
Genesis, Chapter 4
I had a Sunday School teacher once, years ago, when I was young, who told
me that for each of us, there existed a reason, an event that could cause
us to do violence. To take another life.
I never believed her. Until now.
Now I know.
Deep in the dark heart of each of us, lies a primitive
soul. A soul dedicated to blood and the taking of life. I killed to protect,
to save. And if God is watching, perhaps that is my only absolution.
OKAY, DOWNRIGHT DANGEROUS
Green gloom and the
angle of dawn sunlight were perfect, the new light and last night's shadow
offering harsh contrast against spring foliage and shade-tinted neutrals.
Pressing the shutter, I took half a dozen shots in little more than a
second, using the flash to smooth out the austere neutrals and accentuate
the color saturation.
Adjusting the aperture in quarter stops, I took
twelve more from two different angles on the bank, one set from above
the old cabin site, the final set from below, bending, turning the camera
for longer shots, twisting to get just the right angle of the pliant,
mutable light. All the while, I murmured to the camera, to the stone and
mortar, to the seventy-year-old trees I used as frames for some shots,
my voice a catalogue of the excitement building inside me. It was a tingle,
an electric charge that always came on a shoot when suddenly everything
fell into place and the light was perfect and I knewjust
knewthat I was getting great shots.
Grinding my feet into the rough shale for balance,
I steadied the camera. Rising sun cast feathery shadows against fire blackened
stones of the old chimney, and pricked brightly at rough-shaped, frost-limned
blocks on the aged granite foundation. Lichen, ferns, and decades of fallen
leaves had obscured the outline of the old home. Mountain maple, scrub
cedar, water oak, and dogwood twined with vines grew along the exposed
stone border, easing root and branch inside the foundation itself, moving
in from the surrounding forest, overgrowing the clearing and cozy-ing
up to the chuckling creek only yards below.
The last shots on the roll, I took from inside
the stone foundation itself, going for close-ups of the stonework and
crumbling, yellowed mortar, the frost quickly melting in the spring sun,
checking the light meter constantly and adjusting for the rising sun and
shortening shadows, feeling an ecstasy swell and stretch, encompassing
the whole clearing. As the light shifted, a bright glimmer caught my eye,
the unexpected bonus of a dew-laden spiderweb prismed into a geometric
rainbow, bright against deteriorating cement, quivering and shimmering
beneath the spider's legs. I whirled away.
It took forty-five seconds to change film in the
Nikon F4 camera, a process I completed as I slid down the bank to the
creek, tossing the used roll into my sling bag and inserting a fresh from
the same brick of film. Wading out thigh deep, the light meter quickly
consulted and dropped into the protection my sweatshirt, I set my feet
in the lose creek bottom. The waders I had donned before dawn were no
longer a hindrance as they had been on the hillside. Felt soles cushioned
my feet and protected me from slipping and falling into the frigid stream.
Rushing water pressed against the thick rubber; even through the ample
layers of socks I could feel the icy temperature of the creek leaching
body warmth from my legs and feet. My toes threatened to cramp in the
The stream chittered and gurgled, as if talking
to the rising sun. The light was still green, as if it had absorbed some
essence from the leaves it passed through, giving the world a delicate,
subtle aspect. But it wouldn't last. It never did. Perhaps only minutes
My heart sped up, its pounding a bit irregular.
Several shots later I stepped deeper, maneuvering toward the curved line
of the broken stone dam, my knees bent against the current. Careful to
keep the remains of the cabin framed in the shot, I followed the pathway
laid out the evening before, placing my feet carefully, choosing my shots
with absolute abandon.
The sun was coming up fast now and I cut the flash,
stopping down the aperture half an F stop to decrease the amount of light
through the lens. I wasn't going to make it. I wasn't going to get
finished. "No," I whispered, my fingers clumsy for an instant
as I again changed rolls. "No, no, nononono." The words were
I had been frozen, numb, emotionally paralyzed
for so long, and now I was finally moving, working again. And the light
wasn't going to hold.
Stepping back up onto the bank, I took shots of
the ruptured dam, changing film and aperture settings midway through the
sequence. Focusing on a solitary leaf floating on the fast moving water,
I followed it through the broken arms of the dam and quickly downstream,
the light glimmering greenly on the rippling surface. As the light continued
to change, I moved downstream, framing the rough stone chutes to either
side of the creek, and the pump house foundations further down the slope.
A mist rose from the sun-warmed water, softening all the harsh edges as
I took another roll of film of the old, abandoned fish hatchery, and then
I suddenly began to think I might make it. If
only the light lasted another two minutes. Just two minutes . .
"Mom. Above you on the ledge!"
Whirling, I looked where Bella pointed, high up
across the far meadow. Coming down the ridge was a man on horseback, a
packhorse negotiating the path behind him. It was sheer serendipity, light
in long streams catching the mist through the trees between us. The day
had matured radically, according to the light meter, without even thinking,
I slipped on the lens shade and increased the shutter speed to 250 for
the brighter shot. "Get me the telephoto," I shouted, taking
quick shots on automatic, letting the camera do the work of changing the
aperture for me.
"Right behind you," she said, a grin
in her voice.
I turned and took the adjustable Nikon lens from
her, releasing the standard 50 mm I had used all morning, and quickly
replaced it with the heavier one. She took the lens, tossing her binoculars
over her shoulder on its slender strap and stepped away.
With the adjustable lens, I could go from 80mm
to 210mm with a pull of the barrel. I shot it all the way out and aimed
at the horseman.
His hat was old and sear brown, a western hat
with a band of sweat showing traces of white salt. His chin was clean
shaven, the only thing I could make out beneath the rim of the old hat.
Riding western style, he neck-reined the sure-footed roan animal beneath
him, his butt settled so firmly in the high cantle of the saddle that
he could have been part horse himself. He wore a faded flannel shirt of
a soft green plaid and a denim jacket over it all. Denim-clad legs gripped
the horse beneath him, his muscles corded and strained. Old boots, the
heels worn into rounded half moons were steady in the stirrups. A long-haired
blond dog loped ahead of him scouting at point, a reddish one trotted
closer to the packhorse, a half length behind and out of the way of careless
I bent into a half squat, moving laterally across
the low rise where I stood, and took a second roll of film as he descended.
"Yes!" I said, snapping off the shots. "Oh this is wonderful.
Beautiful. Why don't you lift your face? Come on! Lift your
face . . ." He didn't. Not once. I used thirty-six shots on his
descent, changing rolls only after he disappeared into the mist behind
the tree line.
The light had faded to pale morning gray long
before I finished the last rolls of film from the brick, but I had what
I needed. I was filled with elation, the euphoria, the sheer bliss that
came from success. I had done it. I had done it all alone! My legs were
quivering with exhaustion, my back a constant ache. I was shaking with
sugar deprivation and my usual faint headache had started. But I had really
done it. The light had lasted, and it had been green and glorious, and
I had that spider and the horseman . . . A dull nausea settled in my belly.
I remembered finally to breathe.
Pulling off the hip-waders, I laced up Timberland hiking boots, loosely
tied them, and finger-combed my too-curly hair as I stored the telephoto
lens and the light meter, and slipped the Nikon into its sturdy cloth
carryall. I put the exposed rolls of film in the bag and stacked the equipment
in a pile by the bedrolls. Pulling off the mist-damp sweatshirt, I buttoned
a camp shirt over the purple long-john undershirt, leaving the outer hem
loose. By full day, Bella had breakfast on and coffee made on the little
propane stove; the scent of bacon and biscuits and the divine aroma of
coffee wafted on the dispersing mist.
I had taken nearly two bricks of film, thirty-eight
rolls and almost fourteen-hundred shots, in the last twenty-four hours.
There were a few great shots which would go to Field and Stream, and hundreds
of good ones which I would send on to a stock agency in New York to be
sold as needed for a one-time-use fee. My lab time would be extravagant.
And I was starved.
Fitting the F4 into its carrying case and pulling
my older Nikon F3 to me, I inserted a roll of black and white film as
my stomach grumbled and the nausea increased. I needed to eat, but this
was for family. Well, for me then, as Marlow no longer wanted to be family.
For as long as Bella had been coming on shoots with Marlow and me, we
had chronicled the experience afterwards with a roll of black and white.
For posterity. For memories. For family. And just because Marlow was an
ass, living it up in Aspen with some ski instructor he met at his mother's
deathbed vigil last winter did not mean that all traditions should be
broken. Lifting the camera, I took a half roll of film of Bella as she
sat before the little stove, catching a pensive look as she stared into
the small flame.
At the shutter clicks, she looked up, both amused
and mildly annoyed. "So stop with the cameras already. I'm hungry
and so are you." She scooped bacon and canned biscuits onto a tin
plate and added a tin fork, packets of butter and jelly from a Hardees
in Asheville, and a napkin. "Put it down and eat before your blood
sugar drops to twelve."
Shaking badly now, I dropped the camera on its
thong around my neck and poured coffee from the little tin percolatorI
refused to drink instant even while camping. I was not uncivilized. Adding
creamer left over from the same fast food place and three packets of sugar,
I drank it down as fast as the scalding of my tongue allowed before sitting
down. Bella drank her coffee mostly white, looking far too pretty to be
my own flesh and blood in her purple thermal tee and skin-tight jeans.
Sucking air to cool my burned tongue, I said,
"I should never have let you take that first-aid course with me.
You've been way too bossy every since. Don't you know you're not supposed
to boss your mom until she's old and decrepit?"
"And did you put on sunscreen this morning,
my old and decrepit mother?"
"See what I mean?" Forking open a biscuit,
I added a mound of butter and crumbled a stick of blackened bacon into
it. I never worried about fat or cholesterol on a shoot. My heart would
have the next few weeks to recuperate.
"You get that cowboy and his horses?"
"Mhmmm," I nodded, taking a huge bite.
"He was riding a good looking roan,"
she said. "You gonna use the shots?"
I swallowed. "I didn't get his face, but
yeah, they'd make good stock shots unless he happens to show up for breakfast
and pose for a close-up or two. That I could use for Field and Stream."
"You're in luck then. I think that dog is
I glanced up and spotted a dog, part Golden Retriever,
part mutt, on the far bank of the stream. Its tail wagged slowly as it
evaluated us, nose in the air, ears pricked, tongue lolling. A moment
later, a second dog trotted up, a reddish, smaller version of the first.
After a hesitation, this one barked, coming up on his hind legs and pounding
down on the earth with excitement. Bella laughed at him. A high pitched
whistle silenced the barking, and both dogs turned back into the woods.
I didn't like being approached by anyone; Bella and I were not in an area
of woods where camping was encouraged. We had hiked up more than five
miles from the Park Ranger Station to find the long deserted fish hatchery.
The woods were desolate and we were miles from the nearest campground.
Easing over to the bedrolls Bella had secured,
I fished for the gun I kept there. I hated guns. But I hated even more
being attacked by a rabid raccoon or being unable to frighten off an amorous
stag or a pack of feral dogs on the hunt. Without Marlow, it was our best
protection. I slipped the small .38 Smith and Wesson that had belonged
to my father, into my waistband and pulled my camp shirt over the bulge.
Bella rolled her eyes at me. "Men who like
dogs and who ride gorgeous horses are not dangerous. Besides, you hate
"Then it won't matter that it's under my
shirt and not in my hand, will it?"
"Long as you don't shoot off your ass."
Bella laughed when she spoke, tossing her heavy dark braid back over her
shoulder. "I would hate to carry you down this mountain bleeding
and moaning and all. You may have lost a few pounds since dad left, but
you ain't skin and bones."
"Thank you so very much. And ass is not a
nice word. The proper term is buttocks."
"You sound like a mother. All prissy."
"You say that like it's a bad thing. And
so long as you get the film back, you can leave me," I said wryly.
"Or maybe you could borrow the cowboy's horse and haul me down to
the Ranger Station."
"Promise?" my daughter, the horse lover,
begged, in mock begging pose. "I could take it home with me!"
"Cute. You have one horse. Don't get greedy."
The dogs appeared on the far bank again, and moments later I spotted the
roan through the foliage, moving downstream. The wind was behind us, and
unless the horseman was suffering with a cold, he could surely smell the
coffee and bacon. He moved easily in the saddle, as if he spent long hours
on horseback. When he reached the creek, he whistled again, a different
set of notes, and the two dogs drank. He let his horses nose forward to
the moving water as well, and they dropped their heads to suck in long
draughts. As they slurped water, he studied us.
He had an easy smile and bright green eyes beneath the brown hat brim,
an average face with light eyelashes and brows that caught the sun when
he pushed back the hat. "I've been smelling that coffee for the last
half mile," he called. He crossed an arm over the saddle horn and
leaned against it. A bit of white long-john shirt peeked out beneath his
sleeves. "I hope you ladies intend to take pity on a tired man who
ran out of instant coffee two days ago. I would be forever in your debt."
Bella looked at me, her brows raised. She had
a good ear for accents and this fellow was definitely not from around
here. I stood, holding my cup easily. "Charleston?"
He tipped his hat, like someone from an old western,
and smiled. "You found my secret. Dell Shirley, formerly of the Citadel,
the US government, and currently of the University of South Carolina,
on sabbatical. Geologist by profession, which is why I am up in 'them
thar hills'. I have ID if it would help." There was laughter in his
voice and amusement in his eyes, but his face held understanding. And
patience. He was in no hurry.
I suddenly felt foolish. If Marlow had been here
the horseman, Dell, would already be at the camp stove, double-walled
plastic cup in hand. "Arabica beans suit you? They've been ground
for three days, and might be a little stale," I said.
"Ma'am, if you offered the used grounds to
me, I'd chew them up and swallow them. I'm that starved for coffee."
I laughed, "A man after my own heart. Come
on over, then." Softly, I added to my daughter, "We are hiking.
Nothing more. We expect your father back before noon, should he ask."
"I remember the rules, Mama. But, Jeeze,
he's a geologist, not Jason from Friday the Thirteenth or something. And
he's good looking, for an old guy." She looked sidelong at me.
"We also have a rule about matchmaking."
"You have the rule about matchmaking. I don't."
"Bella," I warned.
"Yes ma'am," she sighed. But she didn't look at all repentant.
She had that familiar, speculative, mischievousokay, downright dangerousglint
in her eye. The one that has caused early heart attack in mothers for
"Bella. Don't," I warned, trying to
sound stern, but fighting my own smile.
©2005 Gwen Hunter