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Author: Gwen Hunter (aka Faith Hunter)
2015 Reissue Edition
Retail: $15.95US

5.5"x 8.5" Trade Paperback
ISBN 978-1-62268-083-2 print
ISBN 978-1-62268-084-9 ebook
LCCN 2015934285


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.


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 knew—just knew—that 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 cold.
    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 remained.
    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 almost sobbing.
    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 another.
    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 hooves.
    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 percolator—I 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 his."
    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 that thing."
    "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?" I asked.
    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, mischievous—okay, downright dangerous—glint in her eye. The one that has caused early heart attack in mothers for generations.
    "Bella. Don't," I warned, trying to sound stern, but fighting my own smile.

copyright ©2005 Gwen Hunter


Author: Gwen Hunter
(aka Faith Hunter)
2015 Reissue Edition
Retail: $15.95US

5.5"x 8.5" Trade Paperback
ISBN 978-1-62268-083-2 print
ISBN 978-1-62268-084-9 ebook
LCCN 2015934285

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read an excerpt
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