“Maybe we should start looking for a place to make camp,” Dexter suggested as they neared the forest. It had to be getting late in the afternoon, and he was starting to get hungry. Of course, that didn’t mean anything. The berries they had eaten at lunch and along the way just weren’t filling. They needed meat. Protein.
Wiley stopped suddenly, holding up her hand. “Ssshhh!”
Dexter stopped beside her and looked around, wondering what was going on.
“Don’t move an inch,” she said softly. She slowly lowered her hand to the holster and slipped off the leather guard.
Was there a bear around? Or something else?
“What is it?” Dexter whispered, still not seeing anything.
Wiley slid the revolver out of the holster and with a flick of her thumb took the safety off. Using her left hand for support, she raised the gun and aimed at something that Dexter still couldn’t see.
Dexter started in surprise at the loud, deafening crack that broke the silence and reverberated off the mountains around them. Wiley dropped her arms, holstered the gun, and took off at a sprint. Dexter followed behind more slowly not sure he was all that eager to find out if she had actually killed something.
Wiley slowed to a walk and then stopped. Dexter came up behind her and looked over her shoulder. Lying on the ground just a few feet away was the body of some unrecognizable small animal. Its head had been blown away. His stomach heaved at the sight, and he whirled away to vomit up the meager contents of his stomach.
“Dex!” Wiley was suddenly beside him, her hand on his back. “Are you okay?”
No, he was not okay! Couldn’t she see that? He’d had enough of this survival garbage and wanted out. He pulled away from her hand and staggered several feet away to drop down on the mossy ground out of sight of the massacre. He drew his knees up and hid his face against them. Wiley knelt beside him.
“Dex, I’m sorry.” Her hand was cool on the back of his neck. “I should have warned you about that.”
Her touch was oddly comforting, but it didn’t help the way he was feeling. She had killed an animal! With blood and guts and… His stomach heaved.
Wiley’s hand moved away. Seconds later he heard her unzipping the pack and fumbling through it.
“I’m putting the water here beside you in case you need it.”
Dex nodded, still not lifting his head. Her hand touched his arm lightly.
“Just stay here and rest. I’ll take care of…everything.” With a rustle of denim she was gone.
Dexter slowly lifted his head and watched as she strode away through the knee-high bushes. The gleam of a knife blade in her hand had him shuddering again with the realization of what she was planning to do with it. He looked away as she knelt beside the body of the animal.
Up until now this whole ordeal hadn’t been anything more than an inconvenience. But suddenly Dexter felt as if he were in the middle of a nightmare. Danger lurked everywhere, and the woman who was allegedly leading him to safety was nothing more than a bloodthirsty killer.
“God, help me,” he whispered, feeling tears burn his eyes. “I’m not cut out to be some kind of…of mountain man. I don’t know why you’ve let this happen, but if it’s something I’ve done, just tell me and I’ll fix it. I just want to go home now. I’ve had enough.”
The only reply he got was the sound of the breeze whispering its way through the brush. It wasn’t that he expected a verbal answer, but it certainly would have been welcome.
Sighing deeply, Dexter forced himself to look over at Wiley. Her back was to him, blocking his view of her actions, but he knew what she was doing. As if feeling his gaze on her, she glanced back over her shoulder at him, concern on her face. He looked away, unable to hold her gaze.
She must think he was totally useless, a wimp with a capital W. But he couldn’t help it. He had never seen anything slaughtered before. Not in real life. It was just too…sickening.
Yet it hadn’t seemed to bother Wiley a bit. She was over there slashing and hacking away like some maniacal serial killer getting off on blood and guts. He shook his head trying to clear his mind of the image that took shape in his thoughts.
No, Dexter, he told himself, you know that’s not true. Wiley was just trying to keep them alive. She had seen an opportunity and had taken it. If he’d been raised differently, he probably would have done the same thing.
But that was the point. He hadn’t been raised like Wiley. He had never been out hunting or camping. He’d never been out of the city other than on business trips. It was just one of those glaring differences between them that shouted out to Dexter to keep his distance and to not encourage the attraction he felt growing between them. It could only come to heartache in the end.
Wiley stood, glancing over at him. Her hands and the knife were covered in blood. Dexter’s stomach rolled threateningly, but he calmed it through sheer determination. She looked away and walked across the alpine meadow to a tiny stream they had crossed moments before the whole animal incident had taken place. As she knelt to wash off the blood, Dexter made use of the water she had left beside him.
He was just returning the bottle to the pack when she approached with the knife.
“Are you okay?” Wiley knelt on the ground on the other side of the pack.
“Just peachy, Miss Hart.” His sarcastic response sent a fleeting frown across her face.
She stowed the knife in a side pocket and then rocked back on her heels giving him a contemplative look.
“I’m just trying to keep us alive, Dex.”
“Looks like you’re doing a pretty good job of it.” He glanced over at where the carcass still lay, but he couldn’t see it for the bushes. Not that he wanted to.
“I’m not sure what this is all about,” she said, “but I’m not going to apologize for shooting that marmot. It means we will eat tonight, and that is more important to me than your delicate sensibilities.”
“My what?” Dexter shot to his feet. “Just what are you accusing me of?”
Wiley rose slowly. “I’m not accusing you of anything, Dex. I can understand how the sight of blood and guts could cause you to get sick, but what I can’t understand is your anger toward me for providing us with food.”
He opened his mouth and then shut it abruptly. It irked him to no end that she was right. He knew she was just feeding them and not out to shoot animals for the fun of it.
“I know why you shot the animal, Wiley,” he said through clenched teeth. “I guess that’s just the difference between us. You have no problem killing an innocent creature, but I do.”
His deliberate jab got the desired effect he was after. Anger flared in Wiley’s eyes, and she stepped closer. “Point taken, Mr. Sweeney, but what I’d like to know is why you didn’t have a problem with that fish you caught this morning for our breakfast. It’s an innocent animal too, yet you had no problem killing it so we’d have something to eat.”
Frustration rose within him along with the realization that she had him on that point. But he wasn’t about to admit it.
“Fish are dumb, gullible animals. They deserve to be eaten. That…” He waved his arm, “…that marmot thing is a different story. It was just sitting there and you shot it.”
“Yeah!” she yelled at him. “So we could eat!” She grabbed the pack off the ground, slung it on her back, and marched over to where she had left the slain animal. She picked it up by the hind legs and glared back at him.
“If you’re going to have such a problem with this, Mr. Sweeney,” she held the carcass up, “then you can find your own dinner tonight!”
Not waiting to see if he was going to follow or not, she took off for the heavily treed forest below them. Dexter grabbed his walking stick and followed at a safe distance not wanting to incur her wrath any more than he already had. It didn’t sit well with him what he had done, but he knew it was the right thing to do. Forcing Wiley to see the differences between them would cure her of whatever attraction she might have for him. If only he could convince himself of it, too.