Confluence of Spoors

by Andrew Boden

 

The hunter followed the blood down from the North Shore Mountains into Vancouver.  This was the third day he’d tracked the buck his father wounded but couldn’t kill, because a fall broke the old man’s femur.  The hunter had never known a buck to bleed this much and go on.  It should have bedded down and died two days ago, but here were drops of its blood on the white shoulder line of the Upper Levels Highway and, a mile on, a tuft of tawny hair caught on a chain link fence.  He crossed the Lions Gate Bridge at dusk and followed the blood trail east past Coal Harbour, down Cordova Street into the Lower East Side.  Twice his .30-06 leapt to his shoulder, but the crosshairs fell on the ghosts of old kills and he cursed his exhaustion, his hunger.  His image of the wounded buck, blood staining its white belly, blood trickling down its pink-white thighs, blood loss lowering its head inch by inch, pushed him past the broken women who all smiled and asked if he wanted a date.  He came to Powell and Raymur and the blood trail went north and east.

He peered both ways through his scope: at the desolate parking lot of the sugar refinery; at the dark road east.  “Where are you?” he hissed.  He wanted to shoot off a couple of rounds, fucking have done with it.  It had drizzled for two days and his wet mackinaw and wool shirt made him itch with cold.  Hunger was making him see double, he concluded, but neither blood trail, north or east, vanished after he downed a handful of bread crumbs from his pocket.

“Where is she?”

The hunter thought he imagined the voice, as he had imagined the branching bloody trails, but there was a woman now in a navy pea jacket beside him.  She swept the eastern road back and forth with binoculars.

He,” he said, “A muley buck.  Six point.”

She,” the woman said, “My sister.  That’s her stroll two blocks back.  She called last night and said she was in trouble.  I called the cops, but — ”

The hunter knelt down and touched both sets of tracks with his index fingers and brought them to his nose.  Copper, gasoline, ocean rot — he couldn’t tell which was human, which was deer.  The buck would die, curl up behind a dumpster, get plucked to bone by crows and rats and the carcass buried in a Cache Creek landfill.  No way to die, not a six-point beauty.  As for the woman’s sister, he pictured a similar end for her.  No way to die?  He didn’t know anything of her beauty, inner or outer, enough to say.

“I’ll go a little ways in both directions,” he said, “Look for signs.  Maybe a hoofprint, maybe dung or hair.  It’s a full moon — sometimes his shadow leaves impressions.”

“Can you see the impressions a person’s shadow leaves behind?”

“If the light is right.”

“Is the light right?”

The ghosts the hunter’s scope showed him half an hour ago, the ghosts of those old kills: he couldn’t remember if they were all animals.  And whose old kills?  Who left them there on an urban street?  It was his hunger thinking again.  “For deer the light is right.”

“Help me find her.”

The hunter went a little way in both directions: north up the railway tracks and east along the road, but there was no sign of the buck.

“If your sister is bleeding like this buck is bleeding, then she hasn’t got long.”

The woman looked towards the parallel rows of lights on Grouse Mountain.  They seemed to define a wide, curving road that went deep into the night sky.

“I can only follow one path,” the hunter said.  “Maybe your sister is there, maybe not.”

The hunter went east, a few paces in front of the woman, towards Franklin Street.  The low buildings closed around him and the further he went down the grubby road, the uneasier he grew.  There were signs everywhere.  A red condom hung from a blackberry vine.  A hypodermic stuck up from the belly of a rag doll. A white ankle boot with a stiletto heel disappeared behind the passenger door of a black Escalade.  In the lot of a burnt down house, the grass was flattened as if animals had bedded down there.  “What colour was your sister’s hair?” the hunter asked.  He passed the woman three blonde hairs he’d found on a pile of blankets and garbage.

“Bleached blonde.  Brown before — I won’t cry, you know.  Our lives divided.  Val went one way and I went the other.  Sometimes she called every day, sometimes weeks passed.  Her last call was the first in two months.”

The hunter split his last digestive biscuit in half and gave a piece to the woman.  It was the only food he’d eaten in a day.

The black Escalade they’d seen earlier ejected a teenage girl in a pink fur coat and then her ankle boot.  She limped down the street and wiped the blood from her nose with the sleeve of her coat.

“Are there men like this where you come from?” the woman asked.

“I didn’t think so,” the hunter said, “Not until tonight.  You follow a trail — a broken branch, a footprint, some leavings — and you’re surprised when it leads back to yourself.”

“Did you do something like that?  Even once?”

“I meant there were signs.  Left after my thoughts.  I don’t go where they go.”

The hunter and the woman followed the bloody trail south and then west, until grey dawn.   Blood spatters wound up and down the streets, daubed a curb on Triumph and streaked a yellow cement barrier near Pandora.  The woman found a black pump split at the heel, in the parking lot behind the Waldorf Pub.  “It’s Val’s,” she said.  “Size seven.”

They heard sirens from the southwest.

“He can’t be far,” the hunter said.

She,” the woman said.

The woman led the hunter at a run. They crossed Hastings Street into Strathcona and ran after the sirens.  The buck was close now, the hunter could feel it; his heart sped up, his hands turned cold.  Those ghosts of those old kills, he didn’t need his scope to see them now.  They moved everywhere in the shadows; each overlaid another, limbs entwined with limbs, torsos entwined with torsos, innards with innards.  He wouldn’t call them human.

The air grew heavy with the scent of cherry blossoms.  A police car with its lights flashing sped away up another street.  A crowd of men and women were gathered in the middle of East Pender.  Some of them held candles and they sang a song the hunter didn’t recognize.  The blood trail led right up to the crowd.

“Val!” the woman cried and ran towards them.

If the buck is there, the hunter thought, at least he isn’t suffering anymore.  If Val is there, at least she isn’t suffering anymore.  He could go home, back to the hospital to visit his father.  Get warm again.  Get off this path.

His rifle leapt to his shoulder.  The buck’s antlers pushed past the corner of a large brick building.  The hunter began to exhale as he waited for the buck’s head to appear.

The woman sobbed.  “Val!”

The hunter exhaled all his breath.  His finger squeezed the trigger.

There!  The buck’s head and neck came past the corner of the building, but it was twisted at an impossible angle as if broken and wrenched too far to the right.  The beast was moving, floating as if it lay on its side asleep on the arms of a strong wind.  But it didn’t move under the wind’s power or even its own.  The buck lay splayed across the front of the black Escalade, tied down with yellow rope.  Its body steamed in the cold night; its blood cooked on the left headlight.

“Val!  Val, come back!”

The crowd pressed in around the hunter.  The ghosts of those old kills pressed in around the hunter.  The crowd implored him with tears and sobs.  Where they’d held their vigil, where the tracks he and the woman followed ended, there was a tangle of bloodied trails.  Blood led off in every direction up the street: into desolate buildings, into the yards of houses.  Some of it stopped where parked cars had been, some of it led to dumpsters.

He thought for a long time about which trail to follow.  He feared they all led back to him.  He feared what lay at the end of his thoughts.

About Andrew Boden

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Andrew Boden is the co-editor of Hidden Lives: Coming Out on Mental Illness, a groundbreaking anthology of evocative personal essays by writers who either suffer from or have close family members who have been diagnosed with a serious mental health or developmental disorder. His articles on mental illness have appeared in Open Minds Quarterly and Other Voices. His stories and essays have appeared in The Journey Prize Stories: 22, Prairie Fire, Descant, Vancouver Review, and the anthology Nobody's Father: Life Without Kids. Andrew is vice-president and director of the Institute for Cross-Cultural Exchange, a Canadian children’s literacy charity, and has helped build homes in San Quintin, Mexico. He enjoys cave exploration, especially on Vancouver Island and in the Chilliwack region. He currently resides in Burnaby, BC.