Instinctively he raised his head. It was an act of survival. When his head was down foraging for scarce shoots protruding from the snow he was vulnerable. His head turned. Left at first, then to the right. The buck mule deer sniffed the chilled mountain air, flicked his large ears in several directions, then returned to the clump of grasses it had uncovered. The 8 prongs of his 30 inch wide antlers moved majestically side to side, up and down as he foraged. He sensed his vulnerability acutely. Mountain lions sit at the top of the food chain in this part of the Rockies. Deer is a prize for hungry cougars and their cubs. Winter at 9000 ft altitude is perilous. Eat or starve, eat and possibly be eaten. Underneath heavy snowfall, greens were limited. Despite the risks, every opportunity to graze needed to be seized. The buck was unaware he was being monitored. Closely.
Cal Smedt had stopped his pickup when he crested the lonely switchback climb up the Jamestown Canyon. He needed to pee badly. He’d downed several pints of Left Hand brew with his friends at the Merc during the afternoon. A man of simple pleasures, Cal enjoyed drinking beer with buddies and loved his guns. Fumbling to unbutton his fly, he cursed that his Levis didn’t have a zip. Caught short, he cursed again as he wet his jeans. Urgently dragging them downwards, he stood in the silence of the Rocky Mountains and watched steam rise as he peed. He made a paltry attempt to write his name in the snow but was swaying too much. Besides, the stream of urine petered out halfway through his surname. He was congratulating himself and admiring an almost legible CalSme. Then he saw it. Less than 100 yards below him, down an icy ravine. It was feeding, seemingly oblivious to Cal’s presence. The magnificent buck must have been upwind.
With urine soaked pants around his knees Cal dropped low and crawled back to his pickup. Through the open door he reached behind the seat and located it. His 30-06 Springfield hunting rifle and scope. Crawling silently across the slush of snow melt on the gravel roadway, jeans and underpants still at half mast, he reached the edge of the roadway where it fell away into the ravine. The deer was still there. Heart rate elevated. Exposed.
No thought of his undress, Cal lay prone in the slush, and brought his rifle steadily to his shoulder. He was motivated by only one thing. He wanted that magnificent rack of antlers. No thought of the carcass. It would be too difficult to retrieve the body of that huge buck up the steep slopes of the ravine. The coyotes and bobcats could enjoy him. But the antlers were quite salvageable. And what a trophy to grace the wall above his stone fireplace. Silently adjusting his scope, Cal flipped his firearm off safety and located the crosshairs near his quarry. Cal lived for the thrill of the hunt. He measured sporting prowess in terms of kills. He took two deep, silent breaths and relaxed as the crosshairs centred on his target. Cal’s finger located the trigger and began to imperceptibly apply pressure.
The buck was oblivious to Cal’s presence but habitually raised his head once more. He flicked his long mule-like ears around briefly, unaware of the crosshairs centred on his heart at this precise moment. His large moist eyes blinked several times then he lowered his head to the grasses he’d uncovered and resumed foraging. The buck’s life was a mere twitch of Cal’s finger away. He’d done this on numerous occasions and, like a junkie, Cal craved the thrill of the kill.
But while the buck was oblivious to Cal’s presence 100 yards above him, his animal instinct had been unsettled by something unseen another 50 yards further above Cal’s position. A huge mountain lion had been observing the human who had placed himself between the big cat and the mule deer. He’d been patiently stalking his prey for half an hour before Cal’s intrusion. He was crouched low, tail twitching. Silently, stealthily he inched towards the roadway and the prostrate hunter.
Coincidentally, a further 200 yards above Cal, other entities had been monitoring a hunter with a bare arse crawling across a roadway and fixating on an animal. Sensing that an unjust action was imminent, the watchers waited, waited, and made their own call. At the split-second before Cal squeezed his trigger, the commander of the scout ship gave his order,
The flash of eerie light and acrid smoke startled the buck who bolted further down the ravine. Likewise, the startled mountain lion disappeared into the forest of pines and Douglas firs. They were unaware of the otherworld beings that had messed with their feeding. They would never know that ethics and morality were universal principles of right and wrong shared by all beings. They would never encounter the beings of superior intellect that swiftly exited Earth’s atmosphere in their scout ship. There were other galaxies requiring arbitrary administrations of justice.
And the Boulder County Sheriff’s Deputy who located Cal’s abandoned pickup four hours later was equally unaware of the reason for Cal’s disappearance or the small patch of scorched earth which now lay underneath fresh snow on the verge of the roadway near Jamestown Canyon. Thankfully, she thought, she’d write her report and leave that head-scratcher to the investigators.