The wounded cat ran in circles, as if trying to run the pain from its shattered hip, looking as if it had been trained to imitate Curly of the Three Stooges. It snapped at the air and meowed in pain. Mauro adroitly descended the tree like a gibbon and got on his knees. He crawled, a Buck knife in his right hand. Finding sudden resolve, the wounded animal dragged its broken body from the spot where it had been shot. Mauro tried to be quiet and kept stalking, crouched down now, the heavy blade of the knife at the ready. The cat disappeared through the aspens, practically shape shifting to become a part of the trees in a way only animals seem to be able to do.

“Where’d you go?” he hissed.

He tracked drops of blood for fifty yards when he became aware of a presence.

“What are we hunting, Hadji?” Don said, making a reference to Jonny Quest’s sidekick.

Mauro turned to see Don squatting next to him, knife in hand, also at the ready.

He dropped his head, laughing softly. “Cat,” he said.

Don let it sink in a second. “A cat. A bobcat?”

“A cat-cat. Wild cat. Tried scaring it, stinkin’ thing wouldn’t go away. So I shot it, but it moved. Hit it in the ass.”

They continued stalking.

“Chrissakes, Mauro.” Don’s voice took a sudden edge. “For Christ sakes.”

They were just entering the edge of the aspen saplings when the solitude of the woods was shattered by a mournful cry. A scream of agony pierced the crisp fall air, primal, filled with implanted memories; thousands of years of its descendants dying at the hands of larger predators. The cat’s scream made the considerable hair on the back of Mauro’s neck stand up, because he knew the cause of its pain.

“It pulled the arrow out. Dammit to hell,” Mauro said.

Don rose to his feet and stretched his knee joints. “Well, guess that’s that,” he said, starting back toward the maple. Mauro looked after him.

“Where you going?”

“Back to my stand.”

Mauro shook him off. “Gotta finish it. Put it out of its misery.”

“It’s feral. Said so yourself. You heard it. Thing’s dead.”

“No. It’s not. That’s from pulling the arrow out. I’m telling you we need to go kill it. It’ll scare the deer. And besides … ” Mauro thought better of mentioning the sparkle. He kept walking out of the woods, the farmer’s house a white speck across the fields.

“Go ahead. I’m waiting for that Grey Ghost,” Don replied.

The words latched onto him like ticks. Watching Don walk away, a bitter memory visited Mauro. It was the year before his Aunt Valentina died. Uncle Aldo fished with him and Don that day. Don had limited out on bass. Mauro saw the way his uncle had looked at Don. “He’s knocking you off your perch, Killer!” Aldo had said. That day in the boat, Don couldn’t miss. Mauro did nothing but net fish for his cousin all day long.

Photo(s) by Illustration by Joe Borri,