Free Short Story - Snipe Hunt

Here's your BRAND NEW FREE short story for February of 2023!

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When I was home from college for spring break and out hunting rabbits with my baby brother, I made a point of announcing, quite loudly, that my sorority was taking the new members to Cabin #5 at Blue Lake State Park the weekend after Easter.

Denny looked around the woods surrounding us. Since the holiday fell so early this year, the tips of the tree limbs had the faintest gray-green fuzz while the dead leaves surrounding the trunks had the musty mildew odor that indicated it would be a good morel season. “Why the hell are you telling me what your stuck-up friends are doing next weekend, Kelly?”

I lowered my voice as we approached the raspberry brambles that bordered the hay field where the rabbits liked to play. It wouldn’t do to scare the critters. “Aren’t you coming to tour the campus next weekend?”

“Mom’s putting her foot down because of the deaths.”

“Puh-lease.” I rolled my eyes. “She wants you to go to her alma mater.” I took the lead and tramped down the still sleeping raspberry plants. Despite their dormancy, the remaining thorns stabbed through my heavy jeans.

“Doesn’t it worry you? I mean all the deaths around Marton.”

“First of all, there’s been a rash of disappearances, not deaths.” I couldn’t look at him, more because his day-glo orange vest pained my vision than any guilt on my part. “And the disappearances were all over the county. The news folks made up a lot of crap about serial killers and wild Greeks, but the interstate runs right through Marton. The police did a full investigation on everyone. There were only two bodies found.”

“Yeah, but the one non-suicide was any actual murder.”

“And Professor Johnson’s husband has been arrested, and he’s awaiting trial.”

“Johnson? Isn’t she the bitch who gave you an F last year?”

“Yeah.” Professor Johnson had accused me of cheating because she didn’t believe anyone in a sorority could pass her organic chem tests, much less get a perfect score. I managed to appeal my case all the way to the dean of the school of science and get the grade reversed. The professor made a point of giving me a different, and much more difficult, test than anyone else in the class for the rest of the fall semester.

“She also treated her husband as bad as she treated the students,” I added. “I’m not a bit surprised he snapped.”

“If you say so, Kel,” he muttered. We set up behind a fallen log and waited.

##

We didn’t see one rabbit that late afternoon, but I suspected why.

After dinner, I walked up to the family cemetery on the hill overlooking the farmhouse. Rose and violet streamers filled the darkening sky. We weren’t supposed to get a frost tonight, but my breath steamed against the remnants of the sunset. I sat on my great-aunt’s tombstone and stared at the road down to the house. My friend didn’t like me looking him.

“Did you hear?” I whispered.

“yesssss”

I leaned over and placed the velvet liquor bag with the wad of Deb’s hair on my grandmother’s headstone. It hadn’t been hard to collect the strands. I simply gave into her demands to French braid her over-processed, over-bleached locks. The hair literally broke off in my hands. As far as I was concerned, the manipulative and nasty pledge mistress had made her last new recruit cry.

With a faint rustle behind me, the bag slid backward. “yessss much evil in thissss one”

“Just make sure this body isn’t found.” I stood. Maybe I did feel a little guilty about Mr. Johnson sitting in the county jail awaiting his trial. A faint grunt of acknowledgement reached me. My friend had gotten better about leftovers over the years. However, he didn’t have a chance to eat Professor Johnson’s bones before her husband came home.

At the edge of the cemetery, I put my fingers of my right hand to my lips before I touched the small cairn of stones beside the wrought iron fence. I’d brought D.C. up to bury her on Christmas Eve despite Mom’s protests that one did not bury animals in the same place as people. My eyes burned. I missed D.C. and her fuzzy face. Maybe after I graduated, I’d go to the rescue shelter and adopt another cat.

##

A week later, the weather was much warmer, and I was surrounded by laughing girls in jeans and sweatshirts around a decent-sized campfire. Smoke disappeared into the black night. The sweet sugary odor of roasting marshmallows mixed with citrus-y smell of the green sassafras branches I’d cut for roasting said marshmallows.

“What would we do without your backwoods skill, Kelly?” Deb cooed at me.

Her cronies, Lisa M. and Denise, giggled, but the rest of our sisters ignored her.

“Probably poison yourself,” I said calmly.

Deb’s sidekicks stopped giggling while the rest of the girls laughed. I guess they were paying attention after all.

She deliberately turned her back to me and clapped her hands. “All right, pledges. Time for the annual snipe hunt.”

“We aren’t pledges anymore,” Gabrielle grumbled. “We’ve all been pinned.”

“This is actually the last thing you have to do to keep your pin. You have to capture a snipe.”

I couldn’t see Deb’s sneer, but it was obvious in her tone.

“And Kelly is going to lead you,” she stated.

Well, crap. How was I going to get her away from the others and down by the lake if she didn’t come snipe hunting? Jennifer, our chapter’s president, jumped to my aid.

“You’re the pledge mistress, Deb.” The firelight reflected eerily in Jennifer’s dark eyes. Almost like she was someone else. “You’re going with the pledges.”

“We’re not pledges anymore,” Gabrielle repeated. Several of the new class nodded along with their de facto leader.

“It’s okay, Jennifer,” I said. “I’ll go with them so Deb doesn’t get them killed.”

“I-is a snipe that dangerous?” Julie’s timid nature was the only reason Deb and her cronies voted to offer her a bid. I had argued Julie’s 4.0 average was necessary for us to keep our house. But damn, was she na├»ve!

“Only if a pack of them jump you.” Deb turned to look at me, daring me to contradict her.

“The only time they group in packs is during their fall mating season.” I turned and smiled at Julie. “Right now, they’re coming out of hibernation. They’re about the size of a cat, with solid black fur. If you see a black-furred animal with a white stripe, that is not a snipe.”

The older members laughed. A couple of the new girls tittered nervously at my joke.

“You catch them by shining a flashlight in their eyes,” I continued. “The light startles them, and they freeze for several minutes. Long enough to stuff them in this burlap bag.” I held up a bag from my dad’s barn. Deb had volunteered me for that duty, too.

“D-do we each have to catch one?” Julie quivered in her seat on one of the benches by the fire.

“No, one will do, but the sister that actually captures a snipe will get Deb delivering Starbucks to you every morning for the month of April.”

The new girls buzzed excitedly at my announcement. I would need to figure out a way to make up to these poor girls.

I clapped my hands like Deb. “All right, pledges. Grab your flashlights, but don’t turn them on yet. We don’t want to alert the snipes. Deb will lead the way.”

She glared at me before she pasted her too-sweet smile on her face and turned back to the new girls. “Shall we ladies?”

##

We traipsed along the marked paths for a good forty-five minutes when we reached the little boat dock. Beneath the moon, the water glittered. The rowboats bumped against each other while the waves hissed between them and lapped the muddy shoreline. With her growing irritation at questions of how to find the elusive animals, Deb finally ordered the girls to split up.

“In pairs,” I said. “I don’t want anyone to get hurt.”

Once the dozen girls disappeared, Deb whirled to face me, but for once, she didn’t shriek. “You’re not going to get away with sabotaging me.”

“Sabotaging you?” I ground out. “You’re the idiot who was treating the pledges like crap. And did you think Mrs. H would let you get away with actual hazing?”

Our advisor had been the one to save my pledge class from Deb’s big who’d been the pledge mistress our freshman year. Unfortunately, Mrs. H was undergoing chemo for her breast cancer and the alumnae association volunteer was too drunk to show up half the time, which left us with little supervision. At least, Jennifer had taken my report seriously, and she made sure Deb was never alone with the pledges.

“Well, Mrs. H isn’t here, is she?”

Deb’s shove took me by surprise. My ass landed in a wave of freezing cold water that quickly soaked my jeans.

A roar of rage filled the air. I looked up in time to see a black-furred creature with glowing red eyes grab Deb and twist her head. The audible snap sent a wave of dread down my spine. I’d never been right there when my friend did his hunting.

A scream pierced the air. Julie froze near the tree line and continued screaming. However, Gabrielle grabbed a large dead branch and raced toward my friend.

His eyes met mine for a split-second before he grabbed Deb’s corpse and waded into the lake.

Gabrielle grabbed my muddy hand and yanked me to my feet. We retreated to drier section of the shore. Flashlights bobbed in our direction.

“It was a snipe!” Julie shrieked as the rest of this year’s pledge class caught up to us. “A snipe carried Deb into the lake!”

##

Gabrielle kept her head and called the ranger station. In turn, the rangers called the sheriff’s department. By daybreak, the area was flooded with adultier adults while each of my sorority sisters were questioned by detectives.

Well, except Julie. She was sedated and carted away by an ambulance.

The crime scene techs took casts of the odd footprints leading into the lake while the county water rescue team and volunteers dredged the lake. They weren’t going to find Deb, but I couldn’t tell them they were wasting their time and money.

The detectives left me for last on purpose. We sat at what passed for the cabin’s kitchen table, a heavy piece of oak with four matching chairs.

“Just tell us what happened last night, Kelly.” The younger, cuter detective with the dark hair and piercing blue eyes handed me a mug of hot coffee.

“We took the new girls on a snipe hunt.” I gripped the mug tightly in my hands, but the heat didn’t penetrate my frozen fingers. “Deb told them to split up so she could yell at me.”

“You argued with the missing girl?” The older detective with the flabby jowls resembled a pig. He scribbled in his notebook.

“She accused me of trying to make her look bad before she shoved me into the lake.”

“Look bad about?” the cute detective prompted.

“She was hazing the pledges.” I shrugged. “She thought she would get away with it because our advisor has had some health problems this year. I told our president Jennifer, and the officers all started helping Deb with pledge activities to keep the pledges safe.”

“And then what happened, Kelly?” the cute detective prodded.

“There was a roar, and this thing with black fur grabbed her head, and—” I thought about D.C. to trigger my tears. “There was a crack, like someone breaking a stick.” I gulped for air. “Julie started screaming, and Gabrielle ran toward us.”

The younger detectives asked for more specifics, including a description of my friend.

“While all this happened, what did you do?” the older detective said.

“I froze.” I stared at the coffee cup. “It wasn’t like Deb to get physical, and then, and then—”

“Tell us the truth, sweetie,” the older detective said. “Whose boyfriend dressed up like a monster to scare the other girls?”

I looked up at him. He wore a smarmy smile.

“The creature with red eyes was real,” I said coldly. “Or are you telling me no one else saw a black-furred thing drag Deb’s body into the lake and disappear?”

The two detectives exchanged looks before they decided they’d call me if they had any further questions.

##

The story of the Blue Lake Snipe made a few late night comics’ monologues, but otherwise, it quickly faded from everyone’s consciousness. Surprisingly, Mom and Dad said I could take the rest of the semester off if I needed it.

I refused. I wasn’t ready to go back to the farm to confront my friend.

But the end of May came, and I had to go home.

I sat on my great-aunt’s gravestone every night for a week before he showed up. A soft grunt announced his presence.

“are you angry?”

“Not at you,” I said. “I would have done anything to save D.C.”

“then your debt to me issss complete”

“You said I would owe you my entire life.”

“I watched you over the yearssss” My friend coughed. “you helped me desssstroy much evil”

“Everyone you killed was petty, vindictive, and cruel.”

“yessss evil growssss through many ssssmall actssss”

“I helped you killed these people. Doesn’t that make me evil?”

“you do not use me to enrich yoursssself”

“But I wanted revenge on them.” I said before my friend’s words sunk in. “If I had used you, you would have eaten me for being evil, wouldn’t you?”

“true”

“What happens now?” I said softly.

“now you care for new life”

A tiny high-pitched mewl came from behind me. I slowly turned to look. A tiny black kitten sat primly on the new grass.

“Hello.” I held out my hand. “What’s your name?”

The kitten toddled closer to me and delicately sniffed my fingers. I scratched her behind her ears, and she started purring.

I stood and examined the graveyard. With his size, my friend could not have hid anywhere in the fallen dusk. I didn’t dare say thank you aloud. Years ago, he told me his people only bargain. They did not give gifts.

The kitten dug its tiny claws through the leg of my jeans.

“Hey, there.” I picked her up. “I need to get you some cat food, but I’m sure tuna will do for tonight.”

Mom would have a fit with me bringing home a new cat. Maybe for my senior year, I’d take up Gabrielle’s offer to room with her in an apartment off-campus. That way I could take the kitten to school with me.

“How about I call you Shadow?”

She cuddled against my chest and purred even harder while I walked down the hill to the house.

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