Some more of Shame Walker and his hunt…

Shame makes his way deeper into the woods, following the tracks and sign left by the fifth largest cat in the world. The shadows of the wood grows larger as the sun goes down. Shame stops and makes camp, taking time to gather firewood, while dusk drapes her shroud over the earth. 

Tired from the day’s events, he leans against the tree and opens a MRE. He removes the portable heater and places it in the assault pack. Opening the spoon, Shame rapidly eats the grilled chicken, Skittles, jalapeno cheese spread and crackers. His belly full, his mind takes him back to the packs of wild dogs.

The problem we had with the wild dogs were because they didn’t hunt only during the day. They also hunted at night. When visibility was minimal, they would attack. To top it all off, I killed a kid. Why do I get a second chance at life? God hates me, the kid’s family hates me. There is no up, only the bottom exists. I’m unredeemable, a predator like this cat. I’m a monster.”

Restless sleep calls Shame in its lullaby, and Shame cannot resist the siren’s song. He wakes at the crack of dawn and stands to his feet. Years of fighting one war or another have taught him to sleep wherever he lies. Stretching, he slips on his pack and heads deeper into the woods in search of his adversary. It doesn’t take long for him to pick up the tracks of the panther.

The hunt goes on.

As he follows the tracks of the enormous cat, he sips a bottle of water. Towering pine and oak make a canopy that keeps most of the sunlight from filtering into the forest. Entranced by the natural beauty, Shame looks around. The tracks of the cat have all but disappeared. 

“Now where did this animal go?”

With a roar, the man-eating beast leaps from a towering pine. Caught unaware, it slams him to the ground. The panther swats at his face, arms and shoulders. Three inch claws cut into his arms. Shame grabs a broken shaft of an arrow and slams it into the beast. It roars and continues its relentless barrage. Unable to use the bow as a weapon, he attempts to roll away from the cat. 

The cat isn’t having it. Teeth pierce his left shoulder. Screaming, Shame pulls the Ka-Bar folding knife and shoves it into the giant cat’s underbelly. His hands bloody, Shame grips the blade with two hands and snatches it toward him. The cat whimpers as its internal organs thud against the ground. Shame crawls back from the beast and watches as the great cat gasps its last breath. 

Shame leans against a tree and takes stock of his injuries. Deep cuts cover his arms, his shoulder pierced by the big cat. A long cut runs down the right side of his face. The assault pack came loose during the fight with the beast. Shame crawls to it and pulls out his homemade first aid kit. 

After bandaging his wounds, Shame walks over to the panther. The cat is dead. Shame puts his hand on the cat’s head and whispers a few words. Dipping his hands in the blood that soaks the ground, he marks his face. Rising slowly, he makes his way out of the woods. 

A bit more Shame…an unedited work…

“Oh, boy.”

Hours pass but finally, Shame finds the poacher’s body. Slipping out of the assault pack, he looks around. Blood soaks the ground. On the poacher’s body, deep lacerations cover his back, and bite marks are upon his throat. Shame pulls out the two-way radio given to him by Rachel Winterborne. 

“HQ, this is Shame. How copy?”

“Go for HQ, Shame.”

“Roger, I have found the missing person.”

“Say again, Shame?”

“I have found the missing person. My location is about a mile west of mile marker 390.”

“Roger, help is en route.”

“Roger, out.”

Glancing around the site of where the attack happened, Shame locates black fur hanging off of a broken branch. “A black panther. Great. Why does it have to be an animal?” As he waits for the wardens to arrive, his mind takes him back to his last war. 

“Sheik Al-Mahdi has requested our help. Packs of ravenous dogs are attacking children and adults alike. If you come across packs of dogs during your patrols, put ‘em down.

“Roger, sir!”

“Day after day, we killed wild dogs by the dozens, and they still came. They preyed on the young and the weak. Throats ripped out, clawed to pieces. What a horrible way to die. I don’t care what this poacher did, he didn’t deserve to die like this. No one does.”

A snap brings Shame back to reality. Slowly turning his head, he notices a presence. In the shadow of a towering white oak, he can barely make out two yellow eyes staring at him. With the swish of its tail, the black panther turns and moves deeper into the woods. 

“Shame, are you out here?” 

The radio squawks out the call, and Shame keys the mic. 

“Yeah, I am here.”

Before long, Rachel strides through the brush into the holler where Anthony Morley’s eviscerated body lies. Rachel doesn’t even look at the body, she walks directly to where Shame stands. 

“What is out there? What killed Anthony Morley?”

“A black panther.”

“You’re kidding.”

Shame shakes his head. “No, I’m not kidding. I saw it with my own eyes.” Rachel shakes her head and runs her fingers through her silver hair. 

“Do you know what you’re saying? Black Panthers are rare. Few people ever see them. They’re solitary animals. Can you track it?”

“Maybe. It’s like any other animal.”

“Except this one killed a man.” 

Together, Shame and Rachel walk to the body of Anthony Morley. Rachel pinches off her nose and turns. Running to a bush, she loses her lunch. Gasping for air, she wipes her mouth with the back of her hand.

“Are you okay, Rachel?”

“How can you stand there and not mind the smell of dead flesh?”

“I’ve fought in many wars. Stay here until your back-up arrives. I will see if I can’t find this cat.”

As Shame turns to walk deeper into the woods, Rachel touches his shoulder. “Shame, be careful.” Nodding his head, he picks up his assault pack and bow. 

The hunt is on.

Shame…a sample of an unedited short story….

His reputation grew by leaps and bounds. Still, Shame preferred isolation over the praise of his neighbors. Anxiety kept him from fully engaging with the public. Law Enforcement Officer Rachel Winterborne had introduced herself to Shame during the case of Bethany Wiesmann, and a friendship had taken root. She became his primary point of contact with cases that required his skills. The chemistry they both felt in the presence of each other, led Shame to give his contact information to Rachel. After admonishing her to keep his information private, they kept in touch whenever they were able. 

This morning, as Shame waits for his coffee to brew, he hears a knock at his door. He pulls his Kel-Tec .22 Magnum CMR and takes up a position away from the door. 

“Yeah?”

“Shame, it’s Rachel. I need to speak to you. We have another missing person. Do you have time to help us out?”

Holstering his sidearm, Shame unlocks the door.

“Come in.”

The door swings open and Rachel Winterborne enters the living room. Looking around the small room, she realizes this is her first time in Shame’s house. No pictures reveal his time as a soldier, no art hangs on his walls. The house reveals the simple nature of the complicated man that lives here. 

“Nice place you have here, Shame. “

“Thanks. What can I do for you?”

“We received a call from a worried wife. Her husband, Anthony Morley, is a suspected poacher. He hasn’t come home in two days. His wife said he left Friday afternoon and went hunting in West Point.”

“And? You want me to find him?”

“Yes. You are the best tracker we know.”

“Okay.”

 “The government will take care of your needs. How soon can you leave for West Point?”

“Fine. I will leave in the morning.”

“I will let my superiors know. We expect updates daily.” Rachel hands Shame a small two-way radio. Shame nods his head and puts it on the counter.

“Understood.”

After sharing a cup of coffee and a few moments of chit-chat, Rachel left. Shame walks to his closet and pulls his bug-out bag from his war chest. The assault pack holds three days of clothing, waterproof matches, a tactical flashlight, and other items he may need. He puts the two-way in with the rest of his gear. He takes his weapons and locks them in his weapon vault. Shame keeps firearms for home defense, to hunt wildlife he uses a compound bow. 

He fills his quiver with arrows and tests the tension on his bow. Satisfied that the bow and his equipment are up to par, he loads his gear into his ‘84 Power Wagon. Preparations complete, Shame sits in his recliner and waits for his alarm to go off at 0400.

At 0400, Shame pulls out of his driveway and makes his way to West Point. He arrives to the location of the missing poacher at 0515. Stepping out into the morning air, he pushes his arms overhead and stretches. Shame bends at the waist and touches his toes. He rolls his shoulders. The exercise warms up his body, and he shoulders the assault pack and steps into the woods. 

The early morning is eerily silent. As if something or someone was stealthily watching Shame’s every move. Quietly, he moved through the brush. After a half hour of walking, the sun breaks through the towering trees. The chatter of squirrels fills the morning air, as they gleefully leap from branch to branch. Shame stops. In the distance he sees a broken limb, a sign that he is on the right track. Further on, Shame finds a footprint. It doesn’t belong to the missing poacher.

It belongs to a big cat.