A Hunting Trip
By: Michael A. Arnold

Friends have asked me to write this, I don't want to. I don't even know what really happened, but I feel I can tell my story now – now I've been proven not guilty of murder.

It happened a few weeks ago, on a hunting holiday in the USA. We were in the wild north of Maine, near the Canadian border. One of us would (and still will) soon getting married, another was moving to Perth, Western Australia, to be a teacher. It would probably be the last time 'the boys' would be together, and we wanted it to be special.

I don't remember much of the trip there (really, who does?) I just remember the half hour wait in Heathrow for our first connecting flight. Something in the glass reflecting lights from the in terminal bars and cafes struck me as beautiful. Silly, I know. It was a cold and snowy day when we we touched down in JFK, on the other side of that great pond. Then we had another short wait for a plane taking us to Portland. From there there was yet another plane up to a small airfield just a few hours' drive from the log cabin we had booked. It was a long journey.

I was impressed with the cabin. It was almost exactly what I had imagined: a rug stretched out before a fireplace, what looked like a deer skin on the wall — it actually a little cliché, but in a good way. The four of us had a room each, and as soon as we got in we light the fire starting the central heating system, threw all our stuff onto our beds, and broke out a few beers. That was a good night.

We started hunting the next day, well — the next afternoon. Hangovers and all. It was amazing, wondering through the wintery hills, with pathless woods and snow lying quite lightly on the uneven ground. A lot of the time it was like walking through a painting from the colonial era or something. We had all done this sort of thing before, but the shogun on my shoulder felt like the heavy iron weight it was. Soon it began to feel familiar, and I couldn't really feel it anymore. That left me to just enjoy walking through the woodland and the scenery — it really was beautiful up there. Eventually it started snowing, fat little puffs of white fell softly from the sky. No one had got a single rabbit or anything, and the guys were talking about turning back. I was so annoyed I hadn't caught anything I wanted to keep going. So I did, they turned back and I went on alone, thinking the snow would soon pass.

I was very wrong.

The soft snowfall turned into a blizzard. I felt so stupid. Visibility reduced to basically nothing and I was lost. I pushed on through the snow, but in the direction I thought I had come from, but it did not seem to do much – for my mood or anything else. Everything seemed to look the same under the blizzard's fog and the snow then thickly cascading down to earth. I checked my phone, but there was no reception, I couldn't call anybody for help. I was alone.

I knew people had died in these conditions, how could I have been so stupid? Moving faster, but it made remarkably little difference — it never felt like I was getting anywhere. Soon my legs began to weaken, becoming heavier with effort, but I kept myself going. I had to, it was quickly darkening into night. 'I must get back,' I remember saying to myself out loud, over and over, 'I must get back'. My eyes pointed in every direction, looking for any sign of other people, like buildings or roads — but there was just the snow fall, and trees moving past as quickly as my tired legs could let me walk. 'Oh god,' I thought, 'I'm going to die out here,' and imagined my body being found months later, when the summer had melted the snow away.

I was so happy when a big shape materialized through the dancing, waltzing fog. It was dark by then, I do not know how much time had passed, and it looked like a black block against the dark night. I hoped it was our cabin, it was a cabin. I walked around it until I found a window, banging my hand on the log walls to attract anyone inside to me.

"Hey! Hey! Anyone in there?"

But all the lights were off, that was not a good sign, and it was really dark inside. But, I was sure I could see what looked like a nice — neat, comfortable living room. Even better, I thought I could see a human figure standing against the far wall. I yelled in, but whoever it was did not respond in any way. I thought I might have just scared them, and they were holding back until they felt more comfortable — and I was not some crazy person, and I so ran to the door a little further ahead and started to bang on it. "Let me in! Please! I'm lost! Let me in! I'll pay, please!"

I had heard there was an unwritten rule in this part of the world: if someone was caught out in a snow storm then you had to give them shelter. Whoever told me that became my new personal saint when I heard the sound of a bolt sliding open from the other side, and I pushed my way in. I was so tired then, I simply said "thanks friend, thank you thank you thank you" but there was no answer.

I could barely see anything, so wiped the snow water from my eyes and said, "I'll repay you, honest, I'm ok, just got caught out in all that, hah, do you mind if I sleep on your couch? I'm pretty tired. Thank you again, friend, thank you," and when there was no answer to that I took it as a silent agreement. The person, whoever it was, hadn't moved, and in my tired state I understood that they were simply the quiet type. I took my shoes and wet coat off, and put myself down onto the couch, using my wet coat as a blanket.

I lay keeping my tired eyes open, just to see what the other person would do. But they didn't move. They were staring at me; it was really weird — uncomfortable.

But I was so tired, and I was falling asleep.

My eyelids shut by themselves, and when I next opened them it was still dark but some time had obviously passed. The side of my mouth was wet with drool, and in my sleep I must have grabbed the wet outside of my coat, because my shirt arm was damp and cold. It took a few seconds to understand all this, and when I turned to look at where the figure had been standing he was still there. This time I had the energy to do something. "Hey, are you alright?" I said.

Again, there was no response.

Something was very wrong. As quickly as I could move, I grabbed my phone from my coat pocket and shook it to turn the torch on. When lit, I pointed my phone's torch at the still unmoving person.

I know I screamed. His skin was cold white, except for the area around his neck, which was a dark blue and red color, emphasizing a bright orange noose that had been wrapped around it.

"Oh, FUCK!" I screamed, and ran out into the night. I did not stop running until I found the nearest building, a ranger's cabin — where I phoned the emergency services. They took all my statements, and I was simply honest with them — told them the whole truth. I will not lie, I was the prime suspect, and I was treated as such. I never felt more low and haunted as I had answering question in interview after interview, but all I could do was tell the truth. They were sure that it must have been me, there was no evidence that anyone else had been in that cabin for months. But I knew I was innocent.

I was eventually cleared. Autopsy reports came back saying the man (I somehow can't remember his name, James something) had been dead several days, long before I was even in the United States. There was a final interview before I was properly released, and one of the has really bothered me, because I have absolutely no answer for it. If the man had died days before, and no one else had been in that cabin in all that time, who let me in?



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