Towering around the cabin, coned pine trees crowd needle and branch against thin red oak. But close to the cabin, a tiny circle is clear of even scrub brush or wild blueberries. It is not as clean as the yards in the Southern portion of the country, where tired residents daily sweep the dirt in their yards to keep down the growth. Here, around this cabin, clots of grass grow near the porch.
Even with the bogs so close, it is quiet, but for the constant whine and buzz of flies and other insects. Flickering above, bats are silent, like small demons swooping through the feast.
A dozen yards in front of the cabin I see graves. Ten of them closed, one more lies open. The earth around the open grave is fresh. It has been recently dug, the dirt packed to one side and covered with a blue tarp. Someone means to use it soon.
Now I stop, every sense wide open and alert. Perhaps I assumed too quickly that the hunter has taken a wounded friend to the hospital. I stare hard into the trees and strain my ears for the slightest sound that would be out of place in the night.
buzz. whir. screech. snap.
Normal enough, and the shapes moving in the darkness are all night creatures. A mouse tittering to itself as it chews something tiny in its paws. A fox slinking near the rodent. An owl twisting on a limb high above.
I hold in silence for a moment more, then continue.
The blood trail I follow skirts the open grave, though there is a small pool near what could be the foot of the pit. I remember the perfume and consider the movements of the two. If she was dead, it’s possible that he paused here and considered dumping her body into the open grave.
But then, why carry her? Why not simply drag the body? Indeed, he has a vehicle. He could have driven the woman to wherever he needed. Have they left together?
Something is wrong here. The scent of blood from the cabin. Ten graves, the eleventh open. And the pool of blood by the grave, not near the Jeep track. If he loaded her into a vehicle, the blood should be closer to those ruts, not here on the raw earth.
The scent of fresh blood hangs heavy outside the cabin: It calls me.
A rough-hewn pine door is bolted to the cabin’s door frame. It padlocked from the outside, a hunter’s caution against thieves. I know where I am in this forest. Vandals and looters would be rare this far out of the city. No matter, and with the hunter gone, no need for silence. The lock twists easily against the hasp as I pull it from the wooden frame. My hands are much tougher than they used to be. The lock gouges my flesh, but my skin heals as quickly as it is ripped.
The door swings outward and creaks as it does so. It is silence inside. No one is here. Just one tight room, cluttered with broken wooden furniture. On the back wall, near the fireplace, is a long box. It is a bed, almost like a coffin. From here, I can see old blankets stuffing the box. A warm nest on a cold night. The hunter could burrow down into the blankets and shield himself from the cold.
There is no kitchen, just an area for cleaning dishes. There are a few cabinets on the wall and a small shelf. Two large pots, likely one for washing, one for rinsing sit on a another cabinet below the first two. No dish drainer. A couple of rusty knives held to the wall on a magnetic shelf.