On his last hunt on Redd Mountain, Warner Barney—a well-known, world-class hunter—more than met his match. As a result of his arrogance and carelessness, several people were killed in a tragic snowslide. Warner has tried to put his past behind him and set new goals.
He heads back to Redd Mountain, supremely conﬁdent that he is the only man who can bring down a legendary elk; he quickly ﬁnds, however, his task isn’t as easy as he had expected. To make matters worse, he is blocked at every turn by a park ranger and his former guide, Gerry Bruce.
Gerry was involved in his last hunt on this mountain, the very hunt in which Warner’s careless action caused the deaths that haunt him today. Gerry is very determined not to let that happen again, so he reluctantly agrees to go along on this one. There are other people on the hunt for reasons of their own, and once on the mountain they will ﬁnd themselves pulled along the slopes by an unseen hand. Someone else wants them to be there at the end, when the chase is over and the quarry brought down.
As they close in on the elk, they ﬁnd themselves starting to wonder if they are following or being led, as more and more curious events start to take place. In the end, however, the mountain will decide who is the hunter … and who is the prey.
Pete and Gene had just reached the edge of the woods after a mad dash across the lanes of other skiers. They had cut off two people coming down, and Gene had actually run across the back of the skis of one skier. There had been no collisions, however, just a few threats, shaken fists, and the occasional upraised middle finger directed at the two men. They just laughed it off and turned their attention to the rest of the downhill course. They were just a little way down the mountain at this point, with the major portion of the run yet to come. As Gene looked down the run, he could see the line of trees, dark and forbidding, just a few feet inside the edge of the run. As he lifted his goggles to get a better view, he thought he saw something moving down the hill at the edge of that dark stand of forest. He blinked to clear his eyes, but didn’t see anything when he opened them again. “So where is that jump you were talking about, Pete?" Gene asked, annoyance evident in his tone. "I don’t see anything that looks like a jump.” Pete turned to look downhill, but he couldn’t recognize the ledge he had heard about. He didn’t want to admit to Gene he hadn’t seen it for himself, that he had only heard about it, but didn’t see anything he could point to as the jump ledge. “It’s a little farther down the hill,” he lied. “It’s on the left side near where the trees come up to the edge of the run, and it points back into the middle of the run,” he lied again. “It will give you a lift and a lot of speed going down the rest of the run, so you want to be in the middle of the course as you go down,” he said, with a bravado he didn’t really feel. “You want to go first? I’ll follow you?” Pete suggested, but Gene wasn’t really as big a daredevil as he had painted himself. “Well, Pete, actually, I think you should go first since you know where it is, and I’ll follow your track to make sure I don’t go off the course.” Having talked himself into a corner, Pete had no choice but to play the part and hope for the best. “No problem, Gene. Just follow me down and get ready for the ride of your life--one I bet you’ll never forget.” He laughed and turned his skis downward. Pete had no idea just how true his words would soon prove to be for both of them. Both men secured their goggles and gripped their poles to push off with. Pete planted his poles and lifted off to start his downward run, his heart in his throat as he realized he didn’t know what was ahead of him or what he was skiing into, but he didn’t want to admit that to his new friend. And he didn’t want Ed to hear that he had chickened out of a run he had proposed. He would never be able to live that embarrassment down. As he picked up speed, he looked back over his shoulder to see Gene coming up behind him, but far enough back he could follow him however he turned his skis. Gene could feel the wind and snow stinging his face as he flew down the run, and thought to himself Pete had called this run pretty accurately. It was a fast run and he could see the trees flying by in a blur. Suddenly he thought he saw something out of the corner of his eye, but when he turned his head slightly, there was nothing to see except a low-hanging cloud and a small snow swirl caused by wind blowing through the trees. He quickly put his eyes back on Pete, to make sure he stayed behind him in the safe channel of the downhill run. It slowly came to his awareness there were no other skiers on this run, other than Pete, and this caused him to feel a slight anxiety, but it was quickly replaced by exhilaration from the speed of his descent. Pete was right, he thought to himself. I am flying! If I hit the jump just right . . . And then that thought changed to, If I hit the jump wrong . . . and things began to go terribly wrong for Gene from that point. To be good at a sport requires concentration and the ability to block out distractions from one’s thinking and awareness. Gene had just violated and broken that rule, and, as a result, he broke his concentration and his lost confidence. He started to sway in his skis and his knees began to lose their angle, causing his skis to start separating from the tight parallel he had been maintaining in order to keep his speed and balance. This led to him starting to slip sideways in his track, and this led to him heading right into Pete--who couldn't see what was happening behind him, as he was having his own problems. Pete was starting to be worried about the ledge he couldn’t see. He didn’t know when to expect it, he didn’t know where it was going to be, and he didn’t know how high it was going to be now. But the biggest worry was whether or not he would be able to negotiate that jump when he came to it. Virtually everything about the jump worried Pete because he didn’t know where he would come down after taking that jump, because Pete had never taken any jumps before. Oh, he had talked about it a lot, and he had watched a lot of videos of it, and he had done it on a small rise before, but he had never been on real skis on real snow on a real jump before, and now he had to do it right the first time. Pete was concerned about this jump, to be sure. Suddenly he saw the ledge in the distance and it didn’t look too bad to him, so he started to relax a little. He stuck his pole in the snow to make his adjustment turn, and shifted his weight to finish the turn toward the ledge that was coming up fast. Too fast. As he tried to get lined up with it, out of the corner of his eye, he saw a blurry figure coming at him out of the woods. Before he could get a good look at the figure, he was hit from behind and knocked off his feet. He felt himself fall backward onto something soft and, as he turned his head toward the blurry figure, his eyes bulged and he stared at what he saw coming at him. The object underneath him slipped and suddenly both of them were sliding faster toward the ledge--which suddenly wasn’t a ledge, but a rock outface with the rough side facing them. Pete heard Gene calling out and realized he was tangled up with Gene, and they were both headed right for that rock face and very serious injuries--possibly fatal injuries if they hit it head-on as they were going to. Three feet before the rock, the object Pete had seen in disbelief came racing between them and the rock, and Pete felt something cold and hard push him as the object went by them. It was not so much as a push as it was a nudge, but it was enough of a nudge that they missed the rock just by inches and slowly slid to a stop two feet past the rock. They looked at each other briefly, and then both of them threw up. Freddy and Ed picked themselves up from their laughing fit and practiced standing up together on one leg. It took them several tries before they could maintain their balance for more than just a few seconds before one of them fell over and pulled the other down on top of them. “Okay, Fred, now let’s see if we can move together in unison. We have to be able to ski downhill together, without falling down, if we are going to make this look good. I don’t want to get partway down and fall down and look silly, so we need to be real good at doing this three-legged race, okay?” “Sure, Ed. I’m looking forward to seeing the stunned expressions on these people’s faces when they see our tracks!” Freddy laughed. After another ten minutes of skiing back and forth on the snow, both men at last felt they were finally ready to make their run. “Okay, Fred, let’s take it slow for a bit, until we get a clear space between us and the next man down. We don’t want anyone seeing us set up this trick.” “Sure thing, Ed.” For the next ten minutes, they alternated between slowly moving downhill and stopping to pretend they were just resting. Finally, they saw a break in the number of skiers coming down the hill and Ed pointed this out to Fred. “Okay, Fred, here’s our chance. Give me your arm, and let’s aim for that tree down there on the edge.
Larry Auerbach is a psychotherapist with twenty years of professional experience. His wife of twenty-seven years is also in the mental health ﬁeld. He enjoys chess, horseback riding, hiking in the mountains with his wife, and reading about American history. A native of Florida, he still calls the Sunshine State home.