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Blood and Compassion


Kenneth Preston

     Opening her eyes was a strenuous undertaking.  The bludgeoning pain in her head seemed to stand on her eyelids with boots of lead.  When she finally managed to push her eyes fully open, she could see the man’s face again, albeit through a slightly opaque blurriness.  She had glimpsed it once previously, as he stepped from behind a tree and she collapsed into both, his arms, and unconsciousness.  This time, he peered back at her through the flames of an evening campfire. 

    “I am fixing us something to eat,” the man said.  His voice was deep and smooth, almost baritone. 

     He moved from the far side of the fire and knelt beside her where she sat propped against a tree.  He dampened a piece of cloth with water, gently dabbed it across her forehead, and then swabbed away a light crusting of blood from her nostrils.

   “Can you tell me your name?”  he asked. 

   “Lahti.”  Her voice sounded as sore and battered as the rest of her body.

   “I’m Bryce,” he said, looking into her eyes with the inquisitiveness of a physician giving an exam.

   “My head aches.”   She winced and added, “And my ear hurts a lot too.”

   “That’s because you have a concussion, and also, a cauliflower ear.”  His diagnosis was tranquilly confident.  He saw concern flash into her face, and he added, “You needn’t worry about the ear.  Your hair will hide it.”

“Are you a doctor or EMT or…?” she asked.

“I have some training,” he replied, without further elaboration.

     Lahti saw several flashbacks of herself stumbling through the forest, wracked in pain that was only partially numbed by mental confusion.  She could remember being trapped in an annoying spin of disorientation.

     “So, what happened?  How did you get here?” Bryce queried her.

     Lathi’s thoughts froze, almost pixelated, “I…I…I’m not sure.”  It was as if her mind were tugging on a rope attached to something unknown in a dark cave and attempting to drag it out into the light.

     From the campfire, Bryce lifted a frying pan of sizzling meat. He studied her face with a probing, analytical countenance.  Then he squinted at her and said, “I’ve seen a lot of strange things in this wilderness, but a woman stumbling incoherently through the trees is right up there with a Bigfoot sighting.”  

     Snippets of what had happened continued to flicker into Lahti’s memory.  None of them were good. She could now remember hiking a mountain trail.  Hiking it with her husband, Michael.  And arguing.  They could always argue and turn things sour—even in the most beautiful of places. And then, just for the briefest moment, she could recall a push in the small of her back.  It took her with unexpected abruptness, and sent her over a steep edge, tumbling helplessly downward.   She awoke with the side of her head against a rock.

    “You should eat.”  Bryce encouraged her, “The old advice about not eating when you have a concussion is no longer medically valid.”

    “I’m a vegan,” Lahti replied.  Her response was almost involuntary.  She had announced her proclivity so many times in her life it now came forth like a blink.

    “Be that as it may,” Bryce said, offering her a piece of meat from the frying pan, “tofu and alfalfa sprouts are hard to come by out here in the Sawtooths.”

    “I’ll pass,” she said.

    “You might consider, under these particular circumstances, breaching your philosophical devotion,” Bryce suggested. 

    “What kind of meat is it?” Lahti asked, her face wrinkled with a tinge of revulsion.

    “Elk heart,” he replied, with nonchalance.

    “Oh, hell no!”  Lahti’s yelp caused her brain to pound on the walls of her skull with fisting throbs, like an angry neighbor in an adjoining apartment protesting the loudness of her voice.

            Bryce began eating.  “Suit yourself,” he said. 

            Lahti asked, “What are you doing here, in this remote place?”

       Bryce continued chewing pieces of elk heart, “Hunting elk,” he explained.  “Each year I backpack into the Idaho wilderness to pursue elk,” pausing, he then added, “and to leave the inauthentic world behind for a while.”

      Lahti’s vision was clear now, and there was just enough illumination from the campfire to show elk quarters hanging from a game pole in the background.  To one side of them, on the ground was the antlered skull from a massive bull elk.  It stared back at Lahti with empty eye sockets and an oddly passive insouciance. 

     “How about some tea?  Does that fall within your menu of acceptability?”  Before Lahti could answer, he continued, “Dehydration will worsen your problems exponentially.”

     “I don’t feel like having anything,” Lahti said, “I just want to get out of here.  I want to go—” She almost said, ‘home’, but stopped short—halted by the realization she no longer had one.  Not with Michael, anyway.

     “To that end,” Bryce replied, “if a search and rescue team doesn’t arrive in a few days, I will have no recourse but to lead you out of this wilderness myself.  It will be rigorous. So, prepare your psyche, and know that you will either have to eat meat at some point, or, you will die.”

     Bryce turned to the campfire and poured some tea from a small pot into a metal cup and handed it to her without giving her an option of refusal.  Lahti could now see Bryce’s face in detail.  He was about her own age; thirtyish, she guessed.  His features were sculpted; his cheekbones and chin were pronounced and angular.  There was a handsome ruggedness to him, and it all seemed to fit so perfectly to the mountain wilderness that one might assume it had birthed him.

    “This tea is all I need,” Lahti assured him, adding, “I regularly fast.  I do it for both my body and the planet.”

     “Have you ever fasted with a severe concussion,” Bryce asked, “or while facing the prospect of an arduous trek out of steep, mountainous terrain?”  A trace of condescension was unmistakable.

     Lahti had no choice but to consider the situation.  He was, after all, helping to save her life.  Perhaps she would have to make concessions to assist him, and to help herself as well. 

     “I guess I should share the irony with you,” Lahti said.  She stared at him for a long moment.  “Animals are my friends.  I absolutely deplore hunting.  And now, here I am, beholden to a hunter…of all people!” 

    “Ironic, indeed,” Bryce replied, as a tiny smirk tightened his lips. He then noted, “It’s odd how you remember that you are a vegan, and an antihunter, but not how you came to be wandering these woods.  I suspect there are things you aren’t telling me.”

     Lahti didn’t respond. She was uneasy.  There was a penetrating quality to the way Bryce looked at her.  She felt mentally naked, as if he were attempting to voyeur her mind through a peephole.

   At that moment, a pack of wolves howled at an alarmingly close distance.  Lahti stiffened with apprehension.

  “Sounds like some of your friends are coming to dinner,” Bryce said.

You have proudly finished your masterpiece. The files are ready, the cover is designed, and you are ready to get your books printed. This is when some questions start popping up: What about copyright? How do I get a barcode on the back of my book? Do I need an ISBN number? How long does copyright registration take? Should I have done that a while ago?

These are questions we are commonly asked before orders are placed. If you are planning on selling your books in stores or online, you will need an ISBN and barcode. Luckily, we have made this process easy for you. You can request an ISBN and barcode on your online order form with us. Once the order is submitted, we will send you the application to fill out, then we will submit it on our end. Once we receive the ISBN, we generate the barcode for you and place it on your back cover! If you left a space on your copyright page for the ISBN, we will fill it in for you as well.