Vic leaned his head back against the trunk and silently cursed his life. He should have never drunk so much last night. He should have never slept under Alice’s table. He should have been more careful climbing Parson’s Ridge. He should have developed tougher bones. On the other hand he had a wonderful family, albeit his wife had been a bit harried lately with the new baby and all. He promised himself to spend more time at home and less time in the bottle from this point on. He pulled the remaining flask of whiskey from his pocket and set it on the ground between his legs. He stared at it.
The colour was a beautiful shade of gold that seemed to shimmer and glow in the falling snow. It beckoned him.
He lifted the bottle, pulled the cork and took a taste of the lovely brown liquor. It warmed him and he leaned his head back against the tree bark and enjoyed the amber glow in his belly.
He must have fallen asleep and when he woke; he woke with a start. Damn, he knew better than that; he needed to stay alert and awake. The cold would kill him if he slept. He took another swallow of the whiskey. Just to warm me and help me stay awake, he thought.
So cold. Shivering.
More whiskey – must get warm. Back and forth, he battled with himself. The whiskey warmed him but it was putting him to sleep, it was a fine line he trod and he felt himself losing.
The next time he woke the cold was bitter and his legs were completely covered with a blanket of snow. Raising his face skyward he bellowed as loud as he could and then listened to the echoing silence; hoping for a reply. The snow covered forest didn’t make a peep. It didn’t make a single sound.
Vic finished the bottle and pushed himself up straighter against the trunk of the tree. He grimaced from the pain in his leg.
Gotta stay awake. He was already unconscious when his eyes closed that final time. It was peaceful and the snow continued to fall softly in the forest.
“At the risk of sounding callous and uncaring,” began Charlene, “How is this even possible? How does a skeleton survive intact, in the open, in the forest? I mean, where are the scavengers? Where are the predators?” She stood straight and still, with her chin in her hand studying the scene. She looked like she was filing the picture away in her mind somewhere.
“I reckon it was the snow.” Sheriff Parsons said.
“How do you mean?” asked Hugo.
The sheriff went on, “if he died in the snow then there would have been little or no scent to draw animals, on account of the covering. The way that springtime works around here he could have thawed many times and been mostly decomposed before the cover of snow melted completely. That would have kept the larger scavengers away. I bet that Ole Victor here, wasn’t much more than a pile of bones by the time the snow melt was complete. Worms – that’s most likely where the flesh went. That’s most likely why the bones weren’t scattered all over these hills.”
“A bit gruesome,” said Hugo, “but plausible, I guess.”
“Let’s go back to the truck, I need to radio Doc, and fill him in. He’s going to have to get this guy back down to town and try to make a positive ID.”
Everyone turned and started back down the trail but Charlene didn’t move. She stayed still, staring. Eventually, she turned and watched the others make the first turn in the trail. She leaned down and eased the pistol out from beneath the dead man’s legs, clicked the hammer back and then eased it down again; checking the mechanism. She slipped it into her daypack and hurried to catch up with the others.
“Hey,” she yelled as she closed the gap, “you didn’t answer Hugo’s question, what happens to the land, if that’s Vic Samuels back there?”
Sheriff Parson stopped and turned to face her.
“In my experience there will be a protracted legal battle involving the Samuels’, the Davenports’, and the state; at the very least. After several years of motions and counter motions where the only folks making any money are the lawyers they’ll reach a settlement. One party, or another will pay a sum of money to another party, or parties. Said beneficiary, or beneficiaries, will promptly make a deal with Hixon, to cover their legal expenses. My guess is that nothing will change but it will be delayed some.”
Garrett shook his head like he didn’t approve of the Sheriff explaining to civilians how the system worked. Like outsiders weren’t supposed to know. After a time, Sheriff Parson turned again, and they all kept moving towards the truck.
For the wickedly brilliant prompt that began this game go here: Wed Stories: The Savage Outdoors . For my initial response try this link: Victor and Hugo. For part deux, penned by LRose – you gotta go here. Note that this is merely the latest installment – if you want to play along, please jump in!