Cataloochee Man   A Novel


             
             




Chapter One

           With this kill, the hunter would eat well for weeks. His arrow had entered the deer’s chest and ruptured the animal’s heart as it passed through. The deer collapsed to the ground seconds after it was struck, struggled, and then lay still.
           The man knelt beside the animal and made certain that it was dead. He eviscerated the young doe and left a steaming pile of entrails that other animals would dine upon. The hunter positioned the carcass over his shoulders and walked away.        
            The day was both sunny and cool, a promising spring day. The hunter was traversing Cataloochee Divide Trail, a path so named because it follows the Cataloochee Divide, the mountain crest that marks the boundary of Great Smoky Mountains National Park. A wooden rail fence separated open pasture to the south from a vast forest to the north. Sullen, grass fields were hemmed in by panoramic swaths of brilliant snow. At this high altitude, snow could linger long after it had melted in the valleys.
         The hunter came this way in early spring because deer were plentiful then. He was walking downhill toward Cataloochee Valley at a slow, measured pace while surveying the landscape in all directions. He never overlooked the opportunity to acquire more game and never assumed that he, himself, was not being hunted.
          Then he saw her. A woman was riding from the east on a roan horse that was stepping up the slope toward him. At this time of year, few people were up so high on Cove Creek Ranch. The property bordered Great Smoky Mountains National Park. The hunter always melted into the forest upon seeing another person, but something about this woman made him linger. He hadn’t seen a woman in six months and hadn’t seen a woman he thought to be so beautiful in his lifetime.
          So he stood a moment longer, dressed in a hunting frock made of deerskin and ornamented with rawhide fringe down the seams. The hunter had pants of the same material that were decorated with fringe on the outside of each leg. He had the dead deer across his shoulders and a longbow positioned at his side. She hadn’t seen him, and he couldn’t turn his eyes from her.
         The woman had brown hair that hung in rivulets from the brim of her hat. Her hair framed dark eyes and sharp, sculptured features. She was dressed in brushed denim clothing, riding boots, and leather gloves.
          The hunter could see that she was talking and soon heard her voice. To him, it was a lovely, captivating sound, and he wanted to hear more.
           The woman folded her cell phone and looked up. When she saw him, she raised a hand to her mouth. The hunter stared for a moment longer and then merged with the foliage.




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