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Out of the Dark: Chapter One
Last updated: Monday, August 23, 2010 20:08 EDT
Year 74,065 of the Hegemony
So, fearless hunter, are you ready for your venture into the deepest, darkest wilderness? And did you pack enough pemmican and jerky?” Sharon Dvorak inquired with a sweet smile.
“Was that last question a shot?” her husband responded suspiciously. He turned and cocked an eyebrow in her direction. “It was, wasn’t it? It was a shot! Nay, a veritable aspersion — that’s what it was!”
“It’s sad to see a grown man — theoretically, at least — who’s so sensitive about these things.” Sharon sighed, shaking her head with infinite sadness.
“Yeah, sure!” Dave Dvorak snorted. “That from the woman who invented the word ‘zinger’! I know. You’re just being nasty because of that little faux pas the last time we took you hunting.”
“Oh?” Sharon widened her eyes innocently at him. “You wouldn’t be referring to that failure to bring along sufficient comestibles, would you? The memory failure — on my brother’s part, I believe you said — where the food was concerned?”
“It was not a memory failure,” Dvorak replied with immense dignity. “We simply regarded it as an opportunity for you to learn to subsist on the bounty of nature in the same fashion as us hardened hunter-gatherers. Nuts and berries, mushrooms instead of toadstools — that sort of thing.”
“I could’ve sworn I heard my beloved spouse bitching and moaning about ‘nuts and berries’ for that entire trip.”
“I’m sure your memory is simply playing you false.”
“Oh? Then you aren’t the one who said ‘I’ll trip him and sit on him while you go through his pockets for Slim Jims’?”
“Oh, I suppose the words might have slipped out somehow, since the greedy bastard wasn’t willing to share with us. I mean, because of the low blood sugar associated with starvation, of course,” Dvorak amended hastily. “Assuming any such episode had ever occurred, which I very much doubt.”
“Oh, of course not.”
Sharon shook her head and smacked him — gently, for her — across the top of the head. She had to stand on tiptoe to manage it, since he was a full foot taller than her own five feet two, but she’d had plenty of practice over the years.
He grinned down at her and wrapped both arms around her. She was exactly the right height to hug with his chin resting on the crown of her head, and he closed his eyes as he savored the embrace.
“You sure you don’t want to come with us?” he asked in a much more serious voice. “Rob and I can still make room. And your tree stand’ll fit just fine.”
“You two can go out and sit in the woods in the rain if you want. Me, I’m staying home and curling up in front of the TV with that nice box of chocolates someone bestowed upon me — no doubt while in the grip of a guilty conscience.”
“It may stop raining, you know,” Dvorak pointed out, studiously ignoring the rain pattering on the roof even as he spoke.
“Yeah, and the horse may learn to sing.” Sharon shook her head, but she also smiled at him. “Go on. Have fun. I’ll even smear on the VapoRub when you come dragging home with pneumonia. But don’t expect me to come to your rescue when your loving kids look at you reproachfully across a plate of Bambi stroganoff.”
“Hah! As if that silly movie ever slowed any of your carnosaur offspring for a minute. Velociraptors don’t care where the meat came from as long as it’s fresh, you know.”
“Of course they don’t. But you know they’re not going to pass up the chance to cast their woebegone gazes upon you.” Sharon shook her head. “And don’t blame me! It’s your mother’s fault.”
Dvorak considered that for a moment, seeking a proper rejoinder. None came to him, so he contented himself with sticking out his tongue and making a rude noise. Then he kissed her cheek quickly, gave her another squeeze, and headed out to the waiting pickup.
“So did she give you a hard time?”
“I’ll have you know,” Dave Dvorak told his brother-in-law, Rob Wilson, severely, “that I am the master of my house hold. My lightest whim is law, my least desire instantly realized by all about me.”
“Sure.” Wilson rolled his eyes. “You do remember that I’ve known my sweet little sister for, oh, the better part of forty years?”
“If that’s the case, then I think you might want to reconsider the phrase ‘the better part of ‘ when it comes in front of that particular number,” Dvorak replied.
“I can still take her three falls out of four,” Wilson replied, elevating his nose slightly.
“I seem to remember a Thanksgiving dinner when she got hold of your asp and pretty nearly broke your right kneecap,” Dvorak said in a reminiscent tone.
“Only because I didn’t want to hurt her.”
“Yeah, sure.” Dvorak looked away from the road for a moment to grin at his brother-in-law. “You sure you weren’t afraid she was the one who was going to hurt you?”
“Well, I guess the possibility — the remote possibility, you understand — had crossed my mind,” Wilson allowed. Both of them chuckled, and Dvorak returned his attention to the rain-streaked windshield.
The two men got along well. Dvorak, an NRA-certified firearms instructor, ran an indoor shooting range. Wilson, after twenty years in the U.S. Marine Corps, had gone into law enforcement. He’d risen to sergeant with one of the smaller upstate municipalities and served as the force’s designated marksmanship instructor before a high-speed car chase and a nasty collision led to a broken leg, significant loss of mobility, and a medical retirement. One of the best pistol shots Dvorak had ever met (he routinely ran the tables in the once-a-week pin-shooting contests at Dvorak’s range), he’d moonlighted helping Dvorak out while he was on the force. He’d gotten his own NRA certification back when he was his police force’s senior instructor, as well, so it had been logical for him to buy an interest in the business and go to work there full-time. It was a comfortable arrangement, and one which gave both of them the opportunity to expend a great deal of ammunition every week… and get paid for it. Sharon Dvorak and Veronica Wilson referred to it as “boys and their toys,” but neither Dvorak nor Wilson minded that. Anyway, both of the women had been known to out-shoot them.
Deer season was one of their favorite times of year, although as he looked out the windshield at the day’s weather Dvorak wondered exactly why that was. Of course, it was only five o’clock. There was plenty of time for the weather to get better before dawn, he reminded himself.
At the moment they were on US- 276, headed towards the small town of Travelers Rest, with their ultimate destination the Caesars Head/Jones Gap Wildlife Management Area just south of the South Carolina-North Carolina state line. Dvorak’s deer season had been disappointing to date — he’d only gotten to use up one of his tags so far — and Wilson had been fairly insufferable about it, since he only had one tag left. Had the ratio been reversed, Dvorak suspected, he would have opted to remain warmly in bed this sodden October morning. Such, alas, was the weakness of his character.
Well, he thought, leaning forward and peering through the upper quadrant of the windshield at the still black heavens, at least if I do fill a tag today, I’ll have damn well earned it. He grinned, sitting back again. I can see it now. “Here, woman — hunter brings back food. Go. Cook!” He shook his head. I’d be lucky if she didn’t decide to cook me! Assuming, of course, that I wasn’t the cook in the first place.
Thunder rumbled overhead, loud enough to be audible even through the hissing sound of tires on rain-soaked asphalt, but he studiously failed to hear it.
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