The following is adapted from the novel Let the Right One In by John A. Linqvist and the film bearing the same name. The characters in this work are those of Mr. Linqvist and no copyright protection is asserted to this work.
It was near dusk and he had waited only 45 minutes when the doe stepped into view from behind a screen of heavy scrub and saplings about 175 yards down the snow-covered mountainside. She moved cautiously, approaching him at an angle. She was big as does went, and had no fawns. He would have preferred a buck, but was hunting for food so it did not matter.
The light wind was blowing the flurries up the mountain and she could not smell him. She did not look up and see him in his tree stand when silently he raised his rifle, established his sight picture through the scope, and clicked off the safety. When at last she turned and presented her flank, he took her with a single shot which he was pretty sure went in just behind the front leg. The wooden comb bucked against his stubbly cheek. The report was like a thunderclap in the cold November air.
But she did not go down. Instead, she leapt up as if struck by lightning, showed him her tail, and bolted away, crashing down through the brush. He marked the spot of the hit in his mind, listened and watched as long as he dared, then unloaded his gun and climbed down.
When he reached the place, he picked up her blood trail and began to track her. He was fairly certain he had gotten her in the lungs, and didn’t think she’d go too far. Hopefully he would be able to find and field dress her before it got completely dark. The sky was slate gray with low-hanging clouds pregnant with snow, and the flurries picked up as the wind blew harder. The gloom deepened as the sun, somewhere behind the cloud layer, started to slip behind the top of the mountain at his back.
He tracked her path for a good five minutes, picking his way through the brambles from one spot of blood to the next. He enjoyed tracking, and relished the smoky, autumnal air. He had always loved this time of year.
When he was beginning to fear that he had lost his doe, he spotted her lying down in a shaggy patch of undergrowth a stone’s throw from the little stream that meandered down the mountainside; Brehman’s Brook, his grandfather had called it, although no one knew who Brehman was, even in Granddad’s time.
He waited, watching for movement, and when he was certain there was none, he approached. She was dead. He checked the entrance and exit wounds and was pleased with his shot; was a little surprised that she had managed to get as far as she did. But then, you never knew about deer; they could do strange things. He pulled her out, tied one of the back legs to a tree, and eviscerated her.
He saw it after he had cut the esophagus free and was taking a breather: a small, cave-like opening beneath a dark granite ledge, nearly hidden behind a thick tangle of juniper. He had not seen it at first because when coming down the mountain it was well-hidden from view; in fact, he doubted he would ever have noticed it had the deer not laid down to die so close by.
Curious, he rubbed his bloody hands clean in a patch of undisturbed snow and took out his flashlight. Then he pushed his way through the brush, stooped down and peered in. Froze; and then looked again, harder.
There was a body in the little cave in its farthest, back-most reaches, wrapped up in a blanket or sheet of some kind. No movement, so it must be dead. But there was no odor of decay. Because of the angle of the crevice, he was not able to see all of it at first, so he crouched lower.
He didn’t know what to do, and for a considerable time he just squatted there, the tendons in his calves beginning to protest, slowly shining his light up and down the mysterious, shrouded figure, as if doing so would provide more, much-needed clues about the situation. But it didn’t. The only way he was going to find out more was to . . .
He debated whether to do it. Was it a crime scene? Should he just take his nice big deer back to the cabin, and report what he found tomorrow?
He rejected the idea. He had to see; to know. That was the way he had always been. So he ducked down even further and crawled in.
There wasn’t much clearance--maybe 25 inches at the mouth and becoming less and less as he reached the back. He barely had any headroom at all and, forgetful, knocked his cap off as he started in. It was dry and even colder inside, and the body was surrounded by drifts of leaves. He thought about rattlesnakes and how they would like a place like this.
Finally he was close enough to touch it. The body was quite small—a child, wrapped up from head to toe.
He nudged it with his flashlight. It didn’t move. Of course not, he chided himself—why would it? It had to be dead; why else would it be here? Someone had killed this person and had decided to stow the body on his property. He shook his head. Some man’s evil, reaching out to touch him--right here.
He figured out where the head and the feet were by the contours under the cloth, which turned out to be a piece of old canvas, not a blanket. He prodded the body again, harder this time, and when it still did not move, he grabbed it where he figured the ankles must be and began to pull it out. The body was very light, and he had no difficulty dragging it into the open. A child, no doubt. And what horrible things had been done to her? Or him?
He released the body when it was halfway out, and used his feet and hands to break down the bushes at the entrance of the cave and make some room. He wanted to see it first, before he picked it up and moved it into the clearing where the deer lay on its back with its chest laid open. He wanted to know what he’d be holding close to himself. The body was not tied in any way and was only loosely wrapped, moreso now that he had moved it.
Once he had made some space, he moved the body the rest of the way out. Then he got his flashlight in hand, braced himself for the worst, and pulled the canvas away from the head.
It was, indeed, a child. He was not sure if it was a boy or a girl. Couldn’t be more than twelve, by the looks of it. And no sign of any injury.
The child looked for all the world like it was asleep. But deathly pale, not moving; the paleness of the skin accentuated by the rich blackness of the hair.
A spider crawled across its forehead and instantly he brushed it away with a twist of revulsion. There was no reaction to his light, or to the touch of his hand.
He frowned; then pulled the shroud away a little more, exposing the upper torso. She was wearing a dark blue sweatshirt, and her arms lay loosely between the chest and stomach. He couldn’t remove any more of the canvas without lifting up the body, and he was not ready to do that.
He knelt by its side, completely puzzled. The cold, wet snow began to seep in through his pants and chill his knees. He studied the features more carefully, and decided it was a she. Could be wrong, but that was preferable than continuing to think of her as an it.
Snowflakes had begun to adhere to her eyelashes. Tentatively, he reached out and touched one cheek. It was cold, but not frozen hard. And flawless, he realized; like the skin of his daughter when she had just been born over thirty years ago.
He move his hand slightly and put it under her nose; waited to feel movement with the hair on the back. Nothing. Carefully he took ahold of a forearm and tried to move her arm. It moved freely. Can’tbe, he thought. She should be stiff with rigor mortis, but she wasn’t. His frown deepened.
He gently touched the center of her chest with two fingers, but there was no rise or fall. He carefully grasped one slender wrist and felt for a pulse. Waited . . . and waited. Nothing. She had to be dead, but—wait. There it was: a single beat. Or was it? He wasn’t sure, so he waited some more, trying not to press too hard on the artery with his fingertips. Almost an entire minute passed for before he felt another, very faint.
He scooted a little closer, shined his light directly into her face, and hesitantly pulled back an eyelid. The black eye beneath was pinpoint but not glassy, and it reacted a little as the photons struck the retina. He let out a little gasp and dropped the lid back. Straightened, and began to think.
Must be some kind of drug. A paralyzing agent. He tried to think of what might do it. What was that stuff called--Curare? The Indians with their blowpipes. But wasn’t that a poison? It was the only thing he could think of, but he didn’t think it was right.
It was now completely dark. He would have to abandon the deer—the child was more important. He gathered his gear, put his miner’s lamp on, and slung his rifle over his shoulder. He wrapped the canvas back around the girl and, worried about keeping her warm, was careful to leave only her face exposed. Then he picked her up and began to find his way back to the cabin in the inky, snowswept blackness.