Disclaimer: Don't own, don't sue.
(A.N.) This was a challenge given to me by a friend. Hope it is enjoyed.
Emmett McCarty had not left his home that day in August expecting to die.
He had woken before the sun rose, done the same chores he'd done every day of his twenty years of life, and took his same customary journey into the dense woods that surrounded his family's home on the outskirts of Gatlinburg, Tennessee.
Rifle slung over his shoulder, he trudged through the trees, taking note of game trails. Not that he could hunt in the area. Almost all the land that wasn't owned privately was converted into a state park. Too much logging, or something of that nature. However, he'd be a right fool to venture into the woods at the base of the mountains without a firearm. And Emmett was many things, but a fool was not one of them.
As Emmett passed further into the shelter of the trees, he heard the sounds of Gatlinburg fade behind him. The sounds of sheep and farmers, the faint whistle of the midday train… These were exchanged for the rustle of the wind in the leaves, birds singing and frogs croaking.
Emmett paused for a short moment, closing his eyes and breathing in the heavy scent of decaying leaves. This was a special place to him. In these woods, he didn't have to worry about caring for his younger brothers and sister. In these woods, his father was not pushing him to find a young woman to settle down with.
At this thought, Emmett's mouth pulled down into a sharp frown. There was not a single woman in Gatlinburg that he would have. There was no life to these loggers' daughters, with their coarse hands and tired eyes. They looked at Emmett as an escape from the homes of their fathers. They had no care for him. Hell, they'd probably wait for the day when he was cut in half by a saw or mauled by a bear.
Unconsciously, his hand tightened around his Winchester. There had been sightings of bears reported for the past month, and just last week they'd lost Joseph Greene to one of the beasts. Emmett had heard that the animal had been shot and killed shortly after, but that did not ease him. Where there was one bear, there could always be another.
The dark-haired young man continued on his way, treading carefully to avoid tripping or making undue amounts of noise. But, as time when on and he saw no bears or mountain lions, he relaxed. Bold as always, he followed game trails, marking trees with his belt knife as he went. As well as he knew this nick of the woods, he still didn't want to chance being lost when the sun slipped below the horizon. As it was, midday had already passed. 'Bout time to head home, he mused, grazing up at the sinking sun. Been out here for three hours already. Momma would have a fit if I wasn't back for supper. Emmett's mother was a rather formidable woman and even he, with his father's large built and confidence, didn't cross her often.
He had travelled perhaps a quarter of the way home when he heard it. The cracking of branches on the forest floor, the low growl of an animal that was preparing to protect its territory.
Rifle pressed to his shoulder, Emmett swung to his left with the instincts being a country boy afforded him. Not twenty feet from him was the bear. All four-hundred pounds of it.
"Goddamn," Emmett swore, pumping the bolt action rifle to chamber the .32 ammunition. His knees shook. If the bear charged, he would have one shot to kill it. Only one. And he'd have to catch it in the eye. Anywhere else, he might as well be shooting the air for all the good it would do. "C'mon, girl, just walk away." The whisper felt as loud as a Gettysburg cannon to his ears.
Struggling to control his breathing and his shaking hands, he held the rifle steady. A prayer moved on his lips. Almighty God, who gives strength to the weak and upholds those who might fall, give me courage…
The bear lowered it's head, a snarl rumbling in it's chest.
Make me brave to face any danger that may now threaten me…
Fear riding him, Emmett panicked. He cursed, his finger tightening on the trigger. The bullet leapt from the gun with all the power one would expect. And if he'd been aiming at anything but a bear, he would have dropped the animal mid-charge.
But he was shooting at a bear.
And he did not shoot it through the eye.
The bullet, as large as it was, struck the animal's skull and glanced off the thick barrier of bone.
Emmett barely had time to register this fatal error before the bear plowed into him, all angry claws and teeth. He screamed, feeling powerful jaws close around his shoulder. Saber-tipped paws ripped through his cotton shirt, slicing the flesh beneath.
The animal threw him this way and that, like a terrier worrying a bone. Emmett screamed himself hoarse. He felt bones crack, skin tear.
And then, all of a sudden, it was over. The bear froze, it's growl turning almost into a whine. It backed away, leaving him on his back, torn and bloody. And dying. His vision had already started to blacken, a lace-like patter creeping in at the edges of his eyes.
He knew he was dying. He even saw the angel that had come to deliver him from this mortal earth, just as lovely and shining as the Baptist pastor had said. Yellow hair framed her pale face, her eyes a divine shade of gold. And her skin… It sparkled, like the surface of a creek midday or his mother's crystal pendent.
As his eyes slipped closed, he missed the distraught expression on the young woman's face. "No…" She closed her arms around him, lifting him with all the ease of her vampiric strength. I must get him to Carlisle. The smell of blood was intoxicating, but she summoned up every ounce of will she still possessed. She would not let this innocent-looking man, with his curls and dimples, pass from the world. Not while he could still have… Well, anything. The golden-haired woman took off through the woods, determined to cross the mountains in time.
Emmett McCarty had not left his house that day planning to die.
'Twas lucky for him that he was offered a second chance.
(A.N.) Please Review. :D