Woods Runner - By Gary Paulsen Page 0,2

they took turns. Later he read to himself and knew the joyous romp of words on paper. He read all the books they had in the cabin and then books from other cabins in the valley so that he could know more and more of a world found only in his imagination and dreams.

To the east lay the faraway world of enormous cities and the Great Sea and Europe and Ancient Rome and Darkest Africa and the mysterious land of the Asias and so many people they couldn’t be counted. All kinds of different people with foreign languages and their knowledge of strange worlds.

To the east lay polished shoes and ornate clothes and formal manners and enormous wealth. His mother would spin tales for him about cultured men who wore carefully powdered wigs and dipped snuff out of little silver snuffboxes and beautiful women dressed in gowns of silk and satin with swirling petticoats as they danced in the great houses and exclusive salons of London and Paris.

Now. The deer stepped out. It stood in complete profile not thirty yards away. Samuel held his breath. He waited for it to turn away, look around in caution. When it did, he raised the rifle and cocked the hammer, pulling it back as quietly as he could, the sear dropping in with a soft snick. The rifle had two triggers, a “set” trigger that armed a second, front trigger and made it so sensitive that a mere brush released the hammer. He moved his finger from the set trigger and laid it next to but didn’t touch the hair trigger. Then he settled the German silver blade of the front sight into the tiny notch of the rear sight and floated the tip of the blade sight until it rested just below the shoulder of the young buck.

Directly over its heart.

A half second, no, a quarter second passed. Samuel could touch the hair trigger now and the hammer would drop, the flint would scrape the metal “frizzen,” kicking it out of the way and showering sparks down on the powder in the small pan, which would ignite and blow a hot jet of gas into the touch hole on the side of the barrel of the rifle, setting off the charge, propelling the small .40-caliber ball down the bore. Before the buck heard the sound of the rifle, the ball would pass through the heart and out the other side of the deer, killing it.

And yet he did not pull the trigger. He waited. Part of a second, then a full second. And another. The deer turned, saw him standing there. With a convulsive explosion of muscle, it jumped straight in the air. It landed running and disappeared into the trees.

The whole time Samuel had not really been thinking of the deer, but what lay east. Of what they called civilization. He eased the hammer of the rifle down to the first notch on the sear, a safety position, and lowered the weapon. Oddly, he wasn’t disappointed that he’d not taken the deer, though the fresh meat would have been nice roasted over the hearth. He’d killed plenty of deer, sometimes ten or fifteen a day, so many they could not possibly eat all the meat. He often shot them because the deer raided the cornfields and had to be killed to save the crops. Most families did not like deer meat anyway. They considered it stringy and tough and it was often wormy. The preferred meat was bear or beaver, which were richer and less “cordy.”

This deer would have been nice. They had not had fresh meat in nearly two weeks. But it was gone now.

He could not stop his wondering about what lay to the east. The World. It was supposed to be a better place than the frontier, with a more sensible way to live. And yet he had just learned an ugly truth about that world only the evening before.

Those people in the world who were supposed to be civilized, full of knowledge and wisdom and graciousness and wealth and education, were caught in the madness of vicious, bloody war.

It did not make any sense.

Samuel started trotting back toward the cabin in an easy shuffle-walk that moved him quietly and at some speed without wearing out his moccasins; he was lucky to get a month per pair before they wore through at the heels.

He moved without a great deal of effort, his eyes and ears missing very little