The first and second teams were assembled. Team one and I would go in first to establish a basic net line of forty yards apart. We had a few hours of daylight left so this would be our test run as well as establish a coverage area to work from. Team two would come in expanding gaps throughout and would create curled flanks early in the maneuver to catch any attempt to get around the search net. Everything was underway. We spread slowly and quietly across the forest moving up the hill looming over the campsite. Everyone was instructed to plant flags at radio points which will be announced every one-hundred yards. The coverage line would peak at seven-hundred and sixty yards wide, over half a mile. Once flags are set up and distance markers placed they could cover a great deal tomorrow. I made a mental note to call for county sheriffs, state troopers, and forest rangers to assist in the morning. This target had nowhere to run. Once he had officially become a “missing persons” I would have all the support needed. Preston was on the radio announcing hundred yard markers. We were to go two-thousand yards, but we were a few hundred yards shy of the target distance when I noticed that the setting sun. I decided to call it after the next radio communication from Preston.
I pulled my radio to my face, “Trevor to team leaders.”
“Go for team two.”
“Go for team one.”
“It is getting late, return to base camp, drop distance markers at current locations, over.”
“Copy, copy,” the radio reported. That is when the first scream echoed through the woods. More screams, a gun shot rang out.
“That was close to me, sir,” Brooke said over the radio. “I’m going to check it out.”
“Negative, I do not want anybody to break lines and wander off. Attention all agents, ready weapons. Make your way back to camp collapsing the line. Go.” Looking to my left and right I could make out the two closest agents. I looked forward and found the flag. “Use distance flags to coordinate, let’s go people.” I was not yelling into the radio yet. The sound galloping came out of the woods. Another gun shot rang out from behind me. It had to be the closest agent. The scream that followed was brief. A large male deer had gored a female agent with curly blonde hair wearing a dark suit. He drove the woman into the ground and trampled her head and chest as he sprinted away. I pulled up my firearm and took a shot. Missed. There would not be a second shot as the animal was heading down the line with incredible speed. The cry of a mountain lion bounced called out. The impulse to go check on the downed agent was too strong to resist. I ducked and darted through the forested area and came upon the broken woman. Her head was caved in, and blood oozed from the tear in her face running cheek to forehead. I checked for vitals, there were none. A few more shots popped around the forest followed by more screaming. Something in the fading light roared.
I ran. The little red flag that I noticed earlier was no longer noticeable. Running blind was a horrible idea, but there was nothing left to do. Low branches and scrub limbs caught on my cloths and scratched at exposed flesh. More gun fire and then a little zipping noise whipped past my head forcing me to stop in my tracks, disturbing the delicate leaves hanging near my face. A small piece of soft green leaf floated down to my shoe and almost landed on it. I looked around, but nobody seemed to be near me. I once again pulled up the radio.
“Team leaders report, over.” The only sound I could hear at that moment was a soft hiss from the radio. “Brooke, Preston, do you copy?” Base camp. “Base camp, do you read?” I began to jog down the incline of the terrain. Pausing to put in some radio noise, I also checked my weapon. I would be ready. Nothing came back. A nine millimeter popped one last shot off somewhere in the dusk. I could not find a flag. More time elapsed and more light ebbed away until darkness fell. Wandering in the dark would net me nothing and expend too much energy. I faced the fact that I would spend this night in the woods if nobody came for me. “Just a little further,” I said to myself. Darkness settled into the woods, so I stopped to listen and watch. No movement disturbed the moonless night; no sound aided my search. The tree frogs and crickets began to perform their nightly serenade. I found a spot that was rock free and sat. Pulling my holster from my belt I began to fantasize about what I was going to do to Skip Estes. If anyone had made it out, there was a good chance that agents at camp might come looking for everyone, if camp was still intact. I did not sleep. When I noticed that the sun was coming up I knelt, crossed my hands, and gazed into the tree tops.
“Lord, thank you for sparing me from last night’s violence. Please give me the strength to persevere through this trial and catch my quarry. He has brought great suffering down on those that would seek to glorify your name. Please accept the fallen in their quest to serve you, so that they will now sit at your side in Heaven. Amen.”
Standing made me stretch. I relieved myself and hit the radio again. “This is agent Trevor Marks, does anyone copy?” I began to move down the slope of the hill again repeating the message into the receiver. I do not know how long I wandered that morning, but before I decided to rest the radio’s power ended.
I leaned against a tree to catch my breath. The sun was already behind the hill tops and the morning was fast approaching. I looked around the surrounding forest for signs of motion. Nothing but stillness. I had failed, once again. I decided to seek guidance once again, and I went to my knees.
“God, I am lost. I don’t know where my teams are, or if any survived at all. I don’t know if they are safe or have fallen. I pray that anyone alive is at least as safe as I am now, forgive me for failing you once again. I am yours to guide.” There was no answer. I pulled my cell phone from my inner pocket. I still had a fair charge on it. I dialed to base camp, no answer. Why was there no answer among my agents at camp? Maybe 911. It began to ring.
“911 what is your emergency?”
“My group and I have become separated and lost in the national forest, a deer has killed at least one of us. We need help.”
“Yes Sir, is this your mobile phone?”
“Okay, please leave your phone on, search and rescue teams will attempt to find you by tracking it. If you can find a clearing noticeable from the air that may improve your chances of being detected. Can you build a fire?”
“No, I have no ignition source. Also there were about fifteen of us out here, but like I said, we have become separated.”
“Yes, Sir. If you can risk the battery power you should text them and tell them to call 911 so they may be traced and tracked as well. Don’t spend any time calling them as your battery power is the only lifeline we have to your location. Do you understand, sir?”
“Yes, I’ll do it. Thank you.”
“Find a clearing as soon as you are able, that is the best way for our helicopters to spot someone on the ground. Good luck sir, if you have any questions or your situation worsens you can call back, but be cautioned your battery is your best chance right now. Okay.”
“Good luck, Sir.”
I ended the call and began to text my team leaders. No one responded. I searched for a clearing for a while until I became exhausted. Hunger ate at my gut and thirst tore at my throat.
I did not know my way back to base camp so I decided to look for a clearing. There had to be teams of search and rescue out right now looking for us. After several hours the terrain seemed soften up. I could smell fresh water in the air giving me hope at least that there would be some drinkable water close. The sound of moving water began to tease my ears. It looked like there might be a clearing through the forest. I pressed harder. I broke from the forest edge to find myself at a little muddy shore line facing a small river. The water directly in front of me was smooth and calm but just thirty yards to my left was a wash of mild but churning rapids. I knelt at the water’s edge and ladled the muddy water into my mouth uttering “Thank you, Christ,” in between every few gulps. I stood regaining some composure. The water was gamey but exactly what was needed. I hoped this was a sign of good fortune. The river would lead me to civilization. Perhaps a bridge or a little town intersects. As I began to turn to the right to follow the stream down a boat spun out of the rough water to float on the smoother water. There was a man with his back to me sitting in it. The boat slowly turned and I held my arm up, getting ready to wave when I saw his face. The very same face that was staring at me from a photograph only days ago now sat in the old boat right in front of me. I pulled up my black 9mm, took aim, and squeezed the trigger.