by Ben James
Two brothers find a bag while hunting, but they're not the only ones that want it.
| The two brothers stood over the bag, too apprehensive to touch it. They cast nervous glances back and forth, both hoping the other would volunteer to see what was inside. The bag, which was half buried in the snow, was dark blue with a large black zipper running down the middle.
Fifteen minutes before, they had been slowly stalking a herd of elk, slipping quietly through the large trunks of the pine forest, boots sinking in the powdery snow, immense effort required to retract them quietly and move them again. They crested a hill, and while taking a break from their hard hike watched the elk mill about in the valley. As they murmured to each other about what route to take into the valley for the best shots, a low hum began to fill the sky. They watched as the elk heard it, and some slowly lifted their heads to see what the disturbance was.
A small plane, maybe a Cessna, or something like it, crested the next peak, traveling from west to east. It was flying low, lower than any plane should fly in the mountains, and much slower than either brother thought would have been normal. It hung in the air like a bird fighting a headwind, slowly making progress toward the horizon. The brothers watched patiently, each silently hoping the herd of elk would not be spooked and leave the valley. One elk would feed their families for most of the winter.
As the plane hovered just over the valley where the elk grazed, the brothers watched, in both horror and amazement, as the pilot threw something out.
They watched as the object fell quickly, and the younger brother groaned as it hit the valley floor, sending white snow into the air. The elk bounded away quickly.
Now here they were, standing over the bag, fear and emotions coursing through their veins. They had discussed innumerable possibilities of what the object could be, and the consequences of finding it, both good and bad. Drugs, money, both? Something they couldn't imagine? What would be dropped out here for no one to find, or for someone to find when they were ready? They had finally decided, they need to know.
Now, seeing that it was a bag, both brothers saw the same question in the others eyes. What was inside?
The brothers snapped their heads around to look when a popping noise came from woods.
An old man, wearing a shabby coat, worn out boots, and carrying a shotgun pointed down towards the ground stood twenty feet away.
"Whatch you boys doin out here," the old man said.
"We were hunting," the oldest brother said, his grip tightening on his rifle, which was also pointed toward the ground. "We're allowed to be out here."
"Don't doubt thatcha are," the old man said. "Old man Hicks will let any ole sonabitch hunt his property." he spat a long stream of tobacco juice from his mouth, staining the white snow black.
The two brothers cast nervous looks at each other, neither not sure what to do.
After a moment the old man spoke. "Saw that there fall did ya. Thought you'd come to get it."
The youngest brother spoke now, "We were just curious is all, didn't know what it was."
"Well it's mine," the old man said.
"Ok," the youngest brother said. "We'll just leave you to it then."
"Drop them guns tho," the old man said. "Don't want you sonsabitch's sneaking up behind me later."
The two brothers exchanged a look. "Mister," the oldest brother said, "we where just checking out what fell out of that plane. We don't want any trouble."
"Ain't gonna be none, just drop them rifles and leave."
The younger brother spoke now, "I've had this rifle since I was thirteen, my father gave it to me, I'm not leaving it out here in the snow for you to steal old man."
The old man pointed the shotgun at him, "You'll drop it or go to hell boy."
Each brother froze. The seriousness in the old man's eyes was clear. He wanted the bag, and was prepared to do anything to get it.
"That bags for you?" the younger brother asked. "What's in it? Drugs, money?"
"Drop that gun, boy. Ain't gonna say it again."
The older brother slowly laid his rifle down on the ground. "See, mine's down. We just wanna leave, ok?"
The old man still had his shotgun trained on the younger brother. "Now you too, boy."
The younger brother stood there his rifle pointed at the ground. He looked at, it's solid black stock, barrel clean and well oiled, the gun his father had taught him to take care of, taught him to hunt with.
"I drop this gun and my family can't eat this winter."
"Ain't my problem." The old man spat again, strings of saliva dripping from his beard after.
The younger brother sighed. He looked into the old man's eyes and knew he would shoot him.
"You don't even know what's in it do you?" the younger brother asked.
The old man squeezed the trigger on his shotgun.
The hammer fell hard, and all three men blinked when it snapped down with an audible click. All three waited a heartbeat, but nothing happened.
"Shit!" the old man said quietly while he pulled the hammer back to try again.
The younger brother didn't wait. He swung his rifle towards the old man and pulled the trigger. The report was loud and unexpected by all men. The old man threw his hands back, the force of the bullet knocking him backward while the shotgun flew into the air.
The brothers looked at each other, shocked expressions on both their faces.
"What the hell did you do!" the older brother screamed. "You shot him."
"He tried to shoot me! I reacted."
Both brothers looked as the old man lay on a circle of red snow, moaning and rolling, trying to get up. They watched as he groped at the wound on his chest, then with a hand covered in blood, swatted his coat aside to grab a pistol on his hip.
"Don't," the older brother cried. "It was an accident. We'll get you to the hospital."
The old man either didn't hear or didn't care. His blood slicked hand yanked on the pistol on his belt over and over, slipping off the grip again and again. His eyes were rolling and tobacco spit ran down his beard and the front of his coat.
Finally, he managed to pull the pistol free, and waving it in the air wildly pulled the trigger, shooting in all directions. The brothers each dove behind a different tree, the shots ringing out behind them.
The shots rang out loudly until they heard the click of the gun as the old man ran out of bullets. The older brother peered around his tree and could see the old man laying where he had laid, chest moving up and down slowly. After what seemed like a long time, the old man's chest stopped moving altogether.
The brothers came from behind their trees and slowly crept up to where the old man lay.
His eyes and mouth were wide open and blood ran down from his mouth, mixing with the tobacco juice from before to create a thick black gel.
"Oh god, we killed him," the younger brother said.
"No, you killed him," the older brother responded. "You're the one that shot him."
"He tried to shoot me. Would have too, if his gun hadn't of misfired. Oh god," the younger brother leaned over and vomited in the snow.
His brother grabbed him and held him up, feeling him shaking in his arms.
"Oh god, what are we gonna do," the younger brother moaned.
"Listen, we have to get out of here," the older brother said. "We need to get the bag and go."
"The bag? Forget the bag man, a guy's dead, and I killed him. Forget it."
"We have to get it now," the older brother said. "Whatever's in it, we have to know now."
The older brother waited till his brother could support himself again, then moved toward the bag.
"Wait, what are you doing?"
"I'm going to open it."
"You can't. It might be drugs or something."
"That old man's dead now, he won't care. And besides, I don't think it was his. He was hunting just like us, he saw it fall too. He didn't know what was in it. Mean old bastard just didn't want us to have it. Now come look with me."
The brothers crouched down in the snow, the cold soaking through their pants into their knees.
"Ready," the older brother asked.
"Guess so," the younger brother said.
The older brother reached down, hoisted the bag out of the snow and pulled on the zipper to open it.
Thirty minutes earlier.....
The doctor had been flying for a couple hours when finally his stomach had decided that the huevos rancheros he had for breakfast had served their purpose and were no longer welcome. The hot sauce he had used probably hadn't helped either. He flew for a while thinking that he could hold it. Finally, with more than an hour left to get back to his home airport he knew something would have to be done. He couldn't hold it anymore and was horrified of the thought of soiling his clothes, or the seat of his plane. He just needed something he could use that he could throw out when finished. That’s when he remembered the bag for his equipment and snacks. It would be complicated. He could hold the stick while he did it, but he had to do it, there was no other way. He reached for the dark blue bag.