Downrigger Drift
didn’t charge and impale him first.
    The deer shook its huge head, the antlers shaking back and forth. Then, it reared up on its back legs for a moment before shooting forward, right at him.
    Ryan’s palm slapped the stock, and he pushed the rifle off his shoulder. The weapon fell into his right hand, and he twisted it around to bring it up.
    The buck accelerated, gaining speed with every step, its pounding hooves seeming to shake the very ground as it hurtled toward him.
    Ryan clapped his left hand on the stock as he raised and aimed the rifle, knowing there’d only be one shot before the animal was upon him. Dropping to one knee, he fixed the animal’s chest in his sights, hoping to fire before it lowered its head to impale him on the sharp forest of bone rushing at his face and chest.
    The deer was less than ten yards away when Ryan shot, just as it began to lower its head. The 7.62 mm bullet smashed into its nose, slicing through it into the mouth, where it split the tongue in two before continuing its tumbling flight, exiting the jaw and carrying a fist-sized chunk of its neck away, including severing the main artery that carried blood to the brain. Seconds away from dying, the gigantic deer stumbled and nearby fell, but its inertia carried it forward in one final lunge, as if it was trying to kill the lowly creature that had just destroyed it.
    Ryan skipped back as the huge head slammed into the earth right where he had been standing, the body thudding into the ground right behind it. Sucking in a deep breath, he wiped sweat from his brow before cautiously approaching the massive animal. It tried to lash out at him one last time as he walked forward, but could only move its head weakly from side to side. Drawing his panga, and careful to avoid the lethal rack in case the buck was faking, Ryan knelt and slit its throat, his mouth watering at the idea of fresh meat. Within ten minutes he’d bled it out as best as he could, then hacked off a massive portion of a hindquarter, and hoisted it onto his back, heedless of the blood dripping on his new pants. He headed back to the redoubt entrance, his mouth watering in anticipated taste of roasted deer steak.

Chapter Fourteen
    The next few days passed in relative comfort. J.B. and Jak responded well to Mildred’s improvised antibiotic cocktail; both awoke the next day, and were strong enough to eat some of the venison soup with dried garlic and wild onion Ryan and Krysty had made in one of the giant stainless-steel pots in the kitchen.
    After bringing his bounty back to the kitchen, Ryan had found a small handcart and several large black plastic bags. Pushing the load back out to his kill, he found a small band of savage, skinny coyotes already eyeing his prize. A few carefully placed shots had scared them away, and Ryan had taken his time carving off the best pieces before it spoiled in the hot sun, knowing there would be more than enough left for the scavenging pack to feast on after he was done. The refrigerator in the kitchen worked just fine, and he’d wheeled the whole cart inside and hung the cuts in the chill air. That night’s meal, chunks of venison roasted over an open flame, was one of the best in his memory.
    He’d spent the next couple of days exploring the rest of the redoubt, and some of the outlying buildings, always careful to keep the Steyr handy in case he ran into another big buck. Although he spotted some in the parched fields nearby, the stink of the decomposing deer’s body had to have kept them away.
    Most of the buildings were ruins, filled with rustyremains of unidentifiable equipment that often crumbled to powder when he picked them up. However, one of the more promising ones was still intact, albeit with a rusty lock that broke in his hand when he picked it up. Ryan forced the resisting door open and stood next to the square of sunlight that pierced the interior gloom, just in case someone had beaten him to whatever was inside. When he was

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