He crashed heavily to the ground, as if attached to an invisible tether; got up, ran once more, and fell again.
The cows and calves in his herd, as well as the younger bulls, stared at him, trying to discern his meaning, and disoriented, too, by the sudden explosive sound.
They stared at the source of the sound Jyl had risen to her feet and was watching the great bulls thrashings, wondering whether to shoot again, and still the rest of the herd stared at her with what she could recognize only as disbelief.
The bull got up and ran again. This time he did not fall, having figured out, in his grounded thrashings, how to accommodate his strange new dysfunction so as to not impede his desire, which was to escape and with one leg and shoulder tucked high against his chest, like a man carrying a satchel, and his hind legs spread wider for stability, he galloped off, running now like a horse in hobbles and with his immense mahogany-colored rack tipped back for balance: what was once his pride and power was now a liability.
The rest of the herd turned and followed him into the timber, disappearing into the forests embrace almost reluctantly, still possessing somehow that air of disbelief; though once they went into the timber, they vanished completely, and for a long while she could hear the crashing of limbs and branches as if she had unleashed an earthquake or some other world force and the sounds grew fainter and farther, and then there was only silence.
Not knowing any better, back then, she set out after the herd rather than waiting to let the bull settle down and lie down and bleed to death.
She didnt know that if pushed a bull could run for miles with his heart in tatters, running as if on magic or spirit rather than the conventional pumphouse mechanics of ventricles and aortas; that if pushed, a bull could run for months with his lungs exploded or full of blood. As if in his dying the bull were able to metamorphose into some entirely other creature, taking its air, its oxygen, straight into its blood, through its gaping, flopping mouth, as a fish does; and as if it were able still to disseminate and retrieve its blood, pressing and pulsing it to the farthest reaches of its body and back again without the use of a heart, relying instead on some kind of mysterious currents and desire the will to cohere far larger than its own, the blood sloshing back and forth, back and forth, willing the elk forward, willing the elk to keep being an elk.
Jyl had had it in her mind to go to the spot where the elk had first fallen even from where she was, fifty or sixty yards distant, she could see the patch of torn-up earth and to find the trail of blood from that point, and to follow it.
She was already thinking ahead, and looking beyond that first spot having not yet reached it when she walked into the barbed-wire fence that separated the national forest from the adjoining private property, posted against hunting, on which the big herd had been sequestered.
The fence was strung so tight that she bounced backwards, falling much as the elk had fallen, that first time; and in her inexperience, she had been holding the trigger on her rifle, with a shell chambered in case she should see the big bull again, and as she fell she gripped the trigger, discharging the rifle a second time, with a sound even more cavernous, in its unexpectedness, than the first shot.
A branch high above her intercepted the bullet, and the limb came floating slowly down, drifting like a kite. From her back, she watched it land quietly, and she continued to lie there, bleeding a little, and trembling, before finally rising and climbing over the fence, with its Posted signs, and continuing on after the elk.
Copyright © 2006 by Rick Bass. Reprinted by permission of Houghton Mifflin Company.
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