Ed carefully slid his rifle case into the bed of Bob's pickup truck.
"... and I got us some butane hand warmers, and the weather radio, and coffee, and beer, and I brought extra socks just in case. Did you bring extra socks, Eddie?" Bob asked.
"Yeah." Ed hauled his duffle bag over the edge of the rear gate and wedged it between the tents and the wall of the truck cap. "And I brought my shotgun, and waders, just in case. But I keep feeling like I'm forgetting something."
"Aw, it's probably nothin'. And if it turns out it's mission-critical, it ain't like we can't drive back into town and hit the Wal-Mart. I think we're all set for a fine weekend of hunting, my man!"
They slammed shut the gate and piled into the cab of the truck. Bob cranked on the engine and the country music radio station while Ed poured them both mugs of hot coffee from his thermos.
"Man, this is gonna be great!" Ed exclaimed as they pulled out of the driveway. "I ain't had a good venison stew in I don't know how long!"
"Screw the venison," Bob snorted. "The way Betty's been giving me lip since I lost my job at the mill -- damn, I'm just glad I can finally shoot something!"
Two hours later, they got to the dead-end of a dirt road, deep in old Wyandotte territory. The 100-plus acres of land nominally belonged to Ed's uncle, but the old man let the place stay wild. He owned the land about as much as he owned the feral cats he fed on his back porch. It was one of the best places to hunt in the whole country, as long as you were careful not to go out too late in the fall.
Ed and Bob set up their base camp a few yards away from the truck, then slipped on their ammo vests and backpacks and strapped on their deer rifles.
"I still feel like I've forgotten something," Ed complained as they tromped through the trees.
"Jeez Louise, you're carrying forty pounds of crap," Bob replied. "What could you have possibly forgotten?"
They continued on to the first salt lick, where they spread fresh salt and dried apples to attract deer. The ensconced themselves in the nearby deer blind, popped open a beer apiece, and waited.
"Man, we should've seen something by now," Ed said as the sun started to sink below the horizon. "I ain't seen so much as a squirrel or dove come by."
"Yeah. This is definitely bad mojo. We best get back to base camp before we run out of sun," Bob replied.
They were halfway back to their camp when a low, booming roar tore through the silence of the woods.
"Shit! Get to cover!" Bob whispered.
The two men hustled over to a fallen log and crouched down behind it.
The roar boomed again, closer.
"Where's that coming from?" Ed asked.
The massive, cadaverous elk stepped into view from the trees. The creature was at least six feet tall at the shoulder. Decayed flesh hung in long, shaggy strips from its flanks, exposing the dull white ribs beneath. It pawed the ground with a cloven forefoot, and snorted, its putrescent breath steaming in the cold evening air.
"Shit. Wraith-wapiti. They ain't supposed to be out until late October," Bob whispered. "It must be hungry. That's why we ain't seen any critters out here today. It's et 'em all or run 'em off."
The light breeze shifted, and suddenly the men were upwind from the nightmare. The wapiti's head whipped around, and it fixed the men in an evil stare. Its eyes glowed like red embers. Rotting lips peeled back in a snarl, revealing rows of sharp, bloodstained teeth.
"Shitshitshit. Pass me the silver bullets, Eddie."
"Uh, Bob ..."
Bob looked at his buddy. Ed's face had turned deadly pale in the greying light.
"... I just remembered what I forgot."
And the forest echoed with the screams of the unprepared.