by Barry Wallace
It was a small clearing in a slight valley in the large sanctuary. A minor stream drifted through it on one side. The day was cooling, the setting sun quieting some of the forest’s sounds, awakening others. The residents began to settle in for the night. A bird trilled. Another answered. The brook’s waters bubbled around a large rock here and there, changing direction without complaint. The scene could have inspired a Disney film. The animal preserve was a safe haven for wildlife. Hunting was illegal, forbidden Many signs carried dire warnings in large red letters. But humans often didn't concern themselves with such things.
The hunters blended into their surroundings on the small hill. Camouflage fatigues made them almost invisible in the deepening twilight. The taller one lay nearly motionless, watching the clearing two hundred meters away. The shorter one scanned the area. The scopes on their rifles let them see easily, made every detail in the clearing seem close enough to touch.
"Got something." "Three o'clock. one buck, one doe, the tall one whispered. Wait. Got a third one, fawn following the mom. "
"Got them," the shorter one replied.
The family of deer paused just inside the clearing, stood very still and looked around, the buck in the lead. The hunters lay unmoving, watching them listen and sniff the air. After a moment the animals moved forward, the two adults keeping the fawn between them. Smart, thought the tall hunter, but not smart enough against human camouflage and rifles and scopes.
"Our two friends are stirring," the shorter one whispered.
The tall one raised the barrel of his rifle a few inches to examine the area on the opposite hill. He could see the other two other hunters clearly. He and his partner had watched them arrive, settle into position. The clearing had since been under the observation of all four predators. Now the ones on the far hill were shifting their positions.
"They're anxious," the tall one whispered. "They're going to take their shots when Bambi and his folks are drinking."
"We'll beat them to it."
The deer moved to the stream, unaware of the killers on either side of them.
The mother and father raised their heads to listen and sniff again, not quite placing the faint foreign scent, deceived by the peaceful safety of the preserve. The fawn between them started drinking. After a few seconds the adults followed suit, not realizing they had become prey. The death that was about to happen was set in stone. The only question was which pair of predators would fire first.
Four rifles raised. Four powerful scopes settled their crosshairs on their targets. One pair was quicker, more practiced.
The male and female deer looked up suddenly at the sound of the two muted coughs on the hillside above them. They examined the forest, listened intently. For a long moment they stood like that, checked the fawn, who hadn’t stopped drinking, then looked at each other, before turning back to the stream.
As the deer had examined their surroundings, so did the hunters. They kept their scopes centered on their targets longer than was probably necessary. Both shots had been clean and precise head shots. They watched through their scopes for a full thirty seconds before turning to look at each other for the first time in over an hour.
The taller one sat up carefully so as not to spook the deer. His shorter partner sat beside him.
"You'd think they would learn," the man said.
“Not likely.” The woman said with a tone of disgust. “Some people just like to kill things.”
"Well, No one can say they weren't warned. Signs all over the place. Television and Internet, too. No hunting, no further warning, the whole nine yards."
The woman’s look was questioning.
“You okay? This is your first time, isn’t it?”
“I’m fine, the ex-army ranger said. It just seems . . . strange. When I was in Iraq and Afghanistan, there was an enemy trying to do the same thing to me I did to them. These are…” his voice trailed off.
The woman nodded.
“I know. But think of it this way. Over there you eliminated killers in order to save innocents who couldn’t defend themselves. You just did the same thing here. You eliminated a cold-blooded killer about to destroy innocents who couldn’t defend themselves. If it weren’t for Guardian programs like ours, there would be no elephants left in the world. No lions, no tigers, no elk or deer or wolves, no bears. No animals, no birds, no fish.” Fines don’t stop it and jail terms don’t stop it.”
She thought for a moment.
“One of my training officers put it in perspective for me. He was an older guy then, probably retired now. Special forces when he was our age. He spent time training the first Guardians, over in Africa. He told me, ‘Hendricks, you have to think of them like a cancer. You don’t hate the cancer. But if you don’t eliminate it, it will never stop killing. People who kill animals for pleasure are like that. Like a cancer. And like you said, they’ve been warned half a dozen different ways. They knew the consequences.”
The two of them watched the trio of deer finish drinking and fade back into the forest.
“Lovely family,” the man whispered.
"And thanks to us, they didn’t get murdered today,” the woman said.
“Did those shots sound just a little loud to you?" The man, Anderson, asked.
"Yeah, a little. We need to get a couple of the newer silencers."
She keyed his throat mic and requested retrieval. It would be done with minimal disturbance to the sanctuary and the animals that lived there. As the Guardians picked up their gear, Anderson nodded to himself. Yeah, he thought. Like a cancer.