Hunting Season Ends

📅 Published on August 30, 2021

“Hunting Season Ends”

Written by Ashley Fontainne
Edited by Craig Groshek
Thumbnail Art by Craig Groshek
Narrated by N/A

Copyright Statement: Unless explicitly stated, all stories published on are the property of (and under copyright to) their respective authors, and may not be narrated or performed, adapted to film, television or audio mediums, republished in a print or electronic book, reposted on any other website, blog, or online platform, or otherwise monetized without the express written consent of its author(s).

🎧 Available Audio Adaptations: None Available


Rating: 8.00/10. From 5 votes.
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Saturday, December 22nd – 2:00 p.m.

Shaun Kilpatrick loaded up the trophy buck, securing it to the back of the four-wheeler. Wiping a light sheen of sweat from his forehead, he chuckled at the unpredictable Arkansas weather. One minute it was below freezing and the next, warm enough for shorts. Taking off his gloves, he finished tightening the rope, thrilled his fingers were no longer frozen. A smile tugged at the corners of his mouth. Emmett Jefferies would be so jealous when they rolled up to camp. The twelve-point catch was Shaun’s last tag for the season. Jefferies had yet to shoot one.

“What’s so funny?” Jared Starkson asked.

“Just thinking about how irritated Emmett will be. I won our bet. He hates losing.”

Jared’s laughter reverberated through the quiet woods, only to be drowned out by several planes screaming overhead. Both men looked up, watching the strange spectacle. Shaun silently counted twenty.

“Huh, wonder what’s going on?” Jared shrugged his shoulders. “Looks like they came from the Jacksonville Air Force Base and are heading toward Dallas. Awful close to Christmas for practice maneuvers.”

“You have no sense of direction. That’s south,” Shaun pointed the direction of the planes. “Dallas is west of here.”

“That’s why some nerd invented GPS,” Jared deadpanned. “You know Jefferies ain’t gonna pay up. The man’s tighter than a virgin’s asshole.”

“True, but it ain’t about the money anyway, at least not for me. I enjoy pissing him off.”

“Yeah, I get that. You ain’t changed none all these years. You’re worse than an old woman holding onto a grudge for something that happened ages ago.”

Shaun snorted. “You’d be singing a different tune had Emmett porked your prom date—and in your own car.”

“Probably. The difference between the two of us is I wouldn’t still hang out with the loser after what—over twenty years? Oh, and I wouldn’t be a cop either because I’d have a felony arrest record for assault after beating the fucker to a pulp.”

“Yeah, you would.” Shaun chortled. “I, however, enjoy tormenting him every chance I get. Mental scars last much longer than physical ones.”

Jared shook his head while climbing onto his four-wheeler. “Ah, the age-old ‘my dick is bigger than your dick’ game. Gotcha. Since we’re on the subject of tormenting others, will you please explain to me why you haven’t kicked Craig out of the hunting club yet? I mean, we’re risking a lot by having him here. What if he slipped and brought some shit here? We would lose our jobs.”

“You really suck as a friend sometimes.” Shaun frowned. “Craig lost his way after the sudden death of his wife. Would you still be as harsh with your criticism if he opted to hit the bottle like you tend to do, rather than snorting coke?”

“Doesn’t matter because that ain’t what happened. Booze is legal to buy. Coke ain’t. We’re cops and he’s a lawyer. We all know better. End of story.”

“Craig’s been clean for six months. Stop worrying. He needs the support of his friends, not condemnation.”

“Will you use that same argument with the chief? If so, I guarantee you it won’t work. You gotta let that thin skin of yours toughen up and stop being so nice to others who can fuck-up your world in a flash. That’s why after we get back to camp, I’m heading home. Already got enough meat for the rest of the year. I don’t want to tempt the fates any longer. Craig’s a liability.”

“Your choice. Not mine.” Shaun settled on his own machine after taking a picture of the buck. He clicked over to Facebook to upload it, but nothing happened. The little blue ball in the corner continued to turn. “Damn woods! No cell service.”

“You and social media. You’re almost as obsessed with it as you are with Marian. Oh, and speaking of her, what’s going on with you two? Rumor around town is your unit’s been seen at her office several times during the last week. Please tell me that’s not true. I can’t take any more of your bitching about her shenanigans.”

Shaun grimaced at the mention of his estranged wife. “Gee, and I thought to be able to vent is what friends are for. Guess I was wrong. As I mentioned, your friendship skills are sorely lacking.”

“Give me a break. I’ve endured way above my quota of listening to you dissect your relationship. You married fools are the reason I’ve stayed single. After she cheated on you and got knocked up by another man, you said the marriage was over. What’s changed now? Did she learn how to give a better blowjob or agree to a three-way?”

“Watch it, Starkson.” A flame of anger ignited in Shaun’s gut. “That’s my wife you’re talking about. We’re working things out. We have no choice.”

“There are always choices, Shaun.” Jared raised an inquisitive brow. “What…oh, shit. Please tell me it ain’t yours?”

The anger from seconds ago dimmed as Shaun recalled the last discussion he had with Marian and her gynecologist. He hadn’t told a soul about the results of the DNA test since he found out two days prior. “Yeah, it’s mine.”

“Oh, shit.” Jared’s dark brown eyes widened from shock. “That does change things. If it were me, I’d already skedaddled out of town.”

“Believe me, I was so shocked, a kitten could’ve knocked me over.” Shaun let out a huff of air. “I’d convinced myself it wasn’t mine. Still sort of numb about the whole thing. Can’t believe I’m gonna be a dad.”

“Wow—me either. You’re a better man than me. Even if it was my bun in the oven, not sure I’d want to turn on the stove someone else cooked at.”

Despite the intense subject matter, Shaun laughed. His best friend since second grade had a sick sense of humor. “That’s why you’re the whore-dog and I’m the loyal retriever.”

“So, when does this little bundle of joy arrive?”

“Due date is January 26th. Oh, and in case you’re interested, we’re having a girl.”

Jared let out a low whistle. “Let’s hope she takes after the loyal retriever side of the tree, not the—”

“Enough, Jared. Again, that’s my wife and child you’re talking about.”

Gunfire broke the silence of the woods. The sounds of weapons discharging were common during deer season and wasn’t the reason they both froze. What transformed the two friends from carefree hunters to concerned cops was the volume of shots fired and the terror-filled screams of grown men.

Exchanging glances with Jared, Shaun saw the worry he felt on the inside beaming across his friend’s face. They fired up the four-wheelers, flying through the woods back toward camp.

Shaun topped the hill and stopped, turning off his four-wheeler. Jared did the same. “Let’s go in on foot.”

They both reached for their rifles and dismounted, creeping through the dense underbrush toward the encampment. Shaun and Jared had spent every hunting season in the same woods for over twenty years and knew the area well.

The eerie silence made goosebumps stand erect on Shaun’s neck. No chirping birds or squirrels, not even the usual din of insects. As they picked their way closer, he strained his ears for any sound. The gunshots had ceased, as well as the screaming. The stillness was more terrifying than the noise.

Upon reaching the edge of the camp, their original concerns morphed into fear.

The camping chairs surrounding the fire pit were overturned, food and utensils left where they’d been dropped. Impressions in the dirt indicated a lot of activity.

“What the hell?” Shaun muttered.

Jared crept over, hand hovering over the ashes. “Cold. Been out for a while.”

Stepping over to the front porch, drawn to the disemboweled torso of the twelve-point buck Craig Jackson shot earlier, Shaun grimaced. The thing had been ripped to pieces and strewn from end to end of the long porch. Nothing was left except skin, antlers, and bone.

Glancing up, he searched the area and counted all the vehicles. Sixteen—just like when they left—yet none of their hunting buddies were around. A cell phone lay face-up on the ground, the edges coated in blood. Peering closer, he noticed the last number dialed was 9-1-1.

The front door to the eight-room cabin they all shared was wide open. Several sets of bloody footprints led inside. The bay window had been shot out. Shattered glass glistened in the afternoon sun.

“All their four-wheelers are still here, too,” Jared whispered from Shaun’s right.

Something gold and shiny caught his eye.

Then another.

And another.

The empty shell casings left a trail from the front porch into the interior. Snapping his fingers, Shaun pointed. Jared’s face blanched at the vast amount of spent ammunition and blood splatter.

Both men went into cop mode, sweeping the cabin, keeping their steps tight and quiet as they followed the trail of bullets and blood. When they reached the back door in the kitchen, they were greeted by bloody handprints on the floor, walls, and doorknob.

The backdoor was ajar. Strange, chomping sounds filtered from the back porch.

Shaun recognized the noise first and mouthed, “Bear?”

Jared looked at the amount of blood pooled on the floor and shrugged his shoulders.

Holding up his fist, the signal to remain still, Shaun took a long step backward and peered out the small kitchen window to get a better view. Fearing his fellow hunters had been victims of a four-legged predator, he needed to see exactly what they were dealing with—and how many. Black bears were abundant in the area, and maybe a family of them had stumbled upon…

Time froze the minute his brain registered the incoming signals from his eyes.

A wave of dizziness slammed into him so hard he saw double for several seconds.

Craig, what are you doing? Unable to contain his thoughts, Shaun muttered, “No way.”

Jared took one step forward toward Shaun’s position. He whispered, “What is it?”

It was the last words Officer Jared Starkson, the forty-three-year-old best friend of Shaun Allen Kilpatrick, would ever say.

The second the sentence left Jared’s mouth, Craig Jackson leapt into the kitchen, landing on top of Jared. Both men fell to the ground. Jared’s gun clattered to the floor. In shock, Shaun hesitated for a split second before firing. The bullet ripped through Craig’s shoulder but didn’t stop him.

Jared’s screams gurgled to a stop after Craig opened his bloody mouth, latching onto Jared’s windpipe. He tore it out with one bite. Jets of red arterial blood shot from the wound, coating Shaun, the walls, and the floor.

Taking a deep breath, Shaun took aim and fired again, this time hitting Craig’s thigh. Blood and flesh burst from the wound, but Craig never gave any indication he felt a thing.

Jared was no longer fighting to survive. His body convulsed from the enormous loss of blood. Shaun knew only seconds remained before he died, so he chambered another round, blowing Craig’s head off.

The bullet exited Craig’s skull and entered his best friend’s, killing both instantly.

“Oh Jesus—oh, Jesus! What in the hell?” Shaun muttered while staring at the bloody mess in front of him. He couldn’t grasp the fact he just killed two of his friends with one shot.

The question was answered by the appearance of Frank Wilson’s mangled body. Unable to walk since both sets of thigh muscles were gone, Frank pulled himself into the kitchen by grabbing onto the edge of the door. Shaun’s stomach juices burned up the back of his throat while gaping at the thick smear of intestines and blood left in Frank’s wake.

Frozen in horror and shock, he couldn’t believe what he was seeing. Frank’s eyes were solid black. Strange, wiggly blue lines reminded him of a road map covered the face and exposed arms.

His wits returned after Frank opened his mouth, letting out a spine-chilling growl.

On autopilot, Shaun raised his rifle and fired. The bullet pierced Frank’s skull just above the bridge of his nose. With one last gurgle, Frank’s head slammed into the wood floor with a loud thump.

Noise outside caught Shaun’s attention. Stepping over the corpses on the kitchen floor, rifle steady, he looked out the open door.

His mouth went limp. A sea of blood and flesh littered the backyard. Fourteen bodies in various states of dismemberment were strewn across the dead, dried leaves. The ground gleamed crimson underneath the mid-afternoon sun’s rays. The only way he could tell they were his friends and hunting buddies was from their torn clothing.

Upon realizing two half-eaten bodies still moved, he was hit with another bout of dizziness.

Stepping back into the main part of the cabin, forcing his fingers to quit shaking, he extracted his cell. He prayed the sporadic cellular service worked.

It didn’t.

He was greeted by a robotic, droning voice: “We’re sorry. All circuits are busy. Please try your call again later.”

“That’s for land lines, not cell towers!” Shaun roared into the mouthpiece.

With no choice left but to leave and get help—or at least get closer to a functioning cell tower—he pulled the keys from his pocket. Adrenaline pumped throughout his muscles. He burst out the front door, across the yard, and to his truck. Nerves on edge and mind spinning, he fumbled to get the door open.

Once inside the cab, he set his rifle in the seat next to him and tried to stick the keys into the ignition. They slipped from his fingers, clattering on the floorboard. “Dammit!”

Bending down to retrieve them, the weird grunting sound he heard Craig mumble earlier hit him. It came from the right. Snatching the keys from the floor, he shoved them into place and the engine roared to life. The growing sense of dread didn’t stop him from glancing out the passenger window.

“Holy fuck!”

The once-familiar face of Martin Lawson stared back at him through the glass, his eyes the same as the others. The ebony nothingness was like staring into the pit of Hell. Martin’s white cheekbones and the upper part of his teeth where the soft flesh had been ripped off sparkled in the sun. The sickening sight was like a magnet, pulling all of Shaun’s attention to the gore. The pull broke when Martin’s bloodied hands slammed against the window with enough force the glass cracked.

“Enough of this shit! I’m outta here!”

Slamming the truck into reverse, he tromped the gas. In seconds, he was on the narrow, dirt road leading him away from the carnage at deer camp. He never let up on the gas and made the three-mile, bumpy journey to Highway 270 in record time. The gravity of the unbelievable situation left tears sliding down his cheeks. Inside the quiet cab, he offered up silent prayers for the dead.

After about four miles, he tried the phone again and got the same results.

Willie’s Pit-Stop was less than half a mile away. He could use their phone. Pushing the Ford F-150 hard, zooming down the empty two-lane highway at over ninety, he tried to remain calm, which was impossible. Jerking the wheel, he pulled into the parking lot and slammed on the brakes. He left his truck running, jumped out, and ran inside.

“Malvern Police official business. Need to use your phone,” Shaun yelled, looking around the quiet store for an employee. Silence greeted him while making his way to the counter. “Hello?”

Gut instincts, honed from years of being on the force, kicked him right square in the gut. Slowing the pace, he inched toward the counter, eyes scanning the dimly lit interior. Less than three feet away from the cash register, he smelled it. The thick odor of copper and the stink of bowels made him hold his breath.


The floorboards creaked underneath his weight. Stepping carefully, he peeked behind the counter. His ragged breath caught in his throat.

There wasn’t much left of Willie. The old man’s snow-white hair looked as though it had been dipped in a can of red paint. The cavity holding his internal organs was nothing more than strips of flesh and rib bones. Clutched in his right hand was a Ruger, a spent shell casing resting near his head, a gaping hole on the other side.

God, I hope you blew your brains out before…

Backing up, Shaun moved over to the cash register where an ancient, black rotary phone sat. It had been in the same place since he was a boy. Willie Hopkins was too cheap to purchase a new one. Shaun hadn’t seen anyone use the old thing in years and hoped it still worked.

Picking up the dirty receiver, he winced.

No dial tone.

A grumble rose from the backroom Willie used as the office. After what Shaun experienced in the cabin down in Poyen, he didn’t feel the need to see what made the noise.

He’d bet everything he owned he already knew.

Racing back to the idling truck, he floored the accelerator and headed toward Malvern. Dead, leafless trees zoomed by in a blur as the speedometer neared one hundred. When he passed the road sign noting Malvern was only five miles, he tried his cell again.

Dead air.

“What in the hell is going on?”

A thousand thoughts raced through Shaun’s mind at almost the same pace as the speeding truck. In minutes, he crossed the city limits, hitting the brakes when he came upon a blockade of military vehicles obstructing the entrance to downtown.

“What in the world?” Shaun slowed for a better look.

A large group of people covered in blood and gore ambled toward the county jail, some in uniform, some not. His touch with reality snapped. Stomping on the gas pedal, he zigzagged around the vehicles, yelling jibberish the entire time, forgetting all about Jared, Craig, Frank, Willie, and the others while dodging the dead.

All he could think of was getting to Marian.

And their unborn daughter.

By the time he made it to town, he realized things were much worse than he imagined back at camp. Hundreds of dead bodies and abandoned vehicles littered the streets. While dodging them, he realized the rifle in the seat next to him wasn’t near enough protection from whatever was going on.

Spotting an empty Humvee up ahead, he pulled up next to the driver’s window. Making sure no one—or thing—was close enough to hurt him, he rolled the window down and peered inside.

The front seat was covered in dried blood and brain matter. A female in fatigues lay motionless in the passenger seat, half her head in the driver’s side; frozen fingers still wrapped around the grip of her weapon.

Scanning the rest of the vehicle, he felt a spark of hope. Three, fully loaded M4 carbines rested on the middle console, and the keys were in the ignition.

Glancing around once more, he made sure he was still alone. Satisfied he had enough time to check, he crawled partially through the opening and turned the key. The Humvee rumbled to life, and had a half-tank of gas.

Slinking back into the cab of his truck, he snatched the hunting rifle, and backed up about four feet. After rolling up the window, he shut the engine down, locked the door, and ran to the passenger side of his new ride.

“Sorry about this,” Shaun mumbled to the dead soldier. Wincing at the smell and sight, he gritted his teeth and pulled. Unwilling to just leave her in the middle of the street, he dragged the stiff body to the edge of the curb.

A grumble to his right made the hairs over his body stand on end. He knew what it was and felt no desire to look. Running back to the Humvee, he climbed behind the wheel, executed a U-turn, and headed toward Marian’s.

He made it less than two hundred feet before the quiet afternoon filled with the faint sound of the EMS siren. He slowed down and felt around for the assault rifles, overcome with the need to have them close and ready.

His hand touched an unfamiliar shape. Shaun slowed to a crawl, craning his neck to see what it was.

A rocket launcher? Why in the world did they—oh, shit! They planned on…

Shaun broke out into a sweat when the sound of automatic weapons drowned out the noise of the siren.

More planes streaked across the sky. In the clear afternoon sun, he saw the last thing his eyes would ever take in—bombs falling from the sky.

Some weird instinct made him throw his hands over his head as the first bombs hit nearby, making the entire Humvee shudder. “Oh, shit. I’m sorry, Marian, I tried. I really did.”

Rating: 8.00/10. From 5 votes.
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🎧 Available Audio Adaptations: None Available

Written by Ashley Fontainne
Edited by Craig Groshek
Thumbnail Art by Craig Groshek
Narrated by N/A

🔔 More stories from author: Ashley Fontainne

Publisher's Notes: N/A

Author's Notes: N/A

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Copyright Statement: Unless explicitly stated, all stories published on are the property of (and under copyright to) their respective authors, and may not be narrated or performed, adapted to film, television or audio mediums, republished in a print or electronic book, reposted on any other website, blog, or online platform, or otherwise monetized without the express written consent of its author(s).

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