A steady ticking awakened Murdoch. The morning ritual had gone on for weeks. He tossed the covers aside and threw his legs over the edge of the bed. “Damn ticker,” he grumbled. Countless hours he’d spent searching, never finding a clue to the ticks. He’d worried on several occasions about cabin fever. How it could warp the mind after ages of solitude. He’d seen it in the best of them.
Finally, last Tuesday a clue came, at least he’d groped at imagining it had. He’d left his shirts hanging out to dry. One came up missing overnight; no big deal. But then several other things came up missing immediately after hearing the ticks.
Grumbling, Murdoch shuffled to the wood stove. After stirring the last glowing embers, he tossed in a log. Coffee would have to wait until the flames grew.
Blowing on his frigid fingers, he stared out the window. The sun shined pink on the heavy blanket of snow. He hated the first snow of the season. It always melted quickly and made a muddy mess. Second snow was better. The ground would be frozen then.
Something caught his eye. He moved closer to the window. An odd set of footprints led away from the house. “Hot damn, a ticker.” He instantly assumed.
Now he had proof. He hadn’t gone bonkers after all. He hurriedly dressed, pulled on his parka, shouldered his rifle, and headed out the front door. The pile of trinkets left on the porch as bait had been disturbed. A beaded necklace was gone. A smile curled his thin lips. “Slow and methodical—that’s the way you’ll catch ’em.”
He stepped off the porch and bent down to examine the three-toed footprints. They were small. Judging by the depth, the creature was lightweight. Probably the size of a hare, he decided. His eyes followed the trail that led off to the bushes.
“Small trap,” he muttered under his breath. “Best to use a snare.” He wanted to take it alive if possible. Something this unique had to be worth a pretty penny.
He went into the house. The fire had come to life. He warmed while the coffee brewed. His mind was busy with thoughts of how to set the trap. Best to wait until dusk. He schemed the rest of the day.
At dusk he went out in a softly falling snow to set the trap. The snow would hide his dirty work. He grinned at the mug left as bait, shiny and inviting. “Yep, slow and methodical, the ticker will be mine by morning.”
He ambled onto the porch and through the front door straight to his ancient chair. He planned to spend the night in that chair listening for the ticks. The room was dark, spare the glow from the wood stove. His eyes grew heavy. He slept through the ticking.
At sunrise he woke himself with a snort. “Damn.”
He pushed himself from the chair, his bones creaking as he crossed the floor. He looked out the window. A fresh set of footprints led away from the porch. He was ecstatic. On with the parka, the rifle he threw over his shoulder, and out the door he flew. His grin grew broad as he studied the tracks in the new fallen snow that led to the bushes mere yards away; the mug and the snare lying just beyond.
He listened for ticks. A faint sound returned to his ear. “Hot damn.”
He crept toward the bushes, rifle up, just in case. He peered over the top. The mug was gone; the trap had been sprung.
He drooped. Footprints led to the trees. He couldn’t help himself, so he followed. Movement up ahead caught his attention along with a steady ticking. In a giddy flurry, he raced forward. Where had his senses gone? Murdoch scolded himself, but couldn’t stop his feet that plowed after the trail of ticks that grew louder. His foot came down hard into the soft snow, but didn’t stop. Down he fell into a deep chasm.
The ticker stepped to the edge of the hole and looked down. Its wide eyes could see well in the dark. Its prey struggled to get free from the sticky web that burned. The screaming was futile.
A smile curled the thin lips of the ticker. “Slow and methodical—that’s the way to catch ’em.”