|Lest we forget ..... You are remembered.|
First Buck, Last Light
Something for the Fourth of July
The six-pointer, creeping in wraithlike motion, hesitated in entering the waning southeast Ohio light. Neither old pro or novice, the buck cautiously peered from the shadows over the small clearing, its brown eyes taking in all possible detail. Several autumns of wary experience lent to the animal’s keen sense of survival. One learned in the wild or one wasn’t.
Two other sets of eyes ceased their scans. Both focused on the sudden prey creeping methodically to the clearing's edge. The older pair shifted slightly to gaze on the owner of the younger. He sensed the apprehensive eagerness clawing for dominance in the small frame. The kid had been with his dad before, but it wasn’t the same. Not like when the lad was younger. This time, Jimmy held the gun.
Not a boy any more, not quite a man, the lad did all he could to suppress any trembling. And succeeding. In spite of excitement boiling within, he sat rock steady, motionless. Anticipating a surer opportunity, he held the H&R Topper at the ready, patience and resolve finding renewal.
Jimmy had his mother’s green eyes and red hair. The rest was his dad. A determined set to the jaw accented the long, straight nosed face topping the medium built frame. That shuffle of the genetic deck never ceased to amaze the father to no end--the kids' mother was such a tiny thing.
"Kid’s doing all right," the father thought.
Sniffing critically, the deers' sensitive nostrils revealed only the forests' damp earthen scents. Tender fronds at the foot of an oak partway into the clearing beckoned with leafy promise. Warm evenings and such food getting sparser, no telling when such a pleasant prospect would come again.
Senses receiving nothing amiss, the buck edged out. Pale light changed the creatures' hide from dark to gold dappled hue, scarlet streaks accenting the form.
The sudden jolt rattled the man. So abrupt it seemed after failing to notice the gentle press of his sons' finger on the trigger. One ounce rifled slug spun through its trajectory to the form some yards distant. A hit! And down!
His hands' pressure on his sons' shoulder communicated confidence and pride while tempering an almost overpowering excitement. His sons' first deer. On a single hit!
He watched the young man rise and break the single shot open, expended shell tracing its arc behind. Noting the youngster walk carefully to the prostrate animal, he knew Jimmy had taken to heart warnings about antler and hoof.
With red flecked breath, the buck shook feebly, survival instinct asserting itself. Shock and a solid hit to the heart combined for its downing. The shaking ceased as they reached it, the form still.
Beaming proudly, the father advanced to help his son with the task of dressing down the kill. No buck fever here. The lad neither balked nor flinched, the shot true. The job finished with nary an indication of the misplaced sentimentality that got to some on their first kill. Kid was all business. Work to be done.......
Maloderous, putrefying, heat. An all too familiar and oppressive heaviness, at first lingering on edge of consciousness, hit mind and body full force. Ponderous gloom of where he lay reshrouded the now semi-sentient mind. Bare splintered wood of the pallet ground scabrous flesh into points and ridges of bone threatening to knife through.
Long past the physical ravages of thirst and hunger, the fevered mind psyche perceived a need of something to be slaked and satisfied.
But what, in this living death? A captivity making the most mundane of dreams the wildest fantasy. A hunt in cool autumn forest of exotic vegetation and not a shoot of bamboo or palm frond to be seen. References of another life with family, wife and son. Nothing in memory could resemble that. Such things happened on completly different worlds. Not ..... real .....
Reality ..... Heavy field work, guards/dogs, "reeducation", beatings, so-called "food", more reeducation, little sleep ..... illness. Plodding, cloying, sickness. Debilitating in inches ..... Reality .....
Dreams. In such minute detail, to the last blade of grass and leaf on ground and tree. Breeze and sunlight on his face and tree bark under the touch. An alien language spoken between him and that strange boy. So coherent during his delirium under, but now....
He couldn’t afford delusion. There was no life but that he was "living" now and couldn’t but since remember. Facing it with what vestigial dignity he still posessed.
The excrutiating reality of the sparse present. A present of crippling disease rendering him incapable of even the lightest tasks. Of placement in this stygian cell out of the camp’s main stream, usefulness at an end. No "food" or water for seeming ages now, depleted body drawing on nonexistant reverves.
Periods of conciousness fewer, deliriums longer. Same dream haunting him, more fantastic and unreal at each recurrence, with senses piqued and amplified beyond limit. And a feeling of peace he hadn’t known since .....
How often these other-worldly illusions plagued him and how often he was conscious was beyond his calculation. Time ceased being felt long ago. Wallowing in confusion though he was, he summoned what resolve he could, determined not to be afraid.
He inched upward, painfully drawing himself off the rude pallet. The heaviness, heat and darkness assailed him though not anywhere near so oppressively as before. And subsiding! First gradually, then faster.
The man staggered to the cells' center, legs feeling steadier with every step. Stretching, less exertion than usual, he yawned, flushing his lungs with sweet, cool, air. Legs and back straightened, he continued crooking and extending his arms in mild exercise. No pain at all, he noted they weren’t as emaciated and frail-looking as before. Unbelievely they looked down right healthy.
With deeper breaths, the brisk autumn air was savored, the expanding chest taking in ever-increasing amounts. Standing fully, surges of youthful power ran through a filled out frame. Limbs and body receiving messages from a clear, illuminated mind. No dream or illusion. Only the reality of ..... now .....
A chance backward glance revealed a frail, withered, dead, thing. Delicate, paper flesh-covered skeleton, lifeless and still. Sightless eyes, filmed and dim.
"Could something like that ever have been alive?" He thought. "Deader than the deer we’re dressing down!"
Looking to where Jimmy and the deer were, he noticed the young man staring oddly at him.
"You all right, dad?"
"Yeah ..... sure. Something wrong?"
"You act like you got knocked on the head or something," the kid exclaimed. "Sure your’e OK?"
The father looked back over his shoulder. Only whispering trees and fading autumn gold met his gaze.
"Nothing wrong with me, son." He turned back, a smile cracking his face. "Never felt better. Now let’s get your tag on this fellow. We've got to get him to the checking station."
Article copyright © 6-25-2011 Jay Agan
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