CHAPTER 2: GAME ON
The metal gate, wet with fog from the night, cooled his fingers as he unlocked it before easing it to the side to drive his truck through the gap. After driving the truck through, he closed the gate and locked it, then drove another hundred yards to the place he always parked. When the engine fell silent, he waited with the windows down to drink in the cool, wet, morning air while finishing the last sip from his cup.
He reached over to feel the slick wooden forearm of the double-barrel twenty-gauge. Joe hunted with this gun the last twenty-three seasons, over half of his turkey hunting years. It showed the wear from years of service. He considered giving it up to buy a new gun a few years ago, when the front sight was accidentally broken off, but he couldn’t do it. He had the sight replaced at a sporting goods store in Monroeville by a part time gunsmith. Joe decided it was once again sufficient for the purpose to which assigned. The weapon had become as familiar in his hands as his own wrinkled skin. He saw no practical reason to change it. Nor did he see any way it could be improved. His thoughts turned to a time-honored truism: Waste not, want not. The Depression had taught him some hard lessons. He’d left high school after the tenth grade, to help put food on his family’s table. No regrets. It was just the way things were.
He stepped outside, pulling the gun alongside and easing shut the truck’s faded blue door. The modern world melted away behind him. The ancient world lay ahead. A smile settled in his eyes. He inhaled a long breath and his skin prickled a little, after all the years … anticipation. He slipped two number-four shells into the barrels without glancing down, his eyes still on the pale eastern sky. Stepping carefully down the pig-trail road in the dark, he heard the first owl in the creek bottom at a half mile away.
When he arrived at the place to exit the trail, he stopped, waiting for more light before attempting to weave through the dogwoods, oaks and pines along the hillside. The ridge stretched for three-quarters of a mile above the edge of the swamp. Dew had smothered the leaves and sticks on the ground, allowing him to tread silent and steady. Good things come to those who wait. The fog lifted somewhat as the sky shifted for the arriving of dawn. Tendrils of the remaining fog enveloped the woodland and the swamp. Five minutes passed with no sound from the owls as he began his slow, systematic sneak to “the place.” The place would mean nothing to other men. It possessed no landmarks, remaining private and only known to him … intimately.
A certain tree there, a huge longleaf pine, provided the sitting place. For the last several years, this had been where he opened the season. It was special only to him and would have been of no consequence to another human on earth. All the necessities for him, put there by Mother Nature years ago, afforded him a comfortable place to sit with the right amount of slant to the ground. A natural blind of small plants surrounded the place, high enough to conceal him but not too high to prevent a clean shot at the gobbler he hoped to call. The plants never seemed to grow any taller from year to year, as if some unknown woodland gods kept the place in excellent order … just for Joe. A spectacular view with a canopy of high shade overhead—forty yards of sparse openings on three sides: front, left and right—provided a perfect view of any approaching creatures. The place, seventy-five yards from where the land began to drop into the creek bottom, created an area perfect for a turkey to fly, land, and strut before coming the rest of the way to the gun, which had a clean killing range of thirty yards.
Joe’s Celtic ancestors would have referred to the area as a “thin place;” certain locations where the boundaries between heaven and earth are especially thin … a place where one can sense the Divine more readily. With some effort and pain from his knees, he sat down on the ground with his back to the tree trunk. He wiggled-in his backside to the soft ground, carefully removing the box call from his vest. He placed the diaphragm call on his lap, pulled a green bandana up onto his nose, lowered the cap to his eyebrows and balanced the gun on his left knee with the stock slightly under his right arm. The owl called again in the distance. He smiled because he knew he would not have to sound an owl call this morning to cause a turkey to gobble. The real thing was on duty, doing that job just fine.
The light brightened in the eastern sky. A cardinal trilled. The game had begun. While he waited, he allowed his thoughts to wander to the boy. The loss of his father six months ago had been a cruel turn of events. He couldn’t pretend to know what the boy was going through. He knew it had been bad. Joe’s only daughter reported that Connor had been troubled. The boy’s anger had manifested itself with frequent fights at school. But what use is an old man in such matters as these?
The yearning to help pulled heavily on his heart. Two more days to wait, then he would know more.
To find out what happens next, be sure to read my book, “One Season.” Available for purchase here.