I scavenge a cupboard dry of food before setting off, three oatcakes left and no water. Cottonmouth. I bundle up for the November night, grab gun, knife and leave unseen. Broken twigs and crumpled leaves break the invisible and odorless disguise that blankets me. On an aged oak tree, absent of bloom rests my back, gazing into the tricking stream below. Silence surrounds me until a crescendo of sound restores the forest’s native energy. Above, the rose-breasted woodpecker returns to his ceaseless tapping while squirrels jump tree to tree and branch to branch. Males chase females over, under and through trees without destination. One looks at me, stares me down. He knows why I’m here. A Remington 500 lays at my side with one purpose. Then, the first doe comes to sight, a true attraction during the Rut. He’ll be here soon. I lock the first round into the barrel, the squirrel dashes away. Branches tangle and grab at the antlers of an incoming stag. Suppressing him from his impending fate. Sex-driven, finding his way to the stream to impress. King of the forest with antlers like that. Fearless. I watch him through my augmented eye, my heart beats out of my chest ‘cause I know where his is. I try to swallow, but my sandpaper tongue won’t let me. Snapping the safety off, his head darts at me — click. The silence breaks and down goes the King. I unload my gun and shoulder it to meet my victim. Fearful black eyes stare back at me, hopeless, as he breathes in his last breaths. The moon rises — full. I load the King to my sled for the long walk home. Approach the house and call my father to bring him the good news. We string the carcass up in the garage and put a tarp below for his crimson blood. My father looks at me, tells me good job, I can smell the whiskey on his breath — been a while since he’s said something nice. Old No. 7, his new best friend ‘cause mom’s gone — been hard on’m. A Colt 45 now sits in the house — used to be in the safe. We strip the buck of his coat, to butcher him. Dogs scratch at the door athirst for the King’s blood. They’ve chased him for years, never caught.
Now the King hangs on our wall and his meat in our freezer. The forest has moved on and competition for king soon starts again.