What I Wrote While Looking Out On 42nd and 3rd
A cold wind blew against Joe’s face, ruffling the dark hair that hung out the bottom of his stocking cap. The air was bitter and dry and sucking the moisture out of his lips and eyes. He was thankful it was blowing his scent deeper into the woods and not across the clearing to the nostrils of his prey. Four hours sitting in a tree stand would have been a waste.
The doe was small, too small to have bred this past fall, too small to be pregnant. Joe wasn’t squeamish, but didn’t relish the idea of taking a mother-to-be. Not a lot of meat on her, but enough to tide him over for a few weeks, enough to get him through this toughest part of the winter. It was the hungry part of the year for her too, and she was gorging herself on the apples that he had thrown fifty yards into the clearing. He could have taken her ten minutes ago, but he was enjoying watching her eat. He told himself he was waiting for the perfect shot.
The wind in the trees caused the branches to sway and creak. Her ears twitched. The doe was getting nervous. Joe knew what had to be done. He took his gloves off. He waited until she turned away from him. He raised the bow. He knocked the arrow and pulled back the string. She lowered her head to eat another apple from his root cellar, the sweet taste of fall in the dead of winter. He let it fly. The whisper of the string met the thunk of the arrow penetrating her side behind her shoulder blade. She cried before she ran. Joe grimaced.
He saw her leap twice before she disappeared. It was a clean shot. She wouldn’t be far. The arrow in her side was still ticking against the brush as she tried to escape. He had a few minutes. He wanted her to bed down before he chased her. He didn’t want to risk pushing her further into the woods. In no hurry, he pulled out his tobacco and papers and rolled himself a cigarette. The smoke was a reward for sitting quietly so long. Joe had been itching for one for hours but wouldn’t dare light up in the stand. The scent of cigarette smoke would insure that he went to bed hungry.
The woods were waking up, he could hear the birds calling to each other. He stretched and a white rabbit watched him from the base of a nearby pine. He pinched off his smoke and stuck the nub in his pocket for later.
“You’re lucky, Buddy.” He said to the rabbit. “I’ve already got my hands full, or else you woulda been dinner.”
He grabbed his bow and his pack and climbed to the ground. He tracked the doe a hundred yards into the brush of the thicket. Her blood on the snow made it easy. When he got there, she was dead. She was small and he was good and his arrow had punctured her lungs. He reached into his bag and pulled out his knife. He gut her quickly and with precision. He slid her liver and heart into a plastic bag and his mouth began to water. He wondered if he had any dried morels left for a sauce.
Joe strapped his pack to his chest, his bow fastened to the front, and hoisted the deer over his shoulders. Walking through the forest, he settled into a rhythm. Her residual body heat warming him, then as she cooled, the effort of hauling all seventy five pounds of her kept the chill away. It was good she was small.
At home he would hang her to bleed on his favorite pine while he prepared himself the best lunch he’d had in a long time. Venison heart and liver, leeks and hopefully morels in his trusty cast iron on top of the stove. He could hear the sizzle and spit. His freezer was all but empty. He had waited as long as he could before he set out to hunt. Not that he minded that it wasn’t deer season, those kinds of things didn’t bother him. But he’d waited to avoid being wasteful. His propane powered freezer was less than reliable.
The quiet of the deep woods invaded ones soul. Joe could hear bird feathers and the rush of his own blood. The silence was why he came here, the voices and screams couldn’t live in the quiet of the woods. Allison liked the city. She liked well lit grocery stores and fine dining. She liked bustling sidewalks and happy hour with her friends. He still missed her.
A quarter of a mile from the cabin he felt it. The abnormal stillness crawled on his skin. The silence of the woods being breeched rang in his ears. He found a safe place for his doe and covered her with a tarp from his pack. He didn’t want to risk losing her to scavengers but he couldn’t move quickly or carefully enough with her on his back. He used his pack, and some snow as weight to hold the plastic. He was five steps away when he went back to get his bow, just in case.
Joe wasn’t often without a weapon, it wasn’t for his safety but rather practicality. A knife and an axe were his usual partners. Finding firewood, and clearing brush from around his maples his typical chores. Occasionally a lone wolf would come too close, or he would stumble upon the print of a black bear in the snow and the weight of the axe in his hand would be reassuring. His life in the forest was peaceful. He was miles from the nearest road, fifty miles from the nearest cash register. Joe didn’t often see people, and when he did it felt unnatural.
He circled around the cabin to the ridge to the west. It was roundabout but gave him the advantage of being downwind and above the clearing that held his home. If his gut was right, if something was amiss, he wouldn’t go walking into it. His Sorrels were near silent in the snow. He crept to the edge and allowed his surplus jacket and snow pants to blend into the brush. Still and aware, like the doe he had killed only an hour before, he watched.
It was only moments before he heard the sound vibrating off the trees. Two snow mobiles were moving quickly toward him. Joe didn’t get visitors. People didn’t accidently end up in the middle of nowhere on a bitter cold January morning. Whoever they were, they were coming for him. He settled into his cover.
They came into view with their dark, puffy snow gear and shiny helmets. They stopped feet from his door. The words blazoned down the sides of their rides simultaneously made his stomach drop and his heart pound with hate. So it’s going to be like that, eh? The pair dismounted and pulled off their helmets before they readied themselves and mounted his stairs. As they beat on his door he had to hold in a little snicker. Assholes. He knew exactly why the sheriff’s department was at his door, and that they were never going to take him alive.