The Hunt

January 12, 2009
By Jerry Musselman, Howell, MI

Ever since they could walk and talk, Jeff and Harold have been the best of friends. During their years of high school, the two men would do everything best friends would do: from saran-wrapping the principal’s car for detention revenge, to going on the pilgrimage towards Christmas break. But rather than soak up the Cozumel rays on the Mexican sands, Jeff and Harold found comfort trekking the forest inlands of Alpena, where their love for hunting boomed louder than the 12-gauge guns they used to hunt down the Michigan whitetails with. Even as they had approached their middle-age years, the two still loved hunting more than their own lives. Every year as winter approached, Jeff and Harold would make their retreat towards Vitus Emerald Park, a vast woodland setting that practically was the outer border of Alpena. During one week in December, the friends made their yearly trip several miles north of the border. With Jeff behind the wheel of his 90s something Ford Ranger, him and Harold drove out to his estate in the middle of the Park. With the trip lasting just over one hour, the two arrived at Jeff’s cabin, with two foot high snow gathering around the entire landscape.
“My God, would you look at the stuff? Seems whiter this year for some odd reason,” Jeff said as he climbed out of the vehicle. Harold nodded in agreement, focusing his attention on the trunk of Jeff’s Ranger.
“Well, no use just wastin’ time. Who’d you suppose is gonna set up camp?” Harold asked as he gestured his thumb towards the opening of the deep forest entrance.
“I’ve got to see if everything here is runnin’ smoothly, you know, the water, propane,”

“So that’s your excuse, huh?” Harold asked smugly. Jeff chuckled as Harold grabbed the tarp and rods for the pop-up blind to be set up. “Don’t worry, I’ll be back soon enough. Hope ya brought enough stew, ‘cause there might not be no venison on tonight’s menu!”. Harold began walking into the forest, tackling the blind in one arm, and his shotgun in the other. Seeing that the late afternoon fog was roughly ten feet thick, Harold soon made the realization that a flashlight would have made the trip easier. Uh, way to go, moron! Well, shouldn’t be that far, Harold thought to himself. Having to squint to see where he was placing the rods on the permafrost floor, the entire process took a little more than a half hour.

Dusk was starting to approach, and Harold, numbed by the chill of the burnt ash-colored sky, slouched his way back to the cabin. While on his trip back, the fog became thicker, and Harold was struggling to find his feet among the pine-needled path. In the distance, however, an object caught his attention, something that appeared to be a silhouette. Must be Jeff, Harold thought to himself. Sparking his curiosity, he began to walk closer towards the object, which appeared to have a streak of neon-white light surrounding it. As he walked closer, the object began to move closer to him, and while paused in his walking stance, he thought he began to hear the sound of war drums and chanting echoing off the snow-dusted pines.

“OK, Jeff, you got me!” Harold shouted jokingly. No response came, and the drum beats became louder. Harold stood in horror as the object neared him. Faster and faster, the object flew towards him, the light becoming more blinding with every inch. Harold began to sweat profusely, his muscle spasms causing him to drop the gun onto the ground. As the object was but a few inches from his face, the light burned brightly into Harold’s pupils, the shrieking Chippewa cries rattling his eardrums. He shielded his eyes in a fearful matter. As he put his arms down, he noticed the object had appeared to vanish, along with the music.
“Mind tricks is all. Just need some grub,” Harold murmured. Walking back towards his destination, he tripped on a rotting log, hitting the frozen dirt that lay beneath the snow. Getting back to his feet, Harold dusted off his jacket, and as he was looking back, he soon found himself face to face with the object. Limping back in shock, he gazed upon the sight: a human-shaped mass of black-purple mist, dressed in Native American garb, with floor-length hair creating a shield around the spirit’s face. In its hand, it carried a staff with a deer’s skull impaled upon it. The spirit proceeded to point its finger at Harold.

“Why?” the spirit asked. Harold raised an eyebrow at the stranger.

“‘Why’ what? Who are you, and whaddya think you’re doing on this land?” asked Harold.

“Answer me. Why do you come here and disrupt the natural balance of my home?”

“I ain’t disrupting a thing. You, sir, are tresspassin’ on private property!”

“Correction: it is you who is the trespasser. You, and your father, and the generations preceding your birth. You have all reaped the land that has belonged to my ancestors, murdering off those creatures that are in fact the children of the earth and Nature herself. All I ask of you is why do you come here?”

“Look, partner, I’m just here with my friend, OK? We’re just hunting for the weekend. I promise I won’t cause any funny business, you got my word,”

“Your words are worthless in the damage you have brought to my family. Do you see this skull which I bear? This is all that remains of the first deer you have slain, one of my many woodland brothers whose fate has been met with your sportsman kind! I could care less if you live off the land. But if you are to endanger the life of another living organism again, it is your life that shall be endangered,”

“What’s that supposed to mean?” as Harold asked this question, the spirit disappeared in a purple cloud of smoke, leaving no evidence of its visit behind. Perhaps the spirit was telling the truth, perhaps it was all just one big mirage. Some stew will clear this up, Harold thought to himself. The sun was nearly down when he returned to the cabin. From a quarter-mile away, he could see Jeff had left the light on.

“Well, you found yer way back! I’m proud of ya!” Jeff joked as Harold opened the cedar door.

“Yeah, no kidding,” Harold said in a somber tone. The giant kettle in the corner of the room was glowing with a burnt-orange light, with the steam jutting out in a large stack; the entire room became filled with the gravy scent from the stew. Jeff got up to pour himself a bowl, and Harold followed. The two sat at an old creaking bench to have dinner.

“Any movement ‘round the woods?” asked Jeff.

Harold, looking deep into his bowl, responded, “Huh? Nah, nada thing, nada thing,” he took a slurp of the stew, and sat quietly for a few minutes.

Irritated by the silence, Jeff said, “Boy, you’re sure quiet tonight,”

“Hey, Jeff, lemme ask you somethin’. Do you-now I ain’t no voodoo whacko or nothin’-but do you believe in ghosts?”

“You kidding me? Ain’t no such thing. Why, did Casper say we was trespassing?” Harold gave Jeff a discerning look. “I was joking,”

“Well, I wasn’t. I could have swore I saw one of them Indian ghost things. At one point I was even talkin’ to it. It told me that we shouldn’t be hunting back here,”

“What?! Have you lost your friggin’ mind? You must’ve been starved!”

“Look, I’m tellin’ ya, I was face to face with this thing! It was a giant fellow, all purple and smokey-looking. It says if we shoot another animal…”

“I don’t care what anyone says! This is my damn property, and I’ll hunt on it whether you, or Chief Sittin’ Bull-Crap, have a problem with it or not! Tomorrow at morning, I’m goin’ to get me some whitetail for supper. You can go, or you don’t have to, yer choice.” With that, Jeff walked up his wood-planked stairs and into his bedroom. Harold walked towards a musty futon, pulled his coat over himself, and fell asleep. Pssh, ghosts! You’re getting crazy with age, old man, Harold thought to himself.

The next morning had arrived, and the fog from the previous evening had still been hanging around. Skipping breakfast, Jeff dressed into his camouflage fatigues and headed out the door, lugging his shotgun and a care-free sense of objectiveness. Assuming Harold would not be around for the trip, Jeff did not even bother to wake him up. The morning was still young, and the fog was dripping heavily across the woodland path. Jeff could barely make out the nearest spruce, even if it were two feet from his face. Nonetheless, he was still able to find the blind crafted by Harold.

“Humph! Harold…” Jeff murmured as he shook his head. He made his way towards the blind, getting ready to unzip the door to be let in. As he was ready to crawl inside the tarp fortress, Jeff heard, in the distance, the snapping of twigs, as if they were being stepped on. Jeff slowly pulled his 12-gauge to his front side, finger twitching over the trigger. Out of the floating mist, a buck, eight-point at least, was walking towards Jeff. Walking up to the blind, the buck, barely three feet away from Jeff’s stance, did not even notice the hunter standing there.

“Oh hell!” Jeff mouthed to himself. With one quick flinch of his finger, the shotgun spewed forward a metal slug, piercing the chest of the deer. The buck, not even phased by the impact, dropped dead to the ground instantly. Jeff could barely contain his excitement, shouting miraculously with joy. But it seems Jeff was not alone in celebrating his victory. To Jeff’s lack of knowledge, a pack of wolves had made their home right around where Harold had set up the hunting post. Out from under a rotting, fallen pine, a shadow of some sort of animal came slinking out, spotting Jeff flailing around in his orange vest. The beast wished to make its presence be known, letting out a loud growl. The noise interrupted Jeff’s pride dance.

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