Chapter 5 – Loaded
On the other hand, maybe the other bundle was for someone else. I never did ask Doug about it. We had bigger problems, at that point.
But I loaded them both into the boat, and put my coat over them in case a game warden stopped me. Silly paranoia, I realize. But I didn't have a record, and I couldn't see getting one out of pure carelessness.
I made my way to my daddy's camp, to find Shannon and Tommy drinkin' beers around the campfire.
“Boys,” I said with a nod.
“What's up, Poindexter?” Shannon said, tossing me one.
I threw it back. “No beer. Papers.”
They both pulled out packs, and I laughed. I cleaned a handful and rolled joints as we shot the shit. When I was done, I said, “Let's go inside.”
“Come on, man,” Tommy said. “I sit in a rig all day long. Let me enjoy the wide open.”
“This will definitely be worth your while.”
Inside, we blazed our weed, and I got a plate from the cabinet. Without saying a word, I untied the baggie and dumped some out, handing the rest to Shannon.
“Oh, shit, son,” he said. “Is that from...”
“Yep. Ninety-nine percent pure, he told me.”
“Ain't no way,” Tommy said. He's good, but he ain't that good.”
“I guess we'll see,” I said.
“What do you mean, 'we'? Don't tell me you're gonna do some.”
I raised my eyebrow.
“Now I've seen it all. Mr. Goody Fucking Two Shoes, Mr. Altar Boy is going to do a blast?”
“I'm a grown man,” I said, repeating Doug's words. “I have a pretty good head on my shoulders.”
Tommy and Shannon looked at each other for a moment, then burst out laughing. Now I was determined to try it. I got a straw from the silverware drawer.
In response to their mockery, I put the straw in my nose and inhaled a huge amount.
“Oh, shit, son,” Shannon said, and they both started laughing even harder.
“We usually cut the straw shorter,” Tommy said.
“But mostly you just did a shit ton of dope,” Shannon added. “You're gonna be up for days.”
I shrugged and did it again with my other nostril, and handed the straw to him amidst howls of laughter. When they could stop giggling long enough, they trimmed it down and each took about a quarter of what I had done. Maybe less.
“Let's go kill somethin',” Tommy said.
“You ought to drink some beer,” Shannon told me.
“Take the edge off.”
“Well, you're cut off until you sleep, at the very least. Whenever that will be. And leave your weed here. It ain't gonna do you no good. Plus I don't want you scarin' my deer away.”
We grabbed our gear and started walking to the cut we usually hunted. I was feeling pretty euphoric, but I also had an odd calmness, despite the fact that my heart was racing.
We dropped Tommy off first, and watched him climb into his stand. About a mile away, Shannon claimed the second one.
“See you tomorrow,” I said. “Unless I get one.”
He laughed. “You damn sure won't be sleepin'. You know where to find us, either way.”
I nodded, and set out toward the third tree stand. But by the time I got there, I didn't feel like stopping. I was elated and full of energy, but more to the point, I felt in touch with nature. Probably for the first time ever.
Everything, from the leaves on the trees, to the setting sun, had a new sharpness to it. But even more than seeing, I could feel nature. More to the point, I think I felt Old Buck. And I wanted a picture.
Eventually, I left the boundaries of the lease, further than I had ever walked. I reached a set of high-tension power lines that I didn't know existed, and followed them to the east.
I ended up by Diversion Canal, and aside from the power lines, it was as unspoiled a wilderness as any place I had ever been. Better yet, there were deer tracks in the river bank. Big ones. So I found a spot upwind where I would be concealed by the undergrowth, and waited.
My body relaxed, but my mind never did. When my eyes were open, I felt sort of blank, like I was a camera or something. I actually had the feeling that someone or something was looking through me. It was more than a little unsettling.
But when my eyes were closed, it was even crazier. I seemed to be thinking a thousand thoughts a second, and anything I imagined and visualized became real. Or, almost real, I should say. I'm pretty good at keeping reality and fantasy separate, for the most part. I have to be, given my condition, whatever it might be. More than once, I forgot where I was, and started to believe what I was imagining, until I opened my eyes.
A little after dawn, I had a vivid image of Old Buck. He was, as described, an almost snowy white. He even had a long, shaggy beard. I imagined him walking right up to me, no more than a foot away, and staring me down. I even saw his nostrils flare as he smelled me. Then he meandered off, back into the woods, never making a sound.
Like a ghost.
Then I opened my eyes. There were hoofprints in the soil in front of me.
I jumped up and tried to follow them, until I realized it was useless. No matter how I tried, I crashed through the woods like an elephant. Old Buck, if he was there at all, was long gone.
I think it was real, though, somehow, and Doug later agreed.
I decided to head back and see how the boys had done. I called up to both stands, which was silly, but they weren't there. As I approached the camp, I realized why. There was a path with a small indention in the dirt that was free of leaves. Someone had killed a deer, and it was a pretty good sized one, at that, or one of them would have carried it on their shoulders.
Them boys were fools like that. More than five years out of high school (neither of them graduated), and they still tried to outdo each other in machismo like a couple of sophomores.
When I got there, they had covered the picnic table with plastic and had more or less fully dressed their kill. There was part of a leg hanging from the tree where they had strung it up and drained the blood, a pile of skin and guts on the ground, already covered in flies.
At the table, they had their backs to me, engrossed in getting the rest of the meat off of the carcass.
“Boo,” I said from about a foot behind them.
It's a good thing I was that far away, because they both jumped, and Tommy spun around and took a swipe at me with that Ramboesque buck knife he carried.
“Ass,” Shannon said. “Where ya been?”
“Communing with nature in the tradition of James Audubon and Ralph Waldo Emerson.”
“Whatever,” Tommy said. “We're not here to communicate with nature. We're here to kill it.”
“I saw Old Buck.”
“Bullshit,” Shannon said.
“Pics, or it didn't happen,” Tommy added.
“In my mind's eye. But I found his tracks, too.”
“Mind's eye,” Tommy scoffed. He was swaying a little.
I peered into the fifty-five gallon drum we used to burn trash, and it was half-full of beer cans.
“Christ,” I said. “How much did y'all drink?”
“'Bout thirty,” Shannon said. “This is thirsty work.”
“Shit, I done most of it,” Tommy said.
“It was your deer!”
“Where's the weed at?” Shannon asked. “I need to go to sleep.”
I rolled joints, and then helped put away the meat, which was wrapped in butcher's paper and labeled. We smoked, then they took turns showering while I fried up the tongue, liver, and heart. It was sort of a tradition we had, but it was almost a ritual. In some strange way, we were paying tribute to the animal we had just killed. It wasn't really enough of a meal between three people, but it was delicious, and a good indication of the quality of the meat.
I enjoyed the smell of the frying delicacies, and briefly wondered why deer weren't farmed like cattle. Economics, I decided. That's the reason for most things that don't otherwise make sense.
Deer enjoy a special place in the food chain in Louisiana. You can't legally buy or sell deer meat, here. You either kill one yourself, or you know someone else who did. I'm sure a few people did traffic in it, but there wasn't a lot to go around in the first place.
There was one good way around that, though. Sometimes people will bring one to a butcher for processing, and never pick it up, because they can't afford it or something. So at the beginning of the season, if you leave a few hundred dollars with them, you'd usually get a call to come pick up your meat.
Sausage, loin, backstrap. And you could get it for two or three dollars a pound. All legal-like.
All my musings are pointless, now. As I write this, I'm sitting in an overgrown public park, watching a small herd of them graze. I've fed them by hand before. They're really closer to overgrown dogs than cows.
Most of the actual cattle are dead, now. They died of dehydration, or starvation, in some cases. There just wasn't anyone to care for them, at the time. As I said, we had much bigger problems to worry about, then. Things like our own survival.
So most of them died, held in by flimsy fences. Perhaps that's an apt metaphor for the human condition.
We ate, rice and gravy on the side, and Tommy told me his deer story. They each had one more beer with breakfast, and we lit another joint to share. Two hits, and Shannon was nodding out on the couch he slept on.
“You tired yet?” Tommy asked me.
I shook my head no.
“I think I'm going back to the spot.”
“You oughta bring you a sleepin' bag,” he said. “When you crash, you're going to crash hard.”
“I'll be alright. Prolly just a few hours. Be back by sundown, I expect. I just have a good feeling about that spot. Lots of tracks.”
“Up on the other river.”
“That's like eight miles.”
“I'm takin' the boat, this time.”
“The chance of baggin' one in broad daylight is slim, you know that, right?”
“Yeah, sure. I just can't sleep yet.”
“That was a damn fool thing to do, takin' those big rips like that.”
“I just, I don't know. I don't want to always be a pussy.”
“Yain't no pussy, Jimbo. You're just...different. You get in a bind, call me, hear?”
“Y'all get some sleep. I might even make the hunt tonight if I still feel like this.”
“Cool,” Tommy said, but his eyes were already closed. He probably slept the day away in the recliner he was sitting in.
I grabbed some bottled water and sandwich stuff, and headed back. Things were never the same again after that.
I really miss those days.