Rain or shine Eugene always got out for the first day of hunting season. Out where he lived in central Pennsylvania, the Monday after Thanksgiving was an official school district holiday. Everybody went hunting. The weather was good this year, clear, not too cold.
He left his dad’s truck down by the creek that ran along Mr. Abel’s driveway. Slung over his one shoulder was his new Remington rifle, over the other his backpack. He was headed to his lucky spot high up on the hill. It took twenty minutes at a slow walk, over the creek, over the wire fence. He’d walk and pause to listen, scan the area for deer. Nothing, not a bird, not a squirrel. Finally he got there. It was an outcropping of huge gray boulders, lichen-spotted with bright green moss where they met the dead leaves that had covered the hillside. His camouflage blended him in there perfectly. He had gotten his first deer sitting there two years ago. Something had spooked the buck and it came right toward him, turned to look back down the hill. Eugene raised his rifle, aimed and fired. A perfect hit. He had just turned sixteen.
Nothing last year and nothing today--so far. He sat there watching the space before him, waited patiently. The only sounds were an occasional rustling in the branches and leaves whenever the wind blew. Otherwise the silence seemed absolute, was almost unsettling since he never went any period of time without some noise around him. He’d purposely left his phone behind in a spirit of trying to experience the authenticity of old-school hunting like his dad and uncles always talked about.
An hour had passed when he first heard it. It came from behind him, over the ridge. It sounded like a spurt of loud music, like somebody had turned on a radio which had its volume set high, then quickly turned it down. But it was far off, he guessed it was only because of where he was and how it echoed against the hills that he even heard it. Later he heard it again. Now he guessed it was some kind of intercom, a voice calling for somebody like at the lumberyard where he worked.
It was time for a snack. He unzipped his backpack and took out the turkey sandwich and a plastic sandwich bag with potato chips. He also had a beer he’d snuck out of the fridge. His dad and uncles always took a beer or two hunting. His mom didn’t like him drinking, but his dad always looked the other way when they’d go missing on Friday nights. He looked at the label. It was called I. P. Bay from the Hairpin Brewery. His dad had brought it back that summer from his crabbing trip on the Delaware Bay. It sat undrank in the fridge and was referred to by his dad and uncles as yuppie beer.
Eugene used the bottle opener on his knife to open it. He took a sip and looked at the label again. So this is yuppie beer. It was pretty tasty. He bit into the sandwich and washed it down with another swig of beer. By the time the sandwich was gone there was only another sip of beer remaining. He stuffed the empty bags and bottle into his backpack and zipped it. Wow, that was quite a buzz he was getting from the yuppie beer. He inwardly reeled, had to make himself refocus on the woods around him. Everything had taken on an animated presence, like the forest was its own animal and it knew he was out to kill its creatures. The trees seemed to stand, watching, waiting for his next move, the rocks held their breath, waiting to shriek at him. The dry rustling of the leaves were whispers, gossip, conspiracies.
He stood and grasped the rifle, told himself his camo rendered him invisible to all. He could walk like an Indian, make no noise, stalk deer, bear, moose, some cryptozoological oddities he had no reason to think traveled those parts. He’d be the first to catch one. He’d find what nobody had found, he’d come home with a Noah’s ark selection of creatures, one of each, their heads would stare nobily from the walls of his home, his uncles’.
There was that sound again. Eugene left the rock, scanned the area around him and walked up the hill, his feet moving so skillfully, so silently that he might bump into prey. He came to the top of the hill and the noises were clearer. Far off he saw fields, a farm. A voice on a mic, music. He ran forward toward the sound. He recalled something new opening that way, something spoken of by his dad with contempt, something most likely brought by outsiders that every year were ruining the way things used to be.
As he got closer he heard it was live music, a band with twanging guitars, a man singing, drums. He saw the top of a tent, cars and trucks filling a parking lot. He chose to approach from the hill that overlooked the crowd before the stage. Leaning against a tree he got his bearings, realized this was off of Bergson Road. It was that winery that just opened. He remembered seeing advertisements for some Fallfest.
Below him the audience sat on blankets, leaned or sat against a fence or an old stone wall. On the one side there were several food trucks and tables set up for selling food, wine. Kids chased each other around in circles.
He had a perfect view. In his bag he had an entire box of cartridges. The tree had a notch on which his rifle rested perfectly. Through the scope he saw their heads, their arms flapping in applause. He imagined their yuppie heads on his walls. He chose a fat man standing in the rear, centered the crosshairs on his upper central chest where his heart would be.
He put his finger on the trigger and inhaled.