Tuesday, September 13, 2005

The Buck Stops Here

The first day of deer hunting season was marked by a bevy of pickup trucks parked along the road near the various paths into the woods. As the sun rose, sleepy men clambered out of their vehicles clad in an odd assemblage of camouflage gear and bright orange vests and hats.

Small groups clustered along the roadside as the hunters showed off their new rifles and modeled the latest fashions in scent disguising outerwear. Of course, technology had not yet advanced to the point where it could hide the musky odor of several of the men for whom bathing was, at best, a semi-annual event. The more seasoned hunters in the group made a mental note to avoid the paths traveled by those men - and to do their best to stay upwind of them.

Bonding completed, bottles of deer scent lure pocketed, and equipment checked one last time, they plunged into the forest. Most liked to imagine themselves as warriors, but the truth was that their forays resembled combat only in the respect that they tended to be filled with long stretches of boredom punctuated by brief periods of excitement and bursts of gunfire. They fanned out, moving slowly and quietly so as to avoid spooking any bucks in the area. At the same time, they kept alert for a glimpse of antlers in the hopes that they'd have the honor of taking down the first buck of the season. More than just bragging rights were at stake, since many of the locals had plunked down $100 in the "First Kill of the Year (minimum ten points)" pool run by Woody's Bar and Grill - the popular post hunt watering hole.

Jimmy and Cecil were silently picking their way through the forest towards their tree stand when they saw something move in the brush to their left. They peered through the thicket and caught sight of a white tailed buck. Because they'd agreed that Cecil would get first shot this year, Jimmy stood stock still as his friend slowly raised his rifle and took careful aim. Before he could squeeze off a shot, a loud rustling sound in the woods behind them frightened the buck and sent it scampering away. With revenge on their mind, they turned to angrily confront whatever it was that had cost them their prized buck (and likely cash prize). Before they could react, they were the recipients of a spinning whip kick so vicious that it sent to them sprawling in one direction while their rifles flew in another.

Being the larger of the two, Cecil recovered first and advanced with his fists raised in classic boxer fashion. He'd broken more than a few noses in his days as fledgling professional fighter and, while he preferred the Marquis of Queensberry rules, he was not above fighting dirty when the situation called for it. When he got his first good look at what he was up against, he realized that this was one of those times that required more drastic measures.

He reached down and took hold of a rather sizeable branch that lay on the forest floor. As he straightened up, he let loose a swing that would have made Babe Ruth proud. The results, however, were less Ruthian than he'd hoped. Rather than the satisfying thud of wood against bone, he heard a whistling sound as his opponent easily ducked beneath the swing. The last thing Cecil remembered seeing upon waking up in the hospital a few days later was a perfectly executed back kick headed directly for his face.

Witnessing this from the spot on the ground where he'd landed, Jimmy was by now officially terrified. Not only had he just watched the complete destruction of the toughest man in the county, but the architect of the beating was advancing towards him at that very moment. The coward in him took over, and Jimmy took off as fast as his legs would carry him. Running blindly (which is never a good idea in a forest) he had the dumb luck to come across a clearing that marked the end of a well worn path which he recognized would bring him back to the very spot that he and Cecil had occupied a few minutes earlier. Faced with the choice of wandering aimlessly through the woods or going back to help his wounded comrade, he opted to head in Cecil's direction. His decision wasn't entirely altruistic in that he knew he'd be generally shunned by his fellow hunters if he were to abandon his friend and frequent protector. Not only that, but he'd pissed off enough people that if word ever got out that he and Cecil were through, he'd have no choice but to pack up his belongings and flee town under the cover of darkness.

He sprinted across the clearing and down the path. He found Cecil laid out right where he'd left him and was relieved when a quick check that he was still breathing. After a search of the surrounding bush, Jimmy located their rifles. He slung Cecil's across his back, and shouldered his weapon. He took aim and swept his rifle in an arc, hoping to catch their attacker in his crosshairs and extract a bloody revenge. He was concentrating so intensely that he didn't even realize that he was no longer alone until it was too late. A quick forearm strike to his larynx sent Jimmy to his knees and two kicks to his ribs finished the job. He heard the snap of his bones an instant before he felt the pain, and he was unconscious before he even hit the ground.

When he awoke some time later, he crawled over to Cecil. A surge of adrenalin fortified by frequent and liberal dosages of painkillers in the form of a bourbon filled flask that he carried in the pocket of his fatigues gave him the strength to drag Cecil's limp body back to their truck. As he looked around, he realized that they were not the only ones to have been attacked. In fact, the roadside was littered with men in various states of distress. Some were cradling broken limbs, others were attending to broken noses. To a man, they were much worse off than when they had arrived that morning.

Over the next few weeks, the carnage was repeated. Healthy hunters entered the woods, and bruised and battered bodies emerged from them hours later. Through attrition and word of mouth, the number of hunters dwindled each week until none were left.

The mood at Woody's was subdued for the remainder of hunting season. Of course, the guys still went there to drink and watch sports as they nursed their injuries but they studiously avoided any mention of the unclaimed "First Kill" prize and none of them ever spoke of the beatings they took at the hooves of the Tae Kwon Doe.