Xposure

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Twilight.

The moment when men dream dreams, and choices, like the sun that melts the morning fog, became clear.

This was Stan’s favorite time to be in the woods.

Not quite awake or asleep, the forest had yet to come together and gel. The gloom that had swallowed it whole at sunset would recede and release its leafy captives to the few who like Stan, had sacrificed their sleep to witness it. Held since dusk, they’d step out of the dimness, free again. It was a special time, a time suspended between worlds, and relished by sportsmen.

There was duplicity, though, when truthfully it was still all undecided. In the wavering darkness, for half a heartbeat, a victor had yet to be announced; the moon was supposed to yield, trees should show themselves, ferns, bushes, and rocks usually took their form, or at least always had. When they eventually coagulated, it was pure tranquility. Yesterday didn’t matter; the world began anew in this moment. The sun always rose and Stan loved the quiet feeling that he never knew anywhere else. In the twilight’s gleam he glimpsed it.

Peace.

He shifted the call to the roof of his mouth and pressed his tongue against it.

Yoke, yoke, yoke, yoke, yoke, yoke.

“You’ll only get one shot, Nick.”

“My butt hurts.”

“Squeeze, don’t pull. Let it surprise you when it goes off.”

A hard gobble, less than 30 yards away, ripped the chilly Pennsylvania air.

“I remember,” he said, and shifted his 161 pounds from one cheek to the other. “He’s still coming, huh, Stan?”

“Steady,” he coached. “Don’t shoot till you see his beard.”

Nick nodded. “He’s close,” he said, adjusting his facemask and lifting the shotgun.

“Not yet, bud,” Stan whispered and pressed the barrel gently down with one hand. “One last cluck. Let’s be sure he’s on the hook.”

Enticed by the soft, sexy clucks from Stan’s mouth call, a sturdy gobble erupted once more. And then again. He was close. And hot! Just beyond that clump of Mountain Laurel, by the fallen Hemlock, the leaves crunched like Will Kellogg’s invention. The sound fell silent, and then rustled again. Louder.

Shush, shush, shush…crackle…Shush, Shush. Shush, SHUSH…SNAP!

Stan hadn’t noticed Nick’s breathing before. He knew his brother’s first bird was only yards away now. The dawn crept closer and a whippoorwill whistled its approach. A vole tunneled softly through the oak leaves below. The woods that the Stanislaw family had owned for almost half a century, that Stan knew like his own bedroom, began to come alive, and out of the milky May mist, Oaks and Maples and Hemlocks thickened to encircle “the arena,” a tiny meadow in the midst of the forest that magically pulled gobblers to it every spring. These 39 acres had given up plenty of grouse, rabbits, and some nice bucks over the years, but this spot was the honey hole for big toms. Stan was glad the old man didn’t sell it when they moved to Detroit. Originally he had gotten it from Milo Neff, who still owned the original 200 or so at the back end of their property, bordering state game land on the leeward side of the mountain and an old apple orchard on the other. Now Nick was about to enter the record book, to have his name scrawled on the cabin door as well, carefully etched in the wood under his father and brother’s annual triumphs, a testament to the hunting prowess of the Stanislaw clan.

“Too bad Pop isn’t here,” Stan whispered. “He’d like to see this.”

“Yeah,” Nick agreed, trying to whisper. “Getting old is…there he is! I see his head.”

Shhh. When he turns, get the gun up. He can’t see behind with his tail fanned out in full strut, but be fast.”

Nick waited for the moment. The turkey strutted proudly, made his next half circle and the boy wedged the Benelli’s butt end firmly into his shoulder, with the barrel rested on his knee, and leaned into it. Stan heard the faint metallic click as Nick’s finger slid the safety off.

“I see his beard.”

“Yeah, me too.”

The bird was magnificent!

His intense blue head dipped back and forth, up and down, fitfully searching the woods for the hen that had lured him from his sleepy roost, stepping closer and closer to the camo clad brothers; oblivious, yet instinctively wary. He leaned his head back against his feathers as they inflated to three times his normal size, tucked his beak into his chest, and tried hard to impress the lucky lady who surely waited for his services just ahead. Glossy black plumes, with an iridescent sheen of blues and greens and purplish oranges, were layered upon layers of heavy feathers, fully pumped into the classic butterball from a Pilgrim’s dream feast. His snood dangled off his beak like some mangled worm, the powerful wings dragged the ground, caruncles on his neck engorged with the hot blood of a lover’s zeal, a scorching red. The massive tail, fanned out wide in a chestnut brown display, trimmed in black and tan, completed his spring ensemble. He was stunning and his dance superb!

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Stan glanced down at Nick without moving his head, then back at the tom, and wondered. Could Nick really….

WHAM!

The gunpowder ignited, filled the air with sulfur, and ruptured the moment. Feathers flew. He was down, on his side, flapping awkwardly on the leafy floor. Nick racked the pump and a red three-and-a-half inch Winchester casing popped out of the gun, harmlessly dropping in Stan’s lap. It was over.

…pull the trigger?

“WAH-HOO! I got him Stan! I got him!” Nick was up, pumping one fist in the air and shouting, while holding the shotgun aloft with the other. “YA-HOOOOO! Did ya’ see that, Stanley? I’m on the door!”

“Nice shot, killer. The Pine Grove Palace door awaits your trusty blade with bated breath. You’re in the club, bud.” His smile faded as he watched Nick run to his trophy.

Stan knew that Nick had the Stanislaw will to kill, adopted or not. Nick was no longer a boy. He was 18, off to Grove City Bible College in the fall, and his future all but decided.

Now Stan had to decide about his own.

(Chapter One of my novel, XPOSURE, available on Amazon)

 

 

 

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