by Anthony Vieira
When we were ten, Marty Azuelos dad took us bow hunting up in the Sierra foothills. We were off to "bag us a pregnant doe!", as Juans pal Sammy Kearish had claimed, clapping Marty on the back and shaking my shoulder so hard I thought my neck would break. Sammy was a lean, tall fuckwad of a man, and from the snippets of conversation we boys heard (wed doze on and off, yanked out of slumber by a hooting pairs somehow terrible laughter, the bitter tang of Budweiser floated to us, but we might have thought wed dreamed it. It was four in the morning, who would drink beer this early?), that dark, glinty-eyed French-Canadian jostled and snorted over the "girlies" hed "nailed." Always that: "...nailed thissun back behind the Buicks," hed say, sharing a 24oz bottle of Budweiser with Juan, "now you cant let em catch the lot parking manager fuckin in a Blazer, first place Roy (owner of Leopold Chevrolet-Pontiac-Buick) liked to come around every other week or so and sniff the big monster SUVs, right? Found his damned lot super ballin this fifteen year old from downen Vallejo, in a big silver Blazer. They turned the stereo on sos no one would hear em!" And Juan would howl with laughter. Theyd get on CBs and rattle bullshit for hours with the truckers, who were usually kinda pissed off that everywhere they went through, you can count on a bunch of redneck assholes on channel 21, clogging up the air with their motherfuckin nonsense til all the truckers who need the fucking air to communcate switched over to the less-useful Marine band in disgust. Juan and Sammy talked shit into the CB, joshed Marty and me about any "little girlies" we might have, gnawed bottle caps off with their teeth; sometimes Juan leaned out the window and spit them out on passing windshields.
Marty and I floated in and out of all this as the headlights glared past us from the darkness...i can remember coffee and beer, those are the predominant smells...a rough sweaty-stubble stink of Juan and Sammy--the terrified excitement of little boys, slowly initiated into a mans world...they shook us awake to a bright mid-morning--wed no idea how far wed traveled, (felt like days, but wasnt more than a hundred miles, I later discovered, to the outskirts of a wild turkey hunting park up by Jackson), only that it was now day, eight in the morning, and Juan and Sam were loading themselves up for the hunt.
Marty and I were suddenly in the middle of a weird green world wed never seen outside of those old Tarzan cartoons they had, once upon a smeary, half-lit past. My little brother Leo and I would sit and watch in our fathers apartment living room, on the old second hand couch hed acquired from the previous tenant. The springs showed, they bounced and groaned with age, the cushions were moth-eaten and looked tired of people and their asses. His sputtering, foul-smelling little color Zenith would stay on for hours, as our dad slept in the other room. Thats the last memory I have of the time he lived alone, my and brother and I living with our tweeked-out, self-absorbed whore of a mother.
I was supposed to be visiting him this weekend, but instead my mom let me go with Marty and his dad. My own dad hadnt dug that, but didnt seem to care all that much, either. He preferred Leos company, I think. I didnt blame him. I was a bratty little fuck, rebellious and worrisome. My cousins started calling me Telly, after the Sesame Street character who was probably the first neurotic Muppet on TV. Everything worried me sick, and I couldnt shake it, not for years. Like some billowing shadow just past the edges of my sight was watching over everything I did--for years I wasnt much into conversation...this thing would just flap there beyond my reach, reminding me that its watching and waiting. Like the Beast in Lord of the Flies. Although my shadow was there long before I ever picked that book up. So little Telly couldnt get past some unknown sense of guilt, for nothing he could think of. My brother would call me that and Id hit him in the neck. Wed end up rolling around on our stepmothers hardwood floor, howling and kicking and biting. Dad would stride up, we didnt hear him coming until his fingers were clamped to the back of our necks, and his red-faced growl informing us if we didnt clean this fucking room now there would be much more to worry about.
So although we were tired, (or maybe because of it), Juan let us sip his beer once each, and refused to allow more than that...but our ten-year old metabolisms hadnt met this particular gentlemen before, and couldnt resist a dance. We were lightly buzzed, and stood around giggling as the two men loaded themselves down.
If they were drunk, they didnt show it. They never weaved or bobbed or even spoke. No grins or silly banter, they were dead solemn about this. I suppose they had many rituals, whether or not they realized it. Routines come naturally to guys like these, and if their lives havent got the static linear logic of, say, a Tom Clancy novel or a Chuck Norris movie, their edges start to fray. Juan and Sammy prepared for this mission with all the freaky, narrow intent of a couple of assassins. Marty held his fathers bow, using both hands and what probably amounted to all his thin strength. It was a long, sleek, expensive-looking thing, with a handle made of dull pearl, which glowed slightly when the sun caught it. "Nothing for the sun to catch on, see?" Juan said, watching me eye the bow. Something close to awe must have been pasted on my face, the big mick stood there in his close-shave and crewcut, one long grin. Marty was staring at us both, a hurt look glanced off his brow as his dad took the bow from his hands. "See?" He drew the string back, and the weight was terrible. We could feel it in the air, maybe eighty pounds of pull, probably more. I dont hunt anymore, so I just dont know whats usual. I dont want to know. "And, when you see its abdomen, see that bulge just under its ribcage--" he let it snap back...in my mind an arrow shot through the air and pierced the heart of a squalling, pregnant doe. Only I didnt know whether a doe could squall, or even make any noise. I saw ribbons of bright blood streak this new blue and green and brown world I was in. I felt a thrill, a little boys bloodlust awakened and more than a little hungry. I knew, also, that my father would be pissed off if he found out that someone else had taken me on my first hunt, rather than him. I hadnt wanted to go with him, so I lied when Marty asked me if Id hunted before. I made it sound like it was all I did every weekend, ever since I was a fetus. It was the only way Juan would agree to take me along. "So wanna pull it, Lester?" Juan said, thrusting it my way. I could only gape at it, impossibly huge and heavy looking. Then Sammy scowled and yanked it from his hand.
"Juan, you fuck. Drink some coffee. Dont give the kid yer bow." Sammy said, and pushed Juan toward the cab of Sammys red Chevy truck, the big kind with a camper over the flatbed, and when it wasnt full of camping gear his two German Shepherds lived in it. They were in a kennel, though; Id heard Sammy tell Juan that they "like kids too much." Juan smiled. We didnt know how drunk he was. Id discover later how certain drinks affected his moods in different ways. Bud seemed to cheer him up, without fail. It was the only type of beer he would ever drink. Whiskey turned him paranoid, and then mean. (Just like ole Marty) Wine made him flushed and talkative; hed then pass out early. Vodka made him strange. I remember times when Id visit Marty and see a half-dozen empty bottle of White Wolf, the cheapest, worst kind of "Red-juice", as Juan called it. Thered be a neat row spread from the kitchen to the hallway to Juans den, along with drying splatters of booze to mark his progress through the house. Sometimes there were specks and splashes of blood, handprints pawing at the doorjambs and doorknobs, and Martys mother would be weeping quietly in the living room while Juan whooped it up to a Giants game beneath the glass eyes of his deer and elk heads.
Juan armed each of us with an arrow, long and sharp. Their sleek feel awed us. They were nearly spears to us, but we understood somehow that we werent playing around. Huntings a sport to most men who dont have to make their living by it. For most men, that is. For Juan and Sammy it was somehow more personal.
Sammy led the way through the gravel clearing that served well enough for parking. The trail led through the trees and up into the foothills. I followed Sammy, with Marty behind him. Martys dad came last. Both the men held their bows limply, and loosened up enough to discuss the best direction and the way the wind was moving. Then the trail faded some and finally vanished completely. Sammy slowed and led us off in a new direction. For awhile we just walked, the hill sloping gently downhill. Then it got steeper, until we were all hanging onto tree trunks and rocks to keep from pitching forward. Sammy and Marty bounded down the hill like a couple of goats, but I was less quick and behind me Juan sounded like he was dying. We could see by then it wasnt much further until the hill leveled out but Sammy could hear Juan back there too, and he called out for a rest. "Fuck yes!" Juan said, and collapsed wheezing against an elm tree.
Sammy smoked a Pall Mall and said nothing. Marty and I were pretty jazzed up by then, in that ten-year-old way which superseded any solemnity. We ran in circles through the trees, pretending to jab each other with the arrows. Then the arrows were make-believe bows, invisible missiles flew through the air, the shrill whistling noise came from our mouths as we ducked and crouched and hollered. I thought I heard a sound somewhere, but promptly forgot it. "All right!" Sammy yelled. Juan herded us forward, but I sensed him hanging back. After about twenty feet I looked back. Juan was not walking, but peering into the underbrush. I glanced around me, and thought I could hear a shuffling, snorting noise a ways off. Then it faded. I kept walking when I saw Juan cut his hand through the air. I ran to catch up with Marty. The hill leveled out, and we took another break. Juan swung his pack off his shoulders and knelt in the dirt, digging in a side pocket.
"Naw, Juan," Sammy said as he bounced a fresh pack of smokes off his palm. Juan twisted his lip without looking up. He pawed at a flask-shaped bulge in the extreme bottom left corner of his pack. Sammy lit his cigarette and flicked the match at Juans ear. Martys dad jumped as if stung by a scorpion.
"Ow! You fucker!" he howled, and charged Sammy. Marty and I gawped in shock for a second, then had to hold each other up, we were laughing so hard. Martys dad tried to sock Sammy in the gut but tripped over his own feet. He lay sprawled on the ground, his face red from swearing. By then Sammy was laughing and shaking his head, going to help Juan to his feet. When Juan took his hand something started moving in the bushes next to Marty and me. Sammy and Juan sprang apart and ran toward us. The bushes rustled and I could hear the same snorting, snuffling sound coming from the green and brown shadows. Marty dropped his arrow and ran to his father. I could only clutch mine and stand where I was, suddenly full of the first real terror Id ever known.
"Stay right where you are!" Sammy said in a loud whisper. The rustling quieted, then swelled back up again, then quieted, swelled, like a rush of gasps from some girl youre fucking, but I guess I couldnt know about that then. To me it sounded like one big goddam thing coming towards me though, and Sammys whisper-shouting: "If it's a boar, Marty and Lester you find the nearest damn tree and fly up that fucking thing, got it!" We nodded fiercely and he crept forward. Juan stood up straight and with one slow, deliberate movement nocked an arrow and drew a bead into the trembling thicket. Sammy did the same. I stood as still as I could. Marty stared with wide eyes, his mouth a big dark O. Then bent to pick up his arrow and slid on some muddy patch beneath the grass. He fell to one knee, barked out a yelp. Poor kid was nervous. Cant blame him for that.
The boar shot out from the brush, heading straight for me. Id never seen anything like this squat, ugly, ferocious thing that came charging like a tusked bull towards my legs. I dropped my arrow and tore like hell for the first tree I saw, a big ash with low limbs. I huffed and gasped and scrambled up that thing like an out of shape chimp. Marty was hollering and I knew it wasnt after me. I hung on and tried to look through the leaves...but I could only see flashes of color and bits of movement in fragmented shadows through the branches. I heard Juan bellow in either pain or rage or both, and the sharp THACK of an arrow piercing skin and flesh, followed by a squeal of pain and outrage. Marty was screaming by then, and his screams had mixed with high, choking sobs. When Sammy came and called up to me, with his white, scared face and wide eyes, I wouldnt go.
© Anthony Vieira