A short story about man and his commitment to overcome odds to keep a promise to his son.
Hank stepped out onto the front porch and pulled the front door shut ever so softly behind him. His boots barely made a sound on the rough lumber porch of his cabin as he took three steps and stood at the edge staring out into the starry predawn darkness.
“Man it’s cold”, he said out loud not realizing he had allowed his thought to verbalize itself. His breath hung in the sub-freezing air, as if his declaration had frozen time, and now and forever it would be this cold.
He carefully descended the steps that landed to the snow-covered yard of his small Louisa County farm. A fresh coating of thick heavy snow created a quagmire buffer between his hunting boots and the now frozen tundra that would soon enough become lush and green again in the approaching spring.
A flashlight hung loosely in the light grip of his left hand. Hank started to turn it on but realized there was really no need. The moon was shining brightly, peeping from behind scattered clouds and casting a reflective glow that scattered the darkness. As he walked toward the barn, he noticed that he had to fight the urge to look back towards the front door. “Lights off, coffee maker off and thermostat down”, he thought quietly to himself.
“Today is the big hunt”, he said barely audible as he unlatched the two large wooden doors that presented his old Ford pick-up when opened.
The big hunt. That’s what he and his son Robbie had called this day for quite some time now, the opening day of muzzleloader deer season. They had planned for this day for a long time, and now it was here; cold, snowing, and dark…almost perfect.
Hank grabbed the door handle and pressed the open button with his thumb while pulling the door open at the same time. The door opened and Robbie’s smile greeted him from the passenger side. He was awful proud of that boy, so handsome, and growing up so fast; it seemed like only yesterday he was getting on the bus for his first day of kindergarten. His light brown hair was loosely combed and teased in the front. What an infecting smile he had, perfect teeth that glistened with his bright blue eyes. People often commented how they resembled each other. He just shone with life, radiant and expecting.
Sliding into the drivers seat, Hank inserted the key into the ignition and started the truck and sat quietly, letting it run for a while allowing the heat to build. He engaged the four-wheel drive to ease driving in the eight inches of snow, and then pulled down on the column-mounted gear lever and shifted into drive. The big tires eased forward making a long slow crunching sound as they rolled out onto the snow-covered road.
Today the hunt would take place on the west side of his rolling farmland, in a tree stand he and Robbie had built last spring. Just a little inside the tree line in a tall, towering oak tree that gave a supreme command of the field to the left and the woods to the right. The ride to the stand took only a few short minutes, the motor had just started to warm the inside of the truck when he pulled as close as he dare to the hunting area. Out back into the cold morning he was forced, propelled by a promise to get the monster buck that Robbie thought was surely lurking in these woods.
With rifle in hand and gear strapped on, the ten-minute march was started to the new hunting location that was constructed with pride and a lot of joy.
After mounting the stand and settling in, Hank listened to the sound of his heart pounding out a strong steady rhythm, all the while getting slower and slower and finally settling into the normal pace he was used to. Hanks mind wandered in the deafening roar of silence of the snow-capped woods; back to a time when things seemed slower. He remembered the first time he had taken Robbie hunting with him. That and the two subsequent times totaled all of forty-five minutes in the woods. It was hard to expect a boy all of eight years out to enjoy sitting in almost zero degree weather or to understand how much money could be saved on meat with a successful hunt; but took his eager son at his mothers urging. His wife, Helen, assured him Robbie would grow and maybe actually enjoy the experience, but to Robbie, those short lived twenty minute hunting trips were the only thing he talked about for the rest of the year.
Hank’s mind drifted forward a year and he remembered how bad he’d felt not being able to hunt any that winter. His son begged to go, but work was good and he needed to get in all the time at work he could. “Next year”, he kept promising his son, “we’ll get that monster buck” All spring was spent preparing for ‘the big hunt’, when a boy of ten was just sure he would bag nothing less that a ten-pointer. That’s because on his tenth birthday he had gotten his own muzzleloader, and he felt like king of the woods with his new .50 caliber smoke stick. Its blued steel octagon shaped barrel protruded from a dark stained ash stock with brass accents. The kick of the raw power of this beautiful rifle was exhilarating to the young lad. Robbie practiced every chance he had to become as good a shot as his father, and good he was.
A voice, barely a faint whisper brought Hanks attention back to the present. “Dad…behind you…coming to your right”, he thought he heard Robbie whisper. Without thinking or reasoning he took a deep breath, steadied his nerves and slowly stood up. Looking over his right shoulder he could see the ivory colored antlers out of the corner of his eye. Hank slowly pivoted around to position himself to take the shot. The next few seconds seemed like hours waiting for the buck to move into the zone. This was a monster he thought to himself. What a magnificent creature. He took a deep breath, exhaled half way and gently squeezed the trigger. The nitro cap cracked as the hammer slammed down on the nipple and ignited the pyrodex powder; the explosion splitting the cold, enveloping silence and causing the air around the whole area to rumble like thunder. The bullet entered behind the left shoulder and the fourteen-point brute of a whitetail took two steps and dropped solid. That was the way he liked to hunt. Clean shots. He hunted not only because he wanted to, but also he needed to.
The trip to the truck seemed to pass in a blur with all the adrenaline and the excitement of the moment. The deer was loaded into the bed of the truck for the short ride back to the house almost without thought or any sense of emotion. With the lifeless carcass suspended from a rafter in his barn, Hank dressed the deer in a very solemn mood. Tears were starting to roll down his cheeks as he reflected on the events of the past few months. “Strange”, he thought out loud, “life…such power with such weakness”.
He carefully removed the large antlers with a hacksaw and walked out to a new day filled with sun, shining brightly off the glistening snow. Hank noticed it was a little warmer now as he walked toward the weeping willow tree out behind the house. He kneeled and placed the racks on the ground and whispered a tear rasped, “We got him buddy” as he cupped his hand to remove some of the accumulated snow from a rise in the ground. The granite was so cold and hard to the touch, the smooth face giving way to rough edges that rose out of the frozen ground. He read the engraved words silently, but they were so loud in his mind, so loud it seemed if they were chanting out in chorus for a reminder of the pain they stood for.
Hanks mind flash back, remembering so clearly the day when Helen and Robbie had gone for a late fall bike ride.
“My God…why?” he sobbed bitterly to allow the escape of the hurt, the anger, the pain.
It had only been seven weeks since the car had rounded the curve too fast and the driver was caught off guard by their presence. Beautiful Helen 32, Robbie 10; “life…such power with such weakness”.
If only for a fleeting second, he thought he saw them off in the distance and heard the soft voice of his love say, “Thank you for promises kept”.