Enduring on the Lake

Monday, November 10, 2014

Chapter 36


“I’m freezing my tail feathers off.  What happened to the weather?” I said coming pretty close to complaining in the dark of the early morning.  I knew there was frost on the ground as I’d had to walk through it from the parking area the family had used.  “Geez about the only thing I can see is my breath.” 

Max who had been looking sleepy and miserable at that point because he’d been denied the chance to carry a rifle by Josh even though I offered to loan him my junior .22lr, tried to fake scratching his nose to cover a smile.  

My antics did not impress the other Slothowers there, every last one of them giving Zane the hairy eyebrow for having brought me along.  Zane didn’t look happy with what the others considered all the noise I was making either but as the others pushed him he turned contrary against me and wouldn’t tell me to stay home.  Men … or should I say males … because even the male dogs they brought gave me “the look.”  But the dogs wouldn’t say boo because the alpha momma of the pack took a liking to my scent and decided my boots were a good platform for sitting. 

I leaned over to Max and whispered, “So does she like me or is she worried I’m going to run off into the woods and get lost.  Or is it that her royal highness just doesn’t want to sit on the frost covered ground?” 

“Beulah does the same thing to me.” 

I sighed.  “Wonderful.  What does that make us then?  Her puppies or something?” 

Max snickered quietly and when the older men there noticed they started looking at me with more interest though they continued to keep their distance. 

Hightower Slothower was senior on this trip and started giving orders and assigning hunting stands and meet up locations and radio frequencies to use “in case of trouble.”  I didn’t appreciate the squinty eye that he threw Max and my way when he said it and right then and there decided I was going to prove the whole lot of them wrong. 

Zane finally came back over to us and said, “I’m not sure what kind of day we are going to have.  Uncle Hightower has heard that there are going to be a lot of hunters out today.  Word has gotten out and around about the state the grocery stores are in.” 

“Give Max and I a tree away from the others.  They’ll be less jumpy that way and will have less to complain about.  He and I can do for ourselves.” 

“Now Syd …” 

“Don’t now Syd me.  I can’t make you let me take Max with me but I can go off on my own whether you agree to it or not.  I’m here by your invitation but I don’t exactly feel welcome and I don’t want trouble from your family or for you by your family.” 

“It’s not like that.” 

“That’s BS.  Last time Mom was here she mentioned what a bunch of chauvinists the Slothowers men have always been.  As to that it really doesn’t bother me because Daddy was pretty much the same way.  But dining on a steady diet of it without any relief isn’t my idea of a fun time.  And it can’t be a fun time for you to have your family looking at you like you’ve lost your mind.  If Max and I don’t get anything then we don’t and they’ll be right.  If we do I’ll have proven to myself I can get along without being babied.  Win-win from all I can see.” 

Josh called, “Zane!  Is there a problem?” 

I turned around and gave Josh some squinty eye right back and told him, “That’s the tone you use to call dogs, not people.  I was just asking Zane if he minded that Max and I stayed out of everyone’s way with a tree of our own a little way off.” 

Josh would have said something – something probably snarky – except several of the other men suddenly piped up in relief saying that Zane should “let us” do that very thing.  I gave Zane a knowing look and he just rolled his eyes and tried to hide a smile.  I played it up even further by going, “Please Zane?  Please?  Max and I will stay out of trouble, I promise.” 

Zane scrubbed his face and muttered, “Good Lord.  You’re a mess.  They won’t be happy when they find out there’s a brain under all that hair.” 

With wide, innocent eyes I whispered back, “They’ll never know ‘cause they’ll never look.” 

To keep Max from getting ideas of following me in my antics he marched us away and down a barely discernable game trail.  We’d hiked quite a way when Zane gave a certain tree a good once over.  “This should do.  I’ve used this tree before.  Don’t go wandering around.  People are twitchy.” 

Max nodded as he took a sip from a Nalgene bottle I had fixed for him that morning.  “Yeah, Josh sure was cranky.  So was Uncle Hightower and he’s never cranky.  And I don’t see why I can’t have a rifle.  Arlington does and he’s only a year older ‘n me and he acts stupid all the time.” 

I put my finger to my lips to quiet him.  “Sound carries in the still and cold air.  You don’t know where he is and there’s no reason to make enemies you don’t need to make.  Arlington’s father makes decisions for him.  Josh and Zane make decisions for you.  Prove to Zane and Josh you’ve got more than fuzz under your hat and that might make their decision go in your favor next time.” 

It must have surprised Zane that Max was willing to give that some thought and he tried to cover it by lacing his fingers to give me a boot up into the tree.  I looked at him in disdain and slung my rifles safely before shimmying up the tree without his help.  I got myself sat and then helped Max up when Zane helped him instead.  From below us he said once again, “Don’t go wandering off.” 

“Aye aye Captain,” I said through gritted teeth to let him know that warning me once would have been sufficient. 

About thirty minutes later dawn began to break and the wind began to pick up.  Unfortunately instead of the scent of a new day I smelled rain on the air.  I said a few dirty words about the incompetence of the meteorological profession and carefully pulled out a soft rain poncho for both Max and I from the supplies I had tucked into my back pack.  “Put this on?” 

“Why?” 

“’Cause we are about to get some rain.  And don’t talk or make noise.  I am bound and determined that we’re going to get a deer and show all of them they need to adjust their attitude a bit.” 

Max opened his mouth then slowly closed it around a conspiratorial grin.  I’m pretty sure that meant my plan sounded good to him too.  I was adjusting the sleeve that covered my rifle when the first spattering of drops could be heard.  Closer than I expected I heard a quiet curse that told me we weren’t alone.  Max had heard it too and looked around warily.  I shook my head and pointed towards a man who was leaving in obvious disgust, going back the way we had walked in. 

I shook my head at the cursing that drifted back to us.  It wasn’t that the guy was especially loud, but he wasn’t exactly making an effort to be quiet either and in the cold air the sound travelled.  I’d no sooner turned back around when out of the shrubbery came a buck that looked like he was laughing at the hunter that had just left.  He looked back into the forest and out came two does as well.  They weren’t together in close proximity but I could tell that the buck was boss and the does part of his harem.  Only then another buck came out of the bush and gave the six point buck the hairy eyeball and suddenly “boss” wasn’t so tough anymore and stood there like a dejected lover as the 8-point buck called the ladies back into the shrubbery. 

I had given some thought to taking the 8 pointer but I didn’t need a trophy animal I just wanted some meat … and to make a point.  And with the sad six-pointer standing there like a nut job just asking to be shot I decided to oblige him. 

One shot and the six-pointer jumped then fell over.  I looked at Max to grin and then had to stifle a laugh because his mouth was hanging open.  I whispered, “Time to field dress the meat.” 

I swung out of the tree like a chimpanzee and went to work after pulling on latex gloves and tossing another pair to Max.  It had been two years since I’d been hunting so it took me a while to get back into the swing of things.  I was forty-five minutes wrestling with the deer and then hanging it in a tree so it could drain while I decided whether to call Zane or wait until he came to get us.  While daylight it was still cold.  I looked at the thermometer gauge on my jacket that doubled as a zipper pull and saw that the mercury was sitting on forty-seven degrees.  That was pretty decent hanging temp for venison so I pulled the carcass higher into the tree and had Max and I return to our roost.  I didn’t expect to get anything else because deer have a really good sense of smell. 

I was getting a little bored if you want to know the truth and then had to almost tie Max to a branch when he fell asleep.  I don’t mind my own company and the quiet didn’t bother me – I could hear rifle shots off in different directions though none were close – but I hadn’t even brought a book to read.  I was also beginning to wonder where Zane and the others were.  And that’s when I heard the snuffling in the underbrush.  They made a beeline to the deer innards and that almost grossed me out except I knew hogs were omnivores and weren’t averse to eating road kill. 

There was one great big ol’ boar and I decided that caution was the better part of valor and I left him alone.  He was big enough and looked mean enough I’m not sure I could have dealt with him anyway.  But I did shoot two female hogs – and a young pig by accident when it got in the way of one of my shots – and after the boar tore a strip off a tree looking for the attackers they took off pell mell into the trees. 

Max was scared and breathing hard and I had to take a moment to calm him.  Lucky for me he didn’t panic at finding a bungee cord holding him to the tree trunk.  I made him stay in the tree until I was sure the other hogs were gone and then it took both of us to string up the three and get them field dressed. 

An hour and a gross half later I threw the last pair of gloves into the trash bag I had brought and said, “OK, this is enough.  Where is Zane and the rest of them?  Do they normally take this long?” 

Max looked at the sky and said, “I don’t think so.  Usually Zane at least lets me eat by now.” 

“Oh Lord, sorry Max.  You want a muffin?  I’ve got some in my pack.” 

Max looked at the offal on the ground, gagged, and said, “No, that’s ok.  I can wait.” 

“Good because even though we’ve used hand sanitizer I’d prefer a good, old-fashioned soap and water wash before touching any food that is going into my mouth.”  I looked at the four carcasses and then shook my head.  “Well if they’re mad they can be mad.”  I called out on the frequency we’d been assigned and … nothing.  I heard a lot of chatter from other hunters talking back and forth and a couple came on and told me to shush up but I ignored them and gave our call signal again.  Still nothing. 

I looked at Max and caught him watching me with worry.  I told him, “Either I got it wrong or we are out of range.” 

“You didn’t get it wrong.  That’s the right call signal, it’s the one they always give to me.  Why aren’t they answering?” 

Aware that accidents can happen I didn’t say anything.  Growing a little frustrated I told myself that twenty was too old to get spooked.  I didn’t want to leave our meat but I didn’t have a cart to haul it back with.  Irritated I did what I could to camouflage ours so that no one would think it was abandoned and I took Max and carefully went back down the game trail staying as quiet as possible.  I didn’t want to disturb any other hunter but I also didn’t want to be mistaken for a deer.  The sound of other hunters had petered off while we were field dressing the hogs and I hadn’t heard a shot in a while.  That’s why when one did go off close by I nearly screamed and pulled Max down and behind a tree. 

I heard a gruff male voice say, “I told that bastard not to try anything.  Ain’t my fault.” 

Peaking around the tree I saw five armed men surrounding what looked like a lot of unarmed men … intentionally unarmed men if their hands in the air was any indication.  A man on the ground was in obvious pain and I saw Josh was trying to help him by tying off something on his leg.  The armed guys were getting more that twitchy and were pointing their rifles – definitely not the hunting variety rifle – at the unarmed men, swinging them this way and that, giving none of them a chance to make an attempt at escape.  Max stiffened as he recognized most of his family in the group. 

One of the guys said, “I gotta take a leak.  Watch ‘em.  As soon as I get back we’re out of here with all their shit.  It ought to be enough to buy us what we want.” 

I pushed Max back down and pulled out the heavy metal, telescoping baton that Daddy had given me for carrying when I had night classes or worked late.  The guy had barely had time to unzip when I cracked him on the skull so hard he dropped like a rock.  Sounded like one too. 

“Booker?  Hey Booker?!  Dammit, don’t play games man, we ain’t got time.” 

I calmly picked up the fancy looking rifle that turned out to be nothing more than a dressed up .22lr and promptly shot two of the remaining four men in their butts.  The rifle was a semi-auto so I was able to put one in each cheek before they even thought about moving.  The other two got dog-piled and beat on for a while.   

“Zane!” Max yelled. 

Zane and a couple of other men came storming into our hiding place but I couldn’t say a word as I was too busy puking my guts up in the bushes.  Even after I got the violent expulsion under control I was shaking like I had palsy and heaving.  “You … (heave) … make one asinine … (gag) … male chauvinist pig … (spit, heave) … remark … (cough, gag) … and I will burn every loving … (heave, gag, cough) … meal I ever put in front of you!” 

Zane said, “Sit down and put your head between your knees before you pass out.” 

“I would if I could but I need a game cart.” 

One of the Slothower cousins asked, “You expect us to pull you back to the trucks?  You ain’t that bad off.” 

My temper fired off like a bottle rocket.  “No but you will be you ass if you get anywhere near me.  I need a game cart because I have a deer and three hogs hanging in a tree and apparently these woods are full of rude people that can’t be trusted to act right.  Now either get me that game cart so I can start hauling the meat or shut the frick up.  I am not in the mood to put up with it.  And if you don’t believe me ask those two guys I just shot in the butt.” 

That set me off again which had me running to the bushes puking.  I heard some heated muttering behind me and then Zane came over.  “Sit down.” 

“Go fly a kite.” 

“Not the weather for it.  Now sit down.  Alright now put your head between your knees.” 

“Oh gawd.  I’m puking.  In front of your family.  Again.” 

That drew a chuckle from Zane and someone else that turned out to be Josh.  Josh said, “It’s not like Junior hasn’t done it every season and for a lot less reason.” 

“I shot two men.” 

Zane said quietly, “Yes you did.  What did you do to the other one?” 

“Bonked him on the head before he could embarrass me by dropping his pants.  That is just so rude … and just like a guy too.  There are port o potties at the head of the trail, there’s absolutely no reason …” 

Some guy in a uniform came over and asked, “She in shock?” 

Zane said, “It’s hard to tell the difference sometimes.  But she could be under the circumstances.” 

I zapped Zane with a laser glare but he just returned my glare with an innocent one.  I put my forehead on my knees and continued to shiver.  I felt something put across my back and jumped.  “I’m not taking some poor guy’s coat.  I’m not that big a wimp.” 

“Sydney Marguerite you’ll sit there and like it.  And if I catch you even thinking about moving …”   I got the message.  I haven’t a clue why I bring out the cavemen in some people. But Lawrence was pretty hot under the collar and he started bellowing like a bull under threat of castration, making people go this way and that.  Even Deputies Laurel and Hardy were jumping to his tune.  “Dammit, how the hell did the Duncan Gang make bail?!  They were booked just last night!” 

I sighed and muttered, “My meat is going to spoil.” 

Uncle Hightower Slothower sat down and shared my log and told me, “No it won’t Sister.  Too cold for it.  Were it a couple of degrees warmer we might have trouble but not at these temps.  Mind if I ast you sumpin’?” 

“No Sir,” I responded a little afraid of what the question might be. 

“This ain’t your first time on a hunt is it?” 

“No Sir.” 

“Who taught you?” 

“Daddy.” 

“Hmm.  Taught you them knots too?” 

“A couple of them.  The others I learned from …from a friend.”  Dan had taught me some of the knots I use on a regular basis to make a point that it wasn’t as hard as some of the guys in his Boy Scout troop were making it out to be.  It was a while before I realized that the way he phrased it hadn’t exactly been a compliment to my intelligence.  Daddy wasn’t the only one that had a tendency to treat me like a frail flower. 

“Fine job of field dressing.  What else you hiding under all that hair?” 

I shrugged.  “I’m not hiding anything … at least not on purpose … or at least not on purpose most of the time.” 

He wheezed a small laugh.  “Now that’s an answer worthy of a female right there.  Tell you what I ask, you tell me if you can, how’s that?” 

“Yes sir.” 

“You know how to skin your kill?” 

“I can skin smaller animals by myself but I’ve never had to do big game by myself.  I’ve helped though.” 

“And what do you intend on doing with the meat once you’ve got it butchered up?” 

“I’ll can some.  Make some jerky.  I’m not sure about being able to trust the freezer so any fresh sausage I make will have to be fried up and then canned in lard.  Zane thought I could go in shares and have someone teach me how to smoke the hams, shoulders, and bacon meat.  And he said something about one of you all’s kin being really good at making sausage and that if I asked nice maybe they’d teach me.  The rest of it and the scraps I’ll grind up into burger and then see what I can do with that … make some canned chili, spaghetti sauce, sloppy joe mix, that sort of thing.  There’s one thing I do need to do that I don’t know how except out of a book and Zane looked at me cross eyed when I asked him if he knew.” 

“And what’s that Sister?” 

“Lard.  I figure I’ve got two and a half hogs – the small one might have to be roasted whole and then me can the meat off of it as is – and the fat off of them can be rendered down.  Only the books make it sound real dangerous to do if you don’t know what you’re doing.  I’ve seen it done at fairs and stuff but I’ve never even helped to do it.  And I’d like to have the cracklin’s off of it too. I read in a book … er … hmmm … Am I talking too much?” 

Uncle Hightower snorted a laugh and said, “No Sister.  Just surprised me is all.  Tell you what, let me talk to Zane and we’ll see what we can do.”

5 comments:

  1. Thanks for the chapters Kathy, great story.
    Wayne

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  2. Just taking a peak, hoping for an update, this one is just starting to warm up and I just keep looking for moar ..... (of course)

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  3. Yep, still one of my favorites. Hope all is well Kathy :)

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  4. guess like everyone else, i'm waiting for an update.

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