The day was tired and the sun was exploding in bursts of orange and red as it set in the far west. I heard the rooster, in the house down the hill, crow; signaling to his hens it was time to take cover. The full moon was already visible in eastern sky and the crickets filled the air with a harmony of high pitched chirping. My boys were playing in the meadow, as boys do, running after each other and hiding in the tall grass. The older one allowed the younger to win every so often, a tactic to ensure the younger would not quit in frustration.
I rounded them up, it was time to hike the long hill to our home. They moved along without much thought, exploring the various streams and bugs along the way. Although they were twins, the second born seemed much younger than the first. Smaller and frail, he checked back every few moments to make sure I was close by. A habit I found developed after the untimely death of his mother. The twigs snapped under our feet and the leaves danced in the soft breeze. The air surrounding us was pleasant, but the frost from the northerly winds would surely be upon us by the next full moon. We were halfway up the path when I heard it. The noise, one could convince oneself, might be a raccoon making his way through the low hanging branches. But I knew it was not he, or his cousin the skunk, or his distant relative the weasel. It was a noise I had heard before.
I moved the boys onward, keeping them by my side, hurrying them along, as best as a father can hurry small ones. They stayed close, still playing in the twilight, urging me to join their game of chasing bullfrogs into the adjacent stream. The smiling moon that had climbed far into the sky illuminated the tapered trail. The stream to our left ran strong and as it made its way over jagged rocks, it created a soothing sound that could lull one into a sense of tranquility. It was at the turn in the road when I first saw him. He tried to hide behind a tree but his large foot protruded from the trunk, like a beaver’s leathery tail. I studied the road ahead and behind, but the path to the village below was long and cloaked in darkness. I motioned for the boys to stay still and quiet.
The shadow moved along the bank of the stream. Quiet. Methodically. An opossum, with his long nose and naked tail, scurried out of the bush and up a tree. The younger one jumped back, startled by this, when a shot fired. Birds fluttered out of trees and mice scurried into hollowed trunks. My frantic eyes searched for the boys. Darkness masked them well, both hiding behind a large oak. I motioned for them to come, and when they did, we broke out into a fast run up the road. Our home was not far away but the little one tripped in his hast. Another crack of thunder blasted through the quiet night and I felt a breeze pass my side. “Get up! Hurry! Run!” were all of the things that passed through my mind as the little one hopped to his feet and followed the older through the brush. I could feel him behind us running, panting, tracking. I pushed the boys in a direction we had not traveled before and made it clear they were not to follow me.
As the shadow came upon me, our eyes met. He raised his weapon. I ran as fast as my legs could take me, opposite of where I sent my boys. The moon reflected its brilliant light through the bare trees, creating long beams throughout the forest floor. I bounded through fallen branches, past small hills, and into the cold stream. A thunderous blast shocked the air and an explosion erupted in my shoulder. I collapsed on a blanket of fallen leaves by the riverbank. Blood surrounded my face and bits of it floated in the water. The boys were on the other side. Scared. Alone. I pulled myself up and stumbled. A tree branch snapped and the shadow materialized through the darkness. Looking like the forest himself, all that could be seen was the white of his eyes and the coldness of his face. He lifted his gun. The next blast ripped through the silence of the night and as I fell, I could see the two yellow eyes of a screech owl staring at a field mouse in the moon’s reflection.
I was on the ground, drifting, leaving, yearning to yell out to my boys. I watched the leaves on the ground, the moon in the sky, and listened to the last of the cricket’s chirp as I felt my body dragged away. Halfway down the hill, my eyes caught my younger one hidden in the brush. His face was despaired and his body moved, ready to leap towards me. My eyes screamed to stay as the older one appeared. Sadness poured from his face. He looked away, pushing the younger one back into the brush.
The floor of the pick up truck was cold. I could feel my breath leaving, my mind floating somewhere far, somewhere I needed to go. The shadow closed the steel door and the engine roared in the still night. The truck rumbled through the dirt path and then on to the smoothness of a paved road. Beams of light approached and a second truck stopped to acknowledge our presence.
“Mighty nice moon.”
“Yep, a beauty. Nine pointer.”