And justified. Because against every snow-covered rock and log the wheels of the weird contraption locked. Its useless container spilled forth the corpse of the deer and its antlers caught on the brush. Each time, the hunter manhandled it back aboard, whereupon it fell out again the other way, and the crazy wheelbarrow tipped on its side, and the handle slid from his grasp and he screeched in impotent but blood-chilling fury. Some men were poets when they swore. But the hunter below was not a poet; he was humorless and venomous and mean.
On and on, tripping on boulders, slipping on the ice and falling on his ass, endlessly locked in a death grip with his victim as though he had single-handedly strangled the poor thing.
"Oh shit, oh goddam shit the fuck cocksucker."
And when he stopped to stand to one side and kick the contraption and followed that by kicking the deer Michael, hardly daring to stir lest he be seen, buried his face in his sleeve against the trunk to repress the laughter welling up in him.
But now the fool, following the deer trail in his one-man danse macabre, was coming under the sparse bare branches of Michaels very tree. Michael could see his eyes and they were terrible and his red face and the freezing spittle on his graying beard. The man was covered with blood. He was humiliated and armed. Michael prayed that he would not look up.
He held his breath and watched fascinated as the man and the deer and the wheelbarrow passed beneath him in fits and starts and howlings. If the hunter below was possessed of the violent paranoids tortured intuition, of the faintest sense of being spied out in his ghastly mortification if he tilted back his head far enough to wail at the sky he would see the witness to his folly. High above him lurked a Day-Glo-painted watcher in a tree, his masked, delighted face warped in a fiendish grin. If he sees me, Michael thought suddenly, he will kill me. Michael slipped his shotguns safety off and put his gloved finger at the trigger.
Iced by fear, Michaels hilarity was transformed into a rage of his own. Oh priceless, he thought. Bozo sits up late drinking Old Bohemian in his trailer. In between commercials for schools that will teach him to drive an eighteen-wheeler and make big money, or be a forest ranger and give people orders and live in the open air instead of cleaning shovels down at the guano mill, he sees an ad for this idiotic conveyance to haul killed deer out of the forest. No more jacklighting them off the interstate ramp or chainsawing roadkill, hell no, hell go into the forest like a macho male man with his nifty collapsible wheelbarrow. Folds up into twenty-five tiny parts so you can stick it in your back pocket like a roll-up measuring tape or wear it on your belt. It was shocking, he thought, the satisfaction you took in contemplating another mans disgrace. Another mans atoned for your own.
Finally, cursing and howling, the hunter bore his burden on. When he was gone, Michael realized he had been tracking the man down the barrel of his shotgun, every stumbling inch of the way. He shivered. It had got colder, no question. A wind had come up, whistling through the branches, rattling the icy leaves that still clung to them. When he looked at his watch, it was nearly four and time for the rendezvous. He tossed his pack, climbed from his tree and set out for the base of the granite rock where he had left the others.
Alvin Mahoney was already waiting, hunkering down out of the wind. He stood up when Michael approached.
"No deer. I did have something to watch, though."
Norman Cevic came trudging up from the direction of the creek, his red-banded felt hat low over his eyes.
"So, I didnt hear any firing, fellas. Nothing to report?" With all the suppressed energy of his long solitary day, Michael spun out the story of the sorry, angry man and his wonderful device. "Didnt you hear the guy?" he asked his friends. Norman said he had heard nothing but crows and wind in the trees.
Copyright © 2003 by Robert Stone. Reprinted by permission of Houghton Mifflin Company.
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