Once they carry it out of here, no one knows where it came from, my father said.
Well let's take a closer look, my father said, and he walked back to the cab. I didn't know what he meant, but he came out with his .300 magnum. He stood and brought the rifle to his shoulder, aimed up at the poacher. A large black scope. It was a beautiful rifle, oiled dark wood. A rifle for shooting bears, too big to use on deer, but it was what my father used anyway, some part in him willing destruction. I had seen that rifle take nearly the entire shoulder off a deer as the bullet came out the other side.
He's a pretty one, my father said. Enjoying a sunny day looking out over all our land and our bucks.
King of the world up there, my grandfather said.
Roll the truck closer, my father said.
So Tom went and released the emergency brake, easing forward to where we'd been standing.
My father aimed again, but this time his elbows were on the hood for balance. He pulled back the bolt and then drove it home, a shell in the chamber. Let's see if he can hear that. I want him to take a look over here and see what's aiming at him.
But the poacher had not moved or looked in this direction, as far as I could tell. He was far away, probably more than two hundred yards, so I couldn't make out his face exactly, but it seemed he was looking down the slope farther ahead.
Tom had his rifle out now, too, aiming up at the poacher through his scope. But I had only a peep sight on my .30-.30.
Come take a look, my father said, as if reading my mind.
So I held the rifle, braced my elbows on the hood of the truck. Smell of gun oil in close, like my .30-.30, but otherwise not the same at all. Heavier and perfect, smooth wood and dark blue metal fused together as if all had been born of one piece, and the balance when I put the stock to my shoulder was perfect too, a thing meant to be and easily become a part of me.
The scope an illumination that seemed without source, a view directly into the world, my own better eye. Texture of rock at over two hundred yards, more than two football fields away. Dark rock with grains and bumps and ridges from weather, a wide slab, and I followed it to the left, to where the poacher sat at the edge, his boots dangling, a rifle lying across his thighs. Jeans and a white T-shirt in the sun, the orange hunting vest. Orange baseball cap. Wanting to be seen. Out here in the open, on our land. He had long sideburns, light brown. His face and neck pink from the sun.
I traced an arm with the center of the crosshairs, moving up from elbow to shoulder. The poacher seemed to sense this, the most uncanny thing. He turned to his left and looked directly at me, into the scope, and he scooted his legs around until he was facing forward. He had seen us, seen something. Some color from the hood of the truck or a reflection on a rifle scope. His hands lifting his binoculars from around his neck and looking straight at me with great dark eyes.
My hand tightened on the stock, and I held my breath. The crosshairs floating just between those lenses. Locked in time with this man, locked in this moment held still.
A slow exhale, careful, as I'd been taught, and I tightened slowly on the trigger. There was no thought. I'm sure of that. There was only my own nature, who I am, beyond understanding.
The world itself detonated from some core and I was flung through the air, landing in the dirt. The aftersound in my ears and pumping of blood. My heart jackhammering. The rifle beside me in the dirt, my right hand still on the grip.
My father lifted me by my shirtfront and threw me backward and I did not hit ground where ground was supposed to be. I'd been lofted past the edge of the road and the earth fell away and I kept falling, hit from behind by a tree trunk or branch and another and another, still falling through air, twisting, and a rush of shadow from the right was all I saw before my right shoulder hit hard in dirt and leaves and I cartwheeled and slammed a trunk with my left leg and was spun around to hit ground with my head and neck and then upright, seeing straight ahead as if I were running down this slope, and I threw my arms out from instinct and flinched sideways to catch the next trunk on a shoulder and was flung beyond bearing until I skittered through leaves and finally lay still, not knowing how I was possible or what would be.
Excerpted from Goat Mountain by David Vann. Copyright © 2013 by David Vann. Excerpted by permission of Harper. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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No Man's Land
by Simon Tolkien
Inspired by the experiences of his grandfather, J. R. R. Tolkien, during World War I.
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