It was finally the day that I would become a man, at the age of 13. What made a man? Well, to Uncle Joe, you had to hunt to be a man. Every time my family would visit him since I was a kid, it was venison everything. Venison stew, steak, you name it he made it. And he had gotten it. As much as I didn’t admit to him or my brother (who followed in his footsteps), it made me cringe.
I wasn’t new to guns, I had used a few down at the range with targets. I liked targets. They made for a good game. My dad was a target man too, but since my parents accident my brother and I lived with Uncle Joe and Aunt Lisa. They did things a little differently.
Animals? I wasn’t so sure of that. But my uncle had insisted.
“Watch out for it- the thing is somehow still alive,” Henry Johnson said, revving up his truck before pulling out of the driveway. He paused at the end of the driveway. “As much as it would be a good prize, the town won’t let us shoot that albino.” Henry shook his head and we watched him drive down the block. He was my uncle’s friend, his hunting buddy, but I was happy to see he wasn’t joining us.
“We shouldn’t have to worry about that, boy. I haven’t seen it in ages,” Uncle Joe said. “You ready?” He picked up the last of his gear and handed it to me to throw it in the bed of the truck before we got in.
I had to wonder, even for a moment. What was ‘it’? Frankly I didn’t care, I was going on my first hunting trip, I was to be a man. I wanted to get it over with.
We drove down the road a little while before pulling off to the side where tire marks lingered in the mud, right on the edge of the trees. We set up camp a little ways in and waited for a while. I wasn’t too sure what was supposed to happen, but I figured there would be animals around.
The first sighting we had were small, a few squirrels and a bird. My uncle encouraged me to shoot but I “accidentally” missed each time. I was a good shot, and my uncle knew it. I blamed it on the “moving target.”
The small animals moved around quickly, doing their usual business. It was interesting to see how different they acted before they realized we were there. Once alerted, their demeanor completely changed, we flipped a switch. Every time I saw them all I could think of was that movie My Cousin Vinny and the “little deer putting its lips down to the water… and BAM.”
“Oh s***,” Uncle Joe whispered. I saw it too.
There was a hint of white just beyond a coupling of trees about 75 feet out. It was moving towards us, with unwavering countenance and grace. It didn’t flip the switch like the others. Instead, it pushed on, making a strange noise that the other animals seemed to react to. Calling them back to their homes, away from us.
It seemed to irritate my uncle. I, on the other hand, was mesmerized.
The crown of points on his antlers told us all we needed to know, he was the King of the Forrest. It was the largest buck I had ever seen and he was so devoid of color, he didn’t just seem white, he glowed white. He had no fear of us or our guns. Frankly, I forgot I even had one. What I didn’t forget was my presence. I felt out of place.
I was no longer a part of the euphony of the forest – no, that didn’t belong to me. I was a knife scraping a plate in the middle of an orchestra – the conductor was the majestic creature before me. I was, in every way, the cacophony. Every step, every movement of the leaves I touched, sounded foreign and cruel.
The King and I came to an understanding that day. It was looking at us as it approached. No, not us, just me. Like it knew what I was thinking, the war in my head. My uncle simply watched in awe, the buck he had dreaded and desired was coming towards me. It had never, my uncle would tell me later, come close to anyone. It called the animals away, leaving hunters without prey. He saw this as a sign of hunting prosperity, but I knew differently.
Our gazes never wavered. The King stood in front of me, towering over me. I laid my gun on the ground and stretched out my hand, but he did not respond. His gaze held and he stomped on the ground, letting a puff of air come out of his nose in the chilly autumn air. I stood slowly from my knelt position and bowed in his direction. The King stayed still for a moment before bowing himself and touching his antler gently to my hand. It sent chills through my body. He had granted me back my euphony, my oneness with the forest.
Since that day, I continued to hunt in the woods for many years, at least, that’s what I told my family. Really, I went to see the King. I had become a man that day, my own man, my father’s man. A man of targets. Sometimes I would, sometimes I wouldn’t. But the animals there had grown to know me, they accepted me, my presence was no longer a cacophony.