Some guys on a hunting trip – what could go wrong?
Today was a good day. We went fishing and I got two fat trout for Mac and me. The other two won’t be eating.
The days here are fine, no problems – it’s just the nights.
It’s getting dark now. I’m sitting at the table in the cabin. The fish are in front of me, on a plate and I remember I was going to gut them.
Night is when it gets difficult.
It was Mac’s idea to come up here for a week or two. Walt and Jem jumped at the idea – some time away from our wives, a chance to hunt, fish, have a good time; to spin a few yarns and drink beer.
I could get in the truck any time and drive away, there’s nothing to stop me; nothing to stop any of us. There never was. The truck is Mac’s – bright red, she’s a beauty: six-up cab and plenty of room in the back. It’s not far to Brannen, on the back trail. I could be there in an hour or so.
I could do with a fire, it’s getting cold. I could get some wood from the shed. There’s no reason why I can’t go out there. Jem’s there in the shed right now. Don’t know where his dog’s got to…
I took Mac out on the lake to fish, that’s how I got the trout. We found Walt out there, so we brought him back and sat him by a tree.
I can’t see anything outside the window. The sun’s gone down but I can still see the trees. There’s nothing out there, no-one.
I thought Mac was gonna make it. He’s sat here now, next to me. He looks cheerful, but it’s not real. He won’t speak to me.
I wonder how Mary’s getting on. Maybe she’s worried about me. We were supposed to phone from Brannen Tuesday, but Mac didn’t feel like going and neither did I. Come to think of it they must be worried by now, they don’t know where we are. I could go phone her tomorrow, I guess. I can take the truck anytime, Mac won’t mind.
We started out ten days ago, singing, cracking jokes, like kids let out of school. It’s a fair haul up here, so Mac and I spelled each other, changing over at the rest stops. We took a full day to get to Fairview, where we stopped for the night. It was a nice town: good food, comfortable beds and a lively bar – what more could a bunch of men away from their wives want? So next day we were in good spirits, the sun was out and the highway clear. We came to the turn-off just after noon. We’d stopped in the last town for a bite. None of us had been in these parts before, so we talked to the guy in the diner. Funny guy, Native American, weird accent. He was okay, but he looked kinda sideways, you know? Like he wasn’t telling us all of it. He was friendly at first, but when we told him the name of where we were going, he stepped back and started ranting at us. Maybe the cabin owner had cheated him or something. He wasn’t aggressive, but it was pretty weird. But hey! We got here.
The cabin’s good: three bedrooms, big main room, usual stuff; a small lean-to outside with plenty of wood stacked ready for the nights. It’s set by a lake, just like in a movie, with forest around, mountains behind. As the truck growled up the steep trail, we all gave a yell as we rounded a bend and the cabin came into view. We’d seen pictures, but the reality was better. Hound was barking his head off.
We’d been lucky. Most decent cabins were taken this time of the season, and we’d decided to take a break at short notice. It was Mac’s brother who found it. Some guy in his shop was moaning how he’d rented his new cabin to someone who’d skipped without paying. We did find a few personal things lying around which we packed up in case the previous renter came back.
That first night we were cheerful. We cooked some steaks outside on the barbecue and drank a few beers. After a while, though, Walt got fidgety and decided he’d go in. Jem soon followed with the dog. Mac and I joked about it – the night was warm – no bugs about, so we assumed the other guys were just tired. Mac and I sat up yarning until it was really dark. Suddenly, I got this weird feeling. Can’t say exactly what it was, I guess it might have been the night chill or something. Mac agreed pretty quickly when I suggested making a move so we doused the fire and carried the remaining beers in. I noticed Mac looking over his shoulder, and joshed him about it.
After that, it was sort of quiet. The four of us sat round the big room, not saying much. None of us slept well and the dog was whining all night. Mac and I bunked in the big bedroom and he was turning over most of the time. I assumed it was just the long journey.
Next day we were out early, full of the country around us, glad we’d come. I wrote off the restless night and looked forward to more days like this. Hound was off in the woods, tail wagging.
That second night, it was much worse. We’d been calling for Hound. Damn dog just lit out, took off up the mountain somewhere, howling. We heard his yelps for a while in the distance, then there was silence. Jem was a tad upset, he’d got the dog from his wife’s brother, and it was a well-trained hunting dog. We promised to help him search the next day. At first he was pretty reluctant to come back to the cabin with us, that is, until it started to get dark.
I laughed at Walt when he locked the door, asked him who he thought was going to visit us up here – the previous inhabitant? But truth be told, I felt more comfortable myself. I didn’t know what had gotten into me – or the others. On the way up we’d talked about some night hunting, No-one mentioned it now. I was grateful for that.
Each night it was worse: no-one spoke about it, but I could see it in their faces. We couldn’t find any trace of the dog. Jem was pretty depressed. We were supposed to go down the store for more supplies on the Thursday, but no-one could be bothered. We didn’t mention it. We did some hunting, but there was always that thought at the back of my mind: that night would inevitably come.
Jem was first. He went out to fetch some wood and ain’t been back. He’s still out there, under the big roof beam. The next day, it was Walt. Mac hung on two more days. We got quite excited about the fish today, until Walt turned up and we had to bring him back. I think that’s what finally got to Mac.
He kept telling me we could leave anytime we liked. I knew that, I know that. Of course we could, of course I can. The truck’s there if we want it. We can go or stay as we choose.
Tonight, we’d sat down at the table together, inside. After we’d locked the door.
I was going to gut the fish. That was a while ago. It’s dark now. I don’t want to light the lamp. It’s in the window
Mac’s here. He looks as if he’s smiling, but he isn’t. The gun did that. It’s still in his hand.
There’s nothing outside. I can leave anytime I want, I know that. I can go out and take the truck. Mac won’t mind.
I’ll set here a while longer. Perhaps I’ll gut the fish. The knife’s in my hand, ready.