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Writer's Corner- New Brunswick

In the Night
by Robert Ervin Layden

   Ian was awakened by raised voices downstairs after midnight and went to look. As he entered the kitchen, his uncles were arguing in the dark. The friction between the two was long-standing and at times sharp. Several different stories explaining its origins circulated in the family, but as an only child, he found relating to such fraternal antagonism difficult.

    "This is crazy. You're gonna shoot from here?"

    "It's a perfect sight line, Thomas."

    "At night and out of season? If the game wardens catch you, they'll put you in jail."

   They greeted their nephew perfunctorily. When Ian was a young child, his parents took him to his father's family home in New Brunswick, Canada, for a couple of vacations. Soon he was a summer resident while they remained in Pennsylvania. This weathered, gray shingle farmhouse on three hundred acres was as familiar to him and as comfortable as his parents' suburban residence. At times he felt unsure in which country he belonged.

    Gus pulled down the upper half of the window, which had no screening mesh tacked over it. Night moths and black flies flew in as the three sat silently. The full moon rose, gradually illuminating the black vista outside. The land beyond the front yard sloped to the lower meadow. Its green grass looked like an elongated football field stretching toward a stand of fir trees. Recently Thomas had shown his nephew several deer grazing near them at sunrise, as hazy mist rose from the ground. He watched them through binoculars. Their rich fur, rippling sleekly over tensing muscles, resembled fawn silk upon rolling water. They were stunning in their innocent beauty. About 3:00 a.m., one deer after another appeared along the tree line. Counting them was difficult because the brown shapes blended into one another and into the sable trees.

   "You can't see from here for a shot."

    "Ian, I grew up seeing in the night."

    Gus rested the gunstock on the top edge of the upper window frame while Thomas sat behind in grim silence. Standing beside the shooter, Ian heard the hammer's click, followed instantly by an explosion. The discharge of the .30.30 bullet in a confined space was thunderous. The corner of his eye caught an upward jerk of the rifle barrel as a whitish red circle leaped from the end, lighting the room and the yard. He almost believed that he could see the slug in flight, but his senses actually registered a sound of combined hiss and zing.

    "I got her, boys."

   Gus worked the hand guard lever, ejecting the spent silver casing from the chamber. It arced across the room, trailing smoke, and clinked against the wall on the right. Another cartridge cracked into the chamber, and a second slug crashed into the peaceful valley.

    "For Christ sake, Gus, you'll have every warden in the county here."

   "There isn't a house in a quarter of a mile but Harold's. You know how he sleeps. Come on, get that old truck of yours. We gotta dress her and get her out of there."

    He hurried them to the battered, gray, Chev pickup, and without lights they bumped down hill and across the meadow. On the far edge, the deer was lying on the ground, breathing its last in stertorous snorts. Thomas remained behind the wheel in the truck as the other two approached the animal. Red was running from black-rimmed circles in the chest and side. Shudders were convulsing its recumbent body, like jolts of electricity that caused the limbs to twitch and the raven hooves to paw as if it were trying to run in place horizontally. Milky mucous oozed from its nostrils, and its bulging eyes with large ebony irises stared wildly.

    "We really should string her up for this, but those trees are too small. It would take too long anyway. Let's have at it, Ian."

    Gus knelt and with a sharp knife made a surgical slit across the throat, severing arteries. Blood rushed out smoothly, bright in the pale moonlight, and the heaving breast became still.

   "Hold up the rear legs, Ian, so I can cut the belly."

    Ian had never seen a deer dressed before. Queasy, but to his surprise not nauseated, he obeyed, partly from habit, partly from a stirring unique in his experience. Gus slipped the glinting blade easily into the flesh below the sternum and ran it under fur and muscle along the abdomen. Intestines oozed out, accompanied by darker blood. As he cut and scooped, Ian released the animal and carried the evidence to the rapids in the river bordering the field for quick disposal. The entrails, hot and slippery in his hands, steamed in the night air. The task was soon complete, and his hands were scarlet. He looked at his clothes; they were crimson.

    "Come on, Ian, there's no time for a shower. We gotta take this into town. Jump into the pool above the dam, let's go."

    They plunged, and incarnadine circles radiated outward in the clear, cold water. Back to the deer, Gus summoned his brother to help.

   "You killed her. You carry her."

   "If we don't get this bitch into that truck, the law will come and take us, truck and all."

   The three wrapped the torso in a sheet of coarse burlap, then loaded and covered the carcass with a mottled gray painter's canvas.

   "I was in to Gerald's restaurant in Sussex the other day. He said anytime I wanted food or a drink, stop in. He showed me where he hides the key. Let's go, Thomas."

    They drove. Ian thought of the term outlaws. Was it so easy to become one? Thomas wheeled the vehicle into the shadowy back alley, and they lugged the inert form into the building. The brown burlap was rough to the touch and drab in contrast to the lustrous fur, but effective. No blood dripped on the blue twill carpeting as they carefully trudged through the dining area to the walk-in cold chest, where the air was frigid and dry as a morgue holding room. Their breath became mist as they hoisted the warm corpse and impaled it on a silver-gray meat hook suspended from the ceiling. The body hung down, swaying slightly, lifeless yet as if contemplating the sawdust-covered floor with philosophical resignation. Gus placed an aqua plastic barrel beneath it to catch the remaining droplets of blood. As Ian closed the heavy door, a metronomic tapping seemed a funeral dirge played in an empty church.

   The return trip was made without conversation. As the truck turned onto the long, dirt entry road, Ian glanced at the meadow to see if it too was affected. Revealing nothing in the morning sun, lush grass glistened with dew, and the adjacent rippling river sparkled cleanly.

    During the rest of the summer till he returned to Boston for college, a black odor of gunpowder clung in the kitchen and seemed faintly detectable throughout the house.

   Thomas called him at the dorm that autumn after the shooting. He said he wasn't sleeping so well. Ian didn't ask why.


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