It was late afternoon when he made his way to mend fences. Beside him was a decorative platter. He drove the two-track carefully, watching the platter hop lazily with each bump. He preferred taking the back way in lieu of the main roads. He loved seeing the woods viewed differently than from what the highways provided.
Maneuvering through an exceptionally large rut, the platter bounced high, causing him reflexively to turn his head toward it. He placed his right hand on the levitating dish. Before he could return his hand to the steering wheel, shards of glass sprayed at him, the noise like coins falling on a church floor. A powerful whiteness burst forth, concussing against his face. Then his mind went dark.
When he awoke, the airbag in his truck was deflated on him like a bed sheet. The front end of the vehicle’s driver-side was crumpled. Aldo looked around trying to remember where he was, and for a second he thought we was on foreign soil, fighting for his life again.
Or maybe he was dead.
Until he saw the perch fillets stuck to the inside of the passenger’s side windshield, looking like pale stickers some child had randomly affixed there. And then he remembered where he had been heading.
A shooting pain hit his knee. He forced his door open, stumbled out and looked at his truck. He couldn’t understand what he had hit. He was on the two-track, trees on each side of him; there was nothing to hit. Did I hit a tree? he wondered.
He examined the front bumper and saw a swatch of blood and tufts of coarse, silver hair sticking to the driver’s side headlight.
Then he heard it; behind him, a gentle bleating; a call not unlike a lost lamb’s.
He looked past the rear of the truck. Twenty yards beyond, the monster buck lay on its side. The deer’s back was broken and its legs grotesquely, impossibly positioned around it, like a chair whose legs had been collapsed, smashed flat by the hand of an ogre.
“Oh no, Lord! I didn’t see you, where did you come from? I was looking down,” Aldo tried to reconnect the dots prior to the collision. “You must’ve come out of nowhere. You magnificent creature.”
He lurched toward the dying buck. Aggravated by the force of the crash, his left arm hung down limply, the old war injury coming back to haunt him one more time. He knelt down, painfully, next to the broken animal. He stroked its fur and felt its lungs expand. The beams on its antlers were as thick as Aldo’s formidable wrists, and some of the tines were five inches high. Its silver coat glistened in the sunlight. It was the most incredible animal Aldo had ever seen, and he’d hunted deer his entire life.
He looked into the buck’s emotionless eyes and felt in his grip a familiar texture; knurled, checkered. He pulled up his right hand and there was the knife he wore on his waist, instinctively held combat style. Aldo stumbled to his feet, putting his injured left forearm under the swollen neck of the deer. He straddled it and pressed his weight down, mindful of the sharp antlers. It bleated.
The deer’s head was on its side, its large brown eye looking up at the blue sky for the last time. It snapped feebly at Aldo’s passing hand with what waning strength remained. He lifted the buck’s huge head.
“My God, you’re magnificent. Look at you,” Aldo said through gritted teeth.
The buck’s mouth clamped around the flannel of his injured forearm, yet Aldo accepted the pain. He felt the edge of the knife slice into the muscle of the great buck’s neck. Blood gurgled out of its throat and the worn teeth of the ancient animal’s bite stopped at the fabric of his thermal shirt, ceasing short of breaking Aldo’s skin. A fountain of blood sprayed a thick, red stripe across the deathbed of leaves on which the big deer lay. He felt the Grey Ghost’s body spasm as he rode out the animal’s last breath.
Aldo stood, alone in the woods. He regarded the bloody knife in his hand.
It looked like he had immersed his arm in red paint all the way to the elbow; his pant legs were crimson, also soaked through. As his adrenaline settled back down he started to shake, the whole time looking at the knife in his hands, and suddenly Italy felt like it was right where he stood. He pushed the thought away and prayed for forgiveness for not watching the road.
Aldo heard the approach of a distant engine. He smiled wanly seeing Troyer rounding the fork, sitting atop an old John Deere tiller. When the farmer saw Aldo, he leapt from the seat in one movement and trotted toward him, the tractor crawling to a stop against a big oak.
“Are you OK? My God, you killed him, eh? Holy balls will you look at the size of that devil?” Troyer stood over the deer and marveled at it. “I was setting on paying you a visit myself … Lord, what happened to you? Bolted in front of your path no doubt,” he asked, his eyes still drawn to the animal’s girth. “How bad are you hurt?”