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Fall Fiction: The Homecoming Part 3

The big buck struggles for its life after a gun-shot wound, and mysterious Altoid cans appear. Could it be Mike’s father?

Craig James | October 8, 2018

The buck bolted toward the safety of the marsh as blood gushed from his wound. Another bullet whizzed by his head as a second shot rang out. His body burned with pain as he ran deeper into the marsh and finally made it to a small creek.

Leaping into the water, the buck felt instant relief from the excruciating pain above his right shoulder. After 30 minutes of being hunched down in the knee-deep water, the bleeding had stopped. The bullet had just missed its intended target, and for now the buck was alive.

       

The second the first shot rang out, Mike nearly jumped out of his recliner. He knew it had come from almost directly behind his house and that no one had any business back there shooting, especially being that it was only bow season.

Mike quickly slipped on his boots and an orange vest and headed out the back door and into the woods. He had no clue what was going on or who the trespassers might be, but he had to find out who was back in his woods.

Walking quickly, Mike scanned for any signs of a possible trespasser. The woods behind the cypress pond were like a Vietnam jungle as Mike climbed over and under dense vines and trees.

Suddenly, Mike noticed a shimmering object in the bushes off to his right about 30 feet away. He quickly hopped over a half-fallen log and went to inspect the unknown item.

He couldn’t believe his eyes as he picked up a can of peppermint Altoids. Just like the ones he had found at the archery range, the can was full and showed no sign of weathering.

A million thoughts raced around Mike’s head as he tried to make sense of his discovery. Why would there be a full can of Altoids in the middle of the woods. It just didn’t make any sense at all.

Suddenly, Mike heard what sounded like a boat engine crank. He knew it must be the trespasser as he began to run toward the sound. As he came out of the woods, he began to cut across the sandy marsh, running so hard he could barely breathe. Just as he rounded a curve next to a small creek, he caught a glimpse of a small jonboat just before it disappeared into the marsh.

“Dang it!” Mike shouted.

Mike tried to gather his thoughts as he hunched over and struggled to catch his breath. Who was the trespasser? What were they doing on his property? What were they shooting at? Mike’s mind raced in a hundred different directions.

After catching his breath, Mike decided to walk along the creek to see if he could find any sign of the trespasser. After going about 200 yards down the creek, Mike didn’t realize that he was being watched.

While Mike scanned the marsh, the old buck was motionless in some tall grass on the edge of the water less than 30 feet away. Mike began to walk straight toward the buck, completely unaware of his presence. Just as he closed to within 10 feet, his phone rang.

While Mike told Keith what happened on the phone, he kicked around the marsh grass with his feet. Despite the hunter being just feet away, the ol’ buck remained motionless.

“Yeah Keith, meet me at the house in a half hour. We’ve got to get to the bottom of this,” Mike said closing his phone as he turned and walked away.

The buck waited for the next 15 minutes to be sure the hunter was gone and then hobbled across the creek to a small island where he collapsed from exhaustion. Luckily, the bullet had failed to open on impact, and though in pain, for now at least, the buck was still alive.

       

When Mike made it back up to the house, Keith was already talking with John Jenkins, the local game warden.

“Hey there Mike! Haven’t seen you in a long time, buddy,” John said with a smile.

“Yes-sir. It’s good to see you, too,” Mike replied.

“Tell me everything that happened today, beginning with the gun shot.”

“I was sitting on the couch when all of the sudden I heard a high-powered rifle going off. It sounded like it was right on top of me. It couldn’t have been more than a hundred or so yards through the woods. So, I hurry back there, and I was looking for any sign I can find. Then all of the sudden I see a shiny can of Altoids on the ground.”

“Another can? Just like the ones from the other day?” Keith interrupted.

“What do you mean like the other day?” John asked the pair.

“Well we were at the shooting range the other day, and I found a full can in the bushes. It seemed strange, but I didn’t think a whole lot of it,” said Mike.

As the game warden jotted down notes, Mike continued with his story.

“Like I was saying, I found the Altoid can, and all of the sudden, I hear the boat crank, so I start running as fast as I could in that direction. Just as I start to get to the marsh, I see the boat disappear.”

“Could you make out the person in it? What color boat was it?” John questioned.

“No, it happened so fast. I caught a glimpse of what looked like a green jonboat and a white motor. It was just a glimpse though, so I can’t be sure,” Mike replied.

“It sounds to me like whoever done the shooting knew what they were doing. I’m willing to bet they have a blind or tree stand set up somewhere back there,” said the ranger.

“I looked around a little, but I didn’t see anything,” Mike replied.

“Let me grab my snake boots out of the truck, and we will all go take a look. We’re bound to find something,” said John.

       

Twenty minutes later the trio was spread about 30 yards apart working their way through the woods with their eyes peeled for any evidence of the trespasser.

“Over here! Over here! I found his stand!” Keith shouted.

Mike and John worked their way over to where Keith was standing and were greeted by a 200-lb. mound of corn poured in direct sight of an old rusty lock-on stand.

“You gotta be kidding me! Who would be this brave? I mean this guy is trespassing, and he acts like he owns the place! Unbelievable!” Keith said.

“Looks like he hit what he was shooting at, too,” Mike said pointing at some blood splattered on the ground over fresh deer tracks.

The group followed the blood trail for the next five minutes before it ran out.

“Well this makes me sick. Now a deer has been wasted thanks to our trespasser. Maybe somehow it will live,” said Keith.

“I doubt you will have any more problems with whoever done this. They probably didn’t realize you were living on the front side of the property, and I bet it scared them half to death when you nearly run them down today,” said John.

After the men walked back up to the house and talked for a few more minutes, John and Keith left, leaving Mike all alone to think for a while. No matter how many times he spun it in his mind, nothing made sense. He couldn’t help but feel like his dad was trying to tell him something, even though he knew that could never happen.

       

The next morning as Mike opened the front door, the first blast of fall greeted him as a cool breeze blew in his face. It was only Oct. 15, but the temperature on his porch thermometer read a brisk 55 degrees, not bad for the south Georgia coast after a long hot summer.

As he drove to work, Mike couldn’t help but notice the first hint of the leaves changing an array of colors as they blew in all directions on the back-country road. When he got to work at the bank, Brandy’s truck was in the parking lot, and he smiled as she climbed out with a Hardees bag.

“Are you smiling because you’re happy to see me or because I brought you a bacon, egg and cheese biscuit?” Brandy asked laughing.

“Don’t make me answer that,” Mike said as he chuckled.

“OK, I see how it is. This biscuit is going to cost you anyway. I need a favor.”

“Must be a big favor for you to hit me up first thing and to bribe me with a biscuit.”

“Well, I found a really good deal on a tower stand on the GON Classifieds last night, and I was going to see if you could go with me to Savannah this afternoon and help me load it up?”

“Savannah? That’s a two-hour ride. Just how good of a deal did you get?” Mike asked.

“It’s a brand-new condo stand, and he only wants $300 cash. He said he just wants it out of his yard. There are some great deals on there sometimes.”

“Sounds like it. I don’t mind helping. Give me until about 3 so I can finish some things up in my office, and I will head to your house.”

“Thank you so much,” Brandy said as she climbed into her truck.

When Mike went into his office, he was greeted by the usual 10 sticky notes and a few stacks of papers waiting on his approval. As he sat down at his desk, Mike took his phone out to check the time and was greeted by 10 missed calls from Keith. He knew that more than likely a deer was the cause for all of the missed calls.

Mike dialed Keith’s number, and before the first ring had finished, Keith answered the phone.

“Man, I’ve been calling you all morning! You’re not going to believe this!”

“Hold on now. You have to slow yourself down. You’re talking 90 miles per hour. Is it him?”

“It’s our buck! I’ve got him on camera, and he’s been shot!” Keith said still talking wildly.

“Our buck? No way! Where did you get a picture?”

“About a half mile from your place down near the marsh. I had it set up on a trail right behind a cypress swamp, and last night he came limping through, and man he looks bad,” said Keith.

“Do you think he was…”

“Yes, it had to be the shot you heard the other day. I just can’t believe this. I really doubt he makes it.”

“Where was he hit?” Mike inquired.

“Above the shoulder, and it doesn’t look like the bullet opened up good. Our buck looks bad though, really bad.”

“Dang Keith. I hate to hear that. Send me the pictures, and let me know if you get anymore.”

“Will do, buddy.”

Once the pair hung up the phone, Mike looked at the pictures that Keith had sent. With the exception of his antlers, the deer in the pictures looked nothing like the buck they had seen earlier in the season. Thin and bony looking, the animal’s pain was easily seen in the picture, and Mike had doubts the buck was going to live.

       

Meanwhile, the buck had doubts of his own. Internal muscle bruising left him barely able to move, much less get up and walk. As bad as it pained him, he knew his survival hinged on his need for water and food. Every 30 feet or so he would lay back down and rest before forcing himself up again, baring as much of his weight as possible on his hind legs.

After feeding off and on for a few minutes on acorns from a small oak tree, the buck laid down exhausted from his efforts. He was lucky to be alive, but he still had a long way to go.

       

Brandy and Mike spent the afternoon traveling to Savannah to pick up the large condo tower and made it back just before closing time at Grams. Since it was Thursday, the buffet was loaded down with fried chicken, meatloaf and every side dish a Southerner could ask for. The pair loaded down their plates and got busy filling their stomachs.

A few minutes later their meal was interrupted as Tom Dykes walked up to their table.

“Evening Mike, Brandy. How are y’all doing?”   

“Alright, just eating us a late dinner. Hard to beat this meatloaf,” Mike replied.   

“Yeah, tell me about it. Well I’m not going to interrupt y’alls dinner, I just wanted to say hello, and by the way, I heard y’all had a trespasser out on your place the other day,” Tom said.

“Yeah we sure did. Who told you?” Mike said slightly agitated.

“Oh, you know small towns, just heard it through the grapevine. I sure hope he hasn’t been on my property, too,” Tom said, not very convincingly.

“I doubt it, Tom, but we will find out who did it sooner or later,” Mike said.

“Maybe you will. No telling who it might be.”

After a few more minutes of small talk, Tom walked off.

“Can you believe that creep? You know it’s him. It’s written all over him,” Brandy said.

“I know, and besides, Ranger Jenkins said he was going to keep it hush hush. Tom shouldn’t even know about it,” Mike replied.

“What are you going to do about it?” Brandy inquired.

“I really don’t know. Knowing he’s guilty is one thing, but proving it is another,” said Mike.

After Brandy and Mike finished their dinner, Mike dropped her off and headed home to get some rest.

After a shower and some Bible study, Mike drifted off to sleep.

As Mike began to sleep, he started to dream. His dad was sitting at Mike’s kitchen table. He wasn’t saying anything, but he looked happy and smiled. Then he motioned for Mike to follow him as they walked outside. The sun was shining, and the air was cold. They were walking through the backyard and into the woods directly behind Mike’s office. After walking several minutes, Mike’s dad stopped and pointed through the trees. When Mike looked in that direction, he saw the old buck.

The deer stood frozen in time as cold air blew from his nostrils. He looked strong and healthy. Mike’s dad patted him on the back and then started to walk back toward his house. When he got back to the porch, he took his Altoids can out of his shirt pocket and put a couple in his mouth before setting the can on the table beside him. He sat there rocking and smiling, and Mike suddenly woke up.

Mike woke up in a cold sweat. It took him a few seconds to realize he was dreaming, and still it seemed just a little too real. As he thought about the events in his dream, his mind went back to the Altoid can his dad had set down on the porch. Knowing it was crazy, Mike had to look for himself. As he walked across the living room, he unlocked the front door.

When he walked onto the porch, Mike couldn’t believe his eyes. There on the table next to the rocking chair was a can of Altoids. Mike began to shake as he picked it up. As he sat down in the rocking chair, he was about as confused as he could be. Was he dreaming? Was his dad really there? There was no way this could be.

Mike sat on his porch for the next half hour just thinking. As he walked back inside, he still didn’t have an answer for what had gone on. If it was just a dream, how had the Altoids can gotten there? As Mike laid back down, he could only reason that his dad was trying to tell him something, but what exactly he didn’t know.

       

The next day Mike went into work and called Brandy to tell her about his dream. After giving her the full story, she responded.

“I don’t think you’re crazy. I think your dad is trying to tell you something. You better pay attention, so you can figure out what it is,” said Brandy.

After he hung up the phone, Mike felt a pile better after talking to Brandy. At least she believed him and didn’t think he was a total nutcase.

       

After work, Mike went home to find Keith in his yard with his 19-foot Carolina Skiff hooked to his pickup truck.

“You ready to go catch some reds?”

“Keith, it’s gonna be dark in no time. I don’t know if it’s worth it,” Mike replied.

“You don’t know the honey hole I’m going to. It’s only 45 minutes until low tide, and we can catch a limit in a hurry. Come on jump in the truck.”

“I guess I will. You better put us on some fish, though. Give me a sec to change my clothes, and we will give them a try,” Mike said as he jogged up the steps of his porch.

After a quick, 10-minute ride, the pair launched Keith’s boat, and after firing up the 90 hp Yamaha, the guys were headed for Keith’s honey hole.

Keith slowed the boat down and idled up into the back of a small creek that was all but dried up due to the falling tide. When he dropped his trolling motor into the water, a school of reds about 60 feet away swam down the muddy bank making a hundred wakes as they went.

“Right there Mike! Throw at them! Look at that school!”   

Before Keith could finish his sentence, Mike had already fired a jig into the school’s direction. When it hit the water, his line thumped, as his pole doubled. After a brief struggle, Keith netted the 20-inch redfish.

The next 30 minutes was nonstop action as the pair got bit on almost every cast. Just as quickly as it had begun, the bite suddenly stopped as the tide began to pour back in.

The guys were all smiles as they headed back to the boat ramp with a limit of cookie-cutter 20-inch reds as the sun began to sink hard in the sky.

Once they got home, the pair began to fillet the redfish as they laughed and joked about their successful fishing trip.

“Now that was fun. It’s been a long time since I’ve saltwater fished. There just isn’t a whole lot of marsh in the ATL,” Mike joked.

“I hear you buddy. It’s hard to beat catching reds at low tide. We need to do a lot more of it, especially since our hunting season is ruined,” Keith said sadly.

“What do you mean over? Gun season doesn’t even start for a few more days,” Mike questioned.

“Once I saw that our big buck had been shot, it just took the wind out of me. I mean, I’ve waited my whole life to hunt a deer like him, and now a poacher has taken him away.”

“Maybe not man. Who knows, he might be alive and well,” said Mike.

“Well, I seriously doubt it.”

       

A few weeks later, opening day of gun season came on a chilly, 43-degree morning. As Mike sat on his porch, he wished he was out in the woods, but it was just too hard for him.   

While he sat on his porch drinking coffee, Brandy was texting pictures of the deer she was seeing from her stand. As he was replying to her text, his phone began to ring. It was Keith.

“Hey Keith, what’s going on buddy?”

“I’ve shot a good buck, I need you to help me load him up,” Keith said as he ran low of breath.

“Is it the big one?”   

“No but he’s a big 9-pointer I’ve gotten on camera for the last three years. He’s a stud. I shot him down near the old range,” Keith said excitedly.

“10-4, I’m headed to you.”

       

  Once the pair got the buck loaded up, they admired its impressive rack. Big thick horns and long tines blended together to make an impressive 130-inch buck. Not bad at all for a Georgia coastal deer.

After a few minutes, the pair decide to ride to Grams and grab some breakfast. Keith followed Mike back to his house, and then Mike jumped in with Keith.

“Well buddy, at least you have one more tag to fill in case that big one walks out,” said Mike.

“That ol’ buck is long gone. There is no way he survived that gun shot.”

The pair rounded a sharp curve, and there, standing 50 yards away in the middle of the road, was their buck.

He stood like a ghost in the middle of the road. And two southeast Georgia boys couldn’t believe their eyes.

 

Click here for Part 4 of “The Homecoming”

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