The Mentor Of Blues Bog Part 2
Dillon and Maggie meet Phineas Bouchard, an old recluse who lives in the middle of Blues Bog.
Maggie’s screams split the air in Blues Bog. It was the most terrifying sound Dillon had ever heard he thought as he tossed the empty rifle aside and jumped forward to grab Maggie under her arms from behind. In his panic, it was all he could think of to do to try to save his sister, but he was no match for the 500-lb. alligator that had exploded from the creek and was now pulling her into the water by her boot.
“Let me go!” Maggie shrieked, kicking the gator on the nose with her free foot. She was sliding into the water, slipping from Dillon’s grasp.
Dillon’s next thought was that the gator must have exploded. There was a flash of light, an ear-ringing blast, and then a rolling plume of white smoke spread over the water. A massive, ragged hole appeared in the gator’s head just behind its eyes. The gator stopped pulling, and its grip on Maggie’s boot relaxed. With Dillon pulling from behind, she wrenched her foot from the gator’s mouth and scrambled away from the water where both teenagers fell backward in a heap on the ground. At the same moment, a figure stepped out of the bushes at the edge of the creek and strode quickly toward them until an old man was standing overhead. An old .50 cal. side-lock muzzleloader rifle, smoke still drifting from the muzzle of the octagonal barrel, was held to his side. A weathered face framed by ragged gray hair and a gray beard under a canvas hat loomed over them as the man knelt to inspect Maggie’s foot.
“Big gator, eh?” he said casually. “Looks like your foot’s OK.”
Dillon and Maggie were speechless.
The man twisted his head and squinted through his glasses as if to inspect the teenagers.
“Are you Dillon Craft?” he said.
“Yes, and this is my sister…” Dillon started to say.
“I’m Maggie,” his sister cut in. “Who are you, and where did you come from?” she blurted, “You could have shot me!”
The old man rocked back on his heels, a wide grin showing behind the beard.
“For a mite of a girl who just nearly got dragged off by a gator, you’re certainly full of starch. My name is Phineas Bouchard, and you’re lucky to be alive, little lady.”
With that, Phineas stood up, turned on his heel and in seconds he disappeared into Blues Bog.
“So Phineas is back,” said Dillon’s dad Chandler over the supper table. The teenagers’ mother, Mildred, was in the kitchen fussing over Maggie’s foot, which was barely bruised.
“You know him?” said Dillon, surprised.
“I’ve known him since I was a kid,” Chandler replied. “He has an old shack back in the swamp, and he comes and goes as he pleases. It’s been a long time since he was here last. If I remember right, he left right after your grandpa Olin died. No one knows where he goes. The old man must be in his late 70s by now, but years ago he was Army Special Forces and a sniper in Vietnam. He and Grandpa Olin were best friends and hunted deer together, but every time I saw Phineas he was grouchy and just wanted to be left alone. I wonder what brought him back this time?”
“How can he just stay in the swamp,” said Dillon.
“Actually, it’s Phineas who allows us to use the swamp,” said Chandler. “The old man owns Blues Bog.”
• • • • • • • •
Bow season was only a week away when Dillon, with Maggie in tow, slowly walked the edge of a field bordering Blues Bog. They were scouting for deer trails leading into the Bog, and food deer might be eating during early bow season: specifically, persimmons. They had driven a 4-wheeler and a small trailer from the equipment barn, and on the trailer was a 16-foot-tall, double-seat ladder stand they planned to put up if they could find the right spot.
While cutting, fluffing and raking hay in the field, Dillon had seen does several times under a tree in the lowest corner of the field. As they walked up to the tree, they found the soft ground carved up with deer tracks and littered with deer droppings and persimmons. Overhead, tree limbs sagged under their load of round red-orange fruit.
“Deer think these are candy,” Dillon told Maggie as he pitched a persimmon to her. “This will be a perfect place for opening day.”
“It’s candy to some other things, too,” she said, pointing to coyote and raccoon tracks in a muddy spot. “And look at this!”
Imprinted in the mud was the clear impression of a man’s boot.
“I wonder who’s been here?” Dillon fumed as he inspected the track. The track was bigger than his hunting boot print and in the center of the heel was a perfect “V” shape.
“I wonder if Clark has been slipping in here looking for that buck,” he muttered.
An hour later they had secured the ladder stand to a tall pine tree 23 steps from the base of the persimmon. Dillon carefully placed thick rubber pads between the metal stand and the tree to keep it from squeaking. The pine stood over a well-used deer and hog trail that ran from the field and disappeared into the Bog. From the stand, they would be able to watch the trail as well as the persimmon tree.
After the effort, they both sat on the ground at the base of the tree for an ice-water break.
From the Bog, Dillon heard the high-pitched squeal of a hog.
“Pigs are coming for the persimmons,” he whispered.
Maggie had noticed something else.
“Uh, Dillon, there’s a…”
“Hush, Maggie,” he whispered back. “I’m trying to listen”
Only a few feet away, a snake was on the move. The snake’s mosaic copper-and-tan colors were nearly invisible in the background of dried ferns and dead brown leaves, and its tongue flickered in and out of its mouth as it tested the air near Dillon’s boot.
“But Dillon, there’s a…”
“Quiet!” he hissed, glaring at her. “I can’t hear!”
The next thing Dillon knew, he had been shoved to the side as Maggie lunged past him, low to the ground with her right hand outstretched. In a flash, her hand stabbed into the leaves next to his boot, and she pulled a large, writhing snake into the air in front of Dillon. Dillon was terrified of snakes—all snakes—and he was especially frightened by big snakes twisting in the air in front of his face. He gasped and frantically crab-walked backward from the tree, clawing and kicking through the leaves and making choking sounds. Maggie stood triumphantly, a 5-foot-long, copper-colored snake held gently in her hands.
“Is… is… it poisonous?” Dillon stammered from where he lay on the ground on his elbows.
“Sometimes I am, like, so embarrassed to be related to you,” said Maggie, admiring the snake as it looped coils of its long body around her forearm. “It’s only poison if you eat it. Some snakes are venomous. This one’s not. It’s a corn snake—and a big one.”
She gently lowered the snake to the ground and released it.
“You owe me big-time,” she said with a snicker. “That snake was about to go up your pants leg.”
• • • • • • • •
Dillon and Maggie were late for opening day of archery deer season. Maggie had not yet learned to shoot a bow, but she was eager to come along for the opening-day hunt. It had taken longer than expected to get ready, and now, in the pre-sunrise light, they were walking quietly along the field edge heading for the ladder stand over the persimmon tree.
From the opposite direction on the same field edge came a deer. The doe had spent the night browsing in the Craft’s overgrown garden plot, nibbling at the remnants of Mildred Craft’s fall garden. Before daylight, the deer had jumped the hogwire fence and followed a field road that led toward the swamp and her daytime sanctuary. The doe was alone, her single fawn had been killed two months earlier by a coyote that had flushed the fawn from a briar patch where the doe had left it for the day. The field road emptied into a pasture above Blues Bog, and the doe turned and began to meander along the field edge. As she reached the lower side of the field, she stopped to scratch her neck. She twisted to one side so her back hoof could reach her neck, and the movement exposed her white belly.
“Dillon!” said Maggie in a high-pitched whispered. “There’s a deer!”
Dillon, walking ahead of Maggie, froze and watched the deer a hundred yards ahead on the same tree line.
“Quick,” he whispered. “Get off the field!”
They ducked into the woods, and Dillon quickly picked out two large poplar trees about 10 yards from the field edge.
“Maggie, hide behind that tree. I’ll be behind this one, and we’ll see if the doe will keep coming,” he whispered as he nocked an arrow.
Maggie leaned against the back of the tree trunk, peeking around the side. For long minutes there was no sign of the deer, then she saw a tiny motion—a deer’s ear flicking.
She motioned to Dillon from behind the tree and pointed. He put a finger to his lips and nodded. He had seen the deer, too.
The doe was unaware of the teenagers and continued slowly down the field edge toward them on a course that would place her about 15 yards from Dillon. He watched the deer approach, catching glimpses of the doe as it walked behind a screen of river cane growing along the field edge. The boy picked a gap to shoot through ahead of the deer. If the deer continued on her path, she should enter that gap. The deer stepped closer in a slow, stop-and-go pace, but finally its nose entered Dillon’s shooting lane. The cams on his compound bow turned silently as he drew his bow, and the broadhead-tipped arrow slid back into place.
The deer stopped. Its ears were funneled forward as it stared out into the hay field. Seconds passed.
Dillon’s arm was beginning ache, but he determinedly held the bow back. Finally the doe took two steps into the gap. Dillon made a mouse-squeak noise with his lips, and the deer stopped broadside and swiveled its head toward the woods to listen. With the peep sight wavering on the doe’s shoulder, Dillon smoothly released his arrow.
Dillon could not follow the flight of his arrow as it flashed through the air, but the doe jumped and ran hunched over with her tail down heading into Blues Bog. The deer did not fall, but ran completely out of hearing.
Dillon exhaled a deep breath he had been holding and turned toward Maggie, who was as thrilled as if she had made the shot herself. She raised her arms in a victory celebration.
“You got it!” she called as she made an exaggerated fist pump. “You hit right behind the shoulder!”
Dillon couldn’t help but grin at his sister’s excitement.
• • • • • • • •
A few minutes later, it was Maggie who found Dillon’s arrow out in the field. The fletchings were painted red with blood. Maggie continued to celebrate, but Dillon was more cautious.
“We still have to find the deer,” he said.
After waiting impatiently for 30 minutes, the teenagers started on the trail. The initial inspection at the field edge revealed no blood, but luckily the deer had fled down a hog trail, and in following the trail, they soon found the first spatters of blood on the churned soil.
“There’s some more,” said Maggie, pointing ahead.
“And some more here,” said Dillon, touching a red spot and rubbing it between his fingers to confirm that it was indeed blood.
At first the trail was simple to follow, but 50 yards into the swamp, the blood trail vanished. For half an hour, the two teenagers fanned back and forth across the hog trail without re-striking the blood trail. Dillon was quickly becoming discouraged, but they both continued to search, bent over, sometimes crawling, to scan the leaves for evidence that the doe had passed by.
“You lose something?” a gruff voice suddenly boomed.
Maggie gave a startled cry, and Dillon jumped.
Only a few feet away, stood Phineas Bouchard, leaning against a tree. He was wearing the same brown coat and pants and had the same battered broad-brimmed hat on his head. His muzzleloader was slung over his shoulder, and he grinned slyly knowing full well he had startled the teenagers.
“You nearly scared us to death,” said Maggie hotly. “We’re looking for a deer Dillon shot.”
“And not finding it,” Phineas observed. “Where’s the last blood?”
Dillon backtracked on the hog trail until they came to his red handkerchief, which he had tied high overhead on a branch over the trail.
“Good,” Phineas noted. “You’ve marked the trail, so we know where to start again.”
The old man knelt down and inspected the trail and the single spot of blood staining a leaf. He then stood and backtracked on the hog trail until he found blood again as if measuring the distance. He then returned to the blood drop under the handkerchief where he stood and scanned the surrounding woods. Finally he walked 10 steps off the trail before he began to scan the ground. Dillon and Maggie followed him into the brush.
“The deer turned,” he said, “Look here.” He pointed to three or four red drops on leaves 20 feet perpendicular to the hog trail. “The deer turned off the trail to take an easier route.”
The old man stepped back.
“Your trail,” he said.
The teenagers pushed ahead searching for the next blood but after 10 minutes, they had found no more blood.
“Over here,” Phineas called. “You’re going too fast. Blood trailing is usually slow work.”
He was kneeling in river cane the teenagers had passed through.
“The blood’s not always on the ground,” he said. “Sometimes it gets rubbed off higher before it drips,” and he pointed to a thin red smear 2 feet above the ground on a grass stem.
“Mark this spot so you can see the deer’s line of travel. Go slow, and you’ll find this deer,” he predicted, he then stood back and let the teenagers resume unraveling the trail. The blood trail soon became easier to follow and only 25 yards farther, they found Dillon’s doe just inside a briar thicket.
Dillon stood and turned to thank Phineas, but there was no one there. The old man had once again disappeared into the Bog.
• • • • • • • •
The following Saturday afternoon, Dillon and Maggie arrived at the ladder stand overlooking the persimmon tree. The weather was unsettled, with a chance of thunderstorms later in the afternoon. Dillon was eager to hunt.
“Deer will move more ahead of a strong weather front,” he told Maggie.
The first hour in the stand was uneventful. Then two does slipped in under the tree and began to snuffle nervously through the leaves looking for persimmons. Gusts of wind and rattling leaves made the deer all the more jumpy. Dillon hoped the pair of mature does might entice a buck to show up, and they did.
Upwind from the stand, Dillon saw a branch move. He focused his binoculars on the spot 75 yards away and was startled to find that the movement wasn’t a branch at all but was a large set of deer antlers seemingly floating in the air, disconnected from the buck hidden from view in the tall vegetation.
A sudden gust of wind rocked the tree, and small hail driven by the wind peppered the ground. The leaves in the nearby trees rattled into motion. Thunder rumbled ominously from the southwest where a late September front coming off the Gulf was bearing down. Despite a spattering of big raindrops, Dillon’s excitement grew. Surely the buck would come to the two does beneath the persimmon tree.
Maggie did not share her brother’s excitement. The yellow pine, the tallest tree in the area was beginning to sway in the wind gusts, and the rain promised to increase.
“Dillon,” she whispered, pulling on the elbow of his hunting jacket. “We need to go. There’s a storm…:”
“Quiet!” he whispered, “That buck is coming, and I think it’s the 13-pointer!”
Dillon clipped his release to his bow string, and he quietly stood up, preparing for a possible shot. He had seen the buck again as it slipped through a gap 50 yards away. The buck was closing fast. He couldn’t count points, but the deer’s rack was huge, and he was sure it was the 13-pointer heading his way. Dillon’s heart began to beat double-time.
Maggie’s heart was also pounding, but not because of the deer—she was worried. The sky was getting darker, and thunder boomed and rumbled again, closer this time.
“Dillon,” she pleaded. “We have to go—now!”
“No!” he whispered defiantly. “The buck is almost here, and the storm’s not bad.”
Dillon could not have been more wrong. Billowing nearly 50,000 feet above Blues Bog, a black, roiling thunderhead seethed and rumbled like a living thing. Hail and rain and electrically charged molecules churned within, boiling up a massive electrostatic charge. At last, it was too much to be contained, and a leader of ionized air channeled downward from the cloud, probing to connect with a negative electrical charge. It found what it needed in a tall, yellow pine at the edge of Blues Bog.
A bolt of lightning snapped into the ionized air channel, splitting the air as it hissed downward in a micro-second, striking the pine tree. The pine sap, heated instantly to more than 50,000 degrees Fahrenheit, vaporized, expanded and exploded outward, shredding the tree top into long, jagged splinters and in the same instant blasting the bark from the tree trunk as the bolt streaked toward the ground. And toward two teenagers in the rain on a metal ladder stand.
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