Happy Father's Day

I thought I'd post a little fictional father/son bonding moment from my novel From the Void:

The first snowflakes fell twenty minutes into Wisconsin. Derrick thought of the first major blizzard he could remember, a white wall that swept across Indiana like an ice age prophecy fulfilled. He’d only been seven or eight years old, and he’d been with his father. They’d spent two cold October days walking through the woods of southern Michigan, hunting for pheasants. They’d brought along Bone, the family golden lab, and that first morning they’d lost the dog among the high ditch weeds and dense forest line. They spent the entire first day of their trip searching for the dog, shouting Bone-Bone-Bone with their gloved hands curled around their mouths, until the dumb animal came rushing up to them at dusk, soaking wet, happy, and smelling like skunk.

Derrick’s father had been furious with the lab for wasting the day. Ted Woods had grown up with proper hunting dogs in West Virginia. Derrick got a towel out of the truck and dried off Bone while his father rummaged around the backseat, throwing aluminum cans out into the grass. When he’d emptied the truck, Derrick’s father got out his rifle. He had Derrick put Bone in the truck’s cab while he lined the cans up twenty yards away in front of an old log. Derrick watched as his father silently shot can after can off the log, the rifle’s sharp crack silencing the startled birds. After Ted Woods hit all the cans, he had Derrick stand the cans up again and shot all of them a second time while Bone barked his head off from the front seat of the pickup truck.

They got in the truck after the second round of shooting, leaving the gutted soda cans sprawled on the grass and gawking at the sky. They put Bone in the cramped backseat with the guns and the dog stuck its smelly head between them and watched the road. The sun was setting, turning the October leaves even brighter shades of gold and crimson. Gravel crunched beneath the truck’s tires as it rolled along. His father drove slowly, hunched over the wheel as he scanned the road.

“They like gravel. It helps them digest their food.”

“Who likes gravel?”

His father turned to him, squinting. “The pheasants. What did you think I was talking about?”

Derrick shrugged. “I don’t know. You sounded crazy.”

His father turned back to the road. Bone drooled on the armrest that divided the truck’s front seat. “The pheasants head for the gravel roads after they eat,” his father said. “They chew some gravel and go off to sleep somewhere. Keep your eyes peeled. Maybe we’ll catch one napping.”

Derrick leaned out his window and watched the ditch, though he didn’t really care if they caught a pheasant or not. He was sick of hunting. He’d rather be back at the hotel, watching cable TV and eating cheese pizza.

The truck lurched to a stop.

“There. There’s one.”

Derrick sat up. A dim shape fifty feet ahead, pecking at something on the side of the road. Derrick turned to say something to his father, but Ted Woods was already out of the truck, rifle in hand. The pheasant continued eating while Derrick’s father brought the rifle up, set it against his shoulder, and fired. The winged pheasant dropped to the ground in a flapping pile. His father squeezed the trigger again but the rifle clicked empty. Calmly, as if he’d expected this to happen, his father set the rifle on the truck’s hood and sprinted toward the flapping ball of feathers. Derrick got out of the truck and stopped, unsure of what he was supposed to do. Bone stuck his head out of the passenger window and barked.

“Stay there, boy.”

The pheasant got to its feet and ran in a circle before falling on its side in the middle of the road. Ted Woods reached the bird and grabbed it by the neck. The bird flapped madly as his father swung it around in circles, corkscrewing its head until the pheasant’s own weight snapped its neck. His father howled victoriously and held up the bird for Derrick to see, smiling for the first time during the trip, probably for the first time in months, and that toothy smile stayed with Derrick through the rest of the weekend, reappearing in his mind during the futile second day of hunting and on the long drive back to Indianapolis, when it began to snow so suddenly, and so heavily, that traffic on the interstate was reduced to stop-and-go, the taillights of the car in front of them the only sign that they remained on the road. Ted Woods drove through the blizzard as tensely as he had hunted, hunched over the steering wheel as he listened to the weather report on the radio, muttering every few minutes as the wind picked up and brought new waves of white across their hood, eclipsing the red taillights ahead of them until it seemed like the entire world had been erased and it was only the two of them, traveling through the whiteout with one exhausted dog and one dead pheasant.


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