You’re lucky, said Sherman. You’re luckier than any other kid. Here you are out in the reeds waiting for ducks, with your DAD! And your Dad gave you a GUN. Most kids would do anything to be holding a rifle like you are now.
I’m not holding it. It’s down there.
Well, pick it up, son! You can’t shoot a duck with it down there! In the mud! Treat it with respect. When his son didn’t do anything Sherman picked up the rifle and put it into the boy’s hands. Now sit quietly. We need full quiet now.
The sky began to lose light. Sherman glanced at the boy, who was staring down at the reeds. What are you looking at? He whispered. Ducks ain’t comin’ from down there. Be lookin’ above so you see them take off. Then- POW! Sherman grinned.
There’s someone down there, the boy said.
What? Where? He looked down to try to see what the boy was looking at. There’s no one out here.
The boy extended his gloved finger, pointing into the reeds sticking out of the water a few yards away.
What are you seein’? No one comes out here. I’ve never once seen someone out here. He took out a pair of mini-binoculars and scanned the marsh. I see reeds, water, trees, and sky. Here. He handed the binoculars to the boy. But just then a figure rose up out of the water among the reeds before them.
When the boy awoke he was lying in the mud and his father was gone. It was now night and a full moon lit up the marsh. He got to his feet and looked around but their guns were gone. In the shallow water he found the mini binoculars and some bullet shells that could have been theirs or maybe not. He felt his pockets and confirmed he still had his knife and wallet. When he went to climb the dark path back to the tent his knees buckled. They felt like rubber. But he made his legs work. As he ascended the hill he took out his knife and gripped the handle tightly.
The tent was shredded and bloody.
He didn’t investigate too closely, instead he continued up the path to where he remembered they left the car. Where the car had been was a melted slab of metal and glass with some busted rubber tires smooshed at the bottom. The plants around the slab were charred.
The boy studied the destruction, feeling sick to his stomach. It looked like someone has sliced the car in half with a giant torch. Then he climbed the nailed planks into their tree stand, hugging the tree so he wouldn’t slip. Up top he sat with his knife ready, and waited. He took out the mini-binoculars and scanned the ground below but the moon had gone and it was almost black.
Then he thought he was seeing figures moving around at ground level but it was too dark to make out their features. With his knife stuck in his belt he hoisted himself up onto the roof of the tree stand and when that didn’t seem high enough he climbed further up the tree til he was on one of the top branches, hugging the trunk.
Soon he could hear them directly below, in the tree stand. Hoarse whispers. Tuneless whistles. He wished the moon would come back so he could see something. He wished he was back in the cafeteria where he’d spent most of the earlier part of the day. He’d hated the cafeteria with its stench of ground beef and soggy buns but now it seemed like paradise.
A few minutes later the entire forest lit up. A huge insect-like spacecraft appeared and the dark figures all moved toward it. There were round porthole windows in the shell of the craft and he saw Sherman looking out at him. Dad! DAD! DAD! he shouted. His father continued staring out with a concerned expression, but oblivious, vacant eyes. The spaceships’ landing gear retracted into its segmented body. The craft rose above the trees and then shot up, up, up into the starry sky.
When the sun rose the boy was still up in the tree hugging the trunk. Some firemen forced him to loosen his grip before they carried him down a ladder to an emergency vehicle below.
A few days later he was back in the cafeteria, not speaking. Just sitting by himself at one of the tables, latching and unlatching his lunchbox. He had small notebooks that he scribbled in with a ballpoint pen. When the page was almost completely black with ink, he’s turn the page and scribble more.
In about a week his father showed up at the cafeteria, pretending that nothing happened. He was missing his left arm. The boy heard him telling the lunch ladies it was a hunting accident.
When they got home Sherman had a strange look in his eye. He tossed a few suitcases on the bed. Pack up everything, he told the boy. We’re going back out duck hunting. Only this time we ain’t coming back. The boy stood and stared. Then he slowly complied, folding shirts and socks and laying them into the suitcases. Soon they were in the truck, heading back out to the marsh. They drove with windows down and the wind was unseasonably warm. Say goodbye to Maple Creek, said Sherman, grinning. But the boy couldn’t bring himself to say it. He just stared out at the trees going by and daydreamed about sitting in the cafeteria under bright fluorescent lights.