“Even working in microcosm, Janice Daugharty is a writer who thinks big.” New York Times Book Review

“The Hunt” Published and written by Janice Daugharty. Smashwords Edition. Copyright Janice Daugharty .. Read more of Janice’s work here

The Hunt

Rick was awake but not dressed when he heard Country gearing down his old  pickup to turn in the drive and the penned dogs breaking the quiet with their fevered baleful barking. 

“What the…!” Nathan, lying next to Rick on the bed, jacked his curly head to make the point that he’d been shocked out of sleep, sinned against, at some ungodly hour. Then he socked his pillow and burrowed into it, unfinished exclamation dissolving into oblivion.

Somehow, the night before, Rick had convinced his older brother to let him sleep with him, his bedroom being on front of the two-story gabled house. From there Rick could better hear Country coming after him to go on the cat hunt with him and his buddy Stub; Rick could get up, get dressed and be out there before the new step-grandfather got riled from having to wait. Nobody made Country Pearson wait. 

Nathan’s room smelled of Zest soap and menthol cough drops, neither of which suggested a seventeen-year-old, boy-wonder quarterback and Star student—Nathan. Both scents better than incense or those vanilla room deodorizers for camouflaging cigarette smoke, Nathan believed. But cigarette smoke was steeped into the heavy rose brocade drapes, the looped weave of the Williamsburg-blue carpet, the bedding and every thread of Nathan’s Abercrombie & Fitch clothes upholstering the two wing chairs beneath the east span of mullions.

Rick stepped into his boot-cut Levis and then his trim brown hiking boots, lacing them while he sat on the edge of one of the chairs, watching from the window Country’s blocky white truck in the fake moon-glow of the tall security lights out front. The whole neighborhood in North Valdosta was lit up like a shopping mall parking lot. Out of place were the idling pickup and the hectic shadows of the gnarled dogs behind the slattered walls of the dog box on back. Country tooted the truck’s horn, then lay into it like a siren accompaniment to the various barking of dogs. No two dogs sounded alike.

At first, at his dad and Jill’s wedding, Rick had thought that her daddy Country was a joke: stepping to the door of the reception hall at the country club and spitting tobacco onto the cobblestones leading out to golf course, hillocks of even green grass and the black asphalt grouting of the cart trails; then sitting in his white tux with his back to the overlook of windows and looking bored out of his broad skull, legs spread and his gut stretching the tucks of his white shirt. One black sock rode low on his short hairy shinbone. Oddly, only Rick, a misfit himself, seemed to think the old man was weird. Everybody else made over him, paying full attention to his cat hunting stories, though rocked by his thundering belly laugh. They knew he had money to burn and more land than he could walk over in a lifetime. More money than Rick’s dad, leading heart surgeon in South Georgia. Money could cover a lot of social flaws, could buy a lot, but hadn’t been able to save Rick and Nathan’s mother after her SUV rolled and crushed her super-thin body underneath.

In the beginning, Rick, like Nathan, had wanted nothing to do with Jill’s daddy, “the old cuss.” They liked Jill the new stepmother well enough though. She tried and she was pretty and all the boys at school called her a babe. Long golden legs and hair, classy in expensive but simple clothes. Yeah, a babe with a degree in communications from Vanderbilt, where as far as Rick could tell was where all the pretty rich girls went to train for marriage to rich men in order to merge select bloodlines, to decorate fine houses, to learn how to hold a wine glass and smile as if wired to electricity.

But immediately, following Jill and the surgeon’s honeymoon to the Island of Malta, she walked up to Rick and Nathan and said, “I’m not your mother, but I’ll do my best. Just tell me when I mess up.”

They must have been preparing to dislike her, their mother having been dead less than two years, but they couldn’t have prepared themselves for such an unaffected, unbabelike remark. Later, when she found one of Nathan’s girlfriend’s lace panties under his bedcovers, she placed them thong-side up on his smoothed down comforter to let him know she knew, she cared, that he could talk to her about sex and she would listen.

Except for the boys’ bedrooms, which after the panty incident she left alone, she was turning out to be an un-decorator: stripping down Rick and Nathan’s mother’s elaborate Indian curtains, gauzy nutmeg with turquoise trim, on the wall of mullion and paladin windows in the great room, exposing the lit-green tops of the hickory trees, naked in sunlight. Later, Rick had lain on the pillow-crowded couch in the great room, gazing out the crescent paladin at the tree tops, grieving for his mother while glorying in the new view, there all along. Flying squirrels leaped branch to branch, almost flying like the birds they scared away. At last Rick was free to grieve without the drone of the TV Jill had switched off. He had cried then because he loved the view so much and hated his own mother’s curtains as much as Jill had. Did that mean he hadn’t loved his mother?

Slowly but surely the boys were also un-decorating their own rooms.

Country’s truck was old and loud and tailored for self-expression. A four-wheel drive with oversized tires and bunged up sides. Super shop-wrought bumper on front sporting a clunky wench. Sulfurous exhaust fumes chuffed from the tailpipe, fogging the fruitless Bradford pear trees and sculpted shrubs like an enemy attack. The dogs were raring and pawing at the box, some growling and fighting, when Rick got out to the pickup. He set his canvas grip and B.B. gun in back then yanked open the balking door. Cigar smoke and raw gas smells poured out. 

Country’s gut in a worn white T-shirt and over-shirt of green twill sat on his short legs. No lap and no neck. One arm cocked in the window to show he’d been waiting. “Next time you going with me, boy, see you get to bed by five the night before, heah?” His square pied face in the dim yellow dash lights looked like he’d said nothing. That unconcerned, even when putout. 

Rick had to rock the door a few times before it would shut. No rubber around the door and it slammed so hard and raucous surely it had woke up everybody not already wakened by the horn and the dogs. There was a logging chain piled on the floorboard beneath Rick’s feet and he couldn’t quite get traction on it as the truck engine revved and they shot off up the circular drive to the street, scrubbing boxwoods carving out the curve, then the brick curbing of the street. No seat belts and Rick felt loose in his skin—he had a thing about seat belts since his mother was killed and he’d been told a seat belt might have saved her. Country wheeled in behind the little red car of the newspaperman and pumped his brakes, then swerved around it at the next house, next stop. Rolled papers flying and spinning like boomerangs in the faint mist of fog accented by clusters of acorn lights.

Coasting up to the STOP sign of the cul de sac, Country took a left without aid of blinkers or brakes. It never occurred to Rick that maybe the truck had no brakes to speak of until they got on the southbound ramp of I-75 and pulled in ahead of a semi and the truck driver swung into the left lane and laid down on his horn. Another following close—BEE-BEE BEEEEP!

Country pumped the brakes, then spat out the window. “Cussfire if them ole truckers don’t wanta run over somebody the worst.” The needle on his speedometer was hovering over numeral three of 30 miles per hour.