Photo by Patrick Hendry via Unsplash
I awoke after a long winter’s night in the small wholesome house that I’d lived in for as long as I could remember. The air was warm with the smell of the woodstove and baked beans. I stretched and yawned, before dragging my sleepy body to the kitchen to greet my family. My best and oldest friend, Graham, and his grandmother, Peggy, or Nan as he always called her. I stepped in the kitchen and Nan was there, cooking away as usual, and Graham set the table while thanking her for everything she did for us.
“C’mon b’ys,” said Nan, “come sit and eat your breakfast now.”
Graham and I had been best friends since we were youngsters, and his grandmother, being the caring woman she was, basically adopted me after I’d spent so much time there. Of course, I didn’t have a parent to my name either. We sat there, quietly eating our beans and biscuits when Nan asked a question,
“When ye go out huntin’ today, would you mind bringing back some moose meat so I can make some burgers?”
My friend and I were hunters, some of the best on the Rock. And knowing Nan had recently become quite ill, we had no problem with going out to get a bit of moose for her.
“Sure, Nan. You knows I’d do anything for ya,” Graham replied with a smile. I’d finished eating and quickly went outside and hopped in the truck, right ready for a good hunting trip. Graham came shortly after, in his flannel and ball cap, and sat down in the driver’s seat. He put his rifle in the back seat, and off we went.
Although the hunt was my favourite part, the drive to the woods was half the fun. I loved driving around our small town and saying “hello” to everyone I knew on the way. Before heading up to the hunting grounds, we pulled into the gas station lot, and after filling up the truck, Graham went inside to pay. I always stayed in the truck. I didn’t really like going to the shop because people didn’t seem to like me very much and I was never really fond of them either. I only really liked the people I knew. Graham was the “people person” of our dynamic duo, probably because he was quieter and he was kind of intimidating as well. So I always let him do the talking. Although he was only in there for a few minutes, it seemed like hours since I was so excited to get going. But the wait was completely forgotten when I saw him walk out with a case of Coke and a box of HotRod sausages for us.
Afterward, we drove further from town, crossed the trestle over the river and I grew more and more excited as we drove deeper into the woods. I looked at Graham as we drove up to our woodland parking space. “You ready buddy?” He asked with a grin.
I smiled and nodded and we both hopped out of the truck. When my feet hit the ground, something immediately felt different. The forest floor felt cold and lifeless, yet it felt different than that of a brisk winter’s day. Graham tilted his head and pointed his gun in the direction we were to go, and we began our hunt. As we trekked through the forest, there were little signs of life. There was no sound of scuffling rodents on the forest floor, no rustle of the bushes where prey fled. Not even the curious, yet common chant of a chickadee. But I didn’t really think much of it, as Mother Nature can be quite random and unpredictable sometimes. We kept searching for quite a while, without even the sight of broken branches before my head was finally jerked upwards to meet the gaze of Mother Nature’s noisiest rodent. It was nothing more than a yelling squirrel. It was almost as if he was mocking our lack of prey with his ear-splitting chatter. This drained the last of my patience. Although he was my best friend, Graham was not the stealthiest of hunters, and he had a tendency to alert game of our presence. So I decided to head off on my own in the hopes that I would have more luck with the moose hunt.
It wasn’t the first time that he and I split up to hunt, but this had been the longest I’d ever done so. For the longest time, my luck had been no different than when I was alongside my friend. I continued on my way when suddenly my luck changed, and I could hardly believe my eyes when I stumbled upon some faint hoofprints. These weren’t just any hoofprints, they were moose prints. My first instinct, as usual, was to gloat to Graham about how I’d found prints first, as I did when he first taught me how to hunt. But I quickly remembered that we were several miles apart. Flooded with hope and excitement, I began to follow the footprints, with a much welcomed and needed pep in my step. I followed the prints so intently that I hadn’t even noticed the change of scenery until it stared me directly in the face. The footprints led me to the edge of the river and continued on across it. I could tell based on the depth and definition of the prints, that the moose had crossed several days earlier, and since then, that ice had thinned out a fair bit.
I looked out across the frozen river, and present morphed into past as I remembered the first time
I stepped foot on the river. It was years ago, Graham had taken me out ice fishing for the first time. The air was crisp, and the howl of the wind mixed with the laughter of the children who skated with glee on the bumpy ice. I stood by the ice’s edge, just as I did now, looking at Graham as he gathered all the equipment. I was always ready to try new things and this was no exception. Excited, I went out on the ice to start fishing, when I heard a sudden cracking noise. I ran quickly back to shore and Graham laughed at my inexperience. He taught me the dos and don’ts of ice fishin’ and how to tell if the ice was safe to walk on. We caught loads of fish that day, and when we came home, Nan had stew and biscuits all ready for us. That had been a great day. And staring out at the frozen landscape, I hardly thought that today’s excursion would be any different. I kept looking over my shoulder, hoping that Graham would show up behind me, even though I knew he wasn’t near. I waited anxiously for a few more minutes, I wanted my friend by my side when we finally caught what we had spent so long searching for. But when a bull moose suddenly came into my sights, I wanted nothing more than to complete this simple favour for Nan.
I ran out on the snow-covered ice in pursuit of the target I had searched so long to find. As I ran towards it, I thought only happy thoughts, like the heart-lifting smile that would appear on Nan’s face when we came home with supper and how overly grateful she would be. I also thought of Graham’s prideful grin that I saw every time we made a kill and the words of encouragement he gave whenever we were unsuccessful. But most of all, I thought of home and how happy everyone would be. Then, my mind stopped in an abrupt rush of fear. I heard the voice I had longed to hear all afternoon, but the last thing I felt was relief. I heard Graham’s panicked voice from behind me.
“HUDSON!” he hollered. “What are you doing?! Get off the ice!”
His words brought me to the terrifying realization that I was no longer on safe terrain. That the seemingly solid ice that I so impulsively ran out on, had slowly turned to a thin, slushy excuse for ice.
“Stay put, Hudson!”
The moose was long gone by this point and before I knew it, Graham came running towards me on the ice, trying to get us both safely to shore. I stood there, frozen in my tracks from fear and regret. But the situation only became worse when Graham slipped and fell
awkwardly on the ice, causing it to fall away beneath him. I was no longer stuck in place, and I started running like a bat out of hell to help my friend. My heart sank as I watched him struggling to get out of the freezing water, but this image fueled my energy, and I ran as fast as my legs could go. I finally made it to Graham after what seemed like hours of running. I grabbed him by his shirt collar and immediately started pulling as hard as I possibly could. Unsurprisingly, the surrounding ice was thin as well, and every time I managed to pull him out a bit, the ice would break and fall away leaving us both struggling in the cold murky water. Neither of us could swim well, and we were both panicked and coughing as we took in water. The freshly broken shards of ice pierced my skin, and the water and ice around us were stained with blood as we flailed around, trying desperately to get out. We both began to give up, and the world around me grew darker and colder as I began to sink deeper to join the salmon beneath us. I came to face Graham as he tried with all his might to reach the surface, and I knew I couldn’t let him drown. Then somehow, against all odds, I managed to muster up enough strength, and I grabbed Graham and was able to pull us both to the sun-lit surface. Graham, too, had somehow gotten a sudden burst of hope and strength, and he managed to drag us both up onto solid ice.
We both layed there, purely exhausted, and somehow breathing, the simplest thing to do, felt impossible. My side heaved as I panted with pain and exhaustion, so much so that I couldn’t even lift my head to see how Graham was doing. I closed my eyes and tried to ignore the pain and sting of my many wounds, but the pain wouldn’t cease. My eyes opened when I heard Graham’s worried voice.
“Hudson!” he said, as he came and knelt by my side. “It’s gonna be okay bud, it’s gonna be okay,” he said to himself more than me.
Although he said everything would be okay, I knew deep down that it wasn’t, and all I could do was lay there while he tried desperately to do anything he could to help me. Tears fell down his face as he took off his flannel to try and stop my bleeding. I hated to see him so distraught, trying with everything he had to save me. I lifted my head and looked at him and gently touched his shoulder, and he stopped what he was doing and then turned his gaze to mine. He sat there shivering with tears falling down his cheeks, his eyes full of fear and sadness. I smiled at him and suddenly, his fear turned to relief and he smiled back. He even gave a small chuckle as more tears fell down his face. I smiled again and then laid my head back on the ground to take a little rest. Graham laid his hand on my side for comfort, and for some reason, these last moments were free of pain and I felt nothing but peace, comfort and happiness. As I took my last breath, Graham patted my shoulder and said his last words to me:
“Good dog, Hudson.”
And with him by my side, I fell into an eternally peaceful sleep.