HERE AND THERE MONGOLIAN NIGHTS: THE HUNT II BY DYLAN P. LAURION
I ran down the hill toward the revived jeep- white puffs of air chugged from my mouth. I hoped, as I slowed to open the door, that we would not turn back, that close calls and faulty mechanics did not inspire retreat. I was relieved, once I was seated- squeezed in place between door and Mongolians- to find everyone laughing. The riling relief of navigating narrowed avenues of success instigates a special breed of laughter that frolics. Shakespeare's Puck would have enjoyed the moment- mischievous little bastard that he was. The headlights were not turned on for ten or fifteen minutes, a cautionary policy allowing time and distance to buffer us and the roaming ranger on his motorcycle. The moon, which I had recently wished away, provided enough light to navigate the road-less land. A mechanical presence of sound, a faint rumbling at the boundary of my thoughts, remained while I looked past the cold window.The prudent driver eventually flicked the lights on. A night, partially illuminated in white and yellow tones, became the scene. We crossed the landscape at a moderate pace. Cruising. Hunters require patience and the lingering discomfort of the squirming twelve year old required me to embrace this quality as a mantra. I settled into the moment- a grinding lull. I was certain action, of some kind, would materialize. When it did, I would be ready. Hunters require patience. Hunters require patience..... Nuances were focused upon: the rocking car, the clack of gun barrels, a cough. I considered the idea of total silence and wondered if it really existed. I decided that it was a truism too often used, a flat one dimensional observation of a moment. Rare is the moment that is truly, entirely, completely silent. To find a moment in space that is silence uninterrupted is indeed special. Even in the very quiet there exists persistent noises of life beyond one's self. I am often put to sleep by such a lullaby. That night, however, I was nursing the thrill. Cold wind entered the square space of the jeep when the man in front of me lowered his window. He stretched his arms out beyond the frame and began scanning the landscape around us with Tumar's spot light. He was methodical. I was intrigued. Occasionally, the driver would mutter a couple of words. I imagined he was asking, “See anything? See anything?” Who knows, I hadn't learned the lingo yet. I don't buy much when I am overseas or on the move. The experience can not be summarized by a token. What my eyes have witnessed, tears that have fallen, blood that has dripped, and sweat that has poured encapsulates the period of time. Intense trinkets in their own right, the grand total is often difficult to put into words. It is probably why it has taken me so long to write this story. I've told it a thousand times, spoken word is kinder to improvisation and the impulse to share. To sit and write, that is the same as looking in the mirror or presenting yourself before a judge- there is only the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. You better have your facts compiled and sorted before that moment comes, other wise you are found desperately wanting. Heavy thoughts. That was what crept into my head back then. And, it creeps into my mind, even now, as I work around the world. Stay present. Tangent. I lurched forward. The philosophical, self-accounting thoughts were flung through the windshield. The cushioned front seat stopped me from following. The boy, who had rendered my left leg dead, grunted his disapproval of being squished into the seat. “Sorry, kid,” I muttered. After the jeep's abrupt stop, stillness was shattered by quick motions and voices of hushed thrill. I opened the door, the boy sprung out, and I followed. The assembly line of process had begun by the time I rounded the back of the jeep: One man speared the earth with a handmade bi-pod-a piece of wood fitted like a Y-, another was pulling out a monstrous rifle-an old Soviet semi-automatic, caliber unknown- from the jeep, the spot-light-man was standing next to the driver side headlight, which remained on, and Ganbagana stood by me. We watched. I stared down the slope illuminated by all of our electrical might. Every pair of eyes scanned the forest in front of us. Someone had seen something. I moved just behind the shooter's left shoulder. He was kneeling and aiming his rifle at the hillside. He was waiting for one of several spotters, myself included, to call out a target. There was a creature out there, and it was now being actively hunted. I pulled my binoculars from within my dell and held them in my gloved hands. The rubber rims were cold when I pressed them to my face- unlike the Mongolians, who often held their binoculars as if they were a monocular or a pirate's telescope, I used both lenses. I did not hold a rifle in my hands, a concession I agreed upon with Ganbagana, I had good eyes. And, good eyeballs are as necessary as a bullet on a hunt. The light scanned. A short, brief notation of direction was spoken. The boy coughed. A branch twitched. I turned my head to the right. And, through the magnification of my binoculars I saw the narrow head of a deer. It stepped into the light, out of the trees, and into the bramble and low foliage of the distant hillside. I was still looking through my binoculars when the rifle exploded: a roar of powder and lead, a stark-fucking-contrast to the silence that had permeated our small space in the world. I turned to watch the man below me. He was methodical. One shot, one roar, a brass casing ejected and flying to the ground, a pause, a shout of direction, and another shot. The rifle was impressive. The shooter was not. Round after round was fired without hitting the deer. The slender animal was pinned to the hill, though. The deer ran left, a shot. The deer stopped. The deer changed directions. A shot. The deer stopped. Damn confusing for him, I thought. Silence. Smoke curled from the barrel of the gun. A few words and some quiet laughter. “They don't know where it went,” Ganbagana said. I put the binoculars back to my eyes. I watched, slowly moving across the slope. Then, I saw it. It was hunkering down, lowered on its haunches. I touched the shooter's shoulder, pointed, and told him to look left- one of the few words I had perfected from my time hailing makeshift taxi cabs in Ulaanbaatar- and then the shooter saw it: BOOM “Right!” I shouted. BOOM! the rifled answered. “RIGHT” I shouted, again. BOOM!, the rifle answered. “LEFT!,” I shouted. BOOM,BOOM, the rifle barked. Silence. I couldn't see the deer. The air was thick with sulfur, the cold seemed to keep the smell of gunfire hanging over us. “Did he get it?” I asked. “I think so,” said Ganbagana. Voices raised in volume. The shooter stood up. He handed the rifle to one of the men by the jeep. The shooter and another Mongolian grabbed two smaller caliber rifles. I put my head lamp onto my head. Everyone began running down the hill. Once again, white steam chugged from my mouth as I ran down yet another hill. My heart was thumping with adrenaline. Our booted feet pounded down the slight slope. One man slipped and fell. We laughed. He got up and ran after us. Ganbagana was smiling. At that moment in time, it was one of the more surreal events of my life: a strange dreamlike sequence where historical past and personal present had slammed into each other with a post-modern flare. Our pursuit of the deer was slowed by the brambles and the prickers that wove a tight defense against our large bodies. We crashed through. The boy's slight frame offered a course of less resistance. Nimbly, he weaved in and out of the grabbing thorns. I could hear the fabric of my dell plucked, but it was a small price and I've always enjoyed the look of something that has lived and experienced. There was no time for the sanitary. Moving as quietly as possible through a tall stand of trees, we came upon deer. Standing still, near a tree, the animal was motionless. From where I stood, I couldn't tell if it was hit. There was no evidence of impending death: no blood, no limp, no staggering. What the hell? Had the shootist been that delinquent with his fucking aim? Had the deer gotten so bored with the dance of lead that it stopped and was giving in? Maybe it was sympathetic to a nomad so poorly trained and felt that it would need to lie down and just give itself to the twit pulling the trigger. I had not considered the size of the animal until then. It was small, juvenile in appearance. Something seemed odd about the animal. But, I couldn't place it. A rifle, maybe a .22 caliber, was raised and fired. The sound was a whisper compared to the big Soviet creation still up on the hill. The deer flinched and ran a few feet. We formed a line and walked forward. The deer stopped. There was a twinge of discomfort in my mind because so many were pursuing such a small deer. The animal began to limp and I, who possessed a trustworthy memory, could not recall what was bothering me about the deer. Another shot. The deer dropped to the ground, stood up and ran at us. It struck one of the men and kept running. Because of its size, no damage was done to the man. I am not one to personify animals, but I was impressed with the grit and will to fight to the end. Our line adjusted. We followed flecks of blood on the white snow. The deer was walking very slowly. It stopped. And then, the deer lay down. The men were talking quickly. I was watching the deer, its slender neck still raised and eyes blinking. I felt compelled to shorten the lingering life that I imagined was incredibly painful at the moment. I couldn't imagine what they were discussing. I decided that I would lower the curtain on the scene. Suffering should be avoided. And, I was determined to accrue as many tokens of respect within the community as possible. I could be the hero, I thought. I pulled my knife, sturdy, thick steeled blade from its sheath, and stepped forward. While I walked towards the deer I felt a gentle brush against my shoulder. The boy, whom I had lost sight of, rushed past me and reached the deer quickly. In one motion, he leaped onto its back, gripped the deer's head in his hands, and deftly snapped its neck. Dead. The deer was dead. A boy had killed it. A boy's small hands had done what dozens of bullets could not. Fuck. I put my knife away. It had all happened so fast. Being one of the stronger men, I carried the deer back, pulling it by its leg through the brambles, up the slope, and to the jeep. The man who had waited by the jeep in case a quick exit was required, helped me lift it and put it in the back. He covered the dead animal with a canvas tarp. Laughter, back patting, and masculine behavior followed. I was occupied with many thoughts and the surreal nature of the moment. “Thank you,” I said to Ganbagana. He nodded. He was smiling. He touched my shoulder. I returned to my sleeping host family, creeping past their still forms, and slipped onto my small cot. I did not fall asleep quickly. My mind was herding thoughts, separating questions, and processing a moment rare in both the action of experience and the implications of its substance. I had managed to get myself within a part of Mongolian life that was neither clear or easily defined by a standard rubric of: illegal or legal and right and wrong. A long day.