A mockingbird delivered schizophrenic tunes from a perch high into the boughs of a great elder pine. The rapid fire loop of songs included countless bird species and random cricket chirps peppered throughout, a symphony of insanity. The sun shone white blankets of heat, illuminating the dusty road in a glow of sub Saharan parch. A slight breeze occasionally cut through the kiln fire, but still the sweat flowed freely and Victor's light blue t-shirt now looked more like virgin denim.
He had passed by the stealth entrance to the lane for as far back as he could remember. For the longest time, years in fact, he never gave it a second thought; it was another thing to get past on the way to work, no more important or interesting than the miles of grazing land and corn fields along the way. It wasn't even an afterthought. Until last month when he saw the lane's potential.
Back in the early 70's Victor read a book on Karmic Fascism and for a brief period tried to use the philosophy's principles in his daily existence. But like every spiritual discipline he'd explored before and since, it was a useless effort. Religion, a tool for the weak-minded, the lesser evolved. Religious people were all fundamentalist nutjobs, bent on impaling hapless children with dogma and prejudice. Using fear to gain acceptance, salvation to gain devotion. Organized religion was a construct of man, not God. And the answers to life's great challenges were not to be found in a volume of fiction written by men who were not even aware that the earth revolved around the sun. No way. But there were keys to being spiritually healthy. Victor was not a nihilist, after all. He was evolved, intelligent, curious. He may have lived close to sixty years before discovering where the keys were hidden, but he did find them.
For Victor, the answers to life's great mysteries were eventually discovered in a combination of the writings and lives of Henry David Thoreau and Hunter S. Thompson. In them, Victor found wisdom and lessons, offered in the spirit of shared understanding, not demands and directives offered in the spirit of dominance. Thoreau taught him to search for his place in the harmony of the world, and Thompson taught him to challenge that and put a caustic twist on it. Together they created a complete portrait of Victor's life, and charted his course to this very day. This perfect day.
The sides of the lane were heavy with honeysuckle; its sweetness was pungent and delicate and its flavor filled the air with the scent of divine perfume. “Bliss,” Victor said aloud, to no one in particular. This journey was a long time coming, but the effort was already paying off.
The further Victor invaded the depths of the woods the more the lane narrowed. He guessed he had walked at least four miles since parking his truck on the gravel roadside. Here the road was no longer one wide open trail flanked by bramble and soldier pines, it had gradually become two thin strips of dirt gulley with a center mohawk of grass, a green median, mother nature reclaiming what she could. Victor suddenly noted this change, noting more that he had not observed the change as the road transformed along his journey. He congratulated himself on this, realizing his focus and oneness with the Spirit had imbued him with the hypnotic dream state of bliss. He was one with nature, and oblivious to it. The eye cannot see itself, as Allen Watts had said, in a college lecture Victor attended when first beginning his search.
A short distance ahead the carcass of an oak tree lay on the right side of the lane, its roots exposed and dried out and crazily dancing a still frame of spider webs. The surrounding trees gave a cover of cool shade that Victor took as an invitation. The trunk looked welcoming, its once hearty girth now a prone husk of FDR era timber.
Victor took off his backpack and settled his posterior onto the bark. From his pack he removed a small towel and proceeded to wipe the sweat from his face, neck and arms. He needed a cool drink and a smoke, and produced both from his bag. The chirp of random birds gently punched life into the stillness of the hot afternoon. Light wind barely rustled drought burdened leaves, a crisp soft din that brought Victor's heart into his throat. He sighed and then drew a breath big enough to fill an eighteen wheeler tire. What dreamy prose would Thoreau have penned to describe this moment?
He struck the match to its scab and it popped bright and hot. The smell of sulfur was as glorious as the honeysuckle, and its dense sharp deliciousness was only eclipsed when the flame touched the tobacco, setting in motion a sensation of such orgasmic joy that he nearly wept. He had thought about quitting for decades, but was now grateful he had never done so; this day would have been incomplete without the scourge. Nicotine filled his every cell, turning his calm mind into near comatose oblivion. He took a long drink of the iced tea he'd packed before leaving home that morning and he drank in his surroundings with it. How lucky, how blessed he was to have found this place.
Victor had grown up in post war Brooklyn, exiting the city at eighteen and never returning. He did not belong there. The north woods of New Hampshire were mysterious and intimidating, and they called to him. Luck or kismet, he discovered the region's magnetic draw while attending college in Manchester. While his friends were drinking themselves into stupors every weekend, Victor would pack a bag and drive north in his '61 Plymouth. He'd have a small military issue pup tent, a sleeping bag and the bare essentials needed to camp out for a day or two. He felt connected to the natural world and spent his days walking the woods and reading. It was here that he first discovered Thoreau, only to later set aside his initial attraction to the writer's work, as the distractions of the world closed in. He was ashamed that it took him nearly forty years to rediscover the truth that he had understood as a young man.
Victor looked at his watch. 2:35 looked back at him, and he wished his wife Maggie was still alive to be part of this.
A great hawk glided overhead, casting a triangular shadow across the lane. Victor looked up just as the magnificent bird landed at the peak of a pine, the limb sinking and swaying under the bird's inertia, as its talons took hold like twin spiked vice grips. This was the beacon, the sign, praise the universe.
Victor reached into his pack and removed his pistol. He engaged the slide, pulling a .45 round into the chamber and then raised the gun. He took a final long deep drag from his cigarette and tossed the butt into the grass. The glory, the beauty before him, and now he did cry. Thoreau and Thompson were speaking to him in a duet of perfection. Their words crossed over and commingled with each other, like paired singers in a Mozart opera, filling his head with the very essence of life, the truth of the universe. The tears ran freely as he focused on the resting hawk.
His finger tensed. He was not nervous, there was no doubt he was doing the right thing. But he hesitated in order to heighten the climax, in order to make the shot the most perfect thing he would ever do in his life. The regal bird perched like a monolith, its mottled feathers and claw hammer beak a beauty of raw nature. An airborne hunter with battle scars, capable of riding thermal drafts for miles without ever flapping a wing. The eyes showing an intelligence of uncanny almost human clarity. Nothing should be so beautiful, so perfect.
The hawk opened its beak and screeched its chord of strength and confidence, and the forest BOOMED as Victor's finger squeezed. Hundreds of birds took flight from hidden hollows among the evergreens, a cloud of black twitching speckles rising fast and far into the wild blue yonder, as thick grey smoke from the explosion rose to fill their void.
Silence. Its blank expression as stark as the blood spatter on the pale earth.
The bullet had done its job. A clean shot through and through, gonzo. Hunter S. would be proud. Victor's body had fallen behind the tree, while a fist sized glob of his brain flew out of his exploding skull and landed on the little dusty strip where his feet had stepped just moments before. The hawk was gone in search of a new perch and Victor's bliss was complete.
William Paquet is a writer living in Virginia.