THE MIGHTY HUNTER
by Robert Robillard
It was a cool October Michigan morning. The sun hadn’t shown its face yet, but as Norbert Glunt backed his rusty old Ford down the driveway, he caught a glimpse of the orange- and gold-tinged eastern sky in the rearview. It was going to be a gorgeous day, and the fact that he had enough time to grab breakfast and still get to the woods by sunrise made it even better.
He pointed his truck toward downtown Garden City and did a little dance in his seat. Today was the day that Norbert Glunt, Mighty Hunter, would write a new page in the history books. He could just feel it.
Locals call downtown Garden City “The Corner”, because that’s all it really is. The greater downtown area consists of a dozen or so restaurants, bars, and mom and pop businesses, clustered around the intersection of two busy roads. You can get downtown from anywhere in the city in under five minutes; even less at this time of day, when most of the traffic lights are still “blinkers.”
In his reverie, Norbert drove right past The Corner without even noticing. He would have completely missed the café too, if it hadn’t been for the flashing purple Christmas lights they keep lit year round.
He made a hard right turn, fishtailing into the parking lot and swerving around Agnes Faraday, who was just coming out of the restaurant. He coasted into a parking space, got out of the truck and walked toward Agnes, who was waving her cane in the air like a rapier and shouting at him.Here we go, he thought. Old lady Faraday’s all worked up and she’s got me in her sights.
“Young Man!” Agnes said. “You nearly gave me a heart attack! You had damned well better slow down before you kill someone!”
Nearly? he thought. I’ll try and do better next time.
“Sorry old lad…I mean Mrs. Faraday.” Norbert whined. “I just got my brakes fixed and I think they must’ve messed somethin’ up.”
He shot her his best innocent smile and added a dopey little shrug for effect.
Norbert saw that old Agnes had plenty left to say on the subject. He decided the best course of action would be to hurry inside before she could launch into her tirade about ill- mannered youth and respect for elders. He turned his back on her in mid rant and walked inside, leaving the old gal standing in the middle of the parking lot, mouth still open, cane still in the air.
“Other people’s kids.” Agnes muttered. Her face was still red with rage. Her blood pressure was so high that she could hear it pounding in her ears as she turned and hobbled toward her car to find the spare blood pressure meds that she always kept in the glove compartment.
Norbert walked into the café and was delighted to see that Marisol, his favorite waitress and the object of so many of his “happy” dreams, was standing near the front counter with her back to the door.
There were half a dozen people scattered about the place, mostly seated in the sun-faded, red vinyl booths along the walls. That wasn’t going to stop him from having a little fun with sweet Marisol, though. In fact, having an audience made it all the more exciting for Norbert.
He crept toward Marisol with as much stealth as a five and-a-half foot tall, 280 pound man was able to muster. He gave her a good, hard slap on the behind and shouted, “Order up.”
The waitress shrieked and spun around with her fist drawn back, ready to swing. When she saw Norbert standing there, she paused for a moment to consider whether she could get away with blasting the obnoxious little creep in the face and blaming it on reflexes.
Everybody in the café looked up to see what all the commotion was. The sight of Marisol, poised to flatten Norbert Glunt’s bulbous nose, was more than enough to hold their attention for a few seconds while she considered her options.
Finally, deciding that she had hesitated too long to build a plausible defense on reflexes, Marisol lowered her fist and said “Oh…it’s just you.”
The diners went back to enjoying their breakfasts, but they kept their ears open in case things heated up again.
“Heh-heh-heh” Norbert laughed, nervously. “Nice to see you again, too. Miss me?”
“With every bullet so far.” Marisol said. “My aim’s improving though, so you’d better watch your step.”
Norbert hoisted himself onto one of the leather and chrome stools at the counter and said “You know the deal, babe. Number three and a side.”
The number three breakfast special was legendary in Garden City. It consisted of a three egg, sausage and cheese omelet, wrapped around a pile of hash browns, with two buttermilk biscuits. At least that’s what the menu said, but you really couldn’t tell what-all was on the plate; because the whole dish was hidden under a cozy blanket of sawmill gravy. That’s more than enough breakfast for most people, but Norbert always ordered a side of bacon to go with it.
Marisol turned and shouted over her shoulder “Virgil! I need a Fat Man special with a side of bacon!”
Everyone in the café snickered. The number three was often called the Big Man’s Breakfast, but Marisol couldn’t resist getting in a parting shot before she grabbed the coffee pot and made her rounds of the dining room. After refilling everyone’s coffee, she made her way back to the front and saw that big boy’s food was almost ready. She decided this was the perfect time to take her break and let Mitzy, the other morning girl, deal with the slob for a while.
Norbert admired his breakfast for a few seconds before he began to gulp it greedily, barely taking the time to chew between mouthfuls. Using his toast (liberally buttered, of course) to mop up every last bit of gravy, he let his mind wander to other, more important things. His first hunt of the season had finally arrived, and he was mentally checking off items on his list: jerky, beer, Cheetos, beer, pork rinds, and of course, plenty of beer.
Satisfied that he had packed all of the essentials, he went about the business of licking the last dribs of butter off his knife. Using his finger, he liberated the few remnants of gravy that had evaded his toast-mop.
Not even the last smear of bacon grease went unclaimed. He was paying six bucks for this breakfast ($6.75, if you include the tip), and he intended to enjoy every last bit of it.
When Marisol returned from her break, she saw that Mitzi was already making the coffee rounds again. The tables were all bussed and the sugar bowls filled. She had nothing to do but watch, and wait for Norbert to be done.
They had danced this dance three times a week for as long as Marisol had worked at the cafe, and she had learned not to bring the bill during the grand finale. The grunting and the sound of smacking lips as he licked the flatware and finger-mopped his plate were more than she could bear.
As Norbert inspected his work, making sure he hadn’t left anything on his plate; the waitress choked back her nausea and brought the check. She laid it on the counter and hazarded a glance at the beast. There was gravy matted in his beard, egg in his mustache and bits of sausage on his camo shirt.
Redneck doggie bag, she thought, and had to stifle a giggle.
Looking at his watch, Norbert gulped his fourth cup of coffee, tossed three quarters onto his empty plate and headed to the other end of the counter to settle his bill. He was just reaching for his wallet when Frank Nizich came strolling through the door.
Frank was grizzled and looked older than he actually was. He was painfully thin, had silver-gray hair, and you could tell by looking at him that every line in his weathered, fifty-six year old face had a story attached to it.
He was the nicest guy you’d ever want to meet, but he sure did enjoy messing with Norbert Glunt. He couldn’t help himself. Norbert just brought that out in people.
“Norbie!” he said, a little louder than was actually necessary. “I almost didn’t see you there in all that camo! Bigfoot season already?”
The few people that were still in the restaurant burst out laughing.
“Hey!” Janice Henderson cried from the corner booth, way in the back of the place.
Apparently, when Frank dropped the Bigfoot bomb, her husband, Ralph, had been sipping the coffee that was now dripping from her nose and chin.
Aside from being obnoxious, Norbert was also known as the town kook; although he preferred to call himself a cryptid hunter. He was fascinated by Bigfoot, Nessie, Mothman . . . all of it. Maps lined the walls of his study, with pushpins everywhere there had ever been a reported sighting of an unknown creature.
“C’mon, Frank.” Norbert said. “You know I don’t hunt Bigfoot.”
“No?” Frank asked. “Well I heard there was some kinda monster in Lake Michigan, but I don’t see no boat hooked to your truck out there. So what is it this year, Norbie?”
Norbert hated being called Norbie, but he let it slide. He wanted to get out on the road and away from Frank’s ribbing as quickly as possible.
“Oh, nothing, really.” He said. “I just thought I’d head out to the woods and shoot some rabbits.”
“Rabbits!” Frank nearly shouted. “Now that don’t hardly seem fittin’ for a big game hunter like our Norbie Glunt! Come on, boy, we’re all friends here. You can tell us where you’re going.”
Norbert looked around the café. All eyes were on him, now. When he walked in this morning, he had wanted to draw some attention, but this was definitely not what he had in mind.
“I already told you, Frank. I’m going rabbit hunting.”
Frank raised his bushy gray eyebrows and started at Norbert until he cracked.
“Okay,” Norbert said. “Maybe these rabbits are . . . well . . . special rabbits.”
“Special?” Frank asked. “Special how?”
“They’re just special, Frank; that’s all. As much as I’d love to tell you about the special rabbits, I’m running late. Nice talking to you, though.”
Norbert turned to make a break for the door, but Frank wasn’t done with him yet.
“Hang on a second there, Norbie. Special rabbits? You’re talkin’ about those jacklewhatsits, aren’t ya?”
Norbert froze, hand on the door, ears beginning to turn red. He turned to look the old man in the eye. “My name is Norbert.” he said through clenched teeth. “And they’re called Jackalopes. Not jacklewhatsits. They’re Jackalopes, and you’ll see one on the news just as soon as I get back from this trip.”
“Norbie” Frank continued, “You’re just about as dumb as a box of rocks, aren’t ya? When are you gonna grow up and see that there ain’t no Bigfoot, there ain’t no birdmen, and there ain’t no jacklewhatsits.”
Up until now, Norbert had tried very hard not to let his inner “kook” out to play; but now he snapped.
“Frank!” He shouted. “Sasquatch is real. There’s a whole family of them up in Caro and I have pictures to prove it! Birdmen have been seen all over the world for centuries. You’ll see how real Jackalopes are, just as soon as I bring one back and shove it up your . . . “
He stopped himself short. Frank had it in for him and there was no way he was about to say anything that could be construed as a threat. He vibrated visibly as he tried to come up with a zinger. His lips were moving, but nothing came out.
He finally shouted something that sounded like “Aaaach!” and stormed out the door.
Frank watched him spin his tires leaving the parking lot, then looked around the diner and said “Well, there he goes. Norbie Glunt, the mighty jackawhatsits hunter!”
Everybody in the café had a good laugh while Frank made his way to the counter to order some breakfast.
A two hour drive to the woods gave Norbert time to cool down, and was more than long enough for breakfast to settle in and all that coffee to do its work. He guided his truck into a gravel parking area at the edge of the woods whose inhabitants he had terrorized since childhood. With a three mile hike through thick forest still ahead of him, he was relieved to see the familiar green hut at the far end of the park.
“Johnny on the spot!” he said. “Friend to hunters everywhere!”
He nosed his truck in about ten feet from the door. He pulled out his pack and set it on the hood. Then he leaned his rifle against the bumper (The Grizzly BMG .50 is more of a small cannon, really. A testament to his atrocious shooting skills) and headed inside.
He sat inside for twenty minutes listening to the buzzing flies and picturing the Jackalope that would soon be mounted on the wall of his den as he – well, everyone knows what the green hut is for.
He emerged feeling like a new man, but something felt very wrong. He looked around, but didn’t see anything out of the ordinary. Then it struck him. His rifle! Where was the cannon?
From behind him came a metallic “Click”, and a familiar voice.
“Ahem. Looking for this, old friend?”
He turned and, to his horror, there was the Jackalope. Two Jackalopes, actually. His rifle was being steadied on the antlers of one of them. The other was peering through the scope with his paw on the trigger.
Norbert’s knees locked. Sweat beaded on his temple. A small but rapidly-growing dark spot appeared on the front of his camouflage pants.
“Uh-oh. Looks like you had some unfinished business in there.” the evil rodent chided, nodding toward the Porta Potty. “What an embarrassing way to go!”
“C-c-c’mon, pal.” The pudgy hunter was on the edge of panic now. “We can talk this thing out. You know I would’na really shot ya, right?”
He was trying not to show panic, but the vibrato in his voice and the still-growing stain on his pants betrayed his terror. The Jackalope smiled, or maybe it was a snarl. It was hard to tell the difference with all those teeth.
The Hunter took a couple of deep breaths to calm himself. This was not the first time he had been in a tight spot. It seemed like he was constantly finding himself between a rock and his own stupidity. At any other time, he would have been able to drop and roll out of the line of fire. Not this time. That king-sized breakfast would be his undoing.
His mom (God, he wished she were here now) had always told him all that bacon would kill him some day.
A couple more deep breaths. Now he was regaining some measure of control. Gotta do somethin’, he thought. Gotta think on my feet. No way this little rat’s smarter’n me.
He steeled himself and took a few tentative steps toward the Jackalopes. I can do this. Just a few more steps, and…
“That’s far enough.” the Jackalope warned. “One more inch and we’ll see what you’re really made of.”
Norbert knew he had nothing to lose. He was probably dead either way, so he lunged. He wasn’t a very smart hunter, but he had been right about one thing; the #3 breakfast special was indeed his undoing. It had slowed his reflexes and left him groggy. He tripped over his own feet and landed hard on his knees, grasping for the barrel of the rifle. It was mere inches out of his reach.
The last thing to go through the hunter’s mind was his left ear. It lingered there briefly before it exited via his right ear, taking his brain with it. The whole mess landed squarely on the backpack on the hood of his truck; right next to one of his eyes and a couple of molars. A few more teeth were embedded into the big Ford’s radiator, and bits of scalp and bone created a greasy smear across the windshield like an unspeakable Rorschach ink blot.
The poor bastard’s brain had vacated in such a rush that it hadn’t had time to let the rest of his body know it was leaving. What remained of the former mighty hunter was still on its knees, twitching. The Jackalopes watched as Norbert began to rock, then lean. They shouted and danced victoriously as he fell forward into a pile of dead brush and leaves. As another vehicle pulled into the gravel parking area, they dashed off into the woods to continue their celebration.
Darkness. And the stench of excrement. Am I in hell? the Mighty Hunter wondered. Flies buzzed around his head. He couldn’t feel his legs. He heard footsteps on gravel. These were followed by banging, and shouting.
“Hey! You about done in there?”
The Mighty Hunter was awake now, and fully aware of his surroundings.
He was not in Hell. He had not been taken down by his own rifle. This was yet another side effect of his massive breakfast. He had ridden the tryptophan express directly into the inevitable food coma.
More banging and shouting. “Come on, pal! I gotta return my breakfast! You’re killin’ me, here!”
Norbert completed his transaction and hauled himself up. His legs were dead weight. These outhouses are not conducive to napping in comfort.
He opened the door to blinding sunlight and a man dressed in typical hunter’s attire. The guy was doing an impatient dance.
“All yours”, he said, and started toward his truck.
In spite of of his obvious distress, the man paused before closing the door. “That your gun?” he asked, pointing toward the wood line. “Nice one! You really shouldn’t leave it layin’ around like that. Someone could just . . . you know.”
Norbert glanced toward his truck and then at the wood line. It was his gun all right. He walked to where it lay and picked it up out of the weeds. He froze. Did something duck behind that tree? Had he caught a flash of antlers? Hard to say. He took a hesitant step, then stopped. He felt tiny eyes glaring at him, boring into the back of his neck. It felt like someone was doing a tap dance around his heart.
Norbert turned and walked back toward his truck, telling himself that he would just grab his pack and get on with the hunt. As he picked it up, he thought he heard laughter. Distinctive, high=pitched, chattering laughter. He turned, and this time he was sure he saw antlers, and they were too close to the ground to be a deer.
They were there, all right; waiting, taunting him. He considered for a moment, not sure what to do. He had been planning this hunt for months, and he was not about to give it up now, was he?
“Hell no!” he said. “The Mighty Hunter don’t give up. I am still kinda tired, though; and it’s a long walk through them woods. Maybe I’ll go get some lunch and see what good old Marisol is doin’ later. I can always just come back tomorrow…or the next day.”