North Platte

North PlatteIf you’re going to shoot yourself, there aren’t many better places to do it than a good duck blind.

Will had counted 73 shotgun reports over the last hour, echoing underneath the low, gray clouds until they reached his spot near a bend in the river. One more sharp pop in the midst of all that noise wouldn’t even register a shrug from anybody. If you parked far enough away, and spent enough time and energy making your rig blend in, they probably wouldn’t even find you for a week or two – maybe longer if your wife was waiting at home to call the police when you didn’t return. By then, all the blood and bone would be frozen solid and wouldn’t stink when they eventually tracked you down. Yes, a man could do worse than taking his final bow in a duck blind.

He’d arrived before sunrise, stomping around in the dark and cursing himself for forgetting a flashlight. By the time he managed to locate his spot and fire up his camp heater, the sun was just starting to make its first orange streaks in the east. The river was slow-moving and icy, and the sky was a low ceiling of gray clouds. Will hadn’t fired his gun all morning; in addition to everything else, Beth had even taken his dog, and he wasn’t about to go wading up to his chest to collect a kill.

The blind itself wasn’t much to look at – that’s pretty much the idea. He’d built it in his garage from plywood and 2×4’s he picked up on the cheap from the lumber yard’s scrap heap. In past years, he had never seen the need to build his own; he’d tag along with a guy from work or one of his in-laws and sit in their store bought rigs, complete with infrared heaters and cup holders while flock after flock of mallards and pintails streamed by. But this year, Will had needed an excuse to stay out of the house, and the constant sawing, drilling and hammering made for a nice refuge from his soon-to-be ex-wife.  He spent weeks tinkering with the design, adding unnecessary features like hinged drop-down windows and a shelf that ran along the entire back wall. Then, he slathered on layer after layer of dark green paint until the entire shelter was a quarter inch thicker in all directions. Eventually, there was no more work that could possibly be done, so he winched it onto a trailer and hauled it to the river a week before the season opened.

His small heater was doing yeoman’s work, but Will was still shivering in his chair. He dug through his pack until he found the bottle of rum he’d brought along just in case. He didn’t particularly care for the stuff, but whiskey made his stomach hurt, and vodka stunk of Soviet desperation. The first time he went hunting with Beth’s family, he caught a veritable shit-storm for his drink of choice and was forced to take covert nips from a flask all day. At lunch, they caught him refilling the flask from a bottle and her father – the miserable old bastard – made a scene asking if he planned on spinning up a batch of Pina Coladas for the group. This time it was just Will, and he was free to drink as much of the spiced rum as he damn well pleased.

Around noon, he saw another group of hunters across the river. They were on foot and making their way due south along the bank. A fat black lab trailed them in water up to his knees. Will grabbed his binoculars from the shelf behind him and scoped out the group. There were two men side by side up front, their vests fat in the back with ducks. One was pointing to a spot up the river where he must have been leading them. The shorter one in the back must have been just a kid; he was struggling to keep up and the way he was carrying his shotgun was a tragedy in the making. Eventually they made their way around another bend, and they were lost to him.

Will returned the binoculars and took another long drink from the bottle. He’d stopped shivering entirely; he wasn’t drunk yet, but it was only a matter of time. On second thought, shooting himself in the blind would be too obvious. If he went out and lay down in the reeds, tangling his ankles in some ground cover, it would look more like an accident.

Sometime around three o’clock, he nodded off in his chair, waking only when the heater ran out of fuel and the cold crept back into his bones. With numb hands, he packed his things and headed back to his truck. Duck season would be over in a week.

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