Ash trees and oaks. Hickory. Old dogwoods. Pines bright green. The forest covered in leftovers; dead leaves, trash left behind. A giant slurpee cup lies there, stepped on, the red straw still inside.

A dead deer had been picked apart by wild pigs.Birds had swooped down and tasted the flesh. A gold cased buckshot sat in the ribcage. It’d only been dead for two days. That’s when he was reported missing. An old man who hunted on this land. Missed dinner. Wasn’t like him.

His wife called it in. Said he went out early that morning. Told her he’d be back ’round noon. She waited. Fixed a mess of fish he had caught the day before. The table was made.

She waited till the sun went down to worry. The old man lived by a set schedule; breakfast at five followed by hunting till noon. Fishing in the evening. Evenings were capped off with a beer and television. He’d hold onto the remote as if it were a gun; pointing it at the screen and flying through channels. Watched the day’s events in brief thirty second sound bites. The old man would be in bed by nine. Wake up at midnight and eat a bowl of Grape Nuts. Always tossed a spoon of sugar on em.

The wife told the sheriff of his schedule. Said he stuck to it. Asked if he’d send some boys out to Turner’s property where he hunted. The official said he’d check on it. Give it till morning, he said. I’ll send men out there. And it’ll be light. Easier to see. Assurances were not given.

But, that was the sheriff. A man of plain talk. Never sugar coated anything. Told it like it was. He eased off on telling her what he thought though. He knew the family. Had been over for Sunday dinner. And often fished off their pier. He feared the worst.

Deputies trekked through the woods. Dogs tried to get a scent. They covered a lot of ground. Saw the deer rotting there. Wondered who’d leave a buck behind? Looked up in the trees. Saw nothing. Went to the stream where water ran over rocks. Nothing. The sheriff was sure there was no body out there. The old man had just disappeared. No sign of him. His red pickup was no where to be found. It was getting dark. They’d look again in the morning.

Highway 55 runs through St. Louis on down to Arkansas. It’s a clear shot. BBQ shacks and billboards along the way. Small towns till you hit Memphis.Then you cross the Mississippi again. Seeing that river twice in a matter of hours makes one think. How big is that dude? Then folks would think of Huck Finn and Tom Sawyer. Old gambling boats going up and down the brown water. The imagination can run wild. The old man’s did.

He never told her where he was going. Never said he was leaving. He just left. She’d have enough money to get by he thought. Their boy would look after her. The old man just had to go. Had to move on. Voices told him to. The old man couldn’t shake em. It’d been that way for some time. Just left everything behind; a wife, a son, and a buck out in the woods.

They never found him. Chalked it up as an unsolved case. That was years ago. He was gone.

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