Weíre sitting at a large wooden picnic table under trees that have turned yellow. The sun has just disappeared behind the hills, the sky is turning bright red. The darkness has already stolen into the woods in front of us and is quietly creeping closer. The white trunks of the birches form ghostly silhouettes against the falling twilight. The leaves hang limply. It is already chilly in the evenings, almost autumn.
Weíre cooking. Stoking up the camp fire. This afternoon three large trucks arrived, one towing a caravan. They were driven by weather-beaten, tanned men wearing sunglasses. Hunters. Their trucks raising a big cloud of dust in their wake. It hasnít rained for ages.
Up to now weíve shared the camp site with an older man who has parked his trailer further on at the end of the field and itís just too far away to see him clearly. But I know for certain that he has a beard and that he is old. Evidently the tough, cowboyish men are friends because they start unpacking their things right next to where our neighbour is camped. His daughter visited him this afternoon. At least, we were told that the good-looking woman in the dark car was his daughter. Apparently they donít live very far away, but he is here every hunting season, in the pink mountains of Wyoming, in the most secluded corner of the camp site. He shoots elk, like many poor people in the north. Itís their food stock for the winter. Laughter resounds from the distant corner, bottles of beer are opened. They rummage around with their gear. Yellowish light shines dimly through the trailer windows, shapes in the dark walk in and out. When our dinner is almost ready and the field is totally engulfed in the darkness we hear a scream. The kind of scream that sends a shiver down your spine and makes your heart jump into your mouth. Without saying a word we get up and sneak closer. We canít see anything, the shapes have gone. Another cry. A high, piercing, smothered shriek. The pale countenance of the daughter flits before my eyes. The way she sat behind the steering wheel this afternoon with a faint smile on her face. Mona Lisa. Did I see her leave? The men are making a lot of commotion, stumbling around with something, banging against the polyester wall of the caravan. And then that cry again. Then the sound of a heavy door being slammed shut. The trunk of a truck perhaps. The men laugh again. Loudly, bellowing.
We look at each other and I rush to our car. Hands shaking I put the key in the ignition and turn it on carefully Ė as if by doing so the car wonít make any noise. The engine starts, I step on the gas. I steer towards the only other occupant of this field between the hills. The dirt track is much longer now, has bends that I wasnít aware of before. I almost hurtle into the high grass. The sparkling eyes of the deer that graze here every evening flash in my headlights before they dart off into the woods.
I bang on the door of his trailer, with my knuckles, with my fists. Hard, rapidly. Inside, the television is on. He opens the door, his eyes stare dully. (How well do I actually know him? Veteran, solitary. Lives here in the summer, drifts around in the winter.) He scarcely listens to my story. Slips on his shoes, runs outside, runs back in, says something about having expected this and comes out again with a long shotgun. I drive ahead of his jeep. Skid. Turn next to our camp fire Ė thatís still burning. He slows down, drives composedly towards the men in the far corner, as if nothing is the matter. We see his shadow as he steps out in the jeepís headlights. The engine still running. One of the men approaches him. They talk, gesturing with their hands. Calm. Then laughter. The shadow climbs back into the jeep, drives up and gets out. Everythingís alright, he says, One of the men had broken one of his caravan parts and lost his temper. The others had laughed at him. Heíll have to go home this evening and collect the spare part.
By and by the three trucks drive past. The men stare straight ahead, as if we donít exist. The caravan is left behind. Any trace of the evening light dissolves. Above us the first stars.
(Hunters, Bighorn Mountains, WY, September 19)