Two more smoking hulls were drawn from the gun, these he wrapped in a threadbare bandana and tucked carefully away in the shellbox. He rested the butt of the gun on the shelf and leaned it carefully against the trunk of the tree. Reaching down between the stiff canvas of the waders he drew out a tarnished folding knife, untied the rope from around his waist, cut off a short length of it and tied a loop on one end. The knife was folded and returned to the pocket, deep within the billows of the now sagging waders and he eased out into the opening to pick up his birds.
The two drakes had fallen among the wooden blocks, and he admired each with a deep reverence as the plucked them from the cold black water, smoothing their feathers and admiring how the sunlight made the colors of their heads shift from green to black as the turned them in his hands. They were good birds, fat and healthy, the curls of their tail feathers making full circles, their feet bright orange. With the birds secured in the makeshift game strap he turned to wade back to his hide.
Two steps back towards the tree, the world above him filled with ducks. It was as iff they had just materialized. From every direction he heard the soft chatter of mallards, the harsh shouting of hens and the gentle call of fat greenheads. He broke into a shuffling run.
His mind scrambled and raced, the gun was thirty yards away, unloaded. His hand dug into the folds of his coat searching desperately for his call. His right foot caught a decoy line and he tried even harder to reach the cover of the Y Tree. In two steps he reached the end of the decoy line and the hard wooden block met his shin with a resounding THUNK!
Head first, flailing with one arm while the other held the birds aloft, he plunged into the cold water. The cold water filled his sagging waders in the split second he was down. Coming up with a shout of frustration and shock he saw the unthinkable. The entire opening was filled with ducks, ducks in a panic as a flailing mad man erupted from the water and stood among them, slack-jawed, staring at the mass of web-footed confusion around him. While the nearest ducks, the ones that had managed to hit the water about the same time he had, sprang back into the air, other were still bombing down through the trees, realizing their folly and taking the quickest route they could find that would get them away from the steaming, dripping monster that had just emerged from the backwaters.
His momentary all system failure evaporated. He freed his leg from the decoy, and finished fishing out his call. With a string of notes begging the mass to return he hastily shuffled back to the tree, set the ducks to float at its base, grabbed and reloaded his gun and turned back to face the opening. The din of hungry, confused mallards slowly moved on and he leaned against the massive trunk shaking his head.
Regaining his composure he assessed his situation. The waders were not completely full, but cold water stood in them as deep as his shins. He looked around for the string of birds and found them floating gently beside the tree. He gathered up the loose end of the cord, and waded to a small tree near by that offered a low branch to tie the strap to. With the birds secured he thought about how he might get some of the water out of his boots. It was several hundred yards to dry ground, and he wasn’t about to leave the hole now, not after what he had just seen. He would tough it out, at least for a little while.
Back at his station he leaned heavily against the tree. His eyes and ears strained to find some glimpse of the mass of ducks that had just descended on the bottoms. The skies were empty and the woods were silent, except for the sound of water dripping from the soaked left arm of his coat.
His nerves where shot. At every whisper of wind he twisted his head, sure the onslaught was about to return, terrified of being caught of guard again. Nothing flew. Shivers set and a debate began in his mind. “Two mallards is nothing to be ashamed of. Papaw would be proud to have his gun retired with those two birds.” One voice in his head counseled. But the other egged him on “You know darn good and well as soon as you unload and start out of here the birds are gonna shame you again. Tough it out and you can end this one RIGHT, a full four greenhead limit.”
He took the pocket watch out and check both the hour, and the condition of the old-time piece. The watch ticked away, and he set a time limit for himself. “If they don’t do it by nine thirty, I’m going home. Papaw would come back, dig me up and kill me himself if I let myself die of hypothermia over this.” Less than an hour to go, he was sure he could take it.