The Naked Gunman
by Dillon Hayes
Perusing the aisles of the MonsterMart, Keith and the Howells were shopping for the week, and the whole family was feeling good. Keith picked up a box of store-brand boxed mashed potato mix and smiled at his kids.
“If we buy and eat these, are we doin’ the Monster mash?” Keith said like a kid. The kids, Sonya and Joseph, each laughed, kind of getting the joke. Marcia smiled at Keith and wanted to say she loved him. As much anguish as his nudity has wrought upon her, she could never forget the way his humor and personality made her feel. The group then re-commenced their journey for food.
Keith put the potatoes down and started walking, too, tapping each box of foodstuffs as he walked by. He was feeling particularly excitable this morning, for he was with his family. Nothing made the man happier. Having an idea for a family activity later in the day, Keith told his family to keep shopping while he headed for the outdoors/sports department.
Keith approached the MonsterMart employee in the department and said, “I’d like one of your finest soccer balls, please.” Keith’s bright attitude was contagious, and the obliging employee gladly led him to the soccer equipment section.
After selecting a junior-sized soccer ball (he wanted his kids to be able to play, and he wanted to be able to kick it to the moon), he began walking back to his family, but on his way, an intriguing and unfamiliar sight stopped him. Keith cautiously walked to the gun section, feeling a shortness of breath. He felt a strange draw to the glass counter, displaying the machines of war on animal and man.
“Hey, man,” said a big man in camouflage, also browsing the weaponry. “You look earthy,” referencing Keith’s nudity. “You into big game?”
Keith came out of his trance and responded timidly. “Well, I’ve never really been hunting. I mean, I would if I got a chance. I’ve always thought about it.” Keith imagined himself taming a bear in a three-ring circus.
“Well shit, man!” said the unrefined but friendly countryman. He was standing in front of the camouflage turkey blind display, rendering him invisible. “Me and some of my buds are goin’ out tomorrow. You from around here? Got a gun? Wanna come?!”
Anxiety became Keith as he considered the man’s offer. He did have a gun, his father’s old rifle, he did want to go, and he was indeed from around here.
“Well, I can’t see why not,” said Keith with an earnest smile. Keith was making friends from all walks of life, and he was feeling pretty good about that. The two men exchanged information (the other guy’s name was Jeremiah, Germ for short), and made plans to meet at dawn the next morning.
Keith ran back to his family, soccer ball in tow, and explained his plans for the next day. Marcia was nervous about him toting a weapon in the presence of unfamiliar men but was growing very supportive of his extraversion.
The huntsmen convened at dawn in Germ’s driveway – the morning clear and the sun already warm on their heavily clothed bodies, Keith excluded. He maintained his nudity, except for a traffic cop’s orange vest that he had saved from Halloween last year when he went as a traffic cop (best costume nominee!). He even went barefoot, for the wild experience.
Keith was introduced to the three other men that would accompany them: Bill, a tall and skinny goofball that apparently had the most brains of the three (trusted with navigation), Marcus, by all accounts the sharpest-dressed of the them (Louis V. rifle case), and Skye, a Native-American with a mean streak (hunted with brass knuckles, a ball-point, and a paralyzing grimace).
“Why?” said Skye, apparently asking a question about Keith’s lack of hunting garb. Bill’s inquisitive look expressed the same question. Marcus just looked.
“It’s just the way I am,” Keith said to Skye. “Like Bill is tall, or you are aggressive.”
It was explanation enough for them.
The expedition began as the men drove from their suburban community to an area, which, according to Germ, was not approved for hunting but “had the biggest animals to kill.” Keith had some reservations about that, but these guys had done this before. The men all seemed pretty sedate, except for Skye, who never took off his brass knuckles or his frown.
Arriving at their destination, the men unloaded themselves from the pickup, collected their respective weapons, and stepped into the woods.
Keith felt like a fraud sitting in the turkey blind with Germ, totally invisible to unsuspecting game. Keith wanted to be on foot, hunting and being hunted at the same time, at the mercy of the wilderness, with only his intuition and his deadly weapon to protect him. After shooting the shit with Germ about politics for a while, Keith got antsy and had to leave the blind to find his prey.
He ventured out alone, not fearing the woods or its perhaps violent inhabitants. Taking an unbeaten route, he removed his traffic vest and tied it to a tree for a trail marker. After doing so, he looked at his own body sans vest, and he felt he was one with his surroundings. He was as naked as he came, and so was every beast he encountered.
He passed plenty of kill-able animals – squirrels, rabbits, scorpions – but he could not bring himself to murder an animal that had no intention of murdering him. So Keith trekked into the deep woods, hoping to be pressed into battle, but he only found Skye crouching behind a rock, stripped of all but his deerskin underwear and covered in mud.
“My grandfather,” Skye said, unprompted. “He taught me to leave the concept of civilization behind while on the hunt. Treat the journey as if it were my only source of nourishment. So I wait until I’m very hungry, until my hunting is intensified by my will to live, until I become a predator out of necessity.”
“Oh,” uttered Keith. He considered Skye’s approach. Keith was a real white apologist, so he chose to trust the guidance of the ancestors. He found the nearest tree and purged himself behind it.
A few hours passed, and Keith realized he hadn’t brought enough water with him to counteract such a loss of important vitamins and minerals. He was beginning to feel lightheaded, weak in the knees, and a little crazed. Skye noticed Keith’s increasingly tenuous grasp on reality, and knelt beside him to offer him drink.
“This will heal you,” Skye said, as he put his canteen to Keith’s mouth. “But we must find food.”
Feeling revived but still starved, the two set out into the forest, following a creek they stumbled upon. “Our prey will stay near the water,” said Skye. Tracing the creek’s path through the forest, they found Marcus sitting in a tree stand, flipping through a Vogue.
“Oh, hey guys!” exclaimed Marcus, likely scaring any animals in the area. “I was just reading a…a how-to on gutting bucks.”
“You have shamed our outfit, Marcus,” Skye said, shaking his head. “But you may come with us to find food.”
Marcus gingerly descended the tree and set to foot with Keith and Skye. The three had just begun meandering through the forest when a wild grizzly leapt out of the bed of the creek and onto the bank, choler in its eyes. The men, though unafraid, attempted to flee for their safety. The grizzly pursued. When they recognized the disparity in bear-to-human speed, Keith and Skye stopped and glared at the bear. The bear also halted his run and menaced. Keith and Skye narrowed their eyes at the enemy, unfazed by the sudden confrontation. Marcus, also unaffected by the danger, stripped naked to match his cohorts, imagining the stories he would tell.
Skye pulled a bayonet from his bag, Marcus took aim with his rifle, and Keith took off at a run towards the beast, his gun still on his back. He refused to die in this forest. The other two began to run, as well, seeing the advantage that three average men had over one 1,200 pound bear. Keith leapt at the throat of the creature, his open palm extended to go for the gullet. The bear struck Keith in the ribs as he was airborne, knocking him to the ground. Marcus then closed his eyes and took two blind shots at the bear, missing both, and taking his time reloading.
Keith lay on the ground, writhing, as Skye took to guerilla tactics, running behind trees and boulders, his hand-held bayonet positioned to stab. The bear set to Keith, pushing the immobilized man, playing with him. As the beast’s attention strayed, Skye leapt on its back and wrapped his arms around its neck. The bear struggled for but a few seconds before closing his eyes and lying on the ground, neutralized. It was a classic sleeper hold.
After assessing Keith’s health with only his vision and determining that he would make a quick and full recovery, Skye smiled and said, “Classic sleeper hold.”
The huntsmen reconvened, and Bill provided Keith with enough food to sustain him. Marcus, Skye, and Keith exchanged their perspectives on the story as they walked back to the entrance of the forest, Keith feeling more fulfilled than he ever had. His life and others were endangered, and he attempted to protect them all, albeit unsuccessfully.
Germ and Bill were entertained by the tale, though Germ was unsurprised. “Yeah, man, there’s some serious shit out there. Wrestled a croc that swam all the way upstream from the gulf coast once, no joke,” he said. Keith knew that guy was a damn liar sometimes, but liked him enough anyway.
They drove back home, telling stories of bravery and camaraderie, tuckered out from the trials of the day. When they got back to their meeting place from the morning, the sun was setting and Keith was both sad to depart from the men and happy to return home. He knew he would see these men again, for they were real friends to him on this day. He drove home with a smile on.
At home that night, Keith was too excited about his story to sleep before telling his wife and kids. Fueled by the outdoor adventure he had earlier, he built a small campfire in the backyard and his family gathered ‘round. There, he told his kin of a great sky and the elders, the blood-passion of seeking the kill, and the greater reward of allowing to live. “Underneath our Gap-brand jean shorts, and our Tommy Bahama shirts,” said Keith, “We are just like every creature on earth. We are only seeking a life undisturbed by others of our species and those outside of it.” Standing up, feeling as naturally nude as he ever had, Keith embraced his wife, who embraced their children, forming a lovely chain hug.