A grey September moon hung suspended above the mist-shrouded tundra. Gnarled black spruce, like wary sentinels, defined the twilit horizon. Knowing the treachery of the times, I cleverly traced a circuitous route toward the secret trysting spot, doubling back several times, and moving in a zig-zaggy motion to confuse any of Karnal Wretchedloo’s spies that might be following, bent on ferreting out the location of the carefully guarded secret moosketeer camp.
At a certain point, I stopped, removed my shoes and put them on backwards in order to confuse any pursuers into believing I had been coming instead of going.
All my precautions, however, seemed to no avail, for in a single dreaded instant, I heard a stick snap behind me. I froze in terror…I mean…suspense, my heart hammering at the back of my throat with a dull shovel. My hand went to the hilt of my Rapier brand hunting knife, as I melted into the shadow of a massive, reeking, furry lunk of something that happened to be standing nearby. There I waited, Rapier in hand, until the distinct crunch of approaching footsteps became unmistakable. Within a couple of minutes, a pair of forms appeared, heads down, eyes and snouts tracing the very path that I had just trod. They appeared to be miniature versions of the reeking furry lunk in whose shadow I had sought concealment.
Indeed, at just that moment, my shelter emitted an enraged grunt, popped its teeth and swatted me such a mighty blow in the seat of my mossy-oak pants that I found myself propelled halfway to the trysting spot before I had stopped tumbling. Behind me lay several hundred yards worth of scattered hunting gear, and I noted with great interest a sow grizzly and two yearling cubs that were closing on me in a dead charge. This upset me greatly, because they were stomping all over my hunting gear, rendering it useless.
I instinctively assumed a swashbuckling stance and lost bladder control. Furthermore, my toes had begun to cramp agonizingly from being stuffed backwards into my shoes. Nevertheless, disregarding my pain and humidity, I braced myself as best I could to meet the onslaught. They were upon me then, and I heard myself breaking into a quavering battle song as my naked steel bit into bruin flesh. I sang in tribute to the raven-tressed mother who had raised me, and I taunted the enemy to slink back to the foul lair from whence they had come. Finally, I sang with keening yearning for the years I yet might live.
Then it was that something brushed my shoulder, and welcome whoops of “All for one, and one for all!” echoed in my ears. I grew aware that my companions, no doubt alerted by the noise of my valiant resistance, had joined the fray. To my left I made out noble At-Loss, whirling his knobby walking stick above his head like a dervish. To my right, Poor-Thoughts clubbed merrily at a snarling beast with a half-empty canister of butane camp stove fuel. And weaving among us all, hatchet flashing, darted Nary-Miss, striking out again and again with unerring blows. Soon, outnumbered, demoralized and sorely wounded, the fiends fell back, yielding the field before the peerless skill of the legendary moosketeers.
Panting, I sheathed my Rapier.
“I thank, thee, sturdy comrades for thy assistance. Though ‘strooth, an’ I had been left to my own devices, methinks yon skulking blackguards had learned their manners, ere sunup.”
Poor-Thoughts slapped me on the back, as his great voice boomed from behind his beard: “Forsooth, Duh-Ten-Yawn. It seemed the rather that thou wert bested.”
“Bested? A pox on thy knavish wit, Sirrah! Verily, I had scarce begun to limber up my tendons.”
Nary-Miss snorted dourly as he wiped the gore from his hatchet. “Mayhap thou canst then explain how cameth it to pass that we heardest thy voice with great lamentations proclaiming, ‘Mamma, make them go away! I don’t wanna die!’”
“Aye,” At-loss affirmed. “Thy voice didst well-nigh deafen me, whilst I was yet fourscore furlongs off.”
They were exaggerating, of course. We moosketeers jest with one another like that. It is one of the distinguishing characteristics of our tightly knight brotherhood. Only men who have faced death together can comprehend such camaraderie. Only men who, eyes streaming and nostrils quivering, have slept in the same tent after sharing a mutual pot of campfire chili can truly appreciate the bond that is formed between brethren in adversity.
Laughing now, arm-in-arm, the four of us strode toward the trysting spot. Well, they were arm-in-arm, anyway, I was in more of a full Nelson. Just as we had persevered against great odds in times of yore, so we had sworn a solemn vow that we should do so again in the hours that lay ahead. We would track a great moose, bring him to bay, slay him and feast upon his flesh. For is this not the way of mankind? Men shoulder their weapons and sally forth to secure meat to feed their families. Thus it has been since the beginning of time and thus it will be at the end of time after oppressive taxes and tyrannical regulation have reduced our economic and commercial infrastructure to rubble. But, alas, those unaccustomed to pursuits such as hunting, soon find themselves bereft of sustenance. Only the few with the camaraderie, the resolve, the experience, the sheer madness of the moosketeers are destined to bask in sweet fortune’s smile.
I, for one was pleased to see the flicker of the campfire at the trysting place, for in truth, my nether regions craved a soothing swab of triple-antibiotic lotion on the place where the Grizzly’s claws had raked my dimpled self. As I eased myself into a southeasterly cant upon a stump, it struck me that I no longer was equipped for the hunt. My gear had been laid waste by the ravaging marauders. What then could I do to recover from this infamy? A moosketeer without moosing gear is like a green and orange tie-dyed penguin!
I need not have been alarmed. Dire circumstances such as these, serve but to demonstrate the steadfast fidelity of the moosketeer adage, “All for one and one for all!” No sooner had my comrades been apprised of my destitute straits, than each one, in a mutual gesture of spontaneous magnanimity, scooped their gear into a small heap and straddled it. My heart stirred within me to behold their fond devotion, each one standing grim guard over his own bundle, undoubtedly to fend off any further bear encroachments until I had been afforded ample opportunity to select from their choicest accouterments to replace the ones which I had lost. More jesting followed, as I began to examine their profferings. Feigning indignation, they threatened by turns to bind me hand and foot, smear me with honey, and abandon me upwind of the bear trio.
I guffawed in hearty appreciation of their drollery, then managed to distract Poor-Thoughts long enough to appropriate a bag of jerky from his pile. My ribs fairly ached with laughter at his roaring when he discovered my shrewd subterfuge. Soon, I imitated his roaring, for he picked me up by an ankle, held me upside down, and drubbed my aching ribs until the jerky fell from my flaccid fingers. I had quite tired of the sport by the time he let go of my ankle. I landed on my head like a bag of flour and toppled slowly sideways until I measured my length upon the greensward.
Nary-Miss eyed me speculatively for a long moment, and overcome finally by the compunction of the abbot he someday aspired to be, reached into his stash and withdrew an MRE. With a beneficent smile he cast it with a plunk onto my heaving chest. Still spent from the boisterous fun I had undergone, I feebly lifted the military surplus meal packet with tremulous hand and read its label by the flickering light of the campfire. “Vegetarian” it said. I didn’t find that amusing, but I was too tired, sore and hungry to protest.
Eventually, At-Loss relinquished one of his crinkly silver survival blankets which I expertly rigged with duct tape and spruce limbs and rocks and chewing gum and shoelaces as an improvised lean-to shelter. Not to be outdone by the generosity of the other two, Poor-Thoughts vouchsafed me the use of a couple of his water purification tablets with which I sanitized an empty chili can full of swamp sludge. That provided more than enough water to activate the MRE heater, even leaving a couple of generous gulps extra to quench my…er…at least…dull the edge of my thirst.
Heartened by my friends’ display of compassion, I savored my rancid MRE supper to the aroma of their beef stroganoff, cinnamon bannock, and peach cobbler. While sucking the final drop of stale hot sauce from the MRE’s mini Tabasco sauce bottle, I was filled with a sudden surge of gratitude that I had fallen into the company of such a band of stalwart cavaliers, so true of heart and staunch of courage. Either that or it was a surge of heartburn. I couldn’t be certain which.
Later, as I reposed beneath my survival blanket lean-to, hugging my knees for warmth in the brisk autumn air, I listened to the stentorian snores issuing from my companions’ tent and my gratitude yielded to the certainty that our moosing quest would be a successful one. If the nocturnal racket had not by now betrayed the whereabouts of our enclave to the dark agents of the fell Karnal Wretchedloo, nothing would.
An even happier thought followed. Perhaps the snoring had, indeed, attracted the spies, but the bears had intercepted them and swallowed them whole. Now, satiated for several days, the bears would pose no further threat to we moosketeers nor our hunting gear. The only question the remained was this: How many moose would we bring home? One for all, or all for one?