The Lottery and the Phantom Albino Buck
The Lottery and the Phantom Albino Buck There was a slight breeze coming from the north on this clear, cold early December morning as one hundred and twenty deer hunters gathered together. They were exchanging hunting tales and hoping to get lucky in the lottery that was going to be held at Sears Bellow Park in the Town of Southampton. There was an abundance of deer in this area, as in most towns on the East End. There have been no natural predators on Long Island since the last wolf died in the early 1900s, near Wolf Pit in Mattituck. It was decided to “cull the herd.” However, unbeknownst to anyone, a pure albino fawn had been born here during the spring. All the hunters were rubbing their hands and shifting from foot to foot, their boots squeaking with every movement on the hard crunchy snow, which was about three inches thick. A few smart hunters sipped coffee from their Styrofoam cups as the steam rose and disappeared in the frigid air, to the envy of everyone standing around them. I couldn’t help but think how a “roach coach,”─the nickname for those shiny metal trucks that sell coffee and breakfast─ could have made a killing that morning, no pun intended, if they had known about this lottery. They often come to some of the stately homes we build locally, always rushing to get to their next destination. The hunters came from all parts of Long Island, and one who had travelled from Manhattan. He was conspicuous among the hunters with his new Park Avenue outfit; wearing enormous furry boots that probably cost more money than all the outfits of the other hunters combined. He instantly got the name of Bigfoot among our group. The park rangers handed out numbered pieces of paper, which were then placed in a hat borrowed from a gutsy hunter. One by one the rangers called the numbers and everyone in our group of six was selected to hunt on opening day. Talk about luck, we should have played the lotto that morning. Two in our group were from the “West End,” which means anyone that lives west of the Twin Forks. My two brothers and I were native’s─well, almost natives. Even though we have lived here for most of our lives, we were not born here. Sixth in our group was Bigfoot, a friend of a cousin, who owned a mansion on the East End but lived in Manhattan, with a beautiful view of Central Park from his luxury condominium. Monday morning, the sixth of January, was the day of the hunt. While there were still faint stars flickering in the sky, we met at the park and checked in. Using flashlights, we found our way to our designated hunting areas. It was extremely cold, and as we sat in total silence in the pre-dawn morning, vapors rose with every breath. I watched where it traveled, knowing that it would give off my scent to any deer in that direction. While I waited for the light of day, my thoughts brought me back to the days of my youth when my brothers and I would follow my dad, carrying his twelve-gauge shotgun as we walked single file through the knee-deep snow, along the stream that ran beside our neighbor’s property. My dad never did get to harvest a deer in all the years he went hunting, and sometimes I think he brought us along just to enjoy the outdoors together. Later, I thought of another time when a group of sparrows were jumping from branch to branch looking for food in a beech tree that I was sitting in. One flew over and landed on the camouflage hat that covered my head. As I sat there not daring to move, she sang “Fffttt, fffttt, fffttt,” and then flew away. It gave me the sense that I was in communion with nature. The sign of a new day, the first faint rays on the eastern sky now started to appear. The outdoors came alive: I saw a squirrel digging through the snow as he searched for food. The birds started calling each other, as they flew from tree to tree. The Pine Barrens, an area of tall pines mixed with dwarf trees, glittered with the frost that lay on the pine needles and the cones. After sitting there for a couple of hours and not seeing any deer, I decided to walk around and warm up a bit. Most people will never fully understand the Pine Barrens unless they have walked through them. Your clothes get tangled and rip on the close net of twisted branches that reach up to your waist. Sometimes you can’t walk any further and have to get down, crawling along the ground. You move slowly around the dwarf trees, observing the drift wood that has been blasted by the many years of windswept sand. Pausing, you look up, feeling like a giant in a miniature forest. You finally come to an area that is less dense with tall pine trees, giving you the opportunity to stand up and walk again. In the late afternoon, the sky became overcast and it felt as if it would snow. My younger brother and I decided to hunt in another section of the park. Walking next to each other, we left behind two faint sets of footprints in the dusting of snow that had fallen on the previous day. We walked slowly along a small frozen pond. Out of nowhere, a doe with her thick brown winter coat appeared. It took me a short moment to spot a small outline standing beside her. It was a pure white albino fawn that blended with the snow in the background. I could barely make him out as they both stood motionless. To the right of them were the tall pine trees. To the left was the snow-covered pond that stretched toward the Pine Barrens. From a distance it looked like a postcard from somewhere far away. As we watched, my brother asked in a whisper whether he should shoot. I told him no. However, he said he would love to harvest the fawn for the white fur and we quietly argued about whether he should shoot it. The doe and fawn stood watching us. “Do you know what the Indians say?” I whispered, as he lowered his gun. He was determined to shoot, and as I watched him and the deer simultaneously, he aimed carefully and lightly pulled the trigger. The sound echoed through the woods as the shot rang out, but oddly, both deer still stood there. He took careful aim once again and squeezed the trigger. He missed again, this time both the doe and her fawn ran off and disappeared into the forest. It was as if he were shooting at a phantom. Indian legend has it that if you kill an albino, you will have bad luck for the rest of your life. I had read about some of the Native American tribes that were living here, when in 1636, the settlers came to the rich fertile land of the Twin Forks, which was surrounded by water filled with an abundance of fish. The Corchaugs, a tribe from Cutchogue on the North Fork, were treated cruelly and completely disappeared from the East End without anyone knowing where they went. David Hannibal, one of the last known Corchaugs, who lived in a shack south of the main road near a fresh-water spring, is buried in Cutchogue Cemetery in a section that is a sort of pauper’s ground. I wonder if he knew whether any of the Corchaugs had ever killed an albino deer. The albino fawn survived that cold winter of hunting season and grew into an enormous mature buck. With his keen sense of smell, sharp eye sight, and alertness, he became smarter as the years went by. Because he was nocturnal, it was a reward for a hiker or any outdoorsman who could spot him during the few times he came out in daylight. He was last seen having grown a massive fourteen-point rack, the envy of any hunter. We never did see that albino deer again. My brother has been successful in life and so far has had no bad luck, maybe because he missed those shots, but then again, maybe because the albino never really existed. They no longer have the lottery at the park. The guys from the “West End” have returned to their wives and children. Bigfoot is back in Manhattan in his office, doing what he does best. The rest of us natives ─or perhaps “almost natives,”─ remain on the East End, constructing houses that need to be ready by next Memorial Day when the summer people come back to play. Meanwhile, the phantom albino buck runs free another year, past the ponds, past the tall trees and through the Pine Barrens forest.