Reflections is just what it sounds like: short, sweet thoughts on a piece of writing I’ve come across. My intention is to read more short stories published by literary presses, but I’m sure I’ll draw material from all corners of the internet.
Strictly speaking, there’s no stalking in Stalking, a story excerpted from Yellow Earth, the forthcoming novel written by the director and writer John Sales and published in The Yale Review. But that’s the point. No doubt it’s a more creative title than the more accurate Walking & Talking.
Whether this is a standalone story from a collection or a chapter from a larger tome, I’m not sure. And it makes the first read a challenge. Sales, you get the sense, has no patience; there is nothing that eases you into the story — the curtain lifts, the play begins, and you (the reader) hang on as it hums.
The story begins in the middle of a conversation between Brent, our protagonist, and Wayne Lee. It’s hunting season and Brent has just won a coveted elk license, which permits him to kill a single elk this season. It’s a big win, one that he immediately wishes to parlay into a favor with a man named Mutt Miller. Mutt is a developer of a sort, from Oklahoma, and is looking to dig a few oil wells on a Native American reservation in the Dakotas, where this story is set (it’s unclear which Dakota).
Brent wants a cut and believes it’ll happen if he can take Mutt on a hunting trip and have the oil man pull the trigger on an elk, a comment on power and its application. The motivation is set up early, though you do get a sense Brent has been mulling over this opportunity for some time.
“He’s from Drumright, west of Tulsa, and he’s looking to stick a dozen wells on the rez.”
“And you want the service contract–”
“At the least,” says Brent. It’s been a bitch setting this all up, feelers out to ranchers in the E 2 unit, nonresident permits for Mutt Miller just in case they run into a game warden with a hard-on, salting the mine far enough ahead of time. He needs Wayne Lee for a buffer, make it all seem like guys just out having fun. “What I want is for Mutt to go away convinced that nothing happens unless I put in the word with Chief Killdeer.”
What follows is a whole lot of talking, much of it indistinguishable — though some of it pleasurable. Who says what is often unclear, both because of the rapid-fire dialog and the general disinterest in differentiating between characters. Here’s an emblematic exchange that occurs halfway through the story:
“Wapiti,” says Mutt, putting the accent on the first syllable. “The proper name is wapiti, from the Shawnee word for ‘white butt.’”
“And you don’t have ’em in Oklahoma.”
“We’re lousy with elk. Indians too.”
“No shit. I thought you’d just have a lot of jackrabbits, like Texas.”
“We even got a couple mountains, you look hard enough.” Mutt calls up to Brent, who is playing the pathfinder today. “You ask the Chief about that thing I mentioned?”
“He said it’s under consideration.”
“A moody bunch, those redskins,” says Wayne Lee, trying to help out. “But Brent plays the Chief like a violin.”
“I’m a quarter Cherokee myself.”
Wayne Lee stops to look Mutt over. “Yeah? Which quarter?”
And on it goes. The men head to private acreage to hunt, but only after weeks of baiting elk to a specific clearing. Strictly speaking, it’s against the rules and maybe a crime against good sport, but such is Brent’s willingness to make a buck.
Technically it’s against NDGF rules to provision or bait anything you’re hunting, but they cut a lot of slack to private property owners.
In the end, it doesn’t go to plan, though the mistake happens quickly and the fallout occurs just as fast. It all rings true, especially for a story which never really cared if you’ve kept up with it anyway.