It was lovely to see Tommy so excited. He had surprised them all by suggesting the trip but Doug had jumped at the idea. A weekend of wild camping, father and son. A chance for Tommy to learn how to shoot and trap animals, forage and cook on an open fire. They had never been away just the two of them. Mary still considered her son to be a little young for such adventures, but they had been through so much recently. She wanted to see him happy again.
Doug prepared as for a military campaign. They would drive into the hills and then hike to a remote spot he had visited before. He often hunted alone, stress relief he called it. The boy had surprised him with the sudden interest, but Doug remembered when he was that age and how eager he had been to make his first kill. Perhaps Tommy was not the woose that he had feared.
They set up camp by torchlight, a basic tent with rollmats and sleeping bags pitched in a small clearing. Tommy offered to prepare the burger meat that his mom had packed for that first night while Doug fetched wood for the fire. As they cooked and ate under the stars Doug talked of the traps they could create, how they would mask their scent as they waited for prey. Tommy listened attentively, passing his father the beers that he had cooled in water from a nearby stream.
As his father started to snore Tommy left the tent. He packed his carefully rolled up sleeping bag and mat along with his mug, plate and knife. Checking that his father was still asleep he made his way along a different path to that they had arrived by, not switching on his torch until he was deep within the canopy of trees. He stopped from time to time to ensure that he was not being followed. If he had read the map correctly he would reach the road by sunrise and be able to catch the first bus home.
Mary was startled when she saw her exhausted son at the screen door, weeping piteously and hugging him close when he offered his explanation.
They went through a normal weekend. Mary drove the kids to football practice, explaining that Doug had gone hunting. A couple of the dads were surprised to see Tommy having been party to Doug’s plans. Tommy muttered that he had changed his mind, not caring when the men rolled their eyes.
They did not report Doug missing until his work phoned up on Monday to ask why he had not shown up. The police took their time setting up a search. He was a grown man, an experienced hunter. The search area would be vast.
In the end it was another hunter who came across the tent and found the body. It had been mauled by animals, not a pretty sight. The investigation was cursory, if there were any suspicion of foul play it was not followed up. The family had been at home, all knew the risks of hunting alone in the wild. When the body was cremated it was noted by a few that the children did not cry.
She had said that she would give him one last chance. After the last time, when she had been hospitalised for three weeks, he had promised not to do it again. He had promised that before.
The police had asked if she wanted help but she had refused. He took care of her and the kids. She told them that she had fallen out of a tree in the yard trying to change a swing rope. It was a ridiculous excuse and she knew it, but the injuries had been too serious for any of the usual lies. He would lose his job if she pressed charges, then where would they be, her and the kids?
Tommy knew what had happened though. She had tried to talk to him about it, to make sure he understood what was at stake. His response was one of denial, but he had been at the window. She had seen him when Doug went to call the ambulance. He could have seen it all.
Tommy did not know how long he had until his mom did something wrong again. He had already collected the rat poison, ground it down to a powder and hidden it. Now he had to find some excuse to prepare food for his father, to hide the body for a while, and to hope for some of the luck that his short life had never offered him before. He could think of no other solution. He was not going to let that bastard kill his mom.