The guide, Max Ryan, slowed the four-wheeler in the darkness.

“One of you can hunt here.”

Wrong Willie and I exchanged glances. He shrugged.

“I don’t care. I’ll go on down a little farther.”

Hefting my shotgun, I slid out of the seat and collected shells and water from the back

“See y’all in a little while.”

Max waved and they disappeared, driving along the fencerow bordering a wide field of harvested millet. I watched the headlights fade away and glanced toward the east, judging the coming sunrise. The dim glow provided just enough light to see a line of trees behind me, and a string of annoying lights from dozens of wind turbines stretching into the distance.

After a while, the eastern glow provide detail. There was a large tree on the fencerow. I drifted down there, because dove like to hone in on specific landmarks.

One peeped by overhead. The glow increased and I knelt in the tall, dead weeds and dry, uncut millet stalks alongside the fencerow. As the sun rose even higher, I found myself eye to eye with a huge Differential grasshopper clinging to one of the tough, stalks.

The sluggish yellow grasshopper and I watched each other for a few minutes as I waited for birds to come in. Dried stalks and weeds hid my shape. The sun was high enough to realize the stalks were filled with thousands of grasshoppers waiting for the day to warm.

A slight bump against my shoulder made me turn my head to see a yellow Differential crawling toward my neck…

…the neck that suddenly felt a second grasshopper that grabbed ahold with its dry, sharp feet…

…and another landed on my knee. I looked down and my camouflaged pants and shirt were crawling with yellow hoppers.

I stood and brushed them off. They whirred away, startling their kinfolk who also rose. One landed on my cheek, and I brushed it away and left that location for one less…buggy.

By noon we were done and hungry, so instead of changing clothes, we drove to Doreen’s 24 HR Eat Gas Now Café. It was almost empty when we took a small table in the middle of the room.

Doreen brought us water.

“Where are the rest of the boys?”

Willie adjusted the salt and pepper shakers, moving them only a centimeter each.

“Everybody had plans today, so it’s just me and Rev.”

“Y’all don’t look natural at that table.”

I couldn’t figure out if she was being testy or not.

“We didn’t want to take the round booth in case a big group came in.”

“Thanks for that. What’ll you have?”

We ordered fried catfish and she disappeared into the back at the same time a gaggle of chatting, laughing women came in. They headed directly for our corner booth and settled in. One on the inside glared in our direction.

“Willie, I don’t think she likes our camo.”

He sniffed an armpit.

“We aren’t that dirty.”

“Probably don’t like hunters. Ow!” I stopped talking.

“What’s wrong?”

“Something stuck me under my shirt.” I slapped the side of my tee shirt. “Something’s crawling under there.”

“Is it a tick?”

“No. Too big.” I ran a hand under the shirttail and came out with a big yellow grasshopper. “Look at the size of this thing.”

“There were a lot of ‘em out there. Funny he hitched ride under your…”  He bent and raised his pant leg. A large Differential shot away and flew across the restaurant, directly at the woman who’d been watching us and landed just below her neck.

Trapped on the inside of the round corner booth, the woman went absolutely insane, screaming, jumping, and thrashing about as if electrified or overcome by religion. The other ladies bounced up and down, scrambling to let her out in an hysterical Three Stooges routine.

Stunned at the activity, I forgot the big grasshopper in my fingers. It whirred away with a rattle of dry wings, following the path of its kinfolk. That one landed on the table, then jumped on another woman who slapped and flailed the air, giving all six of them the impression of a female slap fight.

The entire group erupted from the booth, shouting as if a lion was loose in the café. As one, they charged out the door in a stampede only seconds before Doreen came back inside. We remained as still as possible, working hard at innocence.

“What was all that noise? Where’d those women go?”

I tried for distraction.

“Where were you?”

“In the bathroom, if it’s any of your business. What happened to everyone?”

I took a deep breath and shrugged.

“They just left.”

She gave us the Hairy Eyeball.

“Fine then. Your fish is almost ready.”

She went into the kitchen and we blinked at each other at the same time four different ladies came through the door and chose a table against the windows, just below the grasshoppers waiting patiently on the sill.

I checked my clothing.

“You know. I have a cousin who’s afraid of kittens.”

“If you pull one from under your shirt, I’m leaving.” One of the grasshoppers spread its wings and Willie grinned. “Get ready. Intermission is over.”

We placed our hands in plain sight on the table, lest Doreen come in at an unfortunate moment, and waited.

Reavis Z. Wortham is an award-winning outdoor writer with family ties to Lamar County. He is the author of “Hawke’s Target.”

 

 

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