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Hunter Matheson


Kal dropped his gear and spread it out on the floor of his quarters so he could sort it and stow it until their next liberty.  Stuff you take on liberty doesn’t exactly fit what you sport on duty. Well, it mostly doesn’t.  But when you start plowing through stuff like that, the memories spill out with ‘em—some good, some not so good, some weird, and some downright stupid.  For Kal, the stupid ones tended to stick more than the others. They’re the ones you build into stories when the BS flies in the NCO lounge or when you’ve had one too many.

Anyway, as liberties go, Kal had to admit his was pretty enjoyable.  Nah, it was damn enjoyable.  But it would have been even better if his plans went… well… according to plan.  And that's a pretty strange way of putting it, but you get the point.

The plan was to hike into backwoods nowhere, up the mountain to the hunting cabin that he and his dad built years ago, and have it all spiffed up when Syl arrived.  What actually happened was the exact opposite, and he shoulda known.  No matter what the plan, it usually goes south before you even deploy.  It’s kinda like the universe giving you the finger.

Kal was still several miles from the cabin when strange noises drifted down the trail and he stopped to listen. And by strange, I mean strange.  Animal noises. Definitely not the four-legged variety.  A little farther up the trail, the shouted semi-singing of a bunch of guys and echoes of Guns ‘n’ Roses screaming Welcome to the Jungle followed by AC/DC’s Thunderstruck and a chorus of seriously out-of-tune hollering confirmed his suspicion. He’d be sharing the cabin with a bunch of beered up Swickies—guys he'd gone through hell with before his Challenger post.  Definitely a facepalm moment.

He stopped, dropped his ruck, and took a breather for a long think.  They were his brothers.  They'd give their lives for him and he for them, but damn. That's not exactly what he had in mind for the next few days.  He would’ve turned around and hiked the 20 plus miles back to the trailhead, but Syl was due in a couple days, and there was no communication from here unless you count smoke signals.  But the thought of Syl dropping unescorted into a pile of beered up testosterone junkies was more than he wanted to think about, so he bit the bullet and pushed on.

So, no, they weren't supposed to be there, and yeah, he was pissed. There were rules, and one of them was “Ask, jarhead! Let me know if you need the cabin.” Plain and simple.

And you pretty much know the rest.  It was his cabin so he didn’t knock.  He wasn’t even over the threshold before getting doused with beer, stripped, and dragged into the shower for an icing down.  It’s part of the ritual, so you gotta take it in stride. A mostly-fresh pair of fatigues and a can of beer later, he settled in for the usual BS, including female conquests.  He ignored ‘em until it came to Coronado Beach, but his off-limits stare killed that, and they moved on to other, more useful things, like game trails, recent sightings, best hides, who wanted to bag what and if anyone had actually bothered to get a game license, and what it was for: bear, deer, elk, bighorn, and the like.  ‘Course, Dan Kingfisher was full-blood Cherokee, so we could hunt anywhere.  

Anyway, when you get into hunting, it’s hard to think of anything else.  Until everyone’s in the ice-cold stream, butt naked, washing a kill’s blood and guts off your body when a kickass female pilot appears.  But they all pushed through it; the guys seemed to understand even though it took ‘em a while to wipe the stupid looks off their faces.  Thankfully, Kal’s dad had fixed up what used to be the woodshed and made it into a small but cozy visitor’s cabin, complete with private facilities and running water.  They still called it the woodshed, though, and that’s where she stayed.  

As Kal squared away his things, he grinned, wondering how long it would take for Syl to find the elk steaks he packaged and slipped into her gear.  The  look on her face when she bagged that buck—her first ever—was priceless.  She did a damn good job of gutting and cleaning it and enduring the sacred ritual of jumping into the 40° stream to wash off.  But she said it was like the place where she grew up, so she probably didn’t even feel it.  So, yeah.  As liberties go, Kal’s was pretty enjoyable.

Edited by Hunter Matheson
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