The day was cloudy and cool, and the leaves were beginning to turn; green to golden brown, apricot to rust. They had walked through these woods many times. They made campfires and pitched a tent. The old man taught him to hunt, and they came to the woods for deer. He taught the boy how to tie a fly and they fished for trout in the cold, clear stream.

The sky was white, and a pale sun broke through. The boy was sixteen now, in his family this was a tradition. It was sort of a rite of passage, and a secret, until today.

Sometimes he spent the night at his cousins’ house, and they would sleep on the floor in the den. They held flashlights, and whispered about what it could be. A marathon, or a relay; an endurance test, or maybe a show of strength. They pictured their arms quivering, holding boulders over their heads. They would giggle, and one of the uncles would say, if I have to come in there.

He walked behind his father, and tried to walk in his steps. Sometimes the old man stared at him across the dinner table. Or at breakfast, and the boy would stare at the cereal bowl and chase wheat flakes around with his spoon. Afraid if he looked up, the old man would say, why are you here.

The sky was white. The leaves were beginning to turn. He was so young when his mother died. She had dark hair. She smelled like flowers. That was all he remembered.

There were picnics, and birthdays, times when they all gathered; it used to be he sat at the card table, the shorter, smaller table. It was a rickety affair, and collapsed easily. One of the legs would give way, sending potato salad and slices of ham to the floor.

The women stood with their heads together, they talked about recipes and dress patterns. They talked about how tacky so-and-so looked at preaching Sunday last.

The men sat at the big oak table. They talked about crops and the weather. About governors and senators. How none of them knew their behind from a hole in the ground.

They stopped when they came to the clearing. They had been here so many times. They fished in the cold, clear stream. Built a fire, and hunted deer.

It was cool, and the sky was white, a pale sun broke through. The old man unbuckled his belt, and threw it over a tree branch. It dropped to the grass like a soft black snake.

C’mere, he said.

Come here.