Letter from Massachusetts — From the March 2016 issue

Killer Bunny in the Sky

A drone war begins between vegans and hunters

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Bridgewater Triangle?” The hunter’s meaty hands were pushed deep into the pockets of his camouflage pants. “That’s where you are right now!”

Rodgers, teeth chattering, was not ready to give a straight answer to what he and his shadowy companions were doing there at five-thirty in the morning, two days after the recon mission, in a minivan crammed to bursting with some very occult-looking electronics. He tried to redirect the hunter’s curiosity by asking about local urban legends, in particular about some paranormal geometry in the area known as the Bridgewater Triangle.

By contrast with the jet-lagged drone operatives, the hunter was a restless, imposing force. He launched right into the story: the mysterious disappearances, a seventy-car freight train that vanished into thin air, strange lights in the sky, an apparition known as the Redheaded Hitchhiker. “There’s been sightings of Birdman and the whole nine yards.”

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When Rodgers snickered, the hunter said, “You’ve got your phone. Google it. Type in, ‘The Hockomock Swamp, Bridgewater Triangle.’ It’s been documented by all kinds of scientific people. There’s all kinds of weird shit out there.”

“Birdman?” Rodgers said.

“Body of a bird with the head of a man,” the man said. “That was seen back in the early Eighties by my friend Joe. As a matter of fact, Joe quit the force and opened a gun shop over in Brockton. You can go in and talk to him about it. He’s got photos and everything.” He jerked a thumb to his left. “Over here is the burial ground of the Gypsy Queen. You’ll see all kinds of makeshift graves in the woods.”

The man said that the Gypsy Queen and her people had settled here shortly after King Philip. “You know who King Philip was, right? He was the son, or nephew, of Massasoit, or whatever, and he came out here, and they lived out here.”

But no, Rodgers had never heard of King Philip, another name for Metacomet, who fled here before his grisly, headless end.

The man saw another bow hunter arrive and walk into the woods. He said that they weren’t supposed to hunt before sunrise. Rodgers took note of the potentially illegal behavior.

Two of the drone operators were out on the grass, setting up a Flash Gordon–looking ray-gun thing called an axial-mode helical antenna. The third operator, a Brit named James Phipps, sat in the back seat of the minivan and worked busily to acquire satellite locations. The equipment emitted staticky clicks and chirps. Phipps’s unshaven face looked tired in the blue-gray light of the laptop.

“There are caves out here with hieroglyphics,” the hunter said. “All kinds of fucking weirdo shit. I don’t go into these woods in the dark. I don’t. You just saw that kid go. Good luck to him. I’ll hang out in the fields, but I ain’t going in the woods when it’s dark. Salem ain’t got nothing on this fucking place.”

The hunter laughed when he learned that Rodgers was Canadian, and the other three were from South Africa, the United Kingdom, and the Netherlands. “You’re a motley crew.” He introduced himself. “My name’s Twitch. They call me the mayor around these parts. You see anybody, you tell them you were talking to the mayor.”

He looked at one of the foreigners, who was setting up a flat, square 2.4 GHz patch antenna on the minivan’s roof in the moonlight. Twitch’s hemi sat alongside a few other pickups there, their occupants visible by the intermittent glow of cigarettes.

Phipps spoke quietly to Lucian Banitz, an Afrikaner from Bethlehem, South Africa. “Will you do me a favor, mate? In my red bag, in the back bottom camera part, there’s batteries and my goggles.”

The third man, Laurens de Groot, from Rotterdam, opened the minivan’s hood and used the battery to charge several devices.

“Charlie will be out here today cutting,” Twitch said. He nodded at a tractor in the dark field. “If you’re here while he’s cutting, you’ll see deer, fucking birds, ’cause they’re out in the corn and they’ll come flying across. You’ll see anything from grackles to woodcocks to pheasants. There’ll be deer, ’cause that’s beautiful insulation for the cold nights. There’ll be ducks. You guys film ducks?”

Rodgers looked at Twitch in the dark. Was this man trying to be helpful, or was he only digging for intel?

Twitch sniffed. An awkward moment passed in the cold dark. He pulled out a pack of cigarettes and lit one, illuminating a grizzled chin. “What, you guys all meet on the Net or something?”

“Yeah, pretty much,” Rodgers said.

“Really? Is this your first day of . . . wildlife watching?”

“Nope.” Like a kid, Rodgers bounced in place to keep warm. “Nope.”

“Now, how’d you find out about this place?”

“Umm. That’s a good question.” Rodgers fidgeted and hemmed. “Just online research. You know, looking for places that are both good for, where there’s going to be, you know, deer and also where, for the plane there, you know, this kind of . . . space.”

Twitch seemed unconvinced. Or maybe he was just a tad nervous after glancing at the small ground station that had spread out like a church picnic around the minivan.

Something began to crackle and beep. A conversation about narrowing a “target radius” could be heard.

Rodgers asked Twitch whether he had deer stands set up in the woods.

“Yeah. I’ve got tree stands set up down there,” Twitch said. “As a matter of fact, if you guys feel like taking a walk, in the light, say, about eight o’clock, there’s a path, and it’ll take you to a back cornfield, and you go to the right, you’ll come to another field, and at about nine o’clock there’ll be three does and a buck that cross the road. They do it every fucking day. I got my stands out there. They’re easy pickings. So I’m gonna take one of those, smoke it, and put it in the freezer.”

Long awkward silence wherein Rodgers said, “Mm.”

“You ever eat deer meat?”

“No.”

“Really? What’s the matter with you? Don’t you live in Canada? Don’t you have deer?” Twitch fiddled in his breast pocket.

The ailerons of the fixed wing wagged and whirred as Banitz and de Groot discussed something in the clandestine tongue of Dutch.

“We do have deer.” Rodgers’s voice sounded constricted. “Free roaming.”

Twitch pulled a baggie from his pocket and put it under Rodgers’s nose. “Take a sniff.” The vegan recoiled. It was homemade venison jerky.

Twitch said it was a six-pointer he had killed right here last year. He put a plug in his cheek and said he carried the jerky to “torment the fuckers.”

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’s most recent article for Harper’s Magazine, “Bartók’s Monster,” appeared in the October 2013 issue.

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