Updated: Jul 14, 2022
The twin set of taillights quickly gained speed on the gravel road, disappearing in a cloud of dust and leaving the darkness to quickly envelope me and the gear stowed beneath the bridge. The water quietly lapped at the side of the boat, making soft plinking noises, and I managed to make out its form below me in the soft moonlight. I plopped lazily onto the concrete bridge, settling in for what was sure to be a thirty-minute wait as Dad drove his white pickup to drop off at our destination. Mom was following in the car so she could bring him back to the boat, then she would go home – her night over even as ours was barely beginning.
A chorus of insects slowly gained volume to accompany the cascade of fireworks hanging in the distance over town. I swung my feet slowly to the rhythm of the screaming cicadas and katydids and enjoyed the show until my parents returned.
“There’s a pretty big one sitting up that way about sixty or seventy yards,” I told Dad after we said our good-byes to Mom. “I may have spooked him off, though. I walked up that field row to see if I could place him a little better when y’all guys first left. I haven’t heard him since.”
The sound of crunching gravel slowly diminished as Mom headed home, leaving us alone in silence. Dad pulled out the flashlight crammed in his pocket and switched it on. The sudden flood of light caused me to blink rapidly before my eyes became reacquainted with the light. We scrambled down to where we’d left the boat nearly an hour before, and I gingerly stepped in and crawled to the back half that jutted out into the water. I hooked up the powerful Q-beam spotlight to the battery and was careful to point the lens down and away from us before setting 1,000,000 candlepower free to cut through the darkness. Dad stepped into the tiny jon boat and gave a shove with his foot, pushing us out into the middle of the little ditch. I handed the monstrous light to him and began paddling upstream. I laughed to myself, thinking about the miles and miles laying between us and our destination in the opposite direction, and yet somehow our boyish enthusiasm was propelling us the opposite way.
“I think he was somewhere around where that tree is sticking up on the left,” I said.
I took a couple deep, powerful strokes to gain momentum against the current, and enjoyed the resistance the water offered to my shoulder muscles. The beam of light stretched forth from Dad’s hand, pulling us in the direction of whatever he allowed it to rest on. With the skill of a prison tower guard searching for an escapee, he played the light up and down the banks on either side of us.
“Don’t forget the middle, Dad,” I quietly reminded him. “We’re starting to get into quite a bit of moss.”
He played the light out in front of us, illuminating the vast patches of surface weeds we were struggling to pass over. Ahead, two jewel-like objects reflected back at us, burning an intense emerald green in the artificial sunlight. I thought about how they reminded me of the day-glow thumbtacks deer hunters use to get to their stands in the morning darkness.
“Could be just a can,” Dad mumbled.
That sounded like him: always so darn pessimistic. But I wasn’t so sure. I focused in on the fiery lights glowing back at us and didn’t allow my gaze to waver. Dad was starting to swing the light back to the side of the ditch, obviously neglecting the object of my attention. The beam wavered momentarily before starting its path to the shore. That was all it took. My heart rate quickened as one of the green jewels began to diminish in size, quickly shrinking until it emitted no more light. Then, it reappeared as instantly as it disappeared.
“That was one up there too, Dad,” I whispered, forgetting that we had long ago learned that we could talk as loud as we wanted on these expeditions. “I saw him blink… just as you were taking the light off of his eyes.”
Dad nodded in the faint light being cast off from the back of the spotlight, and I knew he was going to hold the light off him until we could get closer. It was too risky to put it on him and try to not let the light waver again as we fought the moss in our approach. Besides, Dad had learned a trick of holding the Q-beam far enough away so the main beam didn’t shine in their eyes, but close enough to illuminate items in the surrounding floodlight.
“Go ahead and hit ‘im,” I said as we pulled to within ten feet.
“Hurry up, or we’re gonna float right by him,” he said. He always said that.
I gently laid the paddle down to my left and picked up the .22 that had been lying beside me on the seat. The hardwood stock felt cold and clammy from the water droplets that had collected on it from passing the boat paddle back and forth over it, from one side of the boat to the next. I lined up the bead on the front ramp sight with the buckhorn and gently raised the barrel before snapping the safety off with my index finger. I blew out softly in an attempt to control my breathing, and concentrated on the rise and fall of my chest. In, out. In, out. Exhale… pause… The water exploded beside the boat, bringing bits and pieces of moss back down along with it in a two-foot radius.
“Put the light back over there,” I said. “A little to the right… over some more.” I reached down and slipped my hand around his midsection, grabbing him firmly in case he had life enough to kick out. “Got ‘im,” I said, raising the bullfrog triumphantly in the air as a grin spread across my face.