Elijandro popped the diaphragm call into his mouth and began turning it over with his tongue to soften it, then settled into the silence, absorbing it and the grand expanse of the brightening sky. He took deep breaths of the crisp air, his mind clearing itself of the people he worked for, his responsibilities on the ranch and to his own little family. He loved to guide turkey hunts, not for the kill but in order to participate in the birth of a new day.
The horizon below glowed golden now and the smaller stars began to blink out. A breeze stirred and overhead the dark roiling clouds at the edge of the storm front crept toward the coming dawn as if racing the sun to its rise. Thunder rumbled. A song sparrow peeped nearby and fl uttered past Elijandro's head, finding a high spot on the stalk of bramble to clear its throat and offer up the fi rst song of the morning. After that, the other birds woke, too. First slowly, like an orchestra tuning its instruments, but growing in number and volume until they produced a crescendo of chirping and trilling and whistling that ignored the coming storm entirely.
The time had come. Elijandro cupped his hand to his mouth and uttered a sharp hen cluck, then a staccato of high-pitched clucks as he twisted his hip and slapped his hand in a flutter against his rump: the sound of the first hen flying down from the roost. He heard the answering cluck from a real hen awakening on the ridge, then he called to the tom, a raspy, longing sound that rose and fell. The gobble of the big bird was so immediate and so close that Elijandro started and grinned and couldn't help but glance back to see if his boss was ready. The birds weren't on the top of the ridge, but much closer, immediately inside the woods at the end of the field.
His boss had been on enough hunts to know what it all meant and he fumbled with his shotgun, raising it and resting it across his knees, ready to shoot. Elijandro called again, and again the dawn exploded with the vibrant gobble of the trophy bird. The clouds began to spit fat drops of rain and the current of air became a steady breeze. Thunder clapped and the turkey gobbled angrily back at that. Two real hens fl apped, clucked, fl uttered, and then fl oated down from the high oaks toward the decoys, gliding in and milling among them, calling now themselves. The tom went crazy, gobbling at his hens and warning the storm clouds to stay away. Elijandro brimmed with glee and excitement. He bit his tongue to keep himself from bursting into laughter as the big bird barked and pounded his wings against the air and drifted from the sky like a dirigible coming to land among his fl ock. Puffi ng out his feathers in full strut, clicking and drumming and fanning his tail, he appeared to be fi ve times the size of his mates. More hens poured down from the trees like a pack of hussies.
The tom, an enormous ball of feathers no more than twenty yards from the edge of the field, slowly turned away and Elijandro knew his boss had the perfect chance to raise his gun and aim, then wait for the naked head and neck to reappear since the thick feathers of a turkey were better than a Kevlar vest. Thunder rumbled again and lightning flashed. As the tom rotated back and his head came into view Elijandro held his breath, anticipating the gunshot.