He found the hawk crucified on a barbwire fence off the east pasture
of the McGaha farm. A red-tail, dripping blood from its breast with
both wings outspread, tangled and punctured, a raptor Christ, forsaken
by the God of skies. The head hung and the beak gaped, spasming in
death throes, before slipping life. He waited until it died, hanging
slack from the wires before removing it, untangling each wing and
pulling the body down. The hawk, once released, slumped into his arms.
Bradley sat on the gravel verge of the road, holding the hawk, blood
staining his uniform trousers. He cradled it for a moment, saying a
prayer and a curse under his breath before probing the bullet hole in
the hawk's breast. A through and through, the shot came from a rifle.
A .22 most likely.
He hadn't been a game warden long, having come out to this county from
mid-state. He'd already earned the community's ire by citing old Mizz
McGaha for lack of a fishing license. He'd found her crouched on the
side of the creek catching trout with redworms and grampus larvae, her
fingers stained with worm guts and dirt, gnarled, growing sideways
pointing toward the grave over knuckles like walnuts.
"I been fishin' here for 65 years, young man," she'd said, outraged,
bringing to bear the authority of a face bearing lines, a roadmap to
the pain of her life. She'd pointed her cane pole at him like a
He'd cited her anyway. The rules were the rules.
Now at the foot of her driveway, the slain hawk heavy in his hands,
wrapped in a towel, Bradley paused. He had no doubt the red-tail had
been shot from this farm, seeing it soar in his mind, mortally
wounded, spiraling down the slope of the pasture to hit—a downed
Spitfire with feathers for flames.
Bradley drove up the gravel drive, his tires scrabbling up the
incline, spitting rocks, to park behind Justin McGaha's truck. Game
chickens skittered out of the way, as he walked up to the porch, the
dead tiercel in his arms. The curtains twitched in the window and he
saw Mizz McGaha's monkey face scowling behind the sheers.
Muffled from behind the door he heard Justin, Mizz McGaha's grandson
say, "Let me take care of this, Gramma. You stay inside."
Bradley could hear her voice protesting, rising to a shriek, "…I got
rights! It were killin' chickens…" when the door opened.
Justin closed the door hard behind him like the slam could keep her
inside. Bradley saw her face back at the window, the curtains masking
the wrinkles, making her a ghost of the beauty she once was.
"Yessir? Can I help you?" Justin said. They both knew "Can I help
you," meant "I'd like to do you harm, but I might get in trouble."
Bradley held the hawk out like an offering on locked elbows. "You
wouldn't by any chance know anything about this?" meaning, "I know you
shot this hawk, you bastard, are you going to be man enough to admit
Justin's eyebrows rose and with a closed mouth he stretched his jaw,
sinking his cheeks in. His entire body cocked to one side and he said,
squinting and lying, "Well, now—Can't rightly say that I do. Where did
you find it?"
Bradley drew the hawk back to his body, protecting it from the lie, a
further insult to its fallen spirit. "Found it at the head of your
drive. Dying on the barbwire fence. You sure you don't know anything?
You got any guests hunting your land today?"
Justin pulled his mouth again, shifting his weight to his other foot,"Well, nossir. Can't say that we do. Might have been somebody on the road. There's been a smart bit of traffic going up and down there."
"Your grandmother wouldn't know anything? Would she now?"
"Oh, nossir! Gramma's eyes ain't so good and she's got the rheumatism
so bad—she can't hardly get outside no more."
Bradley looked to his boots in defeat. "Thanks. You let me know if you
"Sure thing," Justin said, watching the young game warden get in his
jeep and start it up.
Patting the hawk, wrapped in its shroud in the passenger seat, Bradley
drove down the drive. He'd never hear from them, they had killed the
hawk for taking a chicken. They may have even seen the hawk dive to
take it. He would never know and the bird would lie frozen in his
evidence locker with the corpses of crows, owls, eagles and brook
A loud ping hit the vehicle and Bradley stopped, listening, thinking
it sounded too high to be a stone churned up from the tires. In the
rear view mirror, Justin struggled with Mizz McGaha, trying to drag
her back in the house. Her and her .22 rifle.
Rosanne Griffeth's work can be seen in Night Train, Keyhole Magazine,
Smokelong Quarterly, The Angler, Insolent Rudder, Writer's Eye and Six
Little Things among other places. She lives on the verge of the Great
Smoky Mountains National Park and spends her time writing about and
documenting Appalachian culture.