This story happened not all that long ago, but it was before the internet, cell phones and social media conquered cultural life and virtually eliminated this kind of rural Oregon prom story from ever happening again.
It was prom night in Toledo, Oregon, a dead timber mill town in the foothills of the Coast Range that often reeked of rotten eggs. Well, almost dead. The mill was still open as were the dive bars, including the joint Paul Newman came in roaring drunk one night during the filming of Sometimes a Great Notion in 1970 and chainsawed the legs off a pool table and sent the slate crashing to the floor.
Two junior couples with old fashioned rural Oregon first names were on their way to the Toledo High School prom in a souped-up 90s Toyota pickup. The boys rode up front. The girls rode in the crew cab. The pickup was green and splattered in mud from all the muddin’ the couples did together. That and huntin,’ fishin,’ drinkin,’ fightin’ and fuckin’ constituted their entire social lives and they were happy.
It was raining like hell and the couple were driving east on the most dangerous road in Oregon, Highway 20, after a dinner at the Olive Garden in Corvallis.
The boys wore rented tuxedos and the girls wore skimpy formal dresses. Both outfits were procured from a mall in Eugene.
A CD played and blasted profane rap music through the speakers. The couples sang along and passed around a fifth of Jim Beam, a gift from one of the girl’s older brother.
It was dusk. Just past Eddyville, an elk appeared in the road. The driver slammed on the brakes but it was too late and too slick. The truck plowed into the elk and sent it tumbling across the shoulder and into a ditch. The airbags didn’t deploy because they’d been dismantled.
No one in the truck was hurt or even knocked unconscious. The one girl didn’t even drop the fifth. The truck was idling as if nothing had happened. The couples cursed and they laughed. They swigged Jim Beam.
The driver pulled the truck into the shoulder and angled it so the headlights lit up the elk, a beast of a bull, six by six. A trophy.
It was dead.
Everyone got out. The driver inspected the front of the truck. It was undamaged.
The boys consulted. They didn’t consult the girls. The boys decided they weren’t going to miss out on this bounty. They had all the knives they needed in the truck and the knives were serrated and sharp. They’d cape the head and bone the elk out and haul away the trophy and meat. The girls didn’t object to the plan. They’d help load meat in the bed. They’d done it before on dates.
It was technically against the law but no sheriff in Oregon would issue them a citation if he happened to wander by, which they never did on this stretch of highway. Besides, the kids were on the way to prom.
The driver cranked up the volume on the stereo and opened both doors. The sound of rap music smashed into slanting rain. Rain won.
The boys slid off their tuxedo jackets and donned the hunting jackets stashed in the crew cab. The girls donned the rain slickers stashed in the crew cab.
First the boys caped the elk’s head with crosscut action and the girls drug it away by its horns and heaved the head into the bed on the count of three. The boys boned the elk. The girls carried the choice cuts to the truck and stacked them in the bed. The four of them drained the fifth of Jim Beam and one of the girls chucked the empty bottle into a flooded field.
Their jackets and slickers were covered and blood and guts. So were their hands. They washed their hands in a rivulet in the ditch upstream of the carcass.
The beams of headlights approached. A pickup truck came into view. The couples knew the truck’s driver. They all waved. The truck’s driver honked three times and kept on down the road.
To this point in Oregon history, no high school school students on the way to prom had ever killed an elk with a pickup and then caped and boned the elk, collected the spoils, and then went on to attend prom. So this was a record, a landmark.
Rain eroded into mist. They ditched the jackets with the meat and got back in the truck, switched the CD to country music, cranked on the heater, and drove into Toledo singing a song about a lonely man eating cold chili from a can because his woman left him. The driver pulled into a convenience store and bought a dozen bags of block ice and winged them in the bed of pickup.
Out in the restroom, the girls tried to clean up a bit. They glanced at the mirror and laughed. They thought they looked hot.
They entered the gym buzzed on Jim Beam, sweaty from labor, wet from rain, giddy from the deed. They had blood-free dresses and tuxedo jackets. The same could not be said about their pants and bare legs. Nobody noticed. All the students and chaperons were drunk.
The couples danced the night away. The DJ played one song three times in a row because the kids wanted it played three times in a row. Only two fights broke out, both between girls. The prom ended and the crowd dispersed. But the night wasn’t over. They still had work to do.
They drove to one of the girl’s uncles out in the sticks. He was a Secret Taxidermist (great name for a rock band) and a secret butcher of poached or roadkill big game. He didn’t handle rabbits or wild turkeys.
The couples hung up the meat and stashed the head in a shed. They’d leave a note on the uncle’s trailer and return the next morning to work out a trade. Maybe for some of his pot or blackberry wine. But the one boy wanted to mount the head on a paneled wall in his bedroom in the basement. He and his girlfriend would have sex under the trophy. That meant something in Oregon.