From my blind up in the tree, I see Buck and Doe come into the clearing, hard to miss because of their bright orange vests. They are talking, which is no good for hunters to do, but good for me because I wouldn’t have heard them coming other-ways.
Buck says to Doe, “I’m proud of you, Margaret, I really am. After all this time, so many times I’ve asked–”
Doe cuts him off, laughing-like. “I always wanted to go hunting with you, you know that. It’s just time, you know, finding the time. And I’ll be honest with you, I’m scared to death.”
Buck is laughing-like too, now. He says, “Scared of what? A deer can’t hurt you, I promise.”
“No, it’s not that. It’s just… I’m not sure I can do it. I mean, even assuming we SEE a deer out here, I just don’t know if…”
They have guns, Buck and Doe. Me, no gun. I use bow. Bow takes real skill, real hunter-skill. I frown down at them, but they don’t look up and they don’t see me. I don’t wear orange vest, see.
They settle down right under me, Doe sitting down at the trunk of the tree, and Buck on his haunches, like. My bow is in my hand, but I don’t move. If I move now, they would hear me. I am perfectly still, just like Daddy taught, I am part of the tree, I am the tree, I am invisible.
Buck says, “That’s only natural, to feel that way. My first time, I was scared too, I really was. Did I ever tell you about it?”
Doe shakes her head.
Buck says, “Well, it was… it was kind of a mess, really.” He laughs. “It was me and my pop. We were trekking through the woods, early fall, you know, dead leaves everywhere made it hard to stay quiet. We must have wandered around for hours, just looking for a sign of deer anywhere, and me getting more and more nervous. I was, what, sixteen or so? Finally, after what seemed like hours, we came into this clearing and lo-and-behold, on the other side was this beautiful buck, five feet at the shoulders if he was an inch, with antlers out to here.”
Doe looks interested in the story. She’s watching Buck, smiling. Slow-like, careful-like, I reach into the quiver on my back and pull out an arrow. My arrows are good. I make them myself.
Buck says, “We were downwind, by the grace of God. My pop goes real quiet, touches my shoulder. I looked up at him and he nodded at me, kinda half-smiling. And suddenly all my fear was gone. I raised my gun, took careful aim… and shot.”
Doe says, “A good clean shot?”
Buck grins. “No, I’m afraid not. It was pretty poor, actually. I got him in the lower left flank. Not a kill shot at all. That deer jumped like a Mexican jumping bean and took off like a bolt into the woods.”
Doe says, “Aww. Poor you. So it got away?”
Silent, silent, I notch the arrow.
“Well, not exactly. I mean, I shot him, he was going to die. It was just a matter of when and where. I thought it was a lost cause, but my pop told me not to worry and you know what he did? He followed that deer’s trail, that’s what he did. He followed the blood, me lagging just behind him, and within an hour we’d found him.”
I pull back the bow-string, slow, so Buck and Doe can’t hear the strain of polished wood bending. I pull all the way back, deciding in my head which one goes first. If I do this right, I can bag two for one. Never did that before.
Buck says, “We followed him into this field of tall grass, up to my torso. And just as we were approaching it, we heard the buck fall. I was getting set to run in there when Pop grabs my arm and says wait. Wait for it, son. So… we sat there at the edge of the tall grass and waited for, geez, must’ve been two hours. And finally Pop says okay, so we go in and there’s my buck, dead.”
“Wow,” says Doe.
“Yeah. That bastard just bled out, right there in the tall grass. And I had my very first buck.” He laughs. “Pop still has those antlers on the wall, in t
I settle on Doe, right beneath me. She’s just standing up, pushing herself up-like, so I am looking straight down at her back, her exposed neck, and I know that this is the right time, no other like it, and I release.
Arrow makes that beautiful thwip sound and finds target, goes right through Doe’s neck and out the other side and blood is minimal but she’s dead right away. She drops. Good, clean kill.
Buck is stunned, looking at Doe face down under the tree. I have only seconds. I notch the second arrow as quick-like as I can, swing bow around as I pull back bow-string, and his stunned eyes are turning away from Doe and looking up at me and stunned turns to horror and he starts to stumble backwards.
I let the arrow go. Bad shot. Gets him in left side, just under rib-cage.
“Fuck!” I says before I can stop myself.
He cries out in pain, but doesn’t stop moving. He scrambles backwards, trying to turn, trying to get to his feet and run away. I quick-like grab another arrow, start to notch, but goddamn Buck is on his feet now and running-stumbling away into the woods.
Cursing, I jump down from the tree, trip over Doe. “Fuck!” I says again, even though it’s stupid to talk and curse and like that when hunting. It’s no good. But I’m mad at myself for the bad shot. I like a clean kill. This one, not a clean kill. Fucked up.
Buck is leaving a trail of blood. I follow.
Follow for a long time, maybe two hours, something like that. Sun is high overhead, that’s all I know. But I follow his trail of blood and the crushed leaves and stuff on the ground. Sometimes I hear him, crying and cursing, scared-like.
After a long time, I know we are coming to the clearing, where the tall grass grows. I know this part of the woods like my own house. I know it real good, I’m always here, I know the woods.
The trail of blood leads right into the tall grass. I stop, listen. Can’t hear Buck anymore. He’s in there, hiding. Waiting for me, maybe thinking he can jump me or something. He’s dangerous now, because he’s wounded. I think for a minute.
And then I sit down on the ground, legs crossed. I put my bow on the ground next to me. I sit, and I wait.
I wait a long time. Hours. It’s getting dark. No noise from the tall grass, none at all. I stand up, leave my bow on the ground, and edge careful-like into the tall grass, following the stain of blood.
I find Buck dead, bled-out, my arrow still in his side. I look at him for a while, mad at myself for the messy kill. But messy kill or no, it’s still a kill and still a trophy. Just not one of my better ones.
I pull out my hunting knife and begin skinning, wondering which wall to hang the skull on and which room to put the skin in.
Heath Lowrance’s first novel, The Bastard Hand, will be available from New Pulp Press on March 20. His short fiction has appeared in Chi-Zine, Necrotic Tissue, The Nautilus Engine, Well-Told Tales and other print and web-zines. He lives in Detroit, where the weak are killed and eaten.