chacotaco91 - A Hunt in the Forest “Damn thing’s been through here, can smell him for sure.” The hunter was speaking to himself, coldly staring into the wooded unknown. The dark leaves of the trees perched low and left little room for the sun. It was like a cage of green, entrapping the father and son from the reassuring blue of the sky. “Dad, I don’t think it’s here.” The boy tried to sound confident, though his voice was only a child’s. His palms were sweaty on the wooden grip of his rifle, and he was nervous by the intense concentration of his father. He was so young, so weary from this hunt. Yet he knew that he needed to be brave, that now was the age to prove he was a man, to prove his bravery. It was hard to be brave now though. “Papa, I’m tired, and it ain’t been through here. I know because I haven’t caught one sight of him yet, and you said its tracks gone dead……” “Quiet!” The father hushed him quickly, holding a raised finger to his son’s face. His gaze locked into the deepness of the woods. He suddenly went to a knee, and raised his rifle to look down its sights. The boy noticed too late though, and awkwardly took a knee as well. He went too quickly and landed his shin on a protruding rock, giving him a sharp and bruising pain. And without warning, he felt fear. It was as if the pain was some kind of trigger, a kindle for a fire of fear. It rose from his gut to his throat, gripping his mind and thoughts and emotions. It was his transformation to full terror, and he felt though the forest could sense it to, responding by rustling its leaves in chorus to the breeze. His sweat turned cold even though the day was hot. The forest canopy gave them shade, but this only worsened his growing fear. His Uncle Ben once that all things die in the dark, and he squeezed his rifle all the tighter. “It’s here, can’t you feel it?” His father said quietly scanning with the rifle’s scope. He loaded a single round into the chamber with a smooth motion, the bolt action rifle looking as sleek and black as the night sky. The boy began to breathe quickly and with difficulty, while his father took the calm and slow breaths of a killer. “I see it, just sitting there.” He took one hand off the rifle to point in a general direction, though his shooting eye was still locked in the scope. “Didn’t I tell you boy? Just like any other animal, they all get tired and they all need to drink. You’re gonna pick these tricks up when you get older. Things you just gotta learn.” The boy didn’t care about tricks or what the animal was doing, he was afraid and shaking, and tears began to build in his eyes. His father didn’t notice though, busy gauging his target in the glassy vision of his scope. His son looked like a little toy soldier, holding his small wooden rifle. He felt that way, fragile and frozen, and his tears began to flow from their watery home down his cheek. “I want to go home, you kill it dad.” He tried to sound strong in his defiance, but the tight grasp in his throat and high voice made him only sound like a child. “Nonsense boy.” His dad turned from the sights to look at him. He realized his son was crying, and gave a friendly smile of understanding. His voice was reassuring. “It’s an easy shot; you can make it, I promise." The boy words were entangled in emotion, his cheeks red in shame and sadness. “I don’t wanna kill nothing dad, I can’t do it, I wanna go home.” He could no longer hold them, the tears now flowing freely. His breaths became loud and choppy, and he repeatedly sucked for air like he couldn’t breathe. The father smiled as his young boy lowered his head in shame. The son didn’t want to look weak; he felt that he failed, that his father would never love a fearful child. He dropped his rifle lazily on the ground onto the soft grass. It made only a slight thump on the soft and moistened dirt. “Its okay son, it’ll be alright, I promise.” His dad hugged him in a long and tight embrace, feeling the warm tears seep beneath his camouflaged shirt onto his shoulders. “I’m here, ain’t nothing gonna happen.” He held his son for a long time, held him till he slowed his crying and his nervous fit finally passed. He broke from the hug, but kept the boys shoulders gripped in his calloused hands. His son met his gaze, his tears now dammed and his mind at ease. The father held his smile, his welcoming hold giving the boy hope. “You can do it son, I know you can. I did it, my father did it, and you can do it to.” The boy rubbed a stray tear from his cheek and gave a quick sniff of his nose. “Okay………I’ll…… I’ll do it.” “That’s my boy.” The father’s voice was calm, reassuring. A smile was across his face that was as long as the knife on his hip. The son picked up his small weapon from the ground in both hands, as if telling his father that he accepted his love and confidence. “I’ll help you son, now take a knee here.” The child did as he was told, and felt safe as his father’s grip guided him to the place from which he would shoot. He pushed down on the boy’s shoulders to make him kneel on the ground. The father then helped him hold the gun properly, readying his son for his first kill. “Good, good. Now, hold the rifle tight to your shoulder, just like I taught you.” The boy slowly edged the weapon up, his body still feeling tense and weak from his prior sorrow. “That’s right, just like that. Now, look down the sights. Do you see it? It’s just sitting there, all still like. It’s probably sleeping, so it won’t even feel a thing.” “Like this dad?” The boy was still unsure; the rifle gave a slight shake in his grip. “Just like that. Now, take a deep breath, and aim right in its center, just like I taught you.” The boy’s eyes were wide when he met his. “And it won’t feel a thing?” The father held his same smile. “It’ll be like he never woke up.” The boy closed his left eye, the other looking through the view of the scope. Its four lines centered in the middle, a cross to lead the bullet, a cross that meant more to him than any cross he’d ever seen in church. He noticed first the distance blur of green and the movement of the branches in the wind. Their leaves swayed lazily, as if teasing the dark moss below them for being stuck in one place, stricken to never feel the wind themselves. There it was, like his father said. It was leaning back lazily on a rock, in sound sleep next the pond from which it drank. It must have been tired and thirsty he thought, since he and his papa had been huntin’ him for so long. “Don’t forget to breathe boy, and aim at its center. You’ll never hit nothing tryin’ to be fancy.” He still looked over his child, but no longer held him. It was his shot now, his kill, his time to become a man. The boy tightened his hand on the grip. Just like we practiced, he thought to himself. He tears were all gone, his confidence firm. The tranquility of it all overtook him, like all the few young years of his life were meant to lead to this one very moment. Then, it opened its eyes. He saw it through the scope. He could not tell if it saw him, or he merely saw it. It scared him so that he suddenly jerked and gripped everything tightly, including the trigger. A bang ran through the forest, its sound waves bouncing through the dark leaves and the thick bark, scattering the birds and making the critters freeze in the sudden interruption nature’s usual harmony. The smell of gunpowder filled his nostrils, and the rush of adrenalin had stricken him into a stillness he could not break. “Did…….did I kill it?” The boy said quietly, his eyes wide with apprehension. He could not tell himself, for the kick of the shot knocked the scope from his view. The father quickly brought his own sleek weapon to bear, looking down his sights to see the fate of the hunted. “Ha! You got it son! hell of a shot my boy!” He had never seen his father so happy, and he too felt the excitement overtake him when his father bent down to give him a quick but powerful hug. Before he knew it, the child found himself jogging with his father the path that the bullet once followed. They hopped over thick and tall roots, and puddles of moistened earth and wet and fallen leaves. He almost near tripped, his short legs having difficulty crossing the terrain. Above him, the forest continued to sway lazily in the wind. Within the spaces between the leaves, the bright sun desperately tried to find cracks in the canopy to let its bright touch through, to give light to the dark soil. His father was already inspecting it when the boy caught up to him, breathing heavily from the run. When he saw it the dead though, he could no longer breathe. “What a shot son, right below his left eye! I could never hit anything like that at your age, swear to god. You’re gonna make one hell of a hunter.” The boy smiled with pride, but could not take his eyes away from the gory sight. Its face was all but gone, the bullet carving a gaping hole that only blood and brain saw fit to leave. The large rock he once leaned against was painted in a splash of red. “What we gonna do with it dad?” The boy said timidly, eyes fixed on the only dead thing among them. “Well, I guess I’ll just give it to the common folk. Hard times like these they’ll take any meat they can get. I paid good money to hunt this one though.” The boy kept his gaze on the bloody fluid as it slowly dripped down the face of the carcass to the chest below, like a sap falling from a tree. “Well my boy, I just cannot wait to go home to your mother! She’ll be proud of you for sure, cook us all one hell of a dinner, for her big son the hunter.” The leaves continued to move casually above. The critters as well, after they learned the loud bang had been nothing to fear, and went back to their normal doings. The birds went back to chirping, the squirrels to squirreling, and the deer’s to deering. The forest never changes. “Alright son, its gonna get dark sson. Hold his body while I take off his head, Executioner needs to know this man got his due.” He looked his son in the eyes with his same familiar smile. His father walked toward the dead man, and his face grimaced in disgust as he gave the carcass a good kick. "Lived like a damn animal and sure as hell smells like one." The father knelt next to the body to examine it, the boy unsure of what he was looking for. His father looked at the large black letters of Criminal that were branded on the man's forehead. He then began rummaging through the man's pockets, and passively spoke to himself in a tired and content voice. “It’s a strange thing you know, that we get to do the executioner’s work for sport when he’s stuck doing it for a job.” The boy was too young and too much in shock to understand his father’s musings. His focus was on the dead man and all his complexities. He stank to high heaven, his clothes rotten and tattered. His coarse hair was covered in leaves, and his body was painted in cuts and scrapes, head to toe. The boy approached the kill in slow, careful steps. His father unsheathed the large, serrated knife from his hip. He did as he was told, and held the fugitive’s head still by its oily coarse hair while his father carved its neck with perfection, carefully sawing where the least effort was required. The boy did not watch while he felt the rough vibrations of a head in decapitation. Instead, he stared blankly at a large, thick oak tree. Its bark was a deep brown, and its branches hung low with verdant green leaves. It was in that moment that the boy forever would love the forest and the hunt.