This story is by Zane Tomich and was part of our 2017 Spring Writing Contest. You can find all the Spring Writing Contest stories here.
Approximately twenty yards away, a white-tailed deer is calmly gulping water from the creek, unaware of our presence. Father sets up a stand for the rifle. He ushers me over and points towards the deer.
“I want you to shoot it, Will. Remember what I taught you about aiming. Now do it son,” father demanded.
I take hold of the rifle and rest my finger on the trigger. My hands shake harder than an old car engine. The gut-wrenching sensation I felt when I woke up this morning still remains in my stomach. I do not want to kill this animal. Father is trying to harden me up so that I can become a real man. I have no desire to disappoint him today; however, I cannot seem to get a grip on my nerves. An overload of pressure attacks my thoughts and a sudden panic envelops me. A brief hesitation from pulling the trigger at the opportune moment causes me to lose focus of the target. I lose my balance and fall backwards. In the process, a bullet accidentally discharges directly in the air. The blast alarms the deer and it darts away in fear. My older brother Simon pulls me up from the ground. Father’s intense stare is full of anger and intimidation.
There is not a single voice to be heard. In fact, it is so quiet you can hear mice scurrying in the grass. And yet the crackling sounds of burnt firewood yells throughout the valley. Tensions resonate within the campsite, causing our souls to grow restless and uneasy. I did not know that silence can be so loud.
Father and Simon went hunting often and it was always just the two of them. It was a huge surprise when father invited me to come this time. Although I reluctantly agreed, I saw this as an opportunity to impress him. I thought there would be no better place than the dangerous wilderness of the Rocky Mountains to prove myself. Father sits close to the fire, gawking with great disgust. It was not until after dinner he spoke a word.
“Whats the matter with you, boy? I give you one simple task to do and you just don’t listen to me…You’ve dragged us down all day long because you’re too scared to be out here!”
Father’s thundering tone frightens me to the bone.
“You disappoint me son. Why can’t you be more like Simon, huh? He’s strong and you’re not…He can’t be looking after you like a little baby forever!”
Simon and I look at each other in acknowledgement of the all-too-familiar episode of father’s act. I can see Simon is clearly put off by how hard father is being on me. Since transitioning into my teens, father has watched me like a hawk. Normally I would have a reply to him in a moment like this; but nothing can come to mind this time. Instead, I silently stand up, walk to my tent and go directly to bed.
I cannot fall asleep. The ceiling of the tent is all I can look at as my body pulsates with rage. Father’s harsh words at the fire haunts my thoughts like a recurring nightmare. Simon wants to be a tradesman and I want to be a writer. Simon likes hunting and I like old movies. He likes football whereas I would rather sit down and read. Father can connect to Simon because they are practically clones of each other. Hardy, brutish men. I botched the hunt today. Worst of all, I know I will never hear the end of it from father.
That cursed deer preys on my mind. I want to bring it’s head back to camp and leave it at the front of my father’s tent. Then he will see that I am strong. Quietly, I tiptoe through the zippered door and depart from my tent.
I set out into the dark night with father’s rifle firmly strapped to my shoulders. Very stealthily, I stole the rifle from his tent while he slept. The forest is covered in a thick shroud of blackness. Stars gleam overtop of the mountainside like an explosion in the sky. The air had an icy crisp to it. I click on my flashlight and cut a path through the bushes.
A faint sound of a tree branch snapping causes me to freeze on the spot. During my internal fit of overconfident rage at the campsite, I foolishly forgot that I am in the domain of bear country. The snap of the tree branch nearly gave me a heart attack. I shift my body to the right and point the flashlight in the direction of where the sound came from. As fate would have it, a deer stands no more than five metres away from me.
I keep the light focused on the deer. It was very difficult to see but the creature is still visible enough for me to shoot at from this close distance. I raise the rifle up to my eye and prepare to execute the shot. This prey is mine and father is going to be so proud of me…
Suddenly, my fingers feel paralyzed, rendering me unable to pull the trigger. Just like earlier with father and Simon, I am frozen with hesitation and have no urge to follow through with the kill. I cannot come to terms with the idea of killing something that breathes the same air as me, let alone harm a majestic, peaceful animal of the wild. I am simply not capable of violence. Instead, I lower the rifle, turn around and proceed to walk back to camp. No longer can I feel myself driven by anger and ambition.
I hike on through the bushes. Along the way I come across unusual tracks indented in the grass. I shine the light to get a clearer look at them. To my surprise, the tracks resemble human shoe prints. It was baffling beyond comprehension to know that somebody else is out here with me at this time of night. The question is, who can it be?
I notice drops of blood next to the footprints. A dry heaving sensation immediately enters my throat. The sight of blood has always made my stomach churn, which is a huge reason why I hate hunting to begin with.
All of the sudden, I hear a familiar sounding scream in the distance. The pitch and tone of the scream sounds just like my brother, Simon. A flash of fright and anxiety pierces my entire body. I decide to follow the tracks and run towards the scream.
I storm through the thick forest until I reach a clearing with a massive boulder that stands tall in the moonlight. Simon sits on the ground, slouched against the boulder. I rush over to confront him and point the flashlight at his body. To my horror, I see Simon is hurt badly. His face is bloody and full of scratches. There is a deep bite mark in his upper shoulder. A small bone sticks out of his leg, clearly disabling him of any mobility. I gently jolt his body in an attempt to wake him up. Simon slowly opens his eyes and notices my face hovering over his.
“Simon, thank God! What the hell happened to you?” I asked.
Simon has a look of shell shock on his face and is clearly in a lot of agony; but he is still able to speak in a rather pellucid tone.
“Big…wolf,” he groaned.
“What are you doing out here?”
“…I—I guess I should ask you th—the same question.”
I know why Simon is out here. Its because of me. I was the one who took off and he simply came to retrieve me. Although a great deal of guilt rests on my shoulders, I cannot not help but feel an enormous amount of love for my brother. Simon has always been there for me and it is time to return the favour.
“I’m going to get you out of here, Simon. I promise.”
Simon is two years older than me. His weight is exponentially heavier and he is tall. With a valiant effort, I heave my big brother’s body up in the air and throw him overtop of my shoulders. The pressure of his weight catches me off guard and nearly causes my legs to buckle. Simon’s boney shoulders dig into my skin like a sharp knife. I grip his body tight and take my first few steps in a slow manner. Within seconds, my stance is able to firmly anchor itself to the ground. I tread at a steady pace back to our campsite with an incredible burst of adrenaline, allowing me to advance forward. Relentlessly, I carry my brother through the vast bushes until smoke from the still-simmering coals of our fire pit becomes visible.
I see that our campsite looks the exact same from when I left it earlier. It appears that father has been asleep throughout the whole ordeal. Thats when I let out a ferocious scream to wake him up.
I yell and screech as loud as my voice box can go. The echoes of my screams made birds disperse rapidly out of the towering emerald pine trees that surround us. Father quickly zooms out of his tent. He sees me exit the bushes with a badly wounded Simon on my back, like a soldier carrying his fallen comrade. Father races towards me as fast as he can. I collapse to my knees in a fit of exhaustion. Father has a furious glint in his eyes. He takes hold of Simon and carries him to the tent to tend to his wounds. After witnessing the look on father’s face, all I can do is sit in a pool of fear and await his summons outside of the tent.
Finally, after about fifteen minutes of hearing Simon shriek with fits of agony, father exits the tent. I initially anticipated that I was in for an epic scolding. Instead, father very casually walks over and sits down beside me with a solemn look on his face.
“Simon’s going to be fine. We will leave first thing in the morning…By the way, he told me what happened. I can’t believe you actually carried him that whole way,” explained father.
“Well he is my brother. I couldn’t just leave him there like that,” I replied.
Father grins. It seems now that our conversation is over. That is until I notice he was not moving from his spot. We awkwardly stare at each other in silence for a few moments until he starts speaking words I thought I would never hear from him.
“I’m sorry for always being so hard on you. This world isn’t friendly and I know you are more on the sensitive side. There is nothing wrong with that. In fact, I think you take after your wonderful mother. I do realize that you’re only sixteen, but I just want you to have courage. You proved that to me, Will.”
Father reaches his hand over and rests it on my shoulder. He tries to get one final sentence out.
“Will…I just wanted to say… Ah…Well I…Ah…I-”
I truly understand now that father is a man of little emotion on the outside, but softer than wool on the inside. Deep down he loves me and is proud of his youngest son. Such a feeling will never escape my heart and I will cherish this moment with him forever. I think he can finally accept who I am as a person and what I believe in. Maybe now we can turn a new leaf and build a better relationship between us. I turn my head towards father and let a gleaming smile form on my face. He smiles back.
“I love you too, dad.” I said.