by Caleb Berg
“You’re falling behind,” his father seemed to say. Thomas reached for the rifle strapped to his back, loaded it, rested the butt against his shoulder, squinted his eye through the scope. Gary moved in slow motion. His sunburned face morphed from derisive, to confused, to afraid. It was obvious that the gun was pointed elsewhere, and yet Gary still reacted. Thomas could feel the blood in his ears, a heavy buzz. For the first time Gary looked beyond himself and saw where Thomas aimed. He reached for his gun. The buck was far more beautiful inside the scope, encircled, confined to a physical space. Thomas fired twice. He aimed for the heart and lungs. Two dull thuds followed by a prolonged, fragmented screech. Thomas had missed his mark, shot the buck twice in the gut.
The two men ran towards the fallen animal, high stepping through the grass. They stood over it now. It wasn’t clear whether the buck remained silent, eyes open, blood flowing from its stomach, or if the terrible noise that flooded from its mouth grew so overpowering that it short circuited his hearing. Its eyes had lost their reflective quality, existed as black, opaque voids. And its antlers, Gary had wanted to cut them off, were like oak branches—they built off of each other, extending wide out from the skull, twisting, reaching towards the sky. Sharp, jagged breaths broke through its open mouth, tongue out, shocked. Thomas crouched down, but Gary still stood. He blocked the moon. The fur felt like a rug, like a bear rug, or was it like his dog? He couldn’t tell. Rough and soft at the same time, his fingers got caught, had to yank them through like tangled hair. His thoughts. Overcome by the screeching. Dropped further to the ground, on his knees now. Murderer. A killer and the dying. He thought he saw Gary give him a thumbs up. “Good job, son, but shoot for the heart next time.” Two perfect holes in the stomach, two black holes, sucking everything up, but leaking. Water. When was the last time he drank any water. And why was Gary looking at him, teeth out and his goatee spiraling, dancing. His head was splitting, it grew antlers, an oak tree. They reached for the moon. A killer and a dier and he wept. He shook. The back of his neck curved down, head in his own lap, in his hands. Somewhere he heard: Stop crying. Stop crying you’re making a scene. From his chest he peeled: binoculars. Held them in his hands. Brought them, hard, to the animal’s skull. Did this repeatedly. His shoulders rippled like currents against restraint until it shattered, and he was done.
Caleb Berg is a undergraduate at the University of California Santa Cruz where he majors in literature with a focus on creative writing. He really wishes his landlords allowed cats.