The Afternoon of a Hunter

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By Roland Howell

A young man sat still on a tree stand, waiting. He looked down at a familiar deer- run snaking through the woods. The afternoon was bright with the sun slow dancing behind the thickness of bare limbs swaying lightly in the breeze. Nothing had changed since the last time he had sat on this platform over four years before; nothing except the hunter.

He caught sight of a buck deep in the woods, too far off for a shot. Moments later he heard something rustling the dead leaves on the forest floor behind him. Soon a doe came along the run, stopping directly beneath where he sat. She looked back a moment and walked on slowly. He lifted the shotgun and sighted through the scope, but he didn’t shoot. Then the fawn came following along the path and he lowered the gun. The fawn began to run until it was close to the doe. He watched as they trotted away into the woods and he could no longer see them.

He thought about the doe being shot dead and the fawn alone. Somewhere he had read or heard someone say that nothing was as important as the life of a child. Dead mothers and dead children had haunted him ever since that day in a particular village, a village far away. He sat several moments thinking back, remembering only the panorama, the details hidden in an obscuring fog. Then he placed the barrel of the shotgun in his mouth, reached down, and pulled the trigger. There was only a click in response, nothing more. He brought the barrel away from his mouth, laid the gun across his lap, and began to laugh. He had not loaded the shotgun or brought any deer slugs. He had no ammunition.

He came down from the tree stand and walked back toward the farm house, thinking. He knew it would never go away but he had begun to live with it. He had stopped taking the pills. The VA kept sending the renewals but now he dumped them down the hole in the abandoned out-house. There were no more group therapy sessions for him either. The group had gotten depressingly smaller. Like him, some felt it wasn’t helping. A few others had accomplished suicide.

At the house, he set the rifle in the gun rack inside the back door and went into the kitchen. His mother was taking a pie from the oven. “Did you have any luck?” she asked. She did not look at him but he knew she was relieved that he was back.

“No, just saw one buck. Too far away to get a shot,” he answered.



Roland Howell 2010