Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Dangerous Lines

Sometimes we see ahead of us the line we don't want to cross. And then we cross it.
Thanks for the assignment, Stu.

Dangerous Lines

I knew why I didn’t want to be there.

It was my second season; I was twelve years old. I sat on the trunk of the same fallen tree as I had the previous November, my gloved hand picking at bits of bark, my thighs taking the weight of the rifle that lay across them. My breath was full of frost. My back was to a small stand of pines and I faced a hundred yards of open meadow. And I knew why I didn’t want to be there. I knew what was coming.

Last season I had been lucky and hadn’t even seen a deer, let alone have one within gunshot range. My father and Uncle Jerome had their places in a stand, a dozen feet above the ground. I could see them if I turned. They could see me. If I got a shot, I’d have to take it. My gut was warm and wet with the fear that, given the chance, I would have to try to succeed. I knew how it would change me. I picked some more bark.

Then there was the slightest crackle of sound and I looked up. A deer with at least four points of antler stood some eighty yards away. I shuddered. Looking back over my shoulder I saw the faces of my father and my uncle. And they saw me.

My breath was ragged, but I slowly lifted the gun. It was a clear shot and I didn’t dare miss. A sissy would miss, they would say. They would laugh. I brought the stock to my cheek and sighted. A film of tear made my vision clearer than reality. I aimed, as I had been taught, to just above the shoulder, and squeezed the trigger.

The recoil knocked me off balance for a moment and when I recovered I could see the deer, flat on its side, not a twitch, not a hint of winter steam from its nostrils. A clear shot. A clear kill.

I could hear dad and Jerome behind me, clambering from their stand, clumping through the snow, shouting. Praise...there was lots of praise, and when they got to my tree there were hugs and back patting. Dad was grinning so hard I thought he might cry. I was afraid of crying too, knowing what was coming.

We three approached the deer. I had been taught how to dress a carcass. Jerome lent me his knife, I took off my gloves, and they talked me through the cutting and cleaning. We rolled the animal on to a broad plastic sheet and dad tied a length of nylon rope around the antlers.

“You done good,” said dad. “Good clean kill. You can drag him to the car and then come back and join us. You done good.” Smiling, they turned and disappeared into the woods.

I looked at my bloody hands and knew what was coming. I smiled, just as I knew I would, and sucked the sticky blood from my fingers.


At Wednesday, April 25, 2007 at 11:38:00 PM EDT, Blogger Bond said...

Nice setup. I could feel the anxiety in your shooter. But the anxiety I felt, was not inside him. His fear was not of hating what he was about to do, but knowing he would love it.

At Wednesday, April 25, 2007 at 11:50:00 PM EDT, Blogger SQT said...

There's something about this that gives me the heebie jeebies. It's the line knowing what was coming. I'm pretty sure I don't want to know.

At Thursday, April 26, 2007 at 6:54:00 AM EDT, Blogger Susan Miller said...

You and your last lines....sheesh! Throughout the whole work I could feel it or what I thought was it. He didn't want to do it, but it was expected of him. I got the internal struggle he felt of wanting to be himself or living up to the expectations of the men behind him. I was thinking "yes, yes...I get that." And then the last line...I can imagine you writing it, leaning back, grinning and then popping your finger on the key that gives you the one remaining punctuation mark. Period.

Good stuff as usual, Jon.

At Thursday, April 26, 2007 at 9:31:00 AM EDT, Blogger Kate S said...

Your writing never ceases to amaze me. Beautifully sparse - you manage to say so much, set a scene with so little: "My breath was full of frost."

The tension, the psychological impact, the great endings (I'm speaking of not just this piece, but all of them) always leave me in awe of your work. You have such talent.

At Thursday, April 26, 2007 at 10:20:00 AM EDT, Blogger Jon said...

Bond, sqt, Sue and Kate:
Thanks for your reading and your comments and your, "getting it." It worried me a bit that the ending would be too abrupt...unsatisfying. But at the same time, clear or not, it was what I wanted: a person seeing a turning point in his life approaching and knowing it was unavoidable, and knowing too that he would come to love the thing he regarded as evil. Could have been his first beer, his first cigarette, his loss opf virginity or anything. Killing seemed stronger. I knew why he didn't want to be there.

At Thursday, April 26, 2007 at 9:44:00 PM EDT, Blogger Lucas Pederson said...

Wonderfully writen piece! I loved the end. I heard somewhere that a first time hunter must taste the blood of the animal he/she kills, like a ritual. Not sure if this is right or wrong. I never had to, thank God. But of course I bow hunt. Perhaps hunting with guns is a whole different animal, so to speak. Don't know. All I know is I loved this stroy, very well done!

At Thursday, April 26, 2007 at 11:09:00 PM EDT, Blogger Stewart Sternberg said...

I think this is a nice piece, but I am going to withhold detailed comment until our next meeting at Chesterfield.

At Thursday, April 26, 2007 at 11:52:00 PM EDT, Blogger Jon said...

Lucas: Huh...I thought I made the thing about sucking the blood from his fingers. Thanks for your thoughts.
Stewart: Your comments would be too severe and caustic for this gentle crew? Oh, I can't wait for this...

At Monday, April 30, 2007 at 6:57:00 AM EDT, Blogger Lori Witzel said...

A great riff on Stewart's assignment, but I read and re-read the last part wondering why it seemed "off" to me. And then I thought, maybe I do have something...

I'm feeling a bit shy about sharing opinions when I didn't do the assignment, but you strike me as a person who'd rather hear feedback than not.

Here's my pre-coffee $0.02, for whatever it may be worth:

"...I smiled, just as I knew I would, and sucked the sticky blood from my fingers."

The sick dread, the sense of foreboding, the self-knowledge of what the kill will do himself, makes the phrase "I smiled" a little untrue to me.

If you had written something a bit different, something that kept the sense of the boy divided within himself -- something like "I felt a smile form on my face," or "I could feel myself smile" it might have kept the chill going longer for me.

And "sticky," while true, missed a chance to help us readers take the blood inside the boy by using a taste rather than a texture.

Seems to me what's happening inside the boy is the heart of the story, so the flavor of the blood might help keep that focus.

At Monday, April 30, 2007 at 8:41:00 AM EDT, Blogger Jon said...

Lori, these are really, really good observations that I would definitely work into a future rewrite.
The second thing you're right about is that I do welcome comments of al sorts. In fact I prefer those like yours that site examples and offer alternatives.


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