At first the boy was no good as a hunter or tracker. With his grandpa by his side, he would stumble through the brush like a drunkard at a pub. The rifle was heavy for his still young frame, and he struggled to try and stay quiet, clumsily slipping on wet leaves. He was used to just running around the forest care-free with his little pellet pistol in one hand, and his dreams in the other. Whenever he shot his pistol, he would hit his target, or at least a target. Even if the criminal he was chasing was behind one tree, and he hit the tree to the left or right, it was okay because there were criminals there, too. If he missed the leafy monster he was aiming for, it was okay because he could just imagine a new creature for the stray pellets to hit. When hunting real live animals there was only one target. Errant shots found no home in imagined squirrels or fictional deer when Branden missed. Even when he was able to find an aloof deer or badger that didn’t notice him bumbling through the leaves, he could barely handle the recoil of his new gun. Most shots would fly into the air as the gun kicked his shoulder back, as if the rifle itself was offended that such an inexperienced boy should handle a weathered veteran gun like itself. Every shot Branden got off, the gun kicked back at him in disagreement.
At first his grandpa seemed to be amused by his struggles. He thought the whole thing was funny, and he made sure to let Branden know. “Good shot, Mr. Keller” or “You’re so far off, the deer don’t even run from you.” Sometimes even a “Have you thought about trying to throw the bullets instead of shooting them?” But eventually, the jokes and laughs ran out, and everyday as Branden would run out of bullets, his grandpa would run out of patience. He had promised to let Branden figure it out on his own, and not take the gun from him until he had made a kill, but one day he was so fed up, that he burst.
“Goddamnit boy!” the old man yelled as Branden missed an open shot on a fat turkey. He couldn’t stand sitting by and watching Branden miss all these shots anymore.
The old man demanded the gun from the boy. All the frustration and anger from his grandson missing had pent up in him, and he had to relieve it. So he did what he did best and took the hunt upon himself. As Branden handed the old rifle over he scoffed at the old man, in disbelief that the withered elder could do any better than him. He began to masterfully make his way through the woods, telling the boy to sit and watch. Branden saw him creep down a hill without a single noise echoing from beneath him. Crisp leaves that would have snapped under Branden’s heavy steps seemed to easily give in to hi grandpa’s, bending softly and quietly beneath him. If Branden would have closed his eyes he would have no idea where his grandfather was. One minute he was half way up a dead tree scanning the horizon, the next he was on his stomach trying to find the right angle. The whole time he moved through the bushes melodically. His rolling steps took him from place to place without leaving a single trace he was ever there. He seemed to flow with every gust of wind and used it to carry himself to his next destination. It seemed the old man could have removed his heavy glasses and maneuvered himself with the same level of grace and ease.
He was so far away that Branden could barely see him as he lay down on his stomach on a low knoll. Time seemed to stop as Grandpa peered through the scope. Nothing moved. The wind seemed to stop, and the trees halted their swaying. The clouds were motionless and even leaves that had been swept up by the wind seemed to hang in their place in the air. The whole forest ominously stopped for the great hunter, maybe out of respect, maybe out of fear. His grandpa finally made a sound. He let out the faintest exhale before letting off one loud shot, the former as audible to Branden as the latter in the dead silence of the forest. As soon as the shot echoed from the barrell everything in the forest seemed to fall back into its normal state. As Branden walked down from his spot on the hill, the leaves fell around him and the clouds began to roll through the sky again.
Looking back at it, Branden barely believed his own memories. Maybe he was just romanticizing the whole ordeal, maybe nostalgia had built up inside him. But in his mind it all still felt like yesterday. If he closed his eyes he could put himself back in the woods that day as easily as he could recollect what he had just eaten for lunch, and every time he returned, the events happened exactly the same as they did during his last mental vacation.
As he got closer to his grandad, he saw what game he had taken out: a large buck, now laid up against a tree. It wasn’t until Branden reached his grandfather, that the old hunter slid the bolt of the old gun back into place. “Respect your elders,” he said as he handed Branden back the gun. But Branden barely noticed those words. All he could focus on was that deer. He had never been this close to anything that was dead, especially not something so freshly void of life. He kept catching himself expecting the deer to get back up and continue its oblivious wandering. He was used to hearing about how his grandpa would go out hunting and that’s how they got fresh jerky and sausage, and he knew how it happened. He knew that his grandpa would shoot the deer and then it would die, and he thought was that plain and simple. Now he realized it was completely different. The deer died. Just seconds ago this creature was alive and well, and content with life as Branden thought. He didn’t think much of the animal, but when he had seen it slowly meandering through the grass he thought it seemed happy, or at least okay with it’s life. But all that escaped it, and now it lay there unsettled. Branden had seen live deer before, and their eyes were always completely black, just dark pearls rolling around. But now they were a new black. Those same shiny black marbles were now bleak bits of charcoal, ones that seemed to restlessly peer at Branden.