By: Jim Bates
Dad pointed, “Tyler, take this bag and put those decoys way out by the corn stalks. Not too close to us. We don’t want to spook them.”
I dutifully followed his instructions and hiked through the snow, my breath steaming in the twenty degree air. I put out about a dozen black, bird-like shapes in the middle of the huge field like he’d asked, then hurried back to where we were setting up our position, just over a small rise, two-hundred feet away.
“That look okay?”
Dad made a big deal of looking at them through his binoculars.”No, damn it. They’re too close together. Go spread them out. Hurry, the crows could be here any minute.”
I ran across the field, moved them further apart and then ran back, panting a little. I was in pretty good shape from playing basketball in school, but the snow was over a foot deep and hard to run in.
I plopped down on the canvas tarp Dad had set out. “Okay, now?”
He took a quick look. “Yeah, they’re fine,” he mumbled, like he’d already lost interest. Then he took out his whiskey flask, took a sip, and set about getting his gun ready.
Killing crows. Not my idea of a good time. I had nothing against them or any other living creature for that matter. What a rotten way to spend the day, but I was with my old man so I guess that counted for something.
Dad and Mom divorced last summer. My guess was that Dad’s drinking had something to do with it, although his inability to keep a job may have contributed. Mom started hanging around with Jerry Kowalski and one thing had lead to another.
My girl friend Trish says that Dad deserved it. “He was kind of a jerk to her, Ty. I don’t blame her for leaving.”
Which might have been true, but I missed having dad at home. I was fifteen and my two younger sisters and I saw him one night a week and every other weekend. Jerry Kowalski was nice enough, but who knew how long he’d stick around? He didn’t drink like Dad, but the man liked his weed, that was for sure. He even offered some to me once which I turned down. Trish thinks I should tell my mom. I’m thinking about it, but I really don’t want to cause a scene, so…I don’t know. We’ll see.
Anyway, Dad figured taking me hunting with him would be a good way for us to spend what they say is Quality Time together. I’d of been happy enough playing Battlefield on the X-Box with him like we normally did but what the hell.
“At least you’ll be getting some fresh air,” he tried to joke earlier that morning as we got ready. “Just dress for it. Put on some extra thick long underwear or something. You’ll be fine.”
Yeah, right. Fun times. It was freezing cold outside and the sky was depressing grey. Inside my boots my toes were already numb.
While he got his gun ready I did the same with mine. It was a bolt action twenty-two with long rifle bullets and a six shell clip. His words came back to me, ‘Remember to hold the rifle steady and line up the bead on the end of the barrel with the sight. When the crow’s body fills the sight, slowly squeeze the trigger.’
We’d practiced that fall on Dad’s friend’s land, the land we were on now, a few miles outside of town and a mile from the trailer park where Mom and I and my two sisters lived (along with Jerry.) I was as ready as I’d ever be.
We lay on the tarp for about half an hour before the crows came. Dad sipped from his flask while I tried to pretend I wasn’t freezing to death. Strangely enough, though, the longer I was outside the more I began to enjoy being in the wide open spaces. Maybe I was just one-hundred percent numb from the cold and couldn’t think straight, but I have to admit that it wasn’t too bad being out in nature. I even saw a fox run along the edge of the woods and an eagle soaring over the field. It was pretty cool.
We heard their “Caw, caw, cawing” way before we saw them. Then they came in over the trees on the far side of the field, a big flock of maybe thirty crows, and landed next to the decoys I’d set out. I took a prideful moment to congratulate myself on doing such a good job, but Dad couldn’t be bothered thanking me. Instead, he just took a quick sip from his flask and picked up his gun.”Okay,” he whispered, “This is it. Get your rifle ready.”
I took the safety off, lay the gun on the top of the rise and sighted. It took a few seconds before I had one dead on. Then I moved the barrel a little. I knew exactly what I was going to do.
“Ready?” Dad whispered.
“Okay. We’ll shoot together on the count of three. One…Two…”
On the count of “Two” I aimed thirty feet in front of the crow and pulled the trigger. The rifle barked a loud bang, followed by a puff of snow out in the field. The crows immediately took off, just as Dad fired a moment after me on the count of “Three”. He missed everything.
“What the hell?” He jumped to his feet and yelled, towering over me, “What’d you do that for?”
I left my rifle on the tarp and stood up to face him. He was a head taller than me and seventy pounds heavier, but he needed to know. “Dad, I’m not going to kill a crow just to make you happy.”
I thought he might hit me, but he didn’t. Instead, he grabbed me by my jacket and shook me. Hard. I stumbled backwards but kept my balance. He got right in my face and yelled, “What are you, anyway? Some kind of pansy? We Lathrup’s have always hunted. We’ve never had a problem killing things. What’s wrong with you?”
I was scared. I’d never stood up to him before, but all the anger I felt toward him leaving my mom and sisters and me spilled over into a red rage, and I swear to god I almost slugged him. But I didn’t. Instead, I kept my voice measured and calm and said, “I’m not going to kill a defenseless creature just to please you.”
The old man pushed me away and said, menacingly, “To hell with you, then.”
I’d had it with him. I walked away with no idea where I was going, but I did know this – it was time I started sticking up for myself. Behind me, I heard him yelling for me to get back there or there’d be hell to pay.
Too, bad, I thought to myself, as I started running. The old man would have to catch me first. I felt liberated and happy. Like I could run forever. I just might.
Jim lives in a small town twenty miles west of Minneapolis, Minnesota. His stories have appeared in CafeLit, The Writers’ Cafe Magazine, A Million Ways, Cabinet of Heed, Paragraph Planet, Mused – The BellaOnline Literary Review, Nailpolish Stories, Ariel Chart, Potato Soup Journal, Literary Yard and The Drabble.