Content warning: Hunting, animal death
The officer slides the hot chocolate to me across the metal table. His eyes are sympathetic, but I don’t know if this is one of those things to trick you into confessing to something you didn’t do.
“Look kid, I know you’re in shock, but we really need to know what happened. Do you think you can help us out?”
I pull the blanket closer around me. It smells like someone’s dog has been using it as a bed. Maybe the police dogs were sleeping on it. I think of Skip, his warm fur and smelly dog scent. An image of his body flits before my eyes and I smell the bitter tang of blood in my nostrils.
“I didn’t want to go,” I whisper.
I didn’t want to go on the trip but dad wouldn’t hear of it. Hunting, fishing, violent sports, getting drunk: They were all his idea of what it meant to be a man. I guess that’s why mum and dad weren’t together anymore. Mum was more like me. We didn’t like movies where the dog died or dad’s drunken friends. Once dad finally moved out I stopped eating meat, except for when I was at his place and he made me. The only good thing about dad’s place was Skip. I really missed him after dad moved out.
Dad made me do a lot of things I didn’t enjoy, like watching boxing games with his drunken friends. He also made me try beer once, but I threw up all over him later that night, so he said he’d wait until I was older and not to tell that mother of mine.
I begged mum not to make me go on the hunting trip with dad but she said she couldn’t interfere, it was his weekend with me and I was still a minor. He was still my dad. I said I wished he would die. Those words still haunt me.
Dad picked me up Saturday morning. The sun hadn’t even risen yet but he wanted to get there early. Hunting trips were the only time he seemed to be able to get up before noon. It was a chilly morning so mum had already dressed me in my bright orange “don’t shoot me” jacket. I got into the car and Skip leaped between the seats to greet me, licking my face with his rough tongue. I scratched him behind the ears and he rumbled appreciatively.
“Get in the back, Skip,” dad snapped, and Skip obeyed, curling up on the back seat. He was always a good dog. I put on my seat belt and we pulled out of mum’s driveway. I could see her waving in the rear view mirror, slowly growing smaller as we drove away.
We reached the camping ground by mid-morning and I helped dad put up the tent. I was pretty good at that. I wished we were just camping together, father and son. None of dad’s friends, no hunting, just marshmallows and stories by the campfire. I’d still be cold but I wouldn’t be as miserable.
Dad’s friends got there around midday. There was already beer on their breaths. We helped them set up their tents and then set out hunting. I don’t want to go into detail, but they killed a couple of deer. I hoped they’d stop after that, but they said they wanted one each so they could hang the heads on their walls. They laughed at how much their wives or girlfriends would hate it.
We went back to the camp as darkness fell and roasted some of the deer meat over the fire. Even though I felt crappy eating it, I didn’t say anything, I knew dad’s friends would just call me a cissy and dad would get mad. Dad and his friends drank beer and sang dirty songs.
When dad was so drunk he nearly fell into the fire, I helped him back to our tent. We lay in the darkness, Skip between us. I buried my face in Skip’s fur, breathing in his doggy scent like I used to do when mum and dad were fighting. The sound of dad’s friends laughing outside faded as I fell asleep.
The next day, dad and all his friends were hungover but I knew he’d be mad if I didn’t wake him. I made porridge in the pot over the fire while the men were complaining about their throbbing heads. Dad actually said it wasn’t bad, which was rare praise. After breakfast the men got their packs and guns while Skip slurped up the leftovers in thirty seconds flat. Then we set off into the woods again.
The woods felt different today. I never felt good about going in there and killing wild animals, but even dad and his friends seemed uneasy. We walked slowly, flinching at every stick that broke under our feet. It was so quiet, no birds singing, no leaves rustling in the breeze. It was as if the woods knew what we were here to do and they didn’t like it one bit.
We didn’t see one animal all morning. Dad and his friends were grumbling as we came back to the camp for lunch. We ate sausages and I tried not to think about the fact that the sausages were made of dead cows, and we’d be killing more animals later today if the men got their way.
After lunch, we set back out into the woods, cold and grumpy. Part of me was hoping the whole trip would be a bust. Sure dad would be cranky, but at least no wild things would have to die for his entertainment.
Finally, Skip ran off barking. We followed to find a huge buck. I whispered an apology under my breath, knowing I could not stop what was about to happen.
The men fired. The buck gave a cry of pain. Wounded, he took off into the wood, leaving a trail of blood behind. The men whooped and gave chase, Skip running ahead, baying at the scent of blood. I knew Skip couldn’t help his nature, so I didn’t blame him, but I sure blamed dad and his friends. I trailed after them slowly, feeling sick to my stomach.
When I entered the clearing, I was far behind the rest. They were already in the middle, standing around the fallen stag. They were laughing, posing with its corpse. They didn’t see at first when the creature came out of the woods.
I call it the creature… I don’t know what it was. It was well over seven feet tall, wide and heavy, covered head to foot in long, tangled fur. It walked on its hind legs, like a man, but it was clearly not human. When it saw my father and the other men, it howled and ran towards them. They staggered back, staring in horror. A couple of them fired, but that didn’t stop the creature. It slammed into them.
I closed my eyes, but I heard the thunk of bodies hitting the ground and the sound of screaming. When I opened my eyes, the ground was red with blood. I expected the creature to be howling, showing its fangs, beating its chest like in an old movie. No, it was sitting on the ground, holding the body of the stag, and it was crying. It whimpered quietly as tears stained its matted fur.
I hid in the bushes a long time, waiting for it to leave. After a time, it stopped crying. It dug a hole with its front paws and buried the deer and the men. It even buried Skip. Then it turned and plodded away. Once it was gone, I ran to the nearest road and flagged down a car.
I don’t think it was a bad creature. It seemed sad. We were the intruders. It was just protecting its forest and its animals. My dad and his friends were hunters, but so was the creature. And it was the better hunter.