The sun rose higher and dubbed our shoulders with light. The sky morphed from blue and gray to pink. Murray strained hard against his leash, tilled the ground with his paws. My grandfather’s arthritic hands paled with the effort.
I spotted a pheasant in a clearing not far ahead. It pecked the ground, spearing seeds and nuts with its beak. I glanced at my grandfather. He winked. The pheasant raised its head, and I raised the shotgun. I pulled it tight against my shoulder, got into my stance, tried to relax. Murray barked. I wanted to dry my sweaty palms on my pants, but I clenched the checkered grip and breathed.
I started to let my breath out, stopped halfway. The pheasant flapped and took flight. Yellow flashed in my periphery. My grandfather hollered. I led the target and squeezed the trigger.
The gun thundered. I closed my eyed. A second later, a spray smacked my face, and something thumped against the ground. I opened my eyes.
Murray had gone for the bird and jumped in front of the Remington. The birdshot tore through his head taking with it a tangerine-sized piece of skull. He lay on the ground, gargling blood, his coat speckled with twigs.
My grandfather dropped to his knees at the sight, but it roused neither screams nor tears. He ran his hand down Murray’s spasming side then looked up. He took note of something and slowly turned to face me, as if his neck supported a great weight.
By then I’d dropped the shotgun. Napalm coursed through my veins. A bottomless pit opened beneath me, but I had yet to fall. I felt suspended in midair, like I’d just sped off a cliff in an old Warner Bros. cartoon. The crash to earth was coming. My grandfather stared at me, simply stared. His gaze intensified with each second and vibrated the air between us.
Spencer Hayes lives and writes in Philadelphia. His stories have appeared or are forthcoming in Bluestem Magazine, The Molotov Cocktail, The Adroit Journal, and elsewhere.