I grew up in a land shaped by animals. The first bird I shot, I shot in a buffalo wallow. There would be countless more—owls and ducks, flying away with my pellet gun pellets lodged in them, doves I wouldn’t learn to clean and eat for years, the blood on their yellow breasts like a dab of jelly on butter toast. Quail that were beautiful and pliant in my hand, scissortails that fell in looping arcs, their tails disappointing up close. Mounds of red and white and black woodpeckers my grandmother would point out for me, that, even with their bodies full of birdshot, still needed to be chased down in the tall grass. Once, on accident, a mockingbird that wanted to put me in jail, take away my gun. The hole I dug to hide it in was deep. There would be more. A bullbat, just to see if I could. A compact little hawk of a kind I’ve never seen again. I buried it too, then took three steps away, found a pair of rattlesnakes mating, and watched them until they saw me and tried to break apart, couldn’t. Hours later, skinless, headless, no guts, they still rose from the pan of grease I was cooking them in, struck at me with their blunt necks. Another time I walked onto a pair of sand rattlers, never knew how purple and pink their belly skin was until they were dead. That same year a normal rattler pulled at my pantsleg but couldn’t get through. I killed it for so long that the venom got in my arm, swelled it from wrist to elbow. Days after that, just to see if it was a thing I could do, or to see if it was something I shouldn’t do, maybe, I got down on my knees before a rattler and we stared at each other for half an hour, until it started striking, and I started trying to tap it on the head with my ballpeen hammer. I buried it in a deep, deep hole with an owl I’d killed that same day, then, to keep them there, upended a fifty-five barrel drum, drove it down around the owl and the snake until it was level with the ground, told myself it was over, now—me, them. That I was sorry and it was over. I was wrong. Later that year I would stand in the brakelights of a pickup truck and help beat rabbits’ heads against the bumper, because they weren’t dead enough yet, then throw them into the pile already spilling over the bed rails. Because it was summer, we couldn’t eat the rabbits, had to throw them into a pit for the coyotes. Later, in the snow, with slide action rifles that felt so much like the air-pumps on my pellet guns, I would run down elk and mule deer and whitetail from the dancing beds of trucks, shoot prairie dogs to sight my gun in. Look though my scope one afternoon at what should have been a cow moose thirty yards out, broadside, but instead stood into a cinnamon grizzly, her two cubs tumbling into view. That time, my uncle guided the barrel of my gun down for me, and kept it there, and I looked over the top of my scope at the mother bear and wondered where my uncle had been three years ago in my buffalo wallow, when, out of birds but not daylight, I’d aimed for too long straight up, into a power line, and hit it, then felt the small slug immediately in the ground by my left foot, instead of the bones of my face. I dug the slug out. It was shaped like a mushroom, still hugging the power line, and I did any of a thousand things with it then, I suppose. None of them right.
About the author:
Stephen Graham Jones' latest book is a collection of stories, Bleed Into Me. His next, Demon Theory--a horror novel--is out in 2006. more at http://stephengrahamjones.net.
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