by Hall Jameson
My father loved me. I knew this, because he’d asked me to go hunting with him. He’d never taken me hunting before. My two older brothers used to hunt with him, but they were in college now. All he had left was me—his ten-year-old daughter.
I was a mistake, see? He didn’t want any more kids, especially a girl. He’d told me that, that’s how I knew. He said things like that when he got angry with mom or me. I hated it when he got angry. He scared me and hurt mom. But today, he was in a good mood because he loved to go hunting. I couldn’t believe I got to go with him. I was happy about that. He must really love me.
We sped down the dirt road in his pickup truck and the ride was bumpy, but I did not put on my seatbelt, because he did not wear his. I hung onto the door and tried not to bounce around too much. I didn’t want to make him mad; he was in such a good mood today.
He told me the place we were going was one of his favorite spots. It was the place where he had killed the great-horned owl.
Why would you shoot an owl? My mom had asked that day, when he’d brought the dead bird into the kitchen. But he’d gotten angry with her and she’d shut up. My dad told me that it had swooped down on him, so he shot it, but I didn’t believe him. Owls minded their own business. I learned that in school. Plus, I could tell when my dad was lying. He got a cold look in his eye. That’s how I knew. He kept that owl in our garage for two weeks before he finally threw it in the trash. It would stare at me when I went into the garage as if to say, ‘How could you let this happen?’
Today, he was hoping to see a deer so he could kill it. It was very quiet in the woods. Peaceful. I secretly hoped that we wouldn’t see a deer, or if we did, it’d be too far away for him to shoot. I certainly hoped we didn’t see an owl.
The trees were thick evergreens. The ground was hard and frosty, and crunched under my feet. I liked the sound. It was the same sound as when I was eating my Crunch Berries that morning. Crunch. Crunch. Crunch. I looked down and smiled at my new hiking boots. Crunch. Crunch. Crunch. I looked over at my dad and smiled, but he was no longer there.
There was no answer. The trees looked back at me, but offered no assistance.
“Daddy?” I turned, but there was nothing but trees and the crunching sound of my boots on the frozen earth. It was a horrible sound that terrified me. It filled my head as I began to run.
Crunch. Crunch. Crunch.
I stopped, breath whistling in my chest. “Dad!” I yelled frantically. I heard a laugh. Behind me.
I whirled and saw him, partially concealed by evergreen boughs. His gun was raised and pointed directly at me. He looked through the scope and smiled. I smiled back, unsure. Why was he pointing the rifle at me? I glanced over my shoulder thinking there must be a deer behind me and I should step out of the way. I sidestepped and the black eye of the rifle followed me. I stepped again, and it stayed on me.
My father was no longer smiling.
I was frozen. The only movement was a tear running down my left cheek. It left a warm track down my face. I stared at the coal-opening of the muzzle, and then at the scope that held my father’s eye. I was a great-horned owl. Would he tell people that I swooped down on him, so he had to shoot me? Would they believe him?
“Dad?” My voice shook. The gun remained fixed on me for another long moment, and then it lowered. My father regarded me with cool steel eyes.
“Come on,” he said. “Let’s go kill something.”