Venison

Three winters ago, Mick and I went hunting. I didn’t know what I was in for. For one thing, the gun was so much heavier than I thought it would be. For another, I hadn’t realized how much waiting around happens.
Mick was so excited about my finally agreeing to go with him. He promised me that he would show me how to cook whatever we killed. When we first started going out, I couldn’t believe that he was the kind of person who went hunting. When I found out that he did, I was horrified. For a while there, I was going to break the whole thing off because it bothered me so much. But Mick was… well, Mick, and I guess I just sort of decided to see where things would go. I think I also didn’t quite believe him, because he has such delicate hands and he plays the piano. I couldn’t reconcile those long, large-knuckled fingers and his mild tenor with what I imagined hunters to be – rugged, rough, hairy manly men.
Eventually, though, I had to accept him in all his various incongruities, because there just isn’t a way to ignore a rabbit carcass roasting over a bonfire in someone’s backyard.
When he took me hunting, Mick told me that it would be a real adventure. I guess it was. We tramped all around through a forest with brightly colored vest things over our jackets so that no one would accidentally shoot us. We crouched down and waited, and breathed, and I felt the mist turning to a drizzle on the back of my neck.
I could hardly hold the gun up, let alone shoot, but watching Mick was fascinating enough to make the ache in my muscles worth it. There was something in his face that seemed akin to his concentration when he plays – but there was something else there, something almost feral. I didn’t, and still don’t, get it. There wasn’t anything exciting happening, but at every breath of wind and rustle of the leaves, his pale skin would flush and a small smile appeared on his mouth, but otherwise he’d stay absolutely still.
He killed a deer that day. That’s something else I didn’t realize – that we would have to carry something huge like that back to the car. Deer are much bigger than you think they are from far away. It was heavy, and Mick almost didn’t want to take it home, but I couldn’t stand the thought of him having killed it for nothing. If we brought the poor thing home, at least we’d be making use of it.
I couldn’t watch him turn the deer from animal into meat. I went to the bathroom and threw up after I saw him slit its stomach open, but I didn’t tell him. I pretended to be hungry, and, to be honest, the smell of the meat roasting actually made me hungry. It was easy to separate the venison from the deer I’d seen lying dead on the forest floor with its thick tongue hanging out and its eyes glazed and empty. I’m glad I never told Mick that I threw up, though.
We didn’t last for very long after that, but it wasn’t because of the hunting. It was because of his other passion – the piano. He got picked up by a touring orchestra and went to Europe. He cried a little when he said goodbye to me, and he apologized. He told me he would always remember me. I know I’ll always remember him too, especially when I see a deer or smell the telltale scent of venison.

Becalmed

A ship sails in the darkness. Only three people are aboard. The captain stands on the deck, watching the stars’ reflection in the calm waters that lie beyond the ripples that the ships rocking movement is creating. She sends an arm out, wishing she could touch them – the reflections, not the stars. The stars are too far away. They’re intangible and require faith. The little specks on the water, however, are as real to the captain as the silver streaks that she sees during the day and knows to be fish.

Her first mate lies stretched out in her cabin below. It is not her watch yet. The captain will wake her when she’s needed, she has no doubt about that. But she cannot sleep, even though it’s almost impossible, making a ship work smoothly with only a captain to guide her and a half-mad, broken-down sailor to aid her. She worries about the following day and wonders whether the winds will finally rise and help them. She’s heard horror stories before about becalmed ships, but she never thought that it would be so incredibly frightening to be on one. The absence of any certainty is eating away at her: she knows not when the winds will rise, she knows not when she will see land again, she knows not whether she will live to touch her loved ones again. There is enough food to last a while, but the water has begun to seem a lot less plentiful than it had a week ago when the winds disappeared.

The lone sailor, a simpleton to begin with and driven almost out of her wits by the plague that destroyed the rest of the once large crew, rocks back and forth in her hammock in the large, empty room that she shared, until two weeks ago, with many others. The ropes creak comfortingly and she hums their notes as she swings, trying to lull herself into comfort. She has had no joy beyond the wooden planks of this ship; it is the one and only place she has ever found┬ácamaraderie. It’s almost all gone now, and she clings to the memories of what she had and tries to forget the sight of her fellow sailors in their death throes.

The wind doesn’t pick up. There is no hope yet for the three aboard the ship. But all three are human, and so they cannot help hoping anyway.

Illusion

I always hated carnivals, ever since I was a little kid. My dad used to work at this one circus, this traveling company, I don’t remember the name, and he would be gone for months with them. Every time he came back, my mom would get all cheerful and she’d put on his old dress she had with stupid flowers all over it and a big ribbon tied around the back, and she’d take me to the circus where my dad worked and we’d watch the clowns and the elephants and the poor old tiger without any teeth. That tiger was the only thing I liked, but he died when I was about six so after that I had no fun at all.

See, other kids loved all that stuff. They ate it up like candy, like ice-cream, like I don’t know what. They thought that it was all hilarious. But the thing is, they didn’t see how all the clowns yelled at each other inside their RVs, and they didn’t see the weird bearded lady kissing one of the skinny acrobat guys, and they didn’t see the way the elephants were prodded with these big pointed sticks, like devil’s pitchforks. They didn’t smell all the booze and the smoke and that weird rubber smell that I finally figured out was condoms but only when I was way older.

But I never told the other kids about all that stuff. Why ruin the magic for them, you know? I mean, when I saw this magician perform these coin tricks on the street once, with his hat on the ground for money, there were all these people around him wanting him to show them how the trick was done and I wanted to scream at them not to ask for that because that would ruin the magic.

I guess that’s why I never really believed in magic, though, you know, the real kind with wands and spells and stuff. I knew that everything was an illusion – even parents were illusions, really, because they weren’t always there when you needed them and they would pretend to listen to you even when they were really thinking about something else. But then one summer my dad made me come with him on the circus’s tour even though I didn’t want to, and I found out that there was stuff in the world that hardly anyone knows about, stuff that I know no one will believe me if I tell it.

But hey, I’m in prison now, with thirty other guys in my cell-block, and maybe my story will at least give them something to talk about when they work at the wood shop or the kitchens. It’s worth them all thinking I’m crazy if it’ll give me a chance to get this all off my chest.