Charlie adjusted the windage on the side of his rifle scope. The crosshairs sharpened against his target. He lived for this moment. Deer season could not come too soon nor last too long for Charlie Owens. The smell of the forest, the chill in the fall air, the pressure of the rifle against his shoulder, these things made him free.
As the unsuspecting beast took its final steps, Charlie’s hand slid slowly around the stock. He felt the carved checkering against his palm. With a silent push, the safety released against his thumb. In an imperceptible motion, he re-centered the crosshairs. He quietly exhaled the last bit of air in his lungs. His finger eased rearward on the trigger.
The forest echoed with the deafening rapport. Birds noisily departed the treetops. All other nearby creatures fled with an equal urgency. The dying beast took a step and the silence of the forest gave way to a thud against the underbrush.
Center mass, just like his father had taught him. It was a merciful death, an instant death, a certain death. Charlie lowered the rifle as he regarded the awkward posture of his now prone quarry.
Charlie climbed down from the tree stand and walked toward the bloody hulk. His footsteps were as silent as his rifle was loud. He just stood there for a moment, regarding the trophy. It was remarkable. A large adult male with a pale brown coat. This one had eaten well.
“I haven’t gotten one this big in years,” he thought to himself, “just look at him. He’s as big as an ox. If I had room, I’d mount that one.”
Charlie methodically collected his trophy and made ready to leave. He always enjoyed the hunt, but Charlie liked the next part even better.
He had no permit for this. He had to get out of the woods and back home without the game wardens — or anyone else for that matter — finding him. The killing was one thing, but the escape with the trophy was rapturous. He slipped furtively through the woods. His stealth was a well-practiced craft. Within minutes he was back to his truck and bound for home.
Home for Charlie was a small 1950’s tract house. It was plain, cramped and too close to his neighbors. He lived alone and liked it that way.
As Charlie pulled into the garage, Phil Carpenter from next door waved in his direction. Phil was the kind of neighbor that always liked to beat you up with a recount of the obvious. If you backed over your trash can, Phil would be sure to point it out. He noticed if your grass was too high. Phil was the most unwelcome of neighborhood reporters.
“Huntin’ again, Charlie?” quizzed Phil. “Yep,” said Charlie.
“Do any good?” continued Phil.
“Not really,” replied Charlie.
“You must be world’s lousiest shot as much as you go,” joked Phil.
“Maybe I just like the fresh air… later Phil,” said Charlie with an unbroken stride toward the backdoor.
Having made it past the guard, Charlie threw his keys in bowl, hung his coat on the peg and turned on the television. He pulled a cold Miller Lite out of the refrigerator and cocooned himself into a rump-sprung La-Z-Boy just as the news was coming on.
“Our top story tonight… an Ashley County man was found dead this morning in a wooded area near Fordyce, in what police officials are calling the state’s third hunting related fatality of the season,” reported a stone-faced anchorman, “The police have released few details and for now, are withholding the victim’s identity pending notification of relatives.”
Charlie sat up in his chair. He grabbed for the remote and turned up the volume. He flipped through each local news station desperately hoping to see another account of the horrible accident. Having exhausted the sources, Charlie sat unmoved in the glow of the television. The program turned from news to weather as Charlie stared blankly, lost in the thought of someone dying like that.
An hour passed before Charlie moved. A loud commercial jarred him from the stillness. The tired hunter dug into his hip pocket and retrieved a silver Zippo lighter. He flipped the top and struck a tall flame. It closed with a loud, but familiar click. It was fancier than most. It had a miniature pewter hunting scene stuck on one side. A large buck deer stood proudly by a wooded creek, while mountains rose in the background.
“Spiffy,” Charlie thought.
Charlie rolled the lighter between his fingers, “To Larry, Love Barbara,” he read aloud, “… touching.”
Charlie got up from the recliner and opened a nearby desk drawer. The drawer was filled with many other lighters, pocket knives, fishing lures, hand warmers and duck calls. Charlie dropped the Zippo on the top of the pile.
“Well,” Charlie said to the television, “I guess Barbara can buy a smaller turkey next Thanksgiving. Fat bastard. It’s a wonder the walk in the woods didn’t kill him first.”