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Killing With Clement

Clement’s dreams mixed with the crunchy whir of his father’s truck. He ran away from it in his dreams, his legs churned slower and slower as it caught up to him. He looked back and saw nothing; but he knew it was there, somewhere just behind, out of sight. He could hear it coming, engine growling. He could feel the earth shake beneath his feet. But he wasn’t running anymore. He wasn’t even jogging. He heaved his leaden legs off the ground, one heavy step after another. The gravel crackled. And then he stopped. And then he woke up. 

The forest was quiet in the predawn. A few birds began their morning echolocation, their mapping, but they didn’t make a song of it. Clement’s father peeked through the truck’s passenger-side window.

“You awake yet, Clem?”

“Yeah.” Clement wasn’t ready to be awake. He was ready to play the new FIFA. It came out yesterday and Patrick said he’d get it. Clement was ready to eat cereal at home and watch Netflix until Patrick texted him to confirm how awesome this year’s edition was. He wasn’t ready to be awake in the woods.

He opened the door and slid out. His father was in the bed of the truck readying their pack with everything they’d need on this, the first hunt where the son — not the father — would be doing the shooting. The list of supplies rattled in Clement’s semi conscious; A spray that killed their scent. Gloves. A gray, snorkel-like deer call. A knife. A rifle. The heavy and dangerous and cold rifle. Although Clement grew up target shooting, he never liked the power of it. He never liked the way it lorded over any conversation, any look or movement. Once it came out it was always there, the dominant factor, the conquering force.

Clement adjusted his boots. They were old, but his feet had stopped growing. The boots still fit. His mother seemed to think he had another couple of inches left in him because her father was a tall man, but Clement didn’t think so. Regardless, he didn’t need to be taller to play striker. Height was more important for defenders. 

When he stood up, his father handed him the backpack. “The shooter can carry the pack.”


“Shouldn’t I have the rifle?” Clement didn’t actually want it, but it was far lighter than the pack.


“Nah, I’ll keep it from bouncing around. Plus I thought you were trying to put on a little bulk now that you’ve seen how you stacked up in those preseason games. No better way to build up those calves than with a heavy backpack.”

His father hopped down from the truck and slung the .30-06 over his shoulder. He clicked the tailgate shut and checked the lock on the driver-side door. 

“Can you check the passenger door?”


“It’s locked.”




Clement shuffled to the edge of the parking area where his father waited and they started up the trail. As they walked, the forest slowly eased into daytime vigor. The insects buzzed. The rising temperature built a breeze that gently pushed the trees into a slow, creaky dance. All of this wasn’t lost on Clement, but he didn’t really care either. His worries were setting in.


His thumb rubbed his index finger; down to the tip, back up the inside and across the line of the joint, up to the knuckle and back down, nail to nail, over and over and over again. Sweat started to bead on his forehead as he walked. His shoulders hunched inward to support the weight of the backpack. He looked down at the ground as he walked. He felt his heart with a hand, but he couldn’t tell if it was faster from the hike or the fear. 


His father scanned the tree canopy. The older man forged ahead with confidence, the gun looped over his shoulder. But Clement was only vaguely aware of these elements, much as he was only subconsciously alert to the waking forest.


After a few minutes he heard his father speaking. He gradually focused. Was he joining the conversation in the beginning, middle, or end? Perhaps he’d been responding, but he wasn’t sure. His father’s speech suddenly seemed to add layers to the tension rather than bubble beneath it.


“It wasn’t that long ago. Same spot out here. Sometimes I think I should’ve taken you and your mother and your sister out of New England. Make a clean break of it. But you know, with your grandfather the way he was and then your grandmother and the pro shop doing well, I just couldn’t justify the move. But now’s the good part. Look what we get to do.”

His father looked back at him, but Clement maintained an unsure silence. His nervous fingers quickened. He changed the subject.


“When we get back, can I go to Patrick’s?”


“What’s at Patrick’s.” his father didn’t really want an answer.


“He got the new FIFA today.”


“I’d be willing to bet he’s still asleep.”


“Well, he’s getting the new FIFA when he wakes up and he told me to come play with him. He said he’ll text me when he gets back from Best Buy.”


“Now see? He’ll be getting back from Best Buy and we’ll be getting back from this…” His father spread his arms as if to hug the forest air.


“You go to Best Buy all the time. You talk about how much better it is than Amazon, which it obviously isn’t. You just like to touch stuff first, which really doesn’t make any sense.”


“Did you see, they’re selling food on Amazon now?”


“They’ve been doing that forever.”


“They weren’t selling food a few years ago.”


“Fine, they’ve been selling food on Amazon for a long time.” Clement emphasized the words long time, but his father was distracted by a split in the trail.


“Okay, left goes to the hut, but we don’t want to go that way this time. This time we’re going to the meadow, see how the blind is holding up.”


The path to the meadow narrowed. It was the less traveled by far and the long, dew laden stalks of wood-reed streaked Clement’s pants and boots. He tried to step on the tufts rather than through them but it was impossible, so he just let himself get soaked. 


The trees thinned and then abruptly formed a wall in front of a thick layer of undergrowth. Clement and his father pushed to the edge of a wide meadow. Their silence built in anticipation of the hunt ahead. It rolled through them both like the rising tide and drowned any need for talk. Bent low, his father high-stepped towards a large wooden stand about ten meters away just inside the tree line. 


“Clem, quietly,” his father whispered back.


Clement gingerly picked his way around clumps of smooth crabgrass. Every crunch and squeak beneath his feet sounded like it could carry for miles. He tried to be light-footed, but the harder he worked, the heavier his footfalls seemed to be. His dream flashed momentarily before him; running away, walking, trodding, trudging, falling… 




Clement looked and found his father was already up in the blind. He climbed after him.


Two deer faced away from each other in the field. They stood in a puddle of purple clover. One raised its head to check the scents and then, after a breathless pause, it craned down to pull at the bright flowers with its incisors.


The deer to the right was a young buck with branched antlers.


“Remember what we talked about? The ones we’re looking for?”


“Yeah. Branching antlers.”


“The one on the left is a doe, but the one facing right — that one’s a buck.”




Clement peered through the scope of the rifle with his father beside him, eyes pressed to binoculars. Motionless, they both stared at the deer. Clement leveled the crosshairs on the doe. She turned slightly. He eased his aim over to the buck. He became aware of another deer, somewhere behind his buck, hidden in a copse of trees. 


“There’s a third one, back behind the other two.”


“Yeah, I see it. Back by the trees.”


“It’s kind of behind the buck. I don’t want to accidentally hit it,” Clement whispered.


“Don’t worry, I think it’ll move in a second. See?”


The other deer shifted a few feet and the space behind the buck opened up.

Once more Clement trained his scope on the deer, his aim steady just behind its shoulder. He hesitated and his heartbeat shook the gun. It’s thump, thump, thump was loud in his ears. It knocked on his chest. 


Clement had to pee. He had to go. Sweat trickled down his forehead and dripped in his eye. He wiped it away with the back of his hand but lost sight of the target. He glanced over at his father, whose eyes hadn’t left the binoculars.


“You can take it any time.” His father said unaware Clement was no longer sighting the shot.

For a moment the boy didn’t respond. He considered finding the buck again with that terrible rifle, but the thought of pulling the trigger ratcheted his heart rate up a notch. How can this be fun? He thought to himself.


“I have to pee.” Clement put the gun down and crawled to the ladder.


“Hey,” his father hissed. “It’ll go away after you take the shot. It’s just nerves.”


But Clement was already on his way down. He hunched low and slowly made his way further into the woods. He found a thick oak tree and put it between himself and the blind. He could still see the deer, far off, on the other side of the meadow. They continued to pull at the clover, heads down, unaware.


Clement realized he didn’t actually have to pee. He stood there and wondered how long he should wait to make it believable that he went. He decided a few more seconds would work. The buck looked up briefly and then its head drifted down out of sight behind tall grass. Clement wanted to go back to the truck. The thought of returning to his father in the blind made him mildly nauseous. He took a step out from behind the oak and saw his father watching him from up in the blind. His father didn’t speak but the look in his eyes was clear enough. 


Clement returned but when he reached the ladder his father muttered down, “Come back up here quick, or they’ll move on and we’ll miss the buck.”


For a reason he didn’t fully understand, Clement confessed, “It turns out I didn’t actually have to go.”  


“See, I told you it was just nerves. Come on up. There’s still time, I think.”


But Clement focused on the deer, and a vision of the buck exploded through his brain; The animal flailed sideways and kicked its feet spastically as the bullet passed through its side and into its heart. Clement closed his eyes to make it go away, but the vision only intensified. He stood over the animal as it died. Its eyes bulged and stared up into his. It knew what he’d done. The dying deer saw him for his true self; a killer, a freak. 


He wiped his forehead, glanced up at his concerned father, then dropped his gaze and sprinted across the open field. For a tiny moment that seemed to stretch into eternity the deer did nothing. They continued to eat, unknowing, and Clement became convinced they were fake. It was all a test set up by his father, just a trick to see if he could really pull the trigger and be a man, like his father and grandfather and great-grandfather. Then both deer snapped to attention. Their muscles rippled and they rocketed away across the open ground to the copse.


Clement hollered after them, “Gaaaa! Gaaaaa!” It was empty shouting, meaningless and yet it was the only appropriate sound he could make. It created its own meaning. Pain, fear and frustration, doubt and command. Clement, heavy-footed, came to a halt. 

He turned back to his father, an erect silhouette in the blind.


“You see?” Clement shouted.


But he got no response. The man just turned away and started to pack up their belongings. Clement searched for the deer but they were gone. He realized he was alone in the middle of the clover patch. The flowers were a vibrant magenta. He could see where the deer had torn them from the ground. He bent down to pick a flower for himself and popped it in his mouth. He chewed for a second, waiting for an answer, but it didn’t taste like much so he spit it out. He watched his father climb down from the blind with the gun slung over his shoulder. The man disappeared into the forest. 


After a brief hesitation Clement rushed to catch up.

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