In the Forest

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Sam at last comes to terms with who she has become at the pull of a trigger. This is a descriptive scene I imagined for a character surviving in a post-apocalyptic world. It appeared in the Winter 2015-2016 issue of The Worcester Journal.

The silence of the dawn hung on the wisp of a fragile breath. The cool of the night, wet and heavy with a slow, steady rain, sank into emerald moss as though to quench a great thirst that had hollowed the earth. The water in the air settled with dense wings around her body. She lay supine in a small hollow. The world was cast in grays, hanging, suspended between time. Tendrils of ether that promised something whispered blurred the crossroads between heaven and hell. The darkness of a jade so deep it was endless slipped between the black, soaking trees. The slightest drip, drip, drip stilled the world with a gentle metronome.

Waiting...

Sam took in a long, slow breath. The earth was in her skin, the water in her hair. She sank down deep into the forest’s bosom. She was a petrified lover stupefied and naked beneath her damp jeans and heavy jacket. A chill had settled deep in her bones, aching her joints with sweet motionlessness. For hours she lay there, still.

Eyes wide open.

Thoughts of blood and the smell of animal singed her memory. The nausea she had once felt was now a thrill, a hunger deep in the pit of a barren stomach. She shivered in the atoms of her being to think of the kill she would take today, in the hours before the sun’s still birth. The grays began to creep, ailing into shades of gossamer white that turned the watered blacks to sleek slate.

Her heart was steady. The rifle nestled into her shoulder was as solid as the world she gripped. Her hands were numb, but they were poised to the hair-trigger of an instinct. Her eyes flickered and, as the forest woke, Sam felt it all in the core of her spine. Soon, she would know it in every hidden place of her body.

She stepped into the small depression where once a river had run to sip at the sweet, pure trickle of the rain-swollen creek. She was small and lean, with a long, elegant neck. Her eyes were as black and smooth as river stones nestled in fertile mud. The rain had mussed her auburn coat and Sam could imagine where the small fawn that would never be would nestle into its mother’s softly rising side.

The doe dipped her head to drink. Further down, her herd materialized like memories from the wet underbrush. Sam inhaled, exhaled, and her wrist creaked as she readjusted her scope. She watched the large ears of the doe flicker this way and that, listening to birdsong and the water that drip...drip...dripped. Five in all, with a handsome buck. The doe moved to sip from a deeper pool and the smallest flicker of her tail flashed white.

The bang sent the deer wild. They scattered like leaves. Gone, like the ghosts they were, they left their sister to bleed. Sam bowed her head to the earth and trembled. It was a goliathan effort to rise to her feet after being one with the soil for so long. Her clothes weighed ten thousand pounds and she could feel rivets of water warmed from her body running down the inside of her thighs.

Her hands shaking, heart pounding, she shouldered the heavy black rifle with the handsome cherry wood stock. Her blood was alive and the wetness in the back of her mouth began to slick her tongue as she picked her way carefully to where the doe had dropped. Fifty yards and the blood smelled rich as it soaked into the earth.

Sam knelt to rest a hand on the still-warm shoulder. The small black hole that wept had punched through the heart, neat and clean. The doe’s lovely onyx eyes were still opened wide, staring now at a place Sam could not see. She settled her rifle and drew rope from her pack. The doe was small. She tied it at the rear hooves and began to pull. Sam dragged the warm carcass from the small creek. With one end of her rope anchored by a small rock, she tossed it over a tree that suited her purpose and began to pull.

The sun had risen and the world was gray as though it meant to snow. The fog still moved in careful steps as it circled between the trees. It hung back with nervous witness as the sweet child of the wood was strung up to drain. Sam drew her large knife across the doe’s supple neck, quick and hard, just as she had been taught. The red-red water flowed sweet and heavy. The smell was toxic. Sam took a small breath and closed her eyes, her red-red knife held with white-white fingers.

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