This story available on Oct 10, 2020
Father Son Hunting
Rickey Rivers Jr.
“Okay son, slow deep breaths; take your time. Don't think too much.”
Thomas held his breath and fired the rifle, purposely missing the deer. It scampered away and he smiled.
His father cursed and kicked a nearby tree.
Thomas found himself apologizing. “Sorry dad. I'm just nervous, never been hunting before.”
If only his father understood that he could follow instructions but chose not to. It would make both of their lives easier. At least that’s how Thomas saw it.
“I'm not upset.” His father spoke calmly, trying to hide frustration. “We'll just find another one.”
Thomas exhaled and shook his head.
“Buck up boy,” his father said before realizing the obvious joke. “Ha, get it? Buck up!” He laughed.
Thomas faked a smile.
The trip felt meaningless. Thomas would rather be doing anything else, homework even, at least that would be stimulation. Thomas sat down on the leafy ground and looked up. The forest trees were so tall. They towered over him, made him feel small. The thought was comfort.
His father interrupted his peace. “We'll find you another one!”
Thomas wasn't fond of hunting. He was never a violent child so hunting confused him. He didn’t see the purpose. The only reason he went on the trip was to please his father, his mother seemed somewhat indifferent to the trip. She neither encouraged nor discouraged Thomas’ involvement however Thomas felt she wanted him to partake nonetheless. He guessed she wanted them to bond. Thomas didn’t mind. He liked his father. He humored him.
He only wished they would spend time doing more interesting things. Hunting was boring and he didn’t like to be bored. Thomas thought to himself, still staring up at the trees above. Lying out on the forest floor relaxed him. He began to daydream, wishing to be elsewhere, a more peaceful place away from guns.
He inhaled the forest air. Then something passed his line of sight. A butterfly, he thought. Another passed him, not a butterfly but similar. He focused his eyes. They were women, little women with little transparent wings.
They flew unorganized like moths, moving wispy in the wind. They danced a beautiful dance as if performing. There were ones with short blonde hair, ones with curly dark hair. Some had brown puffy hair, ocean blue hair, long flowing white hair, even ones with pink hair all with tiny dragonfly like wings. They fluttered in silence to an unheard rhythm.
The unorthodox dance entranced him. He began to feel warm inside, a pleasant warmness as if being held. He wanted the little women to gather together and carry him off into the sky. There he would live among the clouds in peace and calmness, a serene dream. Almost in direct protest, a gunshot interrupted all of this.
His father had shot in his direction. And the little women scattered. Thomas saw a trail of dust when they vanished. He sat up angry with ringing ears.
“Dad, why did you do that?”
His father had a look on his face that surprised him. It was fear. Thomas had never seen his father look so scared.
“Dad, what's wrong?”
For a second he wondered if his father had seen them as well but that was impossible. He was sure he didn't see anything. Besides, they were simply dancing, there was no reason to shoot at them and yet his father's expression said otherwise. His father looked around in all directions, nervous, afraid. Thomas was sure of it, this was fear. It made Thomas question things but he couldn’t dwell on them for long.
Without warning his father was surrounded. The women swarmed him all at once. He swatted at them, trying his best to knock them out of the air. He raised the gun and fired at them. Thomas kept low and watched.
His father was panicked. He didn't realize he was out of ammo. With ease the gun was snatched away and tossed aside. His father was lifted up from the ground. Thomas looked on as the little women carried his father off, deeper into the forest. Thomas grabbed the gun and ran off after them.
He lost track almost instantly. They were among the trees. It was impossible to keep them in eyesight. All he could hear was his father struggling above him. Soon the sounds stopped. And Thomas waited, very quiet, very still.
Birds chirped above. He saw squirrels scamper past. He stiffened his body. His mind refused the stillness and wandered off in spite of him. Without warning, the forest floor began to rumble. Something large was approaching. Part of him wanted to run but part of him didn’t. He wasn’t afraid. He saw the legs first, then the torso, then the arms and head, a giant. The giant came near as if guided.
The ground shook with every step. Trees swayed and birds flew off but Thomas wasn’t scared. Instead, he spoke bravely.
“Kind giant, you must help me.”
The giant reached out and pulled Thomas near. “I must?” It spoke baritone with hot, foul breath.
The giant began to squeeze.
“Please,” said Thomas.
The giant laughed loud and mighty. “Why should I help you?”
“Because,” said Thomas. “There’s a snack in it for you.”
The giant released Thomas and leaned in, intrigued. “A snack you say?”
“Little women,” said Thomas. “Fairies, maybe pixies, I’m not sure.”
“That would for sure be merely a snack.”
“Yes and there’s a bunch of them. They must be tasty.”
“Tasty?” said the giant. “Like you will be?”
“No!” said Thomas. “You don’t want to eat me. You want the little women.”
“I do?” said the giant. He paused. “I do.”
It didn’t take much. The giant agreed and threw Thomas upward. From the skies above he could see where the little women were holding his father. He saw a sort of tree house. He kept the location in mind on his way down. He looked and saw that the giant was gone.
Thomas was falling full force towards the forest floor. He prayed for his safety. He prayed for his father's safety as well. Then, softly, he fell onto a pile of leaves.
“Stop rolling around in filth!” He recognized the voice.
With that he stood up from the leaf pile and hugged his father.
“What's gotten into you?” his father asked, confused.
“Just glad you're okay,” was all Thomas could muster.
His father let the hug linger before pushing him away. “Of course I’m okay.”
Thomas smiled. “I'm glad we went hunting.”
His father put a hand on his shoulder. “Me too”
For a moment they stood there until his father titled his head and looked behind Thomas.
“What's wrong?” he asked.
His father shook his head and chuckled. “Oh, it's nothing,” he continued, uncertain. “Sometimes this forest can play tricks on you.” He turned away. “Let's head home.”
Thomas followed, checking behind him every so often. Occasionally, he would notice his father swat at something.
When they returned home, his father continued the swatting as if pestered. Thomas became bothered by this.
Eventually, he noticed his mother occasionally swat as well.
Something had followed them back but Thomas couldn't see it. Instead, he knew this truth.
During dinner one night Thomas had gotten fed up and interrupted the conversation his parents were having.
“Mom and dad, what do you see?”
His mother answered. “I see a very rude child.”
He apologized and returned to his questioning. “What are you two swatting at?”
They both looked at one another.
“Oh son,” his father went. “It’s nothing.”
His mother agreed. “These things happen.”
Thomas was confused then annoyed. “Just tell me why you both are swatting.”
They denied everything; even in the midst of swatting the air they denied doing it.
His mother took a sip of water. “Enjoy your meal, son.”
Thomas had a quiet anger. He sat, baffled, looking for sense to be made. His father cut into his steak and took a break to swat the air. His mother chewed, swatted, sipped, swatted, swallowed and swatted. Thomas took his attention off his parents and focused on his plate. He scooped a spoonful of peas and lifted it to his mouth. He dropped the spoon and swatted at his glass of juice. The juice spilled onto the table.
His mother gave him a displeased look. “Don't pretend Thomas.”
She spoke from a place of knowing. This had happened before. She gave his father the same look when he returned home with Thomas. She had a feeling he couldn’t carry out the deed. He loved his son too much. More than she had, for those feelings had faded. Too many accidents, too much brought about that shouldn’t be.
Neither of them could have foreseen what “imaginative young boy” implied. That, combined with the selective memory made the boy difficult to deal with. The routine became tiring.
His father wiped his mouth. “Son, clean up that mess”
Defeated, Thomas fetched paper towels and cleaned the spill. Another idea came to him, “Mosquitoes!” he said with a small confidence. “We did forget the bug spray.”
They gave him a look.
“Gnats?” he suggested.
They said nothing.
“A joke?” he said finally.
His parents gave a blank expression before giggling like children.
His father almost choked. “You're funny Thomas.”
His mother held her chest and swatted something foreign. “Remember when I said don't pretend?”
For a brief moment she thought of using her fork against him but she restrained herself.
Thomas looked at her with innocent eyes. “Mom, I’m not pretending. I don’t know what’s going on.”
That was the worst part. He didn’t remember. He never remembered. Thomas fixed his mouth to say something more and she threw up her hand to stop him.
“Please Thomas, just finish your food.”
Thomas looked at his father as if pleading.
His father smiled, knowing the truth would be forgotten. “Thomas, listen to your mother.”
Rickey Rivers Jr was born and raised in Alabama. He is a writer and cancer survivor. He has been previously published with Fabula Argentea, Back Patio Press, Every Day Fiction, (among other publications). Twitter.com/storiesyoumight His third mini collection of 3x3 poems is available now: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B07VDH6XG5
Interview available on Oct 16, 2020