“OYSTER SHELLS” by SAMUEL STEVENS

He took these hunting trips three times a year. He hunted one kind of game but he never had the stomach to take it.

The hunter hiked through the bush—no, it was not bush, he corrected himself. The autumn leaves on the forest floor made him think of corpses, for some reason. The sun shone over the ridge-line ahead. He had been here as a boy.

The hunter never carried many rounds. He kept ten in the cartridge loops on his belt for appearances. He breathed out and went downhill. There was a wide stream that trout lived in at the foot. He came here in the summer to fish. He crouched at the stream and the cool air was refreshing despite the autumn winds.

He was going to be back at his job on Monday, maybe, back to listening to the bitch make demands of him over nothing and expect him to act as her confessor. Coming home to an empty house was normal to him.

He looked up from the water and a deer stared at him, a doe. He stood up slowly. The doe ran up the ridge on the other side of the wide stream. The hunter sloshed across. His boots filled with water. That was alright.

He listened and stalked. He was not after this doe; it was the wrong kind of game. He went after it anyway, tracking the disturbances in the dead leaves.

He came to a rock at the top of the ridge and pressed himself up to it. He looked down the sights of his rifle. He saw the doe at the foot of the ridge, where there was another bend in the stream. He watched the animal. The autumn leaves fell, here and there.

The hunter set the muzzle of his rifle under his chin. He listened to the breeze. He glanced around the rock at the doe. It lapped water from the stream.

He had come to these mountains many times as a boy. The world did not exist here, he thought. He kept his finger across the trigger guard like his father had taught him. He was not ready to fire yet. He breathed and watched the sun lift up. They would not find him for a long time here. He was miles from the back road. His camp would be left to the woods, an offering, if they did not find it.

He craned his neck and the doe rested by the stream, panting.

He could have the meat for dinners. That would not be so bad, he thought. He had done that on his trip three years ago. The empty house had not seemed so bad then.

The world was his oyster, then. He had opened the oyster now.

He took a cartridge from his belt and cycled the action of his rifle, sliding it into the breach. The magazine was empty. He only carried the rounds on his belt for show. He had more in his pack at the camp.

The empty house waited for him miles away and the job would have a replacement. They always did. The family he had, somewhere, was a VHS tape he resumed when returned to them, or spoke to them.

He closed the bolt on his rifle. The doe stirred at the foot of the ridge. He shifted and the doe ran. He snapped up and squeezed the trigger and the animal fell down into the orange and yellow leaves.

He did this every time he came here, shooting a doe or buck. He went down the ridge to the stream and tagged the animal. He could not leave it. He took it over his shoulders and started to bring it back to his camp.

He could try again in May, he thought, when he came back to trout fish. Yes, he would try again.