The Briar Patch
Samuel watched as his dad stacked the guns wrapped in faded green and brown cloth sleeves into the back of the work van. Samuel climbed in. He sat next to his father and tried to fill the empty seat his small frame didn’t use. More than anything, he wanted to impress his father today. He looked out the window at the bleak winter landscape as it blurred past. He saw a lonely, dirty brown cloud hanging in the crisp blue sky, and he thought about killing jackrabbits. He wondered what it would feel like to kill something.
They pulled off of the main road onto a dirt road, which was actually just two dirt ruts, and they drove along beside an empty field. His dad had pulled over to talk to the farmer who owned the land. He laughed, his breath was visible, he waved, said “Later,” and pulled away.
Ten minutes later, they pulled the van over, and Samuel skurried out. His dad pulled the .22 rifles from their cloth sleeves and he handed the borrowed rifle to Samuel. It had a girl’s name burnt, in cursive lettering, into the stock of the gun: Kelly.
His father loaded the .22 magazine for him. “This here’s the safety,” he said. “When you push it in, the gun won’t fire. When it’s out and the red is showing, the safety is off and the gun is live. Always walk with the safety on, and, unless you’re going to shoot, always point the barrel down to the ground. Got it?”
“Yes sir,” he said as he took the gun from his father’s rough hands, making sure to point the barrel toward the frozen Earth. It was heavier than he thought it would be, and he immediately loved the solidness and significance of it. The smoothness of the wood and the cold steel blue/black barrel thrilled him. He couldn’t believe he had been trusted with such power, such responsibility. He followed as they walked to the top of a hill.
“Shhh,” his father commanded as he spread his arms out and stopped Samuel. “Come here,” he whispered, grabbed his coat colar, and pulled him over, not looking at him, instead looking intently below. “Do you see that down there?”
Samuel squinted. “Yes,” he said excitedly. His mouth suddenly went dry.
“Take the safety off, look through the scope, line that jackrabbit up in the crosshairs, and let ‘em have it. Shoot ‘em,” he said. His dad was so close to him that he could smell the coffee on his breath, and he noticed how the morning light glinted off of his blonde whiskers, making them look orange. He did what his dad told him. His breath cloud spilled out around the steel mechanisms of the gun as he squeezed the trigger. The gun spit out a sharp snap that bounced around in the big Montana sky.
“You missed,” his dad said flatly. “Next time, keep your eyes open when you pull the trigger.” They walked down toward where the rabbit had been. “Look,” his father said, “you can see this here is where he was sitting, and here is where your bullet went. Pretty close.” He sounded surprised.
They endlessly walked around the barren fields looking for jackrabbits that weren’t to be found. “We’d better get back,” His father finally said. As they walked back, he stopped short, as he had before. “There’s a cottontail,” he said. “Do you want to take a shot?”
“Sure,” Samuel said, taking the safety off and lining the dirty brown bunny up in his crosshairs. He held his breath, pulled the trigger, and the neat; clean, sharp snap of the bullet echoed around the sky again.
“I think you got ‘em,” his dad said. “There’s another one,” he said, turning and pointing to another cottontail. Samuel raised his gun again and squeezed the trigger. The rabbit dropped, lifeless.
“That ‘a boy,” he said, and ruffled Samuel’s hat. They briskly walked toward the rabbits, where they found a splotched trail of blood leading into a batch of briars. “Just leave that one,” his dad said. “It’s not worth fishing out.” He then walked over to the other one, grabbed it by its hind foot, and held it up to Samuel’s face. Its limp body swung back and forth, echoing his dad’s movements. Samuel had shot it just above the eye, and its skull had caved in, denting its head.
That night, Samuel had a hard time sleeping. When he finally fell asleep, he dreamt he was lying underneath a briar patch in the moonlight, and he couldn’t catch his breath. He felt a sharp pain in the side of his head, just above his eye. He reached up and felt a hole where the pain was. He felt crushed puzzle pieces of skull bone beneath his fingertips. He heard flies as they buzzed around, and he felt their little feet walking across his forehead. He tried to swat them away, but couldn’t move his arms. He panicked and tried to get away, but his entire body wouldn’t respond. He felt his bladder empty in panic, and he saw the dirt beneath him darken and turn to mud.
“You wet the bed,” he heard his father say, and he found himself groggy, standing in the middle of a strange, bright bathroom without pants on. His dad was washing his legs with a warm washcloth and helped him step into dry shorts. Samuel began to cry and buried his head in the nook of his dad’s neck. “It’s not worth crying about,” he said. “We all make mistakes.”
Jason Fisk is a husband to one, a father of two, and a teacher to many. He lives in the suburbs of Chicago. He has a cohesive collection of short stories titled, Hank and Jules, and is also the author of Salt Creek Anthology, a collection of micro-fiction published by Chicago Center for Literature and Photography; the fierce crackle of fragile wings, a collection of poetry published by Six Gallery Press; as well as two poetry chapbooks, The Sagging: Spirits and Skin, and Decay, both published by Propaganda Press. For more information, feel free to check out: jasonfisk.com.