“Down the Barrel” by Max Van Sickle

The sound of shots echoed throughout the air. But he wasn’t focused on them. His eyes were focused on the bird in front of him. He squeezed the trigger and it fell from the sky. He twisted his body and another fell, and another, another, another, and another, easy peasy. He lifted his gun, and set the stock to the ground as he admired at his prize. He grabbed up his hunting knife, just in case he didn’t kill the birds on hit, and he was smiling as he walked over to the carcasses. 

.     .     .

As his daydream faded and his mind focused back to reality and he felt the two o’clock Waco, Texas sun felt like a baking hot towel burning his face as he trudged through the dried up farm land, counting the individual grains of sand. His boots scraped the ground with every slow and treacherous step. The occasional dead tree cast long shadows in which lizards and snakes made their temporary hideout to escape the heat. The expensive orange sunglasses were perched on the top of his head. Pushing his ragged brown hair backwards. The only thing that was blocking out the sun was his visor, so beat up that the logo was unreadable. His hand felt sweaty under his hunting gloves. The supplies in his bag were limited, a half bottle of water and a peanut butter and honey sandwich. He could resupply at base, where all of the other hunters were, which was 2 miles away, too far to make it before sundown.

The ten boxes of shells were stuffed into his messenger bag as well, but he had used none of them. The 3.5 foot twelve gauge shotgun was settled onto his shoulder and supported by his hand. He had won the shotgun last year in the skeet shooting competition and he treasured it ever since. He had never shot a bird before, but he considered himself a good shooter because he had practiced for two years on skeet. As picked up his pace, the clang of his silver dog tags surprised him and made him look up. He scanned the horizon, nothing. There had been nothing all day and he was very close to giving up. He kicked at the sand and the dust clouded his vision. As his eyes refocused he could barely make out the white outline of a dove. His estimation was six hundred feet away, traveling at about ten miles per hour, towards the barrel of his shotgun. The golden bead at the end of the barrel was piercing the breast of the bird. He was slightly leaning forward, ready for the kick. The stock was pressed tightly to his cheek as he held the gun close His quick glance confirmed that his safety was off. 300 yards, twenty seconds out. He pictured his shot, pull the trigger when the dove is 20 yards away, lead it a bit so the pellets will hit perfectly, and recover from the kick, look and see if it hit. His mouth cracked into a smile, this was it, this, was, it.  

200 yards, 190 yards. 

Soon, he started to reconsider. 

“Don’t do it,” one side of him said, it’s a life, it’s a living being and it doesn’t deserve to die, it doesn’t deserve to die.”

“Do it,” the other side of him said, “you will come back with nothing if you don’t and your first hunt will be a failure.”  He shook his head to get himself out of his head and focused back onto the dove. 

120. 110. 

Time slowed as the bird got closer, his hands started to twitch, but he kept his finger trigger steady.

90, 80. 

He thought of what the bird was thinking, never going to know what happened, one second alive, and one second dead. He started to reconsider. At this point he realized that shooting a bird in real life was not as easy as he thought it was. His daydream was nothing like this. 

“It doesn’t deserve it,” he kept saying to himself, it doesn’t deserve it. 

“Do it, do it,” he kept saying to himself. “Pull the trigger.”

65, 60.  

The dove seemed like it started flying even slower. He held the gun even closer to himself and focused his eyes down the barrel. 

55, 50. 

The pointer finger resting on the trigger was tense, ready to squeeze. His left eye closed letting his right eye focus. 

50, 45.

The dove flew even slower. He could see it very clearly now. Its beady eyes staring at its destination, the horizon.

45, 42.

Its wings swiftly moving up and down in one graceful movement. 

42, 38.

Its breast puffing in and out. 

35, 32.

Its head raised proud and free. 

32, 30. 

The symbol of peace, hope, love, joy, freedom, and the Holy Spirit. 

30, 28.

“You’re going to shoot it? The symbol of almost everything nice and good? Shoot it, right here, right now? With a shotgun?” He said to himself again. 

26, 24

“But you have no choice, do you really want your first actual hunt to be a failure? Do you really want to say “nothing” when your friends ask what you got?”  

24, 23. 

People will laugh at you, if you have nothing in your hands.” 

“But you can’t, can you?”

22, 21. 

He looked at the bird one more time, taking in its beauty and squeezed the trigger and……..click.               

© Max Van Sickle, The Logan School for Creative Learning, Denver CO


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