Pete had a clean shot. He set the Mauser’s crosshairs less than a hand’s width behind the buck’s shoulder. Top of the heart—double bonus.
There’s a wad of veins there that’ll drop a deer’s blood pressure to zero in seconds if you clip them just right. Four steps, top side, and the deer will be on the ground. No chasing. The double bonus: most of the blood drains down into the chest cavity—not out into the muscle tissue where it sours the meat.
The buck was the first five-pointer Pete had seen in years—the first buck of any kind he’d seen this close to the house. There was always good clover in the west field, down along the woods, even with snow on the ground. Does feed there year round, but the bucks are just too skittish.
Pete felt a light breeze at his back. The buck was downwind. If it was going to get done, he needed to do it now. His scent would carry to the pasture in seconds. One-one thousand, two-one thousand... Pete knew damn well he was stalling. Three-one thousand, four… The buck raised its head and froze, its black eyes staring straight at the 308. That was quick. He still had a good shot.
Pete thumbed the Mauser’s safety on. He lifted the rifle off of the fence post and watched the buck bolt. It leaped over a skirt of brush and disappeared into the woods, headed south.
Since he had the stints put in, Pete could hardly pull the trigger on a damn five gallon bucket, let alone something with a pulse. His little brush with death had put a serious damper on his wanting to dish it out. Maybe it was the second chance he got. Maybe subconsciously, he felt the need to return the favor—he didn’t know. But to make matters worse—more confusing—all that bullshit his tree-hugging, atheist neighbor had been talking for the past twenty years was starting to make some sense.
“It’s no different than your argument against abortion Pete,” Steve had said.
Pete being the long-time Orthodox Catholic that he was—Latin mass, birth control is for sissies, the whole nine yards—Steve couldn't resist throwing abortion into any mix. Not that Steve was Pro-Choice. He was just anti-religion and well aware of Pete's pressure points.
“You don’t know what part an animal might play in the grand scheme Pete—whose future you might erase by taking its life. Same as with your little fetus friends. What’s to say that frog you shot down at your pond, 'just for the hell of it', won’t trigger a chain of events that terminates the life of the greatest Catholic leader ever—Pope Nearlygod IV. It’s like the Butterfly Effect in those time travel movies. "
“That’s ridiculous. I can’t see how a damn frog…”
“It’s possible Pete.”
“Why take the chance? What’s that Ronald Reagan shit you’re always throwing out? ‘Error on the side of life’.”
“Something like that.”
That’s where Pete had left it. And for years, it was just a bunch of blather floating around in his head, with the rest of Steve’s blather. Until now. Now that Steve was dead, and he’d had a glimpse of the light at the end of the tunnel himself. Why does shit finally make sense on your way out?
Pete didn’t want to admit it, but it wasn’t just a five-point buck he’d seen in the Mauser’s scope—a freezer full of venison. He'd seen the chain, the links, stretched out long past his days on this planet.
Pete shouldered the Mauser and turned toward the house. That sorry son of a bitch was still getting the best of him, two months in the ground. He smiled. Butterfly Effect’s ass. Maybe Michael’s on the way with my grandbabies and my tree-hugger daughter-in-law. And maybe I don’t want to be up to my elbows in deer guts when they get here, and have to listen to more of your shit you crazy old atheist.
Pete let himself in the back door.
The buck cut through the woods, veering south-east toward water, Defeated Creek, just below Highway 174.
Michael adjusted the Escalade’s rearview so he could see the twin’s faces when he told them they were almost to Grandpa’s. The girls lit up and squealed.
“Honey, Tammy’s got some peanut-butter or something on her face,” Michael told his wife.
Carlene, the tree-hugging daughter-in-law, fished a tub of ‘green’ wet-wipes from her bag. She had unbuckled and turned to clean her daughter’s face, so she never saw the deer step out onto the highway, gingerly, as if the asphalt under its hooves was ice.
It might very well have been ice—it tends to stick around the bridges—because for all the compensating the Escalade’s ABS did, the SUV still slid off of the road, missed the guardrail, and plummeted the twenty feet down into Defeated Creek.
Michael instinctively reached for his wife as the truck dropped—to protect her—the girls. He was good about that kind of thing, though he'd argue that they made it easy. There was nothing on Earth more beautiful. And though he loved his dad, he would rather his last thought—before the Escalade rolled, belly-up and landed on its top, which crumpled, mercifully snapping his neck before crushing his skull—would have been about them, and not his father. But who ever gets to plan their last thoughts?
A five-pointer—Dad would have loved to have seen that buck.