Jackson never liked hunting much in the dead of winter, but still he sat up in the tree wearing his fuzzy orange hat embroidered with the black eight-point buck and waited for his last opportunity to line his wall with another deer mount and fill his freezer with venison. He had been there since the morning, had watched the sun rise high in the sky, and now watched as it began to sink below the horizon in a fiery orange blaze. The cold bit his nose and numbed it, but the lightly falling snowflakes melted instantly when they dared to touch his warmer cheeks. The nakedness of the gray trees was amplified by the white snow that completely covered the ground. The grayscale of the forest around him turned even darker and he listened to the loud silence of the cold as it froze and cracked the molecules in the air.
Just before the light faded completely, he saw a graceful gray shadow step into the clearing, and he took aim and fired. The shadow ran, stumbled, and fell, and Jackson gave chase. He found the deer pulsing in a heap on the ground, its breath labored and ragged while Jackson’s own breathing and heart accelerated as though he were absorbing the life of the deer. He stared into its glassy eyes until the shine faded and the deer stopped breathing, silent and still in the snow. Jackson took out his knife, slit the deer’s belly up to its chest, and scooped the dripping and warm red and pink mounds of the deer’s life into the pure white snow beside it.
It wasn’t until he was done, stood, and wiped the blood from the blade of his knife on his camouflage pants that he saw the eyes. He tried to count—eleven, thirteen, no seventeen pairs of sparkling golden eyes stared at him. Gray shadows with golden eyes stepped forward in a circle and surrounded him. A little fawn with white spots broke out from the circle. It flicked its tail, its spindly legs leaving tiny imprints in the snow as it moved towards him. As the fawn got close, Jackson dared to reach his hand out and touch its nose just for a moment. It was warm and moist, like the innards seeping into the snow below him. The fawn snorted, jerked, and lowered its head, baring its teeth. Jackson saw it then—not the thick molars of an herbivore—but the thin, razor-sharp teeth of a carnivore. Sixteen other sets of teeth glinted in the moonlight as the herd moved forward. They didn’t need guns—there was nowhere for Jackson to run.
About the Author: Molly Houser is a writer, runner, seamstress, and geocacher, with a MA in English and a focus in Creative Writing from Kansas State University. Originally from Michigan, she is currently living in the Missouri Ozarks of the Mark Twain National Forest with her children and husband.