Twelve years ago…
“You stay alert now, boy.”
Brett nodded, glancing over at his father, sitting next to him in the camouflage tent. He took a swig of beer, and Brett averted his eyes.
A snapping sound to his left caught Brett’s attention and he looked over to catch sight of a doe. It sauntered near the edge of the clearing he and his father were watching. It grazed on some leaves from some brush, oblivious to the danger it was in.
Brett’s heart immediately began to thump furiously in his chest.
The doe was beautiful, with large black eyes, and muscles that moved just beneath a coat of velvety brown fur. It was graceful and lovely. It didn’t seem right to kill a creature so pure.
“I don’t think we’re going to catch any deer today, Pa,” Brett said loudly, hoping to startle the doe away.
“Not with you yammering on like that, we won’t,” his father muttered. “But we came out here to make a man out of you, and that’s what we’re gonna do, if we have to stay out here all damn week. You hear me, boy? You’re returning home a man, with your first kill in hand.”
“A man,” Brett repeated automatically, two worlds at war with one another inside him. On one hand, he wanted to please his father. More than anything, he wanted his acceptance. He wanted to make him proud, to have his father look at him like he looked at his brother. But on the other hand, there was the doe. Not just the one doe, but many other animals he would be forced to snuff out for the sake of pleasing his father. Yes, they would make use of the animal. They would eat its meat, maybe sell its coat. But he would have to kill it. And he didn’t want to do that.
“There,” his father breathed, slapping Brett lightly on the shoulder. “See that there? Didn’t have to wait too long after all.”
Brett swallowed hard as he watched the deer saunter into the meadow. For a moment, the doe looked around warily, suspiciously, like it knew they were there.
Bolt, Brett pleaded silently. Go away, and never return.
But the doe seemed satisfied that it was in no real danger, and returned to grazing, head down.
“Just like I showed you now,” his father whispered. “Nice and easy.”
Brett breathed deeply and held the hunting rifle to his eyes. He had the doe in his sights.
After a moment, his father sniffed. “What are you waiting for? We ain’t got all day here. Shoot it before it gets spooked.” He grabbed Brett’s arm roughly. “I didn’t raise no mamma’s boy. You ain’t no faggot, are you? Shoot that doe down, and do it now.”
“Yes, sir,” Brett managed. He let out another deep breath and got the doe in his sights again. His hands shook slightly under his fingers.
“That’s it,” his father instructed softly. “Now, just squeeze the trigger.”
Brett intentionally let his rifle slide just to the left of the doe, and squeezed the trigger.
The shot went wide, sending up a spray of dirt near the doe’s head and startling it. In the blink of an eye, the doe had darted away.
“God damn, mother fucker!” Brett’s father raged, jumping to his feet and swatting his baseball cap against the tent walls.
“I’m sorry,” Brett said weakly.
“Sorry? You’re sorry?” Brett’s father grabbed him by the front of the shirt. “We are going to sit here until you bag us a deer. You hear me? Or are you some kind of lily-livered faggot?”
“No, sir. No,” Brett cried, struggling weakly against his father’s iron grip.
Brett’s father shoved him to the ground in disgust.
“Next time,” his father spat. “Your aim will be true, or you ain’t no son of mine.”