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a collection of short stories
Killing things. Family and friends wanted me to kill and they took me to their killing rituals. My oldest brother had given me a rifle made in 1906. It was a 33 Winchester. Very few people even know about them, but the slug is like a freight train when he goes through something.
I was 11 years old. It was the first time I went deer hunting with my oldest brother and Don, a brother-in-law. It October— when the mountains are full of maniacs and the aspen trees are golden. We set off before sunrise and started walking up a valley.
Red yelled, "Santiago, you stay up on the south side of the hill. I'll walk down through the middle, and Don can walk up on the north side— so if something comes your way, you just point that thing at it and pull the trigger."
The explosion of the rifle and the way it slammed into my shoulder with that instant acrid smell of gun powder— all of that thrilled me. I didn’t want think about what the gun was supposed to do— what it had been like when I killed.
The first kill, was with the Johnson boys who moved in next door. Jackie, Ray and Lee. They loved killing things. They would invite me to come along to watch them kill. I was seven or eight years old the first time. I didn't know what they were going to do. I didn’t know killing.
Ray the oldest, about 13, took one of the pigeons out of the coupe his father had built. He laid the sacrificial bird out on a board. Jackie and Lee held the bird, pulling its wings out to the side. Ray took a hammer and nailed the bird's wings down. I was fascinated by the pigeon's black eyes and his beak as it opened and closed. A puff of sound was all it made.
“Look at this,” Ray said. He took a knife out of his pocket. It was a switchblade that he was very proud of slinging open.
Jackie, Lee and me watched Ray as he put the point of the blade on the breast of the bird and laughed. He looked up at us, and there was something strange in his eyes. He raised the knife up two inches and put it back down poking the blade into the bird's breast just a little. I gasped and Ray laughed again. He raised the knife again this time six inches and looked at it greedily.
“Come on Ray, kill the fucker,” Jackie said.
“Yeah, kill him, kill him!” Lee chimed in.
I looked at Jackie and Lee. They were smiling, the same smile as Ray. They seemed to feel some kind of excitement that I wanted to feel, but I felt nothing. I just stood there watching, wondering if Ray was going to do it.
Without warning his hand shot up 12 inches then slammed knife down. I expected the bird to scream something like, “Don't kill me,” but the black eyes of the bird just got really big and its beak went wide-open. Silence came out. Its eyes fell like skin curtains— the lids slowly dropped over the glassy black as if the bird was going to sleep. It was almost peaceful, almost a dream. I was fascinated. So that's what death is, like going to sleep.
I couldn't stop thinking about the bird going to sleep, how peaceful, how quiet, how beautiful it was. I wanted to kill something. I wanted to see what it was like to send something quietly to sleep, so instantly. I thought about my lizard. He was a pet I kept in a box. I caught flies and worms and even gave him spaghetti once in a while. I wanted to see if I could send him to sleep. I went into the kitchen and took a knife from the cupboard and came back into my room and caught the lizard. I held him down on my table, but the knife was bigger than the body width. If I stabbed the lizard it would slice him in half. That didn't seem like the thing to do. I put the lizard back into the box and went looking for something a little bit smaller.
On my mother’s is sewing machine there was a big pin cushion with a long needle pin that had a fake pearl on the end of it. It was perfect. It was like a fencing sword in comparison to the size of the lizard.
“Right lizard, this is it,” I said, “you're going to go to sleep buddy.”
I took the pin and placed it the same way Ray had done on the pigeon. I pushed down just a little bit. The lizard nearly jumped out of my hand, and I had to hold a lot harder. It was difficult to raise the pin up and down the way Ray had done the knife, so I decided just to put the point of the pin on the lizard’s chest and push down very slowly to see if I could see him go to sleep. I pushed and the lizard thrashed in my fingers. He didn't want to go to sleep at all. I pushed a little bit harder but the pin was so dull it wasn't going through the lizard’s skin. The lizard was making funny little kissing sounds and its tongue was licking around its mouth. I didn't know whether to stop or push harder. Suddenly the pin went down through the skin and blood spurt out onto my hand. The lizard twisted violently for a few seconds then went completely limp. It was not the same as the pigeon. There was nothing peaceful about what happened in my fingers. I began to feel very bad.
I heard my brother’s scream in the trees at the bottom mountainside below me. His voice echoed across the valley.
“He's coming your way Santiago.”
I didn't know what he meant. I thought maybe it was my brother-in-law coming up to see me and so I stood there not doing anything. I heard limbs and branches cracking. I looked down through the aspen trees and saw something earth colored moving through the white bark.
I didn't think. I raised the rifle and pulled the trigger without aiming. In a millisecond, I heard the explosion of the rifle, I smelled the cordite and I could feel a muscle spasm in my shoulder. I was amazed when the deer fell on its front legs only 10 feet from me. I could see a bright red gash, like bloody lips the size of a quarter on its shoulders. I stood just looking at the deer as it kept trying to get up on its legs while making a grotesque wheezing sound. It kept falling down on its front legs while its rear legs spread out like it was doing the splints.
“Good going Santiago. Ya’got the son of a bitch,” Red yelled as he came running up through the aspen trees. Don was a little further down the hill yelling, “Did he get him, did he get him?”
Red walked around the deer and looked up at me and said “You sure fucked up this hamburger.”
I was kind of bewildered, kind of shocked. It was too easy to knock down a huge deer by squeezing your finger on a little piece of metal. The wheezing sound mixed in with something my brother-in-law was yelling as he ran up to the deer.
“Good Fuck’n shot Santiago! You blew his ass out of the woods!” Don had that smile of the Johnson brothers. So did my brother. I didn’t like the look.
I became aware of the rifle in my hands. It weighed a hundred pounds. I saw my brother’s lips moving but the sound of rasping breath was all I could hear. I slowly walked up to the deer. Pink frothed death bubbles were coming out its nose and mouth. I walked to the other side of the deer and was hit in the eyes like a hand slapping my face.
The bullet hole, the size of a quarter on one side had turned into the size of a dinner plate, smashing bones through the lungs of the deer. The Vesuvius exit of the bullet left a blown-out swamp of bloody dripping meat. The breathing of the deer was gurgled drowning. It was not going to sleep— it was dying a miserable death. I felt bad.