Moby Deer by Josh Gross
The morning dew was still dripping from the leaves, and the sound of a branch snapping wasn’t far away. From where he stood—or, was it hiding?—behind the bush, the noise seemed as if it could be as close as an arm’s length.
“Do you think it’s him?” Fran whispered.
“Sssh!” he fired back. “You’ll scare him off.” Then Owen removed the compound bow from his back, and delicately counted to three on his fingers, finishing with a hand-signal for them to move forward.
The two boys slowly stepped around the bush and peered out into the big meadow behind the Anderson property. The sight awaiting them stopped them both dead in their tracks: a 10-point buck stood stripping berries and leaves from a large bush. He was lean, graceful, and bright white from nose to tail. The only blemish was to his magnificence was the feathered stump of an arrow protruding awkwardly from his right flank. It was weathered and cracked, and it swung in the breeze, hanging in the deer’s hide only by its barbed tip.
“It’s him,” Fran gasped.
“Will you shut up!” Owen said to his little brother. “I’m regretting even bringing you!”
“I was the one who saw spotted him back in town!” Fran protested. “I brought you.”
“Will you be quiet,” Owen hissed. “You’ll scare him off, and then we may never find him again. We got unfinished business, this deer and me. And if he runs off, then it’s you and me that will have unfinished business, if you get my drift.”
Fran looked furious, but he shut up. Owen motioned for him to get down and he complied.
Then Owen inched towards the deer, slowly, delicately. He’d only get one chance at this and he didn’t want to screw it up.
Deer were naturally skittish, but this one stood its ground, simply watching Owen’s advance from the corner of his eye. When Owen got within 10 feet, the deer lifted its head, staring straight at him. It inched back, but didn’t retreat. Owen held his hands up, and backed off a little. Then he swallowed his pride and spoke.
“I’m sorry,” he said. “For what I did to you. I just needed to say it to your face. Maybe it don’t mean nothing to you, being that you’re a deer and all, but for what it’s worth, it won’t ever happen again, to you or none of your kinfolk.”
Then Owen tossed down his bow, and stepped back.
“There,” he said. “It’s yours.”
The deer reared back on its hind legs. Its full height was truly fearsome, and for a hot second Owen regretted the loss of his bow, even if picking it back up would make his apology ring pretty hollow.
But the deer didn’t charge. It went back to all fours, and then trotted off towards the woods, limping slightly where Owen had shot it.
“I thought you were going to finish it,” Fran said. “What was that?”
“Just shut up,” Owen said. “You don’t know nothing about nothing.”
“Can I have your bow if you don’t want it?” Fran asked.
“No,” Owen said. “I gave it to the deer.”
“That’s stupid,” Fran said.
“Probably,” Owen said. “But that’s how it is.”
This story was very short but felt very complete. I did not think there was anything else needed to help me understand the situation or main character (Owen). The story evoked a sense of compassion on Owen’s part. I felt as though I knew what Owen was feeling and why he was doing what he did. – Karen Polsgrove