Horror in Not-So-Still-Life

In the late 80s, one of my mother's younger sisters was married to an actual Great White Hunter. I'll only refer to him as Uncle Herbert (which isn't his real name and though it wouldn't bother me to just use his first name, I still don't feel that comfortable mentioning his real name), and his house was a monument to his desires. From elephant feet made into stools, to polar bear rugs, and to the assorted types of deer, who's heads were mounted in every space that could accommodate them. As a child, I was horrified by the sight, and never wanted to sleep there. All those dead eyes, just staring into nothingness, forever trapped on a wall or a rug that a child found comfort from the deer that could come to life and sudden trample over him, his sisters, and his mom. This situation will not due, and this was the man we were meeting up with around mid-morning.

We had reached the massive water trough that was are designated meet up with Uncle Herbert a bit ahead of schedule. There was a group of doves taking a break and drinking some water from the massive trough.

"Go ahead, shot'em."

"Nope can't do that. If they aren't in the air, then it's not fair." I was proud of that statement and even understood it. I wasn't there just to shoot, in fact, I was there to hunt, and way more often than not, hunt carefully, quietly and with the upmost respect towards the animal lives I'll take for food. My step-father wanted nothing to do with that. Before a I realized it, he had his shotgun up and fixed on a few doves on the trough.


Not only did birds scatter from bushes all around us, but the ones he was shooting at disappeared behind the massive barrel trough. It caught me so much by surprise that I'd jumped away from him instinctively.

He had just laughed.

It wasn't much later that my Uncle Herbert showed up with his shotgun over his shoulder, smiling. He never smiled often, and when he had done so, it was like staring into the smile of a predator looking for its next meal. He smiled down on me.

"So, John, you ready to urn your stripes today?"

"You bet, Uncle." There was real excitement on that day for me. I liked the idea of hunting animals for food. It sounded like a normal thing to like, so no matter how sinister my Uncle was trying to be, nor how unsportsmanlike my step-father was going to be, I was gonna bring something home to eat.

After a couple hours had dragged on, I always thought that the shot from earlier chased most of the game away, there were dozens and dozens of finches pecking the ground where the earth was still soft from last night's rain. I watched them trying to pull out earth worms or small beetles.

"Shoot them," suggested Uncle Herbert.

"What?" I was honestly confused.

"Go on, shoot'em."

"I can't do that."

"I said," Uncle Herbert put his hand on his gun as if to remind me he had it, "shoot them."

I was trembling and terrified. The idea of shooting a bunch of finches, I had called them Tweety-Birds, after the Loony Tunes character, horrified me. Slowly I lifted my shotgun to my shoulder as my eyes began to water with tears. Out of the corner of my eye I could see my Uncle and my step-father, as they sat side-by-side, watching me.

"Com'on now, we ain't got all day."

Dozens and dozens of them. I aimed, and pulled the trigger. The blast killed maybe ten or so right away, but the chirping cries of shock and pain filled the air. As I lowered my gun to my side, I was full on sobbing as I stood there, frozen, watching dozens of finches flop about like raw ground chuck in a frying pan of oil and water.

"Well, don't just stand there. Snap their neck so they don't suffer."

I just stood there, unable to look away.

"Goddammit! Stop that noise and snap their necks already," my step-father finally chimed in.

Slowly I moved out to the nearest chick, bent down, took their tiny body and half exposed skull in my hand, and snapped. I don't remember how many I had done that to, but I had never gone hunting since then.


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