I’m still not sure why I decided to come back. Over many phone calls, my father had desperately tried to convince me to come home. Everyone misses you, he said. I rolled my eyes at that. That explains the zero phone calls I’ve gotten from them. He told me that I wouldn’t have to take care of Cyrus anymore, this time he’d be home. He paused for a few moments. “You can use your gun,” he said.
I’m sitting on the floor of what used to be my bedroom, now a guest room in the house. The furniture is bare and dusty, my suitcase tossed in the center of the room.
I look around the room. Gray tinted lighting cast the room in shadows. A thick coat of stark industrial white polish covers what used to be fawn-brown on the walls. Behind the layer of white paint next to the bed, I can still make out the faint outlines of all the stickers of my childhood heroes that I had plastered on the wall. Gone are my dart board, my toy rifles, my posters and my trophies.
Outside the window, I can see the lush greenery of the woods nearby. It is spring. Spring is hunting season.
I pull out my rifle case from under the bed. I click the snaps and take out the gun, a Winchester .22, tilting the stock at the slightest angle so that I can see my reflection in its glossy chestnut surface. It is pumped, beautifully cut, and ready for action. The surface has oily smudges, so I reach for some gun polish and a cloth to clean it. I manage to squeeze a few drops out of the container.
I fell in love with shooting after watching my father shoot tin cans in the woods outside our house. I loved the concentration, the peace. I loved the heat. The woods. The glare of the sun, the cicadas humming a soft, but gradual crescendo in the air, and then the sudden stop in my father’s breath when he had spotted a deer. I followed him and shared in his pride when he won local competitions. I desired to do the same. I had imitated his honed techniques and made them my own in my imagination. Squared shoulders, the gun’s stock against my cheek, legs a foot apart, and the left side of my shoulder facing the target.
Once, I was alone in my room practicing his poses. My father opened the door to tell me something and stopped mid-sentence. He just smiled and said nothing.
Then one day, crippled by the pain in his back, my father gave up hunting. He had a moist look in his eye as he handed me the rifle case. Take care of it, he said.
Polishing the gun every night became a ritual for me. I would march around my room with an unloaded gun propped upright in my arms just like in the movies. When I couldn’t fall asleep at night, I would practice shooting postures.
When I could, I would take the gun to shoot tin cans outside. I would satisfy myself by doing this every day in the summer. And one time, my father happened to be watching when I had shot ten tin cans in a row.
“My son’s a deadeye at shooting,” he would say to relatives, who had a disapproving look but would still offer their congratulations. Shooting became the only thing I could claim as my talent. When school came around, I practiced shooting every weekend. I tried my hand at shooting competitions and even ranked top ten in the state competitions.
That’s how it was two years ago. Then my gun was taken away, locked in a safe inside the house.
I hear my brother Cyrus stop as he walks past the open door. I turn my back to him and ease the gun into its tray. From the corner of my eye, I can tell that he grew taller. He is elbowy, awkward and somehow even leaner than he was before. His cowlicked brown hair swoops toward me like a tattle-tale finger. And yes, he still wears his plaid shirt and khaki shorts that my mom picked out for him.
Cyrus leans against the door frame. He tells me how empty the house was the past year, how terrible it was eating mom’s meatloaf every week, and how boring middle school is. “I bet this room isn’t as nice as yours back in Choate.” He takes a seat on the carpet, his back now leaning against the door frame. He asks if I missed him.
I stare at him suspiciously. Sure, I say.
He's waiting for me to say more.
I tell him I missed him so much. “So much that I traveled all the way to freaking Connecticut.”
He looks at me in disbelief.
“Well, what did you expect?” I say. “Don’t act like you did me a favor by getting my gun confiscated from me. Not that you’d remember.”
I click the gun case shut, and I shake the gun cleaner solution in his direction.
“I recall this being full,” I say.
He pauses. Cyrus looks like he wants to confess something to me but shrugs it off. I can tell that he’s trying to act normal, pretending like he hasn’t scrounged around in my room. The thought annoys me. While my gun was confiscated from me, he had gotten the chance to put his sweaty hands all over it. He asks whether I’m going to use my gun. He says that a week ago he got a new gun himself, a model more expensive than mine.
“How shocking,” I say. “Cyrus the Great, secretly a bad boy.”
I hear my mom call to come down for lunch. Cyrus stands up and glances at me quickly. I don’t move. I have no intention of eating dinner with them. In a moment, my mom walks in the room. She looks at me and scowls at the gun case in front of me. Then she turns to Cyrus and tells him that his favorite food, fishcakes, are ready for him on the table.
I hear the clicks of a rifle in Cyrus’ room. I sigh and put my rifle in my hands back in the case. It is my favorite weather for hunting - mildly cool from last night’s rainfall but with a hint of sun. However, I do not want to run into Cyrus.
I don’t want anything to do with Cyrus. I resent him. I resent him for all the mornings when I had to yell for twenty minutes to get him to wake up. For all the days I’ve had to go to school on an empty stomach because he ate another helping of food in the morning. For all the nights that I’ve had to tuck him in bed, pack up his books, and cook him food when my father was away on all his business trips. And when Cyrus would show off his yellow stars and mock my papers marked with red ink saying “try again.” And when my relatives would nag me and say “Why can’t you be more like Cyrus?” And the day when he messed everything up and then got my gun confiscated.
Through the crack of the door, I see him open the door, gun in hand, and make his way down the steps with his gun, carefully placing his weight so that the steps wouldn’t creak. When he leaves the door, I grab the gun and go after him. I don’t know why I did. I felt I had to.
My feet echo the soft thuds of Cyrus running ahead of me on top of the spring leaves. I protectively hold my Winchester .22 rifle snug across my chest. My legs are wearing away. It’s been a while since I have run. Concentrate, I think. Don’t slow down.
I see him ahead now at the green haze of trees past a camouflaged path of dirt and grass curving in an S-shape through all the oak trees. The trees lash and clash with each other, their outstretched claws blocking the clouds. Crows, woodpeckers, and crickets fill the air, along with a mysterious creaking sound. A gusty wind blew through the strands of my hair, carrying along a thick, mildewed smell of nectar. From this angle, I see the young, white spotted deer that Cyrus is pursuing.
Cyrus has already gained some distance. I push myself to catch up. A small yellow sign catches the corner of my eye. I slow down to focus on what it says. It warns: “DANGER: HIGH VOLTAGE.” I feel a chill run down my spine.
I remember a hunt a few years back, in a week of on and off rain. Come to my house, I said to my friend Caleb. We can both go hunting. He looked worried. “Don’t worry, I know every bush and tree in the woods,” I said. So, we took off together, Cyrus tagging along.
After walking for thirty minutes, we spotted a fawn ahead of us in the clearing. Caleb started ahead of me. Then, Cyrus started complaining about how I never showed him how to use my gun. Still whining, he tried to yank the gun out of my hands, and I kept shoving him away. I heard a cry in the distance, and I realized Caleb was not here.
A few minutes later, I found Caleb. He was now a distorted figure at the bottom of the twenty-foot pit, oozing with mud. A crimson gash was stabbed on his forehead. The white of his shirt was unrecognizable with his sapping blood. The smell of rusted iron-tainted the air, and the yellow danger sign that I passed by lingered in my head. It was my fault. I hadn’t noticed that he got lost. Caleb spent weeks in the hospital, his neck and arms molded into a stiff cast. I visited him every day.
That was the end of hunting for me. When I returned home that afternoon, my father was waiting. Cyrus stood behind him. My father told me I wasn’t paying attention to Caleb and hadn’t been responsible during the hunt. “You’re not ready to own a gun.” He put out his hand.
The yellow sign flickers into my view, half hidden behind the layers of trees. No! I yell in my head. My legs are bolting, charging off of the tree roots. The weight in my legs vanish. I push myself to catch up. I stare at his figure, seconds away from the sign, still following the deer. I know this area. I’ve seen this same moss-covered log that extends from the base of the hill to the side of a tree. In twenty feet lies high voltage electric lines, covered by layered thickets of trees. A hysterical animal-like yell erupts from me. “CYRUS!”
He doesn’t stop. I scream some more, with no response. There’s only one way to stop him. I pull up my rifle. I jam a bullet inside the barrel. Aim for the shoe. I drop to my knees. I square my shoulders, tilting my left one to face Cyrus, and the butt of the stock against my neck and legs bent a foot apart. With the firing pin of the slung back, I squint my eyes to pinpoint his right shoe. This is it. Just shoot like you always do.
Thick smoke from the bullet erupts in volcanic clouds, and then a high-pitched ripping crack follows without delay. Crap. His body jerks high in the air, and then stiffens and goes slack as he slams into the ground face first. I drop the rifle and run up to him. A dark red rupture is stabbed on the heel of his right foot, his skin ripped open to reveal a growing pool of blood. His foot is locked in an awkward angle. It should’ve hit his shoe.
I turn him over. Only then does he see the power lines. His eyes hover and then focus on mine. They are like chips of emerald ice faceted by a drill. “I thought you didn’t care” his voice is unstable, close to a whisper.
I open my mouth to respond. The words I willed myself to say – where are they?
Then they come to me. “Always, Cyrus” I close my eyes, and the cool air whispers to my cheek. “Always.”