Aphelion Issue 275, Volume 26
August 2022
 
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Finding Our Voices

by Richard Tornello



It was dusk when the lone gray wolf viewed the stag and doe from a downwind location. He was sated; blood still stained his muzzle. Still, his predator's instincts would not allow him to ignore potential prey.

"They can't travel too far," he thought, guessing at the boundaries of their territorial range. With humans spreading further every year, it must be smaller than it once would have been, an easy day's trot. The wolf was old and he was smart. "No use spending energy just for the chase. I'll save it for when needed. Besides I don't want to be observed by the humans. I am too close to their habitat." He had no defense against their technology except stealth.

Purely to test the stag's alertness, he exhaled loudly, a sound just short of a sneeze.

The buck's ears pricked up and his head turned toward the wolf. He sensed danger, but could not see the wolf, motionless in the shadows. "No movement..." Ever so slowly he led his mate away from the area. The buck did not like something about this place. He trusted his feelings. He has lived a long time too. He headed for the small back woods road. There he stood and noticed the light.

The wolf followed from a distance, saw the stag stop by the road, viewed the vehicle lights and thought. "Another case of road kill?" The lights stopped. "There is something wrong there. Get down." In his mind, the warning is meant for the stag too. The wolf crouched lower, belly to the ground, only his eyes moving.

####

I was having dinner at Ciro's, my favorite Italian restaurant, with my mate, stepdaughter, her husband, and their six-month-old. I, pleasantly known as "Evil-Step-Dad" or Paw-Paw, had just sat down with a glass of red wine that I got from the bar after saying hello and partaking in the usual banter with the staff and owner. To the staff I was Mr. T, to Ciro, it was "Hey Pisano," and then a hand shake and a hug.

I breathed in deep and let out a long relaxing sigh after a rough day. No one paid any attention. Who cared anyway? It was Friday.

The server, Suzanna, was making her usual sarcastic remarks at my expense. "You know him?" She pointed to me and looked at my stepdaughter.

"Yes, unfortunately. He married my mom and we're stuck with him," my stepdaughter said with a laugh.

"You poor, poor girl," Suzanna said. Then she gave me a poke.

"Wait and see if you get a tip," I grumbled.

"You should not have said that before I served you. That was not very smart." Turning to the others, she said, "Him, I ignore. What would you all like to start with?" She already knew what I liked so there was no problem there. The drink order was made, stepson-in-law a beer, wife a glass of white wine, and stepdaughter a coke. With my Chianti already in hand, we added some appetizers to the list.

As Suzanna left to fill our order, a young couple squeezed by our booth. The man's muscular arm, protruding from a too-tight t-shirt with a "U.S. Marine Corps" logo, brushed up against stepson-in-law's shoulder. "Excuse me! I'm sorry. I didn't mean to..."

My stepdaughter looked up and smiled in recognition. "Eric, how are you?"

He turned around, looked at my stepdaughter, smiled, noticed stepson-in-law and smiled wider. Stepdaughter explained that the three of them knew each other from school, work and parties.

Polite introductions were made. The young wife's name was Francine. Francine, who was very pregnant, was directly in front of my face. I looked at her and ask, "How are you doing? Would you care for a seat?"

And after a deep intake of air, she said, "I'm due in a week," and then sighed, "No thanks, we were just leaving." She looked up at her husband.

I had to look at her. I had no choice from my seat. From the back, as she walked, her waddle would have been the only obvious sign that she was pregnant. It was all in front.

Since dinner had not started, a three way conversation soon began. Her husband ignored her cue to exit; they weren't leaving anytime soon. The conversation kept going between my stepdaughter, stepson-in-law, and Eric, who seemed to not pick up on Francine's increasing discomfort. Francine was quiet and didn't say much of anything, but her expression made her feelings clear to me, at least.

I sipped my wine and played with my granddaughter, making her giggle. Francine's frown changed. Children can do that.

Looking at the insignia on Eric's shirt, attempting to be polite, I asked, "Are you in the Corps?"

Eric grinned, probably flattered that I thought he looked like a soldier. "No, sir, but I like to show my support for our troops any way I can."

My stepdaughter, doing her part to keep the conversation moving, said to Eric, "Did you know my stepfather is a nationally ranked competition shooter?"

"Interesting," Eric said. "I'm a hunter myself." Eric mentioned something else about shooting and complained about gun control laws, which, I began to suspect, had been written with his type in mind. He stopped in mid sentence and asked me, "What type of guns do you shoot? Do you carry?"

"No," I said carefully. "I could never see a reason to tote firearms around with me. I used to shoot the full course, but now I just have use a .22 -- an FWB 92®. It's strictly a competition engineered weapon with a Docter red dot."

"So you don't have a carry permit?" Eric asked.

"I am licensed, but as I said, I choose not to carry. Why do you ask?"

Apparently either he isn't paying attention, or I have missed some clue as to where he wants to take the conversation.

"Do you hunt?"

"I don't hunt except when I go food shopping at Whole Foods ®. I enjoyed the bulls eye competition for a number of years. And then it became the Zen, the Art of Shooting. For that the FWB was enough. I sold my other weapons."

The look on his face told me he didn't understand and he wasn't sure how to take that.

I said, "I haven't shot it in a while," not wanting to explain some of my feelings about the sport and some of the people involved.

Eric, ignoring the looks his wife was giving him, puffed up and continued, "A friend of mine, Mike--" He paused, as if I was supposed to know the man. "-- He has a Walther® .22."

I nodded as if to say "Yes, I know the make."

Eric took this as a sign to continue. And then he began the story I guess he had wanted to tell since the word 'shooting' entered the conversation.

"You know Braddock Road? The area where it's real dark?"

Boy, was he excited. There was something distinctly ugly about the look in his eyes.

"The area where the trees cover the road, you know."

"The place where the trees make an umbrella that can hide a full moon?" I asked, hoping to bring things to a close before Francine went into labor.

"You know the place. Well... one night," he said, beaming, "one night, we, Mike the guy I mentioned, we were driving home right about there. When all of a sudden, Mike, my friend, the guy with the .22, said, 'Stop the car. Turn the engine off, dim the lights too.'"

Eric stopped and looks around to see who else is in listening range. The restaurant was empty in our section. Then he continued in a hushed tone as if to give color to his story, "I did it. I asked him, 'Stop? Why, what's up? Got to take a leak?'"

"Mike said, 'No... Look, down there just off the road in the bushes, to the left. Do you see that buck over there, at the edge of the road, just staring at us? I saw the eyes reflect as we crested the hill.'

Eric continued, "Holy shit! Would you believe, he pulled out this .22 and slowly slid out of the car. He fired. I saw the flash from the muzzle and then we heard this loud snort and a sound like air escaping. The buck jumped and took off."

"Mike was ecstatic. 'Did you hear that?', he said. 'I never heard anything like that before, have you? That was awesome. I think I got him. Pretty good for a .22, especially a short barrel,' he says."

Eric laughed. "We both thought that was pretty good, hit a deer with a short barrel .22 pistol. That's good freaking shooting," I said to him. 'Wow, Mike let's take a look.'"

"But Mike said, 'No, tomorrow when it's light. It's a deer. There are so many of them. Not to worry. I'll get you early before church.'"

"Mike picked me up in the morning and we went back to where we saw the buck. The brush was thick but we could follow the tracks. About 100 yard in, in a small clearing. there he was, dried blood stains down his body from his mouth; dead with a shot to the neck.

"I tell Mike, not giving it another thought except that we should be leaving, 'Nice Shot. It looks like it hit his neck and then to his lungs. That must have been the deep snort or whatever it was we heard.'"

Francine just looked at him.

Oblivious to her expression, Eric finished his story. "Mike says, 'Yeah, not bad for a .22. Let's go.'"

I responded to Eric's story. "Yes, firearms do kill. .22s are as dangerous as any. The Mafia uses them for close in shots. The bullet travels all over the body destroying organs and tissue as it moves. It doesn't exit the body." I thought, You and your pal think killing for the 'sport' of it is worth celebrating. You just stopped your car and let your friend shoot some deer for the fuck of it, and couldn't even be bothered to finish the job! I wanted to say it out loud, to tell him that he and his friend were thugs who shouldn't be allowed to own guns, but didn't have the guts to do it. I told myself that Francine was embarrassed enough, and needed to go home to rest, not listen to a loud argument in a public place, but I knew that I was the one who didn't want to 'make a scene'.

I turned my attention to my wine, and as if he understood this, if not Francine's disgust, Eric ended the conversation and led his wife out the front door. Their vehicle was parked at the far end of the lot close to the tree line.

I took a deep breath, looking through the plate glass window as this man's pregnant wife, ready to give birth in a few days, waddled to their vehicle. I wondered how Eric would feel if some aliens just came down and took a shot at a jetliner, just for the fun of it. How would he feel if his wife and baby were on it?

It was a moonless night, but the light from the restaurant was bright enough that I could still see the trees in the woods swaying in the wind. I sighed and begin a conversation with my wife and family, and then stopped. I wiped some of the marinara sauce as it trickled from the side of my mouth. Something was wrong with the cooking tonight. Dinner was not as good as usual. I had another glass of wine. I let them talk.

####

Treading carefully along, far enough inside the tree line to avoid the unnatural light from the humans' gathering place, the wolf stopped suddenly, his nostrils flaring."That smell," he thought. He turned his head and saw two humans, one a female close to giving birth, climbing into their cave-that-moves. In his mind the wolf saw it again: the cave-that-moves gliding to a halt, the flash of light and crack like the snapping of a thick branch, the voices of the humans. He saw the deer stagger, wobbling, finally collapsing in a small clearing, then left to rot.

"That smell," he thought again. "Life wasted. To take his life would be just. But -- the consequences... More humans would come with sticks-that-kill, more lives would be wasted..."

Tail hanging low, he turned and moved deeper into the woods.

THE END


© 2010 Richard Tornello

This is a work of fiction. All the characters and events portrayed in the story are fictional. Any resemblance to persons living, dead, and incidents, real or imagined elsewhere in this or any other universe or time-space setting is purely coincidental.

Steel Mouse Trap Publications, LLC

South Riding VA 20152

Bio: Richard Tornello is a business owner/consultant/technical recruiter with 28+ years experience, married and kept by one very neurotic cat Stella. He has a degree from Rutgers University in Asian Studies. Richard's poetry and fiction has appeared a number of times in Aphelion (with one or more poems almost every month!); most recently, his story SolidCold appeared in the March 2011 edition.

E-mail: Richard Tornello

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