A faceful of buckshot is just supposed to make the kids at home think it’s fatal, but to the face it rearranges your mouth so it’s up is down and left is right and maybe gives you a sooty black new mask. It’s only when it hits the heart that he has cause to fake his death, to gasp for air and clutch his chest and confess all to his tearful hunter before shouting that it’s getting dark, to cough and sputter his last breath.
And the man always falls for it, too. Through a flood of tears he vows to put away the rifle for all time and be just a millionaire with a mansion and a yacht. Or maybe, if he got lucky, his prey would in an instant be a prey of a different kind, the most beautiful woman he had ever let get away when he was a younger man, the most beautiful actualization of what could have potentially been had he chased skirts instead of tails, a lucid dream he savors right up to when the furry lips smack his bachelor’s face dry.
No wonder he always hunts on Sundays. It’s become a church service to him, first the thrill of power over a life smaller than himself, then the pain of realizing it’s gone and he took it away. It’s the way he witnesses how small he is in creation, or at least that’s what he tells himself each time the tears flow anew.
Which is why this time, when his prey just never got back up, when it didn’t sputter and cough, and when he heard no violins playing over its weeping, neither did he weep himself.
He looks down on the still body at the wake and remembers a time when he might have even been his friend, long ago when the answer to all life’s problems was to hoot and pogo jump into the horizon. Could he even remember a time when his first words could have been something so wonderful, so freeing, as don’t let it worry you skipper, I’m just a crazy darn fool duck, or I’m so crazy I don’t even know this is impossible! Would that he could tell this skipper not to let it worry him. Would that even he could believe anything that was once impossible was possible now.
What really was it that made him so angry, so unlike himself before? What did he care which season it was? That’s the funny thing about convincing the man with the gun that it’s the other guy’s season. Sometimes you’re right, and it is the other guy’s season, until, of course, it isn’t anymore, and it isn’t ever again. In the end it always becomes your season, and it stays that way until it’s your turn.
He excused himself from the service and told the man to hit him square in the face again. Aren’t you worried you’re going to end up like him one day he asked as he cocked the empty shell out of his gun. I’m always worried he replied, and it’s because I know one day I’m going end up like him he sobbed through his beak from the back of his head. At least like this I get to feel something before I go he muttered as he spun it back under his eyes.
The wake ended and they skipped the funeral and went straight to the meal. It was what they all wanted, wasn’t it? They were hunters all. For what else did they load their double-barrel shotguns and six or seven or eight or nine-shooters with all the bullets they needed to never reload a day in their lives? And so it was time to make the hasenpfeffer.
The chef thought back to his old boss before, why did he try to tell him it was only carrots? Why didn’t he trust the cookbook he had read before? Was he trying to prepare him for this day, for this very stew? Or, knowing that he had a lot to prove as the shortest man who ever lived, would it have even made a difference? Would he have let that incomplete melody lie on the piano like a sleeping dog, even if he knew the last correct key was set to explode?
Everyone owed it to his memory to have a bite, and even so did the housecat have a spoonful of stew and regretted his past of hunting his own housemate, for what could yield in meat no more than three times the morsel he had just swallowed, and with beak and feathers and bones and feet and all.
He thought back to a friend of his on the same bad habit, and no longer content to let his housemate’s bigger friends smash his teeth with a mallet, now he’s having recurring dreams of them shattering like glass. For how long was he as well to claim only the canaries circling around the bumps on his head while awaiting the miracle of a real bird in the hand?
Still, it’s not as though he hadn’t tried support groups before.
And what about him, the company’s best customer? Could it be true what he heard, that he was their only customer? What if there was pressure on him to keep on the chase? No doubt there were good people making all those rocket-propelled roller skates and boulder-flinging trebuchets and spring-loaded boxing gloves.Was he to starve himself and so starve all those people, no doubt with families to feed as well?
Was it even he who really failed, then? Was it indeed he who overshot the cliffs and pleaded with a placard prayer for fate to end the picture before he landed, or was it by design that the pendulum always swung back on himself? Will the factories indeed close on that singular day when he pushes the plunger and it blows up his prey instead of rebounding to soot and charred fur on his face?
As he also bit into the tender meat, imagining happy slim pickings of his own back home, he recalled the rules written about him. Like the sun rising or setting, like the moon advancing or receding the tides, he became so predictable that he, and only he among his friends, had been reduced to code, to tenets. And yet there was an allowance in those commandments set in stone, in that all he had to do was give up. Imagine the scriptures allowing the sun the choice to rise up or go down. What if someone gave time itself a chance to stop? No, no matter how fast his prey could run, he was always a little faster, but only enough to overtake him and stop along the road to spring his next trap. The company guarantee.
He found himself going onward in a tunnel underground, just the way he used to travel years ago, like when he like so many his age wanted to make that trip to Coachella. But instead of a light at the end he found someone down below with him. All clever words and catchphrases abandoned him, he padded his pockets and found neither carrots nor dynamite, which was scary because of course everyone has unlimited dynamite.
No he said you are not alive.
It is I who appears before all once-living creatures who still think themselves the protagonist, and so believe to their final breath when my drooping gaze pierces their eyes, and I declare in my ineffable mumbled voice
Hello all you happy people
I’m the hero.
It is in that moment you are alone in the bardo with your deeds and me. Lock yourself in your secret hideout and I will be there behind you. Take a coasting cruise ship to a deserted island and you will find me already there. Pilot a plane yourself to the remotest log cabin and lock all twelve doors behind you and I ask you if you enjoyed your trip. Take a bullet train and bounce around the map like a pinball from New York to Chicago to Miami to Cleveland to Dallas to Hollywood and I will be there to say peek a boo, guess who? Run to the North Pole and you will receive a call from me, coming from inside the igloo. I will surprise you like this for the rest of the picture, even if you run past the film perforations. Dig yourself the deepest darkest hole and my beady eyes will meet yours bugged out in the black. Go to a plastic surgeon and your sins will etch my face onto yours, and even if you could undo that operation you will only see my face on the surgeon staring back at you. I will hound you back to your eternal prison cell, or my droopy eyes will shine a light to burn away your attachments to this world, wash away the black stripes on your white jumpsuit, and send you floating on a cloud haloed and togaed and playing a harp toward heaven.
I should also warn you that there is a highly likely chance we will accidentally walk in on a young lady showering and run away with our tails between our legs as she shrieks and smacks us across the face as she scrambles to cover herself up.
Up or down, it’s up to you.
His guide finished and they came to a stop, and he told him it was up to him to choose the next path. It was then that his soul found the courage it never had in life to take that one turn he had never taken before, in Albuquerque.
As you are, he once was.
As he is, so shall you all be.
Life is waiting for me to stutter out my words, and then to the stew you return.
That is all there was.
That is all there is.
That is all there will ever be.
That’s all, folks.