All afternoon James listened to the gunshots echoing off the hills and across the valley. Kids, he thought, wondering if it was safe to venture outside. Hunters were more deliberate. Single-shots, two at the most, early morning hours. Never mid-afternoon.
Molly and Rags were sequestered in the bedroom, door closed, window fan on high to buffer the sound. Poor girls, scared witless. Boom, boom, boom. Echos reverberated across the room once again. Boom, boom, boom.
James wondered what their targets looked like. Were they tin cans and bottles soon to be broken, or the bull’s-eye circles he remember from his childhood, when he stood in those same woods, with a similar gun, practicing his aim, knowing that dinner depended on a single shot to the heart? Those days were long gone now, even though he still couldn’t get squirrel or possum meat at Wal-Mart. It wasn’t as much fun, either, but it was certainly a lot easier than trudging through the woods all day, only to come home to clean the fallen, as well as clean the gun.
Paper targets were a luxury; he remember them fondly. Black and white circles on gray, dreary, recycled paper. James wondered what they were shooting at today. Was it cans or bottles? Or were they bull’s-eye circles, or the shapes of animals, or perhaps even the silhouettes of people? He’d seen them on TV, the people. Cop shows, mostly. Maybe during a shoot ’em up movie like Die Hard or The Matrix. Black bodies and black faces on gray, dreary, recycled sheets of paper. Black bodies full of holes. Given the state of world events, he wondered if they might even be the silhouettes of real people. Perhaps Arabs, Jews, Hispanics or even Muslims. Sadly, all seemed to be the newest “enemies” of the “empire” he called home.
What had the world come to, he asked himself? Hunters used to hunt for food, for sustenance. Today hunters hunted other people, in near and far away lands, for causes both “just” and “unjust”. It used to be so much simpler back then, when it was just squirrels and possums and that big buck that lived down by the river. The one who stared at him as if he owned the world. James felt like an outsider every time he saw him, powerless to even pull the trigger. Every time they met it was as if he was being scolded by the one who belonged, the one who escaped into the brush as quietly as he had come. Seldom seen, but always there, always present.
By late afternoon the shots had stopped. The dogs were once again roaming the kitchen, looking for scraps under the table. Quiet had returned to his corner of the woods. The kids must have gone on to other things, he thought. Perhaps they were fishing in the river, or back indoors mesmerized by their electronic games, their television shows, their cell phones, Facebook and Twitter feeds. The disconcerting afternoon had given way to the even more disconcerting nightly news, James’ only real contact with the outside world.
Every night it was the same. Around the country, around the world, the hunters still hunted. Perhaps in the name of freedom, perhaps for “God” or “God and Country”, perhaps for that which they had lost, but not forgotten. Perhaps they didn’t even know why they fought the fight, fought the battle, anymore. Perhaps they had forgotten what it was like to live in a world without war.
It was time to put the guns away, he thought. It was time to stop the killing. The world didn’t depend on it, didn’t need it. The world was going to be here long after we were gone, he thought. The human race depended on it. If not for my children, then for my grandchildren and those who follow, he said to himself as he fed the dogs the scraps from the table.
James’ shotgun sat forlorn, still, quiet in the closet. A gift from his dad 50 plus years ago. He taught him well, and they went hunting from time to time when he was growing up. James grew weary of the blood, the smell, the cruelty of it all. It just wasn’t worth it. He had grown dependent on the grocery store and its bountiful harvest, products of the agricultural age, the world of big farms and big machines and big everything. Too much big, in fact. Big now owns the world. All you had to do was watch the evening news to be reasonably sure of that.
Unlike his father, James didn’t give his boys their first shotgun when they were ten. Times had changed, the world had changed. His children, now young adults, had a new sense of being, a respect for others and the environment, a love of the world, and great hope for the future. Perhaps those are the gifts we all need to be sharing, he muttered to Molly and Rags, chewing on the bones that had come from the soup pot. Gifts for a new age and a new tomorrow.
Yes, he said to himself, thinking of that big buck down by the river.
Respect, love, and hope; gifts for a new beginning.