Prologue (The Trophy)


Clay, rifle by his side, mind in the mud, was twenty foot up a tree lounge, a Texas live oak, waiting to kill so he could feel alive again. This was no pretentious metaphor- it was the way of the world, and Clay had reconciled long before you and I arrived. Deer hunting was legal and helpful, and it was alright, it was a holy thing- not that Clay had ever been one for reflection. Whichever way you worked it the man understood that death was part of life, and whether you’re bringing it or it’s brought to you… it’s there just the same.

He had been still for hours, waiting, praying, looking down upon the forest clearing from his perch, a self-constructed tree stand for the bird’s-eye view of the action. There hadn’t been a deer all freezing day, not until this moment, until a pretty fawn emerged from the V of a double-trunked elm, tentative, in heels, treading light over needles and pine cones, out without her Mother for maybe the very first time. Clay smiled and raised his Browning A-bolt like it was liquid, a third arm extending beyond the frame of his stand and gently drawn back to rest on his shoulder, his eye peeking through the scope at this gorgeous creature before him.

She was a little doe, old enough for solo, maybe a year, eyes wide and wet with confidence. No, it wasn't confidence… trust? Faith. It was faith. She was long and proud, tall for her size- a lesser hunter might have mistaken her for older but Clay knew… by the way she stepped, by her posturing... he knew she was a babe.

She paused, young hoof on dead leaves, one-quarter turn into a two-step, and Clay thought to himself, “May I have this dance?” because he was hilarious like that. She bent down to lick from the stream and as her tongue scooped the water to her lips Clay named her: Sarah. He’d never done that before- it was insane- but at this minute it was automatic. He waited, watching Sarah sip from the water fountain, completely unaware, his for the asking. She took a breath, batting her eyes and flirting with the galaxy at large. Her graceful neck stretched then to catch a clean pocket of drink, and Clay cocked his head, feeling her, feeling for her at the very least: Sarah was a beauty.

He snapped back to day courtesy of his calf muscle seizing. He'd been up here too long, his muscles atrophied and pooling lactic acid. A man has to hunt… Sarah might be sweet but she was still legal, and Clay cross-haired her, just about to fire when something else happened that never had before: he sneezed, the baritone vocal resounding through the woods.

Sarah, neck bolting vertical, eyes of indignation, stood straight up and huffed, drops of water still falling from her mouth. Big eyes blinking, “Don’t you want me?” before scampering off in the opposite direction, hydraulic hindquarters powering her over rock and stump and tangle of branches. Then, like leaving, she was gone. Clay watched her run off, humiliated, petrified, his muscles tied in cramping knots, his Browning falling useless from his hands. Why did he do that? What was wrong with him?

Is this the way to spend a Saturday? Suddenly he wanted out of that tree, out of the lounge, out of the forest, as if the animals had seen what happened and were just now starting to talk.

He climbed down- bark crumble under his feet- and packed up, thinking of Sarah, saying fuck and visibly shook at what had just happened: He wondered if he had lost something today. Fuck again. Clay walked back to his pickup, red-faced and mortified. On his way back he’d grab a burger, and put today behind him.

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