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Whelp

The hens were slaughtered in the night — never mind it was his father’s fault. The rabbits were brutalized, some of them killed for sport, his father had said. Never mind who left that gate unlatched.

Now, the pair follow cat-like tracks in the snow. Rifles over their shoulders, they trudge across the frozen rim of the lake and begin stomping up a small mountain that’s been shaved down the middle for power transmission poles. Like the fox, they follow the high-gauge wire up the mountain. The boy’s face burns with cold. He’s 14-years-old. He’s thinking: I’m the hero in a story where I’m forced to kill a fox.

In this story, like every such story, the wires above sound like ghosts sucking on metal teeth. In this story, like every such story, the labor of following a fox’s tracks all day leads the boy to a certain feeling of intimacy with the murderer.

From a great distance, they see the only humans it feels that they’ll ever see again: two preteen girls, both stuffed into glossy-purple snow gear, both using baby tubs as sleds down a steep dyke at the far end of a lake.

Never mind who built that faulty chicken coop.

The land and sky are white, matte-white, translucent and gray-brown. The pair take off their gloves to rest in the snow. Some how, it’s already the end of Act 1.

It’ll be past dusk — the day still grasping for every last shade of blue — before they find the fox hiding in the wood-rot guts of a fallen loblolly pine.

His father will order him to shoot, then after many tortured minutes, shoot the cowering thing himself. He’ll shoot the whelp she was protecting, too, not stopping to explain why.  Act 2.

(His father will make him carry home the pelts. The End.)

But for now, they’ve only reached the top of a snowy mountain.

His father removes his knitted hat to wipe his brow. Son, he says. When you get up high like this, where you can see the whole world — there’s something inside that says, “Everything down there? Everything below? That’s mine.”

The boy’s eyes follow the tracks they’ve made across this white world below. Above, the electrical wires lament their own efforts.

Maybe that’s what’s wrong with us, he tells the old man, that that’s your first impression.

Recommended2 Simily SnapsPublished in All Stories, Coming of Age, Contemporary Fiction, Fiction

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