Pheasant Hunt
by John McCaffrey

The buckwheat clings to the ground like matted green curls and smells like pancakes fried in bacon fat.  The hunter, a few steps ahead of his young son, brushes the calloused tip of a bent thumb across the black metal and releases the shotgun’s safety.   He spits and focuses on the black lab.

“He’s onto something.”

It’s not a hunch.  The buckwheat field is filled with pheasant.

The black lab freezes into a point.

“He’s got it.”

The hunter worms the gun’s wood stock into his shoulder socket.  His index finger slides through the trigger hole.

He sights a foot or so over the black lab.

The son crouches low.  Closes his eyes in anticipation of the attempted escape:  the pneumatic beating of heavy wings designed for camouflage, the colorful spray of feathers--ruby red, sunburned orange, emerald grain--straining to achieve an impossible invisibility in a gray yet cloudless sky.

The hunter’s finger depresses.  Two hollow explosions.  The pheasant falls horizontally through the overlapping echo and lands without bounce in the buckwheat.  The hunter moves fast, swings the gun over his shoulder, shouts at the black lab to stay clear of the convulsing bird.

“It’s big,” he yells to the son, breaking the fluorescent neck with a fast twist.   “Come look.”

The son, eyes reopened, does as he is told.

John McCaffrey received his MFA from the City College of New York.  His stories have appeared in Fiction, Smokelong Quarterly, Ellipsis..., and other literary periodicals.  A Pushcart Prize nominee, his story "Words" was included in Flash Fiction Forward, an anthology published by W.W. Norton & Co.
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