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Out of Spark / Justin Lee

The Lion's Club was on their third pot of coffee when I saw Rian Hall and his boy pull into the parking lot. A monster of a buck was splayed out in the bed of their truck. Rian was glowing. The pride he had as the other hunters gawked at his bounty was nearly infectious. His boy didn't have that face. His eyes never left the ground.

The first weekend of juvenile season is always busy here. Since I put the ad in the paper that Three Way Market was now an official hunting check-in station, morning time during those last few months of the year was always busy. Photographs I took of the hunters and whatever they bagged covered the counter like wallpaper and started making their way onto the wall by the grill.

Rian walked up to the counter and slid his tag to me and pointed to his truck. He'd always been big on this stuff. I'd known him since we were kids and the years hadn't changed him much. He still had those mean eyes and those ears that seem to go out too far. The blaze orange hat didn't help things.

My boy Ryker was the same age as Rian's son. I'm pretty sure they were in the same grade. I nudged Ryker's shoulder hoping he would raise his head up from his Batman comic to see his friend standing there. The boys met eyes and for a second I could see something click. A revelation, a language, just for them.

Ryker hopped off the stool and walked with us to the parking lot. Rian recounted the kill for us. He told us how his son was falling asleep sitting in the blind and how when he was awake he wanted to talk about the stars and how the clusters of them made up pictures. He told us about the deer trudging slowly in the pre-dawn dark and how he had to put the gun in his boy's hands. His son had tears rolling down his cheeks and Rian had to pull the trigger for him. While Rian dressed the deer, his son sat sobbing next to a tree.

More people had pulled in by the time we made it to the truck. A group of old men sat on the bench by the pumps taking it all in. The sun hadn't broken over the hills yet so the only light we had was the ones over the pumps. Rian picked his boy up and sat him on the tailgate of the truck next to the deer. Its bloody tongue had fallen out of its mouth and its eyes were dark and glassy. Rian sat beside his boy and sat the buck's head in his lap. I took the picture and waited for the instant film to develop to see how it turned out. The more time that passed, the more the picture cleared up. Rian was beaming. His grin was almost a caricature, like he was trying as hard as he could to make this one of their happiest moments. Second by second, I could see his son appear only for something to vanish. Whatever made the spark in the boy's eyes blossom had gone away. I told them to hold up so I could get them some tenderloin biscuits for the road.

The bell on the door rang as I walked in. Two more sets of fathers and sons waited in line. I eased past them and hung up Rian's picture. As I stood back, I couldn't help seeing that boy's eyes were in all of those pictures. I walked over to the warmer and got the biscuits and grabbed one of Ryker's extra comics. When I met them in the parking lot I handed the biscuits to Rian and the comic to his boy. He told me thanks and got in the truck with his dad.

All we could see was their tail lights. I stood there for a minute and looked down at Ryker and saw that he still had that spark. His world hadn't gotten darker. What bit of darkness was there, I hoped Batman would swoop in and save him from. Hell, save us all.

(This story was originally featured in Mirrors Reflecting Shadows. An anthology from Anxiety Press, Outcast Press, and Roi Fainéant Press).


JUSTIN LEE lives in East Tennessee with his wife and two children. His work has appeared in Punk Noir Magazine, The Airgonaut, Reckon Review, Poverty House, Cowboy Jamboree, among others. He is currently at work on a novella titled, Out There In The Dark.

1 Comment

Mark Rogers
Mark Rogers
Apr 15

Nice work. Thanks.

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