Graham’s Buck

Dale and his son, Graham, set up before dawn, wordlessly climbing the ladder into one of the two buddy stands Dale had affixed to cottonwoods long before hunting season. Dale originally thought that they might set up separately, but at the last minute he decided against it. Graham had done more than enough to separate himself lately. Dale had high hopes for the spot. There were clear shooting lanes in nearly all directions, and a long open grassy area directly in front of them stretching southeast. Dale had positioned a camouflaged trail cam to cover a hot scrape on the north edge of the clearing and he’d caught a number of does and at least two bucks, including an impressive wide-set ten or twelve pointer with thick, gnarled bases and a distinctive drop tine.
Dale and Graham did not speak as they rested their rifles and took off their packs and made the dozens of small adjustments necessary to situate themselves in the tight stand. Dale picked out the whistles and chirps as the various East Texas birds came to raucous life around them. Blue jays and mourning doves and pine and yellow-rumped warblers and sparrows and robins. The neighboring trees resolved from concentrated darkness into cottonwoods and mesquite and pines. Dale had taken his wife, Margaret, hunting a few times early in their marriage, but the kill upset her. “I’m happy to go for a hike any time you want,” she said. But on a hike, glorious as it might be, you were moving through nature; hunting, you were a part of its cause and effect. And killing, and eating what you kill (as they always did) you were performing one of nature’s paradigmatic acts. Even as a boy, Graham had understood this, instinctively.
Dale could remain still for hours on a hunt, his senses so wonderfully heightened that it was no longer a matter of patience or even of waiting or stillness, because the forest all around him was a riot of sounds and smells and movement and he was inseparable from it. At no other time in his everyday life did he know this quality of oneness, not even while praying. Then there was the adrenaline of the kill, primal and irresistible, ratcheted up by all that had preceded it, the planning and the waiting, and, even and especially, the need to hold it down. Hunters called it Buck Fever and if you had not experienced it, you did not know. It was reported that the heart rate of a stationary man could reach 200 in the moment before pulling the trigger. But the true shot came out of stillness. And, too, Dale recognized that hunting appealed to something very young and boyish in him—it was a game of skill and a game of chance, full of endlessly recalculating strategy and the promise of unambiguous victory.
Dale imagined that the timelessness he entered into hunting gave him the faintest intimation of what awaited. The writer C.S. Lewis had argued that our dissatisfaction with time was itself powerful evidence that we were made for eternity. “Do fish complain of the sea for being wet?” When Dale thought that heaven should so outshine all of this, well, it was utterly beyond his imagination. As it should be. As for the possibility that some of our loved ones might not be with us in eternity—and that in itself would not be a source of torment—Dale was happy enough not to understand that.
Dale did not know how long the bald eagle had been perched in the leafless v atop a dying cottonwood beside them when he became conscious of it. Such a majestic creature. Worthy of being our national bird. Without shifting his gaze, Dale could feel that Graham was mesmerized by the bird as well. Their knees were touching against the front strut of the blind, so that they were each braced against the other as well as the blind.
“Are you ever tempted to just bag one?” Graham whispered. “Just once?”
It took Dale a moment to understand
“Out here, nobody would know,” Graham said.
“Probably not.”
The eagle cocked its head, then held its pose. Dale couldn’t be sure, especially when it was still, but it looked to be female from its large size. Still with some of its brown feathers—that would put it just about five years old. Dale wished it away. The unfolding wings would seem gangly at first, the first few flaps strangely violent, until the wings were at their full seven-foot extension.
Dale felt Graham move and then saw the barrel of his rifle come level in his peripheral vision as Graham settled behind the scope. He inhaled and exhaled smoothly, just as Dale had taught him. From this distance, it would be an easy shot. “Probably couldn’t even find someone to stuff one of these bad boys.” Graham spoke evenly, so as not to affect his aim.
“All right,” Dale said. “That’s enough, now.”
Graham minutely adjusted the angle of his head behind the scope. “I reckon we could figure it out ourselves on the Internet.”
“Stop it.” Dale grabbed the barrel of the gun and pushed it down and away. He kept his palm on the gun even after he released his grip. “Just stop it.”
“Pow!” Graham was laughing. “You really thought I’d do it. A bald eagle.”
The eagle must have heard Graham’s laughter because now it did take wing. Definitely a female. Dale and Graham were close enough to hear the rustle, the great womp, womp of the wings. The soaring bird gave shape to the air. Of course, she understood nothing about air, about the molecules of Nitrogen or Oxygen or Carbon dioxide that held her aloft, but that made them no less real. They were there whether or not the eagle believed in them. Dale wanted to grab Graham by the shirt collar—see how surely they hold her. “Was there something I did? To make you so angry at me.”
“Do I look angry?”
Graham had broken perhaps the first rule of hunting. He had pointed his rifle at something he did not intend to destroy. Dale was maybe eight or nine years old, on one of his first overnight trips, when his father had called off a hunt altogether. In his youthful excitement on the trail, Dale’s finger kept wandering up to the trigger. Dale’s father warned him once, and the second time it happened, he took firm hold of the barrel of the rifle with one hand and peeled Dale’s fingers back deliberately with the other. They were done for the weekend. Dale wiped away furious tears the entire hike out and a good part of the subsequent drive, but he never again put his finger on the trigger when he wasn’t intending to shoot. Graham had never done that kind of thing as a kid. He’d always known which lines not to cross. Dale thought it a blessing at the time.
The misbehavior of preachers’ sons was so often discussed as to be cliché. But Dale had gone into the low-key world of Camp Ministry. And Graham had never openly rebelled. Yes, Dale’s profile had risen as the Christian summer camp had grown into a sprawling conglomeration of six camps with year-round programming, but Dale was still more likely to get up in front of a room as part of some slapstick camp skit than he was to deliver a formal sermon. Graham had practically grown up on those mess hall stages and it showed—he could inhabit instantly the villainous mustache twist or the country club underbite or the surfer dude nod. But lately Dale had not enjoyed watching him. Lately Graham injected into his performances the one thing that these silly skits couldn’t stand—irony, a sort of winking from deep within his role as if he were simultaneously giving himself over to it and holding himself apart.
Maybe Dale should shut down the hunt entirely. His father would have. But Graham was nearly a grown man. He would shrug and climb nonchalantly out of the stand, and it would be obvious to both of them who was most disappointed. It occurred to Dale that maybe it was what Graham wanted.
“Work with me Graham.” Dale turned his palms up. The Blackjack pose, he had heard it called in a seminar, all his cards on the table. But Dale didn’t want it to be a pose—not ever, but especially not now. “I’m out on a limb, here.”
“Get it? Out on a limb?” Graham had extracted a packet of energy goo from his backpack and was now squeezing the gel into his mouth. He was still chuckling and shaking his head. “You really thought I’d bag a bald eagle.”
Dale always did the same thing when he was at a loss. Submit, his mentor had told him. He would not try to get inside Graham’s head or wonder where he had gone wrong himself. He bowed his head.
“Come on, Dad, I was just playing around. You know, father and son in the woods, having some gags.” Graham took another sip from the packet. “It’s not like I shot the thing.”
The wind rustled one pocket of trees and then another before reaching them as the gust made its way north.
“Is prayer the answer for everything?”
Dale supposed that it was, but he did not speak.
“I never even released the safety.”
The safety is a mechanical device, Dale’s father, the mechanical engineer, would have said, and the one thing that all mechanical devices have in common is that they can, and eventually do, fail. His father had been a dutiful grace-saying Christian for as long as Dale could remember, and he made a point of being even more conscientious once Dale went into ministry. But Dale’s father would never be the kind of man to sit around and talk about his personal relationship with Christ. He considered it a private matter. Dale wondered if he considered it unmanly as well.
It couldn’t have been more than two minutes later when Graham took a sharp, shallow in-breath. He repositioned himself in the blind with purposeful calm. Dale could feel his own pulse quicken. When Dale allowed himself to look up, Graham held the field glasses to his eyes. The Remington was nestled still between his legs. Dale followed the line of the binoculars to movement in a bush maybe 200 yards away, just inside the tree line. He lifted his own binoculars. Yes, two good sized does, feeding. He watched them. They were twitchy in that particular way that suggested a buck might be nearby.
Dale scanned the edges of the clearing. He peered into the darkness of the woods beyond them. The does ambled a few feet closer, feeding, but still twitchy, looking over their shoulders. The closer doe seemed to peer in their direction just over a stand of brittle brush. That beautiful flat and senseless expression. Little more than a hundred yards now. When she turned sideways, Dale could see that she held her tail out from her rear. Yes. She stopped to urinate once, and then again, a couple feet on, glancing back over her shoulder all the while. She was in estrus, and she would stand for the tending buck soon. Graham still hadn’t made any move for his gun. He’d made the same observation as Dale and he’d decided to hold out for the buck. Dale would have done the same thing as a kid. But they only had one day to shoot on this trip—and deer sausage was a Christmas dinner tradition—and they might not get a better shot.
“See anything?” Graham’s words were barely audible.
A mosquito whined in Dale’s ear, and he waved at it slowly with his left hand. The bigger doe ambled a few feet to the right, behind a low, gnarled mesquite tree. Dale just watched the does now, both visible in a single field through the minutely trembling world of the binoculars.
The does’ ears twitched at the same time, and then, at the same time, they bound in their impossible zigzag way toward the trees to the west. Deer had an altogether different relationship to gravity than humans. Dale followed their movement into the shadows until all he could see were vibrating leaves.
“Come on, Big Boy.”
Dale swept the binoculars back, knowing what he would find. At the same spot where the does had emerged stood the buck. He was still mostly obscured by trees, but the brown flash of the antlers that they were both looking for suggested that he was good sized.
“Come on, that’s it, come on.” Graham’s words were barely audible, just the suggestion of shape given to the breath. Smoothly he let the binoculars rest on his chest and lifted the gun. The air in the blind stilled with his concentration.
The buck followed the approximate path of the doe, emerging a few yards west, behind the mesquite. Yes, yes. It was the drop tine buck he’d had his eye on for nearly two years now, as big a buck as Dale had ever seen hunting. A majestic creature, his neck massively swollen by the rut. Twelve points, just as Dale had hoped, with enormous widespread bases, easily a rival for the shoulder mount in the den. The buck quartered to them through the dark branches. He tossed his antlers and sniffed the air and then stood still. Dale waited. The angle made it a difficult shot even without the branches, but Dale wondered if he’d have been able to wait himself as a kid. A buck that size. Plenty of hunters more experienced than himself had given into Buck Fever at a moment like this. Dale felt his own heart pounding, the moisture in his palms, and he’d been hunting for thirty-five years and he wasn’t the one holding the gun.
The buck turned briefly broadside, but he was directly behind the thickest part of the mesquite now. Dale imagined the cross hairs bouncing around the tree and the flank of the animal. An inexperienced hunter would take this shot, imagining the bullet slicing cleanly through the small branches that would not resolve perfectly in the scope at this distance. It might even work, but the odds were low and Dale hoped that Graham did not make this mistake. He watched the animal and waited for the report and hoped that Graham would not shoot yet. In spite of everything, he had taught Graham well.
Now the buck swung its great head toward them without moving its body and Dale could count again the impressive rack through the haze of thin branches. Yes. That huge wrestler neck. Tremendous. If Graham got this buck, there was no doubt that it would take the prized position in the den.
Graham’s breath was slow and even. Dale glanced at the barrel of the gun. It was remarkably steady. The buck turned his head away from them now and took several steps toward the tree line. He was maybe 150 yards away. The ground must have sloped away from them because now only the very top of him was visible, behind another tangle of bushes. If he startled he would be gone in the woods in an instant.
In the truck in the dark, with Graham driving for the first time on one of their trips, they had talked about head shots, a frequent topic of debate for deer hunters. Even driving, there was an adolescent quality to Graham’s posture, his left knee splayed against the car door. But Dale had been so full of optimism in the car, and the remote, hypothetical attitude that drove him crazy seemed somewhat less in evidence than usual. Dale had always followed his father’s dictum: head shots were reserved for does at very close range. Neither Dale nor his father had ever taken a head shot further than about 40 yards. The advantage was obvious: a clean shot meant instant death, no suffering on the part of the animal. And no ruined meat. But the brain was a much smaller target than the “pump room” where the vital organs were located, and the head was the part of the animal most often in motion. A couple centimeters in any direction could leave a maimed, suffering animal that you never tracked down.
The buck raised his antlers. The air tightened again as Graham calmly breathed in and let it partly out. Automatically, Dale went through the mnemonic as if he were the one holding the gun: BRASS—Breathe, Relax, Aim and Slowly Squeeze. Slow enough that ideally the detonation of the primer came as a “surprise shot.”
“That’s too far—“
The muzzle blast cut him off at the same time that the buck’s head snapped back and the air around it puffed with the red mist of blood. Dale must have blinked from the shot, because he did not see the buck. Had he gone down instantly? Something about the angle of impact and a slight movement of the brush behind the spot made Dale wonder.
“Criminy Graham—a head shot on a wall hanger buck?”
Graham let out a full-throated whoop as he lowered the gun. “Did you see the size of that bad boy? Holy cow. Did you see him?” He pounded his fist on his knee. “I thought I was going to lose him.”
“Shh.” Dale felt instantly torn. It had been years since he’d seen such enthusiasm in his son.
“Bam, down. He didn’t even take a step. Did you see the size of him?”
“Shh, now,” Dale commanded.
“He’s down, Dad. Goodnight. The lights are out.” Graham clapped his hands. “Did you see the rack on that bad boy?”
“He’s something,” Dale said. “But a headshot on a trophy buck? At that distance?”
“It was my only shot. You saw it. I thought I was going to lose him.”
Sometimes you lose them, Dale thought.
“Come on, Dad.” Graham was beaming, shaking his head. “You’re just pissed because he’s bigger than the buck you got in the den.” Pissed was not a word that Margaret allowed in the house, but maybe a little latitude was called for with just the men on a hunt. Dale did not tell him that he’d had exactly that buck in mind for Graham for nearly two years.
Again, Graham let out a little whoop. “Man.”
“We should give him a few minutes.”
“He didn’t take another step. Bam and down.” Graham was already halfway out of the blind. “I can’t wait to see the rack on that bad boy. You got your camera?”
Wasn’t this exactly kind of unironic enthusiasm that Dale had been praying for in his son? But Graham had to have known how Dale would feel about that shot. “I just hope you left enough of him to mount.”
Graham was some ten yards ahead of him by the time Dale got down. He trotted to catch up. The land dipped beyond the mesquite as they waded through the tall grass. After several more steps they saw where the grass was slowly rising back up from being pressed down. So the buck had indeed gone down. But it wasn’t there anymore.
“He couldn’t have gone far.” Graham pushed to the edge of the trees.
“Are you sure?” Dale reached down into the grass and lifted up a bloody chunk of the lower jaw with several gray and yellow teeth visible and some meaty bits of tongue tissue attached.
“I can’t believe it.”
“Can’t you?” Dale hissed, keeping his voice low. He flung the jaw into the tall grass in the direction of their tree stand. They would have to track the poor buck now, and with all of Graham’s whooping, who knew what kind of head start it had. Dale was already looking for sign. “That was too darn far for a head shot.”
“Maybe if you hadn’t talked just as I was squeezing the trigger.”
Dale set his jaw. He moved to where he had seen the bush shimmer. Sure enough, several of the leaves had been brushed with blood. He followed the trajectory from the jaw through the bloodied bush into the woods. The dappled sunlight showed two more drops of blood about fifteen feet in. Dale knelt by the blood and opened his pack. He ripped off two squares of toilet paper and folded them over and pushed a twig through them to anchor them into the soft loam. “Come on.” He fanned his fingers in the air in the same direction. Dale took care to walk to the side of the blood trail and he indicated with his hand that Graham should do the same.
“Here.” The buck had veered east. Another fat drop of blood on a brown leaf. Again Dale marked the spot with toilet paper. He peered into the woods farther on with the hope that he would see the altered brown that would take shape in front of him and become the buck. But he did not expect to see it now. They fanned out from the spot, not talking, careful of their footfalls in order to minimize the crackle of leaves underneath.
Twice when they could not find any blood, Dale guessed a direction based on crunched leaves and a sense of a rough trail through the scattered underbrush and they were rewarded with blood spots some thirty feet further along. They did not speak. Dale pointed to indicate the direction he wanted Graham to take. Graham moved quietly, considering the dry autumn conditions, with grace and know-how that were testament to the time they’d spent together in the woods.
Dale knew most hunters would say that they should have waited, should stop and wait even now, to let the buck bed down. He knew of hunters who had waited eight hours to go after a deer gut shot in the morning or who had waited overnight to track a deer shot at dusk. They would say that by trailing it, Dale and Graham were just spooking it and keeping it moving, maybe even prolonging its death. Dale debated the matter in his head. The leaves were in peak fall and already the day had gotten more blustery since dawn. There’d been a sixty percent chance of showers by afternoon. Dale allowed these factors to carry the argument, though he could not deny the dread of doing nothing and waiting with Graham. It was maimed and suffering deer like this that gave hunters a bad name.
Tracking the deer took all of Dale’s attention, which was a relief because he did not want to consider the shot Graham had taken. A headshot on a trophy buck—it didn’t make any sense. Was it enough for Graham to know that he’d gotten a buck bigger than his father’s even if there wouldn’t be enough of it left to mount? Dale did not want to consider his own reaction either, the impulse he’d felt to get caught up in Graham’s enthusiasm.
Around three o’clock, they lost the trail. Graham bent at his waist, his hands on his knees. They’d been tracking the buck some six or seven hours already and the walking was that much more exhausting for the concentrated effort of scanning the ground and low brush and trying to take each step as silently as possible. Dale knelt at the last marked spot—it was fresh blood all right—and waved Graham out again. They swept back and forth over the better part of a circle radiating out thirty or forty yards from the spot. They scouted out even further along the buck’s previous trajectory. Still they didn’t see anything.
Dale sat cross-legged on the ground and got out his GPS and the topographical map. He studied it for a while. There appeared to be a streambed a few hundred yards to the West, though there was no telling if it would have water at present. He creased and folded the map so that section would remain visible and he slid the map into his pocket. It was not like him to put away a map improperly, but soon they would run out of daylight. He started off in the direction of the stream and Graham fell into step behind him. Dale motioned for Graham to fan out to his left.
Coming down the backside of a rise, Dale heard a whistled double chirp that he recognized as Graham’s. Dale made his way over to him. Graham looked resolutely down the decline in the direction of the streambed. It was impossible to know if the slight tremble in the bearing of his head was cocky defiance or something else. He held some tall grass at about waist height that had been smeared in thin bloody saliva. More blood splattered the grass around him. The poor beast had tried to eat.
The thin ribbon of water was no more than a couple feet wide where it pooled. Dale turned downstream and Graham automatically turned up, but Dale hadn’t gone more than few steps when he saw the buck. It lay broadside to the creek facing him, its head in the couple inches of water. A dull approximation of its former alertness showed that it was still alive. Blood bubbled thinly at its hacked off snout. “Graham.” What a buck. A twelve point, trophy buck with the distinctive drop tine. Dale had watched it for two years. “Ol’ Bucky boy,” he’d called it in his mind, as he’d called only a small handful before him. Or “Big Bad Drop Tine.” Or sometimes he’d just thought of him as Graham’s Buck.
Graham came clumping along at a jog behind him now as Dale made his way toward the animal. Dale had his knife out of its case by the time he reached it. Dale took hold of the near antler. The ragged, leering overbite above the missing jaw dripped gristle. The neck, massively enflamed with the rut, was like nothing Dale had ever seen this close on a live animal.
Now Dale was the one behaving rashly, approaching a powerful buck with his own razor-sharp knife unsheathed. Even gravely wounded, a buck this size could do lethal harm with its massive antlers. Dale reached down and took hold of the left antler, the one with the drop tine, near its base. He pushed the antler back, twisting the buck’s neck. Dale would physically pull any child of his away if he ever tried something this stupid. He could almost feel the hard antler point goring him as the inflamed neck rippled with one last surge. By itself, the loss of the jaw would kill the buck only slowly, through starvation. But the bullet or some bit of tooth or bone must have struck something else, brain or brain stem or interior vessel, because the buck had nothing left. Dale sank the point of his knife deep into the exposed neck at the angle of the jaw, severing the carotid. The blood that oozed into the puncture was thick and dark.
It was with some satisfaction that Dale noted Graham’s wide eyes watching him a few feet upstream. The boy breathed heavily, his breath visible in the cooling afternoon air. Graham brought his hand to his hip as the emotion again receded from his face.
Dale never would have agreed with the shot, not ever, but he knew that if the bullet had been just a centimeter or so to the right, their positions would have been reversed. What an indictment this knowledge was. Graham would have stood over the animal posing with his rifle between the remarkable wide set antlers while Dale took one picture after another. The long, beautiful, expressionless, frozen-eyed face looked at once full of wisdom and utterly devoid of intelligence. They would be pictures that Margaret and the girls would look at afterward only grudgingly, but they would look at them all the same as they heard the various details of the hunt many times even in the first night of telling. The tale would grow taller as they went back and forth about the most miniscule movements of the animal’s body or the aim of the gun or the distance of the shot. It surely would have replaced Dale’s trophy buck in the television room.
Dale set down the antler and stepped off the animal. He nodded at Graham. “Dress him.”
“Why don’t you just do it, Dad?”
“Your buck.”
Graham looked at the darkening sky. “It’ll be faster if you just do it.”
“Your buck.”
“Is he?” Graham nodded at the punctured neck.
“I sure as shoot didn’t do that to him.” Dale grabbed hold of the front legs and swung the buck’s upper body away from the water. A string of gristle and tongue caught on the pebbled ground. He was a huge deer and heavy.
Graham took out his knife and stepped into place, straddling the carcass behind the upper legs.
“You got to tag him first.” Dale handed Graham the kill tag he’d picked up at the Parks and Wildlife Department Office at the beginning of the season.
Graham notched the relevant information in the tag with his knife. His face was blank as he counted out what he surely already knew—the twelve points of the antlers. He tied the tag around the thick antler base. “You never missed a shot?”
“It’s one thing to miss a good shot.” Dale lifted the legs now so the animal lay fully on his back, his belly exposed. “It’s something else to take a shot you know better than to take in the first place.”
Graham positioned himself over the pelvis. He made a small incision with the knife blade up and inserted his free hand underneath the skin, pushing it apart. “But now you have to forgive me.”
“Now I choose to forgive you.”
Graham kept the upturned knife between the spread first two fingers of his right hand and he pulled the skin away from the viscera as the knife slid up the midline just behind his fingers. The web-like adhesions of connective tissue stretched tight in his fingers and then fell away when the knife touched them, the sharp four-inch blade moving cleanly through the hair and hide like only a sharp blade does. He did well not to puncture the stomach or intestines.
“But I’m human,” Dale said. “There’s only One whose forgiveness is perfect.”
“I never would have guessed you’d say that.”
“It’s not really what I say that matters.” Dale gritted his teeth. Did his son have any idea that the hardest person for Dale to forgive would be himself?
When Graham reached the rib cage, he bent further over and sunk his arms under the ribs up to the elbows. The animal stank powerfully of the panic and the chase and the suffering—a rank, accusatory, nervy-ness, both high and low in the nasal register. It was so different from the clean copper earthen smell when dressing a good kill that it seemed like definitive proof of something you might have been able to doubt otherwise. Dale knew the meat wouldn’t be any good.
Graham grunted as he reached up inside the chest cavity, occasionally making short swiping cuts with his knife hand. Dale could well imagine the warm organs on the soft insides of his own forearms, finding the trachea and esophagus with his hands, blindly cupping their circumference, and then pulling the knife through, the satisfying pop of cutting through the cartilage rings of trachea. Using the cut tubes as handles, Graham sloughed out the heart and lungs and then the guts, liver and kidneys in one large mass, trimming away adhesions as he went. A continuous rank, red and brown mass piled on the ground beside the buck. Was it really possible that his own son thought there was nothing more to each of us?
Graham turned back around to finish the job. When he reached the testicles and penis, he cut them unceremoniously away with short, quick swipes at the connective tissue, and tossed them aside. He pulled up the tail and pushed down the hair at the haunches with the knuckles of his knife hand and then he cut around the only attachment left at the anus, taking care not to rupture the colon.
It had taken no more than twenty minutes and the animal was gutted. It had started to drizzle and they could hear it in the leaves and smell it on the earth but the canopy around the stream had kept them mostly dry so far. Graham bent over and pressed his hands flat into the stream where the water barely covered them. The bulbous grey and brown mass of entrails and viscera lay steaming on the ground. Dale took out the map and fell back on the earth and crossed his legs. They hadn’t even covered five miles as the crow flew. “We’re here. The truck’s here. There’s a road over here. I’m going to go get the truck and I’ll meet you at the road.” Dale pointed in a direction about forty-five degrees downstream.
“You don’t want me to get the truck?”
“I want you to drag your buck.”
“Drag the buck.” Dale refolded the map properly this time and stood up and slipped it into his pocket. Then he walked back alone in the approximate direction from which they had come.

Daniel Stolar is the author of a collection of short stories, The Middle of the Night (Picador). His fiction and creative nonfiction have appeared in a number of publications including The Missouri Review, the Virginia Quarterly Review, DoubleTake, Bomb, and the Chicago Tribune. He is a creative professor at DePaul University in Chicago, where he lives with his wife and two daughters.