I’m not a killer. I’ve never shot a gun. But my friend Jeff invited me on a duck shoot, a “waterfowl gathering,” for the mystery of it all, he said. I packed my camera and thermos of coffee, ready to watch the sun rise from the blind he built on his Ten Oaks Farm in Guntersville, Alabama. Facing northeast, about one-hundred yards from the Tennessee River, the blind is a “perfect location” he told me. During the waterfowl season, usually in December and that year precisely December 5-January 3, the wind typically blew from a westerly direction putting the breeze at his back and the ducks in his face.
December 21, 2019, a fifty-degree Saturday morning, the sun rose out of the still water at 6:33 a.m., scattering yellow and orange as luscious reds seeped into the day. At first light the ducks flew out to feed and Jeff fired his Remington 870 Pump shotgun. I was watching through my Canon long lens. All I could see was a blur of white that passed. Then blood seeded the vision. Jeff peered through his scope.
“That’s the biggest duck I’ve ever seen,” Jeff said.
I refocused on the water.
“That’s not a duck. Maybe a stork.”
“Bear, go collect,” Jeff said. His retriever ran into the water and dragged the bird back. Jeff and I watched as Bear had trouble pulling the weight. The closer he got, we saw that this was no bird despite matted wings and a blood-streaked down-covered body.
“Is it breathing?” Jeff asked.
I touched the neck, felt a slight pulse, and took out my iPhone to call 911, but there were no bars.
“Wait,” Jeff said, his hand fell on mine.
“It was an accident,” I said. “The thing came out of nowhere.”
“Don’t call anybody.”
“Just let it die?”
“Maybe,” he said. “What is it anyway?”
We looked at the shriveled shape. Nothing like we’d ever seen. Certainly not a waterfowl. The form was human yet smaller with wings on the shoulders. Its face was more bird. Jeff pulled out a bottle of Jim Beam and took a swig.
After pouring coffee into my cup, I sat there in silence, forgetting about ducks and blinds and Jeff. Like an accomplice to murder, I was willing to let something die because my friend was a coward. And I felt worse than a coward for ignoring my friend’s heartlessness as he worked on his bourbon. This is the way that life buries your better instincts. You give in to sentiment and selfishness until truth dies.
Morning arrived in full light. I heard a screech and looked down at the creature, now unshriveled and plump, its wings dry and spread like fans. Jeff was passed out on the ground, holding the empty bottle. I didn’t say a word but walked back to the blind, searching for a signal.
The creature sat up and lifted slowly into the air. Suddenly its wings flapped up and down then partially folded on the upward stroke, passing through the blue sky.
I watched until it was beyond my sight. A radiance burned through my bones. Unearned by anything I had done.
About the author
With a Ph.D. in British and American literature and an MFA in Poetry, Chella Courington is a writer and teacher who’s published more than ninety little stories and more than 120 poems in a range of journals and anthologies. Her poetry has been nominated on several occasions for Best of the Net and Best New Poets along with being awarded individual prizes, the most recent of which is the Moon Prize for her poem “Eurydice.” Her fiction also has received individual prizes as well as being nominated for Best of the Net. She has three chapbooks of fiction and six of poetry published by nine different publishers. Her debut novella-in-flash, Adele and Tom: The Portrait of a Marriage (Breaking Rules Publishing, 2020) is featured at Vancouver Flash Fiction. Courington lives in California.
Other work by Chella Courington on Flashes