"That Thing We Killed" by Wayne Spitzer

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SUMMARY: A young man's "blooding" - a rite of passage in which an adolescent male performs a ritual killing - can haunt him forever. Especially when he isn't sure just what it is he has killed.

I still don't know what it was, that thing we killed. I've seen things like it, in movies and on TV. But those things were made up, or based on the bones of extinct animals, like monsters. This wasn't like that. This was just an animal, though not one that any of us had ever seen. Not around Glenbaker, that's for sure, or anywhere in King County, or all of Washington State.

It hadn't threatened us, as far as I can remember. It turned on us, hissing kind of, a limp trout falling from its mouth, because we had startled it. I sure remember that mouth, opened like a wet, black rosebud, showing spiny teeth, a white palate. Maybe it had lunged toward us. Maybe it deserved what it got. I don't even remember who fired first or why. It was a long time ago and everyone involved is dead, except me.

We'd gone out that day to get a trophy for my thirteenth birthday, even though it wasn't hunting season. We made an odd sort of family back then: Uncle Horseshoe (because of his mustache), Hank, and Frank Garstole, who lived in a cabin next door. Uncle Horseshoe owned every kind of gun imaginable, from Scout rifles to muskets, and the walls of his house were covered with every kind of trophy, the great prize being a seven tine rack of moose over the fireplace, which he said he'd killed alone in the Blue Mountains in December of '62, but which Frank said he stole from a woodpile in Alaska.

Frank laughed at the thought of us going out. "Horseshoe," he said, "Now what do you think a game warden's gonna say when he sees you outfitted like brigands?"

I remember Horseshoe just staring at him—he was huge on staring. "Don't worry about it, Frank," he said.

Frank said to me after they'd gone out, "They're scarin' up their own trouble, boy. Let 'em go."

But I ran after them.

We startled it, as I've said.

We were rounding a deadfall, bitching about how it had been a wasted day, when we saw it. I'd actually been looking at it for several seconds, looking at it but thinking about something else, until it moved. I saw it complete for only an instant; it looked like a snake—not a Rattler or a Moccasin, more like a Python, or one of those Boas you sometimes see in National Geographic, with its giant body held up by an entire hunting party—a snake threaded through a turtle. But then it fled, hissing kind of, slinking back into the water and paddling away, toward the center of the lake.

I wasn't frightened by it. It didn't look or act like The Giant Behemoth, or Reptilicus, or anything else you might see at a matinee or in comic books. It was just an animal, though not one any of us had ever seen. But then bullets went punching through its blubber. Then the thing's blood went spraying in all directions.

There was a rickety dock nearby, which we used to get closer. I remember the spent shells dropping and plinking off its boards. The thing turned on us; I suppose it had to. It tried to hiss but managed only a choked gargle. Blood bubbled from its throat and spilled from its mouth.

"Take the fatal shot," said Horseshoe.

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