Illustration: Dora Ingrid Perković
– … and sleep well! Tomorrow is a big day! Your first hunt!
Mark’s uncle carefully closed the door behind him and Mark turned on the side and tried to fall asleep.“The Hunt” – uncles words still echoed in his head. He was waiting for this day for so long that he couldn’t believe that it was finally here. His uncle will take him on a hunt for deer – the first big challenge for boys in his family. All of his brothers already partook in it, and since they have, they were allowed to sit at the table with the grownups and listen to their stories until late in the evening. The mothers took to bed only the younger children, but that will change soon – Mark thought and fidgeted contently. He wanted to fall asleep so that the morning will come sooner.
The meadow was surrounded by a thick forest and it was unusually silent for this time of the year. Not an insect could be heard, and Mark attributed that to the awe induced by the riffles on their shoulders. Even the bloodhounds were silent and tensely listened in the tall grass, if perhaps a rabbit or a pheasant emerged from it. There were no deer in sight yet. Mark’s uncle strongly blew his bugle and everyone followed him. But Mark was hesitant to leave the edge of the forest. Something wasn’t right – he thought.
– Mark! Come on, we won’t wait for you! There is nothing there! – his uncle shouted and moved on with his company. Mark was standing still. Something made him stand there although the hunters were far ahead. He had a strange premonition and he hoped his feeling was right. Something was here and he was determined to reveal it. At that moment, he heard a noise in the bushes behind his back. He was so afraid he couldn’t move. He heard a heavy breathing behind him . Now he was really afraid. The breathing seemed louder and louder. Mark carefully turned around: there was a huge deer with majestic horns standing in front of him.
– Do you have a rifle? – the deer asked. – I’m unarmed. It’s not fair – the big animal said in human voice.
Mark was scared beyond his imagination and not being able to say a word. The deer continued:
– So, what now? Put your arm down so we can talk normally. Or we could fight unarmed, with our bare hands – the deer suggested.
No way – the boy thought, – I’m just a kid. But the deer seemed to read his mind and said:
– You’re not a kid if they gave you an arm. What did I do to you? When did we fall out?
Mark didn’t know what to say. Then he noticed the animals that surrounded them. A deer said:
– Ah, it’s no use! They are all the same! You can’t change them! They will aim at us the first time they have the opportunity – the deer turned and ran away with a few of his friends. But the deer who was talking to Mark stayed. He was staring at the boy without saying a thing. Mark didn’t know what to say nor he had the courage to move and in his head he saw the images of his house and its walls filled with trophies with their lifeless glares. The deer was still standing there looking at him and waiting for an answer.
– Mark, Mark! Get up, your uncle will be here soon! don’t let them wait for you! – his mom’s hands gently rocked his shoulder.
Ah, a dream! It was just a dream! – Mark was relieved and jumped up from the bed. But how did it end, I wonder? What did I say to him? -in that moment he heard the cars in the driveway. His uncle was already here. His mom went to open the door for him and the men who were going hunting and to give water to their hounds. But Mark returned to his bed and called his mom. When she came in the room, Mark was covered up to his eyes.
– What’s going on? Aren’t you going with them? You waited so long for this day to come…
– Mom, I don’t want to go. Hunting is terrible, actually.
– Oh, well it is to me, but how come the sudden change, son?
– I had a dream. I was standing on a meadow and in front of me, a young deer appeared. He was huge…
– And what happened then?
– He asked me: when did we fall out? And why was I so mad at him that I want to kill him?
– And what did you say to him?
– Nothing. I don’t remember. But it’s really not nice what we do that to the animals. We go after them armed and they didn’t do a thing to us. Why, mom? Why is that called sport when the fight isn’t fair at all?
Mom smiled and caressed his head.
– You are so smart. And you’re totally right. It’s not a sport and it’s terribly unfair. You don’t have to go anywhere. I’ll tell your uncle that you got a fever. don’t worry he won’t come in to check. He is too afraid to catch it. Your uncle is a stud only with his rifle on his shoulder, otherwise he is afraid of a common flue.
– I don’t ever want to go with them and kill innocent animals. It makes no sense. We buy meat in the store anyway, right? – Mark asked mom and she kissed him.
– I’m so proud of you, son. Your dad thought just like that. He would never take an arm and go after the unarmed. Don’t worry, I will handle your uncle – she said and left the room and Marko sighed with a relief. He was happy to have broken this stupid tradition of men in his family.