Small Game – Joshua Wharton

Small Game

David squatted down on a deck by bags of trash and stacks of firewood, whittling notches in sticks of rhododendron wood. Two sticks lay down, side-by-side, one longer than the other, both pointed with notches in the middle. Another lay, untouched, at his feet while he notched the third stick and tapered its edges. Satisfied with his work, he gathered the other two notched sticks and placed them by the steps. David then grabbed a broom and began cleaning up the wood shavings he had spread across the deck. As he swept, another young man came out of the house holding a cup of coffee. He had just woken up from a nap.

“So you’re actually going to do it,” he asked as he lit a cigarette.

“Yeah, I said I was going to,” David answered.

“Yeah you did. But, that doesn’t always mean you’re going to do it.”

“Well I’m doing it now, aren’t I? Give me a break, Liam.”

“You should just come out with me more often. Eventually you’d get one. I was a bad shot when I first started too,” Liam said.

“It’s not that. I’ve wanted to try this out for a while. It’s just something I want to be able to do. Might come in handy some day.”

“I guess that makes sense. My little brother thought so too. But, it never worked like his book said it would.”

“Who says I’m a bad shot?”

“I don’t know. I’ve just never seen you hit anything.”

“Well you haven’t seen me shoot much.”

“You’ve got a point. Maybe tomorrow we could set up some targets back in the woods a ways. Our neighbors are far enough away that the noise from my .22 probably wouldn’t bother them. The woods go deep enough too. It’d be safe.”

“Maybe later this week. I want to see how this works out first,” David said as he finished sweeping up the wood shavings.

He then began to brush the leaves off of the deck. Liam followed.

“Suit yourself. Where are you going to set it up?” Liam asked.

“Right where our yard ends and the woods start. I want to be able to see it from my window.”

“Do you think the rock is big enough?”

“It will be big enough for what I’m trying to get. But, I’m afraid that one of those cats that’s been getting into our trash will end up under it.”

“What will you do if you catch a cat?” Liam laughed.

“Well the cat will most likely be alive still. At best, he’ll be able to slip out. At worst, it’ll fall perfectly and break its neck. It’ll probably just break a leg or something.”

“What’re you gonna do if that happens?”

“I don’t know. I’ll probably just try to mend its leg. Might have to take it to the vet. Then I’ll make it my cat,” David said.

“That’s funny. Break its leg, heal it, then make the cat yours.”

“Yeah. I didn’t think of it that way. I just doubt the cat will leave after I’ve fed it.”

“True. But you know if the cat dies, you’ll have to eat it,” Liam said as he leaned against the railing of the deck.


“Yeah. You gotta use it for something. I’ve never aimed my gun at anything I didn’t plan to use some way.”

“But I’m not trying to kill the cat.”

“It’d be a waste of the cats life if you didn’t. Wouldn’t you be pissed if you were killed by accident? Wouldn’t you want to die knowing at least you served some kinda purpose?” Liam said.

“I guess you’re right. But it’s just a cat.”

“What are the odds you skin it and put the pelt up over the fireplace?” Liam said with a childish grin on his face.

“Not very high. I’ll get back to you with a number if I ever walk up the steps with a dead cat. We’ll see what happens. Either way, at least we won’t have to worry about the cat getting into our trash.”

David finished sweeping right as Liam tossed the butt of his cigarette in the ashtray. He left Liam to his coffee and walked around the house to where the yard met the woods. He surveyed the land. Then, he walked to the left, where the ground was more level, and brushed a few red leaves off of the ground. Once he had a clear plot, he started fitting the notches of the sticks together. The notches didn’t fit as well as he had hoped, but the three sticks still held firm in a figure four when he pushed down on the top. As he held on the point of the four with his left hand, he slid a large, flat rock over with his right. The rock rested perfectly on the four, holding it all together. He stood up, brushed off his hands, and walked back to the house.

“Aren’t you going to need some bait on that?” Liam asked.

“That’s what I’m going to do now. The finishing touches,” David said as his cheeks heated from a pale white to bright red.

“You should have put it on before you put the whole thing up.”

“It’ll be fine.”

     The boy grabbed a jar of peanut butter and a bag of sunflower seeds and walked out. He started to spread the peanut butter on the pointed end of the only horizontal stick of the structure. His spreading caused the figure four to collapse, sending the rock falling onto his hand. A sharp cry escaped from his mouth. He lifted the rock to see his fingers bleeding, already bruised. He made a fist, spread out his fingers, and then looked back through the window into his room. Then, he continued to butter the stick. Once it was coated with sunflower seeds, he set up the figure four again and propped the rock upon it. After sprinkling a few seeds under the rock, he walked inside and washed off his hands with warm water.

     In the morning, he walked to his window and looked for the figure four. It was gone. The rock lay flat on the ground. He grabbed the first pair of pants he saw on the floor. The walls banged with the muffled thud of his shoulder on the wood paneling as he fumbled to get both legs in the pants at once. Running through the living room, he grabbed someone’s jacket that hung by the door and pulled it on.

     “I’d have known if there was a cat under there. That rocks not big enough to hide the whole thing,” David assured himself.

     It had worked. Liam would have to give him a little credit.

     “I may not be a good shot, but I can do other things,” David said to himself.

     He knelt down and slowly lifted up the rock. There was nothing under it but flattened grass smothered in peanut butter and sunflower seeds.

     He looked back towards the house, then at his watch, then at the ground around the rock. He found the three notched sticks, set up the figure four, and propped the rock up on it.