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FICTION on the WEB short stories by Charlie Fish

Hunter
Hunter
by Krishan Coupland

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I can tell from the way the mouse is moving that its back is broken. It's crawling along, squeaking, crawling, squeaking. It's not bleeding but there's blood on its fur.

This is the closest I've ever been to a wild mouse, and its black eyes are supernovas.

A little way off Percy the cat is sitting with his legs tucked under him like a furry football. I think I'll never let him lick my hand again.

Squeaking and crawling down the garden path. Inch by inch. Trying to outrun the pain, maybe. It's summer and the hazy sun is butter-warm on the back of my neck. I smell the thick reek of grass and compost.

"Why'd you have to do that Percy?" I say, but my cat as usual does not answer. He narrows his eyes and turns away. I remember the feeling of seeing him come trotting down the garden path with the mouse, limp and shocked in his mouth.

He's a hunter, I know, but I never thought of it quite like this before.


Dad is watching TV. Dad is always watching TV. It's eleven in the morning and he's on his second beer.

"Dad?"

He nods, grunts. The sofa he sits on and the TV and the crisp-packet scattered floor are all part of the same nest. He is the king of his little gamma-lit domain.

"Dad, there's a mouse in the garden."

A long few seconds pass before he answers. He speaks in rhythm with the changing channels; you get his full attention during news and weather; maybe half during a war film or a western and none at all during football. His eyes don't leave the screen.

"Why you telling me about it?" he says.

"It's hurt."

"And?"

He doesn't seem to care. Maybe he doesn't even hear me. I just stand there on the edge of my father's territory and I wait and I wait until he says:

"If you care that much, then go do something about it." And in his voice is the very definite signifier that this conversation is over.


Ten minutes I spent inside. The little thing is still squeaking and crawling. Going round in circles. Percy is gone, off to catch and kill something else for all I know. Stupid animal.

I crouch down close to its little roundabout of agony, but I will not touch it because of rabies and blood poisoning and fleas and all the other stuff you can catch off wild creatures.

Squeaking and crawling. It moves in such a way that I'm sure it can't quite see.

I think furiously at it; just die already. Just die.

I'm angry at it for holding on so long. Angry at dad for not helping. Angry at god for stringing this out. Angry at Percy for doing what he does.

Angry at myself for being so weak.

No matter how hard I glare at it, it will not die.


It's only when I've rooted up the half brick mottled with moss and heavier than my stick thin arm it's only when I'm holding it up against my shoulder and leaving a grey-earth imprint on my clean white t-shirt it's only then that I realise. I'm going to have to smash it down. Just dropping it won't do the job.

Don't ask me how I know this. I just do.

Back to where the mouse is still squeaking and crawling. Shining. I kneel down on concrete, raise up the weapon.

It and gravity are pulling down on my arm. My desire not to see the spatter of blood, or the crush of ribs through furry flesh, or the brief, violent spasm of an animal's death is an actual physical force pushing back up.

This shouldn't be like this. It should be clean and easy and a noble decision. Just something casual that I did because it was the right thing to do. My cat, my responsibility. Same as feeding him chunky brown cat nibbles, or brushing his coat, or trimming his claws.

Bloody cat. Half an hour after he's finished playing his toy is still squeaking and crawling.

Right, most important is that I do this right the very first time. That I don't miss and only half end it. That I don't just make it worse. Right.

Ah...

First hit, the brick comes down hard, rolls off the lump that is the mouse. It goes mad screaming and squealing and dragging itself around in a circle so tight it's a dot. Little pinpoints of something clear and thin burst from its pink nose.

My hands are clumsy, stuttering over the sandpaper surface of the brick. But the second time I don't hesitate. I bring it down again. And again. And again.

Then I stay there for a long time until the remnants stops twitching, and the sunny day turns into a sunny night. What I've done doesn't bother me so much as that I didn't get it right.

When Percy comes back I stroke him and feed him cat nibbles.

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