Pagan

By Alexander Stoertz

Chapter 1: The Deer

The air was heavy with the dewy fog of the morning. The twilight rays of sunshine beamed through the spaces in between the tree leaves of the forest. The mouth of a deer began to eat the growing grasses of the woodland floor, its nose emanating a mist, pushing out its breath with every smell of the sweet algae-like foliage. An arrow fixed upon its body, knocked yet not pulled back, a young little hunter not past the age of eleven spotted the distant deer with his father close to him.

"You're breathing too hard, Gwyn," The father, Byron, quietly mentored his son.

"I can't help it," Gwyn answered in a hushed tone, "I just feel excited."

"You won't feel excited anymore if it hears you," Byron retorted, "Pull your arrow back.

Gwyn nodded and began to pull on the bowstring. The tension was hard and resisted Gwyn's grip. He began to feel the power of the bow just like when he was loosing arrows in the field for practice. This was no longer practice. He finally convinced his father to take him during the fall hunt, not as the spotter, but as the hunter. He could not fail his father now; not after all the work had had gone through.

"Do you have a shot?" Byron asked.

"Yes," Gwyn whispered.

"Take the shot," Byron permitted, "Show me what you learned."

Gwyn felt his heart beat in his ears, the arrow fixed on the heart of the deer. Gwyn's vision tunneled as he focused on his prey. He heard the wolven growl of his spirit, the golden eyes hidden in the brush. His arrow now became the teeth of the wolf, and the straining arm became the arched back of a predator. Gwyn exhaled his final breath, letting his body become tranquil with is soul. His fingers lightened from the bowstring, and like the motion of a raindrop the arrow whisked throw the air with the bow's twang. The flight of the arrow went as quick as a dragonfly and created a large thud into the carcass of the deer. A large whine came from the deer as it tried to run, but then fell over in agony. Its nose now huffed many clouds of mist while Gwyn and Byron motioned closer. The deer could barely move. The blood poured and puddled on the forest floor.

"You just missed his heart," Byron told Gwyn. He then pulled out a long knife with a handle made from a buck's antler. He handed it to his son.

"It's your kill," He told him, "You must now finish what you started."

Gwyn had a look of remorse upon his face. He had hoped for a more instant kill. He couldn't let his father see it. He did not want to disappoint him. He quickly took the knife from Byron and knelt before the deer, who now was blowing blood out of its nose.

"Quickly, it's suffering," Byron urged his son, "To the right of your arrow's shaft. Strike there."

Gwyn looked into the eye of the deer as it glazed over with pain in the deer's voice. Gwyn's own face became strained at the sight of the deer. He couldn't lose his nerve. He raised the knife above the deer's corpse, remembering a chant which he spoke under his breath.

I give thanks for this day. The gods have blessed me with a successful hunt. I ask to be forgiven for all trespasses, and I pray that my harvest has a safe journey to its next life.

Gwyn breathed sharply, ready to plunge the knife into the deer's heart. Once the knife made its final plunge, the deer's eye became lucid and Gwyn's eyes rolled back. The knife had cut through the hide and plunged into the still beating heart. Gwyn then saw visions not of his own. He saw many things in the forest and beyond. He saw colonies of ants, fields of grass, warring men, and bears and wolves. These visions flashed like projections on a screen, and like a swift wind he returned to the world he inhabited. His hands gripped upon the antler handle of the knife, blood rising from the wound he had made. The deer's nose no longer released clouds of mist, and the body was still, finally at peace. Gwyn released the breath he had held in. He felt a hand on his shoulder.

"You saw the spirit's past lives, didn't you?" Byron asked.

Gwyn slow nodded at his father. He tried to lighten the strain on his face, but this was his first deer. He didn't know whether to feel excitement or remorse. He saw his father kill deer a thousand times, but to do it himself was a completely different experience. Byron saw the conflict in his son. He remembered his first kill long ago, but it wasn't as personal as this was. His father focused more on the killing of the deer rather than the spirit of the hunt. Gwyn felt everything from the first point he stepped into the woods to the point he had plunged that knife into his first kill. He felt the spirit of the deer leave its body, and he saw the past lives it had lived before. Many moments during this hunt, Byron felt envy for his son, but moreover he felt pride. He hoped that this could be something Gwyn could share with his own son or daughter one day.

"What happens now?" Gwyn asked, taking Byron out of his trance of thought.

"Well," Byron answered, "Now that you killed it, you have to gut it."

Byron pulled the knife out of the deer and gave it back to Gwyn.

"Do you remember how I showed you the times we went hunting?" he asked.

"Yes, I remember," Gwyn answered, "This is the easy part."

"If you say so," Byron chuckled.

A few minutes have passed, and Gwyn had worked in silence, opening the cavity and pulling out the entrails. Byron helped by lifting one side of the carcass while his son cut the membrane that anchored the organs. In a matter of fifteen minutes, Gwyn had emptied the cavity and managed to not puncture either the bladder or the large intestines. The meat was safely intact. Byron pulled from his backpack zip lock bags and handed them to Gwyn so he could harvest the heart, liver, kidneys, and tongue. He then pulled out a seasoning back and poured some mixed herbs on the other organs, attracting the carrion birds they had used to find the deer. He gave Gwyn some rope to tie together the legs of the deer while he found a large branch to use as a carrying stick.

All throughout this time, the two were quiet. Gwyn had a lot on his mind but did not know how to ask his father about it. He finally thought it be best to ask him outright.

"Why does Miss Brookshire hate us?" Gwyn asked. Byron paused for a moment after he looped a trimmed branch in between the deer's tied legs.

"Well I don't think she hates us," Byron answered, "She clearly doesn't like us."

"She keeps calling the cops for us simply having a cook out in the backyard," Gwyn rebutted, "And she almost had Uncle Jaryn arrested."

"Okay so she might hate us," Byron relented, "But it's just because she's afraid of us being different."

"You mean being pagan?" Gwyn queried.

"We believe in the old ways, "Byron answered, "I am an anointed Druid, following the teachings of the Celts, like you, and your mother is a Wiccan. Some people who don't understand that lifestyle can sometimes be frightened."

"She says we're going to go to Hell," Gwyn said outright.

"There is not such thing," Byron retorted, "There is progression and then there is regression, and that all depends on the self and self-betterment. Has Miss Brookshire said anything to you?"

"No," Gwyn answered, "I just overheard her talking to you and others."

Byron sighed at the idea of his son witnessing Miss Brookshire's outbursts. He remembered many times he had to talk to the police just because he was out barbecuing or having a get together over a fire pit, cooking smores and letting the kids camp out in the backyard. Every time, the cops had to get a statement from him and had told him that they had a call from his neighbor about "witchin' things" happening at the home. The cops seem exasperated themselves, but they were always invited for some ribs or smores, and that seemed to lighten their day. Evans, the Sargent officer that commonly comes out to see Byron, had said many times that if it wasn't for protocol, they wouldn't even bother coming out. Byron still wonders how Miss Brookshire hasn't been arrested for false 911 calls. Evans told Byron that since the community board for Lancaster does see here as an active member of society, if not a bit of the town eccentric, which was hilariously ironic to him especially with his family's make up of Irish Celtic descendance that married into a German family from Rhineland-Westphalia. The icing on the cake is their American citizenship to gloss it all over. No matter who or what they were or where they were from, Byron's family is a part of the mixing pot of America. At least that is something Miss Brookshire couldn't take away.

Byron prompted Gwyn to help carry the deer with Byron carrying the branch under his arm while Gwyn carried it over his shoulder. Gwyn grunted as he struggled to carry the large deer to the truck. His tone had changed in the time between killing the deer and hauling it. He seemed happy now about his kill. He felt accomplished due to the weight of the deer itself. One whole carcass can feed his family for two months, and his mother can use the bones for decoration, jewelry, charms, and whatever else she could think of using them. Byron unhitched the back and Gwyn helped in lifting the animal into the truck bed. The two then cleaned off their bloodied hands with the jug of water and hand tower they brought along for the hunt. Byron then let Gwyn mark the day on his deer tag with his knife and then place it on the hind ankle of the animal.

"Time for Ice cream?" Byron pirked up, watching his son's face light up.

"Yes, please!" Gwyn exclaimed, "Could I get the chocolate vanilla swirl?"

"Well you did get your first kill," Byron reasoned, "Sure. Why not?"

Gwyn suddenly had a big smile on his face as he rushed to the passenger side of the truck. Byron chuckled under his breath, taking in the simplicity of the hunt. He was quite surprised at how quickly the hunt went. He looked at his watch. It was only ten in the morning, and the two headed out at five o'clock just before the sunrise. He looked at his son through the rear window of the truck.

Guess he learned faster than I thought, Byron thought to himself. He took a long strand of grass that sprout its pods, coiled the stem into a circle, spread the seeds, and then placed the grassy ring around the hoof of the deer. He then hopped into the driver side of the truck, made sure the seatbelts were on him and Gwyn, and proceeded to enjoy the day's early success on the bumpy country road.