Short Stories

18 March 2017
12 October 2012
04 June 2011
01 April 2011
Chris Slatter

Don't Look Now


Ever had a close call? I mean a brush with death so shudderingly awful it left you thinking you were lucky to be alive?
I had one when I was a kid.
 My family used to stay on a farm in Lincolnshire every Summer. I loved it. It was a few weeks of freedom. The rest of the year was school, doing jobs around the house, insults from my friends, casual violence from my enemies. But those three weeks in Lincolnshire I could do what I liked. Sometimes I helped with the milking, other times rode around on the back of a tractor, or speared fish in the stream that meandered through the farm. Nobody cared what I did, nobody gave me orders or made demands on my time. I did whatever I liked.
The year I turned fourteen they let me take out the shotgun.
The fields were always jumping with rabbits in the summer. They were so plentiful, the farmer, my parents’ friend could have turned them into a cash crop. Hares, too.
When you clapped your hands, the rabbits would take off, streaking across the fields. They went crazy.
 I thought it was great. The farmer, though, he didn’t think it was so good. Especially when the wheat was standing. He thought those rabbits were a pest. The summer I turned fourteen I started to see things his way and when I casually asked if I could shoot a few for dinner, he said yes. Amazingly, so did my parents.
The shotgun was a small one, a 410, not like those double barrelled monsters that could fell an elephant. It was always left in the umbrella stand by the farmhouse door, a few red cartridges casually strewn nearby. You’d have thought it had no more importance than the walking sticks it shared a home with.
I walked out in the fields the next morning with it tucked under my arm, cartridges bulging my pocket. It was early and the farmyard was deserted. It must have been early for the rabbits, too, because there wasn’t a sign of them. I clapped my hands, but nothing moved.  I climbed up on a fence rail and waited for the rabbits to get up.
I remember the details perfectly: the movement of the wheat in the wind, spiders webs glistening with dew along the fence line, a blizzard of puffballs as a heavier gust shook a patch of dandelions, a crow floating up from a stand of trees, black on red. If I’d had a cigarette I’d have smoked it. I was feeling that good.
After a while, there was movement. A rabbit, a big buck, scampered out of the wheat and began attending to some fallen ears of grain. His family joined him. They were right at my feet. Surely, they had to see me. But they grazed on oblivious to the nearness of death.
The gun was propped against the fence at my feet. I thought about reaching down, hoisting and firing it in one movement. I made an ever-so-slow movement towards the gun. I slid off the fence rail and fell flat on my face.
The rabbits fled.
I picked myself up and began to stalk the rabbits, shotgun advanced, hand on trigger. And when I turned a curve in the field there was another rabbit tableau right before me.
I raised the gun to my shoulder and pulled the trigger. Click. Misfire.
I remember thinking that I must have forgotten to load it. The rabbits hadn’t moved, so I retreated around the curve of the field and slid my hand down the barrel to the lever that broke the gun. I kept my attention on the rabbits, half-glimpsed through the stalks of wheat. I was willing them to stay where they were.
My hand brushed the lever. I went for a cartridge with my other hand, and gently broke the gun.
“Boom!” The explosion nearly burst my eardrum and a hot wind struck my cheek. I reeled back, thinking that I must be dead. I sat in the field, shotgun cast aside, sobbing with shock. I stayed there in that field of wheat until the sun was high in the sky.
When I returned to the farmhouse, it was lunchtime. Everyone was sitting around the big pine table. Nobody said a word to me, not even to ask me if I’d bagged any rabbits. I was really grateful.
That was my last summer on the farm. My parents never went again, preferring to holiday in Europe. I didn’t really mind. That brush with death had scared the living daylights out of me.
The years crawled by. School ended to my relief, to be replaced by the hope and disappointment of work. I never felt satisfaction, never lost my horror of that morning in the field of wheat.
Whatever I did, wherever I went I was a stranger. My job, though, was secure and it gave me routine, a sense of being needed, that kept me going. One morning, though, there was a note from the management saying that the company had been sold. My services were no longer required.
I had enough money to last a year, if I didn’t work. And I didn’t work, couldn’t work. I sat and dreamed the days away, a reject from life.
When you lose everything and nothing has substance, your mind revisits the places that gave you pleasure and so it was that I took a train to Lincolnshire and then a bus to Stamford. It wheezed along the lanes of my youth, hedgerows streaming past and then I was there.
The farmhouse was just as I had remembered it, delightfully higgledy-piggledy, a gingerbread house in the woods. It was late afternoon and there was only a curl of smoke from the chimney to tell me that it was occupied because the yard was empty of people.
There was no one in the machine yard, either, the overgrown museum of farm implements that I had so enjoyed as a child. I swished through the long grass and took the path that followed the stream, pleased to see that there were still moor hens.
And so I arrived at the far end of the field that had occupied so much of my mind. I followed the fence, saw the place where I had sat that morning so long before, turned the corner around the standing wheat and then I saw it, the explanation for everything.
In that place, where I had fumbled with the gun and felt the wings of death brush me, there was a small carved stone and some flowers. My name was carved on the stone.
Ever had a call so close, you felt lucky to survive?
Maybe you didn’t.
Copyright Christopher Slatter 2011

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About Me

I have been an advertising copywriter, film director, teacher of screenwriting and a television producer. I have worked for some of the world's largest advertising agencies in Australia and the UK before attending the London Film School for two years.

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