Stray Shot


Walter R. Milton


Elephants, elks, buffaloes, lions, tigers....

Asia, Africa, the Americas, the Arctic...

Trophies galore grace my once stately home. The heads of hundreds of exotic beasts unfortunate enough to have met me during my days of personal fortune line its every wall. Too many to name: countless excursions filled with excitement, wonder, and, of course, danger, in lands as different from each other as those days of grandiloquence are different from these days of utter modesty. Still, I remember each one—the days and the beasts. Each weapon used to slay them. Each peculiarity to the shot. And each taking only one.

Now there is nothing left except those trophies. My fortune is gone, replaced by destitution. My stately home now belongs to my swarming creditors. My friends, my family and my loves have deserted me, just as I had deserted them to pursue my own pleasures. And each weapon used to claim my trophies sold for mere sustenance. Only my first one remains—the one my father purchased for my tenth birthday fifty-five years ago. The way he scraped and saved and sacrificed. For me. I could not bear to part with it.

A straight shooter in my hands, iron sights and all. Even as I pour round after round of the remnants of my .22 stock into the already decimated paper target, I know that my aim is as true as it has ever been. Then why, I wonder, did I miss so many of those targets I always aimed for during the course of my life? Why did so many of those things that I could easily have had as trophies manage, at last, to elude my aim? Why, when I had just about everything I could ever have wanted—and could easily have had everything I wanted—had I let it all get away?

Even as I load another round into the chamber and contemplate the question, the target, my life, someone suddenly at my side wonders the same thing to me. Why did your aim go awry when a rifle was not in your hands? And what if all those things you ever truly desired could be yours if you simply hit the target one more time? For me.

I consider the stranger, a gaunt and withered looking fellow, whose eyes are as black as coal, and just as cold. I consider him as I consider his tempting offer. What if... An absurd notion, but no more so than some others I have entertained. Everything I could ever want or have ever wanted could be mine if I just hit once more a target I cannot fail to hit. It almost seems as if such a promise were made to me years—a lifetime—ago.

I raise my trusty arm, line the sights dead-center, and fire.

Apparently, everything I could ever want or have ever wanted is not to be mine, I tell him.

I can only laugh at my luck. Or is it my fate—the realization that it is, in fact, my fate—which I find so humorous?

The man shakes his head and is gone as quickly and quietly as he had come.

I not only missed the target, but by preposterous margins—purposely, unbeknownst to the stranger. It was well within my power to claim my prize—a prize which I discarded long ago. At one time, I had everything I could ever want, but I had let it slip away while pursuing things that I thought I wanted. Why tread over the same ground again?

Why aim at a target that has already been hit?



© 1991