Tess ran and stumbled through the grass, bushes, and fallen twigs in the forest. She fell to the ground a few times and got some mud on her jeans and jacket.
“Oh, shoot,” she whispered when she saw the mud on herself. “Mom and Dad are gonna be mad about that, for sure. Oh, well…”
She heard the shot of a rifle farther off.
“That must be Daddy!” She ran in the direction of the gunshot.
Boyd frowned as he saw the deer run away.
“Shit,” he whispered. “I hate it when I miss.”
Indeed, Mr. Marksman, as had been his nickname ever since high school (in fact, long before he’d even hit Alexa in the face, just under her left eye, with that bottle-cap in his slingshot), almost never missed. Each miss, as rare as it ever was, wounded his pride terribly.
He shuffled through the grass in the direction that deer ran in. He looked all around, but couldn’t see it, or any other deer, anywhere.
“Dammit!” he whispered. “I’ll find you, deer, soon enough.”
Tess had been running and running, falling in the mud again and again, knowing full well her dad and, especially, her mom were going to be really mad at her for getting her clothes so dirty. Still, she was giggling the whole time.
She didn’t care what punishment was coming her way. She was having fun.
She was going to meet with Daddy, and they were going to play some more. Her spirit guide promised her.
She heard another gunshot. It was louder and closer.
That was Daddy again, she thought. I must be almost there. I’d better be really quiet. I want to surprise him.
She crept in the direction of the gunshot, careful to make as little noise as possible, then hid in the tall grass and bushes.
“Goddamn it,” Boyd whispered as he watched another deer run away. “I missed again.” This was two misses in a row. As rare as missing a target was for him, two consecutive misses were especially rare…and in his opinion, humiliating.
He went after that deer, being as quiet as he could.
I never miss like that! he thought. Those two opportunities I just had were easy hits. I had my target locked, both times. It doesn’t make any sense that I missed them. You’d think there was an evil spirit out here making me miss.
He now saw a deer feeding off of the leaves of a bush not too far off. It didn’t look like the other deer (or two) he’d shot at and missed, but it was a deer, all right. A rather small one, a particularly sweet and innocent-looking one, the kind that normally aroused his sense of compassion and mercy.
But with his wounded pride, mercy was the last thing on his mind at the moment.
Sorry, sweetie, he thought as he brought up his rifle to take aim. But I’m hitting you. And nothing…and I mean nothing, is gonna make me miss this time.
Tess looked through the leaves of the bush she was hiding behind. She saw her dad in profile, aiming his rifle to her right, about ninety degrees from her position. He was clearly aiming at a deer out there somewhere; she looked out far to her right to see if she could see the deer.
She couldn’t find it anywhere out there, no matter how hard, or how far out to the right, that she looked.
Where is it? she wondered. Daddy seems to be aiming at nothing, if it’s a deer he wants to shoot. I guess the deer is too far out there for me to see.
She could see him keeping his aim and staying perfectly still.
Why doesn’t he just shoot? she wondered. Surely he’s aimed long enough. I wanna jump out and surprise him so badly. She was about to rise.
No! her spirit guide whispered in her ear. Don’t move at all. Wait for him to take his shot, then surprise him. If you startle him, he’ll miss the deer and get mad at you.
“OK,” Tess whispered.
Dammit, Boyd thought. The deer moved a bit, right when I was about to shoot. Good, it’s still again. Don’t move, you: I don’t wanna miss again.
He had the deer’s head right in his sights. He took a few slow breaths. The deer was perfectly still.
This is it, he thought.
He pulled the trigger ever so slowly.
Blood splashed from the head in all directions.
But it wasn’t the blood of a deer.
Not one second after the bullet struck did he see the brown fur of the deer change into Tess’s brown jacket.
Not one millisecond after he fired the shot did she see him change, from firing ninety degrees to her right, to firing straight at her face.
“What the–?” he whispered, with a chill going all the way up his spine to his head. He went closer to get a better look.
The bullet hit her just under the left eye.
“Jesus Christ!” he screamed.
He fell to his knees, just a few feet by his daughter’s bloody body. He shook for several minutes, his eyes wide open to see what they couldn’t possibly have believed they were seeing. Then, finally, he began sobbing.
“It was a deer!” he screamed. “I saw a deer! Not…my…dear!…” He continued bawling.
“Tess?” Sharon called as she entered the woods. “Tess, where are you?”
“What did I do to deserve this?” Boyd sobbed.
I am what you did, Alexa’s voice called out to him.
“What?” he said, his head swinging around in all directions to find a voice that seemed to have no body.
I told you I was gonna get you, the voice said.
“Wait,” he said. “Is that the voice…from my dreams?”
Yes, Alexa said, her ghostly apparition showing itself to him from his left. She was grinning.
He swung in her direction, pointing the rifle at her.
“Alexa,” he grunted. “I always hated you.”
And only now do you have good reason to.
“And now I’m gonna kill you,” he said, aiming for her face, his trigger finger more than itchy.
You can’t kill a ghost, you moron, she said, grinning nonetheless at the prospect of tempting him into more foolishness.
“No, but I can shoot at you to make me feel better.”
Are you sure you’ll feel better? Maybe you’ll feel worse. Remember what happened the last time you pulled the trigger.
“I didn’t see as clearly then as I do now.”
Are you sure about that, asshole?
“Shut up!” He fired.
Again, as soon as the bullet reached its mark, Alexa’s apparition disappeared, replaced by the person who really got the bullet in the head…just under her left eye.
“Sharon!” Boyd screamed as he saw his wife’s body fall to the ground. Now, he was bawling twice as loudly. “Alexa, you fucking bitch! I may have bullied you back in school, but I did not deserve this!”
Alexa’s ghost reappeared. Then shoot me, she said.
“And who will I kill next? Did you lure my mother here?”
Shoot, and find out.
He just stood there, frozen in a mix of stupefaction and despair.
If you don’t shoot me, who will you shoot?
Finally, he made up his mind. “Oh, you’ll like this, for sure!”
He put the end of the rifle in his mouth and pulled the trigger.
Over the following weeks, journalists, as well as everyone else who knew Boyd, puzzled over what the reason could have possibly been for such a happy, successful businessman to want to destroy himself and his loving family.