This Is Our StoryBy: Ashley Elston
For my mom, Sally
A ten-point buck and a dead body make the same sound when they hit the forest floor. It’s hard to believe a person could be mistaken for an animal, but it happens more than you know.
We know these woods. We’ve spent as much time here as anywhere else. Every hill and valley, every place the deer forage for food and rest in the heat of the day, is mapped out in our heads. We know exactly where the shot comes from when we hear it. Stealth no longer necessary, we tear in from every direction, each wanting to see the kill first.
But that excitement evaporates at the sight of Grant’s body twisted in odd angles over a downed tree. The impact of the bullet knocked him completely out of his boots, which are still upright several feet away.
We gravitate to one another, standing in a tight pack several yards away from him, momentarily scared to get any closer. One by one, our guns slip through our fingers, thudding softly on the blanket of leaves covering the ground.
And one by one we move closer to Grant.
Stunned, we stand in a circle around him, our bodies covered in camouflage, each of us blending into the next.
No one goes near him. No one bends down to check his pulse. There is a small hole in the center of his chest and blood pours out of him and soaks into the ground and there is no question—Grant Perkins is dead.
Two of us drop to our knees, crying; another seems unable to move at all.
But one of us studies the guns piled on the ground.
“That’s not a buckshot wound. He got shot with a rifle.”
All eyes go to the Remington—the only rifle in the group.
Concern for Grant is over quickly; the sorrow turns to panic and every finger quickly points to someone else and shouts of “I didn’t do it!” ring through the air. We all handled that rifle and we know it could point back to any one of us.
The amount of booze and pot and pills still flowing through our systems will guarantee that this is seen as a crime, not just an accident.
We push each other.
We cuss each other.
We threaten each other.
We are imploding.
I watch my friends, who are more like brothers, and know this won’t end well for any of us.
A buzzing sound on the ground beside Grant quiets everyone. His phone, set on vibrate, rattles in the dead leaves. No one moves to touch it, to answer it, to make it stop. We all just stare at Grant.
Single file, the ants begin to claim his body. Birds swoop into the nearby trees, waiting for a clear shot at him. We will look guilty if we wait too long to call for help. We will look guilty no matter what. We need to do something—call someone—but we’re paralyzed.
I study each person in the circle, faces tear-streaked and numb from either the shock or the alcohol or the drugs. Or maybe all three. I weigh strengths and weaknesses.
Only one of us pulled the trigger, but we all played our own part in his death. They will find marks on Grant that don’t fit with an accidental shooting. They will find marks on us that shouldn’t be there either. The last twenty-four hours will have them talking about more than what happened during this early-morning hunt.
“So no one is owning up to using the Remington,” one of us says, more a statement than a question.
Do any of us remember which one of us was holding that gun a few minutes ago?
Silence as loud as a freight train fills the space, and we stare at Grant to avoid looking at each other. Or looking guilty.
“If one of us goes down for this, it’ll be as bad as all of us going down for this,” I say. “We can’t let that happen.”
All eyes are on me. One look is blank, like my words aren’t registering, while others are nodding, ready to agree to anything that will keep them out of trouble.
There is only one way out of this, and it has to be together. We all have to agree.
“This was just an accident. A horrible accident,” one of us mumbles. “Whoever used the Remington should just admit it. There’s no reason to drag us all through this.”
“Even if it was an accident, whoever did this could still go to prison,” another of us says.
Our actions this morning would be viewed no differently than if Grant had died while we’d been driving under the influence.
“Look, I know we’re all scared shitless right now, but we’ll be fine. There’s no reason for anyone to ruin his whole life over this,” I say.