‘Do you see the stuffed stag head mounted on the drawing room wall? It’s Uncle Benson’s trophy from a forest expedition,’ Uncle Benson’s friend pointed to the treasured collection of game.

‘How did you find it, uncle?’ I inquired.

Uncle looked up at the stag’s head and said, ‘It once roamed freely in the woods. Alas, its life ended at my hands.’

I shot a surprised look at Uncle. He let out a deep sigh. ‘Well, I was serving on the eastern front in those days. Our unit had camped on the edge of the jungle, by a mountain river. The dense forest across the river was home to exotic animals like deer, sambars, and wild boars.’

‘We spent the evenings gazing at the sunset,’ he continued. ‘You know how animals keep their distance from humans. So, it wasn’t surprising that we hardly came across any out there. However, things changed one night. We were out relaxing in the dull moonlight. One of the men pointed at the opposite river bank and drew our attention to a pair of deer. They had come by to quench their thirst. One was a male and the other a female. The animals had already sensed our presence.’

‘They looked up and stood still. They were gazing at us. Even in the dull glow of the moon, I could see their dark eyes peering at us. Both the doe and the stag had spotted coats. The stag’s horns looked stunningly beautiful in the moonlight.’

‘Like any passionate hunter, I couldn’t resist the temptation of getting my hands on the mounted head of a stag. Those were the days when army officers regarded themselves as a privileged lot, one that was above the country’s law. I pulled the trigger, aiming for the stag.’

‘The noise of my gun broke the nightly silence. The frightened doe let out a shrill alarm and ran away at high speed. A few moments later we heard a crash. The crash resounded through the jungle. My bullet had undone the stag. I was overjoyed.’

”Master marksman!’ my partner exclaimed.’

‘I was pleased. Soon, we brought back the lifeless body of the stag. We relished the savory venison that night. The head of the animal was to be my trophy.’

‘A couple of nights later, we were woken up by a faint cry in the woods. At first, we ignored it. However, soon it was too clear to disregard. That peaceful night had suddenly started to echo the pitiful cries of an animal. A little later, the animal walked over to the clearing. It was a doe. No, it was the doe – the one we had spotted with the stag we hunted. She had come looking for her mate. She was crying out loud. We watched her helplessly.’

‘She walked right up to the riverbank and looked over suspiciously at our camp. The doe kept yowling all night. I felt ashamed of myself. I had separated an animal from her mate. None of us could sleep that night.’

‘As dawn broke, the wailing finally stopped. I emerged from my tent. To my shock, I saw the doe standing very close to our camp. She had apparently crossed the river at night. Once again, she began calling her mate.’

‘Feeling miserable, I did the most disgusting thing. I couldn’t bear to look at her in the eye, so I looked away while aiming at the doe from close range. A second later, she dropped dead in a pool of blood. Even in death, her eyes gave away her shock and disbelief.’

Uncle Benson was done with his story. We sat at his feet, wide-eyed and open-mouthed.

There was a deafening silence in the room. Shock and surprise had numbed everyone in there.

‘How could you do that to the poor animal, Uncle?’ Grief choked my words.

‘It may sound cruel, but I had to put an end to her misery. We dug a pit by the river and buried her there, wishing her peace in death,’ said Uncle Benson.

Tears trickled down our cheeks.

‘I gave up hunting that day,’ he said.

…now that you’re here

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Pravin Kumar Ameya

As fond of writing a good story as he is of reading one, Pravin is one of the most promising writers at Ameya. He can be contacted at pravinkumar2788@gmail.com.