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Aaron stroked the cat's fur affedtionately as they both gazed out into the grey. It was not raining but would as soon as he stepped outside, Aaron knew. The cat knew this also and contented itself with the comfort of the window-sill.

"Why don't you invite Rory over?" his mother called from the kitchen.

"Naw. There's nothing to do," he complained while the cat continued to arch its back into the pressure of his sweeping hand.

"You could play monopoly."

"Naw. There's no fun in that."

She tried again, not realizing that whatever she suggested would meet with immediate disapproval.

"I think I'll just go outside." Aaron gave way to his restlessness and decided to go play in the woods.

"Why not give your father a hand?" she called after him. "He'd like that."

His father was 'sculpting the wilderness.' That meant, Aaron thought, putting in a lawn that I'll just have to cut all the time.

The woods was nearby because his father had chosen to build his own house. He had cleared a small square of the forest and constructed their shelter. Only the landscaping was left to be done. Others had followed his example and the neighbourhood grew rapidly though the forest still edged his property line.

Aaron always took his pellet-gun into the woods with him in case of cougars or bears or tin cans. He wasn't supposed to take it but he could sneak it out of the basement without being seen.

He approached his fort in the trees with caution, wary lest it had been captured in his absence. He retook it by surprise. Only a few shots were exchanged. Surveying the war-damage, he set about strengthing the fortifications. He attached scraps of lumber that he had pilfered from home to the the support trees. Using a rusted hammer with a broken claw, Aaron pounded spikes deep into the tissue of the trunks. He was framing a second story for the structure.

Tiring of the work, the boy set out to explore the region surrounding his outpost. He crept cautiously, quietly into the gloom, his steps cushioned by the spongy pad of the forest floor. Only a few ferns and fungi dared flourish in the dense twilight so he moved swiftly between the fir trunks, pausing only at the occaisional crackle of a branch underfoot. Trail of slugs glittered like mica in a veined pattern and he wished he had some salt. Slugs shrivel and writhe when sprinkled with salt.

Swiftly he passed rock outcroppings that marked rich mineral deposits: ores of silver and gold. Greedily he pocketed a diamond. He noted landmarks, intending to map the region in detail, later, from memory. He could hardly wait to return to the garrison to report on these marvels but he knew that he must press on: press on past the enemy lines.

He was to radio back intelligence about their strengths and weaknesses -- an assault was scheduled for dawn. He had been hand-picked for the mission, an honour he must not betray with failure. Hidden crows warned of his approach but he knew the enemy would not interpret their meaning. Stealthily he avoided a sentry hidden in a huge, burnt, cedar stump. A machine-gun could be seen poking above the crown of salal that adorned it. Skirting a line of trenches he swept into the encampment undetected. The smell of stew wafting through the woods reminded him that he had been forced to travel lightly, forsaking rations for the trek.

He selected a tree that would serve as an observation post and slipped away from the earth. Perched at a great height he felt a spattering of the drizzle that assaulted from above. Aaron froze, the chill of suspense climbing up his back, as a blue jay lighted in an adjacent tree. With care he raised the rifle, snapping off the safety catch in one deft movement. He sighted and squeezed the trigger. The bird remained, not even the recoil of the spring or the woosh of compressed air had startled it.

Glaring, its eye remained fixed on Aaron who neither moved nor breathed. Only the swishing wind surging through the foliage marked the interlude. Riding the gusting branch, the bird would lean forward first, then back, rising then falling, all the time staring, staring and then it toppled to the ground. Dead.

Aaron scrambled down the tree and stood over the powdery blue form where it lay on the carpet of needles and twigs. He was mystified at how it had clung to the branch watching him, waiting. He reloaded and fired a pellet into its head.

Forgetting his mission he rushed home persued by the image of a bird, upright but dead, in a tree. Crows croaked down at him as he crashed through the brush. There was so much brush now. Branches whipped his face and he banged his shins on sticks and roots. The soft earth made his legs feel like mush.

He was winded but regained his composure upon reaching the house. Carefully replacing the rifle, he climbed the stairs. He declined the stew that his mother offered, said he wasn't hungry, and tried to read a comic. The stag over the fireplace, 'a five-point-buck,' his father always said with pride, watched him, smiling, with an expression of shared, secret knowledge. That night he wept silently in the darkness of his room.

c1989





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