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by Robert Ellis | Dec 22, 2020 | BIG GAME, HUNTING
Sermon From the Mount


After all he had been through, was it really any wonder the deer mounts above him were talking – and making perfect sense?
Life had become intolerable, but Dan McMurry was putting forth his best face. Only two other creatures knew the extent of his misery. Dan didn’t count his wife as one of those creatures. She and Dan were in different stages of healing, different stages of denial, and he was through trying to be strong for her. They tried talking it through, aided by a therapist, but that ended in harsh words. They settled for embittered silence. Alcohol entered the picture and the concept of divorce gained credibility. Dan and his wife were in icy detente.

Fit, 40 years old, a sharp nose centering an intelligent looking face, and long brown hair struggling to hold its customary part, Dan sat with familiar numbness on a wooden stool in his small shop in the basement of his house. The door was closed, and he was cozy, sealed off. Looking down on him were two deer mounts, fashioned expertly by a local taxidermist. One was a giant mule deer Dan shot three years ago, the other was a comparatively small but nonetheless handsome 6-point whitetail—his son’s first deer. His son was killed in a traffic accident a year ago. The two animals overlooking the scene were the ones who knew the intolerable side of his life. Dan spent a lot of time down here, telling them.

On the large work bench in front of Dan were the various parts of a deer mount in progress. The ghastly white form with haunting, pre-set eyes stood with its nose to the ceiling along with two clear plastic ear liners, the thawed-out cape and a can of Instant Tan. Farther away were a hide punch, touch up paint and brush, a staple gun, needles and nylon thread. If Dan ordered the form size correctly, he told himself, maybe he’d be able to get a good night’s sleep.

This was Dan’s first attempt at taxidermy, and so far he was mostly thumbs. Frankly, he didn’t care if it ever came together. The mount was of a plain, forest-variety doe. For a taxidermist, probably a couple hours’ labor. For Dan — a seasoned architect — weeks, the labor equivalent of sketching, researching and designing a formidable structure. So far, the sputtering project was pounding in one of his college professor’s foundational axioms — in order to understand everything, you must know one thing entirely. By this the professor meant the realization that every endeavor comes with myriad challenges and layers of unseen problems to be solved. Knowing that, the professor claimed, was what separated the amateur from the professional. The doe was proving the professor’s point. Getting the damn thing caped would be an ordeal; the shampooing and fleshing a messy, bad dream.

Dan’s 14-year-old daughter, Kendy, shot the doe. She became legal hunting age two days before late doe season. Dan knew his daughter was not a hunter. She bought her license to replace her dead brother Kyle, thinking it would help. After she bravely shot the doe, mopping a tear with the back of her hand that had reached her chin, she said she wanted it on the wall next to Kyle’s deer.

“Honey,” Dan said gently so as to not spoil the moment, “does usually don’t get mounted.”

“They don’t? Why not?”

Dan was stuck. He didn’t want to say any more.

She looked at him and wiped away another tear but another one came out right away.

“It might be hard to find a taxidermist,” Dan said, leaving out who would bother with it.

“I want her mounted though,” Kendy pleaded.

She didn’t understand.

“Then you do it,” Kendy said. “You can do anything, Dad.”

He sat looking at the unassembled mount sitting in pieces surrounded by tools. It wasn’t just ignorance that delayed the project. With its extended phases of curing, the project furnished a logical excuse to disappear. The perfect “hide” so to speak. The fleshed-out cape had thawed and it was time to tan it, he guessed.

The mounts looked down on him. They had become close friends. In this he had at least partially humanized them. Why not? Once they ate, drank, sought pleasure and safety, made decisions, got frustrated and died by something they never saw coming. Just the other week the silence was broken by mysterious words — You, too, will die one day.

Rather than discount them, Dan began speaking back, hoping the participation would encourage more talk. A day later, he heard, Do not waste the days before the surprise hits you. Dan reported this to his wife who promptly accused him of mental illness. And Dan wasn’t sure that it wasn’t.

The big-headed mule deer looking down on the scene was a monster. Chocolate, ivory-tipped antlers, 173 on the score sheet with markings that testified directly to God. Artfully designed by nature, one could say. His neck was the size of a running back’s thigh. Positioned nobly, black whiskered, dignified, gazing toward his next conquest. Six feet away, Kyle’s deer was inquisitive, turned a bit toward the bruiser. Its compact antlers didn’t actually fit the head, but it was his boy’s first. It meant much more to Dan than the mule deer.

Dan heard Kendy’s footsteps coming down the stairs. This set off a panic. Dan scanned his desk, then opened a drawer and relaxed when he saw his pint of Southern Comfort tucked safely away. He quietly closed the drawer and spread the cape awkwardly out in front of him.

“How are you doing, Dad?” Kendy asked, coming through the door for a look.

“Fine. I think it will turn out all right.”

“How much longer ’til we can put her up?”

“Say, you’re in a hurry, aren’t you?”

“Kind of.”

“Not long now, Honey.”

Dan smoothed out the cape. Out of the corner of his eye he saw his daughter looking up at the other mounts. It wasn’t so long ago that she said the room made her feel creepy. Now she’d shot a deer and wanted her mount. Dan loved her for that because he knew she still felt creepy. She shot it only to help him out with Kyle. Somewhere close to his heart, he quivered.

“Won’t be much longer now,” he said. “Just some fine work.”

Dan fiddled with an ear liner, pretending he knew what he was doing.

“Kendy, did I ever tell you how you can understand all things?”

“Who told you?” Kendy asked apprehensively. She was there when Dan told his wife that he was talking to the mounted animals, and that they were showing him a way out. His wife jumped on it, said he was crazy. It flared into a shouting match.

“My college professor.”

Dan told her as he’d been taught. Then he realized he’d never bothered to tell Kyle. An avalanche of remorse tumbled over him.

Before Kendy left the room, Dan asked her to repeat in her own words what he had told her. Somehow, it seemed vital that she knew. Kendy did this, took a last look and left a moment later.

Well done. Teach your offspring. This is your only immortality.

The words were spoken audibly, or were they? If they weren’t, how did he hear them?

“I failed to tell my son, though.”

He will be told all that he needs to know.

Dan pounced on this. He threw out three, four questions all having to do with Kyle.

The mounts went silent.

Dan put down the ear liner and took out the Southern Comfort. He switched seats to the spare recliner in the corner. He wanted just a quick nip or two while he looked at the animals.

“You never saw it coming either, did you?” he said in more of a whisper.

No one does. They see it happen to others and put it out of their minds. Apply it to your own life as if it will happen tomorrow. Trust me, Conqueror, you will never see it coming, either.
 
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