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Fog rose over the hillside, blurring the tree line as it mixed and fused with the leafless winter wood. Other than the somber call of the mourning dove, no sound came from that empty place. It was a cold, dry January morning; colder and drier than most. 

The dead grass crunched under my body as I rolled around to grab the PBR leaning against my ass. I lifted the can, took a heavy swig, and set it back down. Shuffling around a bit more, careful not to spill my cold beer, I lifted my shotgun and aimed it at the eerie sound coming from the wood. Those doves would have something good to mourn soon enough.

Most people like dove hunting in big groups, turning the hunt into a sort of party. That was never my preference, though. I always preferred it alone, regardless of the prey I was stalking. Didn’t matter if it was a massive elk or just a tiny little dove; I liked to be alone. That was half the point of hunting, in my opinion—being alone. Experiencing real nature, as it’s supposed to be experienced. Plus, dove hunting is completely doable by yourself, so long as you find a good spot to post up, which isn’t all that hard to do. I’d obviously found one on this particular morning.

The birds burst from the trees and my shotgun immediately matched their harmonious flutter with its own blast of percussion. My leg jerked in excitement, unfortunately tipping over my PBR, still ice-cold thanks to the frosty morning air. Every time my weapon’s discharge erupted toward the trees, birds fell from the sky like downed fighter-jets. It was a good morning out in the field. By the time I headed back for home I had a bucket full of formerly mournful, now totally dead, delectable doves. 


I lived in a small house down a long gravel road. It was a typical backwoods country home. The roof and siding were both aluminum, which always created an anxiety inducing rattle whenever Mother Nature hit—whether wind, rain, sleet, or snow. During a bad winter, like the one we were experiencing that year, you could periodically hear clumps of snow sliding off the roof and landing with a thud on the ground. Always made it sound like someone was trying to stealthily break in, but fucked it up on the jump from the roof. Why anyone would climb the roof to break into my house, I have no fucking clue; they could just as easily walk right in the front door—I never locked the damned thing. That’s what it sounded like, though. Thieves. 

I had one neighbor: Mr. Willis. He lived a few hundred yards from my house, down the hill, in the holler. He was a chubby, middle aged, balding guy. He had big teeth that stretched out from his mouth, a bit like those sets you see in Halloween stores. His lips were always wet with spit, I guess because he couldn’t ever fully get his teeth in his mouth. His mouth was like a bursting, partially zipped suitcase. 

He was standing out by the road peering into his mailbox as I drove by, his fat ass the size of a road sign. 

“Hey there!” he said jovially after wrenching his head free from the mailbox, “You've been out hunting again, huh! Tag anything good?”

“Yeah,” I responded dismissively as I grabbed the PBR from the cup holder and took a healthy pull, “I tagged a few.”

Willis continued to stare at me happily for a few more seconds, as if he thought I’d have something else to say. He always thought I’d have something else to say. He was always in a good mood. Weird bastard.

“Ah, well… Good deal! Good deal…” he finally concluded,” Looks like you got yourself a good dinner for tonight!”

“Yep,” I agreed irritably, quickly pressing the gas and continuing down the road. The wheels in my truck spun in the gravel due to the impatient weight I’d placed on the gas, anxious to get the fuck out.

The rumble of my truck lumbering down the drive awoke and alerted my dog, Roscoe, from his continual slumber. I used to take Roscoe with me, but he’d gotten old quickly the past few years and wasn’t worth much of a shit out in the field anymore. It was too bad, because he used to love going. Now, he didn’t enjoy much other than sleeping and loafing around pathetically. I still loved the old bastard, though. I couldn’t ever bring myself to get another dog. Puppies are annoying sons of bitches, anyway, and I was getting old and lazy, too. I didn’t have the energy to train another one. I’d rather just hunt lonesomely. 

Roscoe limped out the screen door, which never fully latched shut, and began wagging his tail and bobbing around as excitedly as he was capable. I elicited within me whatever small amount of warm emotion I was capable of feeling. 

I parked, hopped out of the truck, gave Roscoe a pet, and pulled the bucket from the back of the truck:

“Look at this shit here, old boy! I got a bunch of them fuckers this morning! Tagged them up real good!”

As I threw the bucket down to start the cleaning, I took another drag of the PBR I’d cracked on the ride home. Roscoe sniffed around curiously at the lifeless birds, but he knew better than to try and take any of them. He’d had his ass smacked too many times when he was puppy to do any stupid shit like that. 

The feathers peeled right off. I aggressively ripped them and apathetically tossed each bird back to the ground, where they lay waiting naked for breasting. After breasting each bird, spraying them with the hose, and tossing them into the clean bucket, I walked inside the house, letting Roscoe follow behind.

“We’re eating good tonight, old boy. I cleaned up so good this morning that I’ll even give you a few of these fuckers. You’re gonna eat good tonight, too. Both of us will.”


My house wasn't worth describing. I had a stove; that was something. I could fry up the mournful doves I took down. I could lay down exhaustively on the couch, watch whatever basketball game I only vaguely cared about that was on, and stare in sedated, drunken, nostalgic envy at the mounted heads of elk and deer that lined the wall. A couple of those old bastards were huge—that’s objective. I tagged a few good ones. They kept me company for a good while; them and Roscoe. I even had one of those damned singing bass on the wall. I didn’t kill that thing, obviously. That’d be some creepy, magical shit if I had a singing zombie fish nailed to the wall. I wish! I still liked it, though. I considered it representative of all the bass fish that I actually had caught, which was a shit load.

As I began to zone out, the sizzling pan started smoking in the kitchen. I didn’t notice until smoke crept into my eyelids and burned them up pretty good. I snapped dazedly into reality and looked over at Roscoe:

“Why didn’t you let me know, you old dirty bastard! You didn’t even help me kill these fuckers, and it’s your food, too!”

I scrambled across the room and speedily lifted the pan from the stove, oil cracking and smoke filling the room. 

They were still good. A little burned up, but still good, especially so long as I doused them real heavy in hot sauce. I preferred the Louisiana brand. If it was good enough for a gator, I figured, it was good enough for a goddamn dove. I ate them up quick, those mournful fuckers. Roscoe did too. He liked them so much he tried sneaking one off my plate while he thought I wasn’t looking. I smacked him good for that, right in the snout. I loved the bastard, but you never want a dog thieving food. 

I dragged myself back over to the couch and fell asleep after that. Passed out hard. 


I woke up in the middle of the night with an urge to piss like you wouldn’t believe. There was still smoke in the house; it seemed like there was to me, at least. My eyes were still burning. I couldn’t see all that well. I felt around the room, looking for the pisser. I accidentally stepped on Roscoe. He got all offended about that, of course, but he couldn’t help but go back to sleep as soon as I’d walked off. 

Those bastards on the wall always gave me the creeps at night. Not just the singing fish, which for some reason had a habit of coming on even when I hadn’t pressed the button, singing “Riders on the Storm” (with the introductory sound of rainfall and everything): 

Into this life we’re born… into this world we’re thrown… like a dog without a bone” 

That was some true shit if I’d ever heard it. I never liked that old Jim Morrison. He seemed like a pretentious little fruit to me, but I liked that song. Shit was deep. And I’d never heard one of those fish singing that particular song other than mine. Maybe I had a weird one or something; goofy fucker might have been worth something. That bastard, though—weird as he was—wasn’t the son of a bitch that creeped me out; it was the heads. Those elk and deer heads. I only had one elk. I don’t want you thinking I was more of a badass huntsman than I actually was. I did get one of them, though; all by myself, too. Found him out in the hills, over by Black Mountain. I’m not sure if he was in season or not; probably not, but I couldn’t pass up that opportunity; those bastards are rare as hell. Both in terms of cooking and in terms of likelihood of seeing them when you’re out hunting in Kentucky. But I only had one elk. I had lots of deer, though, and all of those bastards gave me the creeps, too. Big ass heads in the darkness. 

As I stumbled through the room in search of the pisser, I was only capable of seeing vague, dark shapes through the smoke. The elk head, big as it was, almost swallowed the darkness and the smoke with even more darkness—an even greater darkness. Its antlers rose to the ceiling, damn near, and its eyes glowed a bit; shone blackness straight through the dark, even though the real eyes had been replaced with fake glass ones, and even though it was, as far as I could tell, completely pitch dark in the room. They shone; they really did. Shone black. 

Those shining eyes distracted me to the point that I wasn’t paying attention to where I was going and smacked my face right against the closed pisser door: 

  “Awhh, shit… god dammit! I muttered to myself. I then opened the door, stepped over to the toilet, and released a steady though likely inaccurate stream. 

I slept soundly for the rest of the night.

Next morning, Roscoe and I ate the rest of the doves for breakfast. Threw them in an omelet with some bacon, jalapenos, and mushrooms. It was damn near the best omelet I’d ever had. I rolled it across the pan, moist and perfectly colored, just like those French bastards like to do. I made one for Roscoe, too, and he even liked that shit. Normally he never liked anything too spicy, but he gobbled that shit straight up like you’d think he hadn’t eaten for days. Greedy old bastard, he was. 

I got to lounging on the couch and thinking about them heads. No way I should be unnerved by something so goddamn stupid, but I knew them fuckers moved at night; those shining eyes. They followed me, judged me. I sipped the stale remnants of the PBR I’d left on the coffee table next to the couch overnight while I sat in contemplative paranoia. I grew more and more anxious the more I thought about it. Them fuckers did judge me. I knew it. I had to take those bastards down, regardless of how much it pained me. They may have been a source of pride, but I couldn’t handle them anymore. I couldn’t be waking up at 3:00 am, staring with angst into that creeping, shifting blackness—not anymore. I took them all down and threw them in the storage closet. They barely fit in there. They were situated all awkwardly, antlers pointing every which direction. I was at peace though, at least temporarily. 

I lazed on the couch for the rest of the day watching college basketball. The ‘Cats were playing Tennessee; my least favorite team. God damn Volunteers; what a shit mascot for a school to have. They wasn’t even volunteers anyway; not historically, at least. They got that name from Andrew Jackson, old hickory, because he needed a bunch of fuckers to go help him slaughter some Indians. He found a pretty good shit load of willing bastards in his home state, Tennessee, so that’s why they got the name Volunteers, because they were antsy for some genocide. That’s some fucked up shit, even for me, and I certainly don’t consider myself any sort of moral champion—not in the slightest. 

That’s not why I hated their basketball team, though; I just plain loathed those bastards. There was no good reason for it; it was just a blank, faceless hatred. Puke inside of a pumpkin orange, like that kid from Alabama said on YouTube. They beat the ‘Cats that day, though; whipped their asses. Pissed me off. I passed out on the couch again after that—passed out hard. The empty PBRs I’d collected on the coffee table during the game must’ve got to me.


I slept real uneasy that day. Sleeping on the couch half-sloppy drunk isn’t the best way to get any quality shuteye. I tossed and turned all over that old, faded red, stained sofa. Legs hanging off the side; hanging up over top the couch; arms sprawled out as if I were some dead guy at a crime scene. 

I had some sort of real fucked up weird dream, too; at least it seemed pretty fucked up from what I remember about it.

I was in the woods. It was dark and misty; a bit smoky, like it’d been in the house the other night after the dove-fry. I was stumbling around drunkenly. Maybe I was supposed to be drunk in the dream. I was clearly a little buzzed-off in real life, so that would make sense. I don’t know, though; who the hell ever knows anything about dreams, anyhow? They’re totally nonsensical. Anyone who says they can interpret dreams is full of shit; that’s a fact. They’re all scammers. Hell, the supposed expert, the most recognizable dream-interpreter ever—that old pervert, Freud—was really just that: an old pervert. He didn’t even know shit about dreams. Nobody does. 

These doctors that are always talking to me these days sure as shit don’t, either.

In this particular dream it was dark—dark as hell. I was stumbling drunkenly through the woods. I didn’t have my gun with me or anything like that, which is weird, because if I’m going to the woods, I’ve always got my gun. Didn’t have Roscoe either, which wasn’t quite as weird, being that he was older than shit, but still… A bit strange that I was drunk-stumbling through the woods without any sort of protection.

I kept trudging along and smacked my head on a big old tree, just like I’d done on the pisser door the previous night. That shit doesn't hurt in dreams, though. Pretty sure it doesn't, at least, but you may need to consult old pervy Freud for confirmation. I fell back after I hit it; fell my ass right on the ground. When I looked up, there was a big ass elk standing right over me. It looked just like the one I’d hung up on the wall; glass eyes and everything. It stared at me for a bit, and then rose up on two legs. Fucker must’ve been ten feet tall at least. Scared me shitless. It reached its left arm behind its head to its back and pulled out a shotgun. Looked just like my shotgun I’d just used to blast all of them mournful doves. It pointed the barrel of that son of a bitch right at my dome, and before I even knew it, pulled the trigger; blasted my brains all over the side of that tree I’d smacked into. Probably did, at least. I don’t know for sure because I snapped awake right at the click of the trigger. Fell off the couch and onto the floor. Accidentally knocked a PBR can off the coffee table and spilt it all over the carpet. Hate it when that shit happens. 


Foggy-headed as I was after that, I stepped outside to get some fresh air. Snow was coming down hard. It was that goofy snow too; the type that looks about like them tiny plastic balls you get in packages. A little too rounded, like fake snow or something; like they was flying planes overhead and spraying out manufactured snow from some ski resort. Those seemingly plastic balls were pelting me right in the goddamn face. I looked to the left. There was a dove—one of them mournful fuckers—sitting on the AC unit. It was motionless; eerily motionless. I kept staring at it and it didn’t move, not an inch. Eventually, I stepped over to it and stared it right in the face—right into its mournful eyes. Still no movement. Fucker was dead. Dead as hell. I reached over and picked it up. It was froze as fuck. Felt more like one of them painted wooden birds with the glued-on fake feathers people use as decorations. Its frigid eyes stared at me innocently. That gave me the fucking creeps. I placed it right back where it was and walked back inside. 

I started drinking after that; still had a few PBRs left over from the ‘Cats game. Before I knew it, I’d caught yet another buzz. I stumbled around the living room, lifting my PBR in the air, singing along to my favorite Townes Van Zandt tune: Pancho and Lefty.  I sang along in my self-perceived baritone voice about how Pancho, with his kerosene breath, got stuck up in Cleveland during the winter. Felt bad for him about that; that son of a bitching city can get colder than hell. 

I strutted around drunkenly for some time and eventually, inevitably, once again collapsed down on the couch. In an unlikely turn of events, though, that red bastard didn’t hold me down. I got up, stumbled over to the fridge, and was met with the unfortunate reality that there wasn’t any PBRs left. I shifted my vision up to the cabinet and grabbed the singular bottle of liquor: a fifth of Fighting Cock. I twisted it open and got to swigging. 

I kept partying it up, just listening to music, just me and old Roscoe. Roscoe liked partying, too. I put a couple fingers of liquor in his bowl so he could party, but he didn’t like the bite of bourbon. He lapped it up and then gave a strange look of surprised, sinless discomfort, like some child. 

“We ain’t got no more coldbeers, old boy,” I told him, “That’ll have to do for you.”

After a time, I fell back down on the couch and passed the hell out once again. When I woke up, music was still blaring loud as hell. Don’t know how I slept through it, but it’s possible to sleep through damn near anything when you’re good and buzzed-off, especially when it’s a good buzzed-off afternoon nap. 

 It was already dark outside. Seemed misty and smoky in the house again, too. I went over to the stove and checked it; I’d left that fucker on. Seemed like I had at least, because it was sure as hell on. It was burning up the pan that's been left there; burning all the dirty little charred pieces of leftover dove, smoking up the room. It was a bit strange, though, because I was sure that I didn’t cook nothing that day; nothing on the stove, at least. 

I got all anxious and paranoid after that. My eyes was burning again. I couldn’t see all that well. I was hungover as piss, too, and my anxiety was all worked up on account of that. I felt a breeze coming in from the front door. Guess I’d left it open after I came back in from looking at that froze-as-fuck mournful dove. That was likely the case, but it still scared me pretty good and shitless. I walked outside. Nobody was out there. I looked to the left again. That frozen mournful dove was gone! It must’ve fell off the AC unit. Maybe it even wasn’t quite dead; wouldn’t that’ve been something? I just picked up a still living—though froze as fuck—bird, and set it down, then it just thawed out and flew the fuck off. That’d of been something. Maybe that’s what happened. 

I walked inside and Shelter from the Storm by Bob Dylan was playing. Not the standard sad, acoustic version, though, the other version. The live rock n’ roll one from the Rolling Thunder Revue tour, where Bob had his face painted ghost-white and yelled out everything like he was just speeding out of his mind, higher than fuck on pills.  

I was still pretty anxious about all the weird shit I’d woken up to in the house. It was entirely possible I’d left the stove on. Maybe I’d planned on cooking something but then instead passed out. It was also possible that I’d left the door open. Maybe I just plum forgot to shut the son of a bitch. It was all entirely possible. Still gave me the creeps, though, and didn’t help with my hangover anxiety at all. I grabbed another swig of Fighting Cock, and as I lifted up the bottle, I noticed in my periphery the closet door ajar—the closet where I hid all of them deer and elk heads. It was wide the fuck open, and the heads—awkwardly positioned as they were—had all fell out on the floor. The singing bass hanging on the wall, as if noticing that I’d looked over in that direction, came to life. The sound of rain filled the room as the introductory bassline of Riders on the Storm began its anticipatory rumble. The fish flailed into action, eliciting the baritone voice of Jim Morrison through its gills:

“…into this world we’re thrown …like a dog without a bone…”

I stumbled over in that direction thinking to myself something along the lines of: 

‘What in the fuuuuuuck?’

Just as I’d made it to where all of the heads fell out, I heard Roscoe let out a big yelp behind me. I turned to see what in the hell was the matter with him. 

As I did I tripped myself up and fell right onto that big ass elk’s antlers. 

All twelve points pierced me up—gigged me like a sluggish toad. I turned from my entrapment, looked back at Roscoe, and let out a pained squeal of my own:

“Guaaaaahhhhh! Fuck, buhhhhh! Fuuuuuck!”

The frantic look I gave him, the sound that came from my cracked voice, and the entirety of my bloody, squirming figure must’ve been truly terrifying, because Roscoe let out a quivering whimper and run off. That’s why I assumed he’d run off, anyhow, at least until I saw that shape appear. I want to say it appeared out of the smoke; that seems right, but it didn’t really come out of it—it was part of it. The smoke changed shape, and before I knew it there was a pair of black glassy eyes—eyes that shone through the darkness.  Like the antlers, they pierced right into me, right into the darkness of my being. They shone straight through that darkness, too. It hurt like fuck.  I shifted back around and looked to where the elk head lay. That hurt like fuck, too. I could feel the antlers further gorging me; digging their way through my flesh, like they was fixing to skin me, spray me down, throw me in the clean bucket, and fry my fat-ass up.  

I looked to make eye contact with the elk head, but the eyes was gone; they’d fallen the fuck out. They were the eyes floating in front of me now, shining blackness through the dark. I again twisted around and looked back at them. By this point, the shape of an animal had formed in the smoke. It was the shape of a dove—one of them mournful fuckers—but with the massive, mythic eyes of an elk. It gave that aching coo doves give, and then started pecking my fucking brains out. As it continued pecking, its beak—at first a standard bird beak—slowly morphed into an antler, growing ever longer—new points sprouting from its boney base. I screeched in terror:

Awhhhh!! Fucccccck! Ra….Rosssscccoe! Help me out boy! God dammit! Please! Help me the fuck out!”

Roscoe didn’t come. I can’t blame him; I wouldn’t have come for him if our places had been switched. He was probably scared shitless. I was scared shitless. Scared shitless and hurting pretty good. I passed out hard. 


When I woke up, I was in a hospital bed, here at this place. I’m not sure if it’s a regular-ass hospital, a loony-bin, or something in between. Don’t guess it really matters, though. They told me I’m lucky I made it here; lucky to be alive. I’m not sure I fully agree with them, on account of how incapacitated I am and also on account of how much fucking pain I feel pretty much all-day, every-day. Don’t guess my agreement (or lack thereof) really matters much, though, because I’m not going anywhere soon.

Willis brought me here, that old bastard. After Roscoe saw me all gorged up, he busted out the door barking and howling like a decrepit old, screaming ghost. Willis heard him, I guess, and came over and saved my dumb ass. Called the ambulance and everything. That goddamn bastard. Now I’m stuck here and can’t move for shit, forced to eat rubbery peas and fake ‘taters every damn day. No coldbeers, either. I think Willis took Roscoe back to his place, too, and that shit really gets me good and pissed off—thieving my dog from me.

I’m not sure how long I’ve been hospitalized. I’m not even sure if my hospitalization is for mental or physical reasons, but I’ve been here for quite a while, I know that much. But it’s comfortable here, I guess. Besides all the pain. That’s my own fault, though, the pain. They told me that. Fuckers think they know everything. At least it’s safe, though. But no cold beers. That gets me good and pissed off. 



Robert Pettus is an English as a Second Language teacher at the University of Cincinnati. Previously, he taught for four years in a combination of rural Thailand and Moscow, Russia. He was most recently accepted for publication at  The Horror Zine, Allegory Magazine, The Horror Tree, JAKE magazine, The Night Shift podcast, Libretto publications, White Cat Publications, Culture Cult, Savage Planet,, White-Enso, Tall Tale TV, The Corner Bar, A Thin Line of Anxiety, Schlock!, Black Petals, Inscape Literary Journal of Morehead State University, Yellow Mama, Apocalypse-Confidential, Mystery Tribune, Blood Moon Rising, and The Green Shoes Sanctuary. His first novel, titled Abry, is scheduled for publication this summer. He lives in Kentucky with his wife, Mary, and his pet rabbit, Achilles. 


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