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Gary Moshimer’s stories appear in SmokeLong Quarterly, PANK, Storyglossia, Night Train and many other places.

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Gary Moshimer

It’s been a rough year, but we want to look for the good.

Ginny had a mini-stroke, and now walks sideways to a kind of conga beat in her head. But she says she doesn’t mind; it’s like a new soundtrack to her life—catchy.

Ellen, my wife, keeps feeling the smoothness where they took her breast. She says it feels like her grandbaby’s bottom, and can’t get enough of it.

I had part of a lung removed, and now smoke cherry herbs, and when I take a deep breath can feel the tiny air sacs pop open like blooming fruit trees.

Earl had bypass surgery, and sometimes has thunderous extra beats during which he feels a kind of ecstasy, his lids seared with blinding light in which he sees his son Victor’s face. It’s not the same flash of terror as the night of Vic’s crash, but bright and warm like Heaven.

We’re sticking to our routine, which means opening day of deer season will go on as usual.

The girls are readying their box of wine.

Earl and I are stuffing backpacks with jerky and water and a small bottle of Jack Daniels and a pack of Marlboros that we’ll just look at to remind us of death. We slip in binoculars, for the nudist lesbian Wiccans over the hill. What we don’t pack is ammunition; instead there are apples for the deer that have eluded us all these years.

We take our rifles for show. Once we were soldiers and liked the shadows of our guns on the ground, like extra limbs. Now we look through the scopes, counting in the crosshairs all we’ve saved.

We have new matching boots the wives bought us from L. L. Bean, although it’s a freakishly warm day in December, fifty-three degrees, with nothing but leaves on the ground. We march across Earl’s lawn, step through his overgrown garden, into the woods.

Soon we’re looking up at Victor’s tree house, in silent prayer. The prayer is mostly for us, that we can still climb the ladder, huffing as we already are on level ground.

It takes a while, but we do it. We sit on the lawn chairs and roll down the windows, which are from Victor’s Nova. He loved that car. After the wreck we went to the junkyard and Sully gave us the back doors, seeing as there was only the rear end left. The fuzzy soccer balls from the rearview were in the back seat. We brought the doors here, and with great difficulty mounted them as walls. We hung the balls from a nail.

We pass the Jack and hold cigarettes in our fingers. While Earl was laid up he practiced some magic, and now he flips his hand and his cigarette is gone. He snaps fingers and slips it from my vest pocket. “That’s something,” I say.

We hear footsteps in the leaves; there’s a big doe down there, sniffing around. Earl drops an apple from the window. The deer flinches, her tail flicking, but then approaches the apple and we hear it crunching in her mouth.

The sun slants through us and illuminates some new cracks in our faces. We almost don’t recognize each other. Where has the time gone? We might want to sit here forever, to sleep and magically appear in another time as young men. But eventually we roll up the windows and say goodbye.

We follow the smoke signals to the Wiccan cottage. They always have a bonfire, and on warm days dance naked around it. There are two of them. One of the women teaches at the elementary school and is a subject of controversy. She claims to have healing powers. That’s the one with the long black hair, and she looks beautiful enough to cast spells. Often we see them twine their arms and kiss.

At the edge of the clearing are thick pines, where we hide and watch with our binoculars. Earl has his out first, and he makes a strange sound and holds his chest. His voice is strangled. “What the hell?”

I take a look. There are Ginny and Ellen, just as naked as the other two. Ginny does her sideways dance as the others place their hands on her head. They all have their eyes closed. Then they switch and place hands on Ellen’s chest. We sit mesmerized, the heat of the fire blurring their figures so they waver like human flames. The heart of the fire pops, and we jump, and Earl is suddenly up, moving towards the fire, and with his greatest magic yet he bursts into it and out the other side unscathed, shedding his clothes until he’s on his knees before the startled women. I can hear him say, “Heal me.”

I lift my rifle and find him in the cross hairs. I squeeze the trigger and feel the empty click.

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