The Best Prey

I always wanted to make my dad proud.

My dad was what people would consider a man’s man. Had a lot of big guns and a lot of animal heads up on the walls. He was really proud of the ten point buck he nailed when I was three. He even bragged about one day having the funds to go to Africa and nail some of the big game over there.

And of course, with that tiny little wife of his, he wanted to have a son to take with him.

Of course things don’t work out like that. After a complicated pregnancy and birth, he had no wife and a tiny little daughter.

He remarried of course, he had to get that little son to follow in his footsteps and to take to Africa. She gave dad two more daughters (Abby and Layla) and one son (Benjamin). My sisters were dolls and ribbons girls. My brother loved theater and dance, my father called him a sissy.

Meanwhile I was the one toting my father’s gun and following him into the forest every time it was hunting season.

Oh he tried to get Benjamin to like hunting. Took him every chance he got, at least at first. He’d always have to end up coming home early with a sick Benjamin who couldn’t stand the sight of blood. In the end, he was stuck with me.

I liked ribbons in my hair too, and wearing pretty skirts and dresses, but the moment it came time to go out with my dad I became a whole new girl. I was right on his heels, toting his rifle and skipping with joy. I was the perfect hunting companion. I would stay perfectly quiet. I didn’t complain about being cold or bored. The sound of the gunshot didn’t phase me. Nor did the sight of blood.

But that wasn’t enough for my dad. He wanted a son, a real man’s man like himself. When I was thirteen it truly occurred to me that nothing I could do at that time would change this.

We were with his friends, at one of their cabins. It was a blast the first day. My dad bagged another deer. I’d made friends with the other two boys there, Archie who was my age and Kent who was two years older. They were great, we played card games and talked about how lucky it was we could get out of school. Then I felt my stomach start to hurt. I excused myself and went to the bathroom.

I’d started my first period. And had already bled through my pants.

In serious embarrassment I just kept hiding in the bathroom until Kent knocked on the door.

“Beth? You left blood on the floor. I managed to lie to Archie about it but are you on your period?”

I blushed so hard my face almost stuck like that. “… Yeah. I’ve never had one before,” I replied.

“‘ts okay. I got a twin sister. I’ll go get your dad and he’ll run into town and get what you need!”

That was a relief. However, that is not how things worked with me.

My dad burst into the bathroom, red with rage and smelling like beer. “You didn’t tell me you were on your fucking period!” He snapped.

Instant tears. I wasn’t much of a crier, but I was already freaked out. “I didn’t know! I didn’t have one before!” I tried to explain.

He slapped me across the face.

“We’re leaving. After you clean up the fucking mess you left on the floor.”

Still with stained pants, with no way to clean myself up, I scrubbed the blood from the floor before I was dragged into the car and given a rag towel to sit on. He threatened that if I bled through the towel before we got home I was going to get my ass whipped.

Thank god I didn’t.

It became clear to me that night that just based on the fact I had periods and wouldn’t ever be his boy, I wouldn’t ever meet his standards.

So of course I laid plans to meet those standards.

I kept going hunting with him, but insisted on learning to shoot for myself. He sneered whenever I missed and barely acknowledged when I hit, but damn if I wasn’t stubborn. Kent and Archie became my best friends. Kent revealed tricks of the trade my father didn’t bother to teach me, and soon I was going on hunting trips with Archie’s family. Archie’s dad was jovial, never got mad at a thing. He even gave me my first beer when I was fifteen. I felt more welcome there than my own home.

When I was eighteen I scraped together money and together with Archie and Kent, we went on our own hunting trip.

Archie’s family bankrolled our first trip, and I bagged a twelve point buck. Made the local papers and everything with me posing next to the beauty, in a bright orange jacket two sizes too large and pink lipstick.

On my twenty fifth birthday I called my father for the first time since I’d left, and invited him over.

Archie let him into my home, which Kent had teasingly dubbed ‘The Manor’. We all lived there together, with a collection I knew would finally impress my father.

My dad walked into the living room, where I was enjoying a glass of wine with my son playing on my lap. My dad looked at him in confusion. I smiled.

“He’s a year old now. His name’s Ricky. Say hi to Grandpa, Ricky!” I pointed to my flabbergasted father. Ricky waved before clinging to my chest. I laughed and kissed his head before Kent came in and took him away. “Kent’s his father. Well, let’s get to why you’re here, right?”

“Is it to meet the grandson I didn’t know I had?” My father said, still in shock over seeing Ricky.

I laughed again.

“Oh no! I want to show you something.”

We walked down the hall. Horns of bucks hung on the walls, along with their heads. Their glass eyes were so real my dad did a double take.

“Deer hunting’s taken the back burner now, but it’s how I got my start! Why I have so many.” I shook my head as I paused by the head of a moose. “I always thought moose were smaller than they actually were. Maybe because I never saw one in person?”

My dad never bagged a moose. I could see he was jealous. I smirked and kept on walking. “Of course, I have to step up my game. I was called about a mountain lion that had gone completely bonkers and was stalking humans and killing their pets. So three, four years ago I took care of that.” We turned the corner and there was the mountain lion, posed perfectly. My dad nearly jumped out of his skin, and I saw it. The glimmer of approval I’d been searching for my whole life. “He’s a beauty, ain’t he daddy?”

He nodded. “How many shots did it take?” He asked, walking down the permanently frozen creature.

“Three. He was mad, but it wasn’t his fault. I think there was something wrong with his brain. Beautiful creature.” I kept on walking. “But I found something way more satisfying. Now, you can’t tell Momma or anyone about what’s past this door, all right?”

My dad looked confused, but I just grinned and removed a key from around my neck as we went to the door at the end of the hall. “See, I love animals. But seeing them frozen stopped… doing anything for me. You understand.”

I unlocked the door and we walked into the Zoo.

Wolves ran to the front of the enclosure nearest to us. I laughed and went to my knees. “Hello, babies! Hello! I’m here!” I cooed.

They paced around and panted at me. Perfect babies. My dad was white with shock. I stood and turned.

“I’d found an orphaned litter. They know to answer to me only. I’m having trouble getting new blood to breed in, but I’m in contact with a guy from Canada. Soon I’ll have puppies!” I hugged myself. “Gotta admit, that’s impressive, isn’t it?”

My dad was struck dumb. Exactly how I wanted him. I laughed and kept on walking. A lynx glared from the corner of another pen. A few raccoons chittered at me from a tree. I threw them peanuts. “It took a lot of work to get some of these guys, don’t get me wrong. And they’re all well taken care of, each having pens that lead to the outdoors. It’s expensive, but I have someone… fund my mini zoo.” Several someones, actually.

“How the hell’d you get that deal?” He murmured.

“By finding something so valuable that people pay millions just to see.”

We’d reached the other end of the hall. I took a second key from my pocket and unlocked this door. “After you,” I gestured him forward.

Now this dark room had no pens leading to the outdoors. But it had something that I knew would impress my father, for sure. Something no one else had.

My father went to the tank and I was sure he was about to faint.

A woman swam forward, pounding angrily on the glass. Her razor sharp green tail flicked and flashed in our direction, the poisonous barbs on her flukes fully extended.

“What…” My father swallowed. “… What is that?”

I giggled and set my hand on the tank. The woman swiped at it irritably. “It’s a mermaid! Isn’t she pretty? I’d gotten her by accident, really. She’s too stupid to know she wouldn’t survive out there any longer anyway. See?” I pointed to the fins on the right of her tail. They were maimed, scar tissue spreading over her tail. “I’d done that by accident. Hit her with my boat. She’s not even the main attraction!” I hit the lights.

My dad had to sit down on the ground.

Satyrs fled to the corners of their cages, covering their heads. Phoenixes squawked and beat the bars of their cages with their wings. My one Minotaur pawed at the ground and snorted. And that wasn’t even close to everything inside.

“Do you like it?” I whispered, helping my father to his legs. I had to support him. The man was unable to move.

“It’s… It’s…” He looked around. “… It’s beautiful,” He finally admitted.

I squealed. “Daddy! You really think I’m a good hunter?” I asked.

He nodded, and I finally felt fulfilled. I’d accomplished all I wanted to. No catch could best that.

“You know what, daddy?”

I kicked a brick on the side of the wall, and a trap door flopped open.

“The best prey ain’t even in Africa.”

I pushed him in. I heard the snap of a broken leg and his screams of agony. I peered down to make sure he wasn’t trying to get back up.

My dad was shocked, and confused. Then something hissed from the shadows.

A gray beast, naked and horned, crawled into sight. My dad looked up at me, realization finally dawning upon him.

I laughed one last time, this one cruel and filled with hate, and gave one final wave.

“Best prey’s American! And his people were the first Americans! Enjoy dinner with him!”

I slammed the door shut to block out the worst of my father’s pained howls.

My father had finally done something worthwhile for me. Bought me the weeks I’d need before I could find a buyer for a Wendigo.

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