Olympic Dreams - a fiction short story
I slowly pulled back on the arrow, the tight string of the bow bending tightly, my elbow, hand and arm steady and not quivering. I aimed, and let go of the arrow. It did just as I expected - bulls' eye. As hands applauded, I pulled out another arrow and repeated the action of preparation, took a deep breath and let the arrow fly. Again, just as I expected - bulls' eye.
"Julie, that's great. You are in great form. The arm conditioning has really helped you. Glad I could help you out in that area," said Brad, my darling fiance, and part time coach. "Wait 'til Tim sees you when he returns from vacation. He's going to be so impressed with your improvement," he said.
I smiled, "I know, and it's all thanks to you. You were right the whole time. I needed more arm conditioninng and working with me in the gym has really gelped. I just know I'm on my way," I said confidently. Finally, after all the years of lessons and practice with Coach Tim Arthur, I was finally ready for nationals. My darling Brad had been one hundred percent supportive of my quest for an Olympic medal in archery. Surprisingly he had been the one to urge me to hold on to my Olympic dreams through district, state and regional tournaments. I had taken first at all three levels and now I was just one step away from making the U.S. Olympic team, as the first, second, and third place winners and it was a given, I would make the Olympic team.
I'm just so ready for this Brad; I'm really, really pumped," I exclaimed as he put his arms around my shoulders and we walked back to the house.
"I've never seen you so confident, Julie; and , you have worked so hard for this and I know you are going to make the team; no doubt at all," he said as he smiled at me. As we walked in the back door, I was greeted with a big hug and sloppy kiss from none other than, Bailey, Brad's hugh golden retriever. He jumped up on his hind legs, puy his front paws around my neck, and licked my face all over. "I love you, too, Bailey," I laughed as I nuzzled him on the neck.
"Hey, Bailey, quit cutting in on my girl.. Find your own fiance," laughed Brad as he pulled Bailey off of me.
"Don't be jealous of Bailey," I said, "he knows, too, I'm going to make the team and he just wants to let me know he approves," I laughed.
"Yea, Bailey is pretty intuitive at that," said Brad. "I'll put this stuff away for you so you can get started on dinner, and I want to catch a bit of the Indians' game. Come on, Bailey, give me some help," Brad said.
I walked into the kitchen and started putting together the beef kabobs for dinner and thought how content and in love I was with Brad . . . and Bailey. Those two were a package deal. From the first day I met Brad, Bailey was always in the picture. I had fallen in love with both of them at the same time and I was just so comfortable with Brad, and Bailey was the bonus. That dog was almost human. As I searced for some rice in the cabinet, I looked over at the great room and saw the two loves of my life sitting on the couch. Bailey's head was on Brad's lap as he gently stroked her neck, the two of them watching the Indians' game. I smiled. They looked so sweet together. How did I get so lucky, getting Brad? And, Bailey? I just had to pinch myself.
At dinner, as Brad and I ate and talked, Bailey walked up to me, sat and looked pleadingly at me. As I always did, I slipped Bailey a piece of beef.
"Hey, stop spoiling Bailey. He'll never want to eat his Purina if you keep feeding him beef," he spoke with a pretend sternness. "And I suppose you will be an indulgent mother when we have kids," he laughed
"We'll see," I said, "Kids are a while off as I have an Olympic career to contend with first," I said laughing. "By the time I'm done with that, and lots of practice with Bailey, then I'll be ready for kids," I winked.
"Between you and me, our kids should be somewhat athletic, I hope," he said.
"Me, too," I agreed.
"How 'bout going for a walk with me and Bailey in the park after dinner?", Brad asked.
"It's a date," I said, "Now get over here and help me with the dishes." Bailey squeezed in between us at the sink and counter as we did the dishes.
We lived about two to three miles from the Cuyahoga Valley National Park which was a woods corridor from Cleveland to Akron in Ohio, and ran along the old Erie Canal. It had been preserved and named a national park due to Representative John Seiberling's bill passed in congress in the early '90"s. It was large and beautiful with thirty-five or forty miles of old Canal boat locks, woods, walking and bike paths, and was a perfect place for Bailey to let go of his energy. Brad and I had met there, Brad biking with Bailey trotting along, of course, and now we walked or biked there with Bailey almost every day of our lives. It was beautiful no matter the season and this fall the leaves were turning brilliant colors and it was at it's most colorful peak. I couldn't believe how beautiful the park was and it seemed to symbolize the beauty and happiness I had found with Brad and Bailey. Little did I know at the time that beauty and happiness I had in my life would soon be marred.
The next evening, as Brad and I sat in the great room after dinnner, Bailey curled up between us, Brad said,, "Look at this article in the Beacon," as he handed me the newspaper. "During the week of Thanksgiving the park is looking for 40 bowmen, ahem, and women, to thin out the deer herds taking over the park," said Brad. He continued, "They don't want to use sharp shooters with guns, because they don't want stray bullets hurting or killing the wrong animals, or God forbid, hitting a human. I think this would be great practice for you on your quest for Olympic gold. It takes precision and quickness to nail a deer with an arrow. If you can precisely kill a deer with a bow and arrow, the bulls' eye in competition will be a cinch. And, you'll be doing a good thing by helping to thin out the deer population," he had continued.
"Oh, Brad, don't be silly. I'm not a hunteer. I do this in competition. I'm not into killing animals. And, deer, of all animals. They are so beautiful and gentle. I love them. No, I just couldn't do it," I said. "I'm definitely not a killer," I reminded him. "I can't kill Bambi."
"Jules, this is an opportunity if a lifetime. Remember last winter duirng that big snow storm when the two deer and the baby deer were standing in the mailbox gazebo? You said yourself, 'Brad, the deer population must be huge in the park if they are standing in the mailbox gazebo and aren't even afraid. They really do need to thin out the deer herd ni the park,' you said."
"Yes, I know, Brad. But I didn't mean for ME to be the one to thin out the deer crowd," I said.
"Look, I believe in animal conservation and animal control in parks, but I'm not interested in this," I said.
"Well, I am going to mention this to Tim. I think it would be great practice for you," said Brad.
"This isn't Disney World and you wouldn't be killing Bambi, for heaven sakes, this is the Cuyahoga Valley National Park -- you're on your way to nationals - it's a fitting preparation for you," he insisted.
"Oh, Brad," I said as I bent down to kiss him. "Let's change the subject." As he kissed me back and pulled me down on top of him, and Bailey, and he held me in his arms as we defintely changed the subject.
That was the end of the talk abot deer hunting for about a week, until one day I was in the back yard practicing archery. Again, every shot of the arrow was a bulls' eye. The car horn beeped and I saw Brad pull up in the car with Tim, my archery coach. They both walked over. Tim went over to the target and observed my bulls' eyes and pulled then out of the target.
"Wow, Julie, this is great. Brad told me about the arn conditioning. It really has made a difference. You are going to be unbeatable," Tim said.
"Thanks, Tim," I said as I gave him a hug. "Yes, this is the best I've felt physically and mentally. I'm really up for this," I said smiling.
"I also agree with Brad's suggestion about the deer hunting. I think if you can manage to hit a deer, which are so quick, I think it would be good practice for you and good preparation for nationals," he said.
"Oh, no," I said, "I don't believe it. I thought you understood how I feel about this Brad, No, No, NO!," I exclaimed.
Well, Brad and Tim worked on me for the next several weeks and I kept resisting. Brad and Tim kept trying to persuade and convince me. Finally, one morning, I turned to Bailey and asked him what he thought about all this. Bailey's response was to jump up on his hind legs, put his front paws around my neck and lick my entire face.
"Okay, Bailey, I guess you are in cahoots with Brad and Tim. I guess I better give this some more thought," I said. "Come on Bailey, come run with me this morning," I said. We were running up Adam's Run at Hampton Hills section of the park, Bailey by my side. Running up the wooded stairs wore me out and Bailey and I stopped to rest on the bench at the top. I rolled Brad and Tim's deer hunting request over and over in my mind. As we were sitting there, a deer suddenly appeared in a clearning. Bailey, who was lying at my feet, raised his head in recognition, and I just stared at the deer. Finally, I thought, "Oh get over it. You can do this deer hunting thing. There are too many deer in the park anyway and something has to be done; it might as well be you, rather than some unfeeling hunter. At least the powers that be are going with bows and arrows and not guns. Why don't I help when I can in an area I believe in? Well, Brad, Tim, and Bailey had convincred me. I guess I would try my skill at bagging deer. Who knew?"
Brad and I went to get a license and then to the park to sign up for the "big occasion." Friday, the day after Thanksgiving would be the first day, and deer hunting would continue throught the weekend until the required amount of deer had been killed. Brad and I also attended classes and an orientation at the park so we would know all the rules and regulations. I was prepared for the hunting and Brad would be accompanyinng me,
Brad and I had a lovely Thanksgiving dinner with both our famillies, and , of course, Bailey. Remarkably, I slept very well that night as I felt prepared and ready for this challenge.
We woke up early Friday morning, dressed and had a huge breakfast of eggs, bacon, and pancakes. Bailey had been fed and watered, with strict instructions to stay in his bed and enjoy a day to himself. At 5:45 a.m. Brad and I drove to the park and pulled into the parking lot. We went into the park rangers' office, along with 39 other hunters, received our last minute instructions and then Brad and I set out to the area I had been assigned in the park, Hampton Hills. Brad and I walked quietly throught the grees and bushes. Several times, I thought I saw a deer, pulled out an arrow and aimed, but to no avail. When I sent the arrow flying, it was just empty air.
A few times, I definitely saw a deer, but was not quick enought to engage and hit it. From mid-day to dusk, the deer were scarce. But, as the sun was setting, there was more movement around. I was at the top of the stairs at Adam's Run where Bailey and I had seen the deer in the clearning that one morning when I had been running.
Brad whispered, "I think there's a deer over there between the bushes near that tree."
"Yes," I whispered, "I see where you mean."
I quietly stood up, silently pulled out an arrow, connected it to the string and pulled back; I could just see the deer's head and body through the bushes. I aimed precisely andl et go of the arrow. It silently flew on its trajectory between the bushes, the deer started to dart, then bulls' eye, the arrow had found its target.
"Jules, I think you did it. I think you got the deer," Brad said as we walked through the bushes to the animal.
I stopped suddently, dead in my tracks. It was not a deer lying on the ground, but Bailey, with an arrow through his head. Bulls' eye. I screamed and screamed. Brad held me and tried to drag me away, but I fought back and fought him off. I was still screaming, "Bailey, Bailey, no, no, It was suppose to be a deer. I definitely saw a deer. No, no, no," And then I blacked out.
I didn't wake up until the next day. Brad was by my side and I looked up into his eyes, dark and crushed by what had happened. I was numb and in shock. "Bailey . . ." I said.
"Bailey's gone, Julie, but he died instantly, no pain." said Brad. "It's okay, Julie . . ."
"No, it's not okay, it's not okay. I killed him, Brad. I didn't kill Bambi. I killed Bailey, Oh my God. What have I done?" Tears were running down Brad's face.
"Jules, don't do this. It was an accident. We didn't know Bailey was there," choked out Brad.
Tim was there and walked over. "Julie," he said as he picked up my hand. "Take it easy. It will take time but everything will be okay. You just need to get some more rest."
"Oh, my God. I killed Bailey. No, it's not okay. I'm a killer Brad, a killer." I cried.
"Doctor, get over here," Brad called.
"I thought I was a strong person, but also gentle and kind, but, Brad, I'm a killer, a"killer."
"Julie, please don't say that. Doctor, Doctor, do something," Brad cried out
I felt a small pinch and then a cool sensation coursing through my veins. "A killer, I'm a killer a . . . .," I mumbled as I fell into a deep sleep.
Several weeks later, Brad and I were still grieving for Bailey as if he had been our child. We buried him under the chestnut tree in the back yard. I was still visiting the grave daily. Brad, as sweet as he was, blamed himself, for "my (his) cockamamie idea" of hunting deer.
As Brad and I left the morning of the hunt, we had been so busy packing the car with all the necessities that neither one of us had bothered to lock the door on the way out. Bailey, probably missing us, worked himself out the door, and went straight to Hampton Hills where he always accommpanied me on my runs, and happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. I'll never be able to run there again; the memories are too painful. And, when we buried Bailey in the back yard, I also buried my bow and arrows and my Olympic dreams with him. It was the least I could do for Bailey.
Note: Copyright 2011 Suzannah Wolf Walker