By Greg Mitchell -
“Steady,” Dressler whispered into the little girl’s ear.
He leaned in close, brushing his whiskers against her soft check, wrapping his arms around her to tighten her shot. He felt the rise and fall of Edilyn’s breathing, the slight tremble in her thin arms as she gripped his worn rifle.
“How am I doing, Daddy?” she asked in a soft hush, her voice slightly muffled through the breathing mask he insisted she wore every time they stepped outside into the harsh red sands of Eclectia. When she was younger, she’d nearly died from ash lung—he wasn’t about to tempt fate. Not after all he’d been through to receive her back.
“Just fine, Lyn. Now line up your shot.”
Up ahead, Dressler squinted against the light grainy breeze and saw the scurrying bug, foraging in the sand. About three feet in length, the hard-shelled critter scuttled about on a hundred legs, oblivious it was being stalked.
Edilyn took careful aim, holding in her breath, releasing it slowly.
“Take your time,” he encouraged her. “No rush. You’re in charge of the situation. You control how fast things progress.”
Dressler had been taking Edilyn out on hunts for awhile now. Eclectia was a harsh wasteland; only the strong survived. While his daughter was only eleven, it was time for her to learn how to protect herself from the varied predators out here in the wilds: both of bug and human kind.
“I think I’m ready, Daddy,” she said, and Dressler grinned, holding her in his arms.
“If you’re sure, take the shot.”
“I’m sure,” she said, nodding, her arms stiff and shaking.
He slowly released her, spreading his arms wide, letting her stand on her own. She leveled the rifle, one eye squinting, the stock pressed to her cheek. Dressler watched her, beautiful and powerful, ready to conquer the world. He felt old in that moment, yet born again, as well.
Then he glanced up. Saw a dark shape clamber over the hill, nearing the bug in Edilyn’s sights.
“Wait,” he said, quickly, and she jumped with a start. Yet, in spite of her surprise, she did not fire off a stray round.
She’s learning. Good.
“What?” she hissed back at him.
Dressler relaxed, still grinning, and gently patted Edilyn on the back. “Let it go.”
Edilyn kept her gun raised, but craned her head to regard her father. “What? Why?”
He nodded towards the horizon, watching as the larger bug collected its young, the two of them retreating over the dunes in peace. Edilyn watched, too, lowering the rifle, her shoulders sagging. “Oh. I guess they’re just like us, huh?”
Dressler wrapped an arm around her and squeezed. “C’mon. Let’s get back home.”
Daddy and daughter returned home, the setting sun at their backs.