Sam met up with Rob at the farm where his school friend lived. From there they walked across the frost glazed fields to the woods to meet the gamekeeper, who was organising the shoot. They had been employed as beaters. Rob was ambivalent to the wildlife slaughter; living on a farm had hardened him to the realities of the food chain. When Rob looked at a pig he saw cuts of meat, whereas Sam saw a fellow living being.
They found the other beaters in a clearing huddled together, under a cloud of cold breath and cigarette smoke. Everything, the trees and the fields were white with frost and clouds scudded across the grey sky driven by the chilling wind. The distant Pentland Hills were draped in snow.
“Right, you lot listen tae me. I’m the gamekeeper, Mr McTaggart.”
At the sound of the loud voice the group turned to find a small, wind eroded man with a fierce beard and a large stick in his hand. He had appeared without a sound, not even the crack of a twig.
“Your task lads, is to drive the wildlife from the undergrowth and the gorse towards the gentlemen with the guns. Dinnae, under any circumstances go past the brow of yon hill. Half the bastards are just as likely to shoot one o’ yoos as a fuckin’ bird.”
The beaters shuffled sheeplike, suddenly aware of their mortality.
“Whit you’ve t’ dae is this.” Said the gamekeeper, suddenly swinging his stick and manically thrashing a nearby laurel bush.
“KAH, KAH, KAH!” He shouted at the top his voice. “KAH, KAH, KAH!”
Startled, Sam stepped back onto the foot of the beater behind who pushed him “Watch it pal!”
Each beater was given a stick and told where to stand in the line. Sam found himself at the end next to his friend Rob.
In a cacophony of shouting the line started slowly moving towards the edge of the wood. Startled birds, pheasants and partridges, flapping into the cold air, were driven towards the sharp sound of gunfire that bounced around the trees, occasionally accompanied by the patter of wayward lead shot in the high branches.
Just as the line was about to leave the shelter of the forest Sam saw a brown shape under a small hawthorn bush. Defying the orders of the fearsome gamekeeper he knelt down to have a closer look and saw that it was a hare. A trembling, petrified young hare.
Glad that he had a thick jersey on, Sam gathered up the compliant animal in his coat and stood up. He could see Rob wasn’t far away, lashing at a bush. He whistled and waved him over.
“Shit! McTaggart will beat you to death, Sam.” Said Rob when he saw the hare.
“I can’t leave the hare to be shot, Rob, I’m going to take it home and bring it back later.”said Sam. “Tell McTaggart I’m ill, tell him I was sick or something.”
The next day Sam carried the hare back to the edge of the woods in a cardboard box. He set the box down and tipped the hare out onto the frosty ground. It hesitated, looked round at Sam then loped off into the fields.
“Och, they are fine beasts, are they not?”
Sam’s stomach somersaulted. McTaggart had soundlessly appeared behind him, shotgun in the crook of his elbow.
“I was having wee blether with your father in the pub last night, he told me you’d brought a hare home.” Said the gamekeeper kindly. “Aye, ah dinnae believe in killing for fun either. But, it’s my job to arrange such things for yon rich folk. You want to be a vet your dad said. I’d have liked to been a vet but, well, I had to leave school.”
Years later, the sight of the boy standing in front of him holding his pet rabbit flushed this memory from his mind’s dense undergrowth; the noise of the beaters, the flutter of wings, the gunshots, and the flinty but kind gamekeeper.
“Put her on the table, young man,” Sam said, “and we’ll see what the problem is.”
A creative writing group exercise: interrogating an object or situation. From the picture by Mark Hearld ( the object) we had to form a personal response, consider how to describe it. Did it trigger a memory and could it be the basis for a story?
I saw a pensive hare sitting in a field under a turbulent sky. It flushed out a memory of when, as a schoolboy, I took part in a shoot as a beater. I built my fictional story about the hare around this experience: the cold winter setting, the fluttering wings, the sound of gunshots and the flinty gamekeeper.