His Own Blood

Alexis Stefanovich-Thomson

Photo of a lake with trees growing right up to the edge of the water. A female moose, followed by her calf, are exiting the water. The adult moose is large and dark brown; the younger moose a lighter brown. The younger moose is still swimming toward shore while the adult moose has just got her footing on the shoreline. The trees are bright yellow-green and this color is reflected on the lake. Some dead trees, with gray trunks and bare branches are scattered amongst the living foliage.

Photo Credit: E_Bass/Flickr (CC-by-nc-nd)

Life jacket on, paddle in hand, seated in the front, he pulled against the water, and they glided on the lake, and his father’s strong strokes pushed them forward past the point, and the world unfolded in front of him. His paddle dipped and splashed and moved the water. Whirlpools came spinning with every pull. They were camping. He was camping. They were here, out in the wilderness, just him and his dad, and his mum was a long long car ride away in the city, maybe sitting down to lunch, with voices coming out of the radio to keep her company, and a chair to sit on and a bed to sleep in. They didn’t have that—just a tent and a bedroll and a sleeping bag. That’s how they would live. Camping.

“Are we going to see any animals?”


“Like what?”

“Frogs, snakes. Loons. Maybe a beaver or a muskrat.”

“Anything bigger?”

“Maybe a bear or a moose.”

“A bear. Is that scary?”

“It could be. But if you’re smart, it won’t bother you.”

“Have you ever seen a bear?”

“A few times.”

“And a moose?”

“No, never a moose. But I’d like to see one. I’d like that a lot.”

They ran up onto the shore, sandy with stray rocks, and he jumped out of the boat, and his feet got wet; he pulled the canoe up, and his dad stepped out and handed him his paddle. They stacked the two knapsacks and his father’s life jacket in a pile under a tree. His father picked up the canoe, jerked it onto his head, disappeared beneath it, and started up the trail. He followed with the life jackets on a paddle, their armholes threaded through the shaft, walking in the cool dark of the forest, hearing the buzz of the mosquitoes as they circled and landed and bit while he had both hands full. Ahead of him, the upside-down yellow canoe moved through the forest with his father’s torso and legs emerging beneath it. The path rose, and he walked more quickly to keep his dad in sight. The wind blew, and all around the trees rustled; the leaves shivered, and the light and shadows trembled and jumped. Downhill, coming into the open, there was a new lake in front of him, and it looked the same as the last, but different. There were dead tree stumps in still water and lily pads, and thin reeds stretching up, reaching too high and drooping over, and sometimes their tips touched the water again. His father dropped the boat half into the water and put the back end between two rocks where it stood high on the shore and safe so it wouldn’t blow away. Paddles and life jackets lay against a tree, and he focused on the mosquito on his forearm and slapped it; a splat of blood jumped onto his pale skin.

“Look, Dad, I got him. I killed him. Look at the blood.”

“That’s your blood.”


“Yes. That mosquito sucked it out of you. What did you think it was doing when it bit you?”

He’d killed the mosquito, but it was his own blood smeared on his arm. He stood still, looking at the bright red splat and the black ball of the bug on the back of his wrist, and frowned before scampering back up the path to catch up to his father.

The smear of blood was still on his arm when they set up the tent on a flat pad of pine needles in an opening in the woods. He unfolded the poles, snapped them into place, following his father’s instructions, and threaded them through the fabric of the tent. His father fit the points of the poles into the holes at each corner, and the tent rose, creating a pocket of space where they would sleep.

Later, at night, lying in bed in the darkness, he heard his dad’s breathing in the sleeping bag next to his; rain pattered on the fly, and thunder rolled in the distance. Sudden flashes of light interrupted the darkness, the plunk of drops on the fly reverberated through the tent, his father snored. They were in this great wilderness, alone in the middle of it, just his dad and him. More noises: footsteps, the splash of the water against the rocks, something walking along the shoreline.

Then light, bright through the nylon of the tent—everywhere all at once. He blinked twice, looked around, and remembered. Through the mesh, he saw his dad sitting by the fire, drinking coffee. Stepping out of the tent in his pajamas, into the wet Crocs waiting on the undersheet, he greeted his dad, and started down the path to the box. The mist swirled on the lake, the path was damp, and the sun, low in the blue sky, threw shadows across the trail. Lifting the lid of the box, he looked out into the marsh and saw them. Two of them. One large moose and a second, smaller, the child; they stood in the mist of the shallow bay. He was looking at the moose—the moose his dad had never seen. Two! He would call him to come and see; he would be the one to find the moose for his dad. He imagined telling his mother that he had found the moose.

“Dad,” he called.

The big moose looked up, its doe eye, large and round, querulous and calm, found him as he stood and looked out on the bay. “Dad,” he called again, louder, desperate, feeling the urgency. The two moose turned as one and took unhurried steps to the shoreline. The underbrush parted; they walked into the green of the forest and disappeared. “Dad,” he screamed in despair.

Footsteps running in the woods; his father calling his name. His dad arrived, but the moose were gone.


Alexis Stefanovich-Thomson is a writer who lives in Toronto with his partner and their two children. He won the 2021 Black Orchid Novella Award for his story “The Man Who Went Down Under” which was published in Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine. In 2022, he won third prize in the Toronto Star Short Story Contest for his story, “The Unfinished Book.”