Damn Fine Shooting
a short story
first published by Silver Needle Press
Here’s a no-horseshit huntin’ story for y’all’s magazine. I come upon the details out of order. But I’ll set ‘em straight for ye.
Dale Hill and me was lookin' to fill some doe tags, south of Mountain City. We left outta his place ‘bout 3:00 that mornin’ to beat the sunrise, plannin’ to come home with carcasses to clean and backstrap for the barbecue grill, and hopin’ we’s the only fellars dumb enough to brave them woods in the cold.
Well, another fellar and his son was dumb as us, freezin’ up there in the dark. They was on the other side of the mountain. So we didn’t know we wasn’t alone at first.
Fellar was younger than us, late 20s. His boy was just 12 years old, on his first hunt. Daddy got his boy set on an oak stump, pumped and pointed downhill with a 12- gauge, and tendered some fatherly wisdom, his exact words being: Anythin’ moves yonder thicket, Son, give it all five shells. And that... was that. Fellar walked on down the trail, left his 12-year-old son sittin’ on that stump silent as a snare, a booby trap just waitin' to blow up.
Could’ve been me or Dale that was the booby. But like I said, we was on the other side of the mountain. Booby was the one got hisself turned round down in that dark holler, come up the wrong trail and BOOM! And before he can even scream or dive for cover BOOM-BOOM-BOOM-BOOM!
Me and Dale heard the shots in the distance. We’s cussin whoever it was fired, figurin' he’d just bagged our sweet, tender doe. But then somethin' started squealin' off in them woods... like no dyin' animal we ever heard.
He wadn’t hard to track, let me tell ye, carryin' on like that. But it was a big mountain. Time we got close, the sun was comin’ up. We could see him pretty good through the trees, standing on that stump in the sunlight, death-grippin his daddy’s shotgun by the barrel, upside down like a baseball bat, still screamin’ somethin’ awful.
Dale had a wife and child at home, so he stayed back. Meanwhile I snuck up under the boy on the stump, his hollerin’ more than coverin’ the sound of my approach. Got close enough to see his little hands, white knuckled on that gun like a sweaty axe handle, like he’d chopped down that tree and was standin’ on the conquered remains.
When I was two or three paces from his back a stick snapped. He spun around on that stump quick, and he wadn’t crying, no Sir. Had the drop on me. Could’ve split my noggin with the butt end. But like I said, he was a boy. Just glad to be found.
Relieved that men had come. He started crying again and I got him disarmed and set down on that stump. He kept mumblin’ somethin’ ‘bout his Daddy's boots; “...my Daddy's boots in yonder thicket… yonder thicket… saw my Daddy’s boots..."
Well, me and Dale went down to investigate that bushwhack, see what might be done for the fellar. But I tell ye, this boy was a crack shot. Wasn't much salvageable save those boots. We figured backwards then how it come to pass, quiet so the boy wouldn’t hear. After a minute, Dale cleared his throat and spit and spoke up, offerin’ what consolation he could scatter over the boy's snifflin’ and moanin’. He said: "Some damn fine shooting, Son. Your Daddy'd be real proud."
Well, the boy never stopped screamin' after that — not once the whole drive to Mountain City, him wedged between us in my Chevy single cab — not even after he'd screamed the en-tire saga to the Johnson County Sheriff, a man who looked ambushed himself. Wasn’t but 9:00 in the mornin’ and here he’s dictatin’ a howled confession of patricide by a shooter ain’t sprouted his whiskers. Maybe he’d heard somethin’ like that before. I don’t know. But I hadn’t. Maybe on the news.
We waited around, Dale and me. Finally give our statements to a deputy and then exited the scene… pronto. I couldn’t take that screamin’ another minute, Boy. Wasn’t nothin’ we could do for nobody anyhow.
I drove us down the mountain. Stopped at Pal's for a Big Pal Burger, large Frenchy Fry and large tea. Dale got the same. You had Pal’s yet? I tell ye, Pal’s got the best damn drive-thru food in East Tennessee.
Though good as Pal’s was that day, it wasn’t no venison tenderloin over no open flame in Dale’s back yard. But what choice did we have? Them woods was emptied, Son. After all his screams, that boy had ever livin’ thing on legs scared off them mountains.