Scott Wahrenberger

Legends of a Shotgun

   He told himself he shouldn’t do it and after further reflection, he decided it really didn’t matter. He knew he was too old to be hunting alone as he struggled to climb the mountain early in the morning.  A warm front moved across this part of the Appalachians in the night, drawing a thick veil of fog up from the shin deep snow.  He stopped halfway to the top, his heavy beating heart struggled in his chest, he used that as an excuse to pause and listen for game. Trying to slow his laborious breathing, he cradled his ancient shotgun in his arms and carefully scanned the curtain of mist that weaved between bony trees and yellow pines that were heavy with clumps of snow. 

   After a long five minutes, he pushed himself toward the flats and coming to a pine with a strategically placed flat rock under it, he sat down. He needed to use the shotgun as a crutch as he leaned into the trunk of the tree, his old knees not bending as well as they did decades ago. Absently, he knocked a small smattering of dirt off the gun butt as he laid the shotgun across his bent legs. Now he waited, hoped, that like in previous years a careless buck would wander past, and like in previous years, it would become several dinners in the coming months.

   Adjusting his wool coat, he could feel a handful of rifled slugs jostle about in one pocket, his old Ka-Bar knife ride up his hip and lunch bounce around in another pocket. He thought about the slugs. In his youth, he had old paper cartridges called pumpkin balls for the shotgun. Originally, it had been his grandfather’s, who received it as a gift, decades before his birth, and since rendered almost useless because of the new plastic hulls shells made for decades hence.  He couldn’t use it for small game anymore because of the plastic. The hulls extruded too far when shot and couldn’t clear the receiver’s ejection port. Modern rifled slugs didn’t have the problem, though he seldom used the old gun anymore.

   He remembered the day his grandfather gave the gun to him, he was twelve years old and got it, with original sheath, cleaning kit, and a paper grocery bag of old shot and slugs in the original boxes. He remembered standing in grandpa’s kitchen as his father repeated the phrase ‘pay attention it’s a killer’ as they showed him how it broke down into two pieces and how to clean it. The pumpkin balls, a simple ball of lead, originally adapted from muzzleloaders of the nineteenth-century shot very well through the sixteen-gauge barrel.

   Now, since the late twenty-century brought marvels of technology he had to satisfy himself with Foster style rifled slugs. They didn’t shoot true in this gun, but then again the old barrel belonged to a different era. The original cleaning kit disappeared over the years and the original sheath wore out in time. Mostly, his grandfather’s shotgun lived in an equally old gun cabinet in his cottage. While he had other arms that were technically superior to his ‘Sweet Sixteen’, he wanted to share his current hunting experience with his grandfather and via extension his father. Many would say it was the finest sporting shotgun ever made, just the right weight, just the right choke, just the right gauge for hunting. He agreed now, it wasn’t as heavy as his Ruger rifle, and swung better than his Remington autoloader.  It also didn’t punch him in the shoulder as hard as either, something that became a consideration as he advanced in years.

   Again, he scanned the panorama before him. He knew there were plenty of bucks running around, and maybe one of the bigger racks would skate his way. He didn’t like still-hunting and would rather cautiously stalk the mountain. The shin deep, wet snow on the ground didn’t lend itself to the feeding habits of whitetails. Instead of bantering about, they would by instinct bunch up in groups and slowly paw around for sustenance.  He didn’t see any evidence of other hunters and that meant nobody would be pushing them from the thickets and their secret hiding places.

   As the years passed, there were less and less hunters in the woods. Less impatient young boys that would wander through the mountains making more noise than Fourth of July fireworks, less sportsmen who thought they knew what they were doing. He called them the Cabala’s guys. The week-enders that showed up with seldom used hunting clothes, thousand-dollar Weatherby rifles with big name European telescopic sites and couldn’t hit the side of a barn at a hundred-yards. If they came at all, he didn’t see them.  He didn’t know if they just weren’t there or maybe his eyes just didn’t work. He believed they didn’t come because he could see the paper pie plate thumb tacked to an old stump at a hundred yards and didn’t have any problem planting all six Foster slugs on it. Before his father passed, he remembered Dad didn’t bother to sight his rifle in anymore. He’d take his rifle out of the case, stuff a magazine into it, and spend his day under a tree. Often Dad would complain that the rifle just kicked too much and asked him to sight it in for him. He told him he couldn’t because their shoulders were too different in size and his arms were shorter than his were. All true, the Old Man was physically larger than his father was, and even larger than his grandfather.  While that didn’t matter much to shotguns, it did matter very much to rifles.

   It kept nagging at him, where were all the people? Where did they go? As he sat there reflecting, it wasn’t just any group that vexed him. Specifically, where were his sons? He had three. Where were they?  What happened to them?

   His middle-son, his favorite, through an accident of nature came into the world retarded. While he didn’t trust him with the tools of the hunter, he occasional came, as he did in the past. For him he enjoyed following his father around and pretending he had something going on. Never on the first day, he couldn’t sit still long enough for still hunting and he didn’t have the coordination to move quiet. The Old Man always worried about that son, either cursed or blessed with eternal childhood. Even though he had two brothers to watch out for him, that took the edge off the worry, just the edge though, he still worried.

   His youngest son grew up to be a musician, and played the jazz circuit in New York.  Quinn lived there, though he never took him up on the offer to visit. From his understanding, he rented a studio apartment and didn’t own a car but had three albums on the shelves.  He started out on the flute, the cheapest instrument that he could afford to buy for him when Quinn was young and now decades later he mastered several instruments. The Old Man wondered where his son got that talent, since he himself couldn’t carry a tune strapped to his back.

   His oldest didn’t come up from Pittsburgh this year. He jokingly told him that’s what happened when you worked for yourself.  Chris a proud owner of a home remodeling business held several contracts, several employees, and the only son that had given him grandchildren. He accused him of being all work and no play and of course, his son threw it back in his face saying he was just like him. The Old Man couldn’t argue.  Most of his adult life he hustled two to three jobs before his boat came in. Moreover, even at that point, he couldn’t stop. What slowed him down was his first and only heart attack taken twenty-years ago. That slowed him down, but not by much.

   That’s where those people went. Fading back even further, memories of his uncle sitting by a radio smoking a cigarette early in the morning before going out at first light. He could smell the acrid smoke and see the whispery white gray plume` twirl up toward the ceiling. He seemed sad and distant, just sitting there smoking and staring off into nothing. This memory happened well before the cottage, when a permanently parked trailer sat where the cottage is now.       

Calling it a trailer was a misnomer of large proportions, properly it’s a mobile home.

Three bedrooms, one and a half baths all sitting on six axles. After a decade or so, his father, the aforementioned uncle, and his cousins built an extension and roof over it. A couple of years later a contractor came and put in on a foundation, which he and his father back filled, bucket by bucket with gravel. Once Dad passed, it sat empty for a few years and by then his boat came in.

   He lived there for a while and as things got better he, eventually had the rotting aluminum behemoth towed off for scrap and the cottage built. Smaller by some measures, two bedrooms, one bath, kitchen and living room smashed into one space and an enclosed porch. The cottage faced away from Route 62, only a hundred or so yards to the rear of it.  Other things changed too, sheds came and went, Dad’s old farm tractor, and a collection of other implements went for scrap or sold outright. Like his hellgrammite net. It sat unused in the old shed until it rotted into dust and two crusty poles.  Along with a lifetime collection of fishing nets, tents, more than one grill and a dozen or so fifty-year old paint cans, half filled. The only thing that remained from a collection of his father’s dreams had been his grandfather’s hardhat. His nickname, ‘Stumpy’, written in marker over the brim, wore off years ago. 

   Using the shotgun as a prop the Old Man stood up and took a deep breath. The fog became thicker and more of the bare trees disappeared. A heavy wet splash broke the silence; a sheet of snow slid off a pine and hit the ground off to his right.  He wonder why he was there, his knees were stiffening up along with the muscles in his lower back. He decided to slowly move to another tree and see if things changed there. Once there he waited to catch his breath and thought again. ‘Where did all the people go?’

   As a small boy, he remembered being in the mobile home waiting for his father and grandfather to come back from small game hunting. They’d leave long before he awoke and wouldn’t return until well after sun down. His grandfather would throw the rabbit tails at him and claim to have shot the Easter Bunny.  If he asked where he got him, Pappy had a complete story of plugging the beast by the driveway or in Bupp’s field. He then would throw the empty shot shell hulls at him and he’d spend hours playing with the tails and the shells. When they’d sit at the dinning room table and clean their shotguns, he’d find his cork gun, pilfer a drop of gun oil, and clean his.

   As he grew older, the faces changed. Eventually his grandfather passed, and his uncle bought his own place. More faces entered the picture, mostly friends his father had from work. One man Orville who his father apprenticed under years before he was born came for a couple of seasons. Orville didn’t seem like a hunter. A small milquetoast man with thick glasses and a short haircut, he seemed more the type to hide the deer rather than hunt one. In the morning, in bitter cold he’d bundle up and trundle off toward the same mountain the Old Man now stood on. He waddled and the voluminous layers of clothing made him look like an overgrown child.  At the end of the day, at sun down he’d return and the three of them, the Old Man, his father, and Orville would eat and trade stories. Being a teenager then, he mostly listened and took notes.

   Orville in the summer of his life served with the 88th. Airborne Glider Battalion during the Second World War, the Old Man recalled two stories Orville told. One involved a training accident at a place he couldn’t recall now, maybe it was in California, or maybe an island in the Philippines, he couldn’t remember where. As the story went, they were preparing for the invasion of Okinawa and during the training; one glider with twenty soldiers on it snapped a cable on take off. The glider naturally smashed into the ground. According to Orville, the biggest piece of any of the deceased consisted of collections of teeth dug out of the dirt. 

   The second story, in which he recalled well, happened on what Orville insisted, was his lucky day, Friday the Thirteenth. During the battle for possession of the island, he found himself stringing barbed wire along his unit’s defensive perimeter, and then the Japanese shelled them with Willie Peter rounds. As the white phosphorus shells airburst over his head Orville flattened himself out on the sandy ground as chunks of screaming white-hot embers fell from the sky like rain. Afterward he stood up and saw the burned fused sand outline his body near perfect, only his lineman’s pliers took a hit. The steel tool head took a drop of the monstrous stuff and welded itself together at the hinge, no more than an inch from the hand the wielded it.

   Another story that was attributed to Orville came from his father. During the time Orville spent on Okinawa, he manned a fifty-caliber Browning. A big heavy machine that had to weight as much as Orville did, and that caused a small grin to cross his ancient face. A small man with a huge gun. According to the story, later in the night, the Japanese charged the beachhead and Orville laid into them with his fifty-caliber Ma’Duce.  He, Orville, never saw them, just heard this god awful screaming of ‘Bonsai! Bonsai’ from the darkness and then the glider troops responded by screaming the foulest obscenities while returning fire. In the morning, long after the smoke cleared they went out to inspect the barbed-wire perimeter laid down the day before. They found only the hands of a Jap stuck on a strand of wire and bloody spots on the ground.

   The Old Man himself knew about some of that personally, his memory took a vacation and brought him to when he performed his patriotic chore. The military still had the same machinegun; the gliders had become obsolete with jet aircraft. Eventually Orville faded from the stage, replaced with an earlier memory. In this orchestration, the scene came from the perspective of a five-year old. As a boy, he walked through the field above the mobile home with his mother and the first of many beagles that would dot his life. The field since became over grown with big forest and didn’t exist any more. His dog, Missy became agitated and struggled to break free from his mother. She grabbed the dog and both looked up to see a wild fox running around in circles snarling and foaming at the mouth. His mother screamed and both began to call for his cousin Pat who was at the mobile home. After screaming for an indeterminate amount of time, he ran off and told his older cousin about the fox chasing its tail in the field and the resulting cacophony. He remembered Pat telling him to stay in the dinning room but he didn’t listen.   He ran out the door and toward the field where his mother struggled to keep the small dog under control and the fox continued to spin in circles. As he helped hold the dog back, he looked down the path, and saw his cousin running up from the mobile home with his shotgun.  His mother screamed for him not to watch but he did anyhow. With on shot Pat spun the rabid fox to the ground and took it back to yard by the newly built shed, hanging it from a tree by its tail. As he recalled, albeit foggily, is that his father and uncle took the carcass to the Game Station in Tionesta but he couldn’t recall exactly what happened.

   Another wet slap of snow sliding off a pine jerked him back to reality. Inhaling the moist cold air, he cleared his mind and tried to concentrate on the task. Looking about, his view limited to a few yards by the increasingly dense veil of vapor, he stopped thinking about where the people went.  Out there in the fog, he knew there is a buck wandering about, just waiting for him. He waited under the tree most of the day, eating his lunch of a sweet onion and then sucking on a lump of hardtack when his stomach told him to.  Near the end of the day, the fog still obscuring his view he made his way down the mountain toward his home.

   Near the bottom of the mountain, he paused on the remains of an ancient tram trail, a left over scar from when Pennsylvania was a major oil producing state and caught his breath once again.  From his elevated perch, he could see the overflow from his spring. A black piece of PVC pipe with orange stripes painted on the end jutting out of a worn mound.  Twenty or was it thirty years ago? He couldn’t exactly remember when he and his sons replaced the concrete tank his father put in with a larger tank of insane proportions. Chris thought it so grotesque he accused his father of being barking mad.

   In any case, it didn’t matter. The fifteen-hundred gallon tank had served him well over the years. He slowly made his way to the cottage breathing heavily and silently debating if he wanted to put himself through this tomorrow.  Inside the enclosed porch, he unloaded the shotgun by running the slugs through the action and let each one kick out on the table with a solid thump.  He hung his orange road guard vest up on a hook along with his hat, took off his boots, and slipped into the living room in his socks.  He shouted to the computer for his messages. He loved twenty-first century technology as it opened a completely new world of conveniences.

   “Message one, Christian Roy. Message two, Quinn, message three Christian Roy,” the synthetic female voice responded.  As he fumbled around in his gun cabinet’s accessory drawer for his cleaning kit, he ordered the machine to play messages one and then three.

   “Hey dad! Give me a call it’s eight in the morning…” the machine went through its programmed response and then played the last message.

   “Dad, when you get in give me a call. Its noon so I suppose you went hunting.  It’s important,” his oldest son Chris said. He didn’t sound too happy. You could hear the strain in his voice.

   “Dad, Quinn here,” the second message played as the Old Man stood by the machine with the kit in his hand. “I just talked to Chris so if you get this call me or him. Colan’s here for the holidays and he made the trip just fine. Uh, when you get in give me a ring.”

   Something bad happened, he could feel it take hold of his shoulders and creep around his back. He ordered the machine to call Chris and waited as the program performed the request. He pulled the chair away from the computer stand in the living room and as he sat down, he considered throwing another log into the wood burner. Chris’s face popped up on the screen and he weakly smiled.

   “What happened?” He didn’t like surprises since most of the time they were bad, and he felt one coming on.

   “Uh,” Chris nervously choked. “Good news bad news. How do you want it first?”

   “Bad news first.”

   “Well, there’s been a car accident. A drunk driver up in Jefferson sideswiped Miriam and Lou. They pronounced Lou dead at the scene. She’s in intensive care…” Chris looked old and haggard.

   Miriam is the Old Man’s first and only granddaughter. She had three brothers behind her.

   “What happened to Miriam?” he asked deflating into the chair.  He felt for her, widowed and pregnant at nineteen is no way to start out life. While he didn’t much like Lou, he wouldn’t wish this on him either.

   “Concussion, broken arm,” Chris wheezed. “At least the baby looks okay.”

   The Old Man sat there empty and hollow, never in his wildest dreams did he consider the fact he might out live his grandchildren let alone a great-grandchild. After a lifetime of hard work, years of suppressing the natural passions that stirred, he came almost to tears.  “Well things need to be done up. They catch the bastard that did this?”

   “She’s in a coma. Empty headed college girl…” Chris trailed off and looked like he wanted to put a curse on her but better sense took over, holding an angry sad look before he exhaled.

   “Well let me clean your great-grandfathers shotgun and I’ll see you in the morning,” the Old Man strained to hold back tears. “Say a prayer and try to be forgiving.”

   “Easy to say hard to do,” Chris gargled. “And when did you become forgiving? I figured you’d want to lynch somebody.”

   “Got soft in my ancientness,” the Old Man said with certain well-worn steel creeping about his retort. “How’s your old lady handling it?”

   “She’s spending the night, I had to come back to the office and make arraignments.”

   “Where’s Miriam at?”

   “They life flighted her from Jefferson to McGee in Pittsburgh.”

   As he broke the shotgun into two parts, his focus drifted with worry over Miriam and his first great-grandchild. His constant self-exhortations of not to worry, God has it covered, and other well-worn platitudes did little to allay his fears.  The emotional strain slowed him down significantly.  It formed a perceived weight on his shoulders and bound his legs and arms in a constriction of worry.

   A week later, he made the three-hour trip to Christian’s house for the funeral. After spending most of the day at Striffler’s Funeral Home, the Old Man and his three sons went to Chris’s home in Jefferson.

   “Dad, why don’t you stay here the night?” Chris asked his father as they walked into the living room. Colan and Quinn followed them.

   “And where are you going to stick them?” he replied referring to his other sons.

   “The couch in the den rolls out, and Miriam’s room is empty. Besides your three other grandsons would love you to stay awhile.”

   “Hey, Big Mouth isn’t here,” Colan interjected making a clear reference to the hostilities that existed between his father and sister-in-law.

   “Let it rest,” Quinn whined.

   “Listen to flute boy,” the Old Man told Colan, glaring slightly.

   “Yes sir,” Colan replied and almost saluted. He faded off and gazed about the house. Chris took his father’s topcoat as they sauntered into the kitchen. The Old Man said the house seemed to grow bigger since the last time he was there. His oldest grandson now fifteen went with them. The two others politely excused themselves and disappeared into the shadows of the house.

   Once thing’s settle down the Old Man and his boys sat at the dinning room table and discussed the events. Most settled on the condition of Miriam and her bleak future.  She didn’t look good at the funeral, a ghost a shadow of her normal self. Her mother ‘Big Mouth’ autocratically elected to spend the next few days with her daughter pointing out the broken arm and the small apartment she use to share with Lou.

   “Don’t worry about Miriam,” the Old Man said. “She can spend time at the cottage when she’s well enough. Truth is I’m old and I won’t need it much longer.”

   “You okay?” Quinn questioningly glanced at his father.

   “For my age I’m the picture of health,” he sardonically replied while producing a wry grin. “What I’m saying is she has nothing to worry about and I could use the company. Besides, what is she going to do anyhow?  I want to keep it in the family and I’m saying she can’t afford what she has now. Lou didn’t have insurance and with the baby coming she can’t go to school, change diapers and I really don’t like her working at motor-mart anyhow.”

   “There’s always here,” Chris, answered looking up at the ceiling. He and his wife were looking forward to shipping the children off to their own lives and really didn’t plan of having another baby in the house, even if the baby belonged to their baby.

   “Well, the cottage has the space and she likes it there. It might not be my place to say anything but she is a grown woman,” Quinn told his brother.

   “I’ll share my room with her,” Colan volunteered.

   “You live in a road house,” Quinn answered and then slapped Colan on the back of his head.

   Through it all, her brother Billy said nothing. He sat there listening to his uncles and father discusses the situation. He thought they should ask her instead of making plans for her.

   “Well anyone else have a better idea? No way in hell, she’s keeping the apartment and eating. Welfare? She has family and I do distinctly remember raising you boneheads to take care of your own.”

   “What happens when she gives birth?” Chris asked his father raising one eyebrow. He then offered drinks to everyone.

   “She’ll do what your mother did. Crawl up under the sink and yelp,” the Old Man giggled.

   Billy looked horrified.

   “That’s a joke boy,” the Old Man answered his grandson disbelieving expression. He then said. “Actually your father here came into the world half-way in the backseat of a nineteen-eighty-three Mercury Capri, stained the hell out of the seat too.”

   “And he’s still reminding me,” Chris wheezed and took orders.

   “Still owe me for it too,” he laughed as Chris found beer in the refrigerator.  “I think we should talk to her when things sort’a settles down. She’s in no condition to make decisions now anyway.”

   Quinn exhaled with relief. She could’ve gone with him to New York and he did have the room. It would be awkward though, he really didn’t mind Colan and his friends there well tolerated him. However, a pregnant woman? One thing he noted about those is once they moved in, getting them out was near impossible. He valued his mobility, freedom, playing three major gigs a week, and with another album coming out in July she’d spend most of her time alone in a big city and what could she do there to earn her keep? She didn’t have any salable talents or skills yet. Worst of all, the bachelor pad would have that new baby smell.

   “You look relieved,” Colan commented giving his brother a sideways glare and then punched Quinn in the shoulder.

   “Let me be psychic for a moment,” Chris said while rubbing his temples with just his index fingers while humming. “Right now flute boy is figuring if he wanted a woman in his life he’d have kept Ginger.”

   “Touché. That being uttered it’s not a problem.”

   “Well you three figure it out,” the Old Man grumbled and pushed himself away from the table. “I’m finding a couch.” He stopped half way into the den and the asked. “Hey didn’t there use to be a dog around here?”

   “Fritz died half a year ago,” Billy answered dejectedly.

   “Forgive me boy, your grandfather doesn’t have the memory he use too.” With his memory sadly restored, he lumbered into the den, passed the couch, and went for the recliner. He kicked his shoes off and leaned back. Never in his wildest dreams suspected getting old would be like this. He figured he’d be long dead a buried before he attended a funeral for his widowed granddaughter. Drifting off to sleep he felt he lived too long to be useful.

   The following Easter turned out to be a good one. A bit chilly but the bright sun put cheeriness on the morning. Miriam’s situation did change, and he adapted.  Those changes put her in the passenger seat as they drove back from the Tidioute Presbytery. He looked over at her as she forlornly stared out the window.

   “Tomorrow we can do dinner at the Tippy,” he posed the question as a statement of fact.

   “Are you saying I can’t cook?” she shot back.

   She got the sass from her father, he thought. “No such thing. I just thought that maybe going to the Tippy Canoe would give you a break.”

   “I got out the other day.”

   “Going to the hospital at Titusville for an ultra-sound isn’t getting out.” He thought for a moment. “You know that young fellow…the guy from Oil City likes you.”

   “I don’t like him. He’s too nerdy.”

   “What’s wrong with him? He’s got a job, and he was interested in you.”

   “I don’t like him,” she replied again, her voice a little sharper.

   “Well I think we should go to the Tippy for dinner tomorrow. Hey you know that use to be a gravel pit?”  He remarked as they passed the Tionesta Tree Farm. Decades ago, it was the Tionesta Sand and Gravel, and then with the green revolution it became a tree farm.  A ‘For Sale’ sign hung at the driveway of the place next to him. That too, uses to be part of the gravel pit years ago in his youth. It started out as a hole in the ground, as a boy he’d take his rifle there, and target shoot. After awhile nature reclaimed it, the exposed dirt at first disappeared under a carpet of weeds, brambles, and brush, and then trees. Eventually somebody bought it and put a house up on it, far back from the road.

   “Besides I look like I swallowed basket ball,” Miriam muttered self-consciously as they drove up the driveway to the cottage.

   “Pregnant women are sexy. Now buck up and change I got something for you,” he told her as he backed the truck along the cottage.      

   As he stood in the backyard watching his breath condense in the air as he waited for his granddaughter, the sun shone brightly and a mild cold breeze rustled through the trees. He stood by an old, almost useless picnic table on which he laid his ‘Sweet Sixteen’, a box of new shells, and half a dozen empty soda cans. Apparently somebody at Winchester got a memo, and the silver and red box contained useable bird and bunny shot. The ‘newer’ shells didn’t extrude as far as the new ‘old’ shells did and he had a repeater again. As he considered that Miriam moved slower than molasses he thought that maybe he’d get to take it small game again. Eventually he watched her walk out of the cottage and transverse the front porch. She smiled as she walked over to the table and the Old Man could see her father in her face.

   “What’s up with the old shotgun?”

   “Not just any old shotgun. That originally was owned by my grandfather, it was the first new gun he ever had.”

   “And it still works?”

   “Not only that you’re leaning about it.”


   “You know what really something is? That every time you shoot it you have the same experience the previous owner did. It’s one of the ways I sort connect with my father and grandfather. Besides at my age,” he said as he pitched the cans about the backyard. “I figured it was about time to pass it on.”

   “You’re not going to die on me are you?” Miriam gave him a worried look. 

   “Pay attention someday in the far future you might have to pass this on to my great grandson. Now who’d ever thought I’d get this old!” He laughed.

   Over the course of the instruction, he told her rambling stories that he heard from Orville, and how his grandfather claimed to have plugged the Easter Bunny. He even went as far as pointing down the driveway and describing how multi-colored fur went all over. Then, he told her of several beagles he owned over the years and how he and his father would go shooting at Shaner Sportsman’s Club and go through several grocery bags full of reloaded shells on the trap range. He got the distinct impression she humored him as he rambled on. Afterward he talked her through cleaning it and as he put the ‘Sweet Sixteen’ in his gun, cabinet he produced several old pictures of beagles and a blue ribbon.

   “That’s my Dad’s bench dog, Mischievous Misdemeanor that’s her ribbon.”

   “Bench dog?”

   “Beagles come in grades for competition, field trial, and bench trial. Bench trials are like beauty contests and field trials are for hunting. People compete with their animals. It’s like how greyhounds are for racing and pit bulls are for fighting. Beagles are hounds and people who really like beagles compete with them. At one time, when I was younger than you are now, beagles were a big thing. There was even a beagle club out in the country, I think around Versailles but can’t remember anymore. I had a cousin that was really into it, he even had a kennel in his garage once.”

   “Didn’t know that,” she mused looking over the black and white photo. She held up the color photo and asked about that dog.

   “Bullshot Buffy. Good field dog.”

   “She ever win anything?”

   “By the time I got her the whole thing with trials was fading into obscurity.”

   “What took its place?”

  “People became urbanized and you had a bunch of white-collar professionals moving in to the area. If I could take a guess, I’d say video games replaced dog trials. When I got out of the Army there were so many urban professionals buying up land around Shaner and Rostraver there wasn’t any place near to hunt small game so I gave up on a lot of it.”

   She handed him the pictures back and asked about the huge bullet on the shelf. He handed her the fifty BMG round, with the silver tip.

   “It’s a souvenir from the Cold War.”

   “What’s the silver for?” she asked running her thumbnail over the tip.

   “Armor Piercing Incendiary.  Forgot where I picked that up, though I think I got it off a range in Grafenwoehr, the coldest damn place on the planet.”

   “The BMG means big mean gun?”

   “Accurate but wrong. Exactly, it’s short for Browning machinegun. Big mean gun,” he chuckled then wheezed. “Heard it describe in more colorful terms though.”

   “What happened?”

   “With what?”

   “The Cold War,” she shrugged.

   “Spent time getting up in the morning digging holes in the ground and wanting to kill something. There were no battles, no heroes, and no gallant charges. Just casualties, the first being my innocence and the second being a squandered youth. ”

   “For an old geezer you’re a story on legs. Ever think about writing about it?”

   “About what? Besides who’d read it?”

   Later Chris and his family, to include his daughter-in-law, the dreaded, and much feared ‘Big Mouth’ arrived. They weren’t spending the evening, they came to retrieve Miriam and spend the day. They did dinner at the Tippy Canoe; the Old Man argued with Chris over the check and had a reasonably good time doing it. After returning to the cottage, they stayed for an hour before leaving. Then he stood outside of the cottage and watched the taillights of Chris’s van disappear down the driveway and then headlights disappear along sixty-two south.  Chris honked his horn twice as the headlights became a memory.

   Standing there alone in the dark and listened to the dead silence, overhead against a pale blue sky a bright white full moon cast shadows among the trees, the brightest stars twinkled, he reflected on recent events. He decided that the Easter was good and if he lived long enough, the next one, he might be able to spend with his great-grandson. As he turned to walk toward the cottage, he stopped as a thought of his second wife slapped him in the forehead.

   He divorced his son’s mother decades ago and waited another ten years before he bothered to find another wife. By then, his boat came in, and firmly docked in his own port. His second marriage passed twenty-years with nary a bad word between them. Unlike his first marriage which in many ways replicated his parents, this one was happy more often then not. When he met Veronica, both were at the point in their lives when children were iffy at best. That never happened for them and while it became a mild sore spot, it didn’t hinder the relationship. She died of cancer twelve years ago and he didn’t really want another relationship with anyone. After her, he didn’t think he could do any better and at his age, he really did care. Now, as he walked back into the cottage he wished he did have that. Miriam’s visit reminded him in a very real way the mortality of his life.

   He walked into the living room, flipped on his computer, logged onto a radio station, found talk-radio, and plopped back on the couch. He really didn’t pay attention to the conversation; he just needed to hear a few voices in the background.  He felt old as he sat there, this fullness, a weight that held him back from moving onto some foggy future. This feeling that he had done all he is suppose to do in this life and tomorrow didn’t hold any challenges or surprises jabbed at him. Never in his wildest dreams did he think he’d live this long, or have the ability to get about and live on his own if he did. He figured he’d spend his last days in a nursing home sucking peas through straw oblivious to reality. Instead, he spent his last days on a couch, on a mountain, wondering where everyone went and recollecting a past that he could never reach again.

   “Could be worse,” he muttered as he struggled to get up off the couch. He wandered into the bathroom, found a jar of Icy-Hot, and realized a new definition of old age. “You know you’re old when this stuff smells good.”
   He took his shirt off, smeared the greasy jell on his shoulders, and exhaled. Nothing left to do but go to bed he thought and wandered off to do just that. In the morning, he didn’t feel like getting out of bed so he didn’t. He didn’t remember fading off to sleep again but when he woke for a brief instance, he thought he could hear Veronica in the kitchen and could smell her cooking. Before he could smile, he realized the reality of the situation and the soft sounds of her feet moving around ceased.

   Eventually nature forced him out of bed and being up he called Quinn in New York. At first, all he got is Q’s video mailbox and he left a message. He didn’t do much the rest of the day, occupying himself with light reading and streaming audio. By six o’clock in the evening, he reached Quinn.

   “Well you got room for a visit from your old man?”

   Quinn stared blankly into the camera. A look of total incredulity froze his face for a long second.

   “Yeah sure,” he answered not believing it. “Just when?”

   “Give me a date.”

   “Next week? Just what brought this on? You don’t like cities.”

   “Decided that at my age it be a shame if I croaked before visiting. Then I’d have to haunt you.”

   “Okay…” Quinn still didn’t believe. “I’ll pick you up at the airport.”

   After logging off Quinn leaned back in his chair and let the astonishment, the shock of it, wear off.  His dad was coming and he didn’t know what to do.  He looked around the apartment, he could put him in the guest room, and it wouldn’t be a problem. Dad was always an independent type and if anything, he might need bailed out of jail. Then again, at his age how much trouble could he get into? Quinn smacked himself in the head mentally; he knew exactly how much trouble his dad could get into.  He then video chatted with Chris.

   “You’re shitting me,” Chris gaped hearing the news.

   “He called up and wanted to come to New York. Now what!”

   “Take him out on the town, get him drunk and laid,” Chris laughed.

   “He might not want to leave then!” Quinn shrieked, shot up out of his chair, and turned around in circles before sitting back down. “I mean it’s not a problem just I don’t know what to do with him! It’s a big city out there and he’s beyond old! He’s half hick!”

   “He’ll be okay,” Chris chuckled.  “It’d be good for him. He hasn’t been out of Warren County in decades. I’ll tell you what I’ll talk to the old lady and I’ll see about coming up with the family.”

   “And work?”

   “Hey I have five good crews and they can get along a bit without me.”

   The Old Man stood in Quinn’s kitchen rummaging through the refrigerator. As he foraged he admitted his youngest son did better for himself then he thought possible. His condominium was bigger than most houses he had seen. He always figured Quinn would die in a flophouse with a million dollars in the bank. If he had this, the size of his bank account would have to be hugeous in the extreme.  As he set a bowl of leftovers on the sink counter and went looking for something to drink with it, he wondered how he would ever get away from the family and actually have some real fun.

   Maybe he’d sneak out with Colan, go to a strip club, and pitch a few dollars at a skank. Bad idea, he thought, Colan couldn’t keep his mouth shut, and eventually ‘Big Mouth’ would let him have it. Then again, at his age he might die before that happened.  After consuming a pork chop and a beer, he woke Colan up and they, with the greatest of stealth absconded.

   It went better than he thought. It took two weeks before he heard about it and by then he didn’t care. He sat in front of his computer at the cottage and just nodded as his daughter-in-law scolded him and smiled. He thought it a fitting ended to a wonderful experience he considered a once in a lifetime event and didn’t want to do again. As he sat there a fine spring day happened outside that, for once in a long while, held promise. His visit to Quinn’s gave him a fresh perspective on life and made his solitary existence more meaningful.

   He use to feel old, and wondered where life took a left turn for him but after being in the biggest city he’d ever seen in his life, he discarded the attitude. Too many people, too much concrete, and way too much noise. After he logged off the computer and mildly cursing his daughter-in-law, he stood up and stretched. Smiling while walking out onto the porch and surveying the yard and the big forest behind it, he decided it would be a wonderful day for a walk. He retrieved a walking stick that he kept by the cottage door and sauntered off toward the mountain. Following a well-worn route, he made it to the worn remains of the tram road.  He took a left and walked the tramline past the house that was up for sale, past the tree farm and stopped by an ancient pine.  He took time and just enjoyed the scenery before he sat down and tried to figure out what happened.

   Like so many times before, he walked the mountains. Unlike so many times before, he didn’t allow his mind to fade back to a world that didn’t exist anymore.  He thought about the life Miriam carried in her, where his grandchildren were going, and how the world changed in some ways. The cartoon future of the Jetsons arrived and he saw it first hand.

The flight from Pittsburgh to New York took thirty-minutes, but waiting at the airport still took hours.    

   The fact that his second wife Veronica wasn’t there to share it dampened his spirits. He spent too much time alone and that’s what kept him in the past. They spent twenty-two-years together and when she passed, he died too. The past five-years on the mountain without her he couldn’t call productive, nor existence. He wasted those years by putting in time and wondering what happened. The trip to New York pulled that out of him. Now he had to deal with the facts of the present situation. 

   “That’s you’re problem,” he told himself, speaking aloud. “You’ve tried to hide from yourself by living in the past. You spent years wondering where the people have gone, where your life went, and what happened. What happened is you got old and forgot how to live. It’s said and done and you did well. You’re kids are successful. You got out of life what you wanted. Now what do you do? You know your better half wouldn’t want you to sit around feeling sorry for yourself.  Can you say ideologue? That’s the problem when you realize or think you’re old you become an ideologue. Now there’s a word I haven’t heard in a coon’s age…ideologue. Ideologue, thy name is old fart.”

   He got up, decided to walk the Tidioute pipeline while thinking about whether or not he should have Colan stay with him.  

   Years later Miriam climbed to the top of the mountain in knee-deep snow in the darkness that preceded morning. When she reached a clump of yellow pines, she stopped and caught her breath. As she sat under one of the trees, her grandfather’s ancient Ka-Bar painfully, rode up her hip into a rib. Adjusting it, she could see the small sliver of bright yellow dawn creep up over the horizon. 

   Not a cloud in the sky, she knew it was going to be a cold one. That didn’t stop the mountains from looking like a cross between a pumpkin patch and Grand Central Station. She couldn’t remember when she had ever seen more hunters on the mountain. So many in fact she considered giving up hunting for a while. Reflecting on that notion, she dismissed it. If she quit, she wouldn’t have time to herself, she’d have to be stuck in the house with her husband and two children. That and the fact she couldn’t share a part of her life with her grandfather and his memories. She knocked a smear of dirt off the butt of the Winchester Model 12 ‘Sweet Sixteen’ and smiled to herself knowing that all was right with the world. Eventually she tired of sitting and slowly stood up. With more orange dots on the hillside than a pumpkin patch, she decided to give in for the day.  Slowly walking down the mountain and stopping at the tramline, she scanned the flats expanse before her. 

   Something caught her eye. A flash of white or maybe just motion. Freezing in her tracks she dared not breathe lest the condensation from her breath give her away. Slowly she shouldered up to a tree and looked.  There, on the flats about fifty-yards away, a fat doe cautiously pranced through the snow. Waiting a minute and expecting to see more her heart pounded in her chest, as adrenaline cascaded through her blood.

   Slowly she shouldered the ‘Sweet Sixteen’, leveled the gold bead on top of the doe’s shoulder blade, and slowly began tracking it.  She whistled and then grunted, the deer stopped and looked around and stared right at her. For a moment, it didn’t notice either Miriam or the gun. Moving her finger to the rear of the trigger guard, she slowly slipped the safety off and felt the gun ever so lightly, so imperceptibly quite, shutter with a click.

   In less than a second of hesitation, the deer sealed its fate.


     My first serious novel, He Came From Earth is now available in both soft cover as well as hardback. Large print soon to be coming. You can purchase it at Borders U.K. Amazon or Barnes and Noble.









All rights belong to its author. It was published on by demand of Scott Wahrenberger.
Published on on 07/06/2009.


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