The Hunter – part 4


This is the final segment of The Hunter story It was written this morning and took 4 hours. Part four has 1,406 words and the entire story has 3,460 words making it the second longest (by 105 words) short story I have done. As I edit it, it will probably become as much as a few hundred words shorter. I will place the entire story on my writing blog and change it there as it is edited. It still has many ragged edges.

Thank all of you who have read it, and many more thanks for the encouragement you have given me and my limited talent as a writer.

—-

Roy was was opening the side door to the covered back porch as I ran clopping down the hard packed dirt and gravel road. He paused until I got up close, asking “where’s the possum”. Suddenly he knew what had happened when he got a whiff of me from about ten feet away.

“That’s far enough; if you go in smelling like that they’ll have to burn the house to get rid of your stink.”

He was in deep thought for a few seconds and then said “You’re going to have to stay in the smokehouse tonight and we can try to figure out what to do with you in the morning.”

I thought he would go into the house and get me some blankets but I should have known better.

He said “Stay right there”, opened the smokehouse door and went inside. I heard him rattle about inside for a few minutes and he came out grinning and said “Your bed’s ready”.

About the same time, my mother, Dot, came into the yard, having gotten off at midnight from her job at a textile mill in Johnson City. A special bus ran to Jonesborough for the many employees who lived in the area and she had exited about a mile from home and walked to the house.

She started to say something, sucked in a stuttering breath, and finally let out an “Oh, God! Wayne I hope it’s Roy stinking and not you!”

When Roy laughed she realized the truth.

Roy quickly sized up the situation for her and at the same time granny came to the back door, having heard the voices. She took one sniff and slammed the door shut.

Dot and Roy stood well back as I eased into the smokehouse to see what accommodations he had prepared for me. I found the old, rust encrusted fold-away bed with a pile of feed and tater sacks laying on it; my penitence was beginning. Dot thought about coming in to help me, but the stench was just too much. She said “I hope the sacks are enough to keep you from getting frostbite and I hope you remember this lesson for a long time.”

I for one was sure the lesson would be permanently engraved on my brain’s blackboard.

Thankfully my stinking coat was thickly lined with flannel and cotton batting so that it would ease the discomfort of the bed springs. For a pillow, I wadded up a ratty smelling flour sack that had at one time held a ham for curing, laid down on the bed, and arranged the pile of sacks over me the best I could. There, I shivered the 20 degree night away as even colder moonlight sliced between ill-fitting boards of the shed and I thought over a long and sinful life, wondering if I had a future or would soon die from pneumonia; in the back of my mind I could hear the church bell tolling my 14 wasted years. No one would want to attend the funeral of a boy who smelled so gamey.

At 4:00 am, I heard some stirring inside the house; granny always got up at that time and built a fire in the living room coal-burning fireplace. I heard the back door creak open, heard her sniff the air a couple of times, go to the coal pile where she picked up a few pieces of kindling wood and a bucket of coal and went back inside. I could imagine the warmth of the fire soothing my frigid body and a cup of coffee easing the chill from around innards. However, I knew I might as well be on the back side of the full moon for all the sympathy I would get from my loving family.

Somewhere around seven o’clock, the house began coming to life as Roy and Uncle Fred had a cup of coffee in a warm kitchen and granny laid out their breakfast at the small kitchen table. Biscuits, gravy, and some of the last jar of the previous year’s canned pork sausage. My repenting gained in seriousness as I heard the activity and smelled the goodness of country life.

As the sun broke over the hill, Fred and Roy came outside and checked to see if I had weathered the night. Opening the shed door just enough to see if I was moving, Fred gave me his fake scolding look and Roy grinned from one big ear to the next. “You can come out and sit on the sill and get some sun if you want to” he said. As quickly as I could unlimber, I did just as he advised.

Fred removed a round washtub from the side of the smokehouse while Roy squatted and built a fire beneath the iron outdoor kettle-stand near the coal pile. They both got buckets from the back porch and began drawing water from the cistern near the house corner and pouring it into the tub which was now perched over the fire; the soon warming water was very attractive to my still chattering teeth.

In a while, granny came out and shaved some lye soap into the water which was just beginning to mist. On a large chunk of nearby tree trunk, she placed the remainder of the bar of soap, a wash rag, a fairly stiff brush more fitting to curry a horse than to clean a human, and a couple of worn out towels.

Uncle Roy, a wannabe sadist, timed everything just right. He had me reluctantly stripped naked just as my school bus came by and stopped in front of the house. About 25 of my peers rushed to the near windows to see that my pitiful pale body had not yet grown one hair other than the ones atop my head. I heard giggling screams from the girls and guffaws from the boys as the windows were lowered and the bus door swung open. The boy I disliked most in the whole world jumped out the door, pointing and laughing at my embarrassment which caused my body to flush away the last vestiges of the cold night. Fortunately and before I swooned, my uncles had lifted the tub to the ground and I jumped into it, not caring if it was hot enough to scald my already ruddy skin. Not quickly enough, the grinning bus driver waved, closed the door, and drove off with my future history besmirching the faces of 25 kids aged from six to eighteen. I would long rue that day.

I grabbed the rag and soap and began washing while granny closely watched. As soon as I had enough scent off me to be approachable, she picked up the brush, soaped it good, and began scrubbing; again I had to stand up, naked to an uncaring world. This went on for three tub-fulls of hot water and scrubbing. My mother finally came out to help descent her only child and when I was declared legally if not morally cleansed of skunk perfume, I was given old and ragged clothing and instructed to spend the remainder of the day repenting my sins and washing the stink from my good school clothes. The coat never did come clean enough and had to be buried behind the coal pile. They did allow me to go onto the back porch for meals but I was not let into the house proper until that evening after getting a good sniff test from granny. It took several days and many more baths before I was finally and completely cleansed.

Granny’s stern gazes mellowed a bit when Uncle Roy told her what I had been trying to do when I misjudged a skunk for a possum. My family never punished me for my crime, but I was never allowed to forget it either. The minute I boarded the yellow bus the next morning wearing a borrowed coat, my hatred for school and burning dislike for many of my fellow students began, which of course made things worse for me until the day I graduated. From that day on, I could never make eye contact with any of my female classmates but I could imagine the disparaging grins on their faces.

As far as I know, granny never had her possum for supper but she didn’t again mention craving one, at least not when I was within earshot.

End

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Published in: on September 23, 2011 at 1:16 pm  Comments (6)  
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6 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. I love how this story is developing. It’s v. good composition, my friend. The details of your family’s life (50’s) are wonderful. Granny is a beautiful character. Poor woman, she couldn’t foresee the consequences of her words; “I would like to have a possum for supper”. I’m sure uncle Roy exaggerated with the school bus. Now I know why you were so shy boy for many years. Oh, dear God, I haven’t realized that skunk stinks so much!
    I’m waiting for placing your story on your writing blog. I will copy it and put it into my special file.
    Smokehouse was so cold at that night. Brrrrrrr. We should have a cup of coffee now; black and fresh coffee. We deserve it. You worked so much and effectively this morning. 🙂
    xo

    • The story needs some more editing, mostly for clarification. I would like to trim it down in size if I can so that no reader will have time to become overly bored. Today’s work is completely new; I deleted what I was planning on using and re-wrote it from a new perspective. It takes a long time for skunk perfume to wear off. If you’ve ever smelled a European polecat, the American skunk is supposed to be much stinkier.
      The smokehouse was actually used for one of my uncles to sleep in when he became drunk and granny wouldn’t allow him in the house; never on real cold nights, though. My other uncle would sometimes sleep in the smokehouse on the old cot in summertime when the house was hot at night.
      Thanks, my friend for your encouragement. 🙂

  2. This is a good one Ken. The school bus had me snickering. Not to hard to imagine how cruel those kids would be. That is something they would never forget either.

    All of us can identify with this in one way or another.

    Two thumbs up.

    • Thanks very much, Mark.

  3. I love the honest country feel of the story and it makes me smile and laugh out loud in several places. The possum got the last laugh! I’ll read it again! thanks for sharing. I’ll bet it took you forever to get all your thoughts to travel through your fingers and we appreciate the effort. I released 2 butterflies this morning only to watch as a Carolina wren delighted in snapping them up for breakfast. I keep reminding myself of the circle of life but it was shocking to watch! May your path always be clear of skunks dear friend. Oh, and I love the descriptions of food in your story.

    • Thanks very much, Tammy. I enjoyed writing the story for y’all.
      The wren probably knows your habits around the butterfly hatchery; maybe releasing at a different time of day?
      The only thing I didn’t like about Mom’s (granny) gravy was that she made it with pure lard, even after Crisco became popular. I can’t stand the taste of lard! Better than possum fat though, I suppose. 🙂


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