February 04, 2020
By Jeff Johnston
Shane’s dad backed the battered Chevy to the shed where a handful of guys from camp were already gathered. Some were drinking beer and talking excitedly, most were bloody from the elbows down, and all were admiring three nice bucks that hung from the pole. Before the truck came to a stop, the guys peered over the bedrails to see a weathered 11-pointer with massive main beams.
“She’s a night for the books, boys!” said Pat, as he waved his flashlight over the animal. Shane deftly secured a noose around the base of the buck’s antlers just as someone began cranking the winch. Moments later the buck was hoisted into the cold air where it would age until the last full day of camp. Shane hopped out of the truck bed and onto the ground with the rubber-kneed enthusiasm of a 12-year-old boy looking to prove himself among men.
Shane’s godfather, Charlie, stood near the meat pole. He wore faded Trebark overalls, a gray Oklahoma football sweatshirt and a blaze-orange NRA cap. Charlie was holding his rifle, a Marlin .30-30 lever-action, barrel down on the toe of his boot with his palm on its butt. Shane did well to hide his shock at this glaring violation of gun safety—and this from the best sportsman he’d ever known.
“That buck yours or your old man’s?” Charlie asked Shane.
“Dad’s,” said Shane. “And I’m glad. He never shoots anything.”
“That’s the way to be son,” said Charlie. “Hunt your tail off, but be happy when luck shines upon somebody else. Deer camp’s got no bunk for jealous men.”Shane nodded his understanding just as the truck’s brake lights cut off, causing the men around the truck to part.
“I’ve got a story to tell tonight, boys,” said Shane’s dad through the window of the pickup as he pulled it forward to park. “But I’m starved, and Roger’s got his red top ready. See y’all at supper in a few.”
The crowd of hunters turned in unison and headed toward the cabin. Shane walked close beside his godfather, whose steps showed a slight hitch that he tried to hide. Charlie had been in Vietnam, and although Shane never asked, he was dying to know how many men he’d killed and how he’d killed them.
Almost to the cabin, Shane couldn’t stand it any longer.
“Mr. Charlie, you said I could ask you anything, right?”
“Sure son,” Charlie answered. “Lest it’s about women or politics, ‘cause both cause me to drink. Whatcha got?”
“Well, remember when you told me that if I see anyone being unsafe around guns, I should say something, no matter who it is or where it’s at?”
“Yessir,” said Charlie.
“Well, you told me never to hold a gun like you were holding yours when we pulled up.”
Charlie raised his brow.
“Remember?” Shane continued. “You were holding it down with the barrel right on your toes. You told me to never point a gun at something I don’t want to destroy.”
“Ah,” said Charlie. He stopped in the middle of the path, turned to Shane and looked down at him, directly in the eyes. Despite the darkness Shane noticed a flicker of pain.
“I can do that, son, because I’ve earned it,” he said, his words sharp as the K-Bar on his belt.
“Oh,” shrugged Shane, unsatisfied but accepting the answer out of respect.
They walked on, the boy keeping his pace slow to remain beside the man. When they clambered up the porch steps, Charlie eased his tone.
“You know son, gettin’ old ain’t for sissies,” he said with a groan. “Help me pull these wet boots off.”
Charlie sat down on the bench and straightened his left leg. Shane tugged at the heel of the leather boot until he stumbled backward with it. Charlie then rested his socked foot on his opposite knee and rubbed it.
“Now I want you to do me another favor,” said Charlie. “I want you to take a good look at this.”
Charlie peeled off his wool sock and shined his flashlight downward, revealing a hideously disfigured foot. All of his toes were rounded off near their first joints and almost completely fused together, making his foot look like a club. Shane winced slightly and was immediately embarrassed for doing so.
“Listen to me, boy, when I say I earned it,” said Charlie. “This ain’t from no war, but from a 20-gauge.” Charlie’s blue eyes bored through Shane’s. “Don’t you ever point any weapon at anything you don’t care to destroy.”
And Shane never would.