Harold C. Jones
Joshua Grayson was just dozing off, laying in the long grass on his blanket in the welcome spring sunshine. He was pale, and a bit bloated after being totally sedentary over the winter and then a long and indifferent spring. His body wasn’t all that good, and that was just a fact.
The weather had turned at last…all round came the buzz of insects, the chirp of birds and the soughing of the wind in the fresh, small green leaves of late May.
There was one hell of a bang, so loud and so nearby that he nearly jumped out of his skin. He was squatting in the underbrush, heart pounding. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw the ripples of an impact fifty yards down the creek, followed by the splashes of something big skipping along the surface until it hit the bank at the next turn with a smack.
Somebody up there had a real big gun.
Worse, he’d been unable to stifle a squawk, and now the surrounding forest had gone very quiet.
“Hello! Hello?” There was a voice up above, in the thick brush of the state forest.
Joshua, keeping as low as possible, dropped onto his butt and started desperately pulling on his underwear and shorts. He zipped into the cotton T-shirt, and then, with shaking fingers, started on the socks. He listened intently, trying not to make any noise of his own.
There were snaps and the whip of branches as someone came looking. They must be wondering.
Joshua had his boots on, laces jammed down inside rather than tied. He rolled up his towel and stuffed it into his small khaki day-pack.
Looking around, there was a water bottle and an empty beer can. He stuffed them in and then stood up, the flap on top still unfastened. He was as ready as he was going to get.
There was a patch of something golden moving through the trees, grass and brush at the top of the steeply-sloping bank. He stood up while the getting was good, a flattened patch of grass the only clue to his attempt at nude sunbathing.
“Hey—hey. Don’t shoot.”
Feeling extremely guilty about something, Joshua got away from the flat patch, heading to his left and out into the open.
The way the trees were up there, there was a rare gap. He turned up the slope and started climbing.
“Ugh—hey.” There was a guy standing at the top of the bluff, with a gun that was a good six feet long and Joshua’s jaw dropped.
The guy was clad from head to toe in buckskin—fringed along the arms, embroidered in beads and quills, and wearing the most outrageous beaver hat he’d ever seen.
“Sorry about that—”
“It’s all right. I was wondering if I had hit someone.” It was a bald statement of fact, the face imperturbable, which was more than Joshua could say.
Joshua was already out of breath.
He’d just remembered that he wasn’t on park land after all—he’d gone past the little sign indicating the park boundary and followed deer trails upstream along Rattlesnake Gorge. It’s not like there wasn’t a trail or anything, because there was.
Joshua grabbed a small tree trunk with the one hand, saplings with the other, and pulled himself up and over the lip where the bank had fallen.
“I, uh, I guess I must be a bit lost—this is your land, isn’t it.”
“Uh-huh. Yes, it is.” The gun in the crook of his arm was really something.
The state park boundary was a hundred or a hundred and fifty metres to the southwest, but the guy didn’t seem all that upset. He was the one with the weapon, after all.
He grinned from ear to ear.
“You just about scared the shit out of me.”
“Yeah, sorry about that—” Finally the guy smiled. “Where were you, exactly?”
“Ah, just at the water’s edge. You were nowhere near me, I guess.”
The guy was about six-foot three, a good two hundred and forty pounds. He made an impressive, even fascinating sight, with the soft, knee-high moccasins, and if Joshua wasn’t mistaken, a genuine (or replica) Bowie knife on his belt.
“Are you going to fire it again?”
“Yeah, I was thinking about it—want to watch?”
“You’re damned right I do. I got a camera, incidentally. Would you mind if I took a couple of pictures?”
“Sure, why not. What the hell.”
As Joshua dug into a side pocket for the iPhone, his new acquaintance put the butt of the weapon on the ground outside of his left foot and pulled up a powder horn, hanging on a long cord around his neck.
“So what’s your name, anyways?”
“James Logan. And you?”
Logan poured a generous amount of the grainy black powder down the barrel.
“Okay.” Putting the stopper on the horn, he let that drop and then pulled a ball out of another pouch.
“Don’t you need a wad?”
“No, this is a rifled barrel. You’re thinking of a musket.” He gave Joshua a look of assessment.
It was a fairly good question.
“Right.” Joshua watched as Logan rammed it home.
He put the ramrod back in and turned the knob to lock it into position…
“Okay. It’s still safe as I haven’t primed it.” To Joshua’s surprise the fellow took a good look at him and then handed him the weapon. “Check the weight of that.”
Joshua shoved the phone into his hip pocket and took the gun. He’d been shooting pictures like crazy.
Bringing it up experimentally, he took a bead on a white plastic object on the far side of the creek, probably a foam coffee cup or something. He took a stance, rotating through the hips, holding the weapon at the ready. The sights were all right, he supposed…it would depend more on eyesight and knowing the weapon intimately. It was big, long, heavy, and had a tendency for the end to drop if you relaxed for a second.
“Here.” Logan had the powder horn.
He let Joshua hold the weapon.
Using his thumb, pulling back the striker and showing him the bowl. He shook a little powder in.
“So what do you think? Do you want to try it?”
Joshua’s jaw dropped, but there could only be one answer to that.
“So what am I looking at?”
“This is a Kentucky long rifle of point-four-oh calibre. Basically, just a cheap, mail-order replica. I buy the balls, I don’t have to make them.”
Logan had primed the weapon as Joshua held onto it, and then they chose a target.
“It’s the same as any gun, really. Take a breath and let it out. Relax a bit, and this one’s got a hell of a kick, incidentally. Like, ah—a double-barreled twelve-gauge firing buckshot. You might want to lean into it.”
“Any time you’re ready.”
Joshua pulled gently on the trigger, aware of that bit of white at the water’s edge on the far side.
The world disappeared in a ball of pungent smoke, smelling just like fireworks. The recoil was strong, but he thought he had managed it well enough, not to fall over and all of that sort of thing. He might have a bruise later, but maybe not.
“Nice shot, by the way.”
Joshua took a look, as the haze of blue smoke cleared, and was surprised to see that his patch of white had been more or less obliterated. It must have been a foam coffee cup, nothing else would have shattered like that.
Handing the weapon back, he indicated the pack on the ground.
“I might still have a couple of cold beers in there.”
Logan nodded, intent on attaching a cleaning worm on the end of the ramrod. A few shots and the barrel would be foul.
He’d only spent a few hundred dollars on the gun, but it was best to look after things. He looked up at the young fellow.
“Sounds good to me.”
Reaching into his capacious side-pocket, he pulled out a plastic bag of jerky.
Editor's Note: I know this sounds weird, ladies and gentlemen, but we're sort of expecting something gay here. Hopefully Harold will work this through to some sort of logical conclusion... > ed.