The Hunters – Michael Gigandet

“You gotta sneak up on a crow,” the old man said. “They’s real smart. Crows are.”
“Yes, sir,” the boy whispered and crouched low as they crept toward the cornfield. Although his grandfather was a tall man, he was bent in places where he had the “arthur-ritis” which afflicted him especially painfully in his knees, so the boy understood why he did not try to crouch. They moved through the grass of the pasture behind the barn and up the small rise toward the vegetable garden.
“Crows got lookouts, you see?”
“Yes, sir.”
“Them scouts see ya’ coming meaning to do ‘em harm, and they’ll call out ‘Caw Caw’ to warn their friends.”
They were getting close to the garden now, and the old man slowed up although he never moved very fast, even on his good days.
“See me holding this shotgun down like this?” He held the muzzle of the shotgun toward the ground by his side.
“Yes, sir.” The shotgun was longer than the boy was tall.
“Them lookouts might think I’m just an old man with a walking stick and not out to do ‘em a mischief. You have to trick ‘em.”
He was old. The boy couldn’t remember when his grandfather was not old. He’d heard his parents talking about the old man falling down and how he forgot everything and whether he needed to be driving a car. One of the boy’s responsibilities that summer was to accompany the old man around the farm and run for help if he had an accident.
“I think I hear ‘em,” his grandfather said, and they stopped. Back over in the far side of the garden, crows screeched in a feeding frenzy.
“Them rascals are in the corn,” the old man said. “You see any scouts around?”
The boy looked around. “No, sir.”
“Better not take any chances while we ease up on ‘em. Let’s pretend to be looking around like we don’t know they’re in the garden.”
The old man and the boy looked back toward the house, and then they looked down the hill at the highway, even putting their hands over their brows to shield their eyes from the sun.
“Nice day we’re having,” the old man said in feigned nonchalance. He began to slide his feet toward the garden while examining the horizon in the opposite direction. “Sunshine and all.”
“Yes, sir,” the boy said, sliding his feet too. “A real nice, sunny day.”
They continued their creeping toward the garden where the old man planned to get a clean shot with his double barrel shotgun. “Might rain though.”
“It might,” the boy said. “There’s a cloud I see over there.”
When the old man was satisfied that he was close enough to shoot with some hope of killing a crow, he whispered: “Okay, boy, move back. I’m ‘bout to turn loose.”
And with that, the old man turned, shouldered the shotgun, and fired both barrels like a broadside from an old man ’o war across the garden at the corn and the marauding crows. BLAM! Ears of corn and the tops of plants flew up in the air along with three crows who shot off in a scatter of confusion and panic as the old man flew backwards onto the ground from the recoil of the small cannon.
“Expect I did any good?” the old man asked, looking up at the boy from the ground. The boy could barely hear with the noise of the cannon echoing through his head like someone running through a house slamming doors behind him.
“I didn’t see any fall to the ground,” the boy said.
“What?!” The old man was having trouble hearing too.
“I didn’t see any drop down dead!” the boy shouted this time.
“You sure?’ The old man hauled himself up off the ground, performing the maneuver in stages of bending and grunting.
“You might have winged one though,” the boy corrected himself.
“I thought I saw one limping a little, flying sort of bent. He might die of lead poisoning.”
In the garden, they began picking up ears of corn for supper.
“Now don’t tell your grandma I was out here with this shotgun and fell down,” his grandfather said. “You know how she is.”
“No, sir, I won’t.” The old man didn’t have to say that, the boy thought. He never told on him when he did fall down.
“You can’t never tell about a crow,” the old man said as they picked their way through the corn. “Once when I was a boy about your age, my daddy sent me to the garden with this same shotgun. Sure enough, I came up on a passel of crows and fired a shot at ‘em. I hit one of them and he fell to the ground a-flapping his wings and calling out for help from his friends. Two of them crows turned around, flew back, grabbed the wounded crow by his wings, and flew off with him.”
That night, they ate corn on the cob. Occasionally, the boy fingered a lead BB from his mouth, and the old man winked at him. His aunt did not notice, or she did not say anything if she did.
The boy knew that one day he’d take his own grandson hunting and he would tell him about his grandfather and how crows ignored danger just to carry their wounded off a battlefield, which impressed him as a very admirable thing for them to do.
The idea that he would have a grandson and that he would be old like his grandfather thrilled him like the feeling you get when you peer over the edge of a precipice just to see what’s below and how high up you are. For a moment, he felt older. Although the feeling quickly passed, the idea pleased him, and he knew that his grandson would absorb it all and be filled with wonder.

Michael Gigandet is a retired lawyer living on a farm in middle Tennessee. He has been published by the Dead Mule School of Southern Literature, Bending Genres, Quarencia Press, and Transfigured Lit. He has had stories published in anthologies by Palm Sized Press, Pure Slush and Down In The Dirt.

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