Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Don't Know Much About Guns (an excerpt)

This is a short interlude in the novel (Fobbit), presumably from Staff Sergeant Chance Gooding's perspective (though it could be any Fobbit who didn't know the first thing about weapons).  This is just one of the sections I worked on today as I continue to burrow my way deeper into the revision process.
You’ve always been afraid of firearms.
One time in particular comes to mind:
When you were a kid—12, maybe 13—your Dad brought you along on a hunt for elk high in the mountains of Wyoming, the two of you walking for hours into what, at the start, had looked like distant purple folds of landscape.

Earlier that day, the two of you heard an elk bugle.  It sounded like a cross between a whale song and a creaking door and it got your Dad all excited, like the animal was calling, “Here I am! Come get me!”

This was only the second time he’d taken you out with a gun; the first was the previous hunting season when the pair of you had gone after sage grouse near Riverton.  That day, you’d carried the shotgun in two hands, holding it out and away from your body, unsure how it should fit with your posture.  It was heavy and you wondered if you’d be able to lift it to your shoulder.  But when your Dad stopped short and whisper-shouted, “There!” you brought it up, like a barbell, and slammed it against your collarbone.

You shot wild and high when the grouse exploded from the prairie.  Then you fell backward, sagebrush snagging at your clothes, and writhed on the ground, your shoulder burning from the kick of the gun.  At the time, you were certain a bone was broken.

Your father had looked at the vanishing bird, then spit off to one side and left without another word, his pants whispering through the sage as he walked back to the car.

So, you were surprised when he shook you awake that mid-winter day and told you to get dressed, and not to dilly-dally because the elk were waiting.  Apparently, your Dad was all about second chances.

The gun you carried this time was heavier and smelled of fresh oil.  Your mittens were black where they held the barrel.

You and your Dad climbed the hill toward the meadow his co-workers had told him about, assuring him there were easy elk to be found at that elevation.  The two of you post-holed through the knee-deep snow, churning even faster after you heard the elk bugle.  Your Dad didn’t even stop to give you time to eat one of the candy bars you knew he was carrying in his coat pocket.  You panted and high-stepped and you were all for finding the nearest log and telling him to go on while you waited, maybe helping yourself to a candy-bar snack as you did so.

Then the two of you stepped out of the trees, the promised meadow opening before you, and there it was, three hundred yards away: a young bull, neck as long as a swan’s, coat the color of toast.  The elk lifted its head and the small rack stood up like a candelabra.

Your Dad grabbed your shoulder and pulled you forward. “Hurry, before he bolts.”

You stripped off your mitten, tossed it to the snow, and lifted the gun.  The barrel wavered and dipped, that’s how heavy it was.

“Safety!” he hissed, then he reached over and pushed it off himself.  “Okay, now, breathe….aim….pull!”

You looked down the length of the gun.  The elk looked back along that same aperture of barrel.  Unchewed grass poked from both sides of its mouth.  It stared, chewed once, then snorted a puff of foggy breath through its nostrils.

You jerked the trigger.

At once, the world was filled with thunder and you were toppling backwards, the blue sky rushing down across your sight like a curtain, the gun flying out of your hands and soaring through that same blue sky.  Your head hit the snow with a loud WOOMPH!, digging a skull-shaped tunnel.  The powder-soft flakes crumbled down over your face.  You couldn’t feel your right arm and thought it had been severed at the shoulder.  You heard your Dad’s muffled voice and the crunch of snow as he came near to yank you up from the little grave you'd dug yourself.

For the second time in as many years, you had been shamed by a gun which threw you to the ground.

The two of you walked unspeaking and empty-handed down off the mountain, not even stopping to have a post-hunt candy bar along the way.

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