Here’s a book preview for you. It’s from my short story collection Fifteen Inches Tall and Bulletproof. These are short stories about humans and animals, with a little bit about loss, a little bit about love, and a little bit about learning.
I didn’t get any sleep. Every time I closed my eyes, all I could imagine was tomorrow’s hunt, the first time I’d get to take my own deer. Trophy bucks, their heads high as if catching a scent, paraded before my eyes. Of course, I wouldn’t mind if I got a doe, since the antlers don’t matter as much as the meat. But that didn’t stop my overactive brain from creating bucks as big as moose, with antlers like mountain ranges, bucks that planted themselves right in front of me, looking majestic.
The alarm went off at 4:30 a.m. I could hardly pull my eyes open. I rolled myself over, hit the clock, then rolled myself out of bed. Thump.
Dad was already in the kitchen, pouring hot coffee into his old metal thermos. It had a big dent in the side from when he accidentally backed his bulldozer over it. The thermos handle was a neatly-bent piece of copper pipe held securely to the thermos’s side with duct tape.
“Morning,” Dad said. 4 a.m. didn’t bother him. He was usually up by five.
“Urrgh,” I replied, opening a can of Pepsi and taking a big swig. I pulled on my insulated overalls while I waited for the caffeine and sugar to work its magic.
“Let’s get a move on,” Dad said. “We’ve got to get to the blind in an hour.” He already had his overalls on, though unzipped so he wouldn’t sweat to death in the house. He picked up the thermos and with slow, deliberate steps, he headed to the mud room, where I heard him pick up our backpacks.
I picked up the rifle cases and followed him out the back door into a freezing November night. Stars were out. The tiniest sliver of a moon hung high in the west, waiting to set. The vapor of my breath clouded the sky around it.
I joined Dad in the old Chevy he called Christine. She was our work truck, good for getting around in the snow or pulling people out of the ditch. The door latch didn’t work, so Dad stretched a bungee cord from the gear shift to the door to keep it closed.
Christine roared down the road, heaters blasting. She was burning oil – I could smell it. The country radio station was playing Johnny Cash, “Don’t Take Your Guns To Town,” which kind of fit the occasion.
Dad began to sing along like he was some guitarslinger out of Oklahoma. I rolled my eyes and slouched in the seat. He looked at me and grinned. “Come on, son, join in.”
“Dad! Can’t a guy have quiet thoughts without you howling at the top of your lungs?”
“Hey, it’s Cash. And this is family time.”
I grimaced. “Well, you’re going to have to share family time with the biggest bucks in all creation.”
He nodded, watching the road. “Well. Don’t expect to shoot a buck today. You’ve sat in that blind with me before. You know that sometimes you can sit in that stand all morning and not see a thing besides squirrels and blue jays.”
“I’ll get what I can get,” I told him.
“You bet you will,” said Dad, grinning.
Geez. Stop grinning like I’m your little buddy. I sighed and stared out the window, past Dad’s dim reflection from the dashboard lights. I just wanted to go back to sleep.
We parked by the old barn at the Jenkins’s place in the dark and got our stuff. Dad turned on his old blocky flashlight and led me into the night forest. I’d been there before, but in the dark, with only a flashlight to lead, everything was strange and foreign. We squeezed through the wooden gate and pushed it shut behind us. Dad pointed to a deer trail along the drooping wire fence, and I could see fresh tracks of pointed deer hooves. We avoided the trail, because deer are extremely sensitive to smell, and started walking through the timber. It was hard going, because the brush in that part of the woods was thick. Greenbriers and thorny gooseberry bushes kept snagging us. We had to dodge snarls of buckberry bushes. At least the morning was damp, so the leaves and twigs and branches underfoot didn’t make much of a racket.
Suddenly the blind was right in front of us. It was in the branches of an old burr oak, a platform made of grey, weathered wood with a rail around it, so if you got really excited upon seeing a trophy buck you didn’t topple out of the tree.
Dad climbed up first and let down a rope. I tied stuff to it and he hauled it up. Then I climbed up with the last backpack. We got things squared away on our little platform. Then Dad shut off the lantern, and we waited for it to get light. I zipped up the coat I wore over my insulated overalls, and adjusted my hat. The cold, moist breeze blew in my face. I set the rifle on my lap. Dad had his gun out, too, but he was going to just hold it as back-up, just in case I needed help.
The stars filled the sky like diamonds spilled across black velvet, brilliant as winter stars always are. I heard the swish of cars on the highway five miles away. A barred owl called far away: who cooks for you, who cooks for you-all. It was real lonely out there, real peaceful.
Though my eyes still felt like they had sand in them, I loved being out in the woods so early in the morning. It was just me and God and nature. I thought of how we get so wrapped up with our lives in the little boxy dens we call houses, watching TV, talking to people about stuff that people think is so important. Then you get out in the woods, and all that so-called important stuff isn’t all that important after all. It’s like God’s saying, look, this is what’s real.
I prayed, Lord, thank you for your creation. Thanks for giving me this chance to be out in it. And Lord, if you can, bring me a nice buck.
The rest of the story is in Fifteen Inches Tall and Bulletproof, the short-story collection with the awesome dog on the front and the awesome stories inside, though I’m saying that just because I’m biased. Though the part about the awesome dog is absolutely true and not bias at all.
Review: “This is a group of haunting short stories. They all seem to have the common thread of a person who doesn’t fit in, for a variety of reasons. These are well written stories that fit the classical definition of a short story; no excessive words at all. I could identify with so many of the characters portrayed that I spent a lot of time digesting the stories. The animal characters fit into the plots very well. I think I will keep this book to re-read again. I have read quite a bit of this author’s work in both fiction and non-fiction and have never been disappointed in her work.”