He Called the Woods Home – Part 1: The Marlin

This is the first in a continuing series of fiction by Richard Simms. Please watch for future installments here on RheaReview.com.

Editor’s Note: This is the first in a continuing series of fiction by Richard Simms. Please watch for future installments here on RheaReview.com.

At the tender age of 14, he already knew he had been born 100 years too late — maybe even 200.

His friends all twittered, snapped and chatted about video games, or the school bully, or most of all, girls. He had an iPhone. His mother insisted he have it so she could try and keep up with his whereabouts. But mostly he used his iPhone to watch weather reports, or fishing reports, and on rare occasions, actually make a phone call with it… usually when his Mom texted, wondering where he was.

He was happiest however when he hiked off the edge of the mountain, beyond the reach of the nearest cell tower and where his iPhone would not work. He already lived far from town on the very edge of cell service. He really did not have to go very far into the woods before friends could not Snapchat him or an iMessage never “dinged.” He preferred listening to the breeze and rustling leaves as he lay on a moss-covered bluff looking up at an expansive sky. Or glancing downward at a huge green valley spread out beneath him like a wrinkled blanket. He loved looking down on the backs of red-tailed hawks and turkey vultures as they rode the updrafts along the bluff.

His name was Roy Boone… absolutely no relation to Daniel, according to his parents and Ancestry.com. But he always wondered if maybe they were wrong. Maybe, somewhere way deep in the gene pool, some of the frontier woodsman’s genes secretly trickled into his blood. But if not in body, there was no doubt that Daniel Boone lived inside Roy in spirit.

He melted into the leaves like a copperhead. He wasn’t coiled, but he might as well have been. The Marlin lever action .22 rifle that belonged to his grandfather was on “go,” almost quivering with the excitement of the hunt. Grandpa had loaned him the gun when he turned 12.

“Now I’m gonna let you use this old gun,” said Grandpa. “I got her brand new in 1939, the first year they made the 39A. I’ve had her worked on a few times, but I taken good care of her. She ain’t never shot anything but straight and true, ‘ceptin’ if she’s in the wrong hands.”

“See that one big scratch on the stock,” he asked Roy.

Roy nodded.

“I done that when I fell off a bluff out there where you hunt all the time,” said Grandpa. “I laid out there with a broke leg overnight and darn near the next full day afore your Great Grandaddy come fount me. It hurt turrible bad and I was scared… probably more scared than I ever was in WWII. I only let you use her on one condition. You don’t add no more scratches on her like I done.”

Roy understood and thought of the story anytime he ventured near the bluff.

But he wasn’t thinking of bluffs or broken legs as the squirrel sat high in the treetop, totally hidden among the pine needles. Roy could hear the soft chewing, and a quiet rain of debris as the rodent gnawed through a pine cone, sorting out the soft seeds that survived the winter buried inside.

It was the spring squirrel season. Many people didn’t even know there was a spring squirrel season. From mid-May thru mid-June hunting squirrels was legal. Although truth be known, Roy probably would not have cared if it was legal or not.

Hunting squirrels with the Marlin was just like breathing. It was virtually impossible for Roy to not do it. He was not greedy or wanton about what he killed. Nothing ever went to waste. Of course he skinned them and the meat became dinner. Sometimes he would tan the tough hides and make a coin purse. More importantly, he sold the squirrel tails to Mepps, a company that turned them into popular fishing lures. He got 20 cents apiece for prime tails and managed to make enough money to stay well-supplied in .22 bullets.

Finally the squirrel finished its current pine cone. To retrieve another it had to make its way out to the end of a limb. The bouncing clearly gave away its position and for a brief instant, as it gnawed to free the cone from the branch, the iron sights of the Marlin settled on the head. Roy exhaled halfway, calmed his beating heart and with a gentle squeeze of the trigger, the Marlin spat fire.

The squirrel’s lights were out before it even left the limb. As it thumped to the ground, Roy heard another 20 cents going into his pocket and tasted another serving of squirrel dumplings for dinner.

As the sun began to set across the valley, he set off toward the house. He knew the exact white oak tree he must reach before his phone could talk to the cell tower again. If he was later than normal, he knew his phone would “ding” as he passed beneath the tree. But today he was well before sunset and his Mom wouldn’t be worried, yet.

But as he went beneath the tree, his phone “dinged” anyway.

“Hurry home. Grandpa’s sick,” read the text from his mother.

Roy’s grandfather was the glue that helped hold his life together. Because he didn’t care about the same things his friends cared about, Roy had a difficult time relating to others. However he and his grandfather spoke a language all their own. Often they didn’t even have to speak. They each just knew what the other was thinking, sharing an unspoken language learned only in the woods.

And if Roy had a thimble-full of Daniel Boone blood in his veins, his grandfather had a bucket-full. Perhaps Roy’s problem of relating to others was, in part, his grandfather’s fault. But Roy never thought about it, never cared about it. If anything, he was happy for it.

His grandfather’s heart problems began eight years before. At six years old, Roy was too young to comprehend what that meant. In the last eight years, heart episodes had become almost routine. Adding another stent to one of Grandpa’s coronary arteries was equivalent to Roy getting a cavity filled. Still, four years ago his Mom and Dad convinced Grandpa to live with them.

Arthritic knees kept Grandpa out of the woods, except for rare occasions. But never a day passed when he didn’t share tales of an outdoor life full of adventure.

Roy quickened his pace after reading the text. By the time he had covered the last mile through the woods to the back pasture, he was making a fast jog. When he hit the open grass, it turned into a full bore sprint. The dead squirrel tethered to his belt bounced a rhythmic beat on his hip.

Roy burst through the back door to find his mother at the kitchen table, head down, with her hands clasped over her forehead like she was trying to hold all of her pain inside. She looked up with tear-stained eyes and Roy knew that this time, it was bad.

“The ambulance has taken him,” she said. Choking back a sob of despair, she added, “The last thing he said was, ‘Tell Roy, I’ll be back.”

Roy’s pounding heart, almost bursting from the long sprint, slowed when she spoke those words. Roy knew his grandfather would never lie to him. His mother, however, did not seem so sure.

“We’ll head for the hospital as soon as your father gets here from work,” she said.

In the hospital it was more than an hour before the doctors allowed them to Grandpa’s side. There were more tubes, IV’s and clicking machines connected to his grandfather than Roy had ever seen before. But beneath the oxygen tube was the ever-present smile.

While his Mom and Dad spoke with the doctors in hushed tones, Roy went to his grandfather’s side. The old man immediately glanced down at Roy’s still slightly bloodstained hands.

“What did you kill today today?” Grandpa asked him.

“Just one squirrel,” said Roy, holding his hands up as if to show off the evidence of success. “But it was a good head shot and it had a perfect tail.”

Grandpa’s smile widened, and he said, “Those fishing lure folks need to hire you full-time.”

“Are you going to be alright Grandpa,” asked Roy.

“The doctors say they done done all the little fixes they can to this old ticker,” he said. “This time they’re going to have to do what they call bypasses… basically give me a few new heart arteries to keep her pumpin’. But don’t you worry. I ain’t goin’ off to the Glory Hole for a few more years yet.”

Grandpa closed his eyes for a few seconds and Roy thought he was drifting off to sleep.

But suddenly his eyes popped open looking square into Roy’s own hazel green eyes. He said, “It ain’t gonna happen, but just so you knows in case it does, if God does decide to take me to the Glory Hole… that old Marlin is your’n. You treat her right and she’ll treat you right.”

And then he did drift off to sleep.

Back home Roy spent the rest of the time before bed cleaning the Marlin and looking at the old gun in a way he’d never looked at it before. For two years it had just been a gun, like lots of other guns in the family’s home. But now, tonight, it was different. It represented something great, something permanent.

At bedtime, Roy carried the Marlin back into the gun room and locked it into the gun case with all the others and then climbed into bed.

Back at the hospital, blue lights flashed over his grandfather’s bed. The Code Blue page went out sending nurses and doctors from all around the unit scrambling to Grandpa’s bedside. For long, long minutes it was a firestorm of activity… CPR, more IV’s and the shocking convulsion of a well-charged defibrillator.

Where he usually drops easily into sleep, Roy tossed and turned. Suddenly, and he didn’t know why, he was overcome with an urge. In the darkness he fumbled on the dresser and found the key. Back in the gun room he unlocked the case, picked up the old Marlin and caressed it. He double-checked to assure himself it was unloaded and then carried it back to his room. With near reverence, he leaned it beside his bed.

With the Marlin close, even unloaded, instantly Roy felt at ease and peaceful. This time, he dropped easily to a silent slumber.

Back at the hospital, Grandpa too was at peace.

The doctor looked hard into his eyes and said, “You gave us quite a scare there.”

Grandpa couldn’t speak, but he smiled at the doctor, knowing he was going to be just fine until the surgeons came for him in the morning.

<Footnote: Please watch for future installments in this continuing series of fiction stories about Roy Boone. All will carry the main title of, “He Called the Woods Home.”>

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