Back in 2008, I wrote a short story called Missing The Bullet. I just finished revising it after revisiting it years later. Sometimes a story needs to age; the writer needs to step away from it, then look at it again. I decided it was time to look at this one again. It’s short, but sweet. Enjoy!
On a cool February evening – the 28th to be exact, Jim sat on his porch in denim overalls contemplating sunrise, for daybreak would bring the first day of South Carolina’s rabbit season. The L.C. Smith double barrel was cleaned and oiled; he looked up from his whittling at the orange sun as it settled like a dome touching the swaying tall grass in the distance.
The shotgun, like the Uncle Henry knife, were gifts from his dad. He got the knife for his 16th birthday, and the shotgun for Christmas the same year; that was back in 1949 when the last of those shotguns were made. To this day, they still make the Uncle Henry’s.
The stag handle knife and the double shotgun never failed to bring moments of reflection. Bittersweet memories of his dad flooded in. Memories of training beagles together, hunting together, and the bugling cry of the dogs as they ran after a rabbit as it zig-zagged for escape. Jim and his dad trained some of the finest Beagles in the state, arguably the country.
Of all of the dogs Jim and his dad had trained together, the last was the best. The morning sun on his beautiful coat as he ran was like lightening striking across flat ground; his bark was his thunder, so his name was Bullet.
Jim looked down at the newest Beagle pup and said, “It seems more like six years than two since Bullet’s been gone. I wish he was around to help me teach you what you need to know when we’re afield.” The puppy Jake laid at his feet looking up to meet misty eyes; his puppy eyes filled with wonder.
“Jim,” Lois called out to him as she opened the screen door and stepped onto the porch. After over 50 years of marriage, she could read him like a book. She knew what he was thinking half the time before he did. “Jim I hope you aren’t going to compare Jake with Bullet. I hope you appreciate him for his own merits. Bullet was a wonderful dog. He’s gone now and I know we will see him again someday.”
“I know, I know”, said Jim as he reached down to give the puppy a pat. “I can’t help but miss Bullet. I know I always will.” After a moment Lois touched him on the shoulder and said “I know. I’ll always miss him too, but you’ve still got some living to do and now a new puppy to train.”
“Your father was so proud of the way you helped him train Bullet. You can train Jake the same way now. You be fair and give Jake the chance he deserves. He wants to please you. You can see it in his little face.” Lois stepped back into the house and Jim considered what she said. She made good sense; She always did.
About an hour before daybreak Jim woke without need of an alarm. He got up and made a bacon and egg breakfast. All dogs love bacon and Jake was no exception. When breakfast was finished he grabbed his coat and shotgun and Jake started bowing and jumping with excitement the way he always did when he knew he was about to go somewhere.
Jim walked along a hedgerow next to an open field with the shotgun broke open hanging over his forearm. It’s the same open field he watched the sun set on, so now the sun was slowly rising behind the woods casting light through the tree line which met the hedgerow. He had a couple of 20 Gauge shells in the breech. The hedgerow was riddled with briar patches that went towards the woods in one direction and met the field in the other. The briar patches along that hedge row, so thick you couldn’t throw a cat through it, is perfect habitat for holding cottontails.
The sun continued to climb as they approached the south end. Jake stuck pretty close. He looked happy as he looked up at Jim just as he had on the porch the evening before with his eyes shining.
Panting now, Jim looked at Jake, “I get tired so easily these days, bad circulation I guess. My arms are numb clear up to the shoulder.” Jim took a seat on a flat stump from a felled tree near the wood line. “Whew, I shouldn’t have wolfed down that breakfast so fast I guess.” Jim said to Jake; then he fell silent.
Moments later Jim opened his eyes and heard Jake barking up a storm. The dog was chasing a rabbit. It was in the middle of the field a good-ways off. The big cottontail ran full speed leaping into Jim’s sight above the wheat with every bound. Doing what rabbits do, the critter circled back towards the hedgerow where the chase began. The dog stayed on the rabbit and its barks resonated like a bugle much too loud and deep to be the bark of a puppy.
As the game got closer he closed the side lock shot gun, planted it firmly into the pocket of his shoulder, gave lead to the rabbit and let him have it. The dog picked up the rabbit gently and brought it over to Jim. As the dog approached Jim realized it wasn’t Jake at all. It was old Bullet, only he wasn’t old Bullet anymore. He was young, strong, agile as ever with a beautiful shinning coat.
Jim took the rabbit with wonder and savored their reunion. Suddenly, Bullet quickly turned and was on another rabbit and then chase, the flash of the barrel, and finally the perfect retrieval of the game. Jim sat and the beagle jumped into his lap and covered his face with kisses.
As Jim continued to pet Bullet he couldn’t help but notice the light from the sun was somehow different. It was brighter but didn’t make him squint the way it always did. The field had a warm glow like never before. The light cast prisms across the treetops in the forest, it danced across the golden field. The sky had never been such a deep blue.
Moments later, as he continued to survey the scene around him, so familiar, yet so different, he smiled with a sense of peace. Jim started towards the stump and for a moment thought he saw someone there, then he felt a warmth on his shoulders. He turned and was face to face with his dad.
“Hey son, I can’t believe you’re here already. This is amazing isn’t it. Bullet and I have been hunting this field for some time now, but of course time doesn’t mean anything to us.” With the sun on their shoulders they just stood there looking at each other taking in the moment as Bullet ran to meet them, his tail wagging and as he nipped at Jim’s coattail.
As soon as it got dark, Lois called their son Peter. They arrived later than night, too late to go looking for him. Before the first light came everybody was up and ready. “You sit with Lois, I’ve got a pretty good idea of where he and Jake went hunting, they probably went to the same old hedgerow they took me,” Said Peter, and out he went.
Daylight was breaking by the time he reached the hedgerow. When he found them, Jim was lying on the ground next to a stump, Jake was curled up close to him. His game bag held two big rabbits. Jim was smiling. He never looked happier.