By Ed Nichols
I’ve been living in the shed my daddy built, situated on the back of our land, behind where our trailer used to sit. They took our trailer a month after daddy died, and I didn’t have no other place to stay. It’s a good shed, cause daddy had put in a tiny bathroom and a little propane heater. I set up my army cot with a mattress on top, and it made a fine bed. I bought some shelves, and made a little closet in the corner for my clothes. I don’t have no ‘lectricty or hot water. But, I have one of grandma’s old oil lamps for when I want to see at night.
The land is mine, and I figured I’d have to pay the taxes on it sometime. Mother had been gone for over two years, and it really surprised me when daddy up and died—sudden like—in September. I haven’t found a job yet. Daddy’s pickup still runs good, so I can get to town when I need something.
Old Man Daniel Crump lived a half mile from us, down Goshen Road. Behind his land, and our land, were thousands of acres of National Forest land. Wasn’t no other houses within three miles. He stopped by to check on me occasionally. Turn about sometimes, I’d stop and check on him. Him and my daddy was best friends. Yesterday, he stopped by and asked me to go hunting with him. Said he didn’t like to go alone anymore. We went up the side of Blue mountain bout a mile, and sat down near this draw where there was a little spring, and some deer sign. Before noon, we watched several deer stop by the spring. Mr. Crump had told me that we wanted to get a good ‘un, and we waited till one came out from the rhododendron.
He elbowed me and nodded, and I lined up my 30/30 and hit it right in the shoulder. We sat still awhile after it jerked around and hobbled off. Knew it wouldn’t go far, and it didn’t. We found it not fifty yards away. Took it back to Mr. Crump’s, and I helped him dress it out. Then we took the meat to Nicholson’s Meat House, and they packaged it and froze it. We picked it up three days later and put it all in Mr. Crump’s freezer on his back porch. He told me to come down anytime I needed meat, and get whatever I wanted.
First afternoon we got the meat, I fired up the grill outside my shed, and cooked two big steaks. I thought about how daddy would’ve been proud that I killed that big buck, and how me and Mr. Crump was sharing the meat. The next morning, I woke up to a loud knocking on the shed’s door. There stood Joseph Jones. Joseph was the county Code man, worked for the Sheriff. He’d talked to me right after they took our trailer, about where I was gonna live, and he didn’t much like it when I told him in the shed.
“Benny,” he said looking real serious, “I done told you that you can’t live here, permanently.” He was looking behind me, and then he smiled. “Dad-gum, you made a little house out of it.”
“It’s suits me just right.”
He lifted his hat, scratched his baldhead, and said, “I ain’t gonna report you, just yet. But you gotta realize, if’n people start complaining, you have to get your ass out’a here.” I nodded my head. “You found a job yet?” he asked me.
“No. I don’t know exactly where to look for one either.”
“I heard that J.P. Lewis needed someone to help out around his shop.”
The next morning, I rode down to Mr. Lewis’s shop. He had a big reputation around Clarkesville for doing work on dozers, tractors, hat balers and other big machines. He remembered my daddy, and he put me to work, three days a week at $5 per hour. So I felt good now. Money coming in. I figured I could save enough, in time, to make a down payment on a small trailer that met Joseph’s requirements.
The next week, it turned cool and seemed that winter was on the way. I bought a small grill and six of the little propane bottles. I figured to use it inside to cook on when it got colder. I went down to Mr. Crump’s back porch about once a week to get some of the deer meat. It looked like he wasn’t eating any of it. I asked him about that, and he told me he didn’t eat a lot of meat—in fact, he said, “I don’t eat much of nothing anymore.”
Mr. Lewis asked me how Mr. Crump was getting along. I told him, “Pretty good, ‘cept he’s having a hard time walking most days. And he don’t eat much.”
Mr Lewis said, “You know he used to be an outstanding shooter. That bunch from the VFW would have a turkey shoot every year around thanksgiving, and he’d win a turkey every time. He was good with a 22, 30/30, or a shotgun.”
Early Friday morning I didn’t have to go to work. I walked down to Mr. Crump’s house to get some meat. He was not home, and I figured he’d gone to visit his daughter and her family. She lived in Gainesville, and sometimes he’d spend the night with them. I knocked on the front door several times, and then walked around to the back porch. Right off, I could tell something was wrong. The freezer was slid sideways and the top was open. Some of the meat packages had been ripped open, and a lot of the wrapping paper was lying around in the freezer and on the floor.
I felt the packages that were still wrapped. They were hard. I closed the lid and slid the freezer back against the wall. It was still plugged in and running. I walked down the steps wondering what had happened. Somebody must’ve got in the freezer—but a person wouldn’t have messed it up. An animal, or someone drunk could have done it. Might have been one them Ledbetter boys; they stay high on moonshine nearly all the time, I’d heard. I went back home.
The next day I caught Mr. Crump soon as he came back. He said, somebody, or something nust’ve got in it since he was not home. If he’d been home he knows he would have heard them. Walking across his backyard, studying the ground, Mr. Crump stopped and pointed at the ground. “That’s bear tracks, sure as the world,” he said.
“Damn,” I told him.
“You’re right, Benny. Damn! Damn!”
“That makes sense—but how’d the bear know meat was in there? And how’d he raise the top?”
“Bears ain’t as dum’ as some peoples think. I’ll shoot the sum-bitch if he comes back.”
“It’d be at night, I reckon.”
“Would. I’ll sit up tonight and watch for him. I ‘spect he’ll be back.”
“Want me to sit up with you?”
“Naw. Ain’t no use. If’n you hear me shoot, come on down to the house, and you’n check him out.”
Lo and behold, that night I heard him shoot. Woke me up, ‘bout 2 o’clock. I put on my clothes and boots and ran down to Mr. Crumps. He heard me coming, and hollored, “Watch out now, Benny. I think I only wounded him.”
I slowed down, looking all around. The moon was out and I could see a little bit. I finally stopped at the edge of the porch. Glanced up to see Mr. Crump, standing, holding his rifle and staring to the woods in the distance.
“What do you figure,” I asked.
“Think I hit him, ‘round the shoulder blades. He came in quietly, and I didn’t hear him at first. When I seen him, he was nearly to the steps.” He paused and shook his head. “Figured I’d dropped him on the spot. So I must’ve been off the mark a little.”
“You want to go looking for him?” I asked, staring at the woods.
“Not till daylight. If he ain’t dead, we don’t need to be traipsing around out there.”
We sat on the porch and waited for the sun to come up. I went back to the shed and got my rifle. We started out slow, looking for claw tracks or blood. Finally saw some hair and blood on the limb of a little dogwood tree. We eased on, being quiet. Wasn’t long before Mr. Crump spied the bear lying beside an old chestnut log. Mr. Crump held up his hand and we just froze where we was standing. Not knowing if the bear was maybe still alive, we weren’t more than thirty feet from him. We sat down slowly and just watched. The bear twitched, and made a groaning sound deep in his throat, and I looked to Mr. Crump and he nodded, and mouthed to me, “Still alive.”
We waited a long time before we figured the bear was dead. We eased up closer and could see that his eyes were open and staring at us. Mr. Crump had his rifle aimed at the bear’s head, and it looked to me like the bear turned his eyes to look at the gun barrel. Mr. Crump fired just after the bear opened his mouth and raised his right arm straight up. Shot right between the eyes, the bear twitched and dropped his arm. He was dead, no doubt.
Mr. Crump called the State Wildlife Marshall and told him the whole story about the bear, and how the bear had robbed the freezer. They let me keep the bearskin. I didn’t want the head. ‘Cause, even now, some months later, I can still see those eyes staring at us. ‘Specially at night, when I’m lying in bed in my shed. I wonder if he was trying to tell us something. Something like, “I’m sorry for getting your deer meat.” Or, he might’ve been trying to say, "It was them Ledbetter boys, not me, that first time.”