Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Heart of a Man - Part I

This story was first published when I was a Junior at the University of Southern Mississippi in 1968. The publication was featured in the student literary anthology, Contemporary. I am going to present it in two different segments. I hope you enjoy the early work of the Texican.

The Heart of a Man

The distant crowing of a rooster pierced the early morning silence. It was soon followed by similar, shrill, grating cry as another barnyard herald joined the fugue of the feathered symphony. Inside the front room of a weathered house, a pile of quilts in the middle of a big, old-fashioned, poster-bed began to unfold, and slowly assumed a more recognizable shape. A few short strands of matted red hair emerged from under the lumpy patchwork. Suddenly a freckled hand swept open the warm cotton nest exposing a sparsely clad body to the filtered chill of the room. Thirteen year old David Reins slowly raised himself into a sitting position, and turned so his legs slid off the edge of the bed, and dangled aimlessly as his mind focused on his surroundings. He glanced through the darkness and his eyes stopped as the luminous dial of the alarm clock came into view. The hands were spread to read five o’clock.

David knew his mother would object. Just in the last year she had become extremely overprotective. David eased his weight onto his bare feet. His hands kept steady pressure on the rusty bed springs until he was in a position to release them slowly and silently. Everything had been carefully placed so it could be found easily without the use of a light. His faded blue jeans, and his old checkered flannel shirt were carefully dropped on a short bench which stood in front of the dressing table with its three arched-topped mirrors. His worn leather boots were directly beneath the bench. From the top of each boot, a thick wool sock hung like a large worm about to escape a tin can. David was almost ready. All he had left to do was to pick up the canvas hunting coat, and the shotgun that stood by the dusty, old chifforobe next to the door. The coat and the shotgun had belonged to his father who died just the year before. The coat was stiff and heavy. The shell slots in each pocket were full, and the vinyl game pouch at the back of the coat still smelled of last year’s hunting successes. David’s arms hung inside the warmth of the sleeves which were several inches too long. He pushed them back in accordion fashion so his hand could grasp the cold, blued-steel barrel of the Winchester .12 gauge.

David opened the door and stepped outside. His eyes watered, his cheeks burned, and his nostrils ached as he followed the white puffs of his breath through the darkness. A November cold front was moving across the southern countryside. His boots crunched and grated on the gravel in his grandfather’s driveway as he moved toward the gap in the barbed wire fence that opened into the woods. David stopped at the gap. The roosters had stopped crowing. Everything was quiet. It was the silent time of dawn when everything pauses to await the crest of the sun. His heart began to beat faster as he gazed into the dark chasm formed by a large hickory-nut tree and some small pin-oaks whose branches arched over the narrow path that led deep into the swamp of the creek. Things were different; he missed his father’s presence on the trail beside him. David’s numb fingers fumbled in the pocket of his hunting coat as he pried three of the new magnum plastic shells from their slots. He pressed two shells into the magazine, then he moved the slide beneath the barrel all the way back, and with a quick, forward jerk slid it back into position, chambering one of the shells. Even with a loaded gun, David still had trouble getting his feet to move further down the dark pathway.

"...without heart a man is meaningless." Star Trek