We stood under the pecan trees across from my Great Grandmother’s house. The cars were parked under the old trees. Someone had placed the posts in such a way that the fence moved into the field beyond, making a short area of parking. I had run out of the house, scattering chickens, across the dirt road to this parking lot searching for Clyde.
He had slipped out of the house apparently to evade my tagging along as always.
I saw him knelt down beside one of the cars. He had that look on his face when I found him. It usually meant, oh no not again. It was a look I often saw when I ran to catch up with him.
He was cradling his BB gun. I ran over to him. He rose slowly from his crouching position.
“Whatcha doin’?” I asked.
“I’m huntin’,” he said ratcheting the lever. “Ain’t that your momma calling you?”
I looked around. I saw her at the door but I never heard her call.
“Nuh uh,” I said. “What are we huntin”?”
“We ain’t huntin’ nothin’!” he said. He took a pot shot at the farthest tree. A piece of bark flew off the side
“Can I shoot the gun?” I asked.
“No. You don’t know how to shoot.” His words hit home. I hadn’t shot anything but a cap gun. All they did was make noise. Nothing ever came out the barrel so I could see how good a shot I was.
“I don’t think that’s fair,” I said to him. “How am I gonna learn if you don’t let me?”
“Get your own damn gun,” he said.
“Ooh, you said a dirty word,” I said, covering my mouth.
“I say ‘em all the time. You just ain’t heard me before,” he bragged.
One of granddad Kicklighter’s pigs sauntered past us on the rutted red clay. Clyde eyed him with interest. He forgot about my intrusion into his hunting excursion. At this very moment, he needed an audience.
“Watch this!” he said. The pig bounced along at a slow trot as Clyde lifted the rifle to his shoulder. He squinted along the barrel lining up the sites. He pulled the trigger and there was a pop. That BB connected with its target, that poor pig’s testicle. The anguish of that pig’s squeal reached down into my depths and up came a laugh.
“What are you doing, Clyde Lynn?” It was my mother crossing the road with a box in her arms. “Did you just shoot that pig?”
“Nome,” he lied.
“If you want to keep that BB gun I better not ever see you do that again.”
“Yes’m,” he said digging his toe into the ground in a semi-circle at his other foot.
“I mean it. I don’t want you teaching Rickey those kinds of things. That poor creature wasn’t hurting you one bit,” she continued to scold.
I could see Clyde’s eyes had glazed as he stood hanging on to the rifle, behind his back, with both hands. It rocked around him with his foot movements.
“Now you two go play and leave the animals alone,” said my mother dismissing both of us. “Ricky, please open the back door of the car for me.”
“Yes’m,” I said as I ran to the car. I could see Clyde had already headed up the road leading to the branch. Mom put the box in the seat and closed it. I turned and headed toward my uncle.
“Wait up, Clyde!” I yelled as I ran along the red clay road. He was already halfway past the field when I finally caught up.
“You coulda waited,” I huffed and puffed trying to catch my breath.
“Yeah, yeah,” he said. His pace was brisk. I had to walk, run to keep up.
“Can’t you walk slower?” I wheezed.
“Got huntin’ on my mind. Got no time to worry about you.”
“What are we huntin’?” I asked for the second time.
“Ain’t decided. Gonna look for tracks at the branch.” With that, he began to trot. He looked back and I saw him grin.
The branch was a small trickle of water that came out of the forest that sat beside the fenced in field. There was a bend in the road that we continued along. About ten minutes later we were surrounded by woods on either side of the rutted red clay that functioned as a road. The branch was a bit further. This stretch of road was so quiet that the call of the crows shocked me when they pierced the air. The forest bed was covered in fallen leaves. The trees were losing their green covering which had changed color and now drifted to the ground beneath. The branches were becoming gnarled arms and fingers reaching into the air around them.
“Look!” I yelled. “Squirrel!”
Clyde looked raising the rifle.
“Too far away,” he said and picked up the pace.
When I lost sight of the farmhouse I was always a bit jumpy. The quiet of the area was eerie to me with the wind rushing through the bare limbs and shaking off the remaining leaves. There was a lonely quality to it that rubbed off on me. I often felt as if we were no longer part of the world. It was rare that a car ever travelled this old clay road unless they were coming to visit. There was another farm about two miles further up this road then nothing for 10 or more miles.
My great grandparents were quite content with it. They had no phone. If ever they needed anybody there was an old goat’s horn with a wooden mouth piece at the skinny end. I picked it up one day and was blowing on it like a trumpet. The last sound I made was fairly loud when Granddaddy snatched it out of my hands.
“Don’t do that, boy. The only time we blow on that horn is if we’re in trouble. The neighbors come arunnin’ if they hear that, so don’t be messing with it again.”
He hung it on a nail high above me to be certain I didn’t touch it.
“Yes sir,” had been my answer.
“Go outside and play,” he said. I ran out, the screen door slamming, to find the dogs.
“There it is,” said Clyde, breaking into my drifting mind.
“The branch, goof ball. Come on. Let’s see what’s been drinking the water.”
He ran to the tiny stream. The water was a deep rich brown and moved very slowly. Leaves could be seen at the bottom of the darkness.
“See that? That’s a deer’s tracks.”
“Wow!” I said. I always marveled at how much Clyde knew.
“Over there is a coon’s track. They don’t just drink the water they wash their food in it, too. They grab whatever they are eating and hold it just like this, then wash it off in the water. Only, then, do they eat it. They don’t like dirty food.”
He turned to look in another area.
“Now that track looks like a wildcat, one of those little ones. They call them Bobcats ‘cause of their bobbed tails.”
“So what you want to hunt?” I asked.
He looked at me. Considered for a minute and, then, with a twinkle in his eye, said, “Fairies.”
“Fairies. You know those little creatures with wings. Surely your teacher has brought up the Fairies and Brownies stories.”
“Yeah, we read some stories about Brownies and Fairies. They don’t like each other and are fighting all the time.”
“See, I knew you were smarter than you looked, nef.”
I smiled. It wasn’t often Clyde complimented me.
“I’ve never seen a real Fairy though. Have you?”
“Shoot, yeah. All the time.”
“Really?” I was amazed. They had just been stories to me.
“You bet. Look over there.” He pointed at a bunch of toadstools.
”Come here and look close. See how those toadstools make a ring like that?”
“Yeah.” They did. They were almost a perfect circle.
“Now take a look in the middle of that circle. See how there’s nothing really growing in there?”
“Yeah,” I said not really seeing any difference but knowing Clyde was a better woodsman than I was, I agreed.
“Well, that’s where the Fairies dance. They were here last night. Let’s find a place to hide and get the jump on them.” He looked at me, a twinkle in his eye. Looking up in the sky he said,” Well, we got some time. Let’s wade downstream for a bit.”
“I’ll get my shoes wet.”
“No you won’t because we’re going to take them off.” He sat at the edge of the road and commenced to taking off his shoes and socks.
I followed suit.
“Give me your shoes so I can put them in a safe place. Brownies like to steal shoes. They take them to the Elves to be worked on.” He took mine along with his.
“You mean there are Brownies and Elves in these woods, too?”
“Of course there are. Any time you find a bunch of Fairies dancing around in a Fairy ring there are going to be Brownies and Elves trying to figure out how to beat them up.”
“That doesn’t seem nice. Why would they do that?”
“Good grief, nef. Sometimes I’m not sure how you learned to tie your shoes.”
“You taught me, remember?”
“Oh, yeah. Well, you can at least do that. Ready to wade in the water?” He stepped into the brown water. It rose to his ankles.
“Be careful, nef. Try not to disturb the mud under the water too much.”
“That’s how the Fairies know if someone has been here.”
“What if those someones don’t like to wade?” I asked.
“Of course they would wade. Anybody hunting Fairies gives them a sporting chance.”
“I don’t get it.”
“It’s one of the rules for hunting Fairies. They have to be given the chance to know if they are being hunted. It’s a rule.”
“Mighty dumb rule,” I ventured.
“It’s really a good rule because it can make hunting Fairies easier.”
“Now I definitely don’t get it.”
“There are two kinds of Fairies, smart ones and dumb ones. The smart ones would never get caught. The dumb ones think they can escape and it gives them a thrill. So, we hunters are really making their lives more exciting.” He looked at me grinning.
“Well that kind of makes sense but…”
“But, nothing. How many Fairies have you seen?”
“Huh? Exactly, what?”
Once again he sighed. “Gosh, nef. Alright, how often do you wade in streams in the woods?
“Hardly ever,” I said.
“There you go.”
“You aren’t making sense.” We had gone deep into the woods and the stream was up to my calves.
“It’s a rule that you have to wade in the water to give Fairies a chance to evade hunters. If you don’t wade in the water then you aren’t following the rules and they won’t allow themselves to be seen.”
“I just don’t get it.”
“I don’t know how to explain it any better. Come on we need to go back. It’s getting late and we have to find a hiding place.”
I started to splash my feet as I walked.
“Now see what you are doing?”
“I’m letting them know we have been here.”
“You aren’t supposed to be deliberately letting them know. I try and try but sometimes I can’t get through. Ok. Stop doing that. I want to bag a Fairy. I’d at least like a sporting chance.”
We were near the road. The sun was slipping below the horizon and dusk was settling all around us. Clyde motioned me to stop.
“Shh. I think I see them.”
“Where?” I said in a whisper. “I don’t see anything.”
From somewhere deep in the wood behind us came a “Whooo!”
“Shh. I said be quiet.”
“That wasn’t me.”
“It wasn’t?” Clyde turned to me. In the dark I could still see that twinkle in his eye.
“Must have been one of the Fairies. They might be on to us, asking who?”
“Can we move? I don’t like being in the woods when it’s dark like this.” I pushed on him.
“Come on, but keep quiet.” He bent down and moved, crouched over. I followed suit.
“My feet are getting cold. Where’d you put my shoes?”
“Shh. They’ll hear you.”
We stepped out of the woods next to the road.
“Here that?” A noise came from the other side of the road in the area of the Fairy ring.
“No. When are you going to cock you gun?”
“I’ll have to do it now. Real quiet.” He pulled the lever toward the body of the gun very slowly. There was a loud click as it engaged the BB.
The darkness was deepening, the sun having disappeared.
“Keep watch,” Clyde said.
I looked across the road trying to see anything but there was nothing but darkness.
“Clyde, I’m scared.”
“Just watch.” Another noise broke the silence.
“Hear that?” asked Clyde. “Listen close. It’s those Fairies dancing.”
I stared into the darkness. There was nothing, only the wind in the trees.
Then a noise came from behind us. I jumped.
There was noise from across the road, then, another from behind me.
“Where are my shoes? I wanna go!”
“Shh. Just a few more minutes.” As he said that I saw his hand arched toward the other side of the road. On that side there was sound like leaves being hit with a rock.
“Hear that? I think it’s time we sneak over. I’m going to get me one this time.”
He slipped away and over across the rise of the road. I ran after him.
I stopped in the middle of the road. There was nothing. There were no Fairies. There was no movement.
“Clyde?” I croaked.
I said it a little louder, “Clyde?”
Still no response.
This time I yelled, “CLYDE!!”
“Shhh! Don’t turn around.” It came from behind me. I t sounded like a bullfrog trying to talk.
“I don’t want to hurt you. I just want these shoes.”
I stood still as a boulder. I had the sudden urge to pee, but I didn’t.
I stood there forever. Darkness surrounded me. The wind whispered through the tree branches. There was a rustle of leaves on the other side of the road.
A scream broke the stillness. Then a BB shot.
“Clyde?! Are you alright? Help me!”
“Stop your screaming, nef.”
“There’s somebody behind me stealing my shoes!” I yelled at him.
“Don’t be silly. There’s nobody here but us.” I heard him approaching.
“I’m telling you. There is somebody behind me.”
Clyde came over to me. He walked behind me.
“There’s nobody here,” he said.
“He told me not to turn around and he was taking my shoes.”
I could hear Clyde go back to the side of the road.
“That’s weird,” he said.
I was still too frightened to move.
“I found my shoes but yours are missing. Your socks are here, but no shoes. Maybe we should head back,” he said.
“You really can’t find my shoes?”
“No, I looked right where I left them. They are gone.”
“What am I going to do?”
“Run!” yelled Clyde.
We both took off down the road.
“Did you get a Fairy?” I wheezed as we hot footed it.
“Missed,” he shouted.
When we saw the house lights we slowed to a walk.
“What am I going to tell mom and dad about my shoes?”
“Brownies got ‘em. You could just go to bed. Maybe that Brownie took them to the Elves and they will fix ‘em. I’ll bet they leave them on the porch step, all bright and shiny.”
I sneaked in and got into bed. Clyde went into the kitchen for something to eat. He told my mother I wasn’t feeling too good so I went right to bed.
My mother came in and sat on the bed. I feigned sleep. She felt my brow then leaned over and kissed it. After she left I lay awake all night until I fell asleep early in the morning.
When I got up next day, I ran to the porch. There on the top step sat my shoes, a deep cordovan luster glistening up at me.
My uncle Clyde was the smartest uncle alive. I was the luckiest kid in the world to have such a smart uncle.