A soldier goes back home a broken man
Favoring his bad leg, Delmar Colson stepped off the train a different man than when he boarded the same train three years ago. War changes men. Boys come home as men, some return broken; like Delmar.
He had missed the Blue Ridge Mountains and was glad to be back in Georgia. He wanted to put the war behind him, but shrapnel in his leg wasn’t going to let him forget completely. Home was just another mile up the lane, a place where his nightmares would hopefully end.
“Did Uncle Del really mean what he said, Grandpa?”
“What might that be boy?”
Billy sat for a moment, pushing grits across his plate. Grandpa’s grits didn’t taste like his mama’s. Before the influenza took her she made the best grits in the holler, everybody said so.
“You know, about never goin’ huntin’ again ‘cause of the war.”
“Best ya pay no mind to what he said ‘bout huntin’, Billy; I reckon he’ll go when he gits the hankerin’. Now ya git on out there to the barn and see to the dogs, I reckon they’ll be lookin’ for ya.”
The screen door slammed behind Billy; causing Del to jump. He was leaning against a weathered porch column gazing down the lane, the lane he had just come limping up a few hours ago. Billy thought he looked older, but quite handsome in his army uniform and taller than he remembered.
“Know what I missed more than anything else, Billy?” Del asked as he filled his pipe with fresh tobacco.
Laughing, Billy answered, “Grandpa’s grits?”
Uncle and nephew sat down on the steps laughing, “No, it wasn’t your grandpa’s grits, Billy. I missed watching the sun drop on the backside of Big Mountain and the way it hides behind the trees. I missed the shadows and the way night falls here in the holler.”
“Weren’t there any mountains in France, Uncle Del?” the boy asked puzzled. “Or trees?”
“Yes…there were, but not like Big Mountain or ‘our trees’ and I never…”
“Hey young fella, go on now; do them chores ‘fore it gits dark,” Grandpa ordered from the doorway.
“Yes, sir,” the boy answered, running to the barn.
The old man settled into his rocker and lit his pipe. “I’ve been doin’ some thinkin’, the youngun’ jest ain’t been the same since his ma passed on last winter and that no account pa of his runnin’ off didn’t do a lick a good neither.”
The old man looked out across his beloved valley; searching for the right words.
“The boy needs ya, Del. He wants to take them dogs huntin’ more then he wants to take his next breath. Them dogs need ya, too. I was thinkin’…”
“I got to sort things out, Dad. With this bad leg and all…it’s just not the same now.”
“The war is over, son, when ya goin’ to let it go?” He threw a fist in the air and pointed, “Look at that mountain…look at it, its waitin’ for ya, has been for three years.”
“That’s enough, Dad. I heard all that talk from those city doctors. I don’t wanna hear it from you, too,” Del said as he walked away. “I’m going to bed.”
Del was awakened by sounds coming from the kitchen. Slow to get up and thinking about all the excuses he had been making to himself, he put on his old clothes his father had kept folded in an oak dresser. He stood at his window and looked up at the mountain like he had done so many times before. Had the mountain been waiting for him?
“The old man always knew the right things to say and do,” Del muttered.
“Good morning, Uncle Del,” Billy said from the kitchen floor. “Look, Grandpa let me bring Barney and George in the house.” He gave each dog another piece of bacon before sitting down to breakfast.
“Those old dogs haven’t changed,” Del replied. “I see they still beg for handouts like always and it looks like they are getting fat and lazy?”
“Maybe so, but I bet they can still pick up a scent quicker then any hound in the holler,” Billy bragged as he fell back to the floor and wrapped his arms around both dogs.
“Be a full moon tonight, coon will be a runnin’,” Grandpa said, sneaking a wink at his son.
“What do you think, Billy?” Del asked. “Will the coon be running up and down the mountain tonight?”
“Most likely, with the full moon and all,” the boy answered with hope.
“Well then…give Barney and George a good brushing and I will help Grandpa with some chores. Right after sunset we will see if those old hounds can still find a trail and tree a coon.”
“Okay, I’ll start right now,” Billy said; his face brightening as he and dogs went running out the door to the barn. “I’ll pack us a lunch and hot cocoa and…”
“Thanks for keeping my clothes so neatly folded and put away, Dad.”
“You’re welcome, son.”
Grandpa sat in his rocking chair, listening for the familiar sounds of hounds on the scent. He silently spoke to the Lord giving thanks for Barney and George and the night they helped bring his son home from the war as he brushed a tear from his wrinkled cheek.
Prompt: “a tale of Barney and George and the night they…” 1000 words or less