Southern tale of family
Sunday morning, Mimi Smith asked the congregation of the First Southern Baptist Church of Black Rock, Arkansas if anyone had seen her father, Jebidiah Smith. Old man Jeffs said Jebidiah passed through his property two days prior, headed for the woods to hunt rabbit. Mimi said thank you and would somebody please go look for him because he was getting senile and was probably lost. Mimi had five kids and no husband so she didn’t have the time to go find him. Old man Jeffs volunteered his two sons since they weren’t at church.
That afternoon Bobby Jeffs sat on the tailgate of his brother Deacon’s truck at the back edge of their father’s property counting shotgun cartridges and packing them down in his leather hip pouch.
“I bet he’s busted his leg or somethin’,” Deacon said from the front seat of the truck.
“Shut up, Dink.”
“ Whatever. I still don’t see why we’re the ones gotta go find him.”
“ ‘Cos we got shit luck and Mama told us we’d go to hell if we didn’t serve th’ Lord.”
Bobby snapped the flap of his hip pouch closed and slid off the back of the truck. He grabbed his shotgun and a small hatchet out of the truck bed and walked around to where Deacon was sitting, finishing his cigarette.
“Let’s get this over with.” Deacon dropped the end of his cigarette and ground it into the red dirt with the toe of his boot before he jumped out of the truck. He eyed Bobby from under his sweat stained ball cap. “You think we’ll need that much artillery?”
Bobby shrugged. “Might find some deer.”
Deacon nodded and walked to the back of the truck, pulled out a machete, and banged the tailgate closed. He strapped the machete to his hip while Bobby slung the shotgun over his right shoulder and shoved the hatchet through his belt loop. The two fell into step and started into the woods.
Bobby and Deacon had been wandering down various deer trails for the better part of an hour. They had yet to come upon any sign of Jebidiah having been there before them and Deacon was agitated. “The hell. Did the ground swallow him up? Old man like him cain’t have gotten this far in.”
“We oughtta check down by the river. Maybe he got tired and set up camp.”
“For two days?” Deacon sighed. “We’ll check.”
They cut east at the next clearing, listening for the sound of the river as they went. Sunlight filtered down through the mass of leaves closing them in from above.
“Ever wonder about Mimi?” Bobby asked.
“Everything. She’s got all them kids but nobody knows anything about their Daddy ‘cept that he’s white ‘cause they’re definitely mixed. And her old man. I never heard him have a fit about her not gettin’ married and he’s always doin’ crazy shit to boot. You remember the last time the Sheriff had to haul him in for disruptin’ the public peace? He was wanderin’ around town diggin’ up all the rose bushes he could find.”
“He’s just a coot. Sometimes people get like that when they’re old.”
“But why does Mimi keep him around? Why doesn’t she put him in a home or somethin’?”
“You think she’s got money for that? Hell, she doesn’t even get child support.”
“How you know that?”
Deacon shrugged. “It’s what I hear.”
“You got better hearin’ than me.”
“That’s why I’m leadin’.”
Thirty minutes later there was still no sign of the river.
“What were you sayin’ about your hearin’?”
“We cain’t be that far off. The river’s dead east from anywhere this side of the property,” Deacon said.
“We are going east aren’t we?”
“Damn straight we are. When the hell have I ever got us lost hunting?”
Bobby ignored his brother and fished a small compass out of his shirt pocket. According to it, they were going east so nothing was wrong with Deacon’s sense of direction. Bobby looked up to find Deacon glaring at him.
“Let’s get off this deer run and go straight.”
“It’s worth a shot.”
Bobby adjusted his shotgun strap and trudged after Deacon as he hacked saplings and overgrowth out of their way.
“It’s almost like being kids again,” Bobby said.
“Yeah, bushwhackin’ and fort buildin’. Pap used to get so sick of tryin’ to find us he’d just fire off his gun at the edge of the woods and expect us to come runnin’.”
“We used t’get lost then too.”
“Shut up. We ain’t lost.”
“Think the coot would come running if I fired my gun?”
“Not likely. ‘Sides, he’s crazy. We might scare him.”
“Shit, I’m sick of this. Let’s take a break.”
Deacon shoved his machete back down in its sheath and sat down against a tree. He stuck his legs out in front of him so Bobby could see the bright red mud caked to the bottom of his boots. Bobby looked around at the still woods for a bit then sat down across from Deacon.
“We should ‘a brought some food, “ Bobby said.
“I didn’t think it’d take us so damn long to find him.”
“There’s only two of us. We should just come back tomorrow.”
“We’ll find the river first then follow it back.”
“Alright. Y’know, Pap never said anything about Jebediah huntin’ in our woods before.”
“That’s ‘cause he h’ain’t.”
“So why’d he come out now? Rabbits are better on the other side of the river anyway.”
“I already told you, he’s a coot. There ain’t got to be an explanation for every fool thing he does.”
“Doesn’t mean he’s not a right pain in the ass.”
“He ain’t your pain in the ass, he’s Mimi’s. So shut up and let’s get moving.”
Both men stood up and checked their gear then started moving east again. Deacon’s face was flushed, and his ball cap was soaked by the time they finally heard the river.
“ ‘Bout damn time,” he cried, “I was beginnin’ to think we were in somebody else’s woods.”
“We must ‘a gone further outta the way than we thought we did at the beginning.”
“Well, at least we can start headin’ back now.”
The trees thinned out as they came up to sandy riverbank. The river was rushing south and was so loud, now that they were on the shore, the brothers had to all but shout to hear each other.
“Let’s just stick to the sand ‘till we get back to the property line,” Deacon called out, “and keep an eye out for old camp fires.”
The two men walked in silence for a while, listening as the sound of the river shut out everything else and dulled their ears. They’d gone about two miles when something caught Bobby’s eye.
Deacon didn’t hear him.
Deacon turned his head to the side a little but still didn’t look around at Bobby.
“Dammit, Dink, turn around will you?”
This time Deacon heard and stopped to turn and face Bobby. Before he was halfway around, though, something shot out of the tree line and barreled into him. Deacon hit the sand with a dull thud and scrambled to get his arms up to defend himself. Bobby was running towards him and trying to get his shotgun off his shoulder at the same time.
Bobby stopped short when he realized it was another man on top of Deacon. The two were fighting to get a grip on the other, their struggle leaving dark trails in the damp sand. Thrashing his body to the left, Deacon managed to free himself from under the other man and scrabbled back up the bank to his brother.
“The hell is that?” asked Bobby once Deacon was close enough.
Deacon was panting hard, and scratch marks stood out on his neck, face and arms.
“It’s him. It’s Jebidiah. He’s off his fucking rocker.”
Bobby whipped his head around in time to see Jebidiah get his feet under him and start racing up the bank.
“Shoot him already!”
“I can’t shoot him. We’re supposed to bring him back.”
“We sure as hell ain’t bringin’ him back like that.”
Jebidiah was closing in. Deacon reached down and jerked the gun out of Bobby’s hand only to have his brother knock him to the ground before he could bring it up to aim. The old man hadn’t been expecting their sudden change in direction, and when he leaped for Deacon he sailed over them, rolling headlong into the trees.
“Get off me. He’s lost it.”
“I told you we cain’t kill him.” Bobby was struggling to get up while snagging the gun by the strap. “Run.”
“The hell we cain’t. Gimme the damn gun.”
Deacon dragged Bobby back down into the sand and tried to wrench the gun out of his hands. They rolled down the bank, fighting for the gun, kicking and scrapping to no avail. The brothers both cried out when a third body crashed into the pile and added to the confusion. The old man was clawing away at anything within reach. Each of them were retaliating against the other two as best he could while trying to gain the upper hand.
After several seconds, Deacon finally got a hand on the muzzle of the shotgun. Almost as soon as he had it, though, the scorching heat of a cartridge flying through the barrel made him drop it. All three men went still.
The two brothers sat up to look at each other then looked down at Jebidiah. The old man was writing in the sand; his legs jerking to the side in a futile attempt to rise. The slow leak of blood from his upper chest was turning the waterlogged sand black. As they stared, Jebidiah’s movements slowed until eventually they stopped all together.
“Shit,” Bobby breathed, “Shit, shit, shit.”
“Like hell I am. We killed him, Deacon. Fucking killed him.”
“I can see that dumb ass. Shut up. I need to think.”
“What’s to think about? The crazy bastard is dead. What are we supposed to do about that?”
“That’s why I need to think. Now, Shut. Up.”
The two men sat on the sand staring at Jebidiah’s body. Several minutes passed by in silence. Eventually, Bobby turned his head to look at Deacon.
“We’re bein’ punished. Mama was right.”
“This ain’t Hell. There’s no punishment yet.”
“The what do you call this?”
“An unfortunate hunting accident. Help me move his body. We’ll build a camp and come back to find him tomorrow.”