One moment of carelessness

A short story by Bob Collins (Stumpy)

In 1957, Jay was sent to the valley as a punishment. He had always been a bit of a loner and the circumstances behind his transfer did not alter this. But, when he did arrive here, he made two lasting friendships. The first was a small black box/lab bitser pig dog pup, he found, which quickly grew into as keen and efficient hunter as Jay himself was.

Man and dog roamed the bracken and scrub hills together chasing the wily pig so eventually becoming the best hunting team in the valley. So the dog which Jay named ‘Nero’ became his closest friend.

The second friend Jay made was a hunting rival, a stripling of a boy, only thirteen years of age. The boy was crazy about hunting, had his own dogs and was very successful too, far beyond his years. On occasion he would capture and kill a pig, much too big and heavy for himself to carry out of the hills. He would arrive on Jay’s doorstep, still with the excitement of the hunt flashing in his eyes along with the pride of achievement, to ask for help with a heavy lift. Jay never refused.

Boy though they were hunting rivals, a strong bond of companionship developed between the powerful mature man and the young boy. As the years rolled by, this friendship endured even though the boy grew strong and broad with heavy shoulders and powerful thighs developed by carry­ing heavy loads over tough country.

Both enjoyed the rivalry of the hunt, the companionship of good dogs, a common interest that could last a life time. The boy (though he now could hardly be described as such), was the only hunter Jay would entrust his dog to, the dog was good alright, so there was much envy amongst the other hunters.

The boy, with Jay’s help became as skilled a hunter as the man, they were equals at their craft, both knew it and both were secretly proud of it. They were both loners, yet they were comrades and they helped each other with the heavier lifts until the day they went their separate ways.

One fateful day, when the sun was shining and the air crisp, the boy who was now a man, took his dogs for a run in the scrub hills where wild pig would be expected to be found. The dogs winded a big old boar, wise in the ways of dogs, so they did well to stop and bail him in a shallow bracken gully.

When the boy arrived, the boar was angry, savage and defiant, backed into a bank in the gully side, successfully fighting the dogs off. The boy took the heavy rifle from his shoulder, jacked a cartridge into the breach and sighted onto the head of the boar.

But, this is no way for a hunter worth his salt to kill a pig, he knew, dogs and a knife should suffice a man. He took the rifle from his shoulder, lay it on the ground in the broken fern, then stalked up behind the raging boar, grabbed a hind leg before he could turn in defense, flipped him onto his back and killed him with one thrust of the knife under the seventh rib.

In the excitement of the moment one of the dogs, ranging wider than the others, stumbled on the hidden rifle which the boy in haste had left fully cocked and loaded. The rifle exploded, the heavy bullet taking the boy in his knee joint, shattering one of those mighty legs.

The boy found the agony of injury, the pain of healing and the traumatic amputation all insignificant when compared with the loss of mobility and freedom to wander the rough hills with only the dogs and himself for company.

When Jay heard |of the frightful, accident, he too lost much of his keenness for the hunt, the spirit of competition against a worthy rival was no longer. But now, as age reaches out to grasp him, Jay remembers with joy tinged with a touch of sadness, those balmy days when the man with an artificial leg was a free running boy and he himself a man in his prime.