Old Machinegun

A short story by Bob Collins (Stumpy)

He came into the valley fifteen years ago, just a young smart- arsed townie from the big smoke up north. He came to work with the batten splitter, and to live with him in the shack up in the cutover where the splitting was in progress.

Man, they lived rough!

The crazy old splitter would be a hard man to live with under any conditions, but he could work like a galley slave despite his age, and temperament – and smell. The consensus of opinion,down in the bar, was that the young fellow wouldn’t last for more than two weeks, but we were proved wrong.

He worked shoulder to shoulder with that crazy old splitter until even he had to give credit. He stuck to the job for more than four years. In that time he matured into a man and lost his smart city habits. Our contempt turned to some cautious liking for the bloke.

The young fellow took up hunting. But to the local hunters’ horror it was soon discovered that he seemed, to depend on fire­power rather than accuracy to kill his deer. Local hunters came home frustrated and indignant with tales of hearing barrages of shots echoing around the hills, some of them numbering fifteen or more.

Not only was hunting in an area where so much lead was flying- considered downright dangerous, but it also made the game alert.

He was soon dubbed ’Old Machinegun’.

Old Machinegun had a lot of hunting success but the deer carcases he brought in never had fifteen or more bullet holes in them, This caused a lot of speculation. Was he shooting a deer with the first careful shot like us oldies, and then in the joy of success banging all the others off? Nobody knew the answer, the young fellow was a bit of a loner and never invited anyone to accompany him while hunting.

Finally Old Machinegun could stand the crazy splitter no longer. He found a derelict passenger bus, parked it near the river,- and lived in it. About the same time he tossed in the splitting job and took on hunting to scratch a living.

Being a full time meat hunter did not change Old Machinegun’s habits much. He still managed to bang off fifteen or more rounds, with no pause between shots, for every kill. By this time, with his reputation so firmly established as a big volley man, there was no doubt in my mind that Old Machinegun was being credited with every ’bomb up’ heard in the valley. But he still kept bringing in deer to sell, and so his reputation as a good hunter grew.

Then his hard-earned respect in this valley got a real boost. Old Machinegun took off to the city for a couple of weeks, and returned with a brand new missus. She was really something! Young, a pretty face, and very nicely stacked. A flash sheila like that coming to live in the old bus down by the river! Old Machinegun sure must have a way with the girls.

The locals certainly had a point there, because by this time the engine had rusted out of one end of the bus and the chassis out of the other making it droop at each end. A couple of panels had fallen off the sides, the roof leaked a bit, and all the tyres were flat.

Two years passed. Then one day, on finding himself a father, Old Machinegun took the giant step. By shifting out of the valley, to live in a real house with a proper job he became domesticated, civilised. We lost track of him a bit, and though we would not admit it even to ourselves, we missed him. Then, that day the dreadful news came through.

Old Machinegun had gone hunting (not in this valley, I thank God) with a couple of mates. Deep in the bush they had split, one going off on his own. There had been an accident and Old Machinegun had died. He had never seen the age of thirty-five, and on the day he died, he had not fired a single shot.

And now in the valley, when the party had quietened down, and only us old hands are left to see the cold dawn break over the eastern range, we talk of Old Machinegun and his exploits with nostalgic affection, with respect, for we knew him well, both as man and boy.