BEAT THE DRUM NO MORE
Billy Bob Hagood lay on his side behind the toppled, rotting tree trunk, clutching to his chest the treasured, high-powered hunting rifle his daddy had given him on his fourteenth birthday. In the last twenty years, he’d brought down countless prey with the highly accurate Winchester, but none as frustratingly elusive or threatening as that which he now stalked in the shivery dawn of the hushed Alabama woods. His pulse thundered in his ears, and he silently cursed the visible frost each panting breath formed, fearful his position could be seen.
He cautiously rolled from his side and raised himself enough to peer over the moss-covered log into the dense brush, studying each detail of the wooded terrain ahead of him——every rock, every gully, every bush and tree, every inch of the leaf-covered forest floor——for any movement, any potential cover in which his quarry could be concealing itself. Usually the creature just kept moving——going and going——ever relentless, but Billy Bob was certain that by now its reserves were exhausted and it would have to stop soon.
Billy Bob was near collapse from the pursuit begun nearly twenty hours before. Then, he wasn’t prepared for a protracted hunt when he sighted the critter as he drove his pickup down a dirt road on his way to check a fence line. He grabbed his rifle from the rack behind him and ran across a pasture just as the fluff of its stumpy tail disappeared into the edge of the woods where he followed, and he was able to follow only by brief glimpses that never afforded a clear shot. Obsessively, he gave chase on into the night, finally tracking it by ear alone. He had to stop the vexatious creature.
As he continued to scan the woods through the lifting morning mist from behind the log, his object of pursuit darted from behind a thicket and crossed his field of vision about two hundred yards in front of him. Billy Bob jerked the scoped rifle up and lay it to rest on the log, sighting in on a blur of white and simultaneously squeezing the trigger. The echo of the shot boomed through the forest, but the rifle’s projectile thudded into another dead log as the intended victim scurried behind it.
“Damn it all!” he bellowed, and flicked forward the bolt of the rifle in preparation for another shot, but as he looked through the scope no target presented itself.
He jumped up from his spot behind the log to charge the new hiding place of his enemy, but his legs had cramped from having lain atop the damp forest floor, and as he leaped over the knee-high log, his legs gave out. He stumbled and fell face first into the bed of leaves. The rifle tumbled to his side and the impact caused it to fire. The hot lead bullet tore through his boot and plowed a strip of skin from his ankle. At first his wound wasn’t felt, his frenzied state and the initial shock of his fall preventing the pain from registering. He rebounded to his feet to continue his charge, but the second he planted the wounded foot the stinging fire of pain penetrated, and he crashed down again, cursing.
His rage-filled charge left the adrenaline coursing through him and helped him ignore the pain. After quickly pulling off the torn boot and seeing that it was only a flesh wound, he pulled the boot on again, grabbed his rifle, and, half limping, half running, headed for his enemy’s lair. The varmint must have shortly thought his pursuer’s dilemma assured his safety, but Billy Bob’s quick recovery startled it into panic-stricken flight from behind the log. The second his prey sprang into sight, Billy Bob planted himself, raised his rifle, and squeezed the trigger. This time the large caliber slug found its mark, disintegrating the creature into a spray...bits and pieces clinging to low-lying branches and scattered all across the damp forest floor.
Billy Bob hobbled toward the few remains of his victim in order to confirm that he had been, indeed, successful in his mission. Balancing on his good leg, he extended his injured one and nudged the pieces with the toe of his boot. Really, only three identifiable pieces remained among shreds of white and pink cottony fluff——a torn rabbit ear, a single “D” battery, and a tiny bass drum.