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Fall Fiction: Coon Dog Cemetery Hunting Club Part 5

"Old Traditions Never Die"

Duncan Dobie | December 4, 2019

Long ago they had named the club ‘Coon Dog Cemetery’ to honor the legendary dogs, hounds with names like Run-Around Sue, Ol’ Rip, Kentucky Mike and Wrong-Way Pete. Dogs that had found their final resting place in a small, sacred plot of ground at one end of the property. Over the years, as the deer herd grew and prospered, some of the hunters at Coon Dog became almost as renowned as the dogs their club paid homage to…

Dexter and Marty had just loaded Marty’s buck in the back of the truck. They were sitting on the tailgate taking a well-deserved rest when a single shot rang out down in the swamp.

“That’s Chip!” Marty said excitedly, standing up and waiting to see if there would be any more shots.

“Yep. That’s him, all right,” Dexter agreed.

They both listened for another shot.

“Do you think he got one?” Marty asked. “Man! Wouldn’t it be something if we both killed a buck on opening day!”

“Ain’t but one way to find out,” Dexter said. “Grab yer’ gun and let’s go.”

“I’ll ride in the back with my buck,” Marty said. “Will you put my rifle up front?”

“Be glad to,” Dexter said, taking the carbine and smiling broadly. “Yeah, I reckon ya’ better stay back here with yer’ buck. He’s liable to jump clean outa’ the truck if ya’ don’t keep an eye on ‘im!”

“I just don’t want anything to happen to the antlers.”

“Okay. Suit yer’self, Killer!”

Dexter cranked the engine and headed back to Cemetery Road. They parked at the end of the logging road and walked quickly to Chip’s stand. When they reached the creek crossing containing so many deer tracks, Chip was waiting for them on the trail.

As they approached, Marty held up both hands for Chip to see. He had enough dried blood on his clothes to make it apparent he had killed a buck.

“How big is he?” Chip asked. “I heard your shots.”

“He’s a nice 8-pointer,” Marty said proudly. “What about you?”

“I missed a huge buck,” Chip answered. “He was a monster.”

Dexter and Marty listened as Chip told them the complete story.

“Come on,” Dexter said, after hearing the sad tale. “It always pays to be sure.”

They walked over to the spot where the buck had jumped the creek. Chip showed Dexter the tracks.

“Great Aunt Jemima!” Dexter exclaimed when he saw the huge prints in the soft earth. You weren’t jus’ whistlin’ Dixie when ya’ said he was big. I ain’t seen any tracks like this in three, four years… ‘Cept for maybe the Phantom. Ya’ sure this wasn’t the Phantom you were shootin’ at?”

“No, it couldn’t have been the Phantom,” Chip insisted. “The Phantom has long drop tines on both sides, doesn’t he?”

Dexter nodded.

“This buck is real even. I got a good look at him. He might be as big as the Phantom, but he doesn’t have any drops. He is humongous, though!”

“Judgin’ from these tracks, he’s gotta be big,” Dexter said. “This buck’ll go 250 to 260 on the hoof easy, maybe more. I knew we still had a few good bucks around here, but I sure ain’t seen nothing like this lately, I’ll tell ya’ that much.”

Dexter looked uphill toward the cedar tree where Chip had been standing. Then he looked over on the other side of the creek.

“There’s where yer bullet hit… In that tree yonder.” He pointed.

Chip and Marty looked across the creek to a 3-inch sapling that grew several feet from the bank. The bullet had grazed one side of the tree, splintering bark and wood and leaving a gaping hole. They both jumped across the creek for a closer look.

Dexter remained in the spot where the buck had been standing when Chip fired.

“Looks like ya’ was lined up jus’ right,” he observed. “He musta’ moved right when ya’ pulled the trigger.”

“He did!” Chip agreed. “I knew I missed the minute it happened, but it was close.”

“Big bucks’re awful bad about doin’ that,” Dexter said. “I reckon seein’ one do it’ll make a believer outa’ you, but I know it don’t make it any easier to swaller… ‘Specially on a buck like this. You two wait here a few minutes, okay? I’d like to see where these tracks go. All three of us stompin’ aroun’ might stir things up too much.”

Dexter crossed the creek and began to follow the trail. He was gone for over 30 minutes. When he returned, the boys were stretched out on the ground next to the creek.

“It’s a real shame the way things happen sometimes,” Dexter said, a little out of breath. “It wasn’t really no fault a’ yer’s ya’ missed… But with a buck like that, it’s gonna be mighty hard to get another chance. Smart rascal like that usually don’t give no second chances….”

“What do you think we oughta’ do?” Chip asked.

“I don’t know. We need to study on it awhile.” He smiled. “We’ll figure sump’n out, even if it’s wrong. The only thing I know for sure is, that buck needs to be killed, and I’d sure like to see you be the one to do it. Come on. I reckon we better get Marty’s buck on back to camp b’fore he escapes outa’ the back a’ the truck.”

Dexter turned toward the trail. He paused and looked back at Chip.

“Better take off yer’ red huntin’ shirt a’fore we get back to camp. You knows what’s prob’ly gonna happen, don’t ya’?”

“Yeah, I know,” Chip said. “I’ve got on an old T-shirt underneath.”

“Don’t let it get to you,” Dexter said. “It’s jus’ camp tradition. Ya’ know that, don’t ya’? Some a’ the boys in camp get a little carried away sometimes, but they don’t mean no harm by it. It happens to ever’body sooner or later.”

“There are worse things in the world than missing a buck,” Marty said, trying to comfort his friend.

“I don’t know what they could be,” Chip replied as he started after Dexter.

Marty followed, feeling both sad for his friend and jubilant over his own good fortune.

   

Chip and Marty rode to camp in the back of the truck with Marty’s trophy.  When they arrived, everyone excitedly gathered around Dexter’s truck, anxious to look at the large buck lying in the back. The boys jumped down and stood next to the tailgate.

“With all the shootin’ we heard back in the swamp this mornin’, we figured you’d have at least half a dozen bucks in here,” Dusty bellowed. “Who’s the lucky man?”

“Marty is!” Dexter yelled, slamming the door of the truck and walking toward the tailgate. “Made ‘im a right good shot, too!”

“Boy, he’s a beaut!” Dillon exclaimed, reaching over the side and grabbing one of the antlers. “A perfect eight. Good going, son!”

“Thanks,” Marty answered, beaming proudly.

Everyone congratulated Marty and shook his hand. Dusty put his huge arm around him and gave him a bear hug.

“It sounded like a small war going on back there in the swamp,” Dusty said.

“Tell the truth, now. Did someone slip up and miss one?”

Chip suddenly felt very guilty. “I missed one,” he said. “He was a real monster, too.”

“Missed one!” Dillon exclaimed loudly. “Missed one! Why don’t you know that’s not allowed around here? Don’t you know what happens to a man who misses a buck around Coon Dog Cemetery?”

“Yeah, I know,” Chip said, nodding. “You get your shirttail cut off. Big deal.”

“What about a man who shoots his first buck?” Dusty asked innocently. “He oughta’ be rewarded, too, shouldn’t he?”

“You’re doggone right!” Dillon boomed. “Every good deer hunter needs to be rewarded for a job well done and a man’s first buck is a once in a lifetime experience. It needs to be well documented, so he’ll never forget! Let’s talk about it over some good vittles!”

Jess had prepared his traditional “opening day feast.” Smoked venison, barbequed wild hog, and Jess’s special recipe of home-cooked Brunswick stew made up the main course items. Half a dozen loaves of bread were put out, and plenty of sweetened ice tea was on hand to wash down the highly seasoned barbeque and stew. The food was put out smorgasbord-style. Some of the men sat down, others stood around under the tall pines, eating one helping after another of the delicious fixings and reliving the morning’s adventures. Marty was asked to tell his story over and over again. Each time, he deliberately left out the part about forgetting to load his rifle. Of the three bucks brought in after the first hunt of the brand-new season, Marty’s was by far the largest.

   

Thirty minutes later, the boys were back in their tent resting.

“I don’t think they’re gonna’ try anything right now,” Chip said, sitting Indian-style on his sleeping bag. “Maybe they’ve forgotten about it.”

Nonetheless, he had taken off his good long-sleeved T-shirt and put on an old, ragged, long-sleeved flannel shirt just in case.

“Fat chance,” Marty said. “They haven’t forgotten. They just want us to think they’ve forgotten. I know they’re gonna’ cut off your shirttail, and I know they’re gonna try something with me. They may wait ‘til tonight, but I know Dusty and Dillon were up to something out there. Didn’t you see ‘em whispering over there? They’ve always bloodied up everyone else who kills their first buck, and they’ve got two fresh deer hanging to do it with.”

“Let’s rest up for a few minutes, then let’s get our stuff and sneak out of camp before everyone else starts stirring,” Marty said. “As much as Dillon and Dusty ate, they’re bound to take it easy for an hour or so. Once we hit the woods, they’ll never be able to find us in a million years.”

“Great idea. We’ll take plenty of warm clothes, and we’ll stay out in the woods ‘til everybody goes to bed. We can build our own fire, as long as it’s far enough away so nobody can find it. Then we can sneak back to the tent. You know they won’t try anything early in the morning. And tomorrow, we’ll stay out all day.”

“We’ll need some food. And matches.”

“I’ve got some candy bars and raisins right here in my bag. I’ve also got some waterproof matches.”

“Sounds good to me,” Marty said, yawning. “Dusty and Dillon and the rest of those old codgers’ll never get the best of us. We’re younger, smarter, and a whole lot faster!”

“Famous last words,” Chip said.

They both rolled over and closed their eyes, confident their escape plan would foil any sort of trap the camp elders might try to set for them.

   

Chip was half asleep when something suddenly roused him back to reality. Lifting himself up on one elbow, he heard some loud voices outside.

“Hey, Marty! Your father just drove up!” a distant voice yelled out.

Chip looked over at his partner. Marty was sound asleep on his side. Chip nudged him on the shoulder. “Did you hear that?”

“What…?  What is it?”

“Somebody’s calling outside. They said your father’s here.”

Marty sat up. “That’s impossible. He’s out of town. He won’t be home ‘til Thanksgiving.”

The same voice yelled out again. “Hey, Marty! Come see your father!”

“We’d better go see,” Marty said with a puzzled look. “Maybe something’s wrong.”

Marty stood up. Like Chip, he was wearing an old long-sleeved flannel shirt—unbuttoned with the shirttails out. Underneath, he had on a white T-shirt. He was also wearing blue jeans and heavy wool socks. He unzipped the opening to the tent and stepped through the doorway, squinting in the bright sunlight.

Before his eyes could adjust to the bright light, someone grabbed him from behind in a sweeping bear hug.

“I got him!” Dusty bellowed.

“It’s a trap!” Marty screamed, kicking furiously and trying to pull loose. “Look out!”

Several men stepped around the corner of the tent and came to Dusty’s aid. Dillon and some others went through the doorway after Chip.

“This is a dirty, rotten trick!” Marty yelled at the top of his lungs, kicking into empty air while Dusty and one other man carried him away.

Dillon and his helpers dragged Chip outside, and both boys were taken over to the meat pole. Almost everyone in camp was on hand to witness the spectacle—everyone except Dexter.

Chip was wearing blue jeans, socks, and the “decoy” shirt he had purposely put on.  “Go ahead,” he screamed. “Cut off my shirttail! See if I care!”

When they reached the meat pole, several men held Chip while Dillon began hacking away on the back of his shirt with a large hunting knife.

“Don’t cut yourself!” someone yelled.

“Don’t cut Chip, either,” someone else yelled.

There was a roar of laughter. Dillon cut the entire back section out of Chip’s shirt. When he finished, he triumphantly held it up and waved it around like a flag for everyone to see. Then he turned toward Marty.

“Someone bring me the slop bucket!” he yelled.

The slop bucket had been filled with blood and entrails from one of the bucks that had been cleaned before lunch.

“This is gonna hurt me more than it hurts you,” Dillon said as he reached into the bucket and grabbed a handful of its smelly contents.

“You’re right about that!” Marty screamed.

He was determined to get as much of the foul-smelling entrails on his captors as they got on him.

Chip, thinking he was safe, now, yelled encouragement… “Kick ‘em! Bite ‘em!”

Suddenly, though, he and Marty were thrown together, and Dillon began plastering both of them with blood and entrails.

“That’s not fair!” Chip screamed. “You don’t have any right to do this… I missed my buck!”

“Dangit! I’m gonna’ get you back!” Marty screamed, putting up a vicious fight. “You’re gonna’ be sorry for this… Everyone of you!”

Marty did manage to splash some of the blood and guts on Dillon and Dusty, but they didn’t seem to mind. They were having too much fun.

Just as things were winding down, Dusty reached into the bucket and pulled out a compartmented deer stomach, still intact. He held it up, and someone slit it open with a knife. Putrid green stomach content immediately began oozing out.

“Now, for the finishing touch!” he yelled.

The men roared as Dusty smeared the green slime all over both boys’ faces and down the front of their shirts. Marty was enraged. He was kicking and screaming like a madman.

“I’ll get you back for this if it’s the last thing I do!” he yelled.

Chip was in a state of shock. He could not believe that the men would do this horrible thing to him as well.

“Run for it!” someone yelled, after Marty and Chip were covered from head to toe with a grisly combination of caked blood, green slime, and dirt.

Dusty dropped the bucket, and the men scattered in all directions like a covey of quail.

“Quick! Get the bucket!” Marty yelled. “Let’s get ‘em back!”

But it was too late. The bucket was empty.

“Man, I think I’m gonna throw up,” Chip said. “This stuff is awful!”

He tried to wipe some of the horrible slime from his face.

“What’re we gonna’ do?” Marty asked. “How are we gonna’ get this junk off?”

“I don’t know,” Chip said, sitting down on the ground in disgust.

Underneath all of the slime and blood, Marty’s face was beet red, and he was still out of breath from the struggle.

“They shouldn’t have done this to you… I’m gonna get them back.”

“Ah, it’s okay,” Chip said, spitting out a mouthful of dirt and pine needles. “At least we both got it together.”

“Yeah. And after you kill your buck, you won’t have to go through it again, will you?” Marty smiled faintly for the first time. “Man, they got us good!”

Chip took off what remained of his shredded shirt. He balled it up and threw it as far as he could. Marty sat down and leaned against a large pine tree.

“I wish we had a hose in camp,” he said.

“And some hot water,” Chip added.

Some of the men were just beginning to sneak back into camp.

Marty cupped his hands around his mouth and yelled, “Dang you!” as loud as he could. Someone answered his yell, and a roar of laughter reverberated through camp.

Following Chip’s example, Marty took off his flannel shirt and threw it out in the woods. His T-shirt was ruined, as well. It was no longer white. Like everything else, it was smeared with slime and blood. At some point during the struggle, he had lost both of his wool socks.

“We’re in a heck of a fix,” Marty sighed. “I don’t know how we’re ever going to get this stuff off…” he laughed.

They had been sitting there for about 10 minutes, trying to decide what to do, when they looked up and saw Dexter’s truck slowly approaching. Dexter pulled up next to the meat pole and cut the engine.

With his hands on the wheel, he stared at the boys in silence. Willard was in the back of the truck. The dog jumped down, walked over to Chip, and sniffed around curiously, wisely keeping his distance. He didn’t know what to make of the strange, smelly sight before him.

“I seen some God-awful sights in my time,” Dexter said, shaking his head. “But I’m here to tell ya’… I ain’t never seen survivors from any kind a’ battle that looked this bad! What’d y’all do, take a bath in the stuff?”

“Very funny!” Marty said defiantly. “We were slightly outnumbered, you know—something like 10 to one. But we got some of them as bad as they got us. Where have you been?”

“Boy, you did get yer’ tail feathers ruffled, didn’t ya’? Dexter said. “Look, I believe in camp tradition an’ all, an’ I go along with most a’ the crazy shenanigans that go on aroun’ here, but this bus’ness a’ puttin’ stomach slime on a man up after he kills his first buck is sump’n that don’t exactly set right with me. In my opinion, a man who ya’ like an’ respect and share sump’n with as important as deer huntin’ deserves to be treated better. To me it’s kind of a slap in the face to someone like you two. That’s jus’ my opinion, though, an’ in this case, I reckon I got outvoted.”

“Yeah, but they’re your friends,” Marty insisted.

“Yep. You’re right. I can’t argue that. But you’re a part a’ this club, too. Next time sump’n like this happens, will you take part in it…? I kinda’ think ya’ will… I got a feelin’ you’ll be standin’ right alongside Dillon an’ Dusty.”

“No, I won’t either!” Marty replied. “I’d never do this to anyone….”

“We’ll see,” Dexter said.

“At least it’s over,” Chip said with a sigh. “You don’t think they’ll try this again after I kill my first buck, do you?”

“Not hardly,” Dexter answered. “Once is enough for anybody.”

He thought for a minute.

“Ya’ know, maybe they were tryin’ to tell ya’ sump’n… Maybe they did this to ya’ in advance ‘cause they knew ya’ were gonna kill a humdinger of a buck!”

“I’d gladly let ‘em do it again if I could get another shot at Big Foot,” Chip said.

“There ya’ go,” Dexter said. “I s’pect the boys have had their fun for a while.

“I hope so,” Marty said, wiping his face with a filthy hand. “I know one thing… I’m gonna get back at Dillon and Dusty if it takes me the rest of my life.”

“B’fore ya’ think about tryin’ to get even, don’t ya’ think ya’ oughta’ to start worryin’ ‘bout how to rejoin the human race?”

“You got any bright ideas?”

“Yeah.  Matter a’ fact, I do.”

“What? Where’re we going?”

“First off, we’re gonna’ get you two a change a clothes outa’ yer’ tent. Some towels and soap wouldn’t hurt nothin’, neither.”

“Then what?”

“Down to the duck pond.”

“The duck pond?” Marty exclaimed. “Do you know how cold that water is? The creek had ice in it this morning. The duck pond’s probably frozen over!”

“Not all of it. I already checked!”

“You expect us to get in that icy cold water?  We’ll die from exposure!”

“Ya’ might die from suffocation or green slime disease if ya’ don’t,” Dexter said, trying to keep from laughing. “You got any idea how bad you two stink, or how much worse ya’ look? You ain’t fit to hole up with a polecat in this condition. When we get back, you can thaw out by the fire. I’ll get Jess to stoke it up. We better get a move on if ya’ plan to go to the woods this evenin’. Ya’ do plan to hunt, don’t ya’, Chip?”

“Yes sir.”    

“And I’m going with,” Marty said.

“Well, ya’ sure can’t go to the woods smellin’ like ya’ do now. You’d run off ever’ deer within a 10-mile radius a’ camp. Ever’ varmint, too!”

Marty and Chip climbed into the back of the truck. Willard jumped up and joined them. Dexter cranked the engine and drove over to their tent. While they waited, he got them each some clean clothes and a towel, plus a large bar of soap. On his way back, he stopped off at the cook tent and asked Jess to put some wood on the fire.

“I’ll keep yer’ clothes up front with me,” he said as he jumped back in the truck. “But you two’re gonna have to ride in the back. I ain’t about to stink up the inside a’ my clean truck with the likes a’ you….”

He slammed the door. Then he stuck his head out the window and looked back.

“Anyhow, you three hounds deserve each other!”

Editor’s Note: This story was excerpted from an unpublished, full-length, book manuscript titled Coon Dog Cemetery by Duncan Dobie. The author welcomes and appreciates comments and feedback. Email Duncan at [email protected].

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