Fall Fiction: The Trembling Part One

Craig James | August 4, 2021

Glen Johnson stood in line at Big Pa’s Bait and Tackle. Drenched with sweat, it was the hottest day swinging a hammer that he could remember in a long time. He figured the only way to end a day this hot would be with a couple of ice-cold Gatorades and a box of worms. While he waited patiently for Big Pa to finish telling a very long and detailed story to the person in front of him, Glen glanced around the store wondering to himself just how long it had been since the place had received a good dusting.

Everything in the store was as original as the summer day in 1972 when Big Pa first opened the place. If something had broken through the years, it was glued, taped or nailed back in place. No need for any fancy new equipment or technology. Even Big Pa himself had stayed the same 5-feet 6-inches with his standard daily uniform of overalls and a button-down shirt. The only changes that had come for Big Pa through the years were a head full of grey hair, wrinkles and arthritis that he managed to tell nearly every customer that came in about.

As soon as Big Pa finished talking with the fellow ahead of him, Glen slid his drinks up on the rusty metal counter and grabbed a box of worms. While Big Pa slowly punched the amounts into his 1970s model cash register, the newest issue of GON caught Glen’s eye. As he read the headline, his jaw dropped. Glen quickly grabbed the magazine, threw it on the counter and paid for his items.

Once he got to his old Chevy truck, Glen turned the air on full blast and began to quickly thumb through the magazine. Though he’d been a GON subscriber for the last 20 odd years, and his own magazine was probably waiting in his mailbox, he just couldn’t wait until he got home. Taking a big swig of his blue Gatorade, Glen began to read the story.

A once-in-a-lifetime opportunity with only 50 hunting permits to be drawn was fixing to take place. It was going to cost $100 just to enter the lottery, but the money raised was going to be used to benefit the Trembling National Wildlife Refuge. There was never before a quota hunt like this one.

Glen quickly skimmed through the highlights of the story. Fumbling for his phone, Glen quickly punched a number. On the third ring, he finally got an answer.

“Mark, it’s Glen. Come by the house this afternoon. You’re not gonna believe this.”

Forgetting all about his afternoon fishing trip, Glen rushed home with a whole new agenda.

• • • • • •

Mark finally pulled up to Glen’s house, just as the hot July sun was beginning to sink behind the trees. He could see Glen’s shop door was open and could hear someone rummaging around. He knew Glen had to be up to something.

“What you say there old buddy? I finally made it.

“What in the world are you doing?” Mark asked, perplexed by the dozens of maps and books Glen had spread in disarray on his shop table.

“They are opening it up for hunting Mark. I just can’t believe it. I never thought I’d live to see the day.”

“Hold on, hold on, you spitting and sputtering like that old 9.9 on your jonboat. Who is they, and what are they opening up for hunting?” Mark asked, calmly trying to slow down his long-time hunting partner.

“Look. It’s all right here in the GON, Mark. The Trembling National Wildlife Refuge is gonna be open for a special archery quota hunt this fall for the first time in history. The whole 255,000 acres,” Glen said, almost running out of breath with excitement.

“Are you serious? What’s the catch?” Mark questioned.

“It says right here that due to the COVID-19 crisis this past year they didn’t have the funding to operate, and they’ve got an overpopulation of deer, so they decided to have a lottery to draw for a hunt. Each application is good for two hunters, and it’s $100 to enter the lottery. They are going to draw from the entries on Aug. 1, and only 50 applicants will be selected. Those who get picked will get to hunt the refuge several times during the season.

“Man, I bet they will have 10,000 applications. Every redneck in the South is gonna want to get in on that hunt,” Mark said.

“That’s what the Refuge is hoping for. They are advertising it across the entire southeastern United States. With 10,000 applications, it would raise a million bucks for the area to open back up next spring,” said Glen.

“Ten thousand entries and 50 permits for the hunt of a lifetime. Sounds like some long-shot odds to me,” Mark said with a shrug.

“Hey, worst case we’ll be out fifty bucks apiece, Mark. Plus we will be helping the refuge out in the process. Besides, if they can’t open back up by next spring, we ain’t gonna have nowhere to go catch a mess of warmouth,” Glen added.

“You have a point there. Well, what do we have to do so we can throw our names in the hat?” Mark asked.

“Already done, old buddy. I knew you’d be down for it, and I submitted the application a few minutes before you pulled up,” said Glen.

“Somehow that doesn’t surprise me at all,” Mark said.

• • • • • •

At the same time a pair of hunters looked at maps of the refuge that was 60 miles from where they stood, a buck carefully made his way through coontails along the edge of the swampy island he called home. His velvet-covered antlers were becoming more of a nuisance each day as they grew, catching on saplings and trees as he walked.

After making it to his favorite spot to drink, the buck carefully eased down toward the cypress-lined black tannic water. When he got about 2 yards from the water’s edge, he froze as still as a statue.

It was a threat he’d seen a thousand times in his life. He knew two more steps toward it, and he’d be done.

Lying in the knee-high grass was a giant 12-foot alligator waiting for the buck to make a fatal mistake.

The wise old buck remained frozen for another second before making a giant leap into the opposite direction, blowing as he disappeared into the dense swamp forest as the big bull gator slowly eased off into deeper water

• • • • • •

A couple of weeks later, Glen checked his mailbox with high hopes of a letter coming from the wildlife refuge. He swung open the lid and peered inside.

Nothing. Just like every other day for the past couple of weeks. Glen eased his pickup in the yard feeling a little deflated. He felt that if they were going to be selected for the hunt, they should have already received some sort of notification in the mailbox.

He looked at the date on his phone… Aug. 5. Well, maybe tomorrow, he thought. Deep down inside he was confident they hadn’t been selected for the golden ticket that would allow them the once-in-a-lifetime hunt.

After feeding up the chickens and dogs, Glen headed out to his shop to work on a few things. Dozens of maps of the refuge, some more than 50 years old, still laid sprawled out on his work table. Glen had spent every day since entering the lottery carefully mapping out a plan for him and Mark to hunt the area. All the effort already put in was now probably just a waste of time, Glen thought to himself. Glen was normally a pretty positive person, but he couldn’t help but feel a little down and aggravated that he’d already spent hours of prep time pouring over maps. Glen had spent his whole life hunting public land, and he’d gotten pretty good at it. Now with the hunt of a lifetime about to go down, he was out of luck.

Glen spent the next hour cleaning up his work table, painfully putting up each map and book, and then he shifted his attention away from the hunt and began pouring over a few new projects. Walking out of his shop, Glen heard what sounded like the backstretch of a NASCAR track coming down the dirt road.

“Who in the world is driving that fast?” Glen wondered.

Moments later Mark’s pick-up truck came into view from around the curve. With steering any dirt track driver would be proud of, Mark came sliding into the driveway narrowly avoiding Glen’s mailbox and an adjacent flower bed.

Honking his horn and waving his arm frantically out the window, Glen wondered what on earth was wrong. Mark was as cool as a cucumber most of the time.

“We’re in, Glen! Were in!” Mark yelled.

“Are you sure? I didn’t get a letter,” Glen replied.

“Yeah it says right here they are only mailing out confirmation to the first name listed on the application. We’re in Glen! We’re in!”

Glen stood in disbelief as he looked at the letter and golden ticket as Mark passed it to him. Despite his hands shaking, Glen began to read.

“Congratulations on being selected for the first-ever Trembling Earth Wildlife Refuge Archery Quota Hunt. The hunt will consist of the following. Each pair of hunters will receive one week of scouting August 25-30. The last weekend of each month from September to December, the refuge will be open Friday through Sunday for those who have received a permit. A mandatory meeting discussing terms and rules of the quota hunt will take place on Aug. 24 from 5-7. All hunters must attend this mandatory meeting.”

Glen finished reading the letter and just smiled.

“Well Mark, looks like we gotta long way to go and a short time to get there.”

“We better get your old jonboat ready for some action if we’re gonna get way back in there where the big bucks are,” said Mark.

“It won’t go where we’re headed to. We’re gonna need a special rig to get where we need to go.”

“What kind of rig?” Mark questioned.

“Meet me at Big Pa’s store at 7 tomorrow morning, and I’ll show you,” Glen said with a sly smile.

• • • • • •

The next morning, Mark strolled into the bait shop as Glen and Big Pa were going back and forth about something.

“That’s the price your gonna pay if you want to use it. I think it’s plenty fair,” Big Pa said chuckling.

“So let me get this straight, you want me to keep the grass mowed up here at the shop from now until October, just to use your canoe?” Glen asked.

“And you’re gonna have to weedeat, too. Besides that’s not just any canoe, it is full of swamp magic,” Big Pa said through the eight teeth he had left.

“Swamp magic? Yeah right. Looks like about 8 inches of water and a couple years worth of oak leaves and pollen to me,” Glen said.

“If you knew how many jackfish and warmouth me and your grandpa hauled over the side of that thing way back in the Swamp, you wouldn’t believe it.”

“All right Big Pa. You have yourself a deal, but Mark’s running the weedeater, and that’s non-negotiable,” Glen said.

“Sounds fair to me, to get to use an antique canoe full of swamp magic. I’m in,” Mark said.

Glen and Mark spent the next hour or so talking with Big Pa about the upcoming hunt and then headed off to do some more research.

Big Pa had known Glen since the day he was born. Glen’s grandpa was one of Big Pa’s longtime friends until he passed about 15 years back. Big Pa had made a promise that he’d look after Glen as long as he was alive, a promise he fully intended to keep.

“I don’t understand what the public library has to do with our quota hunt,” Mark asked as he and Glen walked across the parking lot.

Glen didn’t answer back, walking quickly into the library on a mission.

“I hope it’s still in here,” Glen said.

He began a thorough look on the shelves in the local book section of the library.

“Right where I last put it a couple years back,” Glen said.

He grabbed the dusty, old green book from the far corner of the shelf.

Titled on the cover in old brown block letters were the words Swampers Guide to the Trembling Earth Wildlife Refuge. The author’s name was barely legible, nearly worn off the cover… E.R. Smith.

“E.R was my science teacher back in grammar school. He knew more about the refuge than any man who ever lived. He explored parts of the swamp that no other man has ever seen,” Glen said.

“Great. Well now at least we have a guide to the Swamp,” Mark said.

“Oh, it’s a fascinating book, tales of E.R’s exploration in the Swamp. But that’s not what we want it for. Check this out,” Glen said.

He opened the book to the back few pages.

“Wow. Are these what I think they are?” Mark inquired.

“Yes sir, these are maps that E.R hand drew more than 80 years ago. All these canals and islands have grown up over the years cutting off access. Heck, it’s so thick in there now you can’t even tell they are there when looking at it on Google Earth,” Glen said.

“Some of these islands have to be 15 or 20 miles deep in the swamp. You really think we’re going to be able to fight our way back there,” Mark asked.

“If we want to kill a big old swamp buck, that’s exactly what we’re gonna have to do,” Glen replied.

• • • • • •

Mark and Glen spent the next few weeks preparing for the upcoming scouting trip. If they weren’t at work, they were prepping for the trip. Shooting their bows for hours on end, checking their gear to ensure everything was in working order. Then they would spend the last hour or so of every evening comparing the hand-written maps from E.R.s book to Google Earth, trying to determine the best access points to go deeper in the Swamp than anyone had been in decades.

The day finally came, and loaded down with Big Pa’s canoe and a truck full of camping gear, Mark and Glen set out for the quota hunt meeting at the refuge. Both hunters had made arrangements to be off work for the entire week and planned to spend every minute of it scouting as many acres of the refuge as they could.

“Glen, I finally finished ready E.R.’s book last night? You did say you have read it all, right,” Mark asked.

“Yes sir, a few times,” Glen responded.

“What about the last chapter when he talked about the…”

“Nonsense! Now E.R. was a good man, knew more than anyone about the Swamp, but he was known to tell a tall tale every now and again. I wouldn’t read into that part very much. Probably was just an old bear or something way back in there that spooked him real good,” Glen said.

Mark agreed, but as they headed to the refuge, the words he had read the night before echoed in his mind.

“Glen’s right, nothing to worry about, nothing at all,” Mark thought to himself. Yet he could not shake those words by E.R., about what he saw deep in the Swamp.

Part 2 of “The Trembling – GON Subscribers

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