NINETEEN: THE FOOL ON THE HILL
I DON’T MUCH LIKE running from a fight. It burns in my craw something fierce. But though I would never be mistaken for a learned man, I ain’t stupid. I know that I would be no match against the Walrus using just my fists and wits.
It’s why I grabbed the rifle.
Yet, once I had the rifle and ammunition, I still ran. I ran like the wind—well, like the wind if it had been healing from a broken spine. I ain’t no coward, but if you’re gonna fight someone, try to be the one who picks the field of battle.
About fifty or so yards from the back of my house is a large, wooded, hill. Once I was out of the window and onto the front lawn, I hobbled around to the back of the house, running as quickly as I could across the back yard, up the hill, and into the dense clump of woods that stretched back for a few miles out behind the house. Under the cover of the trees I fell to the ground, lying on my back and breathing heavily as I loaded the Winchester.
I slid the last cartridge into the rifle when I heard the unmistakable sound of a walrus crashing through a bedroom window—my bedroom window. So far, everything had gone according to plan, but success hinged on the hope that the Walrus would follow me. The plan was to hide here among the trees on the hill and wait for the Walrus to peek his ugly face around the back of the house. Then I’d shoot him. Not actually in the face, mind you. I wasn’t out to kill him—I wanted to—but I figured it’d be best to let the law handle this one. If he forced the issue, then I’d have no other choice. Otherwise I figured on winging him a bit. Maybe I’d go for the knee and put him down long enough to get the boys in khaki out here to lock the thing up—for good this time.
It all depended on the Walrus doing what I wanted him to do, which was follow me west behind the house.
As I’ve said, I live in the country a few miles north of town. Based on what was around the house, geographically speaking, the plan put a lot of dependence on the landscape itself guiding the Walrus in my direction.
I mean, when you think about it, I could have jumped out the window and continued east across the front yard and away from the house, but my front yard looked out toward a few hundred acres of cornfield, which at the moment sat unplanted, empty, and flat. Had I gone that way I’d have stood out among the nothingness like a lone figure streaking through an open field fleeing from a walrus a in a suit, so east was out.
To the south was the Kansas River, and beyond that, Eudora. I wouldn’t get too far fleeing in that direction before I was up to my neck in brown water. There was a bridge, but I’d need to walk a few miles to the east to get there so it should be obvious that south wasn’t the best option either.
The north was also out. Like the east, there was nothing for miles but more unplanted pastureland and no adequate cover.
That left west, a half a dozen miles of trees broken only by the occasional gravel road. The Walrus wasn’t stupid, he’d see that west was the best option and so I only had to wait.
The itching along my spine decreased, meaning that the healing was near to complete. So I rolled over onto my stomach, rose, and knelt at the edge of the woods, the Winchester ready at my shoulder. I took a few deep breaths and waited for the Walrus to show himself. I moved the barrel left, then right, scanning the back of the house for any sign of an angry walrus.
Soon enough he came into view, running as quick as a walrus around the exact corner of the house I had hoped he would. I could see that he was so full of rage that he plodded on without any notion that crippling pain was only a rifle-shot away. I smiled, brought his left kneecap into my sights, breathed out, and slowly squeezed the trigger of the old Winchester.
At that exact moment, the clouds parted and the sun shown down upon me with such ferocity that I found myself blinded and it caused me to flinch as I fired the rifle.
The shot rang out its cracking roar that echoed off the hill and trees.
“You missed!” the Walrus called.
I never miss. I cursed. Later I’d swear that the sun had actually giggled at my dilemma.
I squeezed off another shot but I was shooting blind. I couldn’t see crap anymore as the sun continued to blaze.
“Oklahoma!” the Walrus roared with such vehemence that the casual observer would be forced to seriously rethink musical theater.
I cursed and squeezed off another shot as the Walrus sprinted toward me. I couldn’t see much but white light, but I could hear the creature’s grunting and the thunderous plod of his mighty feet drawing closer and closer.
He continued screaming my name in such frenzy that any birds brave enough to still be hanging out following the gunshots were now winging their way to a safer location—like Alaska. I fired a fourth time, and then a fifth, shooting erratically now in hopes that one of the bullets would find its target.
I stopped shooting and tried to calm myself, which wasn’t easy as the Walrus pounded up the hill. I still couldn’t see a thing but sunlight so I closed my eyes. I took three big breaths.
In through the nose.
Out through the mouth.
In and out.
In and out.
I cleared my head and took myself out of the world. Nothing mattered anymore. The wind, the sunlight, the music of nature—it didn’t exist. There was just me and the unseen presence of a walrus running through the Kansas grassland.
I raised the Winchester. The wheeze and puff of the Walrus’s labored breath, the ponderous thud of his massive feet, and the groan of agony coming from the earth were getting louder by the second. He was right on top of me.
The rifle cracked followed almost at once by a slight “Ooof!” from the Walrus, and the sound of his considerable body hitting the ground and sliding through the fallen leaves toward me.
A cloud passed over the Sun and I looked down to find the Walrus just inches from where I knelt. He writhed around in the dead leaves, clutching his left knee with both hands. Blood bubbled through his fingers.
He looked up at me.
“You shot me!” he cried.
“What’d you expect?” I said, pointing the rifle at him.
The Walrus lumbered to his feet, well—foot. He hopped about for a moment, almost like a cartoon, still clutching his left knee.
“I’m going to kill you!” He screamed, and hopped toward me.
I sighed and squeezed the trigger for the last time and blew out his other knee. He passed out on his short journey to the ground. He lay still, almost peaceful, as the shot echoed off into the distance, followed by the silence of a cool autumn day.
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