Friday, January 21, 2011
The Curse Of The Black Rifle
It was a night like this one. It was cold, misty, wet and miserable and I was glad when I got through Lexington on my way to the camp. I followed the wet road to the old Howard crossroads and took a left. Not much farther, sitting right in the center of the road was a big sign that said “Bridge Out”. I sat thinking about how crappy that was and which way I should go, then turned my old truck around. There was a detour sign pointing back to Lexington that read “Detour 1 mile” I turned and headed back down the road. It was a long way to get around another way and I reached the detour that led in beside an old concrete company. I turned right and headed down the gravel road. I knew this road had to cross the river too and hoped it was safe to cross after all the rain we had been having. A mile down the road I came to the bridge.
I was glad to see that it was a brand new concrete bridge and you could see where fresh red dirt had been pushed into place in front of the edge as I slowed down but the soft dirt made the truck slide and turn almost sideways as I came to a stop. The bridge was covered in ice. I looked at it for a minute wanting to make sure I could safely cross, put the truck in 4 wheel drive and eased forward. The tires just spun in the muck. I put it in all wheel drive but the truck just started sinking. I went forward, backwards and anything I could think of but, like a fool, I was stuck in the middle of the road. I got my cell phone out. No Service. I was stranded.
After trying the truck some more and holding the phone at every angle to get my phone to work, I decided to walk up the road to reach the ridge above me to get a signal. Everyone was already at camp and I knew they would come pull me out even if they griped about it. Two hundred yards after I crossed the bridge it started to rain, then sleet. After another hundred yards I was soaked. That’s when I saw the light.
Up in the woods a short ways I could see a porch light on and turned in the old driveway. Walking in I could see it was an old Antebellum style home with 4 columns in the front. The house looked neglected with peeling paint but I prayed they would have a phone. The light was from double lantern lights beside the front door that seemed to flicker in the rain. I moved up the steps and knocked on the door. It took a few minutes but finally the door opened a crack and I could see the piercing blue eye of an older man staring at me. He said “Are you here about the rifle?” Standing there cold and wet I thought fast. I said “I’d like to see it but I really need to use your phone too. I got stuck down by the bridge” He stared a minute at me then opened the door and let me in.
I introduced myself as the old man led me through the foyer and into a large parlor that was obviously his den. A nice fire was going in the fireplace even though the room was dusty and unkempt and I took off my jacket to stand near the blaze. The old man watched me warming myself and said “You’re the first person that has answered my ad.” He pointed to a phone on the desk and I hurried over and called the camp. The man told me the address and they said they would be there in less than an hour. I hung up, thanked the strange old man and asked him to tell me about the rifle.
He said “I’ll do better, I’ll show it to you.” Against the wall was a large glass fronted gun cabinet and he took a key from around his neck and unlocked it. He reached in and drew out a beautiful black rifle and brought it over to me. He seemed reluctant but placed it in my hands for me to examine. Instantly the rifle felt right and I looked at the barrel. It was a .300 Weatherby Magnum with a black composite stock and 4 x 10 Nikon scope. Absolutely beautiful. I lifted it and sighted through the scope at one of the lit desk lamps in the room. The rifle felt good, it felt like it belonged in my hand but I knew it was way out of my league to buy. I said “How much do you want for it?” He smiled slightly and said “Like the ad says, make me an offer.” He reached down to the desk and picked up the Holmes County Tribune and showed me the ad with a red circle around it. RIFLE FOR SALE BEST OFFER and his address. I knew it was worth well over $1000 and said that I knew that it was very expensive and I didn’t have that kind of money. He said “How much money do you have on you?” I said “I only have about ten dollars on me.” He smiled and said “Sold”.
While I stammered he pulled a bill of sale from the pile on the desk, signed it, turned and handed it to me. I reached in my pocket, pulled out my wallet and reluctantly gave him the $10 dollar bill.
The old man seemed to relax, put the rifle in a leather gun case and handed it to me. He said “We need a drink and then I’ll tell you a story” He poured two shots of pretty good brandy and we sat in a couple of wing back chairs to enjoy the fire. I held the rifle case across my knees. I was confused and unsure of what to do or say but finally I blurted out “How long have you been running the ad?" He smiled, twirled his drink and said “3 months, you’re the first person to respond.” I could only say “That seems odd.” He nodded his head and said “Now that the rifle is not mine anymore, I’m going to tell you a story. You can believe it or not, I don’t care. The thing to remember is to be very, very careful with Blackie.” His serious mood seemed to affect both of us and I waited for him to start but he was lost in the firelight.
I took another drink of the warming brandy and said “You named the rifle, Blackie?” He nodded again and started his story.
“I named the rifle Black Heart, Blackie for short and bought it brand new from the factory. They even put the scope on it. It's the finest rifle I’ve ever owned and you can hunt anything out there with it.” I felt a new chill go through me with his words, but he took no notice and continued, “I used to love to hunt deer and you can see I’ve taken some nice ones.” I looked at several mounted heads around the room with nice antlers. “I don't know but I think it was evil when it got here, maybe something was burned into the steel or the stock, but it is evil allright. The trouble was that Blackie felt so good to me, that I ended up taking it every time I went out. The other rifles I have haven’t been used since I got it. That black rifle seemed to become a part of me and I took a lot of deer, even a moose with it. Then after several years I found myself wanting to take it with me everywhere I went; reality was that I became obsessed with it or it with me.” My drink was running low and he refilled us without my asking, then continued. "Like I said, I was obsessed and after 5 years of owning it, I would find myself uncontrollably checking on it during the night and it started to affect my dreams.” He paused and took a sip as he stared blindly at the fire, lost in his memories again. “I found I couldn’t leave the house without it, couldn’t go to town or even the mailbox. I would wake up in the middle of the night and find myself oiling and polishing it and my dreams had turned dark and bloody with me shooting people. Friends, neighbors, strangers it didn’t matter, my dreams were filled with blood. Then I woke up while I was driving around and I have no real idea of what I was doing with the rifle in the car. It happened more than once and I don’t want to know. I'm afraid to know."
There had been a rash of shootings across the delta that year with over 10 people shot at night as they walked or stood by a window. It was unsolved and the whole area was frightened of the mystery shooter. I was afraid the confused man believed he was responsible. Most of the people had been shot cleanly between the eyes by a high powered rifle, but this trembling old man could not have possibly done it.
He continued, "I put the ad in the paper after I woke up one night down here in the den with the loaded barrel in my mouth. I think I woke up when I couldn’t reach the trigger with my finger. I put the ad in the paper and haven’t really had any problems lately with my dreams. I had a feeling it was time for the rifle to move on and you’re the one it wants.” He tipped his glass to me and said “Good Luck.” I got up and put my coat on, picked up the Weatherby, thanked him for the drink and headed for the door, He walked with me but stopped me at the door. "I know you think I’m crazy and I hope I am. You won’t have any problems.” I thanked him and left. I have never seen him again and hope he is right. I will say that recently I have been carrying "Blackie" with me more and more often and having some strange nightmares.