No Hunting. The sign was splattered with buck shot, a faded red with faded black words barely legible through the bullet holes.
I am a woman. A huntress out of my male preconceived natural environment, but this, now this is an environment. A cool October wind trying its best to break through the zipper of my camo jacket, the wet and boggy ground covering my hiking boots with the mud of the centuries, the smell of dew on the earth around me, and the constant awareness of the large rifle hanging on my shoulder. Yep, that rifle is my purse. I can survive with that rifle. That rifle is my purse, and these bullets are my meal tickets. This woman can get whatever she wants with this rifle and these bullets. At first, it is difficult when the realization sets in that you are a woman. Well, that is until your hair grows long and your body develops. I never was one for gussy`n up, but I am not bad look`n and I know it. This little trait has helped me sometimes through the years, but most is the awe of how intimidating a woman like me can be with a slight smirk, dirty hands, and a gun pointed and aimed to kill.
I’ve been on my own since I was twelve because being cooped up in some fat man’s kitchen, doing dishes and cooking, ain’t my cup of tea if you get my drift. I mean, who wants a man with hands so round he can barely make a fist reaching out every time you walk by and pinching or patting your butt like you were not even human-- more like an amusement park if you ask me. He would just sit at the table like a pig to slop and spit and drool when he spoke--if speak`n is what you would call it. He was from somewhere across seas and treated me like a Negro girl. So needless to say that little predicament did not last long. At first, I was a little afraid. Wondering when the fat man would get tired of just the pats and pinches and try to take it further. So I devised a plan. It was going to be simple. When the fat man gave me his rifle to go hunt rabbit, I would ditch that cabin and head for the hills to live free, alone, and no longer worry about how or what I was going to do. But you see, ninety-five percent of the time, plans do not work out like you have imagined.
My original plan was to have a bag stashed in the old barn, and when the fat man gave me his gun, I would hit the high road and never be seen or heard from again, but with every good and innocent plan, something went wrong. I do not know if it was just my body language that set him on high alert or maybe he was one of them physics or something, but that early Wednesday morning when he handed me his rifle and a box of shells, he gave me this knowing look. It was like he could see right through my act. Like he knew I was up to something, which at that age I was not incredibly good at hiding things, so I would not doubt it if something seemed peculiar with my behavior. I walked outside stretching in the morning dew and sun, and set out in the direction of the barn. I guess he had waited a minute and followed me out there because right when I reached down to pull my bag from underneath some old boards, I heard him holler my name. “Silly, now where on God’s green earth do you think you’re going?” Of course, not to have planned for this, I froze in my tracks like a guilty puppy. I remember turning slowly around and the fat man not being but five feet away from me. So I did what any desperate woman would do, I raised that rifle to my sights and let him know that I was leaving. The fat man was not having that. He rushed at me, and I let my finger slip down on that trigger and blew his left knee cap into the back of his leg. I ran from there and kept running. I knew I had to get somewhere and get somewhere fast because once the law heard that a servant girl just blew out a man’s knee with his own gun, well the chase would be on. So I ran till I could not run any more. About lunch time I had run clear down to the river which ran east and west about twelve miles from the cabin. I knew if I followed the river east I would walk right into a town. So I decided to try the west. I felt like the outlaw cowboys I would read about in the dime store books. I felt the rush of the pine scent sink deep into my lungs. As the wind rushed by, the sound through the pine needles brought chills to my spine like a faint whisper from glass chimes. The river was running quickly towards the west, almost like it was trying to lead me into the direction of my freedom. So I walked for what seemed like hours. I do not remember what I was thinking about then, but I do remember the backdrop of the environment. It was surrounded by trees and mud. Patches of wildflowers sprung up here and there where the branches allowed the sun to reach through. Alongside the river there were cat tails and tiny dragon flies circling the top of the water. The sun peaked over the frosty mountains in the south. The ancient mountains draped a dark shadow over the earth like a cloak. Parts of the sunlight and the mountain’s shadow painted abstract pictures on the top of the water. It was beautiful. After walking for some time, my stomach began to get restless with me so I went on a hunt. It was good eating that day. Shot me a rabbit and built a fire and ate like royalty. It hasn’t always been good times for me, but every now and again my luck changes.
After a good nap, I got up gathered my things and got rid of the evidence of my fire by pouring river water on top of it and scooping fresh dirt over it and covering it with leaves. Figur`in that was good enough, I hit the trail again and walked deep into the night. The realization that I was completely on my own started to sink in as I hiked along. What was I going to do for money? Where would I sleep? What would happen to me? These were constant questions flowing through my thoughts. I realized that the only thing I could do was, at first, steal or maybe trade furs for bullets.
As I let these thoughts bury themselves, it became very dark beneath the thicket of trees, luckily the moon had come out to see me. So I continued to follow the length of the river by moon light until my feet led me to an old warn down cabin set deep in the trees and brush. Cautiously, I walked slowly checking the property for any signs of life outside before I took a step inside. After being satisfied that this house was long since deserted, I made my way to the door. The boards under my feet creaked and moaned with age as I progressed to the door. Reaching out for the handle and swinging it open like a mad man with my rifle raised, I made my way into the house. Nothing. I stumbled around until I found a lantern and taking it outside so the moon could be used as my light, I reached in my pocket and grabbed my matches and lit that oil soaked wick. I slept like a baby that night, better than I ever did under that man’s roof. I do not know if it was me being so exhausted or just the fact that I was free, but I am sure I could have slept for days. I awoke around six the next morn`n with the sun just creep`n over the east window. I was shocked to see how torn up the house was. The table and chairs were broken and knocked over, and there was one old bed in the far corner. The quilt on top covered in a thick layer of dust. I searched around the inside and found some canned peaches, and then decided to search the outside. I needed something to help with my hunting and cooking. I walked to the front of the house and there was nothing there but a few spider webs, so I decided to try my luck in the back. Boy did my luck serve me well.
I found a mini-arsenal packed deep in the back of the dilapidated barn. I found an old long barrel 357 revolver and a half full box of bullets and even a leather holster to boot. I thought I was in heaven. So I added these items to my load, and then I kept looking. I ended up covered head to toe in dust, grime, and spider webs and came out with a hand gun, a pair of wire cutters, and a new shirt that was lined in fleece. I also found some lard soap and a cow hide folded up and pressed away in the small hay loft. I do not think I have ever sneezed as much as I did that day, but that little adventure was worth it. It was about nine o'clock when I got back to walking. Once again I walked till around one and had to set up a small pitch camp and hunt and eat my supper. I ended up shooting some trout out of the river and using the wire cutters to pull the head off and cut down the side, so I could cook it through and pay attention to the color of the meat. Could not afford to get food poison by a lazy mistake. After lunch, I once again covered my tracks and continued to follow the river. I walked for hours. I thought I was lost for sure. The dark was coming up quick, so I knew I had to find shelter at least for a couple of hours. It was too dark to hunt and too early to quite walking. That river was awfully peaceful, and I could hear the night critters coming out to scavenge and gather their food. I was about to give up and just sleep by the river when I saw a house just up the hill. It was a small wood house, and I could see the candles and lanterns shining their light into the darkness. It was like a lighthouse guiding me through. I walked up to the fence line and climbed over. I was cautious once again, listen`n to the dark and trying not to make too much noise. I finally made it to a window, and decided to have a peek in to see what I was dealing with. As I eased my head just enough to peer through into light, there he was. He stood about six foot tall. He was a lanky man with scruff and a mustache. I could not see his eyes from where I was at, but something about his manner made me more comfortable than that of the fat man. So I decided to take a chance and knock. The worst he could do would be to tell me to get the hell off his property before he shot me; why not? I moved back from the window, shouldered my rifle, and walked around to the front door. I do not think I have ever been that nervous in all my life. I took a deep breath and knocked, once…twice… then a third time. I stepped back for what seemed like forever, and then I heard footsteps coming to door. I was shaken in my boots. He pulled open the door so quick that I thought the wind coming off of it was sure to knock me off of the porch. He walked into the open doorway with his rifle drawn. This time the gun was on me. “What the hell do you want?” I did not know what to do. I tried to speak but the words got stuck in my throat.
“I’m sorry sir,” I said with a tremble to my voice. I guess it took him hearing my voice to realize I was a young girl because he slowly let the rifle drop into a less threatening position. Then I continued. “I saw your light on, my name is Silly. I was just wondering if I might bunk up in your shed over yonder for the night. Maybe wash up a bit if that would be alright?” He just stood there looking at me. Then he looked at my holster and my rifle. With a curious and cautious face he stepped out of the door way and made a jester for me to come in. “I really don’t want to dirty up your place sir, if it’s all the same to you I’ll just stay outside.”
Then he did something no one ever did for me. He said “Nonsense, you come on in and wash up. I will make the spare bed. Where did you come from? Where is your family?” I do not know what came over me, but I walked in. We sat up that night and talked for hours.
That man ended up to be my first love. I think it was more of a brother-sister kind of love. He taught me to read and write, and we discussed different aspects of life. He was a loner just like me. During those years I helped around the house and with the upkeep of the animals, and during the night time we would sit by the fire and by a kerosene lantern read poetry and fairy tales and anything else I could get my sponging brain wrapped around. I loved my life with him, my George.
One night around mid-July I had just finished cleaning the kitchen, and I heard what sounded like breaking glass. It startled me, so I ran outside to see what had happened. I looked around and did not see anything, so I walked around the back of the house. As I turned my last corner I smelt a fire, and when I finally was facing the shed, the whole damn thing was up in flames. I scooped the bucket off of the wash bin and ran around to the water pump, the whole time I kept hollering for George, but he never answered or even came to help me. By the time I got the third bucket-load of water, the shed was nearly completely collapsed. George was nowhere to be found. I stood there looking at the shed and realizing there was nothing I could do, but watch it burn completely, and then put out the coals. So that’s what I did. I sat up all night and watched the shed burn to the ground. Occasionally, I would yell for George, but he never answered. Right at dawn the fire had gone down low enough where the bucket water actually did some good and by eight, I had the fire out. I flipped my bucket over and sat and waited for George, but by twelve he still was not home. That is when I started to get nervous. I looked through the house and found George’s rifle and hat, so I knew he did not run off anywhere. I checked his bed and it still was made from the day before. I felt a knot swell up in my chest when I realized the possibility of George dying in that fire. I thought back to the night before and what had I heard, and when I saw George last. I realized then that it was George who started the fire, and the glass breaking was the kerosene lamp hitting something. Around mid-day I walked over to the crispy rubble of the shed and began digging through for any signs of George. After a while I almost gave up when I spotted them. There they were broken and bent beneath the roof support beam: George’s glasses. I ran to them and scooped them up like a mother would to her child and began to cry. I think I cried until all of my tears were gone. I was alone again, and the only man I ever loved was dead. I left that house the next day. Carrying all my belongings in a pack and strapped with my pistol and rifle. That was the last time I saw that house. Sometimes when I look at George’s glasses I want to go back there to be closer to him, but that would only make me weak again. That would only make the memories of that night come burn`n and thrash`n at my soul again.
I walked for days after that--not stop`n to eat or drink, just walk`n in a livi`n dead daze of unparalleled sorrow. It seemed that my loss of George took the color out of the earth. Instead of the vibrant life of colors, it was a dingy and dull scene of black and white. Finally one afternoon, I came across a quaint little town, and I stopped by the inn for a wash and some food. The people were very nice, did not ask questions, and just gave me what I asked for. I traded some rabbit, fox, and raccoon hides for some food rations and some bullets. I did not stay long. After about three hours of rest I set out on my way again. I was just a weary traveler looking for my home.
Now I am twenty one years of age and still alone and free. I still feel a bottomless pit of loneliness, and I miss George every day. I do not cry, and I still feel like my heart is running from something. It is no longer the fat man or the thought of being stuck somewhere, but now I think it is more so the thought of settling down and growing old that keeps me moving. I walk every day still. I have seen many wonderful and beautiful things. I have traveled all throughout Alabama and the southern states; I have walked through all types of rain and sunshine. I have shot a man, who most likely died from blood loss that day. I can kill any animal and skin and cook it. I am not afraid to get dirty, and I enjoy being able to be lost in my thoughts. I carry a journal with me to remind myself that I am human and to keep my sanity from being lost to the silence. I carry around a couple of books, and occasionally find one that interests me and add it to my burden. So today when I ran into that bullet speckled “No Hunting” sign I had to leave my mark to let people know that I too was here and that I to do not give a hot damn about their rules or regulations. If they have a problem with me hunting for my food, then they can come find me. I’ll be waiting.