The Rifle (part of a series of southern short stories)
by Azure James
Well, if you think what I’m talkin’ about is crazy or somethin’, then I reckon you should hear a story ’bout West Virginny. I’m dern happy to live in Kentucky. ‘Least the people and the police here ain’t too rough. Ain’t like that in West Virginny.
My aunt lived there a while ago. ‘Bout maybe twenty minutes past the border. She had quite a story to tell.
There was this real slow man named Ralph Hopkins livin’ somewhere in West Virginny whereabouts thirty years ago. He lived round the town of Welch, but didn’t have no kin livin’ with him. Ralph liked walkin’ around the town and maybe goin’ to a jamboree or two, but his real favorite thing was huntin’ with his thirty-caliber rahfle.
To him, that rifle was more precious than gold. He kept it locked up in a nice box, though he didn’t even have no good bed to sleep in. Inherited it from his father, from what I hear. Anyways, it was the summer of ’69, and Ralph was goin’ over to his friend’s house. Didn’t have too many friends.
Ralph’s friend was this ol’ boy named Henry Pailler. Henry lived out in the sticks few miles from town with his wife and a dog named Tick. His house was on a big ol’ ravine cliff, so that if you got too drunk and stumbled out the door, you’d fall raht down the cliff ’bout a hundred feet. Henry was real careful not to have that happen. He put up a rope at the edge of that cliff, but the rope was startin’ to get old an’ he didn’t have no money to replace it.
Well, Ralph went to Henry’s house that summer of ’69, and Henry told him to bring that rifle of his. So, Ralph showed up and they talked about this and that an’ how ta cook an’ bake pies and talked about huntin’. Henry said he needed that ol’ rifle because he didn’t have no money to buy another rope. Well, somehow or other he convinced Ralph to loan it fer’ a week. Ralph said he’d get real mad an’ tell everyone if he didn’t give it back in time, but he gave over it all the same. After dinner, Ralph gave him the rifle and left. It was just bright enough outside fer’ to see that rope hangin’ over the cliff. Ralph went back home and kinda sat round till’ bedtime.
About a week after that, when the rifle was supposed to be returned, Henry said he needed to go out fer’ a drink. Once he left, his wife started gettin’ nervous. He’d been drinkin’ and dancin’ and whatnot every dern naht, and she was startin’ to think he was unfaithful. She’d also seen him lookin’ at that perty girl Joanna Hatfield. Yes, she was a Hatfield, but this ain’t the eighteen-hundreds so that don’ really matter. Henry said he’d be home at seven, but he didn’t show up till’ eight-thirty, when his wife was havin’ a conniption fit over what she thought he was doin’.
Raht when Henry opened the door, his wife started harrassin’ him about what he was doin’. He said nothin’ but drinkin’, but she knew that he was seeing Joanna Hatfield. You know how– because there wasn’t no smell of alcohol on his breath, and he didn’t stumble off the cliff into that ravine.
Henry said he was real tarred, so he lay down and tried to get to sleep, but he was really jes’ tryin’ to avoid his wife. Well she was in such a fit that she started tearin’ the whole dern house up lookin’ fer some “evidence.” After ’bout an hour of mess-makin’ she found what she was lookin’ fer. It was an old, faded-out picture of Joanna Hatfield.
While all this was goin’ on, Ralph couldn’t sleep, so he decided to take a walk over to Henry’s house, even though it was gettin’ dark. He just needed to get his rifle back, since he missed cleaning it and starin’ at it all the time. Ralph walked through the woods and up the slope to Henry’s house. Somethin’ didn’t quite seem right to him, but he wasn’t quite sure what. Well, Ralph found out real soon. Moment he opened the door, Ralph saw quite a sight. Henry’s body was on the floor, all bled out and red from gettin’ shot. The thirty-caliber rifle was laying right next to him. Ralph had quite a fit over that fer about five minutes, but then he decided to just take the rifle back anyways and go to his funeral when it came ’round. He was perty worried about if he’d killed himself, though. Even Ralph could figure out that Henry was usually too happy to just shoot himself, especially with someone else’s rifle. Ralph picked his rifle up off the ground and walked out of the house ‘quickly as he could. Well, he dern near fell off that cliff, just kinda hit the rope then remembered to stop walking. Right then, Ralph heard some sirens real close to him. There was some commotion, then a policeman ran up right behind the side of the house.
“Who are you?” demanded the policeman.
“Ralph Hopkins is my name,” said Ralph, slowly.
“Put that rifle down,” said the policeman.
“I ain’t shot him,” replied Ralph.
“Put that gun down this second,” yelled the officer. Ralph didn’t really pay attention. He just pointed his rifle towards the house, where the dead body was. Turns out ol’ Ralph didn’t know much about policemen. BANG! The officer shot Ralph right dead in the chest. Musta’ thought he was tryin’ to shoot him. Or maybe he jes’ didn’t like Ralph. He went backwards a step, and sort of rolled right over the rope, slid to the edge of the cliff, and fell off. His rifle fell off the cliff as well. No matter how hard they look, ain’t no-one’s ever found that rifle.