With Trembling Hands


By Cameron Burry

His breath lay thick in the air, pumping out rhythmically like the exhaust from an old pickup truck. Though it was well into the middle of spring, the chill of the winter winds had not yet given up their claim on the stretch of dilapidated farmland that he called home. Even in the harsh chill of the early twilight, Walter sat outside on the porch of his run down farmhouse tilting forwards and back in the rocking chair that his father had hand-crafted out of cedar and calloused palms. Over the years, he had tried to copy his father’s technique in an attempt to make a chair of his own, but he could never get the balancing just right. His father always told Walter that he lacked the patience of an artisan, that Walter would always be just another dirt farmer.

He tried anyways up until a few years ago when his hands became too knotty and unsteady for the precision-demanding tools in the old workshop on the corner of his property. He always told himself that he would go back out to the workshop and give it one more try. Maybe, in his old age, his patience would be more forgiving. But as the days came and went, he started to realize that the overgrown path to the workshop was just a little too treacherous for his old, rickety muscles to navigate these days.

His old neighbor had a boy that used to come over and clear the path for him. The weeds would grow up in a week causing the pathway from the house to the workshop and from the workshop to the garage where his Oldsmobile sat dormant to become nearly impassable. The boy would come over once a week and clear out the weeds for Walter in exchange for a five-dollar bill and a basket of eggs from the now-vacant coop.

Three years ago, his neighbor had to sell his land and move into the city. Walter considered doing the same, but this house was his house. His father had built it from nothing. He had lived in it for almost ninety years now and he’d be damned if he was going to leave it now. Even when the young couple bought his neighbor’s old house and started throwing their loud, late parties that kept him up well past a suitable hour, he still got up early to sit on his porch and enjoy the sunrise, just as his father had done.

The young couple and their loud parties didn’t belong out here. This was a place of peace and reminiscence where phantoms of his childhood still galloped along the fields, singing songs of nostalgia and laughing out stories of days long since passed. He called the police several times on the young couple, their loud parties and young friends, but it never seemed to stop. The two houses were the only ones for miles, so the couple must have known that Walter was the one complaining about them. That only seemed to spur them on more and more to throw louder and later parties. He’d walk over to the fence that separated the two yards and find empty beer cans, half-smoked cigarettes and used condoms flung over the edge of the fence, almost in silent protestation of the old man’s quiet and traditional way of life. Even as their litter crept more and more on Walter’s property, he would not leave. This was his house and he wasn’t going to let some sonofabitch pervert yuppies drive him away from what his family had built.

As the sun began to set in the distance and past the trees that lined the furthest corners of his property, he watched as a pair of young cars blaring young music rolled up the driveway of his old neighbor’s home. A group of hipsters climbed out of the doors, talking loudly and flashing knowing jeers toward the old man’s home as they entered the house along with their sounds of garish swearing and vile discourse.

He teetered back and forth on his father’s old rocking chair, watching them from a distance and knowing full well that they would be just as loud for many hours to come. He considered calling the police once more, but he knew that it would do little good. It never did. The police would come. They would apologize. They would leave. The music would start again and nothing would change.

Walter’s trembling knuckles clenched on the arms of the old rocking chair as he thought of it; the night ahead. He hadn’t had a proper night’s sleep since the young couple moved in. And though it pained him to think of it, he knew that they would be having their little parties long after his lonely corpse was dead and buried.

Walter stood up from the rocking chair, giving his old and shaky frame plenty of time to muster up the strength to straighten out. Hearing his old bones creak and pop, he grimaced at the thought of how decrepit his body now was, much like the rest of this old farm. With as much strength as he could muster, he shuffled his way into the rotting house and across the living room towards the mantle.

“Use it for huntin’ and for goddamn vagrants,” his father would tell him when he was younger. He knew that if he had ever married and had children, his wife would have made him put it in the closet upstairs, away from immediate reach. But there was a benefit to being a perpetual bachelor.

With quivering, unsteady hands he pulled it from the mantle and checked the chamber. He hadn’t taken it down for nearly nine years now, but it was still full, ready for anything, just like his father taught him. He shuffled back to the porch and sat back down, letting the cool metal rest on his knees inspiring some blood to rush through his muddied veins and invigorating him with a quick splash of youth that he had not known for some time now.

He rocked back and forth until the sun had fallen below the tree line and the only light in the nearest view was the dim lights of his old neighbor’s house as the young bastards went on and on.

“Remember, boy,” his father would say. “Vagrants are only good for two things; day labor and target practice. If they won’t do one, make ‘em do the other.”

His father had lived through the worst of the Great Depression where thieves and conmen were all too common in the remote regions of the land. In a working farm where produce was bountiful, traveling vagabonds would stop over to try and work for a day for a hot meal and a penny or two. His father was taken once or twice; enough to jade him against anyone coming up his driveway. That’s when he bought the old Remington. Any time one of those tramps would make his way up to his front step, a shot across the nose would do well to scare them back down the lane.

Walter watched as the side door of his neighbor’s old house opened and a pair of giggling youth snuck into the shadows and towards his fence. He watched as their silhouetted forms discarded a hodgepodge of clothes along the grass and nestled up against the fence, groaning and moaning in all manners of unearthly tones.

“A good warnin’, and the tramps’ll scatter,” his father used to say.

He leveled out the old rifle, pointing it straight across the field and a few feet from where the two forms had become intertwined in a fit of fanatical distortion, the heat from their bodies drifting up over the fence in a steamy haze not unlike the line of breath expiating out of Walter’s own mouth. Walter had been a crack shot in his youth. He could nail down a crow from two hundred feet without flinching a muscle. And though the years had taken their toll on the rest of his senses, he liked to think that his aim remained as pinpoint as ever.

With trembling hands, he leveled out the old Remington. His eyes on his goal and with an uncharacteristic smirk on his lips, he squeezed the trigger, the kick-back knocking into his frail chest, throwing the wind from his lungs and his body from the chair.

Even as the welt began to grow on his broken chest, Walter was certain that his aim was true; that his old hands had not failed him.

But as he oriented himself, in the distance he could hear the cries of alarm. Not the screams of abrupt astonishment and retreat into the house, but the shouts of horror and requirement.

“Ohmygod! Help, dammit, help! He shot her!”

Squinting in the distance, he could see a faint tint of red spattered across the grass in his neighbor’s yard.

Category: Fiction, SNHU Creative Writing, SNHU online creative writing, SNHU Student