Waterdogs - Story #2 cut from Growing Up Stupid


“We need to go on an outing,” my dad says. “Just us men.” He rents a cabin out in the Arizona desert, Camp Waterdog it’s called, named after these little lizards that swim in the water. No girls allowed. We’re going to stay here a couple of days so the first thing dad wants to do is to go grocery shopping. That sounds boring, but dad treasures his errands and this time my brother will go. Evidently not everybody in this cabin has the same mission in mind. My mission is to shoot the rifle.

“I’m leaving,” dad says. “If you don’t want to come, take these bullets and go out and shoot.” He hands me a big case of bullets. That’s how I found myself with a case of bullets and a brand-new rifle, all alone in the Arizona desert at the age of ten.

I shoot the hell out of everything. Every creature I come across, I shoot at. I shoot birds. I shoot lizards. I shoot snakes. I shoot flies. I shoot butterflies. I see the little waterdogs swimming in the water. It’s a shallow lake so you can see them swimming. I follow them with my rifle sites and shoot. I shoot cactus. I like to shoot cactus to see the juice come leaking out. It’s like the cactus is a bad guy. I shoot it and it bleeds. I shoot rocks. The ricochet sound is neat-o so I shoot a lot of rocks. The bullets fly everywhere. I’m shooting everything I think would be interesting to shoot.

Ants, I shoot ants. I find anthills and shoot ants. I notice the hole on the anthills. I shoot the hole. Ants come out like a meteor hit their city, confused, like they’re asking each other, “What happened?” I look at them wondering what are they thinking? How are they communicating? I shoot them one at a time, otherwise I can’t tell if they’re hit and that isn’t fun. But when I shoot one, the dirt flies everywhere and covers the body so I don’t know if I hit that one or not so after a while I leave the ants alone.

I look for things that bite people. I don’t like to shoot cute things. I decide I should shoot things that are a menace to people, like spiders and snakes. This is my mission now. I know dad returned from grocery shopping but it’s going to be boring back there. I keep shooting although it’s starting to get dark and I’m hungry. I shoot my way back to the cabin where dad and George sit inside, drinking beer and coke. “We knew you were okay,” they say. “We knew ‘cause we kept hearing gunshots.”

In the morning we decide to all go hunting. George has dad’s shotgun and I have my rifle. Dad has a beer. We walk down a dirt road. Nobody mentions any rules. We walk behind dad, shooting at whatever we see while he drinks his beer.

“Watch this,” my brother says. I look up at a tree and see this bird staring at us. It looks like an owl up there. George takes a shot and the bird is gone. There are only feathers, a lot of them, fluttering down. This catches dad’s interest.

“What are you shooting at?”

We don’t answer but he sees the feathers. “It looked like an owl,” I say.

“You can’t shoot owls!” he says to George. “What the hell you shooting owls for? Don’t shoot owls!”

Thanks for telling us now. Why are owls off the list? There are no rules in my family. It’s weird going back and forth from the structure of school and the military at dad’s base to having to guess at the rules at home.

George and I continue to shoot at things like rocks, cactus or anything but owls. Dad watches once or twice and notices I’m a good shot. We’re walking down this dirt road in the desert, a hot, flat place with sand, cactus, rocks and nobody else anywhere. We’re walking alongside a skimpy little creek with a modest bit of water in the middle. About twenty yards away we can see a small snake in the water crawling onto the dry area of the shore.

“Hey Davey,” dad says. “See that snake? Shoot it.”

“I’ll not only shoot it,” I say, “but I’ll shoot it in the head.”

“You can’t shoot that snake in the head from here.”

“Watch me.” I have a lot of experience from yesterday, so I take my rifle, aim it and shoot the snake right in the head, first shot. I can’t believe I really did that. I get this kind of feeling like I have an exceptional ability, like this is an important thing. I’m not thinking this – it’s just a feeling that popped into my head.

“Wow,” dad says. “I can’t believe it. Wow. Good shot.”

George stands right there next to us not saying a word, a typical Blevins.

“Did you see that, George?” dad says. “Did you see what your brother just did?” He’s bragging about me to George to piss him off. Everybody knows it and it’s working. George doesn’t say anything. We start walking again, with dad drinking his beer and bragging about me if he says anything at all.

“Hey Davey,” dad says. “Shoot that bird.”

I can hardly see a bird, so I look around first. There’s a bird on the horizon, on the ground, walking. “Okay,” I say. I can see it but it’s far away, at least sixty yards or more. I lie down on the ground in a prone position, like at the shooting match.

“That’s right, Davey,” dad says. “You can hold a gun still if you lie down and take your time.”

I take aim and I’m really careful. I shoot. The bird goes down. I shot it perfectly. I can’t believe it myself. This confirms it - I found something in myself that not very many people can do. You don’t think a lot of yourself if you can walk. Almost everybody with two legs can walk. But this, this is something special. I never even trained. Even though I feel like a spazz in almost everything, I instantly know this is one thing I’m good at.

“I can’t believe you made that shot,” dad says. “Did you see your brother? He shot that bird from that distance? Your brother is a hell of a shot. A hell of a shot.”

I get up and we keep walking. We don’t even go over to see the dead bird with a hole in his head. “Wow,” dad says. “You’re a hell of a shot. Did you see that, George? Your brother is a hell of a shot.”

He’s not talking. I wish dad would shut up, too. Doesn’t he know my brother has friends and I don’t? “A hell of a shot,” dad says. “Your brother is a hell of a shot. Did you see that?”

When we return, dad gets a can of hash and warms it up in the frying pan. He puts an egg in the middle of it and that’s what we eat the whole time. I’m so sick of eating hash that I try to fry an egg. It goes great until I try to flip it over. Now I have scrambled eggs. Scrambled eggs don’t taste as grody as hash and scrambled eggs so that’s what I eat. Now I’ve learned two things on this trip: I’m good with a rifle and I’m good with scrambled eggs. Actually, I’ve learned three things: scrambled eggs are better when somebody else makes them.

Dad wants to fish on the shores of the lake so we go with him, this time without our guns. He stands while casually casting out his rod near a thicket of bushes. We’re standing about twenty feet behind and watching him when he hears a noise, a shaking noise, coming from the bushes nearby. “Now that’s a rattlesnake,” he says. “Get some rocks and try to kill it.”

I throw rocks at the general direction. The rattling noise gets louder and louder. “Dad could die if we don’t kill this snake,” I tell George. George says nothing and he has a funny expression on his face, I notice. George and I have a big responsibility and I’m pretty scared. This is our biggest challenge in life up to now and I don’t even have my rifle. I wish I had my rifle.

I’m throwing rocks as fast as I can. I’m not aiming because I don’t know where to aim and I’m frightened to death. George takes his time. He’s watching, listening carefully and paying attention. He throws a rock and immediately the rattling stops. He did it!

“George killed it!” I say. “George killed the rattlesnake!”

George is pretty happy. He’s looking at dad.

“George saved your life, Dad. George did it!”

All that dad had to do to escape imminent death was to move over a few feet away from the bushes. He didn’t do anything. He stood there relaxing and fishing while we threw rocks in a life and death battle. We were powerful. I believe we saved his life this day. When we return to school, I tell everyone, “George saved our dad’s life.” I’m so proud of my big brother. “He crushed this rattlesnake that was ready to strike him, ” I say. George is kind of going along with it, smiling and not correcting me, so my story gets better every time I tell it. Pretty soon he’s on the ground wrestling with the snake, George’s hands choking right behind its head while the snake’s tail is wrapped around his chest. Dad doesn’t seem very grateful. He doesn’t brag about George, not even once. I did, though. My big brother is amazing. I even told my teacher.