William silently climbed out of bed and quickly dressed. The shiny, new 20-gauge that Mama and Daddy had given him for his birthday waited patiently for him on the dresser. William was so excited to try it out, he'd hardly been able to sleep a wink all night. Grabbing the shotgun, he tiptoed quietly down the stairs. Daddy'd be so proud when William arrived at the breakfast table with his very first coon that he'd hunted all by himself.
"Let's go, Jack," William whispered to his hound.
The youngster shivered as he left the house, more from anticipation that from the crisp morning air. The excitement rose higher with each step farther from the house. It was almost too much for him to contain, but Mama and Daddy had taught that he had to be careful with guns, so he kept himself from running towards the nearby woods. Fingering the shells that he'd shoved into his pocket, he followed along behind Jack. A few feet into the trees, the hound stopped, his big wet nose up in the air.
"Good boy!" William whispered to the hound. "Go get it, boy!"
Jack took off like a shot. William, having paused to load a shell into his new gun, feared that he wouldn't be able to find the hound, which had quickly disappeared from sight. He could hear Jack barking though, so he ran in the direction from where he hoped the sound was coming. William felt a little butterfly begin to flutter around in his stomach. He played in these woods by himself all the time, but suddenly they seemed awfully big...and dark. Suddenly Jack stopped barking and William, who hadn't sighted the hound yet, found himself lost. When the hound began to bay and, William, relieved, raced in the direction of the noise. The crunch of the frosty leaves under his feet seemed to echo through the woods as he worried that the treed coon would escape before he could get there.
"Down boy! Here!" William shouted as he caught up to Jack.
Sneaking a few inches closer, William scanned the tree as he raised the shotgun. There it was! He quickly took aim and fired. The coon dropped. The leaves beneath him cushioned the ground so that it hardly made a sound. Racing over to his prize, William carefully laid down his weapon and gingerly touched the critter. It seemed impossible that he'd hit it on his very first try. His finger poked the critter, but the coon didn't move at all. Staring down into the animal's vacant eyes, William wondered if coons had Mamas and Daddies that waited for them to come home like William's would be waiting for him. For just a moment the youngster was saddened by the thought, and he remained on his knees next to the dead coon, unable to pull his gaze away from it. Jack, puzzled by William's stillness, bounced impatiently. Finally, unable to stand it any longer, the hound jumped up on the William's back, toppling the little boy over and knocking him out of his reverie.
"You're wantin' to show our coon off to Daddy, huh!" William laughed, as the hound bounced in circles around him. "All right, let's git home."
"Find Daddy, Jack!" William grabbed his prize by the hind feet, slung his shotgun over his shoulder, and chased after the dog. He was completely turned-around, so he couldn't lose sight of Jack. Wouldn't be any good to have killed his first coon with his very first shot if Daddy had to come find him cause he'd gotten lost.
William was relieved when he broke through the trees, right behind Jack, and found himself on a familiar piece of ground. Making the rest of the short stroll home, William imagined the pride in his daddy's face when he saw the coon. Arriving at the house, he saw that the kitchen light was on and found himself wondering if Mama and Daddy had noticed he was gone. Gee, he hoped not, it would ruin the surprise. Quietly, he slipped onto the porch and rested his shotgun against the house. Then he slowly turned the doorknob and sneaked inside. Tiptoeing, he made his way towards the kitchen door. Waiting just outside, he listened to the sound of his parents chatting happily. They hadn't missed him yet. He was sure of it. William's excitement practically floated him off the floor as he burst through the door. His face beaming with pride, he held the coon up for his Mama and Daddy to see.
"Well, look at that, Mama!" William's Daddy stated, "Our boy's gone and got himself a coon."
"First shot, Daddy! Honest!"
"Well now, ain't you turning into a fine hunter!" his Daddy praised.
William's Mama took the coon from her son, inspected it to show her appreciation of his fine hunting skills, and laid it in the sink. She remained turned away from her boy as tears well up in her eyes, but William noticed her hand rise up to cover her mouth - the way she always did when she was crying.
'What's the matter, mama?" Williams asked, his voice filled with concern. Suddenly he worried that he'd done something bad. He hated it so when Mama cried, he never wanted to be the one to cause it.
"Aw, it's nothing, William. You're just growing into such a little man so fast," Mama explained as she turned to face him, "You sure do make your Daddy and me proud, don't he, Papa?"
"He sure does, Mama. He sure does!!"
William beamed. What a great morning it had been. He killed his first coon all by himself with his very first shot...and his Mama had called him a man. Yep, it was great day!