“Okay, are you ready to give this a try?” Patty decided changing the subject was the best approach, drawing his attention away from the state of the world. Leo nodded eagerly and though she couldn’t see his face behind the wrapping, she knew he was likely smiling. His hands were covered in fabric, a pair of thin work gloves that Gordon have given him to avoid the cumbersome bulkiness of his winter mittens. Patty bent over, placing the rifle in the boy’s hands, giving him quiet, but insistent direction on where to hold the handle, on placing his index finger on the trigger guard and cradling the chassis carefully in his opposite hand.
“Remember— you do not put your finger anywhere near the trigger unless you intend to shoot, understood?”
The young boy nodded, his finger twitching slightly in apparent anticipation.
“Put the stock in your shoulder here.” Patty knelt next to the boy and helped him position his arms and the rifle, trying to bind it all together, slowly moving both arms and torquing his upper body, as if he were a clay figurine that she was attempting to pose around a wire armature. To his credit, Leo kept his muscles slack, allowing his mother to move him at will, adjusting his placement, his posture, and his position without pushing back against her gentle, but insistent touch. Considering Leo was approaching the age where he was no longer interested in her hugs or kisses, this seemed remarkably tender to Patty, even given the fact that she in the middle of trying to maneuver him into a firing position. What strange days these were, indeed.
“How are you feeling?” She patted her son’s shoulder, squeezing it gently.
“Okay, I guess.” He held his posture, straight-backed, rifle held level, barrel pointing vaguely downrange.
“Great. Hold the rifle tight and square, aim through the scope, right here, okay?” She pointed toward the circular end of the CenterPoint scope, a low cost accessory that she and Gordon had picked up at a department store in town. Nothing fancy, nothing infrared, just the basics, which would have to do, considering the circumstances. “It doesn’t magnify much, magnifies up to nine times. It’s already been calibrated for the 6.5 Creedmoor at fifty meters, so nothing else for you to do there, but if we increase the range at all, we’ll need to recalibrate.”
Leo remained in his firing position, but said nothing and Patty knew she was getting too deep in the weeds for her son. However, she hoped that Gordon was absorbing some of this detail as well, after all, he needed it just as much as Leo did.
“Are you looking through the scope?”
Leo nodded stiffly, his head lowered and eye pressed closed to the circular reticule.
“You see the crosshairs? The four lines that inters—”
“I know what crosshairs are, mom.”
Patty muffled a smirk behind her bandana and squeezed his shoulder again.
“Of course you do, bud.” She leaned over slightly, looking down the length of the barrel, toward the direction of the paper targets in the distance, barely illuminated by the torchlight. “Find the target you want and center the crosshairs on that silhouette.”
Leo moved slightly, adjusting the position of his shoulders very slightly.
“Do you feel the breeze?”
Leo shook his head and Patty closed her eyes, trying to sense the shifting winds. Being all wrapped up in long sleeves, gloves, and even a bandana around her face, it was tough to gauge where the wind was coming from and how strong it was, which put them at a bit of a disadvantage.
“Normally you’d want to test the wind, but that’s difficult to do bundled under all these clothes, and honestly, at fifty meters it doesn’t matter quite so much.”
Leo retained his pose, but she could feel him stiffen slightly under her hand, the boy clearly getting antsy to just get on with the lesson. She couldn’t disagree— going through all of this verbally would only take them so far, she had to let him shoot eventually, and practical experience was the best way for him to learn.
“When you’ve got the target centered, draw a breath and hold it, okay, suck it into your lungs and lock it in there, ensure you don’t move as much as possible.”
She felt her son draw his shoulders up, taking a breath, then freezing, his posture locked tight.
“Finger to the trigger.”
Leo’s gloved finger slid smoothly from the trigger guard to the trigger.
Leo squeezed and the Mossberg roared a loud, echoing crack of blistering fire, the deafening boom almost painful to her ears at such close range. The twenty-four inch barrel jerked swiftly and suddenly upward, Leo lurching back with the kick, not anticipating the sudden shift in momentum. Leo managed to keep his grasp tight around the weapon and recovered quickly, but still expelled a breath of stiff air from pursed lips. The echoing report of the rifle carried over the trees, slowly cascading into faded volume like the roiling crash of a mid-summer thunderstorm.
“Woah.” Leo lowered the barrel, looking in the direction of the targets, which Patty felt pretty sure he’d missed cleanly. He hadn’t been prepared for the kick and she silently chided herself for not warning him sufficiently. They were both lucky the weapon hadn’t smacked him in the face.
“Should have warned you about that recoil, kid. Sorry.”
“That was awesome.”
“Well— it’ll be more awesome when I can get you to hit the target, but that was a good start.”
“Can I try it again?”
“Do you remember everything I said?”
“Sure.” His voice sounded dubious but Patty shrugged it off. They had several cases of ammunition, plenty to spare, and while locating extra rounds would be a problem eventually, it wasn’t yet.
“You see this?” She pointed toward the curved bolt at the right side of the weapon. “Lift it up and pull it back, it’ll eject the shell casing and load the next round. But before you fire, we need to police the brass. Do you know what that means?”
Leo shook his head.
“Pick up the shell casing— clean up after yourself. We’ve got plenty of ammunition, but it’s not infinite— there may come a time we need to figure out how to make more bullets. Whatever material we can retain will help with that.”
“Dad taught you all that? Even before all of this happened?”
“Your dad had— an eclectic collection of knowledge.” Patty tried to frame her words carefully, not wanting to make Gordon somehow feel inadequate or unprepared for their current situation. In truth, Gordon’s background working on his parent’s farm was likely to provide them much more value than Jake’s weapons training. Both, however, had their place. Leo nodded, seeming to understand her hesitation to get into too much detail, then racked the bolt and lowered the rifle, scanning the wilted, brown edged pasture for signs of the glittering brass casing. Wordlessly Gordon stepped forward, removing a torch from the ground and holding it down a bit, shining pale light along the surface of the ground. Gordon had been staying away from the lesson so far, choosing to draw back and watch it all from a distance, giving Patty and Leo their chance to bond, but as he ran the torch along the ground, the pale glisten of reflective light drew Leo’s eyes.
“There!” He bent and used his fingers to pinch the shell casing from the surrounding grass, dried and dead, lifting it between gloved fingers. He held it up, squinting at it, tilting it back and forth as he scrutinized it carefully. “We can make more bullets out of this?”
“I suppose we can— though I’m not sure how,” Patty admitted with a shrug. “Your father never got to that point in the lesson.” She chuckled alongside Leo and took the casing from him, stuffing it in her pocket as he readied the rifle for another shot. Patty pinched her lips closed, saying nothing, just giving her son the space and time to frame his next shot. She watched in silence as he went through the familiar motions, his face contorting beneath the wrapping, shifting in focus and memory. Eventually, he fell into the familiar posture and pose, his arms leveled, the barrel straight, his finger resting cleanly on the trigger guard as he fell into a surprisingly well-executed firing stance. She could hear him suck in a quiet breath, could see his shoulders square and steady, then watched as the finger glided less than an inch backwards. Then, there was a gentle squeeze, little more than a push of pressure and once again, the rifle cracked a sudden slashing bark of thunder.
But the recoil was far better controlled the second time through, Leo’s grip on the weapon firmer and more rigid, the weapon jolting but not jerking upwards. From the distance she stood, she couldn’t tell if his shot hit any of the targets, but already his movements were well-learned and well-practiced and she couldn’t help but nod in admiration of her son’s progress from the first shot to the second.
“Very nice, Leo. Much better.”
“I don’t think I hit any targets.”
“Maybe not, but you were clearly paying attention, which is almost more important than hitting the target. Anyone with a little luck can hit a target once— learning how to go about hitting the target consistently takes practice and knowledge. We’ll get you there.”
Leo nodded, lowering the rifle.
“Can I go and see Libby for a few minutes?” He gestured toward the barn, indicating where his favorite cow had been living for the past nearly three weeks, somewhat against Gordon’s better judgement.
“Sure. You’ve learned a lot tonight already. Go ahead— just be careful, okay? Remember the coyotes.” Patty nodded toward him, a silent reminder of the time, a week ago, when Leo had snuck out of the cabin to pay a visit to the cow and had ended up nearly being dragged down by wild, feral coyotes. Gordon had been forced to race outside and rescue him, but had suffered coyote bites and nasty burns for his trouble, injuries that were likely still a long way from healing.
As Leo walked off in the direction of the barn, Gordon drew up next to his wife, resting a hand on her back.
“You’re a good teacher.”
“It’ll be tough to tell how good a teacher I am until he really needs to put those skills to use. I’m not sure I want to find out just how good a teacher I really am.”
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