After exploring the growth of pines for a few minutes, I realized it wasn’t particularly protective should we need to hide. The trunks were bare from the ground to about twenty feet, and because they were ever greens, nothing grew beneath them.
We followed the stream toward the rocky outcroppings I had seen from the hill where I gathered sticks. We were heading upstream. The water was cold, and the stream was a few feet wide in most places. We had crossed at a spot where the water diverged onto two paths before meeting again farther downstream, forming a small island in the middle and making it easier to cross.
But the bank got rocky as we started into the hilly area. Allison and I picked our way along slowly and carefully. The last thing we needed was an injury. Once we were deeper into the small valley carved by the running water, I started examining the rocky outcrops. I chose two to start our exploration.
“Allison, we’re going to climb up to those rocks.” I pointed at our first target.
“Ok,” she answered, hopping from a shaking rock onto stable terra firma. Her eyes followed the direction I was pointing. From this angle it looked like quite a climb, but my little girl was active and agile. I had no doubt she could do it. I wasn’t so confident about my own ability, however.
We started up the hill, forging a trail through the trees and craggy rocks. Half way there we encountered what appeared to be a sheer cliff, though it was still a leaf-littered forest floor and devoid of rocks. Scanning around, I headed for the far side of the verticality at an angle. I put Allison in front of me as we turned to climb straight up the rise. Using the small trees growing on the lesser slope for hand and foot holds, we made it to the top.
We were now above the boulders that I wanted to explore. “Stay back there,” I told Allison as I walked out onto the outcropping. I moved slowly, testing the rock beneath my feet as I placed them. To my right was a slight step down. I took it, and kept climbing so my path twisted back to lead me into a small cave formed by the huge boulders.
It was just big enough for two people to stay hidden. If I poked my head up, I could see the roof of the cabin not so far away.
“Allison?” I called.
“I want you to come down here just as I did. You’ll see the path if you move slowly.”
“Okay, Mom.” I heard her first footfall on the boulder above.
“And be careful,” I added as pebbles tumbled down to my right. I listened to the sounds of her feet scraping on the rocks, her breaths huffing out as she worked to get around to the entrance.
At last she was there with me. It was snug with the two of us in the small cave, but we were able to make it work so we could both be hidden and poke our heads up to see.
I pulled the Baby Eagle out of my waistband and unloaded it. I looked Allison in the eyes. “I’m going to teach you how to use this. You need to pay attention. It’s not a toy, it’s a deadly weapon.”
“I know what it is, Mom.” Her voice was tight with fear and apprehension.
I blew our a heavy breath, puffed cheeks and all. “Okay. This is the safety.” I showed her the small bar that moved up and down. “If you can see red, the safety is off, and the gun will fire.”
She watched intently. “Okay. Red means fire,” she said almost to herself as a way of committing the information to memory.
“This is how you load it.” I pulled back the slide and released it. “It’s a semi-automatic, so you only have to do that once. Once you’ve done it, all you have to do is pull the trigger.” Aiming the gun at the stream, I pulled the trigger. It clicked to expel the nonexistent round. “Here. You try,” I said, handing her the gun.
She took with reluctant confidence turning the weapon over in her hands to examine it. I let her take her time. She had to comfortable with it, or she wouldn’t be able to use it if she had to. After a minute of looking it over, she flipped the safety on and off again. Then she pulled the slide back and let it go.
“Make sure you aim it in front of you and at the ground a little bit away before pulling the trigger.” She did so, jumping a bit when the gun clicked. “Good. Now try it a few more times before we put bullets in it. I want you to be comfortable.”
Her eyes betrayed her excitement as she familiarized herself with the pistol. There was a power that guns offered, and even a ten year old girl could feel it vibrating through the metal. Hell, I had felt it when I was four years younger than Allison when my father first let me shoot a rifle.
She clicked the sequence over and over, until it was clear that she felt at ease. Her blue eyes met mine, sparking with anticipation. “Okay. I’ve got it,” she said in a matter of fact way.
“All right.” I took the gun back and slid the clip home. “I’ll shoot first. Hold your ears and watch.”
I loaded the chamber and took aim at the stream. Allison’s gaze was glued to me as I flicked the safety off and squeezed the trigger.
The blast was deafening as it rocked our small hiding place, leaving my ears with a terrible ringing. But I squeezed again to show her that it would fire without reloading. Instant headache.
I put the safety back on and waited for the ringing to subside a bit so I could hear Allison when she spoke. Her eyes were huge circles of black-fringed white with pools of blue in the center. I smiled at her.
“Okay,” I said after a minute or so. “Your turn.” She took the gun with trepidation. “Don’t be afraid of it now. Respect it. Don’t fear it. If you fear it, you won’t be able to shoot.”
She took a deep breath and blew it out. “Okaaay.”
I positioned myself behind her so I could cover her ears. “Keep both eyes open. Take a breath and blow it out, then squeeze the trigger. Don’t pull. Squeeze. Rest your arms on the rock in front of you, and aim at the stream.”
I could feel the tension in her small body, but I knew telling her to relax was a waste. She would only relax with experience. I pressed my fingers over her ears. The pistol floated in the air in front of us. Turning it slightly, she flicked the safety. “Red means fire,” she muttered. Righting the gun into position, she aimed at the stream. I felt her take a breath and blow it out.
An ear-splitting BOOM resounded through the woods. Water splashed far below where the bullet hit the water. I lifted my finger from her right ear. “Again,” I told her before closing off her hearing.
I relived the deafening roar of the pistol’s report for the fourth time in the tiny cave. It was all I could take.
“Flip the safety on, and let’s get out of here. We’ll practice somewhere where my head won’t explode every time you shoot.”