Josiah smelled the stinker as he was building a house of cards to stave off boredom. He froze, considering his options. Papaw always told him, ‘Measure twice, cut once. You can’t put four more inches back on the board if it’s too short.’ The black-out curtains on the windows of their hidey-hole were down (he had checked them earlier, something he did obsessively). With the curtains down at this time of night, the second floor section of the old factory they called home would be literally pitch black. He didn’t know how much stinkers depended on sight, but he’d take any scrap of an advantage he could get.
Placing the rest of the cards on the table, Josiah stood. Turning carefully to his left he reached out until his questing fingers found what they were seeking: the Mule. The Mule had been Papaws turkey gun at one time, a Remington 870 Express Supermag. Papaw had sawn the barrel off back to the magazine cap, and removed the stock except for a rough pistol grip. What was left of the barrel had been carefully wrapped in glass fiber packing tape strengthen it. The loads were hot loads, each of the five shells in the mag contained 10 one half inch diameter washers and as much powder as Papaw thought would fire without blowing up the barrel. Papaw had said, ‘She’ll kick you like a mule Josie, you remember that if you ever have to use her. You put her right up against the stinker, hold on to her tight, and just keep racking that slide and pulling that trigger’. Josie desperately wished Papaw were here now but Papaw was scavenging and would be back at daylight at the earliest.
Slinging the Mule over his shoulder, Josie carefully padded forward, left hand questing until he found the guide ropes. There were four of them. One led to the latrine they had set up downstairs, another to the pantry, the third to their sleeping quarters. He knew these routes by heart, having used them daily for the several months they had been at the factory. The fourth was the one he wanted, the emergency rope. Searching through the ropes by feel, he found the one with a piece of sandpaper around it. Grabbing the grip of the Mule with his right hand, left hand on the rope, Josie began a nerve wracking journey. He had to go up a short flight of stairs, across an elevated catwalk, down a similar set of stairs and across an old machine shop area. The entire time, his imagination conjured legions of stinkers before and behind him. He stumbled on the bridge and froze, not knowing whether the stinker had heard him or not. Chastising himself, Josiah rose and continued. What would Papaw have said, seeing him frozen there on the bridge?
As he arrived in the machine shop area, he searched the wall near the ring the end of the rope was tied to. His fingers found a large electrical junction box. The switch on the right side of the box was so stiff and heavy that Josie momentarily had to let go of the Mule and use both hands to push it up, into the ON position. It had taken Papaw the better part of three weeks to find and haul back the 12 car batteries and wire them up to the six rotary bench grinders in the machine shop. Once he had the grinders working he had welded half inch bar stock solidly to the work platforms of the grinders, right up against the grinding wheels. To add insult to injury, Papaw had taken a small sledge and bent the axle on the wheels of two of the grinders. Papaw had told him the racket they made sounded like ‘Black Thom O’ Bedlam and all the hounds of Hell a hunting’. Josie didn’t know about that, all he knew was that he could definitely feel the floor vibrating. The stinker had no advantage in sight, and now it had no advantage in hearing.
The machine shop area was a dead end, Josie had helped Papaw barricade the other two entrances with pallets from the factory floor. He couldn’t linger here, the floor vibrating like a roaring engine meant he wouldn’t be able to sense the stinker coming. Grabbing the rope left handed, with the Mule in his right, Josie edged back onto the catwalk ‘listening’ with his feet as the vibrations from the grinders faded. Had he felt faint thuds, as a Stinker would make, or were his nerves working against him? Releasing the rope, he edged forward, the Mule pointed ahead of him. There it was again, the faintest of thudding vibrations on the grated steel of the catwalk.
Josie wanted to fire then and there, but didn’t. Papaw had told him to wait. ‘Closer the better’, he had stated, ‘if you can get the barrel right up against em, even better. Just remember to close your eyes and mouth when you fire so you don’t get any Stinker juice in them.’ Josie let out a braying challenge that only Papaw would have understood. Not being able to hear himself speak meant that his speech was all but unintelligible to anyone who hadn’t heard it for countless hours. As if in response to the yell, Josie definitely felt vibrations on the catwalk, slow but steady and getting closer. Hunkering down in a semi crouch, Josie tried to remain calm. His heart was hammering so hard in his chest that it was difficult to feel anything through the soles of his feet.
Just as he stood up, thinking that the stinker had turned around, a cold, waxy hand grabbed his left wrist. Screaming a battle cry Josie did as his Papaw had told him…
Several hours later Josiah’s Papaw discovered him, still on the catwalk next to the remains of the stinker. Josie had aimed low, the hot loads cutting the corpse in two. Still clutched in Josie’s hand were the remains of the Mule, battered and dented where the boy had used it as a club. As Papaw hugged him and finger signed into his other hand, he remembered the day his grandson had been born. They had known something was wrong right away, had even expected it what with his Mama having Scarlet Fever while she was pregnant with him. The boy had been born blind and deaf. Looking at what was left of the stinker Papaw had to admit the boy certainly had no lack of gumption. Yes Siree, the boy had guts…