D. A. Ratliff: Old Bill

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As we wait for the first of the stories to be submitted, I remembered a short story I wrote for a prompt given by a writing group on the now-defunct Google +. It fits this prompt quite well, so I am posting it while we wait for the new stories! Can’t wait to see what is written about this month’s prompt!

Old Bill

By D. A. Ratliff

Johnny Tiger slowly paddled his canoe through the thick cypress trees, relishing the solitude. Solitude if he didn’t count the chatter of egrets and herons disturbed by his presence. He didn’t want to do what he agreed to do, but Miami-Dade Animal Control wanted Old Bill found, and they paid well for his services. 

Johnny had been an animal tracker for the Miccosukee Nation since he’d been old enough to follow his grandfather around. The Miccosukee Tribal police chief asked him to help the Miami-Dade officers find Old Bill. A group of frat brothers from the University of Miami reported one of their friends missing. The college students were partying and, by some reports, target shooting in the Glades when a drunken young man tumbled out of one of the boats.

A few hours later, a tourist airboat discovered a dismembered arm perforated with huge teeth marks. The size of the teeth marks led to only one conclusion. The culprit was Old Bill, the predatory monster rumored to roam the Glades for over forty years. The creature was nicknamed Old Bill after Bill Harnet, the Glades guide who vowed to kill the nearly sixteen-foot animal. Harnet disappeared into the Everglades and never came out. A few days later, another guide spotted the big creature, and the nickname was born.

Brushing the thick over-hanging Spanish moss out of his face, Johnny slowed his paddling to a crawl. Sunlight filtered through the towering cypress trees, and the rustle of wings caught his attention. Looking up, he saw an imposing anhinga spreading its magnificent black-and-white wings to dry after fishing for food. He smiled, there was no place on Earth he’d rather be than deep in the Everglades. It was early morning, the temperature hot but not scorching, which gave Johnny hope the natives would be restless and Bill active. In the area where the arm was found, he nudged the canoe against a cypress tree stump and waited. 

An hour passed before he caught a glimpse of shiny black eyes glinting on the water’s surface. Remaining very still, he waited until the underwater shadow neared the canoe to make certain it was Bill. It was. The shape in the water considerably longer than his twelve-foot canoe.

As Johnny reached for his rifle, remorse flowed through him. He didn’t want to take the life of this magnificent relic. His grandfather taught him that every creature was precious and must be preserved. He wasn’t convinced killing Bill was the right thing to do.

Old Bill seemed to sense danger, and with a quick splash of his thickly armored tail, he turned, swimming away. Johnny laid down the rifle and paddled after the big guy. Approaching a wide spot between the cypress trees, he noted Bill slowed down. Peering toward the bank, he saw a patch of blue in the tangled roots.

Johnny rowed to the spot, shocked to find the blue fabric attached to a body missing a left arm. Maneuvering the canoe to the gap in the trees, he realized the body was wedged into the roots. Old Bill apparently attempted to drag the body underwater when it became lodged.

Taking a closer look, Johnny whistled, a bullet hole sat dead center in the man’s chest. Grabbing the radio, he called the Tribal police. “Chief, send some people out. I found the body. Bill didn’t do this. The guy was shot.”

Old Bill lurked a distance away, and Johnny yelled out to him. “Go away Old Bill, your sentence has been commuted. Today you live.”

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New stories for August will be posted soon! For more information about the Write the Story project, click here: https://writersuniteweb.wordpress.com/2019/08/01/write-the-story-august-2019-prompt/

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