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Mr. Mueller's Eighth Grade

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Welcome to Mr. Mueller's Eighth Grade Language Arts website. Below you will find links to the short stories and the last link is a pattern for your dodecahedrons.

Short Stories

The Secret Life of Walter
There Will Come Soft

Coming of Age
The Leave-Taking
A Lifetime of Chances
All Summer in a Day
True Love
Light Verse

Dodecahedron Pattern

Digital Pattern
Coming of Age
By George Vukelich

     Connie sat there on the old jack-pine stump that had been his personal deer stand for the last 25 years and talked to himself the way old hunters who are also old grandpas do. "T'his will be the worst damn deer hunt you have ever been on, Conrad. You will be in pure hell before this day is over and you've got nobody to blame but yourself because you brought it on."
     He shifted the rifle in his lap and peered at the fringe of the cedar swamp in which, at this very moment, Bill and the grandsons were slithering and stumbling in their misbegotten attempts to get old grandpa a shot at a deer.
     The cedar swamp was as serene as church. To Connie, it always looked like those autumnal scenes of the leafless Wisconsin woods that Mel Kishner used to paint for the Sunday Milwaukee Journal at the beginning of deer season.
     The quiet in the swamp meant that Bill and the boys probably hadn't started their drive yet. Most likely because they wanted to make sure that grandpa was in place on his stump - all settled in, his breathing back to normal after the long trek from the cabin, his gun loaded and ready.
     They probably were figuring in enough time for grandpa to have a coffee out of the thermos to get him sensitized and alert for the trophy buck they promised to flush out for him.
     "You got to be really wired today, grandpa," Chuckie had warned him as he had poured the breakfast coffee. "You're gonna see more deer than you saw in the last five years. We're talking Action City!"
Connie didn't feet a need to pour anything out of the thermos. He didn't need to get himself 'wired.' God, just to be out here, sitting on a stump and just breathing that crisp air of the country was excitement enough. Of course, how the hell could you explain that to somebody half your age, as Bill was, or somebody from a different planet altogether, as Bill's boys were?
     It was something he couldn't talk about because nobody in the deer camp was his age.
     "Say it," he said to himself. "Nobody here is as old as you are and how can you expect anybody younger to understand what the hell's happening to you?"
What was happening to him, he really didn't understand himself. It had started happening three, four deer seasons back and he hadn't told anybody about it until he had told Doc just this last summer. Doc had never been much of a hunter, not deer or birds or anything. He fished trout and that was pretty much it. But Doc was never judgmental about hunters and you could talk to Doc about the serious stuff like growing old and life and death because that's what Doc dealt with all the time. Plus - and it was a big plus - Doc and Connie were the same age and had gone through a lot of the same stuff together, like school and the Army and arthritis. "It's hard to share bladder problems with the teenie-boppers," Doc said.
     Connie just knew that he was going to share his problem with Doc because he had to share it with someone, and who the hell else was there? Some way, somehow, he would find a way to just bring it into the conversation and share it. He really felt like he was going through a change of life or something.
It was at Connie's birthday party last summer that the opportunity arose. They were in the backyard having brats and beer and a birthday cake with one candle. It was a tradition since Connie had turned 60, some seasons back.
     "Makes sense," Doc said. "After all, you're only celebrating this birthday today. You've already celebrated the rest. Who the hell needs a forest fire?"
     It was the present from Bill and the grandsons that did Connie in. Everybody raved about the thoughtfulness and the originality. It was a birthday card with a magnificent deer in watercolors.
"Grandpa," the card read. "This card entitles you to the best deer hunt of your life this season. We will drive the cedar swamp until you get THE FIRST DEER THIS YEAR. PERIOD. Happy Birthday from 'the Swamp Rats'."
     It was signed by his four grandsons and Bill.
     That's when Conrad cornered Doc for a talk.
     "Well," Doc said, "it's easy to see where they got their genes. You must be touched and I am impressed. They're saying that grandpa gets his deer before anybody gets a deer. They love their grandpa. Not too shabby, Conrad."
     "They're doing it," Connie said, "because grandpa didn't get a deer the last couple of seasons."
"So, this year," Doc said, "They're making sure grandpa gets his deer. Grandpa doesn't like that?" "Doc, " Connie said. "I've been going out there and just sitting on my stump and I really don't care if I never shoot another deer in my life."
     Connie sat as silent as a partridge for a spell. "The reason I didn't get a deer the last four seasons," he said finally, "is that I've been sitting there with an empty gun."
     The look on Doc's face hadn't been there since the time he hooked an owl on his back cast.
     "An empty gun?"
     "That's right," Connie said. "An empty gun. Unloaded. I knew I wasn't going to shoot it so why the hell should I load it?"
     "You know," Doc said, "that's like fishing without a hook. That's really pretty funny, Conrad."
     "Actually," Connie said, “ the first two seasons I loaded the gun I even shot it in the air to fool them. Then, of course, I had to clean the damn gun and I thought, 'Boy, how dumb can you get?’”
     "Conrad, Conrad," Doc said gently. "And you bought the licenses and the deer tags and everything."
     "I'll tell you, Doc," Connie said, "don't think I haven't felt like a damn fool out there. Deer are going by you like cows going to the barn and you have to pretend - you have to lie - about not seeing any deer or not having a good clear shot available.
     “Why couldn't I just come right out and tell them that it was just getting hard for me to kill anymore and all I wanted to do was just sit on my stump and watch the world go by? But if I sat out there without a gun in deer season, you know they'd think Grandpa had gone soft or senile or something. "Grandpa raised them all to hunt and what happens if hunting isn't important to grandpa anymore?"
     "You can't tell Bill?"
     "What the hell could I say? Especially after all this time. I just put it off and put it off and got by and all of a sudden you just can't put it off anymore."
     "Like a trip to the doctor," Doc said.
     "It's just gotten harder for me to kill," Connie said. "That's what it really is - and I was ashamed to tell anybody about it. Isn't that terrible? My own family."
     Doc didn't really answer until about a week later. He mailed Connie a photocopy of some pages from Wisconsin Trails magazine.
     There was a handwritten note in Doc's Prescription scrawl:
     "We were straightening up our magazine selection in the waiting room and thought this applied to your case. Mel Ellis, as you probably know, was an outdoor writer for The Milwaukee Joumal before he turned legit and wrote books. This is from an interview circa 1971. Take two aspirin and call me in the morning.”
     Connie smiled and read. It was like hearing a friend talk to him over a coffee.
     "It's getting tough for me to kill," Met Ellis had said back in 1971. "I've got a theory that eventually no one will shoot anything or kill anything. It's just a matter of becoming civilized.
     "We've been hunters so long we don't know what else to be. Someday we are going to be civilized, but it's going to be another thousand, two thousand, five thousand years. If man is still around then, he is going to be civilized.,'
     Connie knew now that Mel Ellis' words had gotten to him. Connie liked to think that they got to him in the same way a grain of sand gets to an oyster and the oyster then forms a pearl around that grain. He felt the sun toasting his cheeks. He inhaled the still, chill air, cold as trout water. He poured a half cup from the steaming thermos and waited. The first deer materialized in the swamp fringe. The rack on its head was as big as an elk's. It stood still, ears flicking, listening. It trotted toward him casually, never seeing him.
     "Hello," Connie said, and the deer just exploded straight up in the air, it looked like ten feet, and bounded past him like a kangaroo. Connie thought he saw fear in the deer's eyes. Then again, it might have been only disbelief.
     He could hear yells and shouting coming from the swamp and suddenly deer began appearing like apparitions. One here. One there. Two. Three at a time. God, Connie thought. It was like watching a colony of field mice being flushed by the barn cats. What a drive his boys were putting on in that jungle. He knew what it took out of you to drive like that and he was washed in guilt because they were doing it for him. Getting grandpa a deer that grandpa didn't want to shoot.
     But he was so damn proud of them because they were doing something for somebody else, sweating and falling down and getting wet and scratched and he hoped that they at least saw some of the magnificent animals moving like shadows away from them.
     Connie sat there, sipping his coffee and marveling at the show the boys had provided. I should have filmed it, he thought. Yeah, that's all you need, he told himself. So they could see the deer coming out of the swamp like rabbits and nobody shooting. Maybe somebody would shoot grandpa and they could film that.
     The deer all disappeared to the north. By late afternoon, those that hadn't been shot would have doubled back to bed down in the cedar for another night.
     It was almost ten minutes before the next apparition came out of the swamp. It was Bill. He stood still, breathing deeply, his eyes seeking his father, surveying the area around the stump, looking for a downed deer, a blood trail, something. Then, he walked slowly up the rise to Connie, his eyes watching the ground all the way, seeing the deep tracks in the soft soil.
     "I didn't hear any shots from you," Bill said. "They must have come through here-like rabbits.”
     He hunkered down at Connie's knees and shook his head. "They busted their buns in this drive and you just sat here and never fired your gun? Are you all right, Pa? I mean, you didn't have a seizure or a blackout or something?"
     “I'm all right," Connie said. "Here."
     He handed Bill his rifle.
     "Did you unload it?" Bill asked.
     “No,” Connie said.
     Bill worked back the bolt-action on the ancient .30-30 and his eyes got big as an owl's.
     “It's empty," he said.
     "I never loaded it," Connie said.
     Figures in blaze orange were emerging from the cedar swamp. They stood as their father had stood only moments before, breathing deeply, their eyes seeking their Grandpa, surveying the area around his stump, looking for a downed deer, a blood trail, something. They walked slowly up the rise to Connie's stump, their eyes watching the ground all the way, seeing the deep tracks in the soft soil.
     "God, Grandpa," Chuckie said, "it looks like a buffalo herd came through here. What happened? You hit any?"
     "Well," Bill said quickly, "you're not gonna believe this, but this was so much fun, Grandpa wants to do this again next year."
     Connie looked at the faces of his grandsons, sweaty, bewildered. Chuck had angry scratches that had drawn blood.
     Connie just wanted to cry and hold them all, but that would only embarrass them. Instead, he passed around the paper cups and poured them coffee.
     "Well," he said finally, "your dad was kidding about the next year part, I think. You know where he gets that mother wit. From his mother, of course. But, he was right about one thing ..."
     Connie took a deep slow breath, the same deep, slow breath he had always taken to relax himself, to steady himself as he squeezed off the trigger on the .30-30.
     "Your dad's right about that one thing," Connie said to his grandsons. "You are not going to believe this."

~Complaint Department~

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Joshua Schenck 2003