My favorite scene in THE YOUNGER DAYS, my debut middle grade historical fiction novel (2012 MuseIt Young release) is the shooting contest. I like this scene because it is a turning point in which 11-year old Boy Smyth actually sees his Pa (who he thought dull and boring) perform a spectacular feat in beating Boy’s hero, the outlaw Cole Younger, in a shooting contest. Cole’s told Boy stories of his childhood friendship with Pa and their days together in Quantrill’s Missouri Bushwhackers during the Younger’s brother’s surprise visit to Boy’s farm, but Boy still considered Pa a lesser man than his heroes until he witnesses the shooting contest.
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The following scene is an UNEDITED EXCERPT.
The following scene is an UNEDITED EXCERPT.
Pa took a break to reload his Spencer rifle.
I turned to Jim “They’re pretty good, aren’t they?”
“Yes, they are. You have to realize that very few men can hit a target past a seven.”
“Really?” I asked.
Yep. I have only seen two men ever hit the ninth target.” Jim paused “And both of them are standing right here in front of you.”
“Yes, my boy.”
“What about the 10th target?”
“You mean to tell me that nobody has ever hit the 10th target?”
“Nobody. Not a 400 yard standing shot.”
All I could say was “Whoa!” What else could anyone say?
During the break to reload, Cole seemed to recover his wits about him. He returned to his smiling, confident self.
“I believe you are one up with three targets to go, my friend.” Cole said.
Pa smiled, “And that makes you one down, then.”
“Only a minor detail” Cole stepped up to the line, more relaxed this time. I watched him slowly inhale a deep breath, pull the trigger, then target eight exploded.
“Aha!” Cole danced. “The pressure is on now, Billy, my boy!”
Pa took his aim as cool as a cucumber and returned the favor to Cole. Target eight down, shot dead center. Cole’s smile disappeared. I could not believe how easy Pa made it look. Cole had to be intimidated by the sheer ease at which Pa hits his mark.
I said to Jim, “Target 9”.
Jim nodded, “Target 9”.
It became deathly quiet, the 9th target just a dot out in the pasture.
“Jim, you think…”
“Shhhh!” Jim broke in. “This is getting good.”
Getting good? It has been good from the moment Jim and Cole rode up to our front porch. How can it really get any better, I wondered?
Pa said to Cole “Round 9.”
“Round 9” Cole replied.
“May the best man win”
Pa sighted the ninth target as he lowered the Spencer. He paused longer than usual then pulled the rifle up and away. He rubbed his eye with his right hand.
“Pressure getting to you, Bill?” chided Cole.
“Just a gnat, is all.” Again, he lowered the rifle to take aim, pulled the trigger and target nine was history. Pa grinned from ear to ear.
“You’re turn, Coleman.” was all he said as he smiled at me.
Cole pursed his lips and scowled as Pa walked past him.
“You’re not funny.”
Cole walked to the line.
“He’s made this before?” I whispered to Jim.
“Once.” was his answer.
“A LONG time ago” Jim said, “Too long, I’m afraid.”
With the same confidence he had on the previous shot, Cole aimed, took a deep breath and fired.
Miss! Pa won!
I beamed proudly at my Pa, who quietly walked over to Cole and offered his hand to shake. “Good job, Cole. You haven’t lost much at all over the years.”
“Thanks. And, you are just as good as ever.” Cole said.
Pa chuckled. He walked back up to the line.
Cole said, “Hey! You do realize you have already won, don’t you?”
“Yeah, I just want to show you a little something I have been working on these past years.”
Pa raised the Spencer. He fired. He hit target 10! He cocked to reload then aimed. Cole’s target 10 explodes! I looked at Jim. Jim’s jaw hung wide open in shock and disbelief. Even Cole stood silent. Pa cocked the rifle again, pulled back the hammer and Cole’s target 9 is gone. Same for Cole’s target 7 then the 6th! In less than 20 seconds, Pa has shot down all Cole’s missed targets. The only one still standing is the first one which he himself missed. Pa walked over to Cole. He reached up with his index finger and pushed Cole’s wide open jaw closed.
Pa then reached down to Cole’s holster and removed one of his Colt pistols. Cole was still paralyzed in awe. Pa aimed the pistol behind his back in the direction of his first, and only, missed target, fired and hit his final mark!
“You, you, you, jjjuuss…” stammered Cole.
I hollered out and ran to hug Pa. “That was incredible, Pa!”.
Jim joined them, “Incredible. And I do mean incredible!” He was absolutely flabbergasted. “How did you do it?”
“Practice, I guess.” Pa answered.
Cole finally gained his senses. “You dirty sidewinder! How is the world did you pull that off?” He walked over and threw his arm around Pa’s shoulder. “There is no question who Quantrill’s Best is now. Well, I never…”
Pa still had a wide smile on his face “Boy, run off and tell you’re mother we about done out here. I’ll help Jim and Cole load their things, then we’ll be inside for dinner.”
I ran to the porch as fast as I could, fuel by the excitement. I stopped before I opened the front door to look over the scene again. I wanted to burn this scene and this feeling forever into my mind forever. Cole stood dumbfounded and could only shake his head. Jim animatedly described every shot with his hands flailing up and down. Pa stood there, hands in his pockets, just being himself. At that moment, I had never been more proud of my father.