The McComber Switch
By Karen Singer
Chapter 2 - Thanksgiving Day Pardon
November 27th (Thanksgiving Day)
Jasmine was fully dressed, including wearing Jimmy’s heavy camouflage coat and hat, with the hood of the coat pulled over top of the hat. His warm heavy boots were on her feet with heavy warm socks inside. She was sitting on the floor of his bedroom sound asleep when the door opened.
“Jimmy,” the soft voice called.
She woke up, and looked up, but not high enough to let whoever was there see her face. She realized her brother Tommy was there.
“Dad says it’s time to go,” Tommy told her.
She nodded and pried herself up from the floor as he left the doorway.
As she left the room, she saw faint light coming from the kitchen, and saw her brother heading that way. She went straight into the bathroom where she peed. Then she took a moment to stare at her reflection in the mirror. She had pulled her hair back last night and plaited it so that as long as the hood was in place, nobody would notice how long her hair was. The only problem with that was that Jimmy’s hair was fairly long and full and usually fell across his face. But where his hair ended just below his ears, her hair went halfway down her back. Plaiting her hair was as good as she could get. She left the bathroom, trying to keep her head down and watch the floor to make it harder for anyone to see her face.
“There you are!” her father said as she got to the kitchen. “Grab those thermoses and let’s go.”
She picked up the three thermoses from the counter and cradled them between her arms as she headed for the back door. Her father turned out the kitchen light as soon as she got past him. She heard him locking the door behind them. It was dark, but the outside floodlight lit up the small area around her father’s big pickup truck. Standing back out of the way, she watched as her father and Tommy loaded the guns, a big cooler, and a few other things into the back of the truck.
“Take those into the back seat with you,” her father told her. Gratefully, she climbed up into the truck, set the thermoses on the floor, and laid down on the back seat. A few moments later, the truck was started and the journey began. She breathed a sigh of relief that she had made it that far without being discovered.
There were a number of small lakes on their land. It was a tradition in the family to do only duck hunting on Thanksgiving Day, and they did it every single year. Her Uncle John Mercer would be helping with a group of tourists who were in for the day at one of the other lakes on their land. Her Uncle Jack Cumberland would be working with another group of hunters at another lake. Her father, Clint McComber, was taking his two sons to one of the furthest lakes on the property to do their hunting there with his three brothers and some of her cousins. Jasmine, still laying down in the back seat, knew from experience that it was going to take a while to get there. She let herself fall asleep on the way.
The slowing of the truck, and the deep ruts in the dirt road pulled her awake. It was still completely dark outside as she expected. A few minutes later, her Dad stopped the truck next to three others. She grabbed the thermoses from the floor and awkwardly got out of the truck, still trying to keep her head down as much as possible.
Tommy got up into the back of the truck and pushed the cooler out onto the tailgate. Her father grabbed it and set it on the ground. Tommy got down, and the two of them each took a handle and started walking. “This way, Jimmy,” her father said as he turned on the flashlight in his hands. “We’ll come back for the guns in a few minutes.”
She followed them down the path between the trees. It was so dark she could hardly see anything at all. She stumbled a few times on the uneven ground. The air was bitterly cold, feeling fresh and clean in her lungs. She breathed it in, enjoying the smell of the trees and the forest around her. How could anyone not like this? She thought again about her stupid brother. Had she really done what she had to him? Yeah! She had. She had probably screwed up his entire life! But anyone who was that afraid of such stupid things deserved it! And now here she was, out with her father – hunting! She couldn’t help but smile.
Her father’s flashlight caught the almost invisible opening to the wooden duck blind that had been permanently built on the edge of the pond several years ago. She saw a dim light from inside the structure. She followed her father and Tommy in, and saw one of her uncles, and four of her cousins already there.
“Mornin’ Clint,” one of her uncles said to her father.
“Mornin’ Jed,” her father returned.
“Brian and Pete are already out on the water putting the decoys out. Looks like we’re going to have a great day for it.”
“Looks like it,” Clint replied. He set the cooler down at the back of the blind and took the thermoses from “Jimmy” and set them on top of the cooler. “Let’s go get the guns,” he told his kids.
Jasmine followed her father and Tommy back up the path all the way to the truck. A few moments later, she was holding a large shotgun in her arms. Her excitement soared!
And then another truck pulled in, and Jasmine saw the one person she didn’t expect to see get out of it. Her Grandpa! Everyone knew from the earliest age on that her Grandpa, Jacob McComber, ruled everything. His word was essentially law! He was the head of the clan and was easily the most loved, feared, and respected member. But it was his law that Jasmine was now breaking. What would happen when he saw who she really was? Her father finding out could only mean the worst punishment possible…most likely horribly painful punishment. But with Grandpa McComber there, it could only be worse! She listened as her father joked with Grandpa for a few minutes, then she followed them all back down the path to the duck blind.
Evidently, all the decoys had been set on the pond now because the place was practically full of hunters. Jasmine still kept her head down as she ran her hands over the shotgun her Dad had given her and cradled its heavy bulk to her body.
The sky was just beginning to brighten a bit. Everyone watched it closely. Of course, once the sun did come up, they still had to wait for ducks to land in the water.
“Just a few more minutes, I think,” Grandpa noted. The others nodded their agreement.
Jasmine saw her father turn to her. “Ready Jimmy?” he asked, his voice full of anticipation.
“Mm-hmm,” Jasmine replied, trying not to talk so that her voice wouldn’t give her away.
“Why don’t you take that hood off,” her father suggested. “It’s only going to get in your way in here.”
“I’m good,” she replied softly.
Clint McComber stared at his son. His voice had sounded…wrong. “Jimmy,” he said more forcefully, “take that hood off!”
Very slowly, Jasmine reached up and pulled the hood down from her head. She heard one of the guys gasp as her long hair was exposed. Then she pulled her hat off…and looked up at the shocked look on her father’s face. The same shocked look that was on the face of all of them.
“Jasmine?” her father finally got out. “What are you doing here?”
It was a moment before she could answer. “Hunting.”
“Home, taking my place.”
“And you’re here instead. Why?”
“Because…” She had to find a way to tell them. “Because Jimmy is too much of a wuss! He’s too scared of his own shadow to go hunting. And…because I want to hunt!”
The anger in her father’s voice was evident. “We don’t allow the women in the family to hunt. They can get hurt! You know that!”
“I don’t care! I want to hunt!” she returned forcefully. She knew it was a mistake the moment she heard the gasps from all the men around her.
Clint McComber looked around at the men, then his gaze fell to Tommy. The sound of his voice was filled with him trying to control his temper. “Tommy, take your sister back to the truck and wait for me there. I need to figure out what to do.”
Jasmine set her gun down on the floor, and reluctantly followed her older brother out of the duck blind and back up the path toward the trucks. Well, she had almost made it. She only hoped that whatever punishment she got now would be less than her stupid sissy brother would get. The thought of what her mother was going to wake up to in a little while though actually brought a smile to her face. Her brother was in for it – for sure!
Clint turned to his father. “I’m sorry, Dad. I had no idea she was here instead of Jimmy.”
“Yeah,” Jacob McComber replied. “I didn’t notice it either. None of us did. So what are you going to do?”
“Take her home. She can’t be here.”
“But the sun’s coming up,” Brian McComber noted. “The ducks could fly in anytime now.”
Clint just shrugged. “I’m going to have to miss it today. Maybe I can get back before it gets too late.” He thought of something else. “Will you guys watch Tommy? There’s no reason he has to miss this.” He paused for a moment. “And it’s probably better if he’s not around when I get that girl home.”
He saw the heads nod all around him. “No problem,” one of them said.
“Can she shoot?” Jacob McComber asked.
Clint shrugged. “Of course. But that’s beside the point.”
“Is she any good?” his father asked next.
Clint considered that. “Pretty good. Darn good in fact.”
Jacob nodded as he considered things. “Look,” he said, “I don’t like this. I don’t like it one bit! It’s wrong! But it’s also Thanksgiving. And if you say she shoots well enough, then let her stay this time.”
Everyone looked at him with amazement on their faces.
“It’s Thanksgiving,” Jacob said again. “You all know that Thanksgiving and Christmas are special to me. I’d rather not see any of the kids punished today. You can whip them both good tomorrow, but not today.” He paused for a moment before adding, “Besides, I figure what she did took a lot of courage.” He grunted, “A surprising amount. And today of all days, it would be a shame for any of us to miss this hunt, including you. It’s up to you of course, she’s your kid, but as far as I’m concerned, this time, she can stay. And let’s see if she really can shoot like you say.”
Clint stared at his father for several moments. “You’re sure?” he asked cautiously.
Jacob rolled his eyes and turned away. “About time for someone to put their duck calls to work, I would think.”
Jasmine kicked the dirt around next to the pickup truck, and stared up at the small patch of sky she could see between the trees. The stars were fading so they were hardly visible anymore as the sun gradually took their place. In the distance, she heard the faint sounds of a duck call. She had almost made it! Her attention was caught by someone approaching up the path. Her father – as she had expected. She was in for it now.
Clint stopped at the end of the path and stared at his daughter. She was looking down at the ground. He had no doubt that she was expecting to be punished. Well, that part was going to have to wait now until later. “Let’s go,” he said as he turned back the way he had come. He took two steps, stopped and turned back again. “Coming?” he asked.
“I can stay?” Jasmine asked in disbelief.
Clint just shook his head and headed back down the path. A moment later, Tommy was by his side, and Jasmine was right behind them. “Don’t think you’re not going to get punished severely for this,” her father said without turning around. “It’s just going to have to wait a bit.” Once back in the duck blind, he pointed at the gun she had left on the floor. “Pick it up and load it. Get ready. Ducks could fly in any time now.” Then he turned away from her.
She couldn’t believe it. Not at all! All the guys in the blind were looking at her – except her father. With a proud smile on her face, she picked up the gun and loaded it. She was ready.
The wait was long, and duck calls came frequently from several of the guys in the blind. But eventually a small flock of birds flew over, circled, and landed on the lake. It was a beautiful sight. Guns raised and aimed.
“Hang on a minute,” Jacob McComber whispered softly. He turned to Jasmine. “This is your first hunt. You get the first shot.”
Amazed, Jasmine raised her gun again and aimed at a large male mallard that had landed in the middle of the lake. There was no pause, no hesitation at all. Her gun roared and the shotgun kickback felt like it nearly broke her shoulder. A moment later, every gun in the blind followed suit. It was glorious!