SUNDOWN AT COFFIN ROCK
by Raymond K. Paden
The old man walked slowly through the dry, fallen leaves of autumn, his
practiced eye automatically choosing the bare and stony places in the
trail for his feet. There was scarcely a sound as he passed, though his
left knee was stiff with scar tissue. He grunted occasionally as the tight
sinews pulled. Damn chainsaw, he thought.
Behind him, the boy shuffled along, trying to imitate his grandfather,
but unable to mimic the silent motion that the old man had learned during
countless winter days upon this wooded mountain in pursuit of game. He's
fifteen years old, the old man thought. Plenty old enough to be
learning.But that was another time, another America. His mind drifted, and
he saw himself, a fifteen-year-old boy following in the footsteps of his
own grandfather, clutching a twelve gauge in his trembling hands as they
tracked a wounded whitetail.
The leg was hurting worse now, and he slowed his pace a bit. Plenty of
time. It should have been my own son here with me now, the old man thought
sadly. But Jason had no interest, no understanding. He cared for nothing
but pounding on the keys of that damned computer terminal. He knew nothing
about the woods, or where food came from.or freedom. And that's my fault,
The old man stopped and held up his hand, motioning for the boy to
look. In the small clearing ahead, the deer stood motionless, watching
them. It was a scraggly buck, underfed and sickly, but the boy's eyes lit
up with excitement. It had been many years since they had seen even a
single whitetail here on the mountain. After the hunting had stopped, the
population had exploded. The deer had eaten the mountain almost bare until
erosion had become a serious problem in some places. That following
winter, three starving does had wandered into the old man's yard, trying
to eat the bark off of his pecan trees, and he had wished the "animal
rights" fanatics could have been there then. It was against the law, but
old man knew a higher law, and he took an axe into the yard and killed the
starving beasts. They did not have the strength to run.
The buck finally turned and loped away, and they continued down the
trail to the river. When they came to the "Big Oak," the old man turned
and pushed through the heavy brush beside the trail and the boy followed,
wordlessly. The old man knew that Thomas was curious about their leaving
the trail, but the boy had learned to move silently (well, almost) and
that meant no talking. When they came to "Coffin Rock," the old man sat
down upon it and motioned for the boy to join him.
"You see this rock, shaped like a casket?" the old man asked. "Yes
sir." The old man smiled. The boy was respectful and polite. He loved the
outdoors, too. Everything a man could ask in a grandson.or a son.
"I want you to remember this place, and what I'm about to tell you. A
lot of it isn't going to make any sense to you, but it's important and one
day you'll understand it well enough." The old man paused. Now that he was
here, he didn't really know where to start.
"Before you were born," he began at last, "this country was different.
I've told you about hunting, about how everybody who obeyed the law could
own guns. A man could speak out, anywhere, without worrying about whether
he'd get back home or not. School was different, too. A man could send his
kids to a church school, or a private school, or even teach them at home.
But even in the public schools, they didn't spend all their time trying to
brainwash you like they do at yours now." The old man paused, and was
silent for many minutes. The boy was still, watching a chipmunk scavenging
beside a fallen tree below them.
"Things don't ever happen all at once, boy. They just sort of sneak up
on you. Sure, we knew guns were important; we just didn't think it would
ever happen in America. But we had to do something about crime, they said.
It was a crisis. Everything was a crisis! It was a drug crisis, or a
terrorism crisis, or street crime, or gang crime. Even a 'health care'
crisis was an excuse to take away a little more of our rights." The old
man turned to look at his grandson.
"They ever let you read a thing called the Constitution down there at
your school?" The boy solemnly shook his head. "Well, the Fourth
Amendment's still in there. It says there won't be any unreasonable
searches and seizures. It says you're safe in your own home." The old man
shrugged. "That had to go. It was a crisis! They could kick your door open
any time, day or night, and come in with guns blazing if they thought you
had drugs.or later, guns. Oh, at first it was just registration - to keep
the guns out of the hands of criminals! But that didn't work, of course,
and then later when they wanted to take 'em they knew where to look. They
banned 'assault rifles'and then 'sniper rifles' and
'Saturday-night-specials.' Everything you saw on the TV or in the movies
was against us. God knows the news people were! And the schools were
teaching our kids that nobody needed guns anymore. We tried to take a
stand, but we felt like the whole face of our country had changed and we
were left outside.
"Me and a friend of mine, when we saw what was happening, we came and
built a secret place up here on the mountain. A place where we could put
our guns until we needed them. We figured some day Americans would
remember what it was like to be free, and what kind of price we had to pay
for that freedom. So we hid our guns instead of losing them.
"One fellow I knew disagreed. He said we ought to use our guns now and
stand up to the government. 'Said that the colonists had fought for their
freedom when the British tried to disarm them at Lexington and Concord.
Well, he and a lot of others died in what your history books call the 'Tax
Revolt of 1998,' but son, it wasn't the revolt that caused the repeal of
the Second Amendment like your history book says. The Second Amendment was
already gone long before they ever repealed it. The rest of us thought we
were doing the right thing by waiting. I hope to God we were right.
"You see, Thomas. It isn't government that makes a man free. In the
end, governments always do just the opposite. They gobble up freedom like
hungry pigs. You have to have laws to keep the worst in men under control,
but at the same time the people have to have guns, too, in order to keep
the government itself under control. In our country, the people were
supposed to be the final authority of the law, but that was a long time
ago. Once the guns were gone, there was no reason for those who run the
government to give a damn about laws and constitutional rights and such.
They just did what they pleased and anyone who spoke out.well, I'm getting
ahead of myself.
"It took a long time to collect up all the millions of firearms that
were in private hands. The government created a whole new agency to see to
it. There were rewards for turning your friends in, too. Drug dealers and
murderers were set free after two or three years in prison, but possession
of a gun would get you mandatory life behind bars with no parole.
"I don't know how they found out about me, probably knew I'd been a
hunter all those years, or maybe somebody turned me in. They picked me up
on suspicion and took me down to the federal building.
"Son, those guys did everything they could think of to me. Kept me
locked up in this little room for hours, no food, no water. They kept
coming in, asking me where the guns were. 'What guns?' I said. Whenever
I'd doze off, they'd come crashing in, yelling and hollering. I got to
where I didn't know which end was up. I'd say I wanted my lawyer and
they'd laugh. 'Lawyers are for criminals,' they said. 'You'll get a lawyer
after we get the guns.' What's so funny is, I know they thought they were
doing the right thing. They were fighting crime!
"When I got home I found Ruth sitting in the middle of the living room
floor, crying her eyes out. The house was a shambles. While I was down
there, they'd come out and took our house apart. Didn't need a search
warrant, they said. National emergency! Gun crisis! Your grandma tried to
call our preacher and they ripped the phone off the wall. Told her that
they'd go easy on me if she just told them where I kept my guns." The old
man laughed. "She told them to go to hell." He stared into the distance
for a moment as his laughter faded.
"They wouldn't tell her about me, where I was or anything, that whole
time. She said that she'd thought I was dead. She never got over that day,
and she died the next December.
"They've been watching me ever since, off and on. I guess there's not
much for them to do anymore, now that all the guns are gone. Plenty of
time to watch one foolish old man." He paused. Beside him, the boy stared
at the stone beneath his feet.
"Anyway, I figure that, one day, America will come to her senses. Our
men will need those guns and they'll be ready. We cleaned them and sealed
them up good; they'll last for years. Maybe it won't be in your lifetime,
Thomas. Maybe one day you'll be sitting here with your son or grandson.
Tell him about me, boy. Tell him about the way I said America used to be."
The old man stood, his bad leg shaking unsteadily beneath him.
"You see the way this stone points? You follow that line 100 feet down
the hill and you'll find a big round rock. It looks like it's buried
solid, but one man with a good pry bar can lift it, and there's a concrete
tunnel right under there that goes back into the hill."
The old man stood, watching as the sun eased toward the ridge, coloring
the sky and the world red. Below them, the river still splashed among the
stones, as it had for a million years. It's still going, the old man
thought. There'll be someone left to carry on for me when I'm gone. It was
harder to walk back. He felt old and purposeless now, and it would be
easier, he knew, to give in to that aching heaviness in his left lung that
had begun to trouble him more and more. Damn cigarettes, he thought. His
leg hurt, and the boy silently came up beside him and supported him as
they started down the last mile toward the house. How quiet he walks, the
old man thought. He's learned well.
It was almost dark when the boy walked in. His father looked up from
"Did you and your granddad have a nice walk?"
"Yes," the boy answered, opening the refrigerator. "You can call Agent
Goodwin tomorrow. Gramps finally showed me where it is."
Editor's note: "Sundown at Coffin Rock" is a work of fiction. Any
similarity to actual events or to actual people, living or dead, REMAINS
TO BE SEEN.
"Sundown at Coffin Rock" was origionally published in the May
1994 issue of Dillion Precision Blue
SUNRISE AT COFFIN ROCK
by Raymond K. Paden
Thomas sat alone upon the cold stone, shivering slightly in the chilly
pre-dawn air of this April morning. The flashlight was turned off, resting
beside him on the bare granite of Coffin Rock, and involuntarily he
strained his eyes in the gray non-light of the false dawn, trying to make
out the shapes of the trees, and the mountains across the river. Below, he
could hear the chuckling of the water as it crossed the polished stones.
How many times had he fished there, his grandfather beside him?
He tried to shrug away the memories, but why else had he come here
except to remember? Perhaps to escape the inevitable confrontation with
his mother. She would have to be told sooner or later, but Thomas
infinitely preferred later.
"Mom, I've been expelled from the university," he said aloud in a
conversational tone. Some small night animal, startled by the sudden
sound, scurried away to the right. "I know this means you won't get that
upgrade to C-3, and they'll probably turn you down for that surgery now.
Gee, Mom, I'm sorry." It sounded so stupid. "Why?" she would ask. "How?"
How could he explain that? The endless arguments. The whispered
warnings. The subtle threats. Dennis had told him to expect this. Dennis
had lost his parents back in the First Purge back in '04, and his bitter
hatred of the State's iron rule had failed to ruin him only because of his
unique and accomplished abilities as an actor. Only with Thomas did he
open up. Only with Thomas did he relate the things he had learned while in
the Youth Re-education Camp near Charleston. Thomas shuddered.
It was his own fault, he knew. He should have kept his mouth shut like
Dennis told him. All of his friends had come and shook his hand and
pounded him on the back. "That's telling them, Adams!" they said. But
their voices were hushed and they glanced over their shoulders as they
congratulated him. And later, when the "volunteers" of the Green Ribbon
Squad kicked his ass all over the shower room, they had stood by in
nervous silence, their faces turned away, their eyes averted, and their
tremulous voices silent.
He sighed. Could he blame them? He'd been afraid too, when the squad
walked up and surrounded him, and if he could have taken back those proud
words he would have. Anyone is afraid when they can't fight back, he'd
discovered. So they taught him a lesson, and he had expected it to end
there. But then yesterday had come the call to Dr. Morton's office, and
the brief hearing that had ended his career at the university. "Thomas,"
Morton had intoned, "You owe everything to the State." Thomas snorted.
The light was growing now. He could see the pale, rain-washed granite
in the grayness as if it glowed. Coffin Rock was now a knob, a raised
promontory that jutted up from a wide, unbroken arm of the mountain's
stony roots, its cover of soil pushed away. There were deep gouges scraped
across the surface of the rock where the backhoe had tried, vainly, to
force the mountain to reveal its secrets. He was too old to cry now, but
Thomas Adams closed his eyes tightly as he relived those moments that had
forever changed his life.
The shouts and angry accusations as the agents found no secret arms
cache still seemed to ring in his ears. They had threatened him with
arrest, and once he had thought the government agent named Goodwin would
actually strike him. At last, though, they had accepted defeat and turned
down the mountain, following the gashed trail of the backhoe as it rumbled
ahead through the woods.
At home, he had found his mother and father standing, ashen faced, in
"They took your grandpa," his father said in disbelief. "Just after you
left, they put him in a van and took him."
"But they said they wouldn't!" Thomas had shouted. He ran across the
yard to the old man's cottage. The door was standing open and he wandered
from room to room, calling for the grandfather he would never see alive
It was his heart, they said. Two days after they had taken him, someone
called and tersely announced that the old man had died at the indigent
clinic a few hours after his arrest "Sorry," the faceless voice had
muttered. Thomas had wept at the funeral, but it was only in later years
that he had come to understand the greatest tragedy of that day: that the
old man had died alone, knowing that his own grandson had betrayed him.
That grandson was Thomas Adams, and he was now too old to cry but in
the growing light of the cold mountain dawn, he did anyway.
Thomas was certain that his father's decertification six months later
was due to the debacle in the forest. As much as anyone did these days,
they had "owned" their home, but the Certification Board would still have
evicted them except for the intervention of Cousin Lou, who worked for the
State Supervisor. As it was, they lost all privileges and, when his father
came down with pneumonia the next autumn, medical treatment was denied. He
had died three days after the first anniversary of Grandpa's death.
Thomas had been sure that he would be turned down at the University,
but once again his cousin had intervened and a slot had "opened" for him.
But now that's finished, he reflected. He would be unable to obtain
any certification other than manual laborer. "Why didn't I keep my mouth
shut?" he asked the morning stillness. In a tree behind him, a mockingbird
began to sing its ageless song, and as if in answer, the forest below
began to twitter and chirp with the voices of other birds, greeting the
No, what he had said had been the truth and nothing could change that.
The State was wrong. It was evil. It was unnatural for men to be slaves of
their government, always skulking, always holding their tongues lest they
anger The State. But there is no "State," Thomas considered.
There are only evil men, holding power over other men. And anyone who
speaks out , who dares to challenge that power, is crushed.
If only there was a way to fight back!
Thomas shifted on the stone, hanging his feet off the downhill side.
His feet had almost touched the grass that day, but now, although his legs
were certainly longer, it was at least ten inches to the scarred rock
surface below. As he kicked his heels back and forth, he could almost hear
his grandfather speaking to him from long ago.
"One day, America will come to her senses. Our men will need those guns
and they'll be ready. We cleaned them and sealed them up good; they'll
last for years. Maybe it won't be in your lifetime, Thomas. Maybe one day
you'll be sitting here with your son or grandson. Tell him about me, boy.
Tell him about the way I said America used to be.
"You see the way this stone points?" the old man was saying. "You
follow that line one hundred feet." Thomas' heels were suddenly still. For
many minutes he did not move, playing those words over and over in his
mind. ".Follow that line."
What hidden place in his brain had concealed those words all of these
years? How could the threats have failed to dislodge it? He stood upon
shaky legs and climbed down from Coffin Rock. In his mind's eye, he could
see the old man pointing and he walked down the hill and through a
clinging briar patch, counting off the paces. The round stone did seem
solidly buried, but he scratched around near the base and found that the
rock ended just an inch or so beneath the surface. "One man with a good
bar can lift it," Grandfather had said. Thomas forced his fingers beneath
the stone and, with all the strength in his 21-year-old body, he lifted.
The stone came up, and he slid it off to one side. Cool air drifted up
from the dark opening in the mountain. Thomas looked to the right where
the scars of the State's frustration ended, only 15 or 20 feet away. They
had been that close.
He squatted and stared into the darkness and then remembered his
flashlight. In a moment, he was back with it, probing into the darkness
with the yellow beam. There was a small patch of moisture just inside, but
then the tunnel climbed upwards toward the ridge. On hands and knees, he
It was uncomfortably close for the first 20 feet or so, then the cavern
opened up around him. The men who had built this place, he saw, had taken
a natural crevice in the granite rock, sealed it with masses of poured
concrete, and then covered it with earth. The main chamber was bigger than
the living room of a house, and they had left an opening up near the peak
of the vaulted roof where fresh air and a faint, filtered light entered.
Wooden boxes and crates were stacked everywhere on concrete blocks, up
off of the floor, stenciled with legends like, RIFLE, CAL. 30 M1, 9MM
PARA., M193 BALL, 7.62 x 39MM, and 5.56MM. He pushed between them and
crawled to the wall where he found cardboard boxes wrapped with plastic
sheeting. They were imprinted with strange names like CCI, OLIN, WW748,
BULLSEYE, and RL 550B. He did not know what the crates and
boxes contained, and was afraid to break the seals, but near the center of
the room he found a plastic-wrapped carton labeled, OPEN THIS
FIRST. With his penknife, he slit the heavy plastic wrapping.
It contained books, he saw with some disappointment. But he studied the
titles and found that they were manuals on weapons and how to repair them,
how to clean them, how to fire them, and ammunition.how to store it, and
how to reload it. And here was something unusual: A History of the
United States. He lifted it from the carton and crawled back to the
open air. Leaning against a stone, he tore open the heavy vinyl bag that
enclosed the book and began to read at random, flipping the pages every
few moments. On each page, something new met his eye, contradicting
everything he had ever been taught.
Freedom is not won, he learned, by proud words and declarations. He
remembered a quotation taught at the University: "Blood alone moves the
wheels of history." An Italian dictator named Mussolini had said that, but
now he read of a man named Patrick Henry who said, "The tree of liberty
must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and
tyrants." Mao was required reading at the University, too, and he now
recalled that this man called a hero by the State had once said,
"Political power comes out of the barrel of a gun."
Freedom is never granted, it is won. Won by men who are willing to die,
willing to lose everything so that others may have the greatest possession
of all: liberty.
Mentally, he began to list those he could trust. Men who had been
arrested for speaking out. Women whose husbands had been arrested and
never returned. Friends who had been denied certification because of their
fathers' military records. The countryside seethed with anger and
frustration. These were people who longed to be free, but who had no means
to resist.until now.
Thomas laid the book aside and then worked the stone back into
position, carefully placing leaves and moss around the base to hide any
evidence that it had been disturbed. He tucked the book under his arm and
started for home with the rays of the rising sun warming his back. He
imagined his grandfather's touch in the heat. A forgiving touch.
A long, hard struggle was coming, and he knew with a certainty that
defied explanation that he would not live to see the day America would
once again be free. His blood, and that of many patriots and tyrants would
be spilled, but perhaps America's tree of Liberty would live and flourish
There is a long line stretching through the history of this world: a
line of those who valued freedom more than their lives. Thomas Adams now
took his place at the end of that column as he determined that he would
have liberty, or death. He would be in good company.
Editor's note: "Sunrise at Coffin Rock" is a work of fiction. Any
similarity to actual events or to actual people, living or dead, REMAINS
TO BE SEEN.
Sundown at Coffin Rock and Sunrise at Coffin Rock were both written by
Raymond K. Paden. His email address is
Sundown at Coffin Rock and Sunrise at
Coffin Rock were origionally published in Dillion Precision Blue
For more interesting reading you might want to checkout "Unintended Consequences" by
John Ross and "None Dare Call It Education:
What's Happeing to Our Schools & Our Children? by