Old Man Dan. That was his name, or at least the only name any of us ever knew him by. Even the Ennis sisters called him that when they got to bitching about him and his strange antics. Some people said he used to live way out in the backwoods with his hateful, thirsty dad. Then one day, they guessed, he had just had enough and killed him. Others said he was a veteran of the war and had that stress disorder. Of course, no one really knew. Whatever the case, Old Man Dan was crazy as a loon. It wasn’t so much that he wasn’t working with a full deck of cards as he was working with a deck that had an extra joker snuck in, throwing everything just a hair while hiding in the depths, grinning like a fool.
A few years ago they’d built this housing development out here across the road from his little wooden place. After the development had filled up, it didn’t take but a few weeks for us to notice his wry behavior. He would sit out on his porch at night mumbling to himself, looking out at the sky. Then the cans would get to piling up next to him pretty high and he would start stumbling around in his yard with a rifle yelling. He’d say things like, “It’s a coming! It’s a coming!” or, “Come on home with it! I been waiting!” Then he’d stagger to stop, slam the bolt shut on the rifle, shoulder it, and point it towards the night. It was as if the sky was made out of black tin and he fathomed himself shooting holes in it, making stars, letting the outside light seep into our world. He never did fire though. Everyone just assumed he was having flashbacks from the war or lashings from his father, depending on which rumor they preferred.
One summer night he was being louder than what we’d become accustomed to so we went outside to find him sitting up on his roof. He had his rifle across his lap, a box of shells on one side and a styrofoam cooler of beer on the other. He dropped his head back and tilted up his can then hollered long into the stars like some rabid coyote that had just gnawed its paw out of an iron-jawed trap. After tossing the empty can down in the yard, he snatched another out of the cooler and stuck it in his overall pocket before somehow making it down the ladder, rifle slung across his back. He turned around and opened his beer and took a drink while staring up into the night as a bright light began to slowly hurl its way toward him. He dropped his can, unslung his rifle, shouldered and aimed. He pulled the trigger and whatever it was in the sky burst into pieces and pelted the ground around him. He stood still for a while and we all stood watching until he finally went calmly inside, leaving his rifle and us in the damp grass.
The next morning word had gotten around and various kinds of people showed up nosing around. That’s when it was discovered that the thing in the sky had been a meteorite about the size of a fist and that Old Man Dan was slumped over his kitchen table dead, from natural causes presumably.
I snuck over and took the rifle out of his yard before anyone noticed it and cleaned the barrel and wiped it down with a thin coat of oil. Now, once a year, our development gathers around and fires a shot into the sky.