Standing to the side of the heavily wooded hiking trail knee deep in poison ivy, the old man admired the unusually clear morning sky and the bright new green of the spring foliage, and seemed wholly unfazed by the semi-auto 380 pistol pointed at his chest. He might have been a moonshiner from another era, with his grizzled gray beard, bib overalls, and old felt hat full of holes, but his Kevlar hiking boots and GPS wristwatch told a different story.
“There wasn’t no reason for you call me a fuckwit,” said the armed trail-runner. Middle-aged, balding and angry beyond the immediate situation, his jogging gear appeared left over from an all-star sports career that didn’t go far beyond high school. He gestured flamboyantly with the pistol.
“Used to, I wouldn’t tolerate a walking stick,” the old man said, holding up his high-tech graphite trekking pole, turning it affectionately. “Didn’t like nothing in my hands whilst I tromped through the woods.” He knocked the pole against his boot, knocking away a bit of dried mud. “Then I got me some knee surgery and my ortho said get one, you know, make sure I didn’t slip and bung up my knee again.”
The hiking man said this as if the runner didn’t exist. “Now I find I kind of like it. It’s good for poking things, you know, like a rotten log full of termites or maybe a dead possum or an obtuse belief.” He finally looked at the gunman. “Who doesn’t like to poke a thing, see if it falls apart, am I right?” The old man nodded sagely. “But back to your complaint, I’d say the very fact you carry a pistol whilst running confirms your fuckwit status.”
“You do best to worry about yourself.” The trail runner fretted nervously from foot to foot. “These are dangerous times, old man.”
“They certainly are. For some more than others.” The old man pointed at the ground with his hiking pole. He moved it in an arc from trail-edge to trail-edge. “This is an old farm road, still near five feet wide. Not too hard to stay six-feet apart. And nothing says you can’t stop running a couple seconds to clear the narrow parts for a young family to pass or some old codgers ain’t as spry as me.”
“Hell, old man, it’s not even real.”
“You think this is a bunch of crap?” the old man said. “It’s funny, I never saw nobody protesting ‘no shirt, no shoes, no service.’ You one of them corn-teen protesters?”
“Damn right. This whole mess is illegal, shutting everything down like they done.”
“Well, I’ll tell you. Nothing has the power to keep us from wiping ourselves out, so it doesn’t matter if it’s real or not, nor even if you think it’s real or not. I damn sure ain’t going to die because some germ-spewing, hard-breathing running-spunkmonkey won’t give me six feet on a five-foot trail.”
“By god, I’ve had about enough of this abuse!” the runner stepped up and shoved the gun into the hiker’s chest.
And with that, old man grabbed the pistol and twisted it from his hand. At the same time, so fast it whistled, he whipped the walking pole upside the man’s head. The runner yelped and reached for his ear.
Now decidedly more dangerous than congenial, the old hiker man none-to-gently pushed the runner away with the carbide point of his pole. “Distance,” he said. “See what I mean about poking? Some things fall right to pieces, like a weak argument.”
The runner probed his face. “Damn, I think you broke my ear.”
The hiker man leveled the pistol at the trail runner’s chest. “Hey,” he said excitedly. “I just realized. This armed protesting can go both ways.” He pulled the trigger. Nothing.
He grinned. “Hell, you ain’t got a round chambered.”
“I won’t let this pass,” the runner guy said half-heartedly, blood running down his cheek.
“If you were going to get me, you would have,” the old man said, removing the pistol’s magazine and putting it in his pocket. “Next time you pull a gun, keep your distance. Otherwise, someone who knows what they’re doing will disarm you pretty easily.” He threw the gun deep into the thick patch of poison ivy. “Six feet can save you in more ways than one.”