He had leukemia. If he'd been older, he might've been bitter about it. But he wasn't. Nine-year-olds don't know how to feel such things.
He spent his days in a camouflage recliner, staring at a laptop. He didn't have much energy for anything more than browsing the Internet. What he did have, however, was friends all over the Southeast. People he'd met on online hunting sites.
"They were older than he was," his mother said. "But they meant a lot to him. He was always talking this'n that about them.”
She means fellas like—we'll call him, Rob—a fifty-six-year-old deer hunter from middle Tennessee.
Rob said, “Didn't know he was so young when we first messaged. We became big buddies. He'd never been hunting and liked reading about it. I like to talk hunting, so it worked...”
He confided in Rob. He told him about his illness. About his daddy, who once promised to take him hunting, but died before he ever got the chance.
“Every time we wrote,” Rob said. “I'd think of
my own boy, and how fast life can change. Sometimes my wife'd find me crying at the computer."
One day, Rob woke to see a post to the group, asking if anyone in his area might take him hunting on the weekend before he underwent invasive treatment.
“I felt something in me,” said Rob. “I just thought, you know, this kid ain't got nothing, all he wants to do is kill a spike. Nobody was replying. Broke my heart.”
So Rob called the boy's mother and made plans. He took off work, drove to Alabama for the weekend. His friends thought it was bizarre.
And on the Saturday Rob arrived at his house, he found other trucks parked in the driveway. Each with Browning, Winchester, and Remington stickers on the tailgates.
"They were other guys from the group," said Rob. "One came all the way from frickin'…