Holly liked his biscuits and gravy. That would be her reward this morning, Morton thought, peering through his kitchen window where the morning sun bathed his backyard more white than yellow. In the distance past his privacy fence, he could see the top of his neighbor’s bald head bobbing to the beat of a loud, blustering push mower.
Morton frowned. The morning would otherwise be serene were it not for the rackety noise his neighbor was making. Oh well, Morton thought, rubbing his index fingers against his thumbs, a gesture he would do before preparing fine cuisine. Why not? Holly deserved the best. She was eating for two now, after all these years of trying. Soon, Morton’s family would be complete — something he’s wanted his whole life. Family.
A booming series of knocks jarred across the hallway behind Morton. Now what?
Morton wheeled around and jutted his head forward, as if to lengthen his vision and hearing. Another jolt of thudding knocks filled the house, and Morton could actually see the front door across the hallway shudder with each pounding knock.
A man’s voice growled from the other side, though the speech was muffled, undecipherable. Except, no. Part of it was clear. Morton’s name.
“MORTON!” the man yelled. “MORTON CHILDRESS!”
A door creaked opened in the hallway, and long, rippling hair flowed out. Holly’s eyes sparkled between the strands of her dark hair as she stared at Morton.
“Who is that?” she hissed and then stiffened as the front door banged again with more knocks.
Morton marched down the hall, agitated. Whoever the asshole outside was, he had not only woken up Morton’s pregnant wife, but had managed to upset her with all that belligerent knocking.
Holly stepped back into the bedroom as Morton approached her. She straightened in her nightgown, the swell of her round belly stretching the floral print at her midsection. “He sounds angry,” she whispered, cocking her head as if remembering some long forgotten song. “Who is he?”
Morton shrugged. “He’s someone who’s about to get his ass kicked,” he said. “Go lie back down. I’ll get rid of him.” He kissed the softness of her right cheek while placing his hands gently over her belly. As she retreated back into the bedroom, Morton closed the door, hoping she would be able to go back to bed after he’d send this jerk on his way.
“I’m coming!” Morton yelled.
He stomped toward the front door, meaning to yank it open, but then tendrils of uncertainty cooled his blood. He peered through the brass peephole and saw the fish-eyed view of an old man’s reddened, pinched face glaring back at him. Who the hell was this? Morton wondered, but then there began a tickle of recognition, something about the shape of the old man’s raging eyes.
“I see you now, you son-of-a-bitch,” the old man said and raised a hand holding a gleaming, rectangular object. It was a small LCD screen, displaying a blotchy green image of two black lines. The black lines shifted as Morton shifted and he instinctively looked down at his bare feet. A small, black snake head poked from the bottom of the door between his feet. Morton looked back up through the peephole, seeing the black lines move as he moved his legs.
What the hell is this? Morton tried to say, but before his words could come out, the door shook loud; a small mouth splintered opened from the door’s center.
Morton fell, only it didn’t feel like falling. It felt like the ground rose up to meet him. Three more gaping holes exploded from the door, letting in shafts of morning brilliance.
The smell of spent bullets and the dust of chalky drywall filled the room. Morton tried to scramble backward with his legs, meaning to crabwalk away. Nothing. No feeling down there. He looked at the dark red drenching the lower half of his t-shirt, almost tasting the iron and meaty aroma of blood. It was then that he registered the burning pain in his stomach.
I’m shot, he realized and then thought with incredulity not that he was shot in broad daylight but on a Saturday morning.
Morton’s wife was crying. He could hear Holly’s weeping over the buzz of his neighbor’s lawn mower.
He twisted to fall flat on his stomach, meaning to crawl away from the door with his arms, but the excruciating ache in his navel forced his arms to curl into his chest.
More shots fired into the door. Morton could hear the whipping of bullets slap the carpet fabric near his right ear. He craned his neck up, ignoring the searing pain inside him. A portion of Holly’s tear-streaked face peeked out at Morton from the bedroom door. She was eye-level, low to the ground like he was. Did the bastard shoot her, too? Did he hurt my family?
“Get back in the bedroom, Holly,” he cried. “Lock the door.”
And call for help? No phones in the bedroom. No phones in the house at all.
Holly gave a small nod and pulled back out of sight. Was she smiling? The bedroom door slammed shut.
From behind Morton came the cracking of faux wood as the center of the front door caved in from a long, booted leg. This set Morton tadpoleing fast on the ground, digging his elbows in as he dragged himself forward. Get to the kitchen.
Another gunshot cracked from behind. Morton heard a sickening, wet plop as the bullet entered somewhere below in the part of his flesh that he’d never feel again. He plowed forward across the hallway, his pace quickening with his grunting breaths.
A flood of outdoor light invaded the house, the front door no longer holding the old man at bay.
Morton could no longer hear the sound of his neighbor’s groaning mower. And as he hoisted to a sitting position using the lip of the kitchen counter to pull himself up, he heard the mewling cry of sirens coming from far away.
He fumbled at a drawer with a hand, entering a code on a nearby keypad. Hearing a lock unlatch, he fished blindly inside the drawer for the large shark-tooth shaped knife he was fond of. Pain throbbed below his chest and he could smell the foulness of his innards coming through the bullet wound in his stomach.
The old man kneeled in the hallway, embracing Morton’s pregnant wife. There was a squabble of bass and treble as the two voices spoke over one another with urgency.
The large revolver dangled low in the old man’s hand, next to Holly’s hip.
Guns. Morton hated guns. He only understood knives, their quiet play he had learned early on as a child. But not guns. A gun threatened only from its black eye, while a good knife gave nuances of fear to every inch of its blade.
The old man stood up from Morton’s sobbing wife, and a question formed in Morton’s mind. How long has it been since Holly had last seen her father? Three, four, maybe even five years?
As the sirens grew louder, the old man walked slowly toward Morton.
“You don’t deserve a trial, you kidnapping son-of-a-bitch,” Holly’s father said. The old man pulled the trigger.
Morton smiled, grateful for the hollow click of the gun. His searching hand settled for a serrated steak knife in the drawer above him. He pulled it out and sat back against the kitchen counter, his resting hand over his stomach. He pointed the knife out at the old man.
“I took care of her,” Morton said, but then a pang overcame him as he looked deep into the old man’s hateful eyes — those eyes the same as those of Morton’s sweet wife. It had to be her, Morton wanted to plead. He didn’t want to trick her and steal her away all those years ago, but it had to be her. Out of all those that he had followed and shadowed, she was the one he chose to make his perfect family for him.
And now, seeing the disappointment on the old man’s face – the disapproving eyes of a parent — did Morton truly understand. The old man had become part of his family, too. Morton had put them all together: father, wife, child, and Morton.
Morton never had a father. But he could claim the old man just like he claimed Holly. Was it really that simple? Yes. It was.
“I’m sorry, Daddy,” Morton said and felt the pain ease inside him.
The old man’s thick brows furrowed in puzzlement, joining into a white caterpillar above his hardened eyes.
“I love you, Dad,” Morton said. “Holly…”
Sirens stopped and tires screeched outside.
Morton raked the blade of the steak knife gently over his neck, scrubbing the serrated edges until he hit the life artery underneath. He choked and coughed for a moment, catching glimpse of the gout of blood that poured out.
He was with his family.
What better way to die?
Jack Lee Taylor © 2016