Bedtime

Child: When are we safe?

Mother: Here and now. In my arms.

Child: But your arms are soft and warm. They can’t stop monsters.

Mother: No. They can’t.

Child: So when are we safe?

Mother: Here and now. In my arms.

Child: You already said that. So, we’re never safe.

Mother: We’re together.

Child: Not all the time. Besides, that doesn’t mean we’re safe.

Mother: But I’m here now to protect you.

Child: Well how can you protect me when you’re not around?

Mother: I’ll stop the monsters now so you won’t ever have to worry about them ever again.

Child: But you’ll die if you do that.

Mother: I only want to keep you safe.

Child: I’ll be alone.

Mother: You’ll never be alone.

Child: You know, you really are starting to annoy me.

Mother: Why do you say that?

Child: Well, first of all, you come off as kind of weird every night with this ‘I’m-the-mom-everything-is-okay’ stuff that goes on and on, over and over. But it doesn’t really help me.

Mother: So you’re saying I annoy you.

Child: Yeah. Kind of. I mean if you stop to think about what you’re saying to me, it’s pretty meaningless. I’m telling you about the blood-sucking monsters that are outside my bedroom window, and you’re going on about this ‘here-and-now’ crap.

Mother: Child!

Child: And the stuff about being in your arms. Do you know how sweaty I get when you hug up on me? It makes my head itch, too.

Mother: Well then, if you find me annoying and don’t like my hugs, then you can deal with the monsters yourself.

Child: Mom? Oh come on, Babe. You don’t have to leave now. Mom?

Child: Mom?

Monster: Hey kid.

Child: Which one are you?

Monster: The choker.

Child: No. Not you. Aw, I hate it when you show up.

Monster: Hey, at least I’m not the bloodsucker. Besides, you haven’t been choked in a while. A good choking is just the thing for you.

Child: Yeah, but it hurts.

Monster: Not if I kill you. Then you won’t feel a thing.

Child: Dammit. Do you really have to choke me tonight?

Monster: I’m afraid so. Don’t struggle.

Child: MOM!

Monster: shhhh….

Child: MOM! The choking monster is in here! He’s going to choke me, Mom!

Monster: Just relax, kid.

Child: MO-gurgh–

Monster: That’s it. Turning blue. Turning blue. Baal loves you. Turning blue.

Child: gggrrruuuggghh

Monster: Turning blue. Turning-

Mother: That’s enough of that.

Monster: OW!

Child: Uu…uh. Mom… Mommy.

Mother: Honestly, you have way too many fathers that love to torment you.

Child: Mommy?

Monster: Did you really have to kick me in the nuts, Hon? I mean, geez, I have a job to do.

Mother: Et daemonium exisse.

Monster: Oh, you rotten strumpet. I hate you, you bi–

Child: It’s gone?

Mother: He’s gone.

Child: Mommy?

Mother: What?

Child: When are we safe?

Mother: Shut up and go to sleep.

 

 

©Jack Lee Taylor 2016

 

 

 

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It starts when Nora and I see the black-and-white flyer on one of Ember’s Grocery tack boards by aisle 7.

24th ANNUAL EMBER COMMERCE STREET FAIR

SATURDAY JUNE 28

FOOD CRAFT MUSIC FUN!

We turn on aisle 8 and I stiffen, rubbing the back of my neck.

“Why do you keep doing that?” Nora says. My wife looks at me, her eyes luminous and accusing.

“Do what?” I reply.

“This.” Nora stoops forward in the cold air of the grocery store and rubs the back of her neck briskly with her left hand, her arm bracelets jangling. “Always when we get to the baby aisle.”

“I’m just walking, Nora,” I say, knowing where this is heading.

I see her let several weeks of pent up frustration go as she slap both hands to the sides of her white summer dress. She studies my face and then says, “Stop pretending, Alan. It’s not just the damn grocery store anymore. It’s everything. You go all stiff and start rubbing your neck like that. It drives me crazy!”

“What are you talking about?” I say and see a grocery stock boy walk by us, eyeing us briefly to catch our little soap-opera. I stare back at his preadolescent face and he looks away, walking past the rows of stacked Huggies.

I take a patient breath. “Do you really want to do this here?”

“Why not?” she says. “Why do you think I cut through here all the time?”

I close my eyes, letting out a long tired sigh. I then look at her and try to smile a degree below patronizing.

“Nora, all I want to do is pay for our stuff and get out of here. We’re going to the street fair. Right?”

She stares at me for a moment and then says in a gritted hiss, “Just take me home.” She drops the grocery basket full of comestibles we planned on smuggling into the town fair and storms off, tucking her purse hard to her side. I watch her leave, her thin dress flowing wildly behind her.

The miscarriage was three months ago and ended Nora’s chance of ever carrying again. After her surgery, my attempts to support seemed hollow and pretentious to her, angering instead of comforting. So I left her to herself and waited for the normality of our three years together to resume. I’m still waiting.

I run after Nora, catching her near the exit. People stare when I turn her around and hug her tight. She goes rigid and then shudders. I raise her head to look at me, seeing tears fall on her pleading eyes and knowing what we both want. We want the pain to go away.

Nora smiles slightly and skirts her eyes to see our audience. She then looks at me and crunches her brows together as if in pain.

“What is it?” I say. She goes slack, dropping her purse. Her eyes become chalky stones in their sockets. I hold her tighter in my panic when I see her mouth droop open to an impossible length, her howls of pain cut short when the lower half of her face suddenly falls off and splatters to the ground. I hear my own screaming when I see the rest of her fold inward, her skin becoming diaphanous, revealing the dark meat inside. Her bones crackle and her coppery smell ripens the air. She becomes slippery in my grasp, like a giant gleaming internal organ. She squirts out of my arms and drops to the ground in a splash and I stare in horror at the bloody dress and the clump of flesh on the tile floor, a ruined mass looking nothing like Nora or anything remotely human.

I move my head up slowly, my wide eyes searching through a haze of blood-pounding shock.

Someone has to come to me.

Touch me.

Move me.

No one does. I walk slowly in a mindless stupor. When I bump into an ice bin near the wall, I come to and see the other bodies. Bloody messes spot the grocery store like droppings from some large animal. I see the crimson-drenched garments on the floor in loose piles and I reconstruct the image of their former wearers: an overweight man in jeans, a young girl in a Hello Kitty shirt, a cashier lady in a beige Ember’s Grocery work shirt. All of them reduced to what looks like slabs of mangled butcher meat.

A car crashes through the face of the store. Brilliant shards of glass scatter. The sound of it brings me above the numbing cotton of disbelief and I start to run. The car, a pearl-like Cadillac, plows into rows of check-out counters, catapulting candy bars and magazine stands toward me. I watch the car teeter to stillness and can see through the gloom of the passenger window the writhing things that splatter dark-red into the windshield.  Outside air rushes through the gaping hole in the wall the car left in its path. Several dead birds line the sidewalk leading to the parking lot.

I run around the car and head back toward the exit where Nora is. There are sounds of collision and destruction outside; a chorus of car alarms screech endlessly in the distance. I look through the automatic sliding doors, pulled instinctively to exit this place. I pause to look back down at Nora’s ruined remains. I kneel down, feeling the loss of her strike cold and hard inside my chest.

I pick up Nora and cradle her slick form into my chest, holding her like a baby. Like our baby, the child that defied us its life and struck Nora barren before it died. I whisper the song. Hush little baby…

The car alarms continue their crying outside, blocking out my toneless singing. Nora begins to stick to me, the glistening coat of blood of her gluing against my forearms and neck.

The pain is slow, a kindling heat deep in my stomach. I cough the foaming blood up from my mouth, letting it spew onto Nora.

My eyes go dark, dissolving into mucus-like tears down my cheeks. The unseen takes me. Consumes me.

One trickling afterimage.

A parting thought.

Aisle 8.

 

©Jack Lee Taylor 2016

aisle8

Bev

“What are you going to do, old man?”

“With this? Shoot you of course.”

“You don’t have the balls.”

“Oh yes. Yes I do.”

“You don’t.  You just stand there.  You trying to look hard. Tough.”

“Yes.”

“But you don’t have it in you, do you? You never shot no one before.”

“You killed her.”

“I killed lots of people. Your woman ain’t no different.”

“She was -”

“She was a bitch in my way.”

” – going to the Quik Mart.”

“What, old man?”

“She was probably going in for an Icee.  Cherry was her favorite. God, she was –“

“She was ugly and blind to be hanging out with your dumbass.”

“- everything to me.”

“So what about this right here?  You break in my crib with your piece out. You going to pull that trigger or what? Go ahead old man.”

“Everything.”

“Why you talking? Go ahead and pop me now. Or else I pop you later.”

“How can you be this way?”

“What, fool?”

“I said how did you — what made you like this?”

“What made me like what? You know what? I’m sitting down. Tired of looking at your tired-ass.”

“You look like you should still be in high school.”

“You look like shit. Old shit.”

“You’re never going to feel sorry.”

“Sorry? For what? Sorry?  Please.  Not for you. Not for anyone.”

“Not even when you destroyed her face.”

“….”

“Not even when you looked right at her and shot her in the face. You’re not sorry about that are you?”

“I needed her car.”

“Running from the police.”

“Hey, it’s not like I banged the bitch first, pops. She shouldn’t have been there.”

“But she was.  And you got away from the cops.  You and your two friends.”

“Yeah okay. So she was there. Thank you Miss Bitch.  Thank you.”

“It’s time to teach you a lesson.”

“You trying to scare me?”

“Yes. I want you scared.”

“Nothing scares me.  See that’s the difference.  You kind of people scared all the time. Running around doing nothing but your boring shit.  Running away from the truth.  Wishing everything is okay. But us real people, the ones that feel the hurt, see the pain — we out here. We don’t know scared. We make our own truths. So I ain’t scared of nothing. Not scared of you.  Least of all scared of no bullet.”

“Then why don’t you run? Or why don’t you come at me?”

“Put the Glock down.  Find out.”

“Have you ever been shot before?”

“What is with you old man? You want to talk? Is that what you want to do all day?  Or do you want to put down that gun and settle your beef with me like a man.”

“You’re not yet a man.  I wish you were.  It would make this easier.  More meaningful.”

“Fuck you.”

“The others.  Your friends.  They told me where to find you.”

“That’s bullshit right there.”

“I’m here, aren’t I?”

“So? You think that’s supposed to mean something? You talking like you know my boys? You don’t know about me or them. They family, old fuck. You ain’t shit.”

“They’re dead now anyway.”

“Don’t fuck with me old man.”

“Derrick Morgan and Trevor Wayne, the other two that were with you when you robbed the Quik-Mart that day. It’s funny, I expected you to live in a cockroach-infested hole, but your house is actually very nice.  Clean. Nice area too. — NO YOU DON’T!”

“FUCK!”

“See? I’m a pretty good shot. I’ve had lots of time to practice.  I’d put a hand over that left ear to stop the bleeding. You won’t be able to hear out that ear anymore. Now get up.  You can’t run away.”

“My ear motherfucker!”

“Pain?  I know. I know pain. I shot myself in the head after Bev’s funeral, but I didn’t die. Still get headaches. Get up I said.  You try for the door again then I shoot off your balls next.”

“Don’t shoot me man.”

“Heh. I already did.”

“I just needed the car man. That’s all. She wouldn’t get out.  But I just needed the car. I had to.”

“Beverly.”

“Huh?”

“That was her name. Beverly Rose Harper.”

“Shit man, come on. I just needed the car.”

“Grandmother. Kindergarten teacher.  Wife.”

“It was a long time ago man.”

“It was eleven months ago. I spent six of those months recuperating, learning to talk and walk and pee and poop again. Best of all, learning to shoot again.  Here.  Tell me how this one feels.”

“No!”

“Sounds like it didn’t hurt bad enough. Not enough for you?  How’s this one feel then?”

“NO!  Please.  No more. No more…”

“Do your legs hurt now?”

“Please! PLEASE!”

“Your pictures on the wall.  That one over there. The perfect white family.  A Republican’s wet dream shot. Maybe your parents even helped you with that Mercedes out front. I’m sure Mommy, Daddy, and your little sister wouldn’t appreciate knowing you killed a helpless woman.  Stole her car.  A dusty Buick not even worth the tailpipe on that Merc you have outside.”

Please don’t.  No more.”

“Ronald and Mary Austen.  And little Phyllis.  Oh come on, don’t look at me like that.  I had months to brood over you Andrew. Or Double-A as you’re called.  That’s a stupid name, by the way.  You couldn’t come up with something better?”

“Don’t.  Don’t hurt them.”

“So you DO have morals.  I expected you to beg for your own life, but not for your actual family.”

“I wasn’t the one that pulled the trigger.”

“No need for all that. Derrick the Dinky. T-Ballz.  They already did the finger-pointing game. It doesn’t matter. You just happened to be last on my list.”

“I swear it man. I swear it wasn’t me that shot her.”

“So I asked you earlier but you never answered. I’m just curious. Your gang. Your swagger.  How did you get this way?”

“….”

“I didn’t hear?  I just want to understand about the pain. The suffering of real people.”

“….”

“See that’s just it.  You aren’t real. No more real than the image you conjured up for yourself.  You marvel over the dangerous animal of street-life.  Isn’t that it?  You romanticize it.”

“My legs, man.  It hurts.”

“It’s not the same thing Andrew.  This isn’t South Central. This isn’t even LA. Your life is a lie. I’ll show you what real is.”

“Please… man. Please.”

“Don’t move your head or my gun will go off.”

“I can’t breathe.  Can’t breathe.”

“That’s why they call it a choke hold.”

“Stop. Please, please, please, please… please… ple….”

“Aw.  Actually, I have to say.  You look like a little boy taking a nap.  You even snore like one.  I don’t know if I should wait till you wake up or shoot you now. I wonder if sleeping people even feel gunshots.  Let’s see…  Nope. Still asleep.  Your shins are going to hurt really bad though when you wake up. Your legs look a mess.  Must be hell on whatever you’re dreaming right now.  I remember thinking I was stabbed once while I was dreaming.  Woke up with the worst stomach ache I ever had.  I think I’ll just take a seat over there.  Do you mind?  Nice neighborhood like this, someone’s bound to call the police by now. You still in there, Andrew? I think so. Somewhere deep inside your head there’s a part that still listening to me. How about this?  I’ll tell you all about my Bev.  The day we first met.  The good stuff.  Hey maybe if I get done gabbin’ before the cops get here, I’ll give you a chance.  Let you heal.  Grow a few years and come back at me.  I want it to take time. I want it to go as long as it possibly can.  You staying alive.  You know what I’m hoping? I hope you get that monogamous inkling and try to marry some rich whore your daddy would approve of after he helps reform you back into society.  I show up on your wedding day.  Watch you limp about if your legs do heal right.  I show up.  Cause discordance.  I leave.  You then have kids later on. I show up on their birthdays.  Scare the bastards.  I leave.  Eventually, I’ll have to stop the madness the older I get.  Put an end to everything and everyone.  You, your whore, your kids.  But it sounds like a lot of fun coming your way.  Okay, so how do I start?  Oh yeah. Let me tell you about my Bev. Of all places, I met the love of my life in Bowling Green at a post office. I was looking for a pen because I forgot to write down the zip code to my uncle Ned’s place on the package I was sending out.  I was supposed to ship him this ugly candle-thingy my mom went through the trouble of buying at Woolworth’s. This was – what — about thirty years ago.  Anyway there she was… God she was so beautiful and it’s like she didn’t even need me to say anything but had her hand out with this Bic knowing that’s exactly what I needed.  Smiling so warm and sweet.  So I took the pen and said my name was Ned. Only it wasn’t Ned because my name is Robert. It was my uncle, the guy I was shipping that God-awful box to. That was his name.

I was such an idiot back then.

Most young people are.”

 

THE END

 

 

 

JLT

©2008

Sidewalk Magic

He tried to explain the pain of disenchantment to her.

She had her hands cupped over her ears.

Honestly.

The billowing stench of sewage smoke coming from the metal grates protruding unevenly on the sidewalk. The ear-chafing cacophony of traffic honking into her ears. This was not the perfect place to talk.

He was breaking up with her. She knew this. The sex the night before was staged, unlike the other times that left her in a near vertiginous state of euphoria.

“Love is supposed to be magic,” he said. “And we both know there ain’t no such thing as magic.”

Stop that. Biting her lower lip only reminded her how overly plump it was, captured in uneven smiles in pictures.

“What the fuck are you talking about?” she said. Her sandals vibrated. She looked past him to see the scrawny construction worker twenty yards away wrestling with the paint-chipped jackhammer upon crumbled asphalt. Her legs hummed, and she waited curiously for the sensation to rise up to her thighs. Perhaps even higher. What a lovely distraction.

“You don’t understand,” he yelled over the thrum of the jackhammer. Over the prattle of the city. “There’s no such thing as magic. There’s no such thing as us. You. Me. This.” He thumped his chest. “There’s nothing in here but meat, blood and bones. Just like there.” He pointed at the spot below her where her legs joined.

A warm raindrop pelted the raw crown of her scalp. She smiled because it was the only thing that made sense right now.

She said, “I get it.”

He shook his head. “No. You really don’t. You –“

A woman’s hand upraised has many powers. Magical powers. He stood there silent, staring at her smirking face.

She took a deep breath, breathing in the atoms of those long dead, perhaps seeping from the white steam fuming through the metal grates. She looked down at his feet and saw that he stood dead center upon one of the grates. How long of a drop before he’d lay crumpled and broken after a fall? She stomped the metal grate and felt it jar hard against her heels, unyielding. She laughed.

“I know what magic is,” she said. “It’s the only thing making me not want to kill you right now. See that policeman over there?” She pointed through the space to his right.

He turned to see the man garbed in dark blue at the intersection behind him. She stepped in closer and breathed into her ex-lover’s ear.

“I’m going to sleep with him tonight,” she whispered. “I’ve never fired a gun before, but I’m sure I could learn. And I’m sure he could teach me. How’s that for magic?”

She walked past him and headed toward the policeman. The rain pattered between them, the drops warm and sulfuric.

She turned and gave her ex the finger as the magic ritual of breaking up demanded. He licked his lips and then ran toward her. Past her.

Toward the policeman.

 

JLT

Squirrel Song

Wrote this a decade ago, but still come back to it… my homage to those suffering from anxiety and agoraphobia.

*****************

The thunder of the storm roars and shudders its way into her room.  When it stops, the woman hears the quiet patter of rain against her window but doesn’t look to see the gray shade of the afternoon, knowing she sees it clearly enough in her mind.  Unlike the muddy silence she usually fills around her, a slight sound escapes her lips and she lets herself follow it into a hum; the hum then becoming a song.

In the dullness outside, a lone squirrel stops its forage under the cover of trees to listen. It hears without understanding, but hears with an attention that humans once knew.  With the rain slowing into a whisper and the song of the woman falling back into silence, the damp squirrel surveys the network of trees ahead and begins to move on.

The day draws into dusk with the twilight somehow seeming brighter than the previous overcast of the early afternoon.  It becomes enough light, mixing with the awakening of city lights as people collide.

There is a lag in the stream of bodies where a squirrel sits defiantly on the sidewalk. People slow here for just a moment, staring at this animal whose trek began earlier this day perched on a tree miles away to listen intently to a song that now fills these pedestrians with the ripple of joyous hope. It was a song of newfound strength and spirit so powerful that it echoed into this small creature. These people move on, smiling as they take in the ghost of the woman’s song.

A woman who only sang for the joy of making it through another day.

images

Becoming a Jellyfish

Nightcore.

Ever heard of it?

If you have, then you are as hip as a third-grader.

I, of course, knew nothing about this until my daughter introduced me to the pseudo-genre. It’s basically songs (usually Tokyo-anime-pop) sped up to the pitch and frequency of chipmunks.

As an aging father, my rolling of disapproving eyes after being introduced to this nonsense unfortunately widened the parent-child social gap between my daughter and me. But seriously, why listen to your favorite song altered when you can hear it just fine the way it is?

Then, upon a long commute one morning, I had an introspective moment where I realized how much of a hypocrite I am. I had been listening to an audiobook in the car at double-speed thanks to this wonderful app: Smart Audiobook Player. Why? Because of that ‘so many books, so little time’ mantra.

Not that spoken words are like songs, but in a way they can be. Especially, if the narrator has a golden voice (how I miss thee, Frank Muller). Speeding up an audiobook can ruin a narrator’s brilliant performance, even if it means you can condense a reading of War and Peace to just under twenty hours.

But what can you do as an avid reader when you’ve little time: books already primed on your e-reader, paperbacks stashed in your bag, and hardcovers beckoning you from the coffee table.

Maybe try to live forever.

Turritopsis Nutricula

It’s basically a species of immortal jellyfish. Well, immortal in the sense that they can virtually regenerate themselves endlessly, provided their regeneration process goes undisturbed.

It’s kind of an eww process where these creatures’ dying parts convert back to a state of conceptualization, becoming a blob of sperm and egg commingling together to form infant tissue that will eventually grow.

Not exactly as exciting as watching bullet wounds heal on Wolverine’s skin. It’d be more like turning into globs of goo for a while, and then: Presto! I’m back!

Ironically, my latest work-in-progress is about immortality, although it has nothing to do with jellyfish, nor the dogma of eternal life through religious means. I’ll post an excerpt at the end of the blog for those who are interested.

In the meantime, until I can become like the jellyfish, I’ll be speed-listening to you great writers at just under Mach 1.

(oh, and to my music fans… I’ll be playing Nashville VIP Lounge at Ascend Amphitheater 6pm 7/6. Yay!)

 

Excerpt: Mortals Chapter 1

FIVE MONTHS AFTER DAY OF ETERNE

 

It looked like a prison bus.

That’s what Seb Freeman first thought as his father slowed the pickup truck to a stop in front of a soldier garbed in full black. Seb craned his neck to look through the windshield, looking past the soldier where the bus parked in the distance in front of an electrified fence laced with coils of razor-sharp concertina wire, the bus’s dull-blue color seeming to suck away the morning sunlight and canceling out the vibrant greenery that surrounded it. Seb should have been glaring with fascination at the small group of people lined up next to the bus. It had been months since he’d last seen another mortal, and he knew he would soon marvel over these kindred strangers that were like him. But all he could do at this moment was stare at the bus, disenchanted. This was his transport to possible immortality, to become like his father, his town, and practically the whole world. All of it riding on nothing more than a stripped-down prisoner bus.

Seb’s father rolled down the driver window, the whirring sound of the power-window dissolving Seb’s stupor. Hot summer air gushed into the pickup cab as Seb turned to see the soldier peer in with a dark-gloved hand spread open expectantly toward his father. The soldier wore a gleaming black metal helmet with a tinted visor and Seb wondered as he noted the strange but familiar plastic glaze of the soldier’s eyes why immortal soldiers would even need a helmet to protect their heads or a visor to shield their eyes from sunlight. Then Seb’s thoughts went cold when he saw the protruding muzzle of a black M-16 strapped behind the soldier’s back. Seb knew the war had been escalating on the borders, but guns had become obsolete since Day of Eterne, becoming an ineffectual weapon against gods fighting gods.

End of excerpt

 

 

 

 

Morton

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.

“CHILDRESS!”

“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 smiled.

He was with his family.

What better way to die?

 

THE END

 

Jack Lee Taylor © 2016