Gun

By Tim Tomlinson


Devon's thirteenth birthday came in early March. He got a pellet gun, a Wards Hawthorne 14 shot repeater. After school, we took it out on a fire path cut in the woods between two developments. In the cold, we tried snapping smoke rings with our breaths.

Up ahead, yellow LILCO trucks parked along the school path. LILCO brought light to the new developments, where shiny model homes and fresh-laid sod lawns slowly replaced the woods. Alongside the trucks, thick brown poles soaked in creosote lay on the ground. LILCO linemen perched on spools of cable. They wore brown coveralls and denim jackets and work boots caked with mud. One took a styrofoam cup from a brown paper bag and let the bag float off in the wind. I guessed they were twenty yards down the path.

"Is it too windy to hit targets?"

"Not with these."

He handed me a tin of diabolo superdome .22s. His brother Van told him that with pellets like these, he could shoot the eye out of a bird in flight.

"Let me try," I said, and Devon handed me the rifle. "How do you aim it?" He pointed to the hooded front sight at the end of the barrel.

"Doesn't your father work for LILCO?" he asked.

"So?" The three rules of firing a gun at human targets: aim, fire, don't miss.


I aimed, I fired.

The first pellet struck a truck door with a ping. The LILCO guys started at the sound.

The next pellet shattered the glass inside a thermos.

"Hey," one shouted, spotting us and getting to his feet. He threw his coffee cup to the ground.

"Whoa," Devon said, back pedaling toward the treeline. "Fucking Cliffy, man, you're nuts."

I squeezed off ten more rounds. The first guy to stand fell to his knees, clutching at his face. Another guy leapt off a log and even though I hit him round after round in the chest, thhpp! thhpp! thhpp!, he kept on coming, a dust-storm swirling around his boots.

"Fucking Superman," I said, dropping the rifle.

The three rules of escape: run, don't look back, run faster.

I didn't know what I was doing I ran so fast, and disappeared into the woods. I knew our woods like I knew my own driveway, and once I was in their cover, I could lose a grown-up like one of those sci-fi flicks where one second you're one place, the next another. I vaulted the gate to my backyard and slammed in behind the kitchen door.

My mother leaned at the counter with the phone in one hand, a Chesterfield in the other. "Hold on, Mary," she said into the telephone. "What's the matter with you?" she asked me.

"What?"

"You're out of breath."

"We have any Twinkies?"

She studied my expression. "See for yourself," she said, and resumed her eternal tête-à-tête with the phone.

I found some Yodels and filled a glass with milk.

Inside I put on Officer Joe Bolton and The Three Stooges. Moe took Shemp's nose in a pair of cable cutters. I kept one eye on my mother. She had a habit of interrogation.

Before the commercial, it started. "Clifford?" she called.

"What?" I said, trying to sound annoyed at the interruption, like she was busting up my concentration on Shemp, my favorite Stooge.

"There's a police patrol car out here," she said, staring out the kitchen window, the phone receiver tucked up under her arm.

"Out where?" I said.

"Mary," she said sharply into the phone, "I'll call you back."

Next thing, she's in front of the TV with her arms folded. "You want this off?"

"Mom!"

"I said there's a police patrol car crawling up and down our block."

"I heard you."

"What's it doing out there?"

"How would I know?"

At the picture window she peeked through the curtains.

"You have no idea why a police officer is staring into our yard?"

"None."

"You swear?" she said.

The three most important rules of being a kid: Never confess, never admit, always deny. Nine times out of ten, they're fishing for evidence about crimes whose existence they're not even sure of.

"It could be anything," I told her.

"On a Holy Bible you swear?" she repeated.

"You don't even believe the Bible."

"Clifford," she said, stamping her foot.

"OK, I swear. On a stack of Bibles I swear."

The phone rang and I jumped.

"Good," she said. "If that's your father you can swear it to him."

I raced to pick it up before she could. It was Devon.

I said, "You got it?"

He said, "You don't have it?"

My mother stood alongside me, her arms folded.

"It's for me," I told my mother.

She told me to keep talking.

"Devon," I said, "I can't talk."

My mother grabbed the phone.

"Devon, Clifford just ran into the house like he was being chased by bees. Five minutes later there's a police car outside asking kids questions. You have any insights?"

She looked at me while Devon answered. Through the receiver, I could hear his polite incredulity. Devon had his Eddie Haskell down. My mother hated Eddie Haskell.

She said, "How you could know is half the trouble in this town is started by you."

"Mom," I said, "will you give me the phone, please? He was with me all afternoon."

"Don't you come over to this house anymore," she told him. "I don't want you hanging around anymore with Clifford. You're his brother's age."

I hated when she said things like that. Devon was left back a grade, he was just a year older than me, a year younger than my brother Wally. And Devon was nothing like Wally. He was funny, and loyal, and crazy. Wally was a rat.

She thrust the phone at me. "Tell your friend goodbye."

"Don't worry," I told Devon, "she doesn't mean that."

"You owe me a fucking rifle," Devon said, and clicked off.

I pretended he hadn't hung up. I said I had a lot of homework, I might have to miss recreation.

"You can bet your ass you're gonna miss recreation," my mother said.

"Don't pay any attention to her," I said.

"Clifford," she told me, "I can hear the dial tone."

I told the phone goodbye.

"So what's this about a rifle?"

"Mom," I said, holding out a hand, "enough with the questions."

"Fine," she said. "We'll just wait till your father gets home. We'll have him ask."

"Oh," I said, "will we?"

She told me to keep it up.

 

We were eating Rice-a-Roni and hamburgers with fried onions. Wally pushed his onions aside. It was "teen night" at the school.

"What?" my father said. "You think you're gonna be kissing someone?"

"Could happen," Wally said, shrugging.

"Not with that fat mush of yours, and them sideburns," my father told him. "You look like some asshole from Mars."

Wally said, "Some girls like Martian assholes."

"These days," my mother said, "I wouldn't be surprised."

My father said, "Hey, don't encourage him. And you, you watch your mouth."

"You said it," Wally said.

"I'm the father."

"You want to be the father?" my mother said. She pointed her fork at me. "Father him."

"Wha'd he do?"

"Wha'd I do?"

"I told his troublemaker friend Devon not to call for him ever again," my mother said.

My father looked at me, his hamburger poised before his lips. "Who's Devon?"

When my father came home from work, he washed his hands with Lava soap, but the creases in his fingers remained dark with creosote. Creosote had that headachey kind of smell that only made you want to smell it more, like gasoline. He was wearing Carhart coveralls the color of mustard. The sleeves of his t-shirt were filled with biceps gripped by military tattoos.

"Hey, I said who's Devon?"

"Another one of my friends she hates," I said.

"Don't call your mother she," he said. "She's your mother."

"Will you listen?" my mother said. "He came running in here again completely out of breath and five minutes later there's a patrol car outside."

"Well?" he asked me.

I said, "I swear."

"Wally?" he said.

My brother said, "I don't know what he does."

"I told you to keep an eye on your little brother, didn't I not just ask you to do that?"

Wally said he did.

"Come on," my father told him, snapping his fingers, "Pass me the goddamn ketchup. And watch your sleeves."

Wally looked at me. "If I find something out I'm gonna smash the shit out of you."

My father said, "Hey, wha'd I just get done saying?"

Wally held out his hands palms up. "Pass me the goddamn ketchup, right?" He handed the bottle across.

Keeping an eye on Wally, my father poured a thick red puddle of ketchup alongside his Rice-a-roni.

"Everybody's a wise guy," he said.

He shook salt over the ketchup, then dunked in the side of his hamburger.

"That's all you're going to say?" my mother said.

Slowly, my father chewed at his mouthful. He was an advocate of twenty-four chews per bite. Sometimes he counted. Ours.

"He says he didn't do nothing."

"This time," she said, "maybe."

"He swore," my father said.

"Swore-shmor. He'd swear to anything. He doesn't believe in anything."

"What's that supposed to mean?" he said.

"Ask him," she said. "He won't even salute the flag."

"What?"

I said, "We killed the Indians and imported slaves."

He stopped chewing. "Hey, you salute that goddamn flag tomorrow, you hear me?"

"It's Saturday tomorrow."

My mother took up her plate. "I give up."

"Jackie, where you going?"

She said, "I don't have the time."

"Come on," he said, "sit down, finish your meal."

"You don't have to deal with it all day," she said. "Every frikking day."

She scraped her plate off into the garbage.

"What?" he said. "My ass is up poles all day having fun?"

"You want to trade?" she said. "I'll go back to work in a minute."

He looked at me.

"No dessert," he said.

I said, "But—"

He sliced the air with his hand. "Enough."

"Can I have his?" Wally said.

"No dessert for anyone," he said.

"That's not fair."

"Both of you," my father said. "Downstairs. Squats, bench, curls, pulleys. And leave the door open. I want to hear the weights."

My father had two favorite punishments, yard chores and weightlifting.

Wally said, "It's Teen Night at the Rec Center."

"You should have thought of that earlier."

Wally threw down his napkin. "That's not fair," he said. "I'm not the one who fired guns at LILCO guys."

* * *

"The guy you shot in the face?" my father said. We were in his Chevy pick-up, climbing the hill into the development called Shoreridge Hills. "He was with me in the Corps, you know that?"

I said no.

"I can't hear you."

"No, I said."

"Decorated," he continued. "Twice. Carried two wounded Marines off the frozen Chosin."

I said, "You weren't in Korea."

The back of his hand cracked my lower lip.

Once I'd asked my father the three most important things he learned from the Marine Corps.

Without thinking, he said, "Smart is stupid. Work is prayer. And your mother is always right."

I said, "You didn't know Mom when you were in the Marines."

He smacked me then, too.

I didn't mind the smacks, and all the split lips. I was used to them. Usually they signaled the end of an action, time to think followed. Like now, when we passed some of the houses of the girls I secretly loved. It might have been useful to think about the trouble I was in, how to get out of that trouble, why I got into it. But my thoughts were stuck on a different question: how I could take revenge against Wally. Wally was older, and bigger, and stronger. But he wasn't smarter. And he had no idea how far I'd go.

On Valentine Road, we pulled alongside a mailbox with the name McCurragh.

"You know these people?" he asked.

Sally McCurragh was in 5th grade. Once in coed gym we square danced together.

"Sort of," I said. I was touching my lip. It had swollen in both directions, and had that kind of soft pain you can't keep from worrying with your tongue.

"Sort of," he said. He switched the ignition off. He looked at me in silence long enough for our breaths to start fogging the windshield.

He said, "The sight of you makes me sick."

I said, "Yeah, well…"

He raised his arm and I flinched. He hated that I flinched. I hated that I flinched. But at this point there wasn't too much I could do about it.

"Put that arm down," he said, "and get out the goddamn truck."

I followed up the McCurragh's driveway. It was cold and they lived near the bluff and the wind filled my t-shirt.

Sally came to the door.

"He's downstairs," she said, without looking at me.

"Wipe off your shoes first," my father said.

We'd never been in this house before, but basically they were all the same. A front door opened into the living room. Turn right, you're in the dining room. Make a left, you're at the basement door. I slid by Sally and she brushed her hand against mine. The thing about Sally, her mother was gone. Took off, somewhere, no one ever knew where or why. Mr. McCurragh's sister Gin moved in shortly after. A huge woman, wide as a refrigerator. I could make out her silhouette on the recliner in the living room. On the television, the theme from The Man from U.N.C.L.E. played.

I followed my father downstairs. Sally closed the door behind us.

Mr. McCurragh sat on a stool at a small bar. A service revolver hung from a holster at his hip. At his elbow, beer bubbled inside a tall pilsner glass. White gauze covered a patch of skin alongside his left eye.

"This the sharpshooter?" he said, standing up.

My father shoved me forward.

"Tell him," he said.

I said, "I'm sorry."

"You're sorry what?" my father said, nudging my shoulder.

"Sir," I said. "I'm sorry, sir."

"No, don't call me sir," Mr. McCurragh said. "I'm just a dumb grunt like your Dad here."

My father said, "You call him sir, and look him in the eyes when you tell him."

I was surprised to feel my throat thicken and my eyes mist. Mr. McCurragh looked like a good guy, with laugh lines creasing out from the good eye. He had the kind of face that sees the humor in a situation. I was hoping he found something funny in this.

I told him again I was sorry, and looked down.

My father said, "He can't hear you."

And Mr. McCurragh said, "No, that's all right, Bob, I hear him OK. He didn't get me in the eardrums." He pulled a stool out from the bar. "Here, youngster," he said, "come on, sit down. You look like you're carrying a heavy load."

He went behind the bar and palmed some ice from a bucket. The cubes clinked into an old fashioned glass that he filled from a bottle of Coke. The Coke sizzled over the cold cubes and furred into bubbles at the top.

"You did a stupid thing out there, son."

I said, "I know."

"A dangerous thing."

"I wasn't aiming for your eye," I said.

My father said, "Shut up and let him talk."

"I don't mean the eye," he told me. He came out from behind the bar. "I mean this."

He laid the Wards Hawthorne repeater across my legs. It seemed as if its hardwood stock gave off atomic radiation.

"Don't you know a Marine never loses his weapon?"

I looked up from my lap and observed that Mr. McCurragh's walls resembled the walls of a weapons shop. Rifles, shotguns, target pistols and even a few swords, everything polished, everything spaced evenly and leaning neatly inside racks lined with green felt. Where there weren't rifles there were pennants and flags and souvenirs from the military. Some of them I recognized from magazines and handbooks as mementos from combat. One of them was the Navy Cross.

I said, "I don't own a weapon, sir. I'm not allowed."

"Not allowed?" he said. He looked at me, then at my father. "Then who belongs to this?"

"His mother don't believe in guns," my father said.

Mr. McCurragh furrowed his brow. "Don't believe in guns," he repeated, rubbing his chin. "Then what's all these, I wonder." He gestured to the rifles adorning his wall.

"She thinks guns are for hillbillies," I added, "and only fools camp out in tents when they could be home sleeping in a bed."

My father said, "That's enough."

"She thinks there's sharks in Long Island Sound, and I'm not allowed on any beach without a lifeguard."

Mr. McCurragh nodded. He seemed to be giving these assertions some thought, but I could tell he knew that they were crazy. He said in his time he'd never seen a shark, but he thought the lifeguard thing was a good idea. He told me I should finish up my soda. He asked me if I knew who to return the gun to.

I looked at my father.

"Yes, sir, I do."

"Tell him make sure he don't lose it again," Mr. McCurragh said.

"I will."

"And tell him don't shoot it at people."

"Yes, sir."

"Tell him, you shoot at people"—he tapped at the pistol at his side—"people might shoot back."

My father said, "Go wait in the truck."

Upstairs Sally let me out. "See you in school," she whispered. She slid a Sour Lemon ball into my fist.

 

On Devon's street, we could hear drumming halfway down the block. His step-brother Van's birthday had come in February and he got a full kit of Ludwigs with Zildjian cymbals. Up the drive and all the way to the door, my father shook his head and looked at me as if for some explanation, as if Van were drumming something to me in code. I affected my best don't-ask-me posture. My father knocked, and knocked, and knocked again, louder and louder until the drumming stopped.

Van opened the door. He wore a purple cossack shirt made from satin, and two strands of beads around the collar. His long hair fell from a middle part and hung straight over his ears to his shoulders.

Van said, "Yeah?"

My father hated that word.

"Bob Foote," my father explained. "Cliffy's father. I'm here to speak to the father of his friend."

Van said, "Who's his friend?"

"Devon," I said, "Van, come on."

Van said, "Devon's father's been dead since like fucking Eishenhower."

My father recoiled, then asked for Devon's mother.

"She's out," Van said and started to close the door.

"You wait a goddamn minute," my father said. Before Van could turn around my father had him by the shirt-front and he yanked Van out onto the stoop. "You talk to adults with respect, you hear me?"

Van glared at him.

"I said, you hear me?" my father shouted. He shook Van back and forth and Van's head rocked like it was attached to a rag doll.

"I hear you," he sputtered. "I hear you."

My father released him and Van's legs nearly buckled.

Whenever my father went wild, it was usually at Wally or me. And while I sympathized with Van, in a weird way I sympathized with my father, too, and that was a strange feeling.

"Now where's your punk brother?" my father asked him.

"He went to recreation," Van said. His used both hands to peel the hair from his eyes to the sides of his face.

"You tell him he wants his gun he can come and get it. I'm Bob Foote, you tell him."

Van said, "Yeah, sure."

"What's my name?" my father demanded.

Van said, "Look, mister…"

My father grabbed him again.

"I said, what's my name?"

"Bob Foote," Van said. "Mr. Foote."

My father tossed Van back against the door, but he held on to Van's beads. The necklace string snapped and the beads sprinkled down the steps of the stoop.

"You're goddamn right," my father said.

Stepping down off the stoop, he said, "I hear those drums again I'm gonna come in there and crush them like milk cartons, you understand?"

Van said he understood.

 

We turned into the the beach at Sill's Gully. The chain was pulled across the entrance.

"This is a private beach," I said.

He said, "Leave the chain where you drop it."

I got out and dropped it. He pulled alongside and said get in. We wound down the long, steep hill. At the bottom, he said get out.

I told him I didn't have a jacket.

He pulled the emergency brake to the last click, then climbed out. "I didn't ask if you had a jacket." Reluctantly, I followed.

"Chock it," he told me.

"But you put on the brake."

He stared.

"With what?" I said.

He stared harder.

The bluff face was frozen solid from a wind that had been blowing since December. Kicking winter rocks in old soft sneakers was pretty hopeless. A few yards onto the beach I found a half-burnt log and carried it back, securing it under the rear tire.

In the headlights he cupped a matchbook Navy-style and lit a Marlboro. The tough guys on our block twenty years old working in gas stations couldn't manage that trick on a windless day. I stood there watching, my hair whipping in a wind that smelled of seaweed and that first delicious whiff of fresh-lit cigarette. I smoked when I was nine, then quit, thinking I'd wait to start again when I turned thirteen, but with a smell that good thirteen seemed so far away. In the distance, choppy water whitened against Sill's Rock.

He looked at me.

"What?" I said.

A canvas pack thudded into my chest. His boot camp pack, olive green with two adjustable straps dangling from buckles. When we were younger, Wally and I fought over who got to wear it when we played guns. Wally was bigger, he got the pack.

"Fill it up."

I looked at the beach.

"With sand?"

"Sand," he said. "Rocks. Boulders. Then bring it to me. You want to shoot guns at men, you better know how to march like one."

"Oh, Jesus," I muttered.

"What?"

"Nothing."

He said that's what he thought.

The wind whipped hard along the beach, spraying saltwater and sand into my face, stinging my cheeks. Down at the shoreline I found varieties of litter – plastic bottles, soda cans, bags all shapes and sizes, as well as clumps of seaweed and the carapaces of horseshoe crabs. Into the bag they went, along with an armful of driftwood and a few tosses of sand. Back at the truck, I presented the full pack to him.

He stuck the cigarette in his lips.

"This?" he said, holding it at arm's length. He unclipped the top, upended it, and shook it clean.

"Next time," he said, "I fill it."

He tossed the empty pack back into my chest.

Five minutes later I returned with a pack laden with rocks and sand.

He took it from the adjustable straps.

"If it's a rat-turd lighter than this when you get home," he said, guiding my arms through the loops, "you go right back out again." He pulled the straps tight, spun me around, and laid the gun across my arms. "You're gonna respect this gun before you reach the top of the bluff."

He hopped back in the truck and released the brake.

"Dad," I said.

It was almost like the kind of game I'd like to play, if I didn't have to do it, if it wasn't a punishment, and if it wasn't so damn cold.

He dropped the truck in first and it groaned up the steep winding drive, the taillights disappearing. I strained to hear what he did at the top. Would he really pull away and leave me, freezing, and with this pack digging ruts into my shoulders? Or would he cut the engine and roll back down, checking to see if I was cheating, or crying, or giving up? Soon it was just me and the wind. I started up the hill, the pack weighing down on me like a heavy bar plated for a set of squats.

 

The night closed around me. The kind of cold night when the trees had eyes, owls motionless as stone perched on fence-posts, and raccoons stared indifferently from the tops of garbage cans. It was not a night where friends who might help found you. It was a night all your own, whether you wanted it or not. And it was a dark that raised pictures in your mind. The picture I kept seeing was Mr. McCurragh dropping to his knees, clutching at his face. Why did I do it in the first place? Nobody even asked me. Maybe they knew and they weren't telling. Maybe I was the only one who didn't know.

But before I breached that hill, before I stepped over the re-hung chain and stood facing south on Briarcliff Road, before the road presented itself as a long black tunnel at whose end appeared only more blackness, I knew three things for sure: I had a gun in my hands, Wally was at Teen Rec, Wally was dead meat.

I still had Devon's tin of diabolo .22s. I broke the rifle's barrel, poured a dozen pellets into the breech, hitched the pack up on my shoulders, and started marching.

I trudged southward. I passed the yard that used to be the entrance to a public beach. Figures moved in silhouette behind the picture window. I passed the Bar Tree where teenagers went to make out, the surrounding pavement littered with gum wrappers and cigarette butts. I reached the yard where a German shepherd named Major used to torment me when I rode by on a bike. "Major," I called, hoping he might come snarling at my legs now, now when I had a repeating rifle loaded with diabolo pellets. "Here, boy." When you're carrying a loaded rifle, it's a good time to remember past wrongs.

Old Major, he didn't come bounding with his teeth bared like he used to, but his owner's car was parked in the driveway and it seemed to be saying, make things right. Thhpp! and I took out the side-view mirror, the glass sprinkling softly to the lawn. Thhpp! Thhpp! into the brake lights, and their red reflectors shattered onto the drive. Thhpp! Thhpp! Thhpp! Thhpp! into the rear windshield and a webbing of cracks spread from one corner to the other.

At the North Country Road I took out the streetlights' glass casings, then I took out the lights, and for long stretches the road fell dark.

Mrs. De Hasse, the school psychologist, lived on the corner Lower Cross Road. No lights on. Thhpp! Thhpp! Thhpp! The windows in her garage door. Thhpp! Thhpp! The gnomes in her garden. Thhpp! Thhpp! Thhpp! The sliding glass doors overlooking the back deck. Right shoulder arms, and onward.

I slipped into the woods just east of Norman Drive. Best as I could with the heavy pack, I double-timed the woods paths – my interior clock was telling me Teen Rec's end approached. I felt wild, I felt exhilarated, I felt the heat of my own blood, I felt a sense of purpose and that anxious thrill you get when successful completion of a tough assignment is just around the next tree. And I entered into a kind of reflective blank-mind navigating those woods paths. Pictures of my life with Wally flickered.

We'd started going wrong even before I knew who Wally was. Before I knew who I was. The "funny" family story was, the day they brought me home from the hospital, Wally said, "Put him in the garbage." Over the years, it got funnier. I remembered one time Wally got into a fight with a bully up the street. When they wrestled each other to the ground I tried to kick the bully in the face, but every time my leg snapped, my foot landed square in Wally's teeth. Wally got wild with anger, and the Krazy Kat cartoonish image of that recollection made me double over and clutch a tree laughing. And through the convulsive laughter I started picturing how sweet it was going to be when, just minutes from now, perched up a tree or slid under some parked car, I'd watch Wally exit Teen Rec, surrounded by his jerkoff friends, and I'd get him in my sights, I'd lead him with the barrel, the bead right on his teeth, then a sharp purposeful squeeze, and that soft sonorous sound, Thhpp! Thhpp! Thhpp!, the pellets catching him maybe first in the shoulder, the top of his turtleneck, then adjusting my aim while his hands swatted wildly, and . . . paydirt, Thhpp! Thhpp! Thhpp! right in his puss, the lower lip, maybe the teeth, and it felt good, it felt so good to know that any second now I was going to knock out a bicuspid, send a chip off molars flying, and that thought sent me into paroxysms remembering how Wally used to scream bloody murder at the dentist's while I sat in the lobby, real casual like, just flipping through old issues of Boy's Life while other patients smiled politely and exchanged anxious looks, and maybe when it was all over, when Wally spat out the enamel and the fillings and the blood, he'd know it was me, who else could it be, but he'd never be able to prove it because I'd be vanished into the woods and back into our yard handing that rifle to my father before the Teen Rec monitors made the first phone calls, but still he'd know, and it felt good to know that he'd know, and I pictured him standing there in the school parking lot outside the Teen Rec Center with a busted up mouth full of chiclets and a viscous gruel of spit and blood spilling through his split lower lip, thinking Cliffy, you fuck, I'm gonna kill you this time for real. But the next time our father started asking him questions, the next time he was called upon to bear witness against his little brother, before he opened that big stupid trap of his and dimed me out, I bet the tip of his tongue would revisit that busted lip, I bet it would travel the craggy surface of his shot-to-shit teeth, and all of a sudden he'd remember that he better not remember a thing.

Once I got through running that fantasy reel through my brain, I cracked the rifle's barrel, poured the remaining diabolos into the breech, snapped it shut and resumed marching. Only I wasn't getting where I expected to go. Instead of coming out at the Miller Avenue school parking lot, I wound up poking through the brush all the way over by the Peerless Photo Products open waste dump. I backed up, spun, and retraced my steps. Only this time I came out back near the chapel, and cop cars with top lights spinning idled in the driveway of Mrs. De Haase. Mrs. De Haase had a coat pulled over her shoulders and the cops shone flashlights in the yard. "Hey," one of them shouted, and I wheeled back into the woods and raced for the dark center, raced not to get anywhere in particular, but to shake off anything in pursuit. What if those cops brought along dogs? I thought I might ditch the rifle, but then what would my father say? For the same reason, I couldn't ditch the pack. I looked up into the spooky branches of the leaf-bare trees for the remnants of a tree fort, anything I could climb up into and hide, but I knew that that hope was futile – I'd burnt or wrecked every fort that ever got nailed to a tree in Shoreham. I started to hear sounds, footsteps, the crunching of pine needles, the cracking of branches. I started to see the beams of flashlights, hear the breaths of dogs, hear the crackling of radios and walkie talkies. I started to run, the full weight of the pack slamming into my lower back like blows from a Golden Gloves. I ran till I could hardly breathe. I ran till I couldn't figure out where else to run.

Then I stopped.

There were no sounds but my breath, and no lights but the stars, and not a single idea in my head. Except, I'm lost.

I felt around in my pockets and found Sally McCurragh's Sour Lemon.

I popped it in my mouth and sucked.

I waited for someone to find me.


Tim Tomlinson is a co-founder of New York Writers Workshop, and co-author of its popular text, The Portable MFA in Creative Writing. He is the fiction editor of the webzine Ducts. Recent fiction and poetry appear or are forthcoming Asia Writes, Caribbean Vistas, Extracts, Floorboard Review, The New Poet, Saxifrage Press, The Tule Review, Unshod Quills, and in the anthology Long Island Noir (Akashic Books).

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