Monday, September 2, 2013

The Recoil of an Imaginary Gun

     This morning Adrianna Joleigh was soliciting "scary stories" to be shared on her website during this Halloween season: I had to confess that scary was not a genre that I write in.  But her inquiry got me thinking, and I tried to imagine how I might structure something in the horror motif.
     Unfortunately, those thoughts inadvertently cast me into the "hole" from which I write (see more about "the hole" at an old posting).  My fall pretty much defeated the day as an unnamed character dictated his tale about a life in hell.  I have the rough structure down, but that story is far from ready to be shared.
    Putting some words down today make me think back about fifteen or so years, and I remembered a shorty I wrote that is a little scary, but in a Twilight Zone sort of way.
     As a forward, you should know that this began as a memoire of a childhood event.  The first inexplicable death really happened, but the rest is just my weird imagination and some literary license.

The Recoil of an Imaginary Gun

     Indian summer was struggling to stand its ground against the onset of seasonal change.  The old man had predicted cold and snowy weather by November, and he was hardly ever wrong.  This would be their final fishing trip of the year.  It would be the last time the sun’s warmth would suffice to raise the bass and perch from the lethargy of their deep holes.  The brothers, anxious to take advantage of the waning season, set their skiff onto the water behind the Mill dam. 
     They planned on spending the whole day on the water and had spent the bulk of the prior week preparing for this day.   Afternoons were spent racing carelessly through homework and chores, and later whining at Pop’s rule about supper being eaten at the table with the family.  Their later evenings were busy oiling reels, re-spooling line, organizing spinners and spoons, and mentally mapping this summer’s final assault on the Rancocas.
     The brothers preferred to fish between the dams.  The creek was stopped in two places where generations ago, New England wood was sawn and Southern cotton woven.  The water between the dams flowed with years of quiet innocence, undaunted by the tides and flood waters that could not breech the antique barriers.  The dark, serene, cedar water carried the brothers on adventurous expeditions past mysterious neighborhoods of frugally constructed summer cottages and expansive creek front manors.  The younger brother always wondering what road led those unseen privileged inhabitants to this secret haven.  He never asked, because on the creek, talk was discouraged, in fact, all unnecessary noise was considered the worst kind of sin.  Even the sound of water dripping from a retracted oar seemed an affront to this Eden.  Here, Nature demanded silent respect. 
     The brothers scurried back and forth from the car to the water as the poles and tackle were stowed aboard.  With the boat loaded, the older brother lit a cigarette and puffed great clouds of smoke that would one day carry him off into the next life.  The younger brother stood watching, holding their lunch cooler and two thermoses of coffee.  One was sugared; one was not.  The younger never understood how the older could endure the bitter taste of that unsweetened swill.
     The empyrean sky would be the last of the year.  In a week, the world would don its gray, wintry hood and the rods and reels would be replaced by shotguns.  Weekend suppers would change from the flaky, sweet taste of pan-fish, to rich, musky game-meat.  Even on this last fishing day, the brothers' blood ran warm with the anticipation of the start of hunting season.  Mother Earth always provided.  Eat what you kill.   Kill what you eat.  Remember, it's a sin to waste a life.
     The younger stood beside the boat and inhaled deep.  "Smells like hunting season already." 
     "Yeah," came the reply from behind a pillow of smoke. "Tomorrow we’ll check the basement and see what we've got.  Maybe we'll load a box or two of shells." 
     The younger pulled his arms up like he was carrying his twelve gauge and took aim on a morning dove that was flitting right to left.  "I can't wait."  He steadied his imaginary gun, and led the speeding fowl with a practiced eye.  "Bang!"  He gave his gun a sound.
     The dove crumpled, shuttered, and fell into the water.
     "What the hell?" the older snickered.
     "Killed it!  I'm so damned good, I don't even need my gun."
     "Yeah, right!  Ain't dead," declared the astonished, older brother.  "Come on, I'll show you." 
     They released the boat from its mooring and rowed to the middle of the cove.
The dove was dead.  It floated just below the surface.  A broken wing jutted above the water; its damp feathers fluttering like a flaccid sail.
     "Grab it before it sinks."
     "Can't take it, dipshit.  Season ain't open.  We'd sure to get busted by the warden."
     "We can't waste it!"
     "Can't take it, man.  Besides, we don't even know what killed it."
     "What-da-ya-mean?  I killed it!"
     "Right.  Ya can't kill somethin' just by thinking about it."  The older pushed the dove under the water with his oar.  "Leave it for the turtles."
     "But that ain't right," the younger muttered.  It's a sin to waste a life.
     The boat turned and the brothers pushed their oars against the dark current of the ancient water.  The younger worried at the aqueous grave until its ripples dissolved into a miscellany of memory.

     In the years since, the younger brother had given away his guns and told friends that he was done shooting things.  He had moved on from a life of subsistence to the inanimate plastic wrapped meats of Shop Rite.  With age his memory changed, that dove was the only kill he could ever remember.  Bang!  With an imaginary gun.       He never gave thought to the hundreds of rabbits and quail he had killed and eaten.  He didn’t think about the pheasants or squirrels or ducks over which he had said Grace and then fed his family.  He forgot about the hours standing numb-toed in a tree-stand, waiting in ambush for a venison meal.  There was only one kill that he ever thought about.  The imaginary kill.  And for the last two days, it was the only thing that he thought about.  The wasted kill.  The sinful kill.  It was not something he wanted to think about, but it was better than the alternative. 
     "Coffee!” he groaned, talking to the empty room, “I forgot to make the damned coffee."  He rolled onto his back in a bed that was too big and too cold for one person.  Coincidence; it had to be.  You can kill with your imagination.  He hated making coffee and knew that the pot was sour with yesterday's stale grinds.  He also knew that to wash the pot, he would have to clear the sink of dirty dishes.
     "Forgot to feed the dog, too.  Damn, I’ve got to get it together!"  He scissored his legs wide feeling the cold sheets and wondering when or even how often they would need to be laundered.  The dove just died.  I didn’t kill it.
     "Got to get moving," he stretched and yawned.  "Oh shit, no!"  He shuttered at the thought of his kids arriving this morning.  "Shit, shit, shit, this is not going to be good."  He swung his legs over the side of the bed.  There was no way to explain what had happened.  He couldn’t even explain it to himself.
     He pulled on the jeans that he had left on the floor.  His dog appeared at the door with a nervous look.  "You need to go out, don’t ya?  Come on, boy.  Potty outside and I'll get you something to eat."  The dog cowed with his tail between his legs.  "Better watch out, Buddy.  It might be you the next time." 
     He scuffed his bare feet into the hallway lined with decades of family pictures.  The memories washed over him in a sudden wave that buckled his knees.  His body contracted defensively.  He fell to the floor and wept in convulsions.
     Buddy crept down the hall and peed on the leg of the dining room table.

     "Are you watching that grill!  Don’t let it catch fire.  I hate it when you burn the chicken."

     "Oh drop dead, honey!  The chicken 'll be fine.  I'm jus’ gettin’ another beer."


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