The Three Sounds I Remember from Childhood

I don’t remember a lot from my time growing up on the farm, but I do remember some things, sights and smells mostly, and those three sounds.

I remember the sight of the old oil cans with fading labels in my father’s shop, of his tools hanging on the pegboard against the wall, and his trusty chainsaw on the workshop table, its teeth slighty rusted and dulling, uncared for by him.

I remember the smells: the smell of the oil and transmission fluid leaked out from the broken Chevy onto the garage floor, of cold rain on the wind and the hay in the barn, and of sawdust and sweat when my father came back in from a long day of cutting wood in the back lot.

I remember the sight of broken dishes on the floor, fallen from where they’d shattered on the wall, flung from my parents’ angry hands. I remember the deep red colour of my mother’s face, aflame with rage, and my father’s like stone as he walked out the door. I remember her look of disgust – who cuts wood at this hour of the night? she’d said – when she followed him out to the back lot.

I remember those three sounds, those three sounds that will forever be burned into my memory and never forgotten, no matter how hard I try: the sound of the chainsaw roaring, of my mother’s dying screams, and of my father’s evil laughter echoing out into the night.

You’re Not My Real Dad!

“You’re not my real Dad!” I screamed. “You can’t talk to me like that!”

“Well, I’m the closest goddamn thing to a father you’ll ever have, so I can talk to ya how I damn well please!” Stephen said, and he hit me again. The slap of his hand was hard against my cheek and stung. I knew it was turning red.

“Fuck you!” I yelled. “Fuck you, Steve! You’re shit! You’re a terrible fucking person!” And I retreated back into my bedroom and slammed the door in his face.

I’d show him. I’d show him. I went to the closet and dug through the boxes in it. Where was it? Where was it? In the shoebox. In the shoebox. There it was, there it was.

I took the shoebox out of the closet and lifted its contents out of it. So beautiful. I’d spent so long creating it. So many hours. So many countless nights up alone in the darkness of my room, with only the light of my desk lamp to keep me company.

I fished the sewing kit from out of the desk drawer. Took out a shiny metal pin with a plastic red ball atop it.

I stuck the pin into the doll and from the kitchen downstairs I heard Steve scream.

It was going to be a long night. One I enjoyed.

Clover

When I was five I discovered the clover patch by the old farmhouse I grew up in. A hidden oasis of green in the expanse of sandy hay flapping in the wind around our humble little abode, the amber stalks around opened like a curtain to a hidden backstage. Many a warm summer afternoon I lay in the cool comfort of the clover patch without a care in the world and stared up at giant white clouds slowly crawling across the sky.

When I turned 8 I fell in love. Margaret was her name. She lived in the next farmhouse over, down the road. We met when we both wandered to where the properties did, right where it gave way to the thick of the forest, at the rotted fence made of old railway sleepers.

We lay in the clover patch most every day that summer, at first apart and then together. We lay in the innocence of childhood guilt, knowing that what we were doing was wrong but could also never be. That was when we learned its secret. The clover patch was alive, a living thing. The tiny sprouts swayed and caressed their leaves against our naked bodies, absent any summer breeze.

The summer after that my parents sent me off to boarding school and I thought only of Margaret. Those few weekends I returned home I visited the clover patch, like a pilgrim to his childhood Mecca, hoping I’d find her there. But the clovers lay still, only for only me.

When I was 16 I visited the clover patch under the light of the full moon and Margret was their too, her back to me, the clover swaying beneath her feet in the still humid air. “I knew you’d come,” she said. We made love. We lay in the clover and held each other and it held us.

We made love each summer after that, until I was 19 and Margaret told me she was going away to college in the city. “I can’t keep doing this,” she said. “We’re not children anymore.” The clovers lay still then and I wondered whether they’d ever really moved at all.

She sent me a letter after I shipped out to Iraq. It said she met someone and everything had happened very fast. It said she’d always love me in a certain way, and that nothing would ever be the same as those summer nights we lay amongst the clover. She said she was pregnant and she was going to keep it and they were going to get married.

When I was 20 I came back to the farm on leave. Dad and Mom were dead and the old farmhouse was mine now. I brought Margaret’s second letter with me and read it over and over on the way home. I went back to the clover patch under the light of the full moon, and thought about all the summers we’d lain in its soft caress.

I lay, and this time the clover was alive again, and I felt it caressing me, then saw in the dim moonlight little white tendrils sprouting from the tiny plants and snaking out over me. The tendrils burrowed into my skin, into the flesh of my arms, and I bled. The clover sprouted, smothering me, thousands of them rushing into my mouth and forcing their way down my throat and suffocating me.

The moon was beautiful that night. I hoped that one day Margaret would come back with our son, and in my bones they’d find my dog tags with the inscription I’d had engraved on the back: I STILL LOVE YOU

New Neighbours

“My, that’s quite the costume you have there, young man! But where are your parents?”

The boy standing on our doorstep beneath the porch light was maybe 8, and for whatever reason had forgone the usual costumes chosen by boys of his age – cops or robbers, knights or wizards, ghosts or skeletons – and was simply covered in fake blood from head to toe.

He held out his treat bag. “They’re next door!” he said. “And I’m a big boy! I can go trick-or-treating by myself this year because I know to look both ways before I cross the street!”

Judy dropped some sweets into the boy’s bag and tousled his hair.

“Happy Hallowe’en, little guy!” she said. “You run along now!”

“Okay!” the boy said cheerily. He took off down the porch steps and across the street into the night.

Later, when the tide of trick-or-treaters had subsided, Judy and I sat on the couch in the living room, surrounded by the orange glow of the plastic jack-o’-lantern lights from the dollar store.

“What a sweet boy that one little guy was,” she said. “You think we should go next door tomorrow and say ‘hi’ and meet his parents? Since we are new in the neighbourhood?”

“Sure dear,” I said, and sipped my beer. “Anyone raising a kid like that must be all right.”

Judy brought some of her Hallowe’en brownies. An old man with his aged wife behind him answered the front door and held the storm one open.

“Can I help you?” he said defensively.

“Hi, yes, we’re the new neighbours from next door. Just thought we’d stop by and say hello since we saw your son trick-or-treating last night.”

A look of painful sorrow, then disbelief and fear overtook the man’s face.

“That’s impossible! Our son is dead. He was hit by a car on Hallowe’en fifteen years ago, when he crossed the street in front of your house.”

Froggy

When I came back outside Sandy was over by the edge of the pond amongst the bulrushes, crouched down on her little haunches in her bright purple boots.

“Sandy!” I said, picking up some more dirty plates from the patio table. “What are you doing over there, honey?”

She didn’t look, just called out in her cute little 4-year-old voice I never tired of hearing: “Playing boats Mommy!”

I set the dishes back down on the table and strolled over to her. Pushing aside the tall grass I saw a tiny paper boat floated toward the center of the pond, slowly sailing with the last of its inertia from the push my little girl had given it.

“Honey, where’d you learn to play boats?” I said, crouching down next to her.

“Froggy!” she said, hugging me. “Froggy lives in the pond. Froggy and I love playing boats!” And then she ran off back into the house.

Isn’t that cute? I thought, but part of me still wondered where she learned to fold a paper boat like that. Must have been at kindergarten.

That night I awoke that in the darkness to a scream, a scream I recognized in even my sleep to be that of my little girl. It had come from outside. I ran out of the bedroom in my nightgown, down the stairs and out the back door onto the grass.

“Sandy!” I called. “SANDY!”

Tiny footprints led to something white by the edge of the pond, pushed in the damp earth and surrounded by the dewy grass. Slowly I followed them over and picked it up.

It was Sandy’s paper boat, limp and soggy, and beneath it sunk into the mud was a massive webbed footprint, the first of a trail which led out to the center of the pond, where a single purple boot floated.

zoopzorp

When I was a kid I had a toy robot, zoopzorp was his name. Of course, I didn’t know that until later, at first I just called him Robot. His name is zoopzorp, all lower case. He hates having it capitalized, and if anyone says it that way he makes me eat dead rats.

I found zoopzorp at a garage sale my family visited one hot August afternoon. My Dad loved taking our family to garage sales on the weekend and that particularly muggy one was no exception. zoopzorp had sat in a pile of other old toys, beat up and still a little dusty, atop the checkered tablecloth laid over a folding table. He immediately caught my eye because he was bright red, and had a little plastic toy gun. I just had to have him.

“Look Mom! A toy robot! Can I have it? Please?!” I said. My mom tried to dissuade me, but she wasn’t very good at being persuasive.

“Oh Michael, he’s all beat up. Wouldn’t you rather have this little fire engine?” she said.

“No, mommy, I want the robot! I want the robot!”

She rolled her eyes and I snapped up the robot and we went over to the old couple who were holding the garage sale to pay.

“Whatcha got there, son?” My Dad caught us on the way over.

“Look Dad! I’m getting this shiny red robot! We’re going to have space battles!”

“Doesn’t look so shiny to me.” My Father was looking at some old records with Sandy, our golden retriever. “But if you say so son, you go ahead with your mother. I bet it’s worth a fortune.” He winked at me.

Mom rolled her eyes at him and he smiled back. I remember thinking that the old couple seemed a bit odd when we went to pay for the robot. They got all quiet when my Mom tried to talk to them, and said that they hadn’t meant to put the robot out. I thought maybe it had belonged to one of their children when they were younger. I felt sad when I began to think I wouldn’t get my shiny red robot after all.

“But I can see you really do want it,” the old man had said. “So you know what son, you can have him. For a boy like you, it’s free. You just have to promise to take good care of him.”

And then he’d tousled my hair. My Mom tried to get them to take at least some money, five dollars even, but they’d wouldn’t hear of it.

We drove back to the house in the station wagon, my father and mother bickering over the amount of stupid crap my Dad had bought (“really Mark, we don’t even own a record player…”) and I sat in the backseat with Sandy, overjoyed with the thought of the exciting space battles that Robot and I were going to have.


I played with zoopzorp all Sunday, until finally, despite my complaints to stay up later, my mother made me wash up and get ready for bed.

“It’s a school night,” she said.

I wanted to sleep with zoopzorp but she wouldn’t allow it – I think at the time she was already worrying I was becoming a bit obsessed with the robot – and so she put my red plastic companion down on the floor in the in corner, and assured me that he’d be there all night with me while I slept.

She flicked on the nightlight, kissed me on the forehead, and switched off the lights.

“Good night son,” she said, a backlit silhouette standing in the darkness of the doorway. “I love you.”

“I love you too Mummy,” I said, and she closed the door.

I started to get sleepy, but then just as I started to drop off I heard a voice coming out of the dimness:

“Michael…. Michael….”

“Hello?” I said. “Who’s there?”

“It’s me Michael, your robot.” The voice did not sound like my childhood self thought a robot voice should sound at all. It was deep and smooth and sounded like the voice of a man wearing a tuxedo.

“Robot?” I said, sitting up under the covers. “You can talk?”

“Why yes, Michael, of course I can.”

“But you didn’t talk when we found you at the garage sale. And we had space battles all day and you didn’t say anything.”

“I can’t talk around them, Michael,” zoopzorp said. “Only around you. Because you’re special, Michael. I don’t want them to know.”

“You mean my parents?”

“Yes Michael. So me talking to you will be our little secret, okay?”

“Okay,” I said.

“Good boy, Michael.” I felt funny of all of a sudden. “Now I want to ask you a question. Are you scared of the dark, Michael?”

“No, of course not,” I said. “Being afraid of the dark is for sissies. And I’m not a sissy. I’m brave.”

“I know you are! You’re so brave, Michael.” zoopzorp’s voice glided smoothly through the darkness like a black serpent. “Then I want you to sit and listen because I’m going to tell you a story about the darkness and the things that live in it. Turn off the nightlight, Michael.”

I unplugged the light from the wall next to my bed and leaned forward with my knees pulled up against my body and my arms wrapped around them, and zoopzorp told me stories about the dark and the horrible creatures that lived in it: wild beasts and evil men and dark demons and psycho killers and The Devil himself. But I wasn’t scared because I was brave, and I loved zoopzorp and his little plastic gun.

That was to be the first night of many. The weeks went by and day after day I rushed home from school on the weekdays to play with zoopzorp for as long as I could. I spent all the Saturdays of Indian summer conquering planets and exploring the far reaches of space in the soft green grass of the yard, just me, zoopzorp and Sandy. I’d play the whole day until dinner, and for hours after that until at night when my parents were finally gone and zoopzorp would tell me scary stories about the darkness and all the things that lived in it and what they’d done, and then right before I fell asleep he’d always tell me he loved me and that I was a good boy.

As the nights went by though, zoopzorp’s stories started to get scarier and scarier. He went from telling me about the things that lived in the dark to about how a man who’d lived in the house before my family had chopped up his wife and the postman, and buried them in the basement; how years ago all the teachers in the high school drew a big circle of lamb’s blood on the gym floor and then killed one of the students with a knife and ate her; and how there was demon that had possessed the mind of old Mrs. Benson and made her crazy, and that’s why she’d shot her son who took care of her in the face with a pistol, and they’d locked her up in the asylum.

“Robot, your stories are becoming too scary,” I finally said one night at the end of September. “I’m real brave but even these stories are starting to scare me.”

“No, Michael, you’re not scared are you?” zoopzorp crooned. “I’m telling you about reality, Michael. I’m telling you what the grown-ups never will. Because I know you’re big and brave, and don’t have to be treated like a little child . You don’t want me to treat you like a little child like the grown-ups do, do you, Michael?”

“No,” I said, feeling kind of funny again.

“Good,” said zoopzorp. “And don’t you think your friends at school should be treated that way either, do you?”

“No!” I said. “I hate having to go to school and learn about multiplication, and how all the teachers just treat us like we’re stupid little kids.”

“Of course you do,” zoopzorp reassured me from his corner in the dark. “So I want you to do this for me, Michael. I want you to write down the stories I tell you, and share them with all your friends at school so they can be grown-ups too.”

“What?” I said. “No, I can’t do that. I’ll get in trouble. The stories are too scary.”

“No, no, no, Michael.” I felt zoopzorp’s words washing over me like the waves of the ocean. “They need to know. You need to help them become brave like you. Will you do that for me?”

“No, I can’t! I’m sorry! I love you Robot but I don’t want to get in trouble. I think I should just go to sleep.”

“MICHAEL,” said zoopzorp, very slowly. “You must write down my stories and share them with everyone else. Do you remember the story I told you about little Annie and how her face got sliced up and burned off by her Daddy? Or about the Mommy who reached down the garbage disposal for her ring and had her arm all ground up? Or about that boy that the man chained up in his basement forever? “I love you too Michael, but if you don’t do this for me these things will start to happen to you too, and then I’ll have to vaporize you with my ray gun and find someone else to share my stories with the world.”

“Now you’re just being silly,” I said. “I’m a kid but I know they’re are just stories. And it’s just a little plastic gun. I know it’s just pretend. You can’t vaporize anyone. And you’re being mean to me, Robot, so I’m not sure I like you anymore. Good night.”

I went to sleep but I could feel zoopzorp fuming in the corner. My Mom wondered why I stopped playing with him for the next few days, and I told her I just didn’t feel like it, right up until I came home from school and Sandy was missing, and there was a big burn mark in a ring on the floor where her doggie bed used to be. Mom and Dad told me that Sandy ran away with another dog and got married to her, but later I heard them talking with the man they hired to clean up the burn.

“Spontaneous combustion,” I heard him say from around the corner. “It’s the damnedest thing, I’ve seen it before. Happens to people you know, so why shouldn’t it happen to dogs too, I reckon?”

I knew what really happened. I started playing with zoopzorp again after that, and he started talking to me again at night, only now it wasn’t fun, I was afraid; not of the stories but of zoopzorp himself, and that he might vaporize me like he did Sandy.

“Share my stories, Michael,” he said, but his voice was different now, meaner. “Spread the gospel of zoopzorp.”

“What’s ZoopZorp?”

“zoopzorp,” he said. “I am zoopzorp. Spread my gospel. Share my stories with the others.”

“I will,” I said, crying. “I will.”


It was only a matter of time before word got back to my parents. I heard them talking in the kitchen, right after my mother had hung up the phone. I didn’t know it was a call from the school at the time, but I could tell from their hushed tones they were talking about me and it wasn’t good.

I was in my room playing with zoopzorp. We were fighting a space battle against the evil aliens from Ulaan Khuree. My mother stood in the doorway and looked down at me.

“Michael honey,” she said softly. “Could you come in to the living room? Your father and I want to talk to you.”

Shit. Now I knew was in trouble.

The principal had called my parents and recommended I be suspended for a month and see a psychologist. He’d heard all the stories going around the school, the ones I’d told the other students, the ones zoopzorp had made me write down and tell – the gospel of zoopzorp. I was just spreading his gospel like he’d told me to, hoping that’d keep him loving me and stop him from vaporizing me like he did Sandy.

“Son, is there something you want to tell us?” my father said, lines of worry wrinkling his face. I remember thinking he looked old then. I’d never seen him look that old. He reminded me of Grandpa, or the old man at the garage sale we’d gone to so many weeks ago.

I could never properly explain. And I could never betray zoopzorp. I promised that it would be our little secret and our little secret alone.

“Son, why are you telling the other students at school these terrible things? Where did you hear them?”

I had to lie. I had to say something. I told Mom and Dad the stories just came to me. That I’d been plagued with nightmares ever since Sandy disappeared and I just had to tell the other kids because they bothered me so much. I broke down and cried and cried and promised I’d never do it again. The whole time all I could think about was zoopzorp and his little plastic ray gun. I knew he was watching. I knew he was listening from my room. And it scared me.

But as it turned out I didn’t need to spread the gospel of zoopzorp anymore. Because soon the gospel of zoopzorp started coming true.

Anne Driscoll ended up being the little girl that had her face sliced up and burned with a clothes iron by her Daddy. Everybody tried to act like everyone didn’t know, and all the teachers tried to calm us down by talking about it without really talking about it, but we all knew. We all knew. Timmy Fisk said her Dad was going to go upstate and get the chair because of horrible it all was.

Little Stevie’s Mom was the one who reached down the garbage disposal. She was in the hospital for weeks after that, her arm a pile of diced flesh and bone potpurri inside a cast, and Little Stevie had to go stay with his Grandma, who he told us smelled like moth balls.

And there was more. Genevieve Fletcher tripped on the sidewalk and got run over by a garbage truck. Tommy Gray speared his eyeballs on a white picket fence when he was trying to catch a softball in Pickens Park. Mr. Zigley the science teacher committed suicide. All the teachers wouldn’t talk about that either, but Arnie Schultz heard it from his uncle, that Zig blew his brains out in a motel with a shot from a shiny revolver, following shot after shot of whiskey he’d taken before it.

I never did hear who was the boy that got locked up in the basement like in the story zoopzorp told me… but maybe that was the most frightening part of about all the things that were happening. I tried to sleep at night but the thought of that poor boy, and everyone who’d died, their bodies dead and spread, like unfolded paper dolls, kept me awake at night.

It was a couple nights after I hear about Mr. Zigley and I could hear my parents arguing in the kitchen they were yelling so loud. I had already brushed my teeth and gone to bed. The lights were off and it was dark in my room. I knew zoopzorp was watching from the corner. I could feel him.

“zoopzorp?” I said.

“Yes, Michael?” zoopzorp’s voice wasn’t mean anymore, ever since I told him I’d spread his gospel. It was fluid and smooth again, like the fabric of Mommy’s black scarf she only wore when her and Dad went to The Opera.

“I did what you told me, zoopzorp. I told your stories to all the other boys and girls.”

“I know Michael,” he said. “That’s good. Good.”

“zoopzorp?”

“Yes?”

“Are you making all the terrible things happen to the other boys and girls and the grown-ups? Are they happening somehow because I told them those stories? Are the stories coming true?”

“No Michael,” zoopzorp’s voice circled in the darkness. “They’re just stories.”

“Okay,” I said. But I didn’t believe him. And somehow, I knew he knew I didn’t.

“zoopzorp?”

“Yes?”

“I love you.”

“I love you too, Michael. Good night.”

My eyelids suddenly got heavy and the last thing I thought about before they closed was the boy from the story, chained up in that man’s basement and crying for help, and that no one would ever hear him.


I was worried something terrible would happen, that zoopzorp’s grip on me would only tighten more and more over time. That’d he make me tell more terrible stories until they all came true, until everyone at school was dead, my family too, and maybe even everyone in town.

But that never happened. As the days went by, zoopzorp spoke less and less to me at night. He used to tell me three or four stories a night sometimes, when I first got him, but soon he only told me one or two, or would just tell me that he loved me, and then sit in the dark silently.

Finally one night in October I called out for him in the darkness but there was no answer. I played with zoopzorp the next day but it was less fun. And when I set him in the corner in my room that night I couldn’t feel him anymore. He was gone. He was just a plastic robot now. When she saw I’d stopped playing with him Mom threw zoopzorp into a box of old things in the crawlspace and over time I forgot all about him.

The years went by everyone grew to forget that terrible time that befell our town, and I even began to forget about zoopzorp. But I always knew I had to keep my word about him, nonetheless.

Yesterday was my 19th birthday, and I came back home to visit my parents, and to go out with some friends in town.

“Mom? Dad?” I said, coming in to the house. “I’m home!”

I felt a chill like a black snack writhe its way up my spine when I heard the voice that responded:

“Hello Michael. Bet you didn’t think you’d see me again.”

It was him. On the kitchen floor were two large rings – burn marks, just like the one that’d been in the place of Sandy’s doggie bed so many years ago – filled with black ashes, and in them rolled zoopzorp, his beaten-up little red plastic form lolling to and fro and scattering the particles everywhere.

“You thought you could just shut me out of your life, Michael? After all that I did that for you? After all that we went through together? You stopped believing in me.” His voice wasn’t smooth like it used to be. It was high and fast and wild and crazy. He stood and pointed his little plastic ray gun at me.

“It’s not over Michael! It’ll never be over! I’m real, and you must do my bidding. You must spread the gospel of zoopzorp! Spread the gospel of zoopzorp!”

He chained me to my laptop and made me write this story, the first story in the new gospel of zoopzorp. The first but definitely not the last. Oh God, please help me. I’m sorry. I’m sorry I’ve dragged you in to this. I just want to stop… I just want it all to stop… please help me…

He told me to spread the gospel of zoopzorp, and I will.

I must.

Blind

“It’s always amazed me you know just when to stop pouring,” I said, as Dr. Edelson finished doing so. He righted the china pot above the silver tray of the tea service, then began pouring the second cup.

“You know, my boy, I’ve had this same china set for over 35 years now. It should trouble me if I did not know when to stop pouring.” He set the pot down and we picked up our cups. He sat back in his easy chair and sipped the tea, resting his other hand upon the top of his cane which leaned against the side of the chair as he did so.

“Something has been bothering me, my boy. In fact, it’s been bothering me since the first time you came to visit me so long ago. I don’t know what you look like. And I know for you this is the simplest thing, to know a man’s appearance, but for me, you understand, it’s a much more complicated and shall we say… intimate thing.”

“I understand,” I said. “It’s okay Dr. Edelson. I trust you.”

I got up and came over to the professor’s chair. I bent over and he put his old, wrinkled hands upon my face and began to feel my cheeks. His hands explored the nuances of my visage, around my cheekbones, near the corners of my mouth – intrepid explores in unmapped territory.

“You’re so beautiful,” Dr. Edelson said, “but this is difficult. Would you mind?”

“Of course.” I kneeled. I felt his hands continue to explore my face, caressing my cheeks, my forehead, pinching the bridge of my nose and exploring the length of it. Then Dr. Edelson’s hands moved to my eyes and I felt his fingers not moving atop but pinched in a grip and pushing against their surface. I cried out and tried to stand but the old man held me in place by some untold reservoir of strength.

“Professor stop! Please!” I screamed, as the old man pierced my skull’s sockets with his fingers. He wriggled them around my eyes and pulled and twisted. I screamed and screamed as my eyes rotated and slipped beneath his grasp, until finally I heard a wet snap as he yanked them free of my skull. I moaned in agony and and fell forward. I felt blood gush down my cheeks and drip onto the floor.

Then there was a sound, a strange slurrrrp, like that of a man sucking a grape held between his lips into his mouth, followed by the same sound again. I heard The Professor rise from his chair, the leather shifting beneath him.

“You are beautiful,” he said. “So beautiful, now I can truly see.”

I felt him kneel down next to me and placed his hand upon my shoulder. With his other hand he grabbed my chin, smearing the blood running down my face. I sobbed.

And then I felt the old man reach for my teeth.

Father & Son

“I don’t wanna,” Timmy cried, holding the rifle in his shaking hands. “I can’t…” His face was wet with tears and his cheeks flushed.

“Ya gotta,” said Pop. “Ya gotta, Timmy! Remember what I tolds ya. Remember what they is.” The man shook his finger at his reluctant son.

“But they’s people!” The boy sobbed. “They’s people, Pop! I can’t do it to them, I just can’t. They’s people!”

John Angrum knelt down next to his young son. He clutched the boy’s shaking arm around the wrist, the one closest to him, the one that sat beneath the forestock, and slowly brought it up, leveling the weapon at its end with the milling crowd in the distance.

“You know what they is, son,” he said, looking him in the eye. “Tell me what they is.”

“They’s dead, Pop,” Timmy said quietly. The metal of the barrel glinted in the noonday son. “They’s dead.”

“That’s right Timmy,” John said. “They’s all dead.”

Timmy closed his one eye, just as his father had taught him years ago, and pulled the trigger.