[Trigger warning for language and violence]
He woke up with the gun in his hand. Even before he opened his eyes, he knew what he was holding. He wrapped his fingers around it, and a sense of familiarity rushed over him. There was an incessant beeping from an alarm clock on the bedside table that only quieted when he slammed his fist down on it. As he sat up, his calloused forefinger found the trigger and hovered over it. Any amateur gun owner would tell you that you should never touch the trigger until you’re ready to shoot. But he wasn’t an amateur, and in his line of work if you were caught off guard and your finger was too far from the trigger, you were as good as dead. As a general rule, he liked to operate under the assumption that he was ready to shoot anyone, at any time.
A breeze rustled his bedroom curtains and a gust of fresh air hit him in the bare chest. He was shirtless. What the fuck? He was used to waking up with a limited memory. Sometimes it was next to his girlfriend. Sometimes the hooker down the road. Hell, sometimes it was just him, cigarette in one hand and a line of coke on the nightstand. But it was never his gun. Ironic, considering he trusted his Glock more than any of those other things.
The first thing he noticed when he opened his eyes was that the sun was already setting. Had he slept all day? Taking inventory of the room around him, he noticed a crumpled-up pair of jeans on the bedroom floor. He tried to stand but was immediately paralyzed by a pounding headache. This wasn’t the type of headache he got from drinking too much. No, this was the kind of headache that he could only get from work. He couldn’t remember working last night, but it would explain the gun in his hand. He stumbled over to lean on the dresser and pressed the magazine release on his gun. It was a standard magazine that could hold 14 rounds, plus the one he kept in the chamber at all times. He counted the bullets that were left. Thirteen. None in the chamber. There was no way he would have forgotten firing his gun last night, let alone doing it twice. He hadn’t been this careless with a gun since his brothers convinced him to play Russian Roulette on his eight birthday. His father caught them after one round and threatened to shoot all three of them in the head with his fully loaded pistol.
Bracing himself, he rose from the bed again and walked over to his discarded pants. A quick search of the front pockets proved fruitless. In his back right pocket, he pulled out a folded up piece of paper. You don’t have to do this. That was all it said. No name, no explanation. Just a cryptic message. He checked the back left pocket and pulled out a receipt. Finally, some answers. He uncrumpled the receipt and saw that it was from O’Malley’s, the Irish pub down the street. Nothing odd about that – he and his brothers met for drinks there at least once a week. He skimmed the rest of the paper. He’d cashed out at 8:30pm on Tuesday May 29th. Four beers and a plate of fries. Everything seemed completely normal, and he started to feel a little more grounded. Then he looked down at his phone. It was 6:00pm on Tuesday May 29th. That wasn’t right. He tried to make sense of what was going on, but with the jackhammer that had taken up residence in his head, all he could do was look back and forth between the receipt and his cell phone, baffled.
Before he could dwell on the inconsistency any further his cell phone rang. He saw his father’s name flash across the screen, and he instinctively pulled on his jeans, tucking his gun into the waistband. By the time he answered the phone he had pulled a shirt on and was halfway out the door. “Yeah?”
“I need you,” his father’s voice was all business. “Warehouse on 23rd and 8th.” Then the line went dead.
He was just opening the door to his car when he heard a ping, indicating a text message had just come through. There was no name attached to the message and when he opened it, he saw there was no number either. Just a familiar message. You don’t have to do this.
He didn't have time right now to sit around and contemplate the bizarre morning he was having. He would have to go and clean up whatever mess his father needed him to clean up, and then he could sit down and figure out what the hell was going on.
He reached the warehouse in under ten minutes and drove past it, parking in a dark, unused lot a few blocks away. He took off his rings and chain – he learned early on that scrubbing blood off those was a bitch – and then checked his gun. He got out of his car and approached the warehouse, quickly but carefully. He had been prepared to go in hot, clearing each room on his way to find his father, but to his surprise the side door was swung open by his older brother. “Let’s go,” the older boy hissed, his own gun at his side.
He followed his brother up some rickety stairs and into a big, empty room. Well, empty except for his father and the bald man that was tied to a chair. “Thanks for showing up princess,” his father deadpanned. “Hope we didn’t interrupt your day.” His father’s face displayed both anger and disappointment, somehow simultaneously.
He ignored his father, cocking his gun instead. “This one?” he pointed his gun at the now trembling bald man and turned to face him square on. He aimed the gun between the eyes of the bald man. One shot, always. No need to leave behind more evidence than necessary. His finger started to slowly put pressure on the trigger when the bald man spoke from his chair. “You don’t have to do this.”
It was like a bucket of ice water was dumped on him. Those words had become a kind of mantra over the course of the evening. For a moment he let himself feel all the emotions he had repressed. Compassion. Regret. Exhaustion. He was tired of this life. Tired of the killing, and the cops, and the inability to have a real relationship. What if he didn’t have to do this? What if he just . . . stopped?
He turned to his father. “What if,” he started, his voice cracking like a prepubescent teen. He cleared his throat and tried again. “What if I wanted out?”
To his surprise, his father didn’t lash out. Instead, in a calm tone, his father said, “Son, you’re not handcuffed to this life. You can come and go as you please.”
He exhaled a sigh of stunned relief, just about to let himself relax. But then he saw it. His father had been standing in front of a window when they first got to the warehouse. Over the last twenty minutes the sun had finished setting, and darkness had taken over. The window no longer offered a view of the outside, but now showed a reflection of what was in front of it. He saw his father reach back to make sure his gun was accessible. His brother, who had moved to stand a little behind their father, did the same thing. And in the reflection from the window, he watched as his father gave his brother the order to clean house. He’d been around long enough to know that clean house meant no one got out alive. It meant he wasn’t going to get out alive.
He forced out a laugh and loosened his shoulders. “I’m fucking with you,” he told his father, as nonchalantly as possible. “Didn’t expect you to get all emotional on me. Are you getting sentimental in your old age?” His father mumbled some curses and they all chuckled, relief pouring out of each of them.
Suddenly, his father straightened up, all signs of amusement gone. “I ain’t got time for your bullshit. Do it and let’s go.”
He turned to face the bald man once more, raising his pistol in his right hand. “You don’t have to do this!” the bald man cried, quickly becoming hysterical.
He brought his other hand to the pistol and looked the bald man directly in the eyes. “Yes. Yes I do.”
He fired, bracing himself for a deafening noise that never came. In place of the sound of a gunshot was a beeping noise. Quiet at first, and then louder in its intensity. With a start, the man opened his eyes and found himself in bed with the gun in his hand.
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Great story! The opening line is very strong, and I think that bears repeating. Starting a story with a "waking up" scene is always a gamble, since frankly, waking up is pretty boring. But waking up with a gun in your hand -- that's exciting. Something's happening. His wake up routine seems pretty mundane, but then there's all these little hints that something is off. The receipt especially drives this point home, but even his attitude, his hints at his sinister job. "You don’t have to do this" -- there's quite a bit of mystery in this s...
Thank you so much! I tried to be a little more subtle in the beginning so I’m happy that it was the right balance :)
I really enjoyed how you composed the story. Also the rawness of it - no embellishments or anything (in the best possible sense).
Thank you! I tried to keep it as stripped down as possible so it’s really nice to hear that it was effective. :)