In..Out...In...Out.. Jim needed to concentrate on his breathing, or he would stop. He had never done this before. He'd been on trial. He'd been convicted. He'd been to prison. But all that was someone else s doing, not his. All his life he let the forces around him push him around and take charge. Today was different. Today, Jim was going to take charge. Jim was going to confront the man. The man who lied. The man who took credit for turning Jim in. The man who did the crime Jim was accused of. The man who stole the last twenty-three years of Jim’s life.
In...Out...In....Out.. Jim crept alongside the light blue colonial trying to keep out of sight, both from the inside and the outside. He altered the hold on his gun from firm to loose and back again. Firm when he felt he was losing hold of it. Loose when he felt his arm and hand muscles tighten out of control. He stood motionless in the dark, waiting for Marshal to be alone. Then sounds grew from inside the house, from imperceptible to soft and low. Footsteps and voices leaked from the wooden structure. The voices of two females mingled among the footsteps, low and unintelligible. Slowly the voices grew in volume. The sounds of sliding and clanking entered into the mix. And then the door opened and they emerged.
“I'm telling ya, Kathy's not going to have it done.”
“Mom, she said she would.”
“That girl has never been reliable. We're just wasting our time going over there this early.”
The two women walked from the doorway, across the porch, and down the steps.
“Honestly, I can't see why you picked her for a partner.”
“She's my best friend. We've always made.....”
“And you've always been late and received bad marks.”
The conversation faded as the two women climbed into a red automobile parked in the driveway. The car's engine started. The car backed out into the street and then sped off. The sound from the car's engine faded away into the night. Jim knew Marshal had a daughter. He did not know of any other children. He figured Marshal was alone now. In...Out....In....Out.... And with a big breath in, Jim ran up the steps and kicked the door open.
“Dad...Dad....DAD,” screamed a young boy standing in a doorway on the other side of the room. He had a glass of water in his hand and was proceeding from the kitchen into the living where the steps to the second floor of the house were located. The glass fell from the boy's hand and broke when it hit the floor.
“What the...” yelled Marshal as he hustled in from an adjacent room. As his legs and feet halted in shock and as his arms and hands flew up to his face and the over his head he yelled, “Shit....Jim.”
“QUIET!” screamed Jim at the man and boy. Jim kicked the door back to a somewhat closed position. He held his gun aiming squarely at Marshal's head. “I didn't know about the boy!” yelled Jim.
The three individuals stood frozen. Except for the urine running down the leg of the boy, there was no movement in the house for several minutes. “When did you get out, Jim?” Marshal asked as he broke the silence.
Jim took three extra deep breaths and exhaled equally as deep three times. His face held a wide eyed expression of shock and bewilderment. “I came for you, Marshal,” Jim said with the stutter of not knowing what to do next. “You stole my life. You lied. You...you...a man died because of you...and I got the blame.”
“Jim,” Marshal said with apprehension, “you have it wrong. I had noth...”
“I got nothing wrong!” Jim screamed. “You set me up and Steve died. That's all on you!”
Marshal's skin beaded with sweat as he stood with his hands perched far over his head. His heart rate escalated while the muscles in his legs faltered and twitched. His eyes stayed bulged and crossed, fixated at the gun barrel trained on his forehead. “Jim...” Marshal murmured with a shaky voice. “Not in front of the boy....Please....Let Daniel go.”
Jim's face made gestures of commencing to speak, but words just didn't come forth. Fragments of thoughts bounced in and out of Jim's contemplation. He struggled to pull full thoughts together and he stood in the middle of the room, improvising his revenge. “Steve died. So you should die. That's it.”
“Steve's death was his own fault!” shouted Marshal.
“If that's true, why didn't you say something twenty-three years ago? Why?”
“You were just saving your own skin. Admit it!”
“O.K. I didn't want to go to jail. But I..”
“And that's why you're going to die!”
“Jim, please.....my son.”
“Is going to watch you die!”
Daniel stayed frozen in the doorway, his pants damp with urine. “Dad,....Mister, don't hurt my Dad....Mister..” pleaded Daniel.
Slowly the sound of a car engine grew from outside the house. The sound of car doors closing followed. The sound of voices and footsteps grew and grew, turning from shoes on concrete to shoes on wood.
The older woman puzzled by the condition of the door called for her husband as she entered the dwelling. “Marshal, what on earth happened to the....”
Jim turned to the door and shot his gun at the door frame. A large piece of casing ruptured and splintered from the explosion of gunfire. The woman's scream pieced the atmosphere like an air-raid siren as she fell to a crouched position on the ground holding her head with her arms. A steady course of screaming filled the outside air as the second woman commenced running away from the scene as fast as she possibly could.
“Get the hell over there!” yelled Jim at the woman. His arm and hand holding the gun waived back and forth herding the woman between her husband and son.
“Marshal, what's going on?” asked the woman on the verge of tears.
“This is Jim, Susan. Jim and I worked at..”
“Your husband killed a man, and I served his time!” shouted Jim.
“Jim, I told you. Steve..”
“Steve died and I went to prison. And now, your wife and son are going to watch you die.”
A minute of silence passed. Then Jim barked out some orders. “Everybody kneel. Hands on your head. Closer...Move closer together.” Jim started to pace back and forth in front of the family, his hands raised up to his head as if he had a headache.
“Are you going to kill all of us?” asked Susan.
Jim's eyes fluttered back and forth as his mind searched for a complete thought. “I....” Jim stammered. This is not how Jim imagined this day going. Jim thought he would just break in, shoot Marshal, and flee unharmed. Now he had three hostages instead, and an unknown victim who already fled. Jim had no grudge against the wife or son. Jim was not a killer, killing them in cold blood was an act he could not bring himself to do. Jim had no answers for how he was going to proceed.
Jim kept pacing while the family remained on their knees. A full half hour went by as Jim searched his fractured mind for a path forward. Red lights started to flash on and off outside. The intensity built as more police cars gathered on the street in front of the house.
A muffled voice called from outside the house over a bullhorn. “Come out. Let's talk.”
“You have to kill us or let us go,” stated Susan.
Jim aimed his gun straight at Marshal's head. He turned his head to Susan and said,”go on. Leave.”
“Marshal?” Susan pleaded.
“Just go. Get out of here,” Marshal said to his wife. Susan kept knelt and kept staring at Jim. “Go Now!” shouted Marshal at Susan.
Susan stood up and walked fast towards the door. She left the building without looking back.
Jim turned to the boy. “Go...Now..” he said.
Daniel stood up and ran out of the building at breakneck speed.
“Stand up!” Jim said to Marshal with gun still fixed on his forehead.
“Jim..Wait...We can walk....”
Jim fired the gun four times. Four small spots of blood appeared on Marshal's shirt. Marshal's face changed to a look of surprise. At first the wounds felt wet and just itched. The blood spots grew and dripped. The energy that held Marshal's body up faded as the blood spilled out of his wounds. His expression morphed to an eyes closed frown. His body slid down the wall leaving four bloody smears on the wall behind him. His body came to rest in a seated position, his skin drooping off his frame.
Jim now had a decision to make. Walk out and he goes back to prison for good. Try to leave out the back and maybe he would make it, and be on the run until they catch him, and send him back to prison anyway. Not knowing what to do, Jim took the only other action he could think of. Jim ran out the front door, and fired his gun towards the street.
Jim stopped on the porch of the house. He could hear the bullets hitting the siding like a swarm of insects. He felt a sting in his leg, then a sting in his gut. Then a pain in his forehead like brain-freeze from eating ice-cream too fast. The sensation of a pulled shoulder erupted on his left side. Two more stings in his gut and he started to fall. Jim tried to move his legs to maintain his balance, but his muscles failed to follow his command.
Jim found himself lying prone on the porch. He thought that if he could get back up, everything would be fine. Jim pushed and pushed with his arm to lift his body up. His arm only managed to rock his body back and forth. He tried to cry for help. “Mommy..help mommy...mommy please help,” Jim tried to cry. The only sound that left his mouth was an inconsistently varying pitch moan. Harder and harder he tried to raise himself up and cry for help, but rocking and moaning is all his body would do.
Forty-eight seconds after being hit by the first bullet, Jim lost consciousness and expired.
Two men who worked for the coroner's office secured the body of Jim.
“I wonder why he did it?” asked the first man.
“Once a killer, always a killer,” responded the second man. “I don't think you'll find any reasonable explanation of why killed, not this time nor twenty-three years ago.”
“Yeah, you're right. Killers aren't rational. There is no reason worth killing for.”
Ken Gibbons is a factory worker from upstate New York who likes writing horror fiction. Visit his website http://www.kennystales.com.