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Benito Guzman carried a gun. He shot the men who came after him. A woman, his foster mother, lay on the floor stunned from the blow the man delivered. That moment had given Benito time to shoot them. He walked between the men. The one to his right twitched. Benito shot him between the eyes. The other man looked dead. Benito shot him between his eyes. He didn’t bleed. Benito searched their pockets. Numb with fear, he took cash, plastic cards, full clips, loose bullets, and guns. He put them all in an old bag and left it by the woman. He pocketed their keys and his gun.

If he could run without her, he would have.

He heard the baby crying. He got a second bag, went to the bathroom, and put in all the stuff they used in the morning, and pills he saw the woman take. He pulled the diaper bag from behind the door and dropped the plastic bag of dirty diapers in the shower and stuffed in clean ones.

The baby wailed as Benito changed her diaper and dressed her in two sets of clothes. His mother taught him how to run. He pulled her into her carrier whispering, “Don’t cry. I love you. I’ll keep you safe.” He pulled the carrier to the kitchen.

The woman lay still on the floor.

“Wake up. We have to go.”

Bento shook the woman’s arm gently. “Wake up.”

He shook her harder. Scared, he pounded on her chest.

“Wake up. Wake up.”

She opened her eyes. Her baby in the carrier captured her attention. As she pushed herself up, she saw shoes and pant legs and that the men were dead.

Staggering, she tried to walk straight to the bathroom, whispering, “This is bad. This is bad.”

“We have to go.”

In the mirror, she saw blood on her left temple. She pressed a cold wash cloth on the spot.

“We have to go,” Benito yelled. “We have to go.” He thought about running without her.

Benito’s fear filled her. She jammed everyone’s clothes into suitcases.

“Wheels,” said Benito, holding up the keys to her.

“Let’s find that car.”

Three doors down stood a grey sedan that didn’t fit the neighborhood. The keys started it.

She pulled as close to the back steps as she could. Benito watched as she struggled with the suitcases. He popped the trunk. She pushed the suitcases into it and Benito crawled into the trunk and pulled them in. In the back of the trunk he found a gym bag filled with bundled money. He handed a bundle to her. She counted the bundles.

“That’s enough to support us for years. This is bad. Real bad.”

“We have to go.”


Hours later they crossed the state line.

Stopping at a drive thru, they ate fried chicken in the car. She nursed the baby. Benito fingered the door handle ready to run.

“How would you like us to be a family? You didn’t want to live with me.” She paused and switched the baby to the other side. “You scare me.”

 “You’re scared because of those men.”

“They tried to kill us. Somebody gave them a lot of money to do that.”

The baby made smacking sounds. The scent of the milk comforted Benito.

“We’ve got it now,” Benito said.

“You saved us. You killed them like the men killed your mother.”

“Those men shot her in the head. These men, I shot them. They fell down. I shot them more. One was dead already.”

“That’s what’s scary. You know those things. You learned fast. Can you learn other things?”


“Can you learn to be my boy?”

“You took me just to get that house.”

Benito fingered the gun.

“Now I care about you. Love you, just like they knew I would. You, baby, and me all got a house.”

“I have a mom.”

“She’s gone now. If I were dead and she was here, I would want her to take my baby and be her mom.” She burped the baby. She tears rolled down her face. “I did a dumb thing. He was a bad man. I didn’t leave soon enough. He killed my little boy. Nobody knows. His name was Steve.”

Benito hated his dad. The last day, his dad pushed his mom’s face into the dish water until she was quiet and limp. He pulled her from the sink and smacked her back until she started gasping.

Then, like every other day, his father said, “Time to memorize.”

It wasn’t complicated: name, date, place, weight, price. His dad read from a sheet of paper that he’d burn.

The men killed them because of those lists. He still could smell the farts of the man who killed his mom. Each day he rememorized the lists, because someone wanted it. “They’re after me," Benito said.

“Together, we can hide," she said. “A few days ago, a friend sent a copy of that man’s death certificate. He died in a bar fight.” She blurted, “Can you be my boy? We’re safe from him.”

Benito felt sad for his mom and Steve.

“Can you be just plain Ben? Never again Benito? You can go by Ben? If someone pushes, say your name is Steve. We can use my real last name. It’s Appel.”

Benito, antsy to leave, said. “Ben Apple. I like apples. Who’s baby? You?”

“Baby doesn’t have a name, yet. I’m Cloe Appel. Mom. OK?”

Benito fingered the gun then decided to love his new mom.

“We gotta go, Mom. Now.”

“Steve’d be six come Halloween.”

“Steve was twenty–two days older than me.”

She put the baby in the car seat and drove. They both had the instinct to keep moving. They both relaxed to the sound of the tires.

The End

M.J. Holt lives on a certified organic farm with her husband and many animals. Her stories have appeared in "Low Down Dirty Vote Volume II," "Alternate Theologies," "", and her poetry may be found in "Gutter Eloquence," the poetry anthologies "300K," and "Timeless Love", and other periodicals. She studied history, English, education, and holds a Masters in English Literature. She is a member of SFWA and MWA.



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