The Laying Waste

In the garage where his father built bird boxes there was an old chest filled with tools and a folded up tarp. Travis, who was 13, had known for some time that this was where his father hid his Smith and Wesson .38 Special.

His father, Jim, joined a pistol club a few years back but the novelty had worn off. Jim had stashed the gun away and told his wife that he had sold it. She didn’t like having a gun around, but Jim never liked getting rid of anything. A while back, Travis had found a dirty magazine stashed in the old wood stove in the garage. When he went to get it the following day it had gone. It had been like Lassiters Lost Reef ever since. Travis was searching for the magazine when he stumbled upon the gun in the old chest. It became his secret.

 

Travis hefted the gun in his small hands. He spun the cylinder, pulled back the hammer and took aim at something on the wall and pulled the trigger. Snap. He rehearsed the quick draw a few times, twirled it on his finger, then placed it reverently back inside the chest.

He was about to leave when he noticed something poking out from under a box of old screws at the bottom of the chest. The corner of a magazine. He moved the box to the side but it was just an old hunting periodical. As he grabbed it, an envelope slipped from its pages. Travis picked up the envelope. He knew it contained photos by the way it felt. His heart quickened. He suspected he had struck a rich vein. A bunch of small, hand-developed black and whites slid from the envelope into his hand. They were of a small girl, aged about five or six. She was dressed in tiny cotton underpants and a dirty singlet. She looked like she had been crying. They were taken in a motel room, and the curtains in the background were blown out by the sun. A smiling man was seated on a bed. It was his father, several years younger. Travis moved slowly through the rest of the photos like a body through a windscreen.

Suddenly the automatic garage door began to open. Travis slammed shut the lid of the chest and ran out the door into the rear yard. He jumped the fence and bolted into the scrub. Travis knew of a secret hideout where some older boys smoked weed and hung out. There he found a box of matches. He set fire to the photos, watching them burn. The little girl’s face faded to black, and was soon nothing but ash. He wondered if he knew her.

At the dinner table that night, Travis’ father talked about the day’s work. Travis couldn’t look at him. His appetite was gone. He felt a hollowness in him, like he’d had his insides removed, and yet could somehow still function.

Jim said, “Okay there, champ?”

Travis looked up into his father’s eyes. He tried to hold back the nausea, the grief that threatened to drown him. He wished he had never bought that damned gun. Tears sprang to his eyes and he scraped his chair and ran to his room.

 

Travis heard Jim knocking on the door. “Travis?” The doorknob turned against the lock.

“Leave me alone,” Travis said.

Jim told his wife that something must have gone down at school, and that Travis just needed a little time to come around. He went out the back to feed the cat. He noticed something on the lawn. He went over and picked up a small black and white photograph. Jim walked into the garage and opened the chest and checked under the box of old screws. He messed around in there for several minutes, his breath becoming more and more laboured, the blood thickening in his veins. He closed the lid of the chest. He looked through the window at the lit curtains of his son’s room. He stood that way for some time, the walls closing in on him. His wife called him from the rear door.

“I’ll be in a few minutes,” he answered.

Jim walked over to an old desk and opened a drawer. Among the pencils and the dust was a box of .38 hollow points. He opened the box and took one out. He took the revolver and sat in the front seat of the van and turned the key. The radio came on.

 

Travis furiously worked the controls of a video game. The sound of the gunshot was lost in the roar of artillery fire through his headphones as he laid waste to the hoards of Vampires.

 

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