It had been at least three years since I had last seen John. I wondered if “best friend” was still applicable, given the circumstances. Somehow semantics were the last thing on my mind. Who left a voicemail in this day and age, anyway? Only John. His social and emotional ineptitude let him feel, think and act with not a single care for what others found acceptable or “in”. I admired that in him. He was the opposite of me, as I was confident and outgoing. I went to the parties, did the drugs, drank the shots. I had my own place way before he even considered leaving his parents’ home. Yet still, in a way, he had always been far more “free” than me.
Of course, that was back when we were in college. After we parted ways, the journey of life took…different routes for each of us. I ended up enlisting and following a boot’s lifestyle for a few years. John collected degrees like stamps and hopped between part-time jobs. We tried to meet up and connect for cultural events or each other’s birthdays. Life inevitably takes its course, though. Over time our get-togethers dwindled from once a month to once a year. For a long while, not even that. By the time I was 26, I hadn’t spoken with the man I loved as a brother in two years. We met at his family’s summer house by the northern coast for a pair of days. Bars, a casino, the beach, and a penthouse all to ourselves. Still, it hadn’t ended on the best of terms.
Three whole years had passed since then and here I was, tripping over every piece of furniture in my house. I dodged the third Lego piece behind the corner of the stairwell, saving myself quite a bit of grief, and went down into the basement to get my duffel bag. At times, I had to question whether my son left these out of negligence or if he was trying to show his old man that he could hunt “big animals” too. Adorable little runt.
Throwing the duffel bag over my shoulder, I dialed my wife’s number into my phone. Life in the army, both during and after Bootcamp tended to prepare one for pretty much anything. The habits of getting up early, making one’s bed, and keeping a bag ready for sudden departures hadn’t been lost on me. With the house locked, the dog fed and the woman of my life appeased with promises of a weekend getaway, I threw the bag onto the backseat and left. Unlike my 99 Astra, life sure had a way of coming at you fast. Much like said Astra, though, I took pride in being a tough bone to chew on. After the dishonorable discharge, bouncing back wasn’t the easiest thing in the world yet I did it nonetheless. I took a couple of swigs from my pocket flask to steel myself against the cold and carried on.
On the way, I lost myself to the roads of memory. The teenage years I had spent with John, playing video games and geeking out with the other nerds in our group of friends. The wild nights of college when I ran out his patience with the latest of my dramas and mischiefs. I remembered the nights I spent having dinner at his place, his parents still sent me a gift when my birthday came along every year. Great people, all of them odd in their own harmless way. These had been some of the best times of my life. Sure, there were mistakes made along the way, but I for one never liked to dwell on the past.
I found the town by sundown and the coastline was deserted as I’d expected. With the rain and the cold, nobody stepped foot in it. His house was pretty isolated, a couple of miles away from the center. It was very characteristic of his family to keep a comfortable distance. As I slowly rolled into his driveway, I could see the lights were already on. I parked the car and took in a deep breath. I forced down over half of the contents of my flask, replacing the sobering chill with a vigorous burn.
I stepped outside the car, shaking off the tension in my legs and back, and looked over to his porch. There he was, waving down at me with a big grin on his face. His hair was oily and black, his features rough and germanic. You could see a hint of eastern in his eyes. He wore the same black button-up shirt and brown chinos he’d worn three years before when we “made it big”. I missed him with all of my heart. I didn’t bother waving back as I opened the backseat door. Reaching my duffel bag, I grasped around for a small box and cold steel. As I pulled the Winchester M21 out and closed the door, I slid the two slugs into their respective barrels, glancing at the corner of the yard.
The small dirt mound was still where I left it. Where I’d left him. I was holding in my right hand the same gun that had blown a hole through John so cleanly that a dessert plate could have easily fit through. Right through his trusting heart. Right through the shirt that thing, whatever it was, was wearing. I’ve never considered myself a man of prejudice, but dead things should stay dead and certainly not leave voicemails to their former friends.
Turning my attention back to “John”, I could see he was no longer waving at me. In fact, he was no longer smiling, either. Swallowing my fear, I took aim.
Credit : James R. I. Peace
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