This action might not be possible to undo. Are you sure you want to continue?
by Joshua Allen
"Son, what are you doing?" John took the end of shotgun barrel out of his mouth. "Nothing, Dad." "Get up out of the snow." "I'm sorry. I was tired." "I found a good patch, just over there." Inver pointed to a fence line down the far end of a long slope, where a tree hung over the rusty barbwire and the grass poked in, making lean-tos and warrens for birds to hide. It was the perfect spot to find a pheasant. They would find one there or they wouldn't find one at all. If he had bought a dog, like John always wanted, the dog would be standing there now, pointing. "I'm sorry, Dad," John said after he stood. "You're tired, I know. It's okay to rest."
"Yeah?" "No more monkeying around with the gun, though." "Okay, Dad." They walked toward the fence. About halfway they had to stop so John could catch his breath. John didn't ask Inver to carry his gun and Inver didn't offer. When he had his wind back, they went on. John had to rest again at the base of the hill. He went down on one knee despite the damp muddiness of the ground. Inver looked down the fence line. John was careful not to touch the barbwire and scare away the pheasants before they could get within range. The dog they never bought looked back, waiting. Expectant. "Watch your line of sight," Inver said. "We see one, I'm going to duck. You take the first shot, no matter where it is, and I'll shoot while you're reloading." John nodded. The gun looked so heavy in his hands. John's arms trembled. John broke the single-shot gun open, caught the loaded shell that shot out, and stuffed it back into the breach. "I guess I'm ready." Inver was still. He squinted down the fence line. The sun was already starting to set, though John had only actually gotten to hunt maybe an hour total.
"I could go to the truck, you know." He pointed at the distant red sun. "A beautiful view. I wouldn't mind going off on my own for a few minutes, get a good vantage point to see that sunset." "Did it hurt, Dad? When you got sick?" "It wasn't really the same thing." "I know. But did it?" The dog that was not real whined. Inver nodded. "The cure was worse, but it all hurt. Real bad, I guess. So much that strength and determination and faith and all that bullshit became irrelevant." "I think I'm ready." John pointed down the fence line. "You want me to take the north side, or the south side?" The birds would likely shoot out north, in the direction of the fence, where the grass was mowed and the resistance less. And it would be easier going for John, though Inver knew John would never complain. "You take the north." * * * Inver didn't much like this time of year, when winter turned to spring. It was muddy and wet and cold, then hot, then cold again. Besides that, pheasant season was closed not, and it was too cold to fish yet. He pulled his truck into the parking garage under the hospital and put it in park. When he turned the key off, the engine dieseled, surging as though still alive even
though he had just killed it. It had been doing that lately. He had already rebuilt the carburetor, but it looked like he was going to have to bore the heads too. That was going to take at least a week. The engine finally quieted down, realizing it was truly dead. Inver put on his hat, which sported a long pheasant feather tucked into the band, and went into the hospital, up the rattling elevator to the top floor, floor four, and down the hall, to the left, third door, where John was lying still in his bed. The television set was flashing through a zippy car commercial. "Dad." "Watching baseball?" Inver asked. John shook his head. He raised a hand and pointed at the remote. "Go ahead." "No, they were losing last I checked." Inver sat down in the familiar chair next to his son's bed. "Mom here?" John asked. Inver shook his head. "Em?" Another shake. "Choir practice." A lie. John swallowed with some difficulty. Inver saw that John's water glass was empty.
"Fuck's sake." He went into the hall and looked up and down, but saw that it was empty. "Can I get a nurse in 425?" he called. No answer. Inver sighed. He put a little tap water from the bathroom into John's glass. It wasn't very cold, but it was better than nothing. John sipped, then went into a violent coughing fit. Inver had to cover John's mouth with his handkerchief. Bright red blood covered the rag when he pulled it away. It matched the faded pink spots on the rest of the thing. "When you feel better, we'll go to the McSmithy's. They stocked their ponds with largemouth this year." John nodded as best he could. Inver turned on the television, then turned it back off and set the remote down. "I think this is it, Dad. Aw! Ow!" Inver hit the call button, but the thing didn't flash or beep or anything. He went back into the hall. "Nurse! Nurse to 425!" "Dad!" John squealed in pain. Inver was back at his son's side in a second. Inver took his son's hand. "Not yet, John. Don't leave me yet." John clenched his teeth and jerked his head back.
"Love the pain, son. It's life. Every second you're alive is something to love." Tears flowed down John's face in a continuous stream. His hand was on his stomach. A trail of blood came out of his mouth and trickled down his cheek. Inver wiped it away. Inver took the long feather out of his hat. It was long. Too long to wear in a hat, and Inver wasn't deaf to the snickers and whispers when he wore the hat in public, but he chose to ignore it all. Inver put the feather on John's chest. "I brought your pheasant feather, John. You remember when you killed it? It came right at you. I never seen a gun move that fast. You were like Wild Bill on the draw. It fell at your feet. Remember? Right at your feet. And we took the feather to the Farm & Feed and it won first place. Longest of the season." Inver picked up the feather and tickled John's lips with the end of it. "Remember how big that bird was?" John calmed a little. His eyes remained closed, but he settled. "I want you to think of the best day of your life, right now John." John squeezed his hand and convulsed. "Think, John. Think of the best day you ever had. I'm going to think of that day you shot that bird, but you can think of whatever you want, okay?" John convulsed again and screamed out.
Inver squeezed his hand and closed his eyes. He thought of that bird, like an arrow. Weak as he was, John had fired in self-defense as much as anything. John screamed. Inver squeezed his hand. "Happiest day of your life, John. Happiest day." When Inver opened his eyes, Dr. Haven was standing by the bed, looking down on both of them. John's eyes were closed. He was so still. "Is he dead, doctor?" Doc Haven shook his head. "He's calm now. It passed." "I hit the call button." "I'm really sorry, Inver. We had a car accident, all hands on deck kind of thing. Jesus, I'm sorry." "Is he getting better, Doc? He lived through that bout of pain, that's got to count for something. He's a strong boy." Dr. Haven folded his hands in front of him and sighed. "No. He's not." Inver tried not to hear. "Unfortunately, when someone is hurting as bad as John, we want to look for any sign that things are improving, but the truth is, Inver, that almost all the tests show the same thing. He's just getting worse." "You said 'almost,' Doc, I think--"
Dr. Haven held up his hand. "I knew I shouldn't have said it in that way, Inver." He took a deep breath and debated with himself. "Yes, one test is showing improvement. Brain activity. But an EEG is only an average of brain activity. I think it's likely that all we're seeing is the brain trying to make a last ditch effort." Inver felt his chest, his head, and everything sink. He had never felt so low and small. "You still smoking, aren't you, Inver? Why don't you go have a cigarette? I'll watch John a few minutes." In the parking garage, Inver smoked slowly, trying to enjoy the smoke and the pain it brought. He opened the tailgate of his truck and sat. He smoked one, then two, then polished off his pack. A little orange dog appeared at the entrance to the parking garage. It stared down into the darkness, then sniffed the air, perhaps finding something familiar in the scent of burning tobacco. "Come here, boy." Inver clicked with his tongue. The dog took a step in. Then paused. It barked, making its button ears flop. "Come on, pup. Pup-pup." The dog's curiosity and the potential for food and familiarity won out, and it trotted down
into the darkness toward Inver. Inver scooped the dog up and blew a cloud of smoke into its pointy little face. Inver set the dog down on the tailgate. The dog peered over the edge at the ground three of its body lengths below. It yapped, scared. Inver told the dog to stay. It made as though it might jump, but then it didn't. Too far. Inver found a bag of ancient beef jerky stuffed under the bench seat of his truck. The little dog barked the entire time Inver was out of sight. When it saw the jerky, it turned three circles and yapped harder. He offered the hungry little orange dog the biggest piece in the bag. The dog chewed, then tried to swallow, and then resumed chewing, slobber poured out of its mouth, coating the jerky. It finally wrestled the big piece down. The dog looked up at him and tried to climb Inver's forearm to get at the jerky. Its eyes were locked on the bag. Inver held the bag up with his left hand. The dog turned and barked. Then it suddenly sat and went quiet. Inver smiled. Good dog. "John always wanted a dog," Inver said. The dog must have thought Inver meant to pet it, because it initially didn't react when he wrapped his fingers around its throat. Only once Inver started to squeeze did the dog begin to fight back. Inver's grip, honed by years of fencing and farming,
was as cold and hard as drop-forged iron. The dog's throat collapsed very suddenly. Next the spine, about as thick as a pencil, snapped. * * * Inver lifted the blanket of his sleeping son's bed and laid the dead dog inside the sheets there. John was as still as death, except for his eyes, which worked and worked, spinning and twisting beneath the lids. "Best day of your life, John. Dad will be right back." Inver didn't care what Dr. Haven said. The feather had worked. John was a strong boy. He touched his son's head. The skin burned. There was a drop of blood on John's ribcage. Inver could see a spike of bone rising from John's skin. He had broken a rib while coughing. "Nurse!" * * * Inver drove. His eyes scanned the road. He was shaking. He had seen it on the way here. He had to remember where. Inver slammed the brakes on his old truck. Behind him, a car he never saw blared its horn and swerved around him. Then it swerved a second time when Inver's door flew open. Inver left his door open and hurried around the front of his truck. A dead raccoon, bright red guts caked with clumps of matter lay on the ground. If this were summer, the corpse would be
covered in flies, even as fresh as it was. Inver picked it up. He put it in his truck, letting the carcass slide down to the floor when he stopped. The raccoon would not be enough. Inver thought of Em's kitten. It was probably in the basement right now. He could slip in, get it, and be gone before Em or Diane knew he was home. The kitten wouldn't be enough. Inver would need more. John was strong boy, but John needed help. * * * The ambulance came screaming into the subbasement garage. Dr. Haven was there to meet it. Motor vehicle accident was the closes thing to real city-type trauma that Dr. Haven saw, and most of the time the ones he saw had bumps and bruises or were, for all intents and purposes, DOA. This one was of the later type. The cart's wheels descended, as it slid out of the ambulance. Dr. Haven administered adrenaline after a quick exam. There was no heartbeat that he could detect. "Guy got out on the interstate. Fucking mess. The truck barely touched him," the EMT said. "Shut up," Dr. Haven said, putting his stethoscope on the man's chest. "His car was full of dead animals. Cats and coons. Guy was probably making glue," the other EMT said.
"Or stew," the first EMT said. They laughed. "Shut up! Shut up!" Dr. Haven screamed. He knew he should not be mad. This man was dead. They had known that when they found him. Dr. Haven shined a light into the dead man's eyes. Then it hit him, all at once. Primitive facial recognition kicked in with a sudden jolt. "Inver?" he asked the dead man. * * * Dr. Haven stopped in the doorway. The room stank, but that's not why he hesitated. The patient's bed was covered in a gruesome array of dead animal parts. Centermost was a long feather, lying vertically on the boy's chest like an external sternum. Flanking that was a dead dog, and a dead raccoon. "What the hell is going on here?" Dr. Haven asked. To his surprise, John rolled his head toward him and smiled. "Is dead back yet?" Dr. Haven shook his head. Dr. Haven closed the door behind him. "John, did Inver do this? Did Inver put this stuff in your bed?" John considered the question. "I don't know, Doc." John looked up at the television and turned the channel to baseball. He laughed. "The score hasn't improved."
"John." Dr. Haven's voice caught in his throat. John should be dead, not awake and laughing at baseball scores. "John there's been an accident. Your father--" "Dr. Haven, get me a glass of water," John said without looking. "But John--" "A glass of water, doctor." Dr. Haven, against everything that was in his heart, soul, and mind, fetched the boy a glass of water.
This action might not be possible to undo. Are you sure you want to continue?
We've moved you to where you read on your other device.
Get the full title to continue listening from where you left off, or restart the preview.