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John Post
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tillhumanvoiceswakeus.jpg
Art by Henry Stanton 2019

Till Human Voices Wake Us

By John Post

 

 

 

Night has descended on the neighborhood when the gun falls out of the man’s pocket. He is standing in front of the two-story house when it happens, pulling his phone out of one hoodie pocket, the weapon falling out of the other as he withdraws his free hand to operate the phone. 

He is a large man, stomach bulging from the baggy hoodie. A streetlight throws a pool of halogen light onto him, defining a pale, moon-shaped face with a bulging bottom lip. A face sparked with panic as the gun clatters to the ground.

He bends over and snatches it up, stuffing it back in his pocket, looking around. The neighborhood is silent. The house looks the same as the ones surrounding it, all of them exuding upper-middle-class, manicured lawns and flanks of grand oaks lining either side of the street passing through.

He studies the cell phone, looking at its screen then back to the house, then steps down the sidewalk splitting the front lawn, up the stairs to the front porch.

He moves quietly to one of the windows, through which a man stands in the kitchen, chopping red onions on a plastic cutting board. He is in his mid-twenties, with tattoos coursing down both arms and a sweep of brown hair framing elfish features.

The man outside watches him prepare dinner. The neighborhood waits, no sound but the humming of the streetlights.

Finally, the man walks back to the door. He knocks and steps back, shifting his weight and glancing at the street behind him as footsteps thud inside.

The door opens, and the man opening the door beams.

“Hey man, how’s it going?”

The man on the doorstep shifts his weight, clears his throat. “Hi.”

His look turns confused. “Can I help you with something?”

The large man purses his lips. He looks like he’s about to throw up. A blur of movement, and the gun is out in a shaking hand, pointed at the other man’s chest.

The man holds up his hands. “Whoa whoa whoa.”

The large man’s finger rests on the trigger, trembling.

“Get inside,” he says finally.

The man complies, stepping backwards, and the larger man follows, stepping into a house with hardwood floors and stylish furniture: a grey sectional sofa, walnut entertainment center, white armchair. The unmistakably pungent smell of a cinnamon apple candle pervades the house.

He shuts the door behind him and leads the other man into a living room.

“Sit down.”

The man sits in the white chair. The large man sits on the couch beside him, gun still trained on the other man’s chest.

“Listen, please, whatever you do, I gotta-”

“ImSomebodyNow.”

The man pauses before understanding dawns across his face.

“Look, please, I don’t know what-”

“Theon1996,” the large man says. “Remember me?”

ImSomebodyNow stares at him blankly.

“Already forgotten? It was only yesterday. But I was just another person for you to fuck with, wasn’t I? Just another person to troll. Well, you killed me on a video game. I’m going to do it in real life.”

“You need to listen to me-”

“You need to shut the fuck up!” Theon1996’s scream rips through the house, his calm face exploding into rage.

ImSomebodyNow is quiet. Theon1996 raises the gun an inch higher, re-aims it. The moment hangs poised like a curtain about to drop, and then it continues, stretching into minutes.

“You can’t do it, can you?” ImSomebodyNow says.

“Shut up.”

“It’s no easy thing to do. Taking another man’s life.”

The gun wavers.

“You’ll carry it with you for the rest of your life.”

“Yeah? You know a lot about killing people?”

“I do. I’m ex-military. Marines. Did some intelligence work in Afghanistan, then got out of it. Not my thing.”

Theon1996 swallows, his grip tightening on the gun. “You’re lying.”

“I don’t lie,” ImSomebodyNow says. “Especially when someone is pointing a gun at me.”

Another bout of silence.

“How did you find me?”

Theon1996 scoffs. “You were easy prey. Pretty quick to give someone your address if they send you a picture of tits and tell you they wanna fuck you, huh?”

ImSomebodyNow nods thoughtfully.

Theon1996’s eyes dart across the living room. “Nice place you got here. Must be nice, having a lifestyle like this.”

“Used to be married. Haven’t moved out of it yet. Too big for me, now.”

Theon1996 shuts his eyes, shoulders rising and falling with his breath.

“Do you know,” he says. “How much I hate you right now?”

ImSomebodyNow is sitting on the edge of the recliner. He holds his hands out to begin gesticulating as he speaks, but instead clasps them together, rests them in his lap.

“You don’t realize how much you want to say to someone until a gun’s pointed at you,” ImSomebodyNow says, his voice quiet. “But I just want you to know that I’m sorry. I really am.”

“No, you’re sorry because you’re afraid I’m going to kill you.”

“Maybe fear brings out the truth.”

“Your idea of a good time is to get online and just-just fuck with other people. Just piss them off beyond belief. That fucking makes you happy, doesn’t it?” The words come out quick and snowball on each other, mounting his anger. “Doesn’t matter how they feel, as long as you can just piss them off. Because it’s just the Internet, right?”

ImSomebodyNow scoots to edge of his seat. He holds out a hand. “Listen—”

The gun snaps up. “Do. Not. Fucking. Move. Do not give me a reason.”

ImSomebodyNow freezes. “Listen to me. There’s one of two options. You can pull that trigger, and you can go to prison for a long, long time. Or you can turn around, walk out that door, and this never happened.”

Tears are streaming down Theon1996’s cheeks. He purses his lips.

“Why?” he says in a choked voice. “Why did you do it? Why did you say those things? Why do you want to inflict pain on other people?”

“It was a mistake. I-I work a stressful job, seventy hours a week. It’s just a way to relieve stress.”

Theon1996 is sobbing now, his mouth contorted into a series of lines.

ImSomebodyNow eases a hand out, palm up.

“Look, we’ll make this easy. Take the bullets out of the gun, and hand it over to me. And this is all over. I promise. I won’t call the cops.”

Theon1996 mumbles through the sobs.

“What?”

“I-I don’t know how,” he says. “I don’t know how to take the bullets out.” He slaps himself in the face. “Stupid Anthony, Stupid!”

“Okay, your name is Anthony,” ImSomebodyNow says. “Mine is Taylor.”

But Anthony isn’t listening. He is staring at Taylor’s shoes.

“What would Dad say?” he says. Anger flashes across his face. “He’d say you’re a fucking moron. That’s what he’d say. Going and buying a gun and having some guy outside the store load the bullets for you. And now you’re too much of a pussy to finish the job.” He slaps himself again. “You’re a fucking idiot, Anthony!

Taylor stands in a slow, fluid motion. “Anthony, I’m going to take a step toward you now, okay?”

Anthony doesn’t move, his head still dropped. Taylor takes it as a sign of acceptance and takes one step on the muffled carpet, then another, until he is close enough to reach out to him.

“Anthony, why don’t you hand me the gun now, okay?”

Anthony keeps his eyes on the carpet.

“What was your father like?”

Taylor is taken aback by the question. “He was a good dad. Still is. I’m lucky to have him.”

Anthony is nodding. “You’re right about that. You are lucky.”

Taylor peers at him. “You think my life has been easy? I was poor as shit growing up. But I made a decision to better myself. I joined the Marines so they would pay for my college so I could find a better life.” He gestured around him. “This isn’t a coincidence, man. I earned this.”

Anthony doesn’t reply. The air conditioner kicks on, its hum filling the quiet.

“I never knew my Mom. She died when I was young. All I have from her is one memory. I had fallen off my bike and scraped my knees on the concrete pretty bad. I was so upset. Crying nonstop. I don’t even know how she got there so quickly, but she was there, in front of our apartment. Already had hydrogen peroxide and bandaids. And she bandaged my cuts and held me until I stopped crying.”

Anthony looks up at him. The tears are gone, but his face is still wrought with grief. “Do you know what I just found out two days ago? My dad died.”

“I’m sorry—”

“I’m not. Do you know what I am sorry about, though? That I wasn’t able to be there when his fat fucking body finally stroked out on him.” He snarls as he spits out the curse. “I wanted to stand over him and watch him die and do nothing. And tell him what a piece of shit he was, as he took his last breath.” A shuddered breath escapes him.

“He took the belt to me,” Anthony whispers. “Every day. I just-” His face contorts. “I just want to know why. Why there’s so much hatred and anger. In all of us.”

Taylor pauses, waits to see if he is going to continue. “Give me the gun, Anthony.”

The gun dangles from Anthony’s index finger. Another long moment hangs before Taylor’s hand snaps out to grab at the gun just as Anthony tightens his hand back around the grip. Taylor grabs the weapon and throws himself at Anthony on the couch. Their bodies intertwine as they struggle, and the gun dangles within the lethal game of tug-of-war.

Taylor is stronger, manipulating the gun in his hand, but a sound comes from behind them, snagging Taylor’s attention.

Anthony’s face is red from rage and exertion. He wrenches the gun away and pulls the trigger.

The gunshot rocks the stillness of the house, followed by another. Taylor drops back onto the couch, blood spreading across his chest, two holes pierced through his shirt.

Anthony falls backward, still holding the pistol.

“Oh shit,” he whispers. “Oh shit.”

Taylor’s breathing is labored. “God damnit.”

“Oh fuck.”

Taylor turns, looking toward the staircase. Anthony follows his gaze and sees a boy, aged maybe thirteen, peering down from the landing. He holds a gun as well, gripped in both hands, aimed down at Anthony.

“Where did you get that?” Taylor asks him. Even in the chaos, he takes the sharp tone of a concerned parent. “Please don’t shoot the gun, Christopher. Don’t carry that with you. Run outside, okay? Go to Jackie’s house. Get her to call 911.”

The boy doesn’t move. The gun is still trained on Anthony.

“Why, Dad?” he says. “Why didn’t you tell him the truth?”

“Go, Christopher. I’ll be okay. I’ll-”

But he doesn’t finish the sentence. He inhales sharply, and the exhale comes out slow and measured followed by only stillness.

The boy begins to cry.

“Why didn’t you tell him the truth? Why didn’t you tell him it was me?”

Anthony doesn’t move. He is staring at the pupil of the gun in the boy’s hand, his face slack and pale.

A deafening blast, and Anthony’s shoulder jerks to the side. Another shot, and the lamp behind Anthony explodes. Anthony raises his own gun, gripping with both hands, and pulls the trigger over and over until he sees the boy go slack and tumble down the staircase.

Anthony’s face contorts, as if trying to collapse in on itself. He puts his face in his hands and cries, deep heaving sobs that fill the house with anguish.

He lifts his head finally, sniffling, putting a hand to his shoulder and wincing, as if suddenly reminded of the wound. He staggers to the kitchen, not looking at the boy and the pool of blood he lay in. He rummages through the drawers until he finds a dish towel and presses it into the wound.

He forces himself to turn toward the boy’s body, his eyes digesting the scene. Gun still in hand, he walks past him, up the stairs. There is an office to the left, with a bookshelf of science fiction novels and posters of Battlestar Galactica, Terminator and Blade Runner decking the walls. Anthony purses his lips, unzips his hoodie to reveal the Star Trek shirt underneath.

A TV is mounted on an entertainment center. To the right of it is a computer desk with a PC tower and two monitors. On one monitor, a character stands idle in a game Anthony recognizes all too well. The other monitor is opened to a message board discussing the game, but Anthony’s eyes gravitate to the other tabs open on the web browser.

He clicks on a tab, and Taylor’s Facebook page appears.  Anthony looks at the pictures, digesting the details of his life as sourly as he had the image of the boy’s body.

A faint sound causes him to look up. Sirens, in the distance.

He blinks, stares at the wall. The sirens grow louder until they blare just outside the house, and the lights flash frenzied blue through the shutters of the room. The knocking on the door seconds later, the door opening followed by shouting.

Anthony steps out of the hallway to the head of the stairs. He sees the cop below him, fingers to the neck of the boy. He notices Anthony, but before he can train the gun on him, Anthony has already brought the gun to his own head.

“I’m sorry,” Anthony says, weeping.

He pulls the trigger. The gun clicks in response, and Anthony realizes there are no more bullets left to fire.

 

 

THE END


John Post’s fiction has previously appeared in NEBO Literary Journal, and his poetry in Poetic Hours and Scifaikuest. He was also an honorable mention in NYCMidnight’s 2008 Short Story Challenge.

 

He is currently a PR Director for a university in Arkansas and, having recently decided to pursue his passion to become a published author, has begun writing in earnest. He currently resides in Fayetteville with his wife and son. He is also the former Arkansas State Checkers Champion, a hobby he pursues in his spare time along with coffee roasting, reading and playing video games. He muses periodically on his blog at https://johntpost.wordpress.com.

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