“I should have been here for the
funeral,” Jasper said.
It came out like a whisper like he was in confessional
looking for absolution, but the sound echoed throughout the clearing,
nonetheless. Jasper stopped, shut his eyes, and took a deep breath. They were
almost to “Ichabog.” He could wait until they were settled before
broaching the subject again.
“Ichabog” was the name Ray
finally settled on for the deer stand. He had originally wanted to call it “The Suck,” Marine
slang for bad
conditions since the place got flooded frequently but went with something a little
different in the end.
Jasper continued until he
emerged from the path and into the clearing.
He enjoyed hunting, but he wouldn’t have labeled himself a hunter; not
like Ray. If they didn’t get something by the end of
the day, it would bother Ray. Jasper was just happy to crack a few beers and
call it a win regardless.
Jasper took in the surroundings. The water had risen a few
inches, but the giant willow tree was still there a few feet from the water’s edge. Something behind the
tree glinted in the sunlight. Unsure of what it was, Jasper took a couple of
steps forward. It was a shovel buried in a fresh mound of dirt next to a hold.
The thoughts didn’t process, and
confusion spread over Jasper’s face.
“Ray?” Jasper said and turned around.
Ray stood in the clearing twenty feet away with his rifle
aimed directly at Jasper.
Ray saw the bewildered look on Jasper’s face. Jasper still hadn’t gotten it. Ray wanted
to put the rest of his plan into
action, but somehow seeing the confusion in Jasper’s face prevented him from doing so. He needed Jasper to
understand. So, Ray would wait to pull the trigger until Jasper’s eyes widened, and his mouth
contorted, as it finally dawned on him.
Everything had been planned meticulously; digging the hole,
showing Jasper all of the things in his past, leaving out the hospital bills,
and making sure Sarah’s photo had been
in plain view. Ray knew that if he put any more pressure on the trigger, the
firing pin would ignite, and the bullet would leave the muzzle. It would hit
Jasper in the stomach. The projectile might not kill him, but it would send him
to the ground in a flood of pain.
Jasper still looked puzzled, but by now, rage had
threatened to overtake Ray. The muscles in Ray’s finger tightened by a fraction; almost at the breaking
point. That’s when it finally
happened. Jasper’s face changed,
but he was no longer looking at Ray. He stared over Ray’s shoulder toward the water. Jasper’s face had gone white. Ray heard water
splash behind him,
and he turned his head.
An alligator was heading directly toward them.
Ray knew how fast they were in the water, but they were
deceptively quick on land. They were territorial. However, this one kept
moving. Both men took off for the tree. Jasper struggled, but made it up to one
of the middle branches. Ray had tried to sling his rifle over his shoulder, but
the strap got tangled, and he had to ditch it. He had an easier time climbing,
and soon the alligator was too far away to strike.
Instead, once the animal had reached the base of the tree,
it did a slow revolution before it walked back to the water’s edge and slid effortlessly
back into the murky depths.
Ray grabbed a cup from the cabinet, some green tea, and
poured the water. He placed the cup on a tray along with some apple sauce and
headed toward the stairs. Sarah had been home from the hospital for about
a week, and Ray had waited on her night and day. He didn’t mind. It was just nice to have her back, even if it
pained him to see her this way.
It had become too difficult for her to speak over the last
few days. Jasper reached over and took her hand and held it gently in his own.
He could feel the bones in her fingers trying to squeeze his. He placed his
other hand under the pillow beneath her head and helped her to sit up. She
sipped the tea, and he spooned some apple sauce into her mouth. Afterward, he
picked up the book on the nightstand and began reading from where he’d left off the previous day.
When he saw her eyes begin to drift again, he closed the book without making a
sound and exited the room.
Initially, the doctor told him that her prognosis looked
hopeful, but things got worse exponentially. The only thing left to do was to
make her as comfortable as possible. Ray placed the dishes in the sink. He
watched the sunset for a moment out the kitchen window, grabbed a beer, and
took a long pull of it. Then he cried. Not a lot; he didn’t have much left, but some days he just got overwhelmed.
He went back upstairs in another half an hour, administered
her pills, and changed her bedpan. Finally, he tucked her in for the
evening. When he was almost at the doorway, he heard her speak. Her voice
was weak and strained.
“Do you want to play
odds?” Ray asked without a hint of irony in his voice.
“That bad?” Jasper
asked. He hadn’t thought his plan of making a
run for it was far-fetched, but Ray’s response had
given him doubts. The alligator had returned and was sunning itself in between
the tree and the water. It was smaller than it first appeared to be, but it was
still sizable at about five and a half to six feet.
“This one’s aggressive.
Alligators are territorial by nature. They mark off a spot and that’s it. They’ll defend it to the death, but once
you’re out of their territory they
leave you alone. They don’t migrate unless
they’re finding a
separate place to die.”
Jasper’s eyes lit up with a
faint glint of hope.
“Even if that were true,”
continued, “It might take days.”
“This one is different,”
added. The respectful tone had caught Jasper off guard.
“So, what do we do?”
“Go for the rifle,”
Ray said and
shifted his position which revealed the handle of a knife on an ankle
“What about that?”
and pointed to the blade.
“Do you want to try to
Jasper didn’t say anything.
“What do we do now?”
“I’m thinking,” Ray
Jasper let his eyes drift back
from the alligator.
“Why?” Jasper said
and jutted his
chin toward the hole and shovel.
“You should have been
here before the funeral,” Ray
“I already told you—”
began to say.
“What?” Ray said
something from his pocket and threw it at Jasper. He caught it; a piece of
balled up paper. He unfolded it. A photograph; worn and yellowed, but Jasper
had remembered the day it was taken. Jasper was maybe ten, standing in the backyard
with his twin younger siblings who’d just joined
“What could be more important
than family?” Ray added.
Ray couldn’t take it anymore.
Even though she hadn’t seen him in over a year,
forget about the fact she’d been sick, Sarah’s last words had been Jasper’s
name. Ray was already up with the knife in his hand. Whether Jasper understood
or not was irrelevant. Ray negotiated all of the branches like he’d been living in the treetops
his whole life. The knife disappeared between Jasper’s ribs, and Jasper let out a groan as the wind had been
knocked out of him. Ray held his brother for another moment and watched the
light leave his eyes. Even though Jasper had been their only natural child,
their parents had loved all of them. Before Ray could reflect on what had
transpired, how things had soured, he glanced down at the alligator and let the
“Here you go,”
Ray could always
return and fill the hole another time.
has worked in theater, finance, and education. He taught English in Macau on a
Fulbright Grant and has survived a ruptured brain aneurysm and subarachnoid
hemorrhage. He has published short stories at various places, crime fiction
novellas with All Due Respect, Close to the Bone, Alien Buddha
Press, and a memoir. His other work can be found in links on his website https://andrew-davie.com/
Lyon is an illustrator for horror/sci-fi and pulp fiction websites
and magazines. She is also founder and senior editor for the independent
poetry publisher, Subsynchronous Press. An SFPA Rhysling Award nominated
poet, her poems have appeared in journals such as Eternal Haunted Summer, Jellyfish
Whispers, Scfifaikuest, Illya’s Honey, and Red River Review,
as well as numerous anthologies. Her short stories have appeared recently
in Night to Dawn, Yellow Mama, Black Petals, Sirens Call, and Tales
from the Moonlit Path, among others, as well as in numerous horror
anthologies such as Night in New Orleans: Bizarre Beats from the Big
Easy, Thuggish Itch: Viva Las Vegas, and White
Noise & Ouija Boards. She appeared, briefly, as the uncredited "all-American
Mom with baby" in Purple Cactus Media’s 2007 Arizona indie-film, "Vote
for Zombie." Having lived in France, Brazil, Canada, and several states in the US,
she now resides in southern Arizona. https://hillarylyon.wordpress.com/