by Dave Wolverton

The pickup on the mud road behind us pings as it cools. “Do you want to shoot one, Stevey?” Dad says. “You can if you want to.” Steam comes out of his mouth when he speaks, and he sniffs loudly.
“No,” I say, standing close to him so that I can bury my face in his warm flannel shirt.
“I think he’s just scared,” Mike says, cracking the double-barrel open and inserting two shells. A kingfisher makes its laughing sound as it flies down the river channel on the other side of the brush.
“You’ve got nothing to be afraid of, Stevey. A man with a gun doesn’t have to be afraid of anything,” Dad says. “Here, you take the shotgun and see if you can shoulder it.”
Dad hands me the shotgun; it is as cold as a stovepipe in the morning and smells of oil and varnish. He has spent half the night cleaning it. I raise the gun clumsily.                The stock is too long for my arm; I can’t get a tight fit. Dad fiddles with the gun, readjusting my grip and pushing the gun harder against my shoulder. I try to point it and look along the barrel at the sight, but it is too awkward .
“Put the butt of the gun tight against your shoulder, or you’11 get a bruise,” Dad says.
“It isn’t going to be any use, Dad,” Mike says. “He’s right-eyed. ”
”I can see that,” Dad says.
“Do you think you can take that patch off yet, Stevey?” Dad says, lightly touching the bandage over my right eye.
Mike says, “He’s not supposed to take it off for two weeks yet.”
“Well, I’d like him to. I want him to see this with both eyes open.”
“I don’t think I can shoot,” I say.
“Well then, you just watch Mikey. He’ll show you how it’s done,” Dad says.
Dad hands Mike the pump and takes the double-barrel for himself, then we step off the road and head down the levee along the riverbank, walking as silently as possible through the rushes. Steam is creeping over the water; it seems to be spilling out of the river and into the grass. We can smell the rotting carp that fishermen have left on the bank. We walk toward a clump of cattails and blackberry vines. A candy wrapper and a Black Velvet whisky bottle show that people have fished here. As we approach the cattails, a buzzard squawks and jumps into the air. Mike throws his gun to his shoulder, and the buzzard flips as he blows it out of the sky. It splashes into the river.
“Way to go! Did you see that, Stevey?” Dad asks. I nod. A few black feathers flutter to the ground, and we go find where the buzzard had been sitting as it fed on a carp. Both Dad and Mike are smiling. Mike reloads. When he’s done, he and Dad begin to hurry along, and I have to work to keep up.
We walk at almost a sprint for a few hundred feet. We round a corner in the trail and three more buzzards jump into the air. Mike shoots, and two of the buzzards drop, but the third one only drops a little , then keeps on flying. Dad gives it both barrels, and the buzzard crashes heavily into a scrubby willow. Dad laughs, but Mike is mad at himself for having missed the chance to shoot the buzzard. They both reload, and Mike keeps three shells in his hand.
You let me take all the shots now!” Mike says. Dad laughs and says okay.
We continue hurrying along the levee, and at nearly every pile of carp we find at least one buzzard. Mike shows of, taking all the shots. Each shot is swift, effortless, and on the mark. When a buzzard jumps into the air, Mike casually pulls the gun to his shoulder and squeezes the trigger. The buzzard nearly shatters in mid-air and thuds to the ground. It is a pleasure to watch. If the bodies don’t land in the water or in a tree, Dad and Mike have me go kick them in the river. I am afraid to touch them, so I kick them off the riverbank with the side of my foot; then I hurry over to
my dad before we go downriver.
After a while, Dad stops to take out his pipe. He packs it tight, flicks his lighter, and draws the flame into the bowl. “When you turn twelve, maybe we’ll get you a gun and you can do this too,” he says, patting me on the head.
Few fishermen come this far down the dirt road, and there are fewer carp and buzzards here. The brush is thicker, and the buzzards can hear us coming. Mike walks far out in front to make sure he gets them before they get away. The sun is burning some of the mist away; it seems to be getting late. The buzzards will finish feeding soon.
Finally, the dirt road gives out. We climb through a patch of wild rose and up a small knoll. As we reach the top, I watch my brother repeat his immaculate performance. Five buzzards fly up, their wings making small eddies in the mist. My brother pulls his gun to his shoulder-bang, slide, a body falls-bang, slide, a body falls-bang, slide, a body falls-I want to shout that the other two will escape, but he reloads as he fires and shoots twice more. Some buzzards flip in the air as they fall, their wings sprawling limply. Others are only black, heavy corpses that thump to the ground, raising small puffs of dust. Mike reloads his gun, then Dad and Mike look away down the river for a moment. Dad waves to me and says, “Come here .”
“Look down there, Stevey,” Dad says, gesturing down the river. The river takes a wide bend. The brush ends just past a rusty fence, where a sheep pasture begins. We can see the riverbank for nearly half a mile down stream. No more buzzards are anywhere downriver, and I try to stifle my excitement as I realize we’ve killed them all: the skies will be free of buzzards for years.
One of the buzzards Mike has shot starts flopping among the cattails, trying to get away. Mike shoots it again, and the flopping stops.
“You know,” Mike says to me, grinning, “I’ll bet you he’s the one that tried to get you, Stevey. Why don’t you go down there and rip his eye out.”
I look up at Dad, and he smiles at me and nods. I begin my way down through the cattails and blackberry bushes.
“That was twenty-eight of them,” Mike says, from the top of the knoll behind me.
“You sure about that?” Dad says.
“Yep, twenty-eight,” Mike says proudly.
Down among the cattails is a clearing where a pile of carp lies next to a circle of stones burnt from a campfire. A fresh black feather lies on one of the stones. The buzzard lies a few feet away. The others must have landed in the brush or in the water. I go to the buzzard, touch the warm body, and find blood and a couple pieces of bird shot stuck in its feathers. I hold its head in my hand and look at its eyes: they are beginning to glaze. Its beak is open, a purple tongue lolls out. It smells of carrion, and I remember how I’d smelled that smell as I lay in the pasture behind the house, just before the buzzard struck at my eye. I lift the buzzard high overhead and heave it as far as I can into the mist-covered river. It splashes in the water and goes under, then bobs back to the surface. I watch as it whirls in lazy circles in the brown water, its stomach to the sky, its head and wings mostly under water. Only the chest and wing-tips are still in the air. As one wing dips up and down, tiny waves ripple away in easy circles; the buzzard twirls slowly down the river through the mist. I sit on the riverbank, wrapping my arms around my shoulders. Now, no bird, no bird, shall ever eat me, I think, as the corpse slides downriver.

On the third ring Mike answers the phone.
“Hello?”
“Hey big bro, what’s happening?” I ask.
”Steve?”
“Yeah,” I answer. “Who’d you think it was?”
“What’s wrong?”
“Nothing. Nothing’s wrong. I just called to say hi.”
Mike pauses for a long moment, unbelieving. “Oh . .. hi.”
“So how’s L.A.?”
“Fine. Sunny.”
He laughs a little. ”Well, hey: it’s good to hear from you. It’s been awhile.
“Yeah. I keep meaning to call, but I put it off,” I say, feeling guilty about the last couple years.
“Same here,” he says.
“So how’s the kids?” I ask, circling the subject slowly.
“Oh, fine. Ronnie just got glasses. And Carey just started first grade-she’s home with the flu today though.”
“Ummh. How’s Kathy?”
“She’s fine. She’s at work today. She just got a job as a bank teller a few weeks ago, you know. ”
“Oh, I didn’t know. How’s your work?”
He chuckles a little. “You’ve been talking to Mom, haven’t you? Everybody’s so damned worried about me. It’s nothing-to tell the truth, it’s great.”
“What’s that?” I say.
“Didn’t you hear? I finally got the green light. Shot a doper in a day-care center.”
“Oh yeah? I didn’t hear about it.”
“Yeah. We got a call a couple of days ago, while I was on duty. This guy had taken his daughter to a day-care center and started freaking out. He kept yelling that he was going to throw the kids out the second-story window. So the SWAT team got called in. And, since I’ve been advanced to lead man, I took the shot.”
“Did you get him?” He can caress a trigger like no one else, but I’ve
often wondered if he’d hold up under pressure.
“I was a half-inch off center mark at eighty yards, but he was moving.”
“What did you choose for mark?” I want to see it in my mind .
“His head was turned to the side, so I took the left temple .”
We have both seen men shot in the head. I don’t go into it any further.
“Mom had you call me, didn’t she?” Mike says.
“Yeah,” I admit.
“Hah! I knew it! Everybody’s so damned concerned. Like it’s supposed to be some traumatic event or something. You know, they practically give you a reward? It isn’t official, but they give you a week off and a thousand-dollar bonus for ‘service above and beyond the call of duty.'”
“Yeah, I know. We’ve got the same kind of thing at the prison.”
“Right. So you know what I mean. It’s no big deal. It’s what they’re paying us for, right?”
“I suppose . . . ” I admit. It doesn’t sound conciliatory enough.
“Guess I’m going to have to move to California-we only get a five-
hundred-dollar bonus,” I joke.
On the other end of the line, Mike tells one of the kids not to bother
him because he is on the phone. I hear a child whining and another
speaking.
“I knew you’d understand,” he says. “Say look, Steve, can I call you back in a few minutes? Carey’s crying or throwing up or something in the bathroom. I think I need to go help her. ‘ ‘
“Sure. I’11 talk to you in a few minutes.”
Climbing the rungs of the ladder to the prison watchtower, I stop and wait at the third platform. A dozen pheasants peck among the yellow stubbled wheatfield, including one old rooster I’ve nicknamed Bender because his tail feathers are bent and broken. I continue to the top and pound on the hatch with my lunch pail. The floor of the watchtower vibrates in rhythm with the Blue Oyster Cult singing, “I’ve been living on the edge so long, where the winds of limbo roar,” but they’ re cut off in mid-song as Davis flips off his tape player. The wind whips through my hair, and I smile at the thought of it being “the winds of limbo.” The bolt slides back; the hatch opens and I climb in.
“What’s the pheasant count this morning?” I ask as I close the hatch. Davis sits hunched in his chair, smoking a cigarette, watching the shadows at the back of the minimum-security dorms. He jerks his head back, which flips his long brown hair out of his eyes and scoots his sunglasses more snug on his nose. The air smells of stale salami sandwiches and coffee.
“Sixteen here. Tower four wins the prison booby-prize with twenty-six.”
“Yeah, well, they’re always on top.”
“That’s because they’re a bunch of damned liars,” he says too loudly.
“So, just lie back,” I say, trying to calm him.
“Yeah, I’11 do it sometime,” he agrees, easing back in his chair. I sign in on the watch sheet: 15 June, Packham in 7:58 a.m. “What’s the bullet count?”
“Seventy and ten, ” Davis answers, referring to the AR-15 and the 12-gauge respectively. I put the bullet counts in their proper slots.
“Any action last night?”
“Nothing, man. Nothing at all. It’s been what now, fifty-two days?”
“Guess nobody’s in a hurry to die,” I say.
“Yeah, well if somebody doesn’t hit the fence soon, I’m gonna quit. Just pack my bags and head down to South America,” he says.
“What’s in South America?”
“El Salvador. Nicaragua.”
I stare at him. His face is pale, the lines around his mouth and eyes are soft and flacid, sweat stains the armpits of his blue shirt, beads of sweat stick out on his forehead, cling to his lip above his moustache . He snuffs his cigarette in an empty Coke can, then throws the can in the garbage sack. I check the safeties on the guns, then sit down beside him.
“Is it okay with you if I hang around a bit?” he asks.
”Cool.”
“There’s this bird, this big damned bird, that’s been banging into the windows all night, trying to get in,” he says.
“An owl?”
”Could’ve been. Last time it hit the window was just about half an hour ago . I didn’t see it. Just its shadow.”
I nod. Davis takes down the shotgun and pumps a shell into the chamber. He calls Control One on the intercom and asks permission to shoot the bird.
“Go ahead and do it,” a tired voice answers after a moment, “as long as you don’t blow out a damned window.”
We sit in silence. I remember times that I’ve sat in the tower wondering what people on the other shifts are like. Most of our conversation is just
“How ya doin?” and “See ya later.” I feel as if I should be talking to Davis, but there is nothing to say.
Davis sets his watch-report on the windowsill, and I notice he’s been scribbling on the report during the night. It has a picture of a diving eagle with a caption beneath it: “Death from above! Airborne 44,” and “We take no prisoners.”
“Been in Nam?” I ask.
“Airborne 44. Best damned chopper unit in Nam!” he snorts.
“Pilot?”
“Door gunner,” he corrects.
“Must feel like home up here.”
He nods, smiles placidly, then shrugs. “Yeah, feels like . . . you know, it feels like this little place called Ho Sanh. See the corner of the fence there?” he says, pointing to the Vin the edge of the fence in front of us.
“And the angle of the building there?” he says, pointing at the way the minimum-security dorm intersects the fence at an angle .
“Yeah, ” I answer.
”Reminds me of this little village called Ho Sanh,” he mutters, shifting in his chair. His voice flows smooth and gravelly, like whiskey over ice, in the manner common to hollow men.
“Every time I see it, I remember this mission we flew over that village . We were flying low over the jungle, in our Hueys, and were coming up on the village when we flew over this V.C. artillery unit by surprise. Hell, we didn’t even know it was there. But there was this fence, camouflaged with brush, up around the artillery unit, and there was this building that cut an angle to the fence , just like the dorm there , and we were at just about this altitude . I was on an M-60. I was supposed to lay down grazing fire for some assault troops we were dropping, but we came over this artillery unit by surprise. It was like one second there was the jungle, and the next
second we were staring these guns in the face . There was this one gook with his back to me, bending over this little garden, and he had a rifle on the ground next to him. He turned up and looked at me and reached for his gun. It was just a rush to see who could shoot first. He was just swinging his gun around when I shot. The blood splattered all across the wall of the hut behind him. Then all the sudden there were V.C. running out of the buildings everywhere . Most of them had some kind of rifle, but they all ran for the artillery guns. In the five seconds it took to swing clear of the
artillery unit I must have shot ten of the bastards. Damn it was fine! I mean, I was staring them right in the eye, and they knew it was coming, and I was so damn scared I was peeing my pants! And you could just see the terror in their eyes. Damn it was fine! It was like-I don’t know-like some kind of rush that you can’t get any other way!”
“You been in the towers long?” I ask, changing the subject. I have only seen him three or four times, and those have been within the last three weeks.
“No, man. I just come out of max. Been there seven months.”
”And before that?”
“There ain’t no before that. That’s when I started.”
“Oh,” I nod. “What’s the matter, get tired of people chucking on you?”
Davis clenches his teeth and looks away. “Yeah! What’s your excuse?”
“No excuse. I just went crazy,” I say, trying to mellow him with the tone of my voice. ” So they put me up here until I get my head together.”
“Me too. How long you been in the towers?” Davis says, staring out the window, face taut.
“Six months. Since the last riot.”
“You the guy they call Animal?”
“Yeah. Pleased to meet ya,” I say, extending my hand.
He smiles plasticly, shakes my hand. ” Same here.”
Below us, the guards walk from dorm to dorm, counting the inmates. The intercom buzzes and the tower sergeant calls for a tower check. I push the intercom button and say ”Two check.” The rest of the tower officers follow suit.
We sit in silence until the guards finish counting the inmates. “Count clear” is called over the intercoms and over the speakers in the yard. I log the count clear time as 8:32 and continue to watch the fence lines, and doors and windows along the back walls of the prison. Two guards begin walking down the rows of dormitories, opening doors. Most of the inmates, in their wrinkled blue uniforms, hurry across the lawn to the culinary to be first in line for breakfast. Some just huddle in circles and take drags from their cigarettes as they talk.
Davis leans forward in his chair. “Hell, wouldn’t it be great if a couple of those child molesters hit the fence! I mean, we could have a regular shooting match-” A breeze rattles the window. He whirls and points the shotgun, gasping for breath.
“Did you see it?” he asks.
“No. Nothing was there. Just the wind,” I say.
“No! There was-a bird, a big damned bird!”
”No-”
“You’re a liar!” he shouts. The wind rattles the window again. Davis sits, open-mouthed, gun ready. The wind caresses the metal struts of the tower, making it hum, and there is the familiar shimmy. After a moment he eases back in his chair, shaking, struggling for self-control.
”File a report on the bird and go on home,” I say, turning back to watch the fencelines. I hear the swish of a jacket sliding over skin and a rattle of metal and papers as trash is collected. Davis grunts and closes the hatch; the tower shakes as he slips down the ladder.

I punch the hot-chocolate button on the machine in the officers’ lounge
and wait for the cup to drop and fill. The duty captain, Gonzales,
sits at a table behind me with a half-dozen other officers. All of them are
talking.
“Excuse me, Packham. Do you know anything about any birds hitting Tower Two at night?” the captain says to me.
“Some new guy said a bird was hitting the tower a week ago.”
“That would be Davis,” he says with a sigh. “You’ve been up in that tower a couple of nights since then-any birds hit the tower?”
“No,” I answer. The cup drops into place; I jiggle it so it sits square in the slot.
One of the tower guards says, “Hey, Gonzales, you should go check out that tower. That new guy’s a lunatic. He’s got ‘Death from Above’ and ‘We take no prisoners’ written all over the place. If you don’t want to send him packing, you could at least get the moron him for vandalism.”
Another guard says “See what I was say-” His voice goes silent, and everyone in the room stops speaking. Davis wanders in, stands by the radiators, looks out the window.
“Did you just get off duty?” Gonzales says to Davis.
“Yes,” Davis says, in a faraway voice. “It came back again last night. It was hitting the window this morning. I’d thought it was a big bird, but I saw it this morning. It was small. Just a little brown bird. But damn was he determined! He just banged on that window, and his little beak would get pushed sideways. And he’d bang again.”
“Oh,” Gonzales says.

The day is already hot as I climb the watchtower. When I reach the top rung I pound on the hatch above me with my lunch pail. Music is playing, and a foot beats in time as Jethro Tull sings through ”Locomotive Breath.” I wait, thinking that whoever is in the tower might be using the facilities. But after knocking and yelling through the next three songs, I finally get too tired to hang there any longer and climb back down and walk to Tower One .
An old fellow whose name I never can remember is tower sergeant for the shift. I yell at him until he opens one of his windows. I tell him that I can’t raise the occupant in Tower Two. He consults his records.
“That would be Davis,” he yells down to me, as if that solves the problem.
“Can you raise him on the phone?”
He moves out of my line of sight . A moment later he sticks his head out the window. ” He says for you to go to hell ,” he grins. ” He doesn’t want you up there. ” He smiles even wider and breaks into a chuckle. ” He plans to work this shift.”
I shuffle my feet nervously. I’ve been stuck doing a double shift in the tower many times, but I’ve never had an officer refuse to give up his post. So I walk into the medium-security building, buy a Coke from the machine in the officers’ lounge, look around for the duty officer, and finally head back out to Tower One to see if the tower sergeant knows where the duty officer is.
The loudspeakers call “count clear” as I step out the door. The old guy in Tower One is writing in his log book, so I wait a second while he finishes. Then he opens the window to talk to me again .
I glance over to Tower Two and notice that the windows are open. Davis is sitting in his chair with his rifle raised. Before I have a chance to speak, a puff of smoke issues from his barrel and there is a crackle. The smoke and crackle keep repeating. He has waited until the inmates are halfway to the dining hall before opening fire .
The old guard in Tower One screams some obscenities, pulls out his rifle, switches on the laser sights, and begins watching the fenceline. Someone yells over the tower radio , “He’s shooting them in the yard!” The old guard curses, waits for a second, puts the red laser dot on the windows of Tower Two, and starts pulling the trigger. The windows break, and Davis takes cover in the shadows. Five seconds later he jumps from the tower. As he falls he arches his back and extends his arms behind him. When we get to his corpse, there isn’t a wound on him.

Ten thousand stars glitter in a moonless sky. In Tower Two, on the southeast corner of the prison , I watch ”the chute” -the path beneath the minimum-security dorms. Along the wall behind the dorm I see a flash from a metal watch-band; I see it the way a person sees a flicker flying in the woods: there is one flash of white as it opens its wings and dives between the trees. I know that someone is over the fence already. I flip the latch on my window and let it swing open. Grabbing the first gun my hand falls upon- the shotgun-I yell “halt,” and wait for someone to step out of the shadows.
For thirty seconds we wait in the darkness. I wonder if I’ve imagined it but call an escape warning over the radio anyway . The guard in Tower One takes out his rifle and searches the shadows with the red dot of his laser. The yard sergeant, carrying his shotgun, runs out of his shack at the far end of the dorms and directs his flashlight at the back walls. The roving car, over by the maximum-security prison, turns around and races my way. As it swerves around the corner a half-mile down the track, three shadows separate from the darkness and begin to run under the tower.
I become aware that my hands are trembling and my mouth is dry; my eyes dart back and forth. I hear the inmate’s labored breathing and the sound of tires crackling on the gravel from the roving car down the road. There is just enough light to let me see that one of the inmates has kinky hair and his shirt isn’t tucked in; the straw in the fields smells musty for such a dry night, and I realize that the fields must have been irrigated during the day. I can’t quite keep my mind on the task at hand. I know I should be shooting, but I wait for a revelation- something, anything, to tell me what to do. I want my anger to yell “shoot,” or to feel the rush of euphoria Davis promised, or to have my conscience scream against it. But there is nothing inside-only an emptiness, and moving targets beneath me. I swing my gun down, listening to the footsteps, shoot and pump another shell into the chamber, shoot and pump, shoot and pump. The action is so smooth and practiced I do it without thought. I listen for the sound of running feet. Someone moans. Thin blue smoke hangs in the
air, obscuring my view. I wait. I can vaguely see that all three inmates are lying on the ground beneath the tower. Someone grunts, struggles to his feet, starts to run-I shoot, hear an indrawn breath, a body sliding in gravel. I flick on the lights under the tower to get a better view. It doesn’t help much. Tower One shoots twice; bullets hit gravel and twang as they ricochet. I hold my gun over the inmates, tell them to spread eagle, and wait for the backup. The patrol car pulls up in a few seconds. Its
headlights drench the inmates in yellow light. The officer emerges from the car and begins screaming at the inmates to stay still. His whole body trembles as he points his revolver at the escapees and holds them there until the yard sargeant and prison doctor arrive .
Ambulances and patrol cars gather. The inmates are searched, put on metal stretchers, and handcuffed to the stretchers’ frames. I hold my gun at ready until the ambulances are out of range. The investigators arrive and begin taking pictures, then a guard comes to relieve me .
I go to the captain’s office to fill out a shooting report. The duty captain tells me how to fill out the report and tells me to leave the inmates’ names off the report until he gets them, then he leaves. I have heard that I’m supposed to go in to shock, and keep wondering when it will hit me. But nothing ever does-no shock, no euphoria, no guilt, no sense of having done anything right or wrong. Just a coldness, like loneliness. I fill out the reports, then I sit and wait, as ordered.
The duty captain comes back in the room and tells me the inmates’ names. None of them bring any faces to mind. He tells me that two of them are armed robbers and one a murderer. I tell myself that it is okay to feel nothing over shooting such men. The captain tells me they are all alive: only one has taken a direct hit; the others have shrapnel in their legs from buckshot splintering in the gravel.
I spend the night filling out reports, repeating the story over and over in my mind, writing every thought I had, describing each sight I saw, each sound I heard. I try to live the shooting in slow motion; to remember the first muzzle flash, the first puff of blue smoke coming from my gun barrel; to hear the sound of feet scuffing in gravel as the inmates fall, a moan, a partial word one has uttered. I remember that when I was shooting, I couldn’t see after the first shot because of the blue smoke . I respond in writing to the captain’s repeated questions of whether I enjoyed pulling
the trigger, whether the thrill of it led me to hurry the next shot.
When I finish it is morning, and the prison is full of officers who are coming in on shift change. The warden calls me to his office and privately thanks me for showing restraint by not killing the escapees. The guards in the officers’ lounge smile and congratulate me, thanking me for taking the shots. All of them asked how it felt. One guard, Carlson, beams with joy and keeps saying, “Now they’ll know those aren’t just scarecrows in the towers.”
Another guard’s face darkens with rage and tears well up in his eyes as he demands to know why I’d stopped shooting. “Your chamber still had four shells in it, didn’t it?”
Having no words to justify my actions, I simply mutter something about the prison policy of ”shooting to stop, not to kill.” He shakes his head, calls me a few names, wanders off. He must have something personal against one of the inmates.
The captain comes into the lounge and gives me a check for seven hundred and fifty dollars as a “special service award ” -two hundred and fifty for each wounding. He tells me I must take a mandatory one-week vacation and be cleared by the prison psychologist before I return to work. I drive home and think of using my time to begin repainting the house.
I spend the day wandering around the house, taking phone calls from neighbors and people at work, and watching the news. Later, at night, I lie awake in bed. Spools of memories replay themselves. The gun-blue steel in my hands is black as slate in the darkness. It rings as the volley slides down the barrel. The glossy wooden stock recoils against my shoulder; bodies clatter among small stones. Smoke lingers in the air, burning my nostrils. Headlights move toward me. I step out of myself, view myself from odd angles. I measure the rapidness of my breathing, feel the blood throb through my veins, nod here and shake my head there, critique my ever-present performance, unsure any longer of how much is memory, how much is dream. I try to shut the memory out, to see nothing but a black spot where the shooting has been. I am able to force a nothingness in place of the memory, but my thoughts circle the black spot-wheeling, wheeling, in dizzying circles.
Diane, who has been lying with her back to me, rolls over, pulls the sheet tight against her chin, and whispers, “I’m glad you didn’t kill them.”
“Why do you say that?” I ask.
“Oh, I don’t know. I guess it would just be different. I’d feel different about you.”
She lies still for a long time. Her breath evens out, deepens. I turn toward her; a twisted strand of her hair is outlined by the green fluorescence of the alarm clock. I blow the hair into place softly. Her leg jerks, and I know she is dreaming. At work, the job board announced an opening for an officer to supervise the visiting room in the medium-security. And I remember a story another guard once told me about an old lady in baggy nylons who tried to smuggle homemade muffins to her son.