Sunday, May 24, 2009

Ezra Salkin

 Reprieve for a Sinner?

  The blow from the glossy butt of the shotgun sent Peter’s gaze spiraling upwards.  He watched as a couple of dented pieces of enamel rode a short arcing stream of blood, like shooting stars. They soared over the woods into the autumn sky. Then he saw nothing but frigid soil.

Wiping his nose with his tattered sleeve, Peter rolled over to face the man with the gun. He looked back at his sleeve, smeared red, then up again at the man in the hat and vest.  

            “Now Bill I--.” There was a burst of light, and the ground next to his hand exploded. Dirt and leaves pelted his face. Peripheral noises disappeared.

Surrounded by silence, Peter stumbled in the other direction. Dry twigs cracked beneath him.

Sound returned in time for him to hear the shotgun pump. Another deafening boom, more specks of flying dirt.


A boot kicked him hard in the ass and sent him sprawling into a brown pool. His limbs flailed wildly and he choked on the murky water, before wallowing onto sodden earth. He scrambled forward but didn’t make it more than a couple of yards before a rock embankment stopped him dead. He turned and sat against the cold stone, shivering.

He watched his neighbor Bill O’Connor trudge forward, slow and deliberate. The cool water rose up to his knees, and the serenity of the rustic scene was disrupted by the sloshing of his boots. His face was ashen.  He pumped the shotgun, and a crushed smoking shell fell into the muddy pond, with a soft plunk.

“You got anything to say, you son of a bitch?” Bill said through clenched teeth. He leveled the silver barrel at Peter’s face.

“Now Bill, I--.”

A flash of color caught his eye. A bright-eyed peacock was watching him from the other side of the pond. It looked royal in its radiant plumage.

Do we even got those here in this country?

            “The hell you lookin at boy? I’m about to blow your god-damn head off!”

            Suddenly, Bill was transfigured in a diaphanous light, like Jesus in the paintings of the idolatrous Italians who Aunt Flannery had ranted about.

            Peter watched the capillaries break in Bill’s bulging eyes.  Blood trickled out of his ears and nose. He fell back with a loud splash, a buoyant smoldering heap among the leaves.

            Peter looked up. Where had the bolt come from? The sun hung low in the sky. There were no clouds. He crossed himself the way he had seen some priest do in a horror flick and picked up the shotgun.

             Aunt Flannery don’t know a damn thing about idolatry!

Peter looked at the majestic bird which continued to stare at him, compelling him forward. It almost looked pleased with itself.

You sure is pretty!

The bird looked back with its strange glittering eyes.

Bill’s ole lady’s gonna  give me a big wet kiss when she sees you.

The Peacock’s calm turned to horrified consternation, but it was too late. Peter shot it and it joined Bill in the watery sepulcher.

Humming an old gospel tune, Peter hoisted the bedraggled sack of prismatic feathers over his shoulder. He climbed the rock embankment and started home.


 A pale sliver of moon was visible while the sun set over the hills. Bill’s and Peter’s neighbor, Esau MacDaniel, hadn’t killed anything yet. In the twilight, he saw a curious tuft of color move west, behind a long rock embankment. He had seen something like that in a book once.

Well I’ll be damned.

He closed one eye, leveled his rifle and fired. Blue-green-eyed feathers exploded into the air, and there was a cry unlike any bird Esau had ever heard. 

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