“Look – what do you see?”
“I see a lark.”
“Is it beautiful?”
“Is it the most beautiful thing you have ever seen?”
“Well, I wouldn’t go as far as to say that.”
He paused. “Why not?”
“It is just a lark. There are many countries with birds that are much prettier than this one. Like parrots! Parrots are beautiful.”
He paused. “You think so?”
“Well, what about we make this bird beautiful? You don’t like how brown it is, do you?”
“No, it looks like mud.”
“But if it was red like a parrot, you would love the bird?”
“Oh, yes! But how will you make it red?”
“Watch with open eyes, son. Watch with open eyes.”
“Okay, but why are to taking out your gun? Father?”
“Are you going to kill-“
“See, son, you may not understand this now, but I know one day you will love me for what I am about to show you. Nothing in this world is free – not even life. You can be as good as you want to be, irritating no one and taking your share, but there will always be people waiting to tear you down. One false move can leave you vulnerable, and you will end up like this little lark here, in front of a gun with your life behind you.”
“But father -“
“You wanted it to be red, heh? Well, people are going to want to see red dripping out of you like THIS.” The gunshot rippled across the forest like a nuclear bomb. Somehow, the boy’s scream was louder – his father didn’t even flinch. “Do you see how red it is now?”
“HOW COULD YOU!”
“Lower your voice, boy. You talk pretty loud for a murderer.”
“I didn’t kill him! You did.”
“YOU killed this bird. YOU said it was ugly. That means it was weak in YOUR eyes. People will not hesitate you shoot you down when you don’t meet expectations. People will ask for more and more and more until you are DEAD. You hear me?”
“Do you want to end up like the lark?”
“Do you want to be in front of a gun or behind it?”
“DO YOU PROMISE TO BE IN FRONT, OR BEHIND?”
“I PROMISE TO BE BEHIND.”
“Good. The day that you will be able to say this without tears in your eyes, I will call you a man. Until then, you are dead to me. Dead as your little friend over here.”
~Many Years Later~
How men from the most trivial points on a map can be connected is at the heart of our story today – and I am not talking about those civilizations of people living in cramped apartment buildings with thousands of strangers they will never care to know. In those places, people live in a paradox – alone but surrounded by bodies.
We belong to one of those towns that collect people like table scraps and tobacco dust. There is something so addicting about the brotherhood of such a place, where friends look like cousins because of generations of marriage to the same families. The girl next door could be your half-sister, but no one will ever want to admit that.
We may look to you as a lazy summer vacation would, but our community is festering with people who know more about each other’s lives than necessary. Too much information coupled with too much time is the place where the devil works the best. He likes to sit on the minds of idle men and massage their conscience, ultimately forcing the darkest parts of their nature to the surface. It makes sense then, why we are willing to bet everything on life’s game even if it will destroy us in the end. After all, when the theaters close down because no one is willing to pay the price anymore, what else is there to do in the middle of nowhere?
This is why we learned to focus our time on perfecting our moves and countermoves. Our lives are a game of chess that never really ends.
Broady was one of our finest pawns, stealing gossip and spreading it like syrup as if politics was as digestible as morning pancakes. His denim jacket was slung over his bulky shoulder with the singed pocket displayed for all the young boys to see. The mark showed that he belonged to a family – a brotherhood – and nothing in their small world was held as high. His jacket was both a symbol of honor and transactional love, for Broady believed that nothing in this world was free – at least someone planted that seed in his heart long ago, and the roots have dug in too deep to be removed.
He was walking on Center Street – our only functional street – when a voice called out.
“How many?” Darry was smoking in the shadows behind the diner.
Broady stopped in his tracks. He did not want to answer this now. “Two.”
“Can you take them?”
“No, I need backup. ” Broady turned to face the voice but didn’t dare look at his king in the eye. When even the smallest of actions can be considered too political, it’s better to be safe rather than sorry.
Darry scratched his neck, “You will be fine on your own. I need the boys to finish my fencing.”
In fear, Broady’s eyes reflexively flicked up to look into Darry’s – they were too sharp for a man his age. There was once a woman – a queen – to soften his malice, to kiss him, and make him forget that his problems existed. There was once a baby to love and live for.
Both of them were lost to the moves and countermoves.
As a painkiller, Darry burns all of his pawns like the cigarettes he smokes – no one should dare tell him otherwise. “Is there a problem, boy?”
“Then bend your neck down and -“
But there was a problem, and Broady couldn’t help himself, “It is the twins. They are too big for just me. We will stand a better chance if you give me Kevin or even Drake.”
“You will be fine on your own.” His voice was enough to make any man wet his pants. Although the two were equal in size, and Broady was most likely stronger, one of them was the puppet and the other the puppeteer. They continued to look at each other until Darry pulled the strings a little tighter. “Now scat. You know how much you owe me.”
Broady didn’t need a reminder – he shut his mouth and walked away in submission.
His Ma was most likely waiting at home in her mustard yellow sundress. She always sat on the lawn chair, reading 50’s magazines about Marylin Manroe’s tragic but beautiful death, or learning all the details of some psychotic murder in Arkansas. Something about serial killers and rapists always intrigued her, not for the pain and suffering, but rather the somewhat fictional characters of these stories. With twinkling eyes oozing with innocence, she would tell Broady about the 70’s reality show host who would slice the scalp off of all his child victims, or she would make some broad conjecture about the missing boy on the news. Broady wondered what she would do if he was in the place of that lost teenager. What if his sunken cheeks – a mirror image of hers – were displayed across television screens of their town? Would she continue to predict his death then?
Some people never learn until life hits them below the belt. Women, however, never really do realize until one day they pull their pain out of old boxes with dusty pearl necklaces and stained wedding promises. They then scream hymns of suffering and regret. The regret of a life unlived. The sorrow of bearing a child who was nothing like his father. The shame of having her husband leave because her baby was too much like her.
Isn’t that a beautiful love story? Broady didn’t think so, but his Ma still wore the wedding ring, as if the “till death do us apart” vow still applied.
She also treated her son as if he was a stranger, but Darry never did. Darry was the only family he had.
Our messenger didn’t feel like going home that day after remembering all of this. He had to prepare his next move. When it came to interacting with the world outside of their town, everyone was a unit. You clean up your brother’s messes because he would do the same for you. Darry didn’t pay his bills, so Broady had to go and scare the twins away. He learned to put the holster in the right belt loop so that it is the fastest to pull out and shoot. He also vowed to always be behind a gun rather than in front of it. Other than that, he was just a messenger. His worth dwindled to that of a pawn.
Broady waited for hours for his task- what else was there to do? He sat on the edge of Center Street and pulled the bullets out of his pocket, secretly hoping that he would not have to use them. But as the sun descended further and further into the horizon, Broady knew there was nothing that belonged to him – not even his conscience. He was like Atlas, the Greek god who held the sky atop his shoulders, silently obeying the whims of those above him. Nothing belonged to Darry either. Darry may be the king, but his moves were also choreographed by someone else – something that was not even human.
So when he saw the two burly shadows, Broady didn’t even bother hiding. He didn’t even call out to taunt his potential victims/killers, and neither did they. The three men pitted against each other by the devil, while their goodness remains malnourished and locked away in their minds. To the devil, life is a matter of withdrawals and transactions, where one false move can send even the noblest of people down a spiral of failure and regret. To the devil, people speak the truth for selfish reasons, just as fast as they lie for selfless reasons. To the devil, nothing in the world is pure.
And I, as your narrator, could describe how hard one man punched the other, at what time blades were introduced, and after what struggle Broady was on the pavement with a gun to his head, but that is not at the heart of our story today. While Broady lay there without a fight, and one man stood above him with the gun, and the other had Broady’s denim jacket with the singed pocket crumpled in his fist, the devil continued running in circles around them tightening his grip as he went. His pawns were positioned strategically for destruction – each soul without a life to live.
Broady thought about his Ma, who would most likely leave this town after the funeral with the story of her son sewn into the dangly thing at the back of her throat – to her, crime was simply a folk story to be told over the dinner table. He also thought of Darry, who would send Kevin to do his dirty work from now and on. A messenger can always be replaced.
The fallen pawn looked up at the sky. Larks were floating in the sunset. He had the feeling that they were watching him, witnesses of a broken promise to his father. The barrel was somewhat comforting to him, however. He didn’t have to do anything other than submit. Broady knew how to submit. He could then be bloody, beautiful, and free, like a parrot. He could fly away.
So during this sunset, in an unnamed town, a pawn was lost as a countermove. He had a name and a face that was spread across the news like syrup on morning pancakes but digested and forgotten soon after.
The devil continued to work under the guise of brotherhood and loyalty as the generations went by. And while people blame each other, spew hatred into ears, and wait to attack when vulnerability crosses their path, they will once again forget that it is not people that are bad. People have souls that are pristine and beautiful. People have free will but they don’t even realize it. Why? Because it is the devil. It is the devil all the time.
The setting of this short story of mine was heavily influenced by the movie, “The Devil All the Time”. I would recommend anyone with a stomach for psychotic characters to watch this movie. It was absolutely brilliant.
Also the line, “at the heart of our story today” used twice in this story was emulated from this movie.
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