16Sunsets – Day Zero

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“What’re you doing here, kid?”

Joaquin looked up the barrel of a shotgun. His eyes tried focusing on the deadly end, but as was everything in his life, he failed. His eyes crossed until he was dizzy. Joaquin’s only response was a heavy sigh as the events of the last few months weighed on him.

“I asked you a question, kid.”

Joaquin leaned back against the tree he huddled under. How can a mountain hermit understand, he thought. Let’s just get this over with.

Peter cocked the shotgun. “I’m going to count to five, then you’d better give me a reason to not pull this trigger.”

“One.” Joaquin lived most of his life by the code of the street.

“Two.” I’ve wasted my life.

“Three.” It wasn’t to say he’d never had the opportunity to turn his life around.

“Four.” I can’t even think of a reason.

“Five.” Joaquin lurched to the side, shielding his face with his arm.

When the shotgun blast didn’t come, Joaquin peeked over his arm at the strange man. The man’s eyes were no longer cold. He stared at the stitched number five on Joaquin’s sleeve. The jersey was dirty from several days of wear. Muddy here and there, but the number – the high-contrast number five seemed to mesmerize the man.

Without taking his eyes off the number five, Peter cleared his throat and spoke slowly as if he were talking to a toddler. “What’s your name, kid?”

Joaquin squinted, if his eyes were weapons, they would have ended the hermit. “Don’t call me kid,” he said through clenched teeth.

“Not the smartest kid, huh?”

Joaquin regained his composure and shrugged. “You wouldn’t’ve hurt me anyway. My skin is im-perf-you-loss.”

Peter lowered the shotgun. “Are you trying to say impervious?”

Joaquin rolled his eyes. “Yeah, man. I’m bullet proof.”

A smile tugged at the corner of Peter’s mouth. “You’re like me, then.”

“Whatever, old man. Just leave me alone.”

Peter nodded and turned to leave. Over his shoulder, he said, “If you’re hungry, come to the cabin. It’s been ages since I’ve had a proper guest.”

Joaquin stared, slack-jawed at the old man. He noticed he no longer thought of him as a crazy old hermit. What might you think with a full stomach, a quiet voice resonated in the back of his mind. He stood on unsure legs, numb from hiding from the confrontation between the old man and Kristof. A confrontation that seemed to have been forgotten.

“Follow in my footsteps, literally,” commanded Peter, “or the day will end badly for you.”

Joaquin shrugged and followed the old man, stepping on his footprints in the soft packed dirt.

* * *

“Ron, please get us a few value meals.”

“I want you to get them,” declared Bree with her voice trailing off at the end of the sentence.

“Are you sure, Bree?” asked Globe.

“Yes, please.” She turned to Ron in the bucket seat next to her and stared at him. “I don’t like Ron.”

Globe nodded at the armed guard behind Bree and Rob, stepped out of the vehicle and walked towards a fast-food store that laughably called itself a restaurant. The R-C-M-P liaison followed followed suit.

Ron waited until Globe and the Canadian were inside the restaurant and he turned to Bree. “I don’t know why he gives you everything you want,” he sneered.

Bree smiled and tilted her head. “It’s because I’m a pretty, pretty princess.”

Ron sighed. “I don’t think so.”

Bree’s eyes narrowed. “I am a pretty, pretty princess.” She held up her stuffed cat. “And Puss is my royal subject.”

Ron seized the stuffed cat and tossed it into the front seat.

“You’re a meanie!” Bree shrieked.

“What’re you gonna do about it, princess?” Ron mocked.

Bree smiled and looked into Ron’s eyes. When their gaze locked, he was unable to look away. He felt his heart race. The thundering in his ears was unbearable. His shallow breathing was labored, each inhalation not enough life-giving oxygen. The capillaries in his eyes broke and the whites of his eyes became a dark crimson.

Ron couldn’t understand what was taking Major Globe so long. He tried closing his eyes to clear his thinking. Why isn’t the guard intervening? He thought as the edges of his vision darkened. The thumping in his ears blocked out all other stimuli.

The guard with the weapon trained on Bree thumbed the safety at Ron’s mocking comment. He started to take a breath, but Ron’s vitriol was followed by him slumping against the seat in front of him. The guard let out his breath slowly as Bree stared out of the window to the restaurant.

“I hope they have dino nuggets!” Bree squealed as Ron’s eyes and ears dripped blood on the upholstery and his smart, crisp suit. The guard flipped the switch back to safe as he finished exhaling the extra breath he took in. His eyes darted right as Major Globe and his liaison came out of the restaurant loaded with bags of food.

Returning gaze to Bree, he thought, I just might survive this operation after all.

16Sunsets – Moonrise


Another one I wrestled with for a while. I’m just having trouble with these confrontations, but they’re important to the story. [868/36,347]

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About Mark Gardner

Mark Gardner lives in northern Arizona with his wife, three children and a pair of spoiled dogs. Mark holds a degree in Computer Systems and Applications and is currently attending Northern Arizona University. View all posts by Mark Gardner

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