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Old 09-19-2020, 06:21 AM   #3
Level 9 - Obstreperous
Join Date: Jan 2005
Location: Roselle or Schaumburg, Illinois
Posts: 1,102
Bincount™: 136
Re: My Last Best Friend - A Short Story

My Last Best Friend - III

“Welcome,” my father said. “You seem better. You look healthy.” He gave me a long one armed hug as I stumbled into the rustic foyer. I did not feel his presence. He moved like a cheapened imitation of someone once dear to me who without warning had emerged from a life erased.

My mother drifted in from the depths of the lightless hallway with sheepish, tired eyes.

“We were worried about you,” she said as she tried to embrace my granite shoulders. “I left some dinner for you. I won’t pester you with too many questions just yet. You should eat and rest.”

I stepped around her. Her arms fell down to her side and her eyes took on a stern, perplexed gaze. I set my duffel bag on the hallway floor and shuffled ahead into the living room. My father looked on from the bungalow’s threshold. He took a deep breath and shut the front door.

My parents stood side by side near the kitchen wall while I reheated the food. Their eyes dissected me. My heart became a settled stone that had nowhere left to roll.
I inhaled my dinner from my familiar perch at the worn oaken table. My parents sat down across from me once their kettle boiled. They sipped steaming tea in an awkward unison. We exchanged plain phrases of comfort and assurance. Their health kept on. Their tiny household kept going. I told them that I had completed the greater part of The Program. After my ten week grace period I would be thrown into the grisly routines of a professional war.

Our pleasantries ran their course. A chill passed across my nerves. I cut my sentence short the moment I realized I had nothing worthwhile left to say. My father returned to his living room armchair and raised the volume of the televised football game. My mother went to the sink and began cleaning the pots and the large frying pan. I continued to eat as I stared into the near-darkness outside the small dining room window. The only neighborhood I had ever known wallowed beyond a scuffed pane of aged glass.

No amount of food satisfied me. I did not ask for more after I cleaned off my second plate. My eyes darted from room corner to room corner while I waited for the coffee to finish brewing. The house had shrunk in my absence. My mother’s vacant smile carried the pain of a concealed juxtaposition. Sixty days ago I awakened in the body of someone I did not recognize. Now I watched that same awakening repeat itself through her eyes. A strange person rummage through her kitchen. He jangled through her cabinets and ate an impossible portion of her curated meal.

I went to bed after the football game ended. My bedroom had become a dusty hollow in my absence. It carried the air of a neglected bottom shelf in a forgotten broom closet. A tinge of remorse hit me as I arranged my lumbering body onto the mattress. I had no one to thank and no one to blame for my displaced existence. My processions had been reduced to a single breath and the sparse moments around it. I owned nothing else. I knew nothing else.

I slept with the window open. The cool night air cleansed me. I woke to the shine of early autumnal light. I eased out of bed and let my bones settle into themselves. Gratitude poured through me. This tiny dying house was not a prison after all.

I walked into the kitchen and discovered three wrapped plates of fluffed pancakes sitting on the counter. I read the notes my parents left attached to the refrigerator door. My father would be gone until six in the evening. My mother planned to return sometime after lunch. I began to eat. As I swapped an empty plate for a full one, I gave the hand-scratched notes another look. Their nostalgic redundancy warmed me.

Gavin called me during my final bite. My assigned phone jangled as it slid across the slick counter. I fumbled the device between my fingers. I struggled to activate the unyielding screen. On the fifth try the security lock took my thumbprint. Gavin’s voice sprang into me from the phone’s diminutive speaker.

“You alright? Everything okay?”

“Yeah, yeah,” I said as I held the device an elbow’s reach from my ear. “Give me a minute.” I adjusted the volume setting and brought the phone closer. “Cheap ass phone,” I said. “It maxed out every setting when I tried to answer. Anyway, I’m here.”

“Good. I’m parked outside your house. Let’s go.”

“Wait. What?”

“Let’s go for a drive. You need to get some air. You’re not going straight from a shut-in to a soldier. Not on my watch.”

“It’s not that simple… there’s much more… never mind.” He had me. “Give me some time to gather my things.” I listened for a response, but the static faded and the call screen turned dark. I changed into a clean pair of jeans and gathered my keys from the top of my dresser. I opened my wallet and glanced at the military ID card inside the clear sleeve. The red holographic P which identified me as a Program recruit appeared blurry and misshapen. I rubbed my thumb along the corner of the card and the letter recaptured its sheen.

“Took you long enough,” Gavin said as I walked up to the hulking door of his vehicle.

“I needed a minute,” I said as I climbed into the seat. “I’m not used to doing whatever I want whenever I want to. You could have given me more of a heads up.”

“Hey. Take it easy,” he snapped. “I took a week off work to help you out. I toil like a yard dog, day in and day out, and still the manager didn’t want to give me this time off. I worked his ego for days trying to convince him. I’m helping you because I want to. I don’t need to be here.”

“Alright, alright, I’m sorry,” I said. “I appreciate your help. I wouldn’t want you to think otherwise. What did you have planned for today?”

“Something simple.”

He revved the truck’s motor and shifted into gear. The air in my lungs jittered. We took a sharp corner at full speed and beat a changing light before merging with the stalled pace of the central avenue. The other cars swayed below us like helpless dinghies in a high tide. We rode above them, proud and imperious.

“Are you up for showing off some of your skills?” Gavin said.


“I was thinking we’d go to a shooting range. You were never into this stuff before you entered The Program. You know, military, guns, discipline, that kind of deal. So, show me what you’ve got.”

“Shooting range?” Something in my brain did not connect. Military? Program? A fog descended over my mind. I had not noticed its slithering intrusion.

“Don’t look so confused. It’s just a little indoor shooting range. We’ll have the place to ourselves. Nobody will be there. We can grab some food after.”


Gavin kept up his jovial tone as we drove on, but behind that front he seemed edgy and a bit jealous. I forced myself to be in agreeance with his winded small talk. I didn’t want to present myself as being above him, yet an unwavering part of me knew that I was. Despite my thickening mental fog, I knew that I was important. Far, far more important than him.
We pulled into a forlorn stone battered lot. I surveyed the gray stocky building in front of us. It leaned on a blighted foundation engrossed by weeds. The lot stood deserted, save for a rusted sedan and a pale maintenance van.

“Here we are,” Gavin said. “Doesn’t look too promising from the outside, but it’s quiet, and their rates are low.”

We passed through the building’s smudged glass doors. My strained eyes welcomed the dark interior. Beyond the first array of vents the lobby’s air turned necrotic. The walls and floor exhaled worn linoleum and neglected flesh. A decrepit man swayed in the dusty shadows behind the service counter. Gavin approached him.

“Hello. We would like two of your basic sessions with one handgun, please. Thirty minutes.”

The clerk drifted forward and drew a feeble breath. He then punched his way down the analog cash register and barked out our session fee. The limbs on his frail shadow of a body seemed to come further unhinged while he reached for our equipment. His barren gaze drifted into the wall of daylight behind us as he slid the handgun across the scratched glass counter.
“Here we go,” said Gavin. “Half an hour should do. They give fifteen minutes of buffer time before they start charging us. Let’s go.” He put on his ear muffs and safety glasses and trotted ahead like an overeager idiot.

I followed Gavin despite my growing sense of estrangement toward him. Every step of his boyish gait seared me with a tactile jolt of anger. I had an urge to reach for the gun held loose in his hand and shoot him through the back of his skull.

“Why are you looking so down all of a sudden?” Gavin said. “Come on, this is supposed to be your job. This is supposed to be fun. Come on, let’s rattle some off.”
Oh, there are problems in these times...
But none of them are mine!
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