January 2008, it was raining. Hard.
It was just a simple supply run- nothing particularly special about it. We needed more drugs for my mother, because the sickness was eating away at her. It wouldn’t be long now. I knew it, and so did David. We didn’t want to go, because the storm was close and growing louder by the minute. I remember climbing into my pickup, laying the shotgun on the seat next to me and thinking that it was a bad idea to leave her alone.
But I was afraid to go by myself. I had done it once before and failed to bring anything home but a broken rib. So Dave got into the passenger seat, his right hand tightly gripping Dad’s Beretta, and said, “We make this as fast as possible. We go in, we get the meds, we get out. Do not get separated. Got it?” I nodded. I was terrified.
I started the truck and turned on the wipers. The rain was pounding now. I drove down the road towards the store. Something was wrong. I could hear ticking. It was like a watch, counting down the days, hours, and minutes I had left. Or maybe that someone else had left. I thought of Mom again. Something was off. Too late to turn back. I suppose I was afraid of what I might be forced to do. I had never killed anyone before. David had, to save me, to take care of our family he had done what he needed to do. I didn’t know if I could bring myself to do it.
As we rode through the desolation that was once a fairly normal neighborhood I saw a boy bash a dog’s head in with a stone. He looked hungry. I felt myself almost lose it again. It’s hard to fathom if you pause for more than an instant to think about it. The explosions in the distance, the sirens, and the weather… all of it seemed so unreal, so impossible. In that instant I just knew that I would wake up in a padded room. That it was all some terrible hoax. But the boy was still kneeling beside the corpse in the rain, and I was still driving. And just like that, I was back again.
We were almost there when it happened- another event that would alter my life completely. Only this time it wasn’t a nuclear attack. It was right there. There in the rain.
I didn’t see it happen. I only heard David yell and then there was pain and blood. I lost control of the truck. I didn’t fully lose consciousness, but I became disoriented. It all happened so fast. I was being dragged backward and upward, through the window and out of the truck, the glass ripping into my clothes and scraping the skin beneath.
Concrete. The truck was still rolling forward. Away from me. David had to keep going. That was the only vehicle we had, and transportation was one of our most valuable assets. I just knew that he had taken the wheel and gotten into the driver’s seat. I hoped that he had. Hoped that he would go home to mom, take care of her, and not worry about me. I was a goner. I knew that. I could feel warm blood on my cheeks. My blood. Leaving me behind was the right thing to do. A part of me, as terrified as I was, wanted him to leave me. I was ready to die.
But there was never any real hope for that. Only a fool’s hope. David loved me more than anything in this world, and I really don’t think that he could survive long without me. He was strong, yes, but he needed me. Just like I needed him. Like Mom needed him. I guess he wasn’t thinking about that when he threw himself out of the car.
I hadn’t even processed that the truck had stopped when I heard gunfire. He was running towards me, towards the man who grabbed me, and shooting like crazy. He unloaded an entire clip. Before I knew it he was beside me telling me to get back in the truck. I didn’t get a chance to tell him I didn’t think I could drive before he pulled me up off the ground with such force that I nearly lost my balance and went down again. I started to stagger towards the smudge of red and gray I assumed was the truck. The world had taken on a kind of deafening silence, and that feeling of unreality gripped me again. Nevertheless, he was behind me, ushering me forward, toward safety.
For a brief moment, I thought everything was alright. That it had been a close call, but that we would be fine. We’d go home to Mom, find that she was actually feeling much better now, and go back for supplies later. I was three parking spaces away from the truck when I heard the shot. It rang out in the silence and brought with it all the sensation of sound and sight I had temporarily lost. At first, I didn’t know where it had come from. David was only a few paces behind me, and I assumed at first that it was him who fired the shot. But when I turned, I saw it.
A tall, lank figure of a man stood holding a revolver out in front of him. He was dark and had to have been at least six and a half feet tall. He had a grin on his face. I’ll never forget it for as long as I live. He was grinning. The barrel of his gun had a little wisp of smoke curling out of its end. My eyes fell on my brother, still standing, holding the Beretta limply in his right hand. His left hand was clapped over his forehead, like a man who has just remembered something very important. I didn’t see the blood sneaking out between his fingers at first. Maybe I didn’t want to. He slid to his knees, and then went down on his back. That’s when I saw it. That’s when I saw the hole the bullet had made. I nearly lost it again. There was that feeling of unreality, that there was no way this could be happening. But the rain beat down on us, and he lay there, dying.
When I reached his side he was murmuring something I couldn’t make out. Even when I bent closer to hear I couldn’t tell what he was trying to say. I still wonder what he was trying to tell me to this day. But there were no final words that passed between us. No dying sentiment about how much he loved me. No message to give Mom. No words. Just… spasms. Spasms caused by the bullet that scrambled his brains. I started to weep. It wasn’t just tears; it was everything. Everything inside just came pouring out. I tried to form words, thinking that maybe I could tell him something. The best I could manage was “It’s gonna be okay.” It was the biggest lie in the world, yet for some reason I couldn’t think of anything else to say. My eyes were hot with tears. I reached behind his head and felt his blood pouring out into the parking lot.
That’s when the ticking stopped. David stopped. No more jittering, no more spasms. Just me and my brother’s corpse together in the parking lot of the local market. He’d run away red through my fingers. It was all lost. Everything. I heard the man chuckle, and looked up as he started forward, toward my truck. I was lost in rage. Before I knew it I was up and running at the truck. He picked up speed and tried to grab me. I had reached the cab and gotten halfway in when he caught the back of my shirt. I reached for the shotgun and shoved the barrel into my assailant’s gut. I squeezed the trigger. He fell backward onto the wet pavement. He was coughing up blood and looking up at me, all the while with a stunned look on his face. As if he couldn’t believe that I had done it.
I cocked the gun and shot again. That shot took off his head. Through all of the blinding emotions I remember thinking it was odd that he hadn’t shot me like he shot David. I looked down at the body, bent over and pulled the revolver out of its holster. I opened it up to find no bullets. He’d spent his last shot on my brother. Sorrow came flooding back, replacing rage and draining me of all the adrenaline I’d just used to kill someone. He was gone. And so was I.
By Nicole Thomas