THE LAST BULLET - ERIC BEETNER
It seemed to Chad that the body had gotten heavier the longer he dragged it into the woods. This was the part he didn’t like about killing. It was the part you always forgot about until it was time. Like cleaning up after a party. No one wants to do it but it has to be done.
Chad had killed seven men. Two in anger, one in self defense and this made four for money. Disposing of a body wasn’t his specialty but none of the others had turned up so he felt at least competent at it. The gun work he felt more than competent at; he felt expert.
Like, teach-a-class expert. Write-a-book expert. But he knew he would have to have many more under his belt before that happened. To the men who hired him he was still an unproven commodity. That’s partly why he had to do his own disposal.
Autumn air whistled in his ears and was making his eyes tear. The crunch of his feet on the carpet of dried leaves made a rhythm and his heavy breathing made an out-of-time syncopation that was like a jazz drum solo in the forest.
After a solid ten minutes of dragging the body away from where he had parked, Chad put down the legs and stretched out his back with a deep groan. It had been a hefty man who stopped living (about two hours ago) in his mid-fifties. Chad stepped around to the other side and picked up the body under his armpits and tried it that way for a while. It wasn’t much better.
He came to a small clearing at the side of a dry creek bed. In summer, the creek probably ran with water but not enough to wash the body downstream so Chad decided this was a good place to dump it. He never called a body “him”. The him that was inside this body had vanished with two hollow-point bullets to the skull.
Chad slid the body down into the shallow creek bed and took off his gloves and tossed them on top of the body’s upturned belly. He knew guys who went to a lot of trouble to bury a body but Chad didn’t believe in that. If you find a good place that is out of the way where no one will spot it, it is much faster to get rid of someone if you let nature do it. This is what the whole system is designed for: to return us to the dirt.
He leaned over and opened the body’s jacket and ripped open the shirt, exposing a hairy chest and sizable belly. That made it easier for the foxes to get at him. Really it is the bugs that do it. In a month, the body would be nothing more than a pile of bones picked so clean they would be ready for hanging in a museum.
Another job done. Another notch on the belt. Chad’s future was looking up in the killing business.
Chad was half way to wiping his nose on the back of his hand when he heard a twig snap. He spun and drew his gun like an expert. Like, a give-lessons-to-an-actor-in-a-western expert.
He fired and the sound of the bullet made the leaf-crunching and mouth-breathing that had once dominated the air seem as small as the footsteps of the bugs underfoot.
At the edge of the small clearing was a deer. By the time Chad even focused on what it was it had begun to fall to the ground. Chad watched as it slumped to its forelegs and then let its chest hit the ground. The rear legs were slow to react to the bullet and stood firm for a moment. Once the front end was down, it was just inertia dragging down the rest of the animal. A female.
Chad stopped breathing. The echo of the bullet had faded and the pulverizing of the leaves under the body of the deer had been brief. The deer let out a snort and kicked its legs as if trying to stand up, like it had just tripped over a fallen branch and was now confused as to how it had gotten on the ground at all.
It kicked twice more and then lay still except for the rapid rise and fall of her chest as she huffed big breaths of crisp fall air in and out through her nose.
Chad held his breath until his lungs started to revolt. They burned and fought to draw in more life but Chad had stopped all function as his brain absorbed what he had done.
Finally he sucked in a chest full of cold air spiked with the hint of dust from crushed leaves. He had been able to shoot a man point blank in the head and not raise his pulse by more than a few beats. But seeing the deer fall helplessly at his own doing suddenly made him aware of death in a way he never had been before.
His eyes, already wet with the cool breeze irritating them, now flooded over in tears. He did not sob and did not whimper but fat tears the size of sumer rain came one after the other down his face. Chad didn’t know where it was coming from.
He was tired from the effort of moving the body but not so tired that he had lost his well-practiced self control. It was the animal, larger than he was but still defenseless and gentle looking, that made the world turn from fall to winter right there in an instant.
It was just a damn deer but, in the moment, it was an intersection. This was where his life had led him to. Here, in the woods, he was a killer of innocence. Here, in the cold quiet as a single leaf fell from above and landed on the undulating chest of the doe, the first of many that would form her shroud.
Chad stepped slowly across the clearing and approached the fallen doe. Laying on her side, she huffed the way a boxer does between rounds. Her eye, big and black and blank, stared up at him and beyond. There was no judgement there, no accusing. She didn’t know what a bullet was or what it had done to her insides. The blankness read as calm and the breathing was a comfort to Chad.
He stood over her and listened. He thought about speaking out loud to apologize or explain but he found the idea silly. He also didn’t want to hear his own voice break the calm of the woods. His voice disgusted him right then. His actions, his life, his work all sickened Chad.
Needless to say Chad had never been hunting. The only times he was ever this far out in the woods at all was to dump bodies. Bodies he had killed.
He felt like a fool, crying in the woods over a deer, but there was something undeniable that had shifted in him. His world began to accelerate around him. Images of his past crimes assaulted his eyes and thoughts flashed like a strobe light against the inside of his skull. For a second, he brought the gun up to his own temple and contemplated squeezing the trigger but the impulse soon passed.
He bent down to one knee and reached out to touch the doe. The gun was still in his hand, black and artificial in this natural setting.
He put it in his pocket.
He reached tentatively, his fingers spread and his eyes locked with hers. In his mind he kept repeating “I’m not going to hurt you,” but he realized the absurdity of that thought so he stopped.
When he touched her muzzle, she snorted once and kicked her back legs but was still again after that. He stroked her from nose to ears, brushing away the leaf as if that would somehow stave off the inevitable. A tear fell from his face and landed on her cheek. He could feel the heat from her breath on his own face.
Behind him, unseen, the first insect crawled onto the body laying in the creek bed to inspect it. It navigated the forest of chest hair up to his face and disappeared into the nose to have a look around.
Chad could see the blood of the deer start to seep out from underneath where she lay. It was thicker and darker than what he had seen so many times on the men he had killed or seen killed by others.
He felt grateful that he couldn’t see the full wound.
His own blood coursed quicker through him. He felt his ears get hot and knew they were turning red with the pounding blood. He could see his pulse in his eyes and feel it against the tightness of his shoes.
Before the thought could evaporate from his brain like the others, he stood and took the gun from his pocket. He pointed straight down and fired. Two bullets to the skull.
Just like he had practiced.
Those were the last shots he ever fired.
One month later, the bones of the middle-aged man and the deer both showed white among the crowd of dead leaves in browns and deep reds that had covered all but the tallest rib bones and hips. The woods remained quiet since the last bullet had been fired, a bird call the loudest noise to crack the air.
Chad took frequent walks outside. He hadn’t yet been back to the woods of any kind but he planned on it. He hadn’t gotten a straight job yet but he planned on it. He hadn’t gone a day without thinking of the deer. In a new state, under a new name, he watched the first snow begin to fall and felt the cold bite of winter air sting his eyes and make them water.
BIO: Eric Beetner is an Editor, Producer, Director and Screenwriter in Los Angeles. He has sold several scripts but none have made it to the screen, like most writers in Hollywood. He wrote and directed his own film 'Taking Your Life', which played well on the festival circuit and can be found on Indieflix.com. Some of his music videos and short films can be found at ericbeetner.com.