BAD THINGS - MARK JOSEPH KIEWLAK
I made my way through the woods and found the tree and started climbing. The treehouse was about fifteen feet off the ground. I pushed open the small door and squeezed my way inside. Tommy was sitting in the far corner with his legs crossed and his head down. There was a .357 Magnum in his lap.
“Tommy,” I said. “I’m not going to hurt you.”
He didn’t raise his head. He didn't say anything. His knees were scraped bloody. There was a cut on his elbow.
“My name is John,” I said.
The roof on the treehouse was so low that I couldn’t even get to my knees. I crawled on all fours a step closer to him.
“I’m going to come over,” I said. “So that we can talk.”
All at once, he raised the gun and pointed it in my direction. “I don’t want to talk,” he said. His fingers were so small he fit two of them on the trigger. The gun was pointed mostly at the floor. Then again, there wasn’t much room to miss.
“I think you need to,” I said. “I think you need to talk.”
“Who cares what you think,” Tommy said.
“It’s okay to tell me,” I said. “It’s okay to tell me what happened.”
He raised his head a little and I saw that there was a gash across his forehead. It was the middle of January but he wasn’t wearing a coat.
“I don’t want to talk,” Tommy said. “I’m never talking to anyone again.”
“I understand. Sometimes I don’t feel like talking either. Sometimes I feel like there’s nobody who could ever help the way I feel. Like I’m all alone. Maybe forever. Is that the way you feel?”
I tried to move toward him. He lifted the gun a little higher and steadied his grip. “Don’t come any closer,” he said. His hair was dirty blond. He had jagged bangs hanging over his eyes.
“Is that your father’s gun?” I said. “Is that where you got it? From your father?”
“Go back to the other stuff,” he said. “The stuff about being alone. Talk about that.”
I shifted my position and sat down with my legs crossed in the center of the room. The afternoon wind was howling between the planks.
“I just meant to say that you’re not alone,” I said. “Even if you think you are.”
“I am alone,” Tommy said. “And now I always will be.”
“Bad things have happened to you,” I said. “Maybe for a long time. But that’s over now. You did what you were supposed to. You told someone.”
“She didn’t help,” Tommy said. “She asked a bunch of stupid questions and she sent me down the hall to the guidance counselor. He didn’t help, either.”
“I’m sure they tried,” I said. “I’m sure they both tried.”
“Are you a cop?” Tommy said. He had lowered the gun a bit and was balancing the butt on one of his ankles. There was a stream of dried blood on the side of his face. I couldn’t see if the gash in his forehead was still bleeding.
“I used to be,” I said. “Now I help people. Your aunt was worried that she hadn’t heard from you and she wanted me to make sure you were okay.”
“Dad locked us away,” Tommy said. “After they called him to school, he came home angry and he wouldn’t let me leave the house after that. It was worse than usual.”
His wrist weakened and the gun barrel tipped and banged the floorboard once before he got it raised again. His sneakers had coal dust all over them.
“Don’t ask me to talk about it,” he said. “Everybody asks me that. I’m through talking. I won’t ever talk again.”
“I won’t ask,” I said.
We were silent a moment.
“Now what?” he said.
“I don’t know,” I said. “You tell me.”
“I want you to go away,” Tommy said.
“I can’t,” I said.
“Well, I want you to.”
“I can’t leave you here like this,” I said. “I need your help.”
“I won’t tell you,” he said. “I told you I wasn’t talking anymore.”
The wind blew harder and one of the branches began to scrape along the outside wall. There were no windows in the room. No furniture. There was a small stack of comic books in the corner and some empty boxes of Slim Jims.
“I just need to know where he is,” I said. “Nothing else. Just where he is.”
“Do you have a gun?” Tommy said. “Because I have a gun.”
“I have a gun, too,” I said. “But I didn’t bring it.”
“Because I didn’t think I’d need it,” I said. “Because sometimes when you bring a gun the wrong people get hurt.”
“He wasn’t the wrong people,” Tommy said.
I didn’t say anything.
“Are you afraid of me?” Tommy said.
“No, Tommy, I’m not afraid.”
“He wasn’t afraid, either. I was always afraid of him. He hurt me and I was afraid.”
“Is that why you took the gun?” I said. “So that he’d be afraid?”
With his two fingers, Tommy pulled the trigger. The bullet whizzed past my elbow and knocked out a chunk of floor near the door. Tommy was startled and was knocked back against the wall but he didn’t let go of the gun. I tried not to move. It was getting difficult.
“You were laughing at me,” Tommy said.
“You didn’t think you had to be afraid of me,” he said. “You didn’t bring your gun.”
“Was that the first time you ever fired a gun?” I said.
“I didn’t shoot him,” Tommy said. “You’d lock me away if I shot him.”
“No one will lock you away.”
“Why didn’t you lock him away?” Tommy said. “All this time. Why didn’t someone lock him away?”
“I don’t know,” I said. “They should’ve.”
It was still fairly light outside, but inside the treehouse, the shadows were getting deep. I didn’t care. I’d sit all night if I had to. I was worried about the cut on his forehead.
“They should’ve,” he said. “But they didn’t.”
“So you had to do something,” I said.
“Leave me alone,” he said.
“Just tell me what happened,” I said. “Just what happened today. That’s all.”
“I want you to leave,” Tommy said. “I have the gun and I want you to leave.”
“I’m sorry,” I said. “I think my legs are stuck in this position.”
“He took me out here all the time,” Tommy said.
“To this treehouse?” I said.
“No. Out in the woods. Back by the coal banks. Where the old breaker is.”
I didn’t say anything.
“I hate it out there,” Tommy said.
“Is that where he took you today?” I said.
“Shut up,” Tommy said. “I’m telling a story.”
I did as I was told. He shifted his head and I saw that there was fresh blood coming from the gash on his forehead. I couldn’t see much else now. Tommy’s hands began to shake. He tried to sit up straighter. “He made me --” He choked on the words. “He always made me. He was my dad.” He wasn’t crying but there was blood running like tears down his cheek.
I had to move my legs or they would go numb. It was already below freezing outside. Tommy had on a T-shirt and jeans. The knees were worn through like he’d been dragged somewhere. He made no move to wipe the blood from his face.
“He was my dad,” Tommy said.
I stretched out one leg and then the other. I got back on all fours. “Tommy,” I said. “I have to come over there. I don’t think you’ll shoot me.”
“You’re right,” he said. Then he raised the gun and pointed it at his own head. “This is easier,” he said.
“Tommy, wait,” I said. “What about your father?”
“That’s what you care about?” he said. “My father? You’re worried about him?”
I gave him a second. As long as he was angry he was distracted. As long as I could keep him here with me. Any way I could.
“You’re like everybody else,” he said. “Talking about him. They want to know this and they want to know that. Did he do this and did he do that? When? Where? Nobody asks about me. Nobody cares. Everything is about him.”
“This isn’t,” I said. “This is just about me and you. Sitting here. Talking.”
His arms were too weak to hold the gun to the side of his head so he lowered it into his lap and pointed it back toward himself and lowered his forehead until it was pressing the barrel.
“We were out behind the coal bank,” he said. “Where he likes to go. I ran away. I had the gun hidden here and I thought I could run and get it. But he caught me at the top of the coal bank. He started dragging me by the hair. I fell and hit my head. He kept dragging me. When it was over, he was pulling his pants up and I ran again. I ran right to the edge of the coal bank. He came after me and his pants were falling and I pulled them down and I pushed him and he fell over the edge. He rolled all the way to the bottom. I was scared to go down after him, so I threw rocks at him and I hit him but he didn’t move.”
“When did this happen?” I said. “How long ago?”
“Early this morning,” Tommy said.
“Have you been out here since then?”
He didn’t say anything.
“Have you seen your father since then?”
“Yes,” Tommy said. “I went back there this afternoon. He was still lying there.”
It was dark enough now so that Tommy was just a small shadow hiding in the corner. The wind was rattling several of the planks and the scraping branches had become a chorus.
“There’s nothing left,” he said.
“Tommy, listen,” I said. “I had a little boy. And a girl. I would give anything to see them again.”
“Are they gone? Like my dad?”
“I don’t know,” I said. “I’ll probably never know. But I miss them. I miss them everyday.”
“I bet you never hurt them like he hurt me,” Tommy said.
“No, I didn’t. But I got hurt. I got hurt because they weren’t around anymore. Your dad won’t be around anymore and you think you can’t handle that. But you can. Bad things have happened to me but I’m still here. I want you to be here, too.”
“Who’ll take care of me?” Tommy said.
“Why not your aunt?” I said. “She cares about you a lot.”
“My dad hated her,” Tommy said.
I didn’t say anything.
“And I hated him.”
“I know you did,” I said. “And that’s okay. It’s okay to hate him. And it’s okay to love him, too.”
I heard the gun drop to the floor. Tommy began sobbing. I crawled over to him and found the gun and slid it across the room. He had curled into a ball and closed himself off and I knew I shouldn’t touch him or even try. He began crying harder and the wind rattled the walls on all four sides. I sat next to him and put my arms around him. He resisted, but then he let me hold him, and I held him for a long time, and we both listened to the treehouse creaking and being pulled apart all around us.
BIO: Mark Joseph Kiewlak has been a published author for eighteen years. In recent times his work has appeared in more than thirty magazines, including Hardboiled, Plots With Guns, Pulp Pusher, Thuglit, The Bitter Oleander, Disenthralled, Clean Sheets, and many others. His story, “The Present,” was nominated for the 2010 Spinetingler Award: Best Short Story on the Web. He has also written for DC Comics (FLASH 80-PAGE GIANT #2).