By Nick Fatuzzo
“Alright, listen up, you bastards!”
I’m ten years old, and my best friend, Jonathan, has picked up his most recent favorite word from one of his parents’ arguments. It’s summer, and all the neighborhood kids are out. The five of us are sitting in the dry-rotted, wooden gazebo on our cul-de-sac. The sun is shining, simmering our skin. It’s two o’clock.
“Tonight,” Jonathan continues, “we’re going to scare the heck out of that old bastard down the road.”
“You mean Mister Sam?” Tyler pipes in. Tyler is nine years old.
“Of course I mean Mister Sam, stupid,” Jonathan says. “That bastard yelled at me the other day, and he deserves what’s coming to him.”
“Tonight, after our parents go to sleep,” he continues, “we’re gonna sneak out and throw something through his bedroom window.”
“Doesn’t he have a gun?” Julia asks. She lives next door to me.
“I heard, once, he shot someone for trying to break into his house,” Tommy says.
At this, Julia turns to me with a smirk and forms her fingers in the shape of a gun. She aims at me and fires, mouthing the word, “bang.” I smile back.
“Don’t be stupid,” Jonathan snaps. “That old man doesn’t know his butt from a hole in the ground.” He giggles at his own joke. None of us get it.
“Well,” I say, “then what’s the plan?”
Jonathan makes a show of looking around suspiciously and then spreads his arms, inviting us to huddle up.
“So, tonight, after our parents go to sleep, we’re each gonna grab the heaviest thing we can lift from our houses, and meet up here.”
“That’s stupid,” Julia says. “Why not just throw rocks?”
“Yeah,” I say. “I don’t wanna have to steal from my parents.”
Julia smiles and winks at me for agreeing with her. Tommy and Tyler also nod in agreement.
“Are you bastards really that stupid?” Jonathan breaks the huddle and settles on one of the benches. It creaks under his weight. “We want this idiot to know who he’s dealing with. Anyone can throw rocks. This is personal.”
After a few minutes of arguing, Jonathan finally wins. We all decide to meet at eleven o’clock.
I’m fourteen years old, and this is the third time I’ve called my therapist a bastard.
“That’s alright,” he says. “This is a safe place where you can express yourself.”
I cross my arms in defiance. I don’t want to be here, but everyone tells me I should be here.
“You mentioned your recurring dream,” he continues. “Do you want to talk about that?”
“It’s the same as always, man,” I say. “You already know it.”
“That’s true, but I want to hear you talk about it.”
“I’m small and alone,” I begin. “There’s something after me. I can’t see or hear it, but I know it’s there. I’m hiding in a bush, trying to stay quiet.”
He’s nodding, jotting down notes.
“Out of nowhere, I go into a fit of sneezing, and the thing hears me. There’s a loud bang, and I suddenly can’t breathe. I try to look down at my chest, but I wake up before I see anything.”
I’m ten years old, and it’s 10:52 at night. My parents have just gone to bed, and my house is quiet. I’m in my father’s office, looking for anything heavy enough to break glass. Moonlight filters through the blinds, making the room glow eerily. On my father’s desk, I spot his paperweight. I snatch it and stare at it.
It’s a clear orb, slightly larger than my small hands. In the center of it is a picture of my father holding a rifle and a large buck. He had it custom-made three years ago, and I’ve lusted after it ever since.
I put it in my pocket and leave the house as quietly as I can.
At the gazebo, Julia and Tommy are sitting, looking around. Julia spots me first, and shoots me with her fingers again.
She giggles. In her other hand, she’s holding her father’s signed baseball. Tommy smiles and waves at me. He’s got a heavy-looking mason jar filled with God-knows-what.
I approach them and sit.
“Where’s Jonathan and Tyler?” I ask.
They both shrug.
“I should’ve knew Jonathan wouldn’t come,” Tommy says.
On cue, Tyler and Jonathan appear around the corner. Jonathan’s dragging along a bowling ball, and Tyler isn’t holding anything.
“This stupid bastard said he couldn’t find anything to throw,” Jonathan says. “Whatever. You guys have stuff, right?”
The three of us show him our tools.
“Perfect. Let’s go.”
“Well,” my mom says. “How’d it go?”
“Same as every week,” I say.
“Talking about it will make it better,” she says. “I know you may not believe me, but I promise.”
“I heard you scream last night,” she says with a sigh.
“Are you still having nightmares?”
It’s an unusually cold summer night, and the five of us are sitting in a bush bordering Sam’s house. The building looks like it hasn’t been tended to in years. I remember my parents telling me that the old man hasn’t been the same since his wife died. Weeds and beer cans litter the overgrown lawn. Some of the paint on the front door is peeling, and the wooden supports from the front porch are beginning to rot.
“Alright guys,” Jonathan whispers. “His room is that window there.”
He points to the second window on the right side of the house.
“On my signal, we’ll throw our things through it and then run back here.” He laughs. “I wanna see the look on that old bastard’s face.”
We ready our things, and Jonathan counts down.
I shift from sitting to crouching.
Julia smiles at me and winks.
Tommy grabs my shoulder to keep from losing his balance.
Tyler sniffles and sits back.
Jonathan runs forward and heaves his bowling ball. He isn’t strong enough, though, and it falls to the ground with a thump. Julia throws her baseball, and Tommy throws his jar. Both miss, and the jar shatters just below the window, spraying the wall with its contents. All eyes are on me as I rush forward. I take one last look at my father’s paperweight and then throw it. It soars through the air and crashes through the window. The sounds of shattered glass are drowned out by the scream within. We all rush back to the bush, and Jonathan is trying to stifle laughter.
In a matter of seconds, the old man bursts through the front door, shotgun in hand. He isn’t wearing anything, except for his briefs. From where I sit, he reminds me of a half-naked Elmer Fudd, out to hunt rabbits in his underwear. It’s almost comical, except I’m reminded of the real danger involved.
“Where are you fuckers?” He screams, swinging the barrel of his gun around wildly. He fires a shot into the air, and Jonathan isn’t laughing anymore.
Any chance we had of running away is gone, as he starts making his way toward his window and us. Julia grabs my hand and squeezes tightly. She’s shaking.
“Come out!” Sam yells. “Don’t make me find you!”
Tyler begins to cry, and Tommy has to hold his hand over Tyler’s mouth to keep him quiet.
Sam is looking at what’s left on the ground from our assault. He examines the bowling ball and then tosses it to the side.
In a fit of panic, Tyler breaks free from Tommy and tries to run. Tommy yells.
Without hesitation, Sam turns and fires into the bush.
I wake up again in the middle of the night to the sounds of my own screaming. My mother rushes in, frantic.
“Is everything okay?”
I’m covered in sweat and all I can do is nod.
She sighs and slumps. “Again?”
“Sweetie.” She sits at the foot of my bed, resting her hand on my leg.
“I’ll be fine,” I say.
“This has been going on for four years,” she says. “Therapy isn’t working, is it?”
My ears are ringing, and everything is blurry. I can barely hear Julia screaming as she scrambles over me and runs off. I manage to sit up. Jonathan’s eyes look like they’re about to bulge out of his skull. He’s staring at my chest. I look down, and my shirt is soaked with blood.
Between Jonathan and me, Tommy is lying on the ground, gasping for air. His small abdomen looks like it’s been torn in half. His intestines fan out from his back like grotesque tentacles. His face is as white as the full moon, and blood trickles from his agape mouth. Jonathan vomits.
Sam is towering over us, staring in horror at the small child he just mutilated. He begins to sob uncontrollably, and I’m reminded again of Elmer Fudd after an unsuccessful hunt.
“You stupid—” Sam says. “You stupid motherfuckers.”
He kneels down and reaches toward Tommy with a trembling hand. He stops, though, and turns to me. He grabs me by the collar.
“What the fuck were you kids thinking?!” he screams. His breath smells of tobacco and alcohol. His tears fall onto my shirt and face.
“What the—” He drops me. “What the fuck?”
He looks around frantically. “Oh God. Oh God.”
I look back down at Tommy, and I can see he’s no longer moving. Jonathan has already run home. Sam grabs his shotgun from the ground. Hands shaking, he eyes it up and down. He looks into my eyes, and suddenly, a calm look overtakes him.
“I’m so sorry, kid,” he says.
Before I can even scream, he aims the barrel at his face. I try to cover my eyes, but my trembling hands, once steadied by the heft of the paperweight, aren’t quick enough.
Nick Fatuzzo is a fiction writer who lives in Tampa, where he pursues his degree in creative writing at the University of South Florida.