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Dreamscapes Fiction:

The Shotgun Incident
Daniel Thant

I was about to exercise my dominance in a world of powerlessness. I just didn’t know it yet.

So. Who or what are we trying to kill?
I had to grin at his directness. We’re not trying to kill anything.
Well then, who or what are we trying to protect?
My home, hopefully.
Check this out, he said, moving down the glass display counter. He was a tall, fat man with an unkempt, graying beard. He wore a red flannel shirt and glasses with liquor-colored lenses. He pulled a shotgun out of the case and racked it. He said, I don’t care if you’re up against a two hundred fifty pound burglar or a fifty pound crackhead, they hear that and it’ll send them running for the hills.
I nodded.
He added, And in the event that that don’t work, this little puppy fires enough buckshot to level a football team. It’s kind of like shooting off a cannon. You got to hang on tight.
The subject obviously excited him, and his enthusiasm made him an excellent salesman. I was in one of the small businesses that littered the roadside on this particular stretch of U.S. 33 in Goldfield, Indiana, a pawnshop without a name. The sign outside simply advertised Guns, Jewelry, Tools. Nearby stood another employee of the shop, a pimply sixteen-year-old, watching the exchange with translucent lust. And after all, what sixteen-year-old male doesn’t lust after such a potently symbolic object? In two short years he could buy one of his own.

After a ten-minute background check I left the store with the shotgun and a box of shells. They had cost me $218.75, cash, after taxes. I locked the gun in the trunk of my car, placed the ammunition in the glove box. On a whim I dropped a single shell into my shirt pocket.
God bless America, I said aloud.
The salesman’s firm handshake had been the handshake of one man bonding with another, a meeting of minds, an association of warriors: war paint, muscle, power. In fact I was about to assert the parameters of my own manhood. I was about to exercise my dominance in a world of powerlessness. I just didn’t know it yet.
I pulled back onto the road.

It was November and it had been a mild winter so far. It had snowed twice but snow hadn’t taken. The sky was gray, the air smoky. I’d been on my way to pick up my fiancé, Megan, when I’d noticed the sign.
The idea of buying a gun had occurred to me about a week prior, after I’d watched a talk show about young girls who had been kidnapped and locked in an old pervert’s basement. After I saw that talk show I started thinking about my own infant daughter, Melanie, how I could protect her in such a world.
The longer I thought about it, the more I became filled with anxiety. I couldn’t let my daughter be turned into a sex slave. I imagined some creep breaking into our new house when I was at work and kidnapping her. This idea became a fixation. What could Megan do to stop him? Nothing. Once I woke from a nightmare on exactly this topic, I knew I had to do something to restore my peace of mind.
Now the solution was locked in the trunk of my car. I had a sudden surge of confidence just knowing it was back there. I peered out at the road in front of me with wary skepticism, with grim, iron realism, like some legendary lawman of the old West. I felt perfectly comfortable.

In my mind’s eye I saw the creep from the talk show breaking the glass in one of our windows in the new house, unlocking the window, raising it up, climbing into the dark room. A light comes on and he looks up to find me standing there with my new home security system, both barrels pointed at his face. And I’m smoking a cigarette, even though Megan doesn’t like me smoking indoors.
I guess you broke into the wrong house, buddy, I tell the creep.
By the time I arrived at Megan’s mother’s house I had turned this scenario over in my mind probably a dozen times. Each time the creep became more dangerous and I became more heroic. The scenario extended to what Megan’s reaction might be, how she would look me in the eyes with new appreciation. How we would make love, the shotgun leaning up against the wall in a corner of the room.
I was in a fine mood by the time I pulled into her mother’s driveway.
But Megan came out of the house looking dour. She carried the backpack with all the baby stuff in it, and her mother followed her out with Melanie in the car seat.
Hello, Mike, her mother said.
Howdy, I said.
You’re late, Megan told me.
I looked at my watch. It was about twenty minutes past my estimated time of arrival. Megan’s mom strapped Melanie into the backseat.
Well, good luck, you two, her mom said.
Bye, mom, Megan said.
See you, Mrs. Gregory, I said.
Bye, Mike.

Once we had pulled out onto the road I asked Megan if she was excited. We were going to our new house, the one we had finally decided on after two months of searching, to take one last look around and fill out the paperwork.
Of course I am, she said.
I nodded. Megan had a way of saying things that made me think she was lying. She had no reason to lie, none that I knew of. But clearly something was amiss. It could be my lateness or something else. To ask would be to make the situation ten times worse. That’s how that worked.
Christmas in our new house, I said, grinning.
We’ll probably be at my grandparent’s, though, she said.
I glanced over at her. She didn’t look back at me. I couldn’t pinpoint when exactly, but at some point after our relationship became serious, Megan simply stopped looking at me.
Well, we’ll wake up in our house, I said. You know, Christmas morning. That whole thing. Maybe it’ll snow. Should be fun.
She nodded. She could have shrugged instead.

Postpartum depression, I thought. That’s what it is. I glanced over at her again. Megan was a beautiful blonde, striking even without any makeup, her hair tied back in a ponytail. Her expression was perfectly neutral, and looking at her made me feel more at ease.
All the same, I decided this was not the most opportune time to tell her about the shotgun. I didn’t know what she’d think of it. We’d have to go to a shooting range or someplace to learn how to quickly load and fire. I started thinking about Megan with the shotgun. That took half the fun out of it.
Maybe I’d get her a handgun instead. Then she’d have her gun and I’d have mine. That’s what I’d do. I’d buy her a handgun and keep the shotgun as my own. She didn’t have to know about the shotgun. It could be my business and not hers.
Yes. The more I thought it over, the more I became convinced that she would not want the shotgun in the house. It’s too dangerous, she would say. It’s an unnecessary risk, we already have a house alarm. She would belittle the idea, no question about it. It was essentially lying to keep it a secret, but ignorance is bliss, right? No doubt she had secrets of her own, hidden information I had no desire to uncover. So this made us even. I’d hide the shotgun in the garage or something.
I glanced over at her again. God, she was beautiful.

A few raindrops had hit the windshield on the drive over. The fog thickened and traffic slowed. We arrived about forty-five minutes late, but the real estate agent’s green BMW was still parked in the driveway of our new place.
I parked behind the realtor’s car and looked at the house. It was an unremarkable starter house: one story, two bedrooms, one bathroom. It was perfect.
I love this house, I said.
It needs painting, Megan said.
Painting? I said. We hadn’t talked about this. The house was blue. How could she not like blue? Everybody liked blue.
It’s a weird color, she said. Who paints a house sky blue, anyway? The previous owner must have been crazy.
I shook my head. I said, Yeah, I guess we could paint it. What color did you have in mind?
Yellow, she said.
I didn’t understand why she was bringing this up now. One of our house-hunting criteria had been color: the color of the house, the first thing you noticed. Why hadn’t she said something before? I would never learn to understand Megan’s thinking.
But as it so happened, she was right about the previous owner.

We climbed out of the car. Megan unbuckled Melanie’s car seat while I stretched my limbs. I was still sore from the five-mile run I’d taken the day before. I’d started jogging with Megan’s sensibilities in mind. I knew if I stayed in shape our relationship had a much better chance of survival. But I’d spent my college years lazing about, chain-smoking, drinking and swearing. Now I was in training to become a family man, and the transition was proving to be punishing beyond all reason.
I wanted a beer, a cigarette, and my PlayStation 2.
Could you carry her? Megan said.
I walked around the car and took Melanie’s car seat. Melanie looked up at me with that blank-slate baby expression: expectant curiosity mixed with total ignorance. I envied her at times. She had no concept of the political struggle that was adult life. She didn’t need to fight for status: she was already an elected baby.

She was also one of the few substantive aspects of my relationship with Megan, other than sex. I raised the car seat and kissed her on the forehead. Megan had walked away from the car and stood at the far edge of the front yard, arms crossed, craning her neck and examining something on the side of the property. In a low voice I told the baby an age-and gender-inappropriate joke.
You know that old joke, I said, about the eleven-year-old boy who gets home from school a little early and finds his mother performing oral sex on his father.
Melanie stared with incomprehension.
No, I said. Well, the eleven-year-old asks his mother: Is that where babies come from? And she looks at him and says, No, son, that’s where jewelry comes from.
I grinned at Melanie and she grinned in return.
I said, Well, kiddo, I’m giving your mother a house today. A house.

Incomprehension from the kid. I didn’t know if I understood the irony myself. There was plenty of irony to the situation, I was sure of that.
I strolled over to where Megan was standing and joined her in staring down the side of the yard.
Do you see what I see? Megan said.
I frowned. A tree had been cut down in the yard, and not just any tree. It was the apple tree that had played a role in our deciding on this house. We had talked about adding some landscaping and a wrought iron park bench, turning it into a quaint reading spot, perfect in summer when it would provide some shade. I had envisioned Megan bringing me out a tall glass of ice tea as I sat there reading the paper. Which would have been completely out of character for both of us (I didn’t read the paper and Megan didn’t serve drinks), but I’d envisioned it all the same. And now the tree was lying on its side like a wounded soldier.
What the fuck happened? I said.
God, Mike, the language! Megan said. The baby’s right here.
Well, I said, gesturing at the tree. For Chrissake.
I know, she said.
I was a little pissed off. When I got angry, I didn’t get angry about just one thing. I stood in front of Megan and looked her in the eyes.
Meg, I said, what’s wrong with you?
What are you talking about? she said, looking away. Her tone told me she didn’t want to talk about it, whatever it was.
A few months ago buying a house was all you wanted to talk about. And today you act like you’re starting a prison sentence.
I don’t know what you’re talking about.
I just told you.
Are we having a fight? she said, taking Melanie and the car seat from me. Because we don’t do that in front of the baby.
She’s a baby, Meg. She doesn’t understand.
You’re the baby, she replied.
Oh, now I’m the baby, I said.
That’s right.
I tried to think of some applicable riposte. I thought I might say something about how Megan was always trying to change me, which would tie into her idea of my being a baby. But then she’d latch onto that and complain that I never changed Melanie, which was true. Then I’d have to argue that, as the breadwinner of the family, I shouldn’t have to participate in domestic tasks. All of this would inevitably lead to a discussion of our looming divorce. Believe me, that was where all of our arguments wound up. I decided to stay quiet.

We stood in melancholic silence and stared at the murdered tree. The only sound was the distant buzz of a chainsaw.
A chainsaw.
I glanced over at Megan. She didn’t look back at me.
The sound intensified as we stood there. I looked around. I was going to exchange words with whoever it was. Cut down my apple tree, will ya. Why I oughta...
Megan began walking toward the house and I followed. The front door opened as we approached and I knew something was up because the chainsaw sound was coming from inside. We froze as a man stepped out from the front door, a chainsaw in his hands. He was covered in blood.
Megan turned and looked at me, her eyes open in fear. I beckoned for her to follow me and we moved away from the house. The man with the chainsaw pursued us, walking slowly, his eyes staring.
It was like we’d walked into a fucking indie horror flick.
Get in the car, I told Megan.
She opened the passenger door and put Melanie in the backseat. The man with the chainsaw picked up the pace, started running. Without thinking I dashed to the trunk of the car, unlocked it, and removed the shotgun. I loaded it with the shell in my shirt pocket and turned. He was most of the way across the front lawn.
Megan screamed.
I shot him.

Ears ringing, stomach churning, my face a sickly shade of pale reflected in the car window, I opened the car door and sat inside.
Call the cops, I said.
I already did, Megan said. She clutched her cell phone in one hand. Melanie was crying. Megan reached into the backseat and picked her up.
That was fucked up, I remarked.
Is he dead? Megan asked.
Probably so.
Should we check? she said.
I’m not going anywhere near him.
Melanie began calming down, staring curiously at my drawn face, her head resting on Megan’s shoulder. It occurred to me that Megan was a pretty good mom, a natural, in fact.
Where’d you get the gun?
I bought it earlier today, I said. Before I picked you up.
Were you going to tell me?
Megan looked out the window at the man. He lay on his back, spread-eagle on the lawn. The chainsaw lay nearby.
I’ve been seeing someone else, Megan said.
I hope it wasn’t that guy.
I’m serious, Mike. I’ve been cheating on you.
I hesitated. I said, It doesn’t matter.
No, it does. Melanie’s not yours. I was going to tell you. She looks just like her real dad. I’m sorry, Mike.
You’re sorry.
I really am sorry.

I climbed out of the car and lit a cigarette. I’d left the shotgun on the roof of the car. I put it back in the trunk. After a while seven or eight police cars, an ambulance and a fire truck arrived. We accompanied the police back to the station. I repeated my story about a dozen times and then waited in an uncomfortable plastic chair while they finished questioning Megan.
The detectives had told me the story behind our encounter. The man with the chainsaw was the former home owner, an RV factory laborer and sometimes bass player in a local band. He had a drug problem. He’d put the house on the market after his wife left him, then had taken some bad crystal meth, something incorrect in the chemical composition of this particular batch that made him instantly psychotic. He’d purchased a chainsaw at the local Home Depot and returned to his old house to cut down the apple tree and murder our real estate agent.
Maybe he thought she was his wife, one detective theorized.
I was tired and the police station was brightly lit. I blinked hard, shook my head. I looked down at Melanie, who sat in her car seat wide awake. The cops must have given her some sugar or something. It was getting late.
Some fatherly advice, I told the baby. Never marry a bass player.
She stared at me, waited.
You know what they call a bass player’s wife who knows where her husband is every night?
She waited.
A widower, I said.

© Daniel Thant - December 16 2003

Previously Daniel Thant
The Misogynist

More fiction in Dreamscapes


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