By Chris Chiam
When the young man returned home, he dragged two things with him: the carcass of a deer, and the masked man. The former could not have been secured without the help of the latter, and so the kid’s parents extended a measured welcome toward this stranger. A pleasant evening followed.
Not long after dinner, the young man was bleeding out on his living room floor.
Aside from this horrific centrepiece, the room was riddled with more timid curiosities, scattered about disparately like shrapnel. Tasteless porcelain pieces, discoloured wood carvings, pictures in mismatched frames, and a stuffed coyote, which lurked in the corner. This was a creature that could only be described as a taxidermist’s abortion. Its jaw was contorted in such a way that, when combined with a pair of eyes so unconvincing and askew, produced a frozen look of maniacal glee. And yet, this lifeless coyote appeared more virile than the young man, who had once spent so many hours conjuring up roles for the beast in his games. Looking down on its former playmate, the coyote’s perverse grin suddenly made sense.
The young man lay belly down, as if the laminate was sufficient to prevent his guts from seeping out any further. Leaning on both elbows, he raised his scarlet hands palms-up, with each finger refusing to touch its neighbour. A perplexed look permeated across his face, one of anticipation, as if he were trying to grasp the warped humour of an off-colour joke. He gave a start when the empty magazine hit the space beside his right ear. Concentration broken, the kid realised that there was no impending punch line.
A man towered over him. He wore a pinstripe waistcoat and matching trousers, though he had no jacket or tie. Each shirt sleeve was rolled up to the elbow, and he clutched a pistol tightly in one of his gloved hands. The kid gazed upwards. The only face to be seen was a faded black mask, which encased the man’s head entirely. The eyes were furious, the mouth despairing.
The masked man reloaded his pistol to the sounds of shuffling in the hallway – the mother? He was certain that it was not the father, as it is hard to move with freshly-shattered vertebrae. In an opaque act of spontaneity, he pulled on the slide six times, ejecting the corresponding number of bullets from the refreshed gun. This left only one bullet in the chamber. He made his way to the corridor.
She let out a punctured shriek when he emerged. Rather clumsily, but quickly for a woman of her waistline, she ran. He took aim, aware that her fate was bound to this single bullet. The trajectory of this one forty-five calibre scrap was to define who she would become.
The gun roared, and its emissary was sent forth.
The wall coughed up splinters as the bullet punched into the space beside her head. The slide kicked back, and remained, signifying the guns resignation. As she disappeared around the corner, the man ran his thumb along the bottom lip of his mask. He did not pursue her any further.
He returned to the young man, who had maintained his pose, though his eyes were now laden with sadness instead of confusion. Sitting down cross-legged beside him, the masked man removed the spent clip from the pistol. He then picked up each of the six bullets he had discarded earlier, putting them back into the clip, but not before giving the kid the empty gun to hold in his right hand. After the fifth bullet was reinserted, the masked man noticed that the sixth was slightly beyond his reach. Leaving the clip within range of the young man’s left hand, he leant over backwards to retrieve the bullet. When he leant back forwards, it was clear that no attempt had been made to grab it.
Placing a hand over his victim’s, solidifying the grip on the gun, the masked man replaced the magazine. Meeting no resistance, he gently coerced the kid to turn the gun on himself.
He gazed into the crimson space, once occupied by the head of an adolescent male, then out of the window, at the sun-stained sea of hills. Each mirror offered a different reflection. Glancing between the two, he saw that both were equally real.