Charlie followed Billy into the field of their youth. They
made their way through tall, dead grass toward the distant
mountains that lifted into a dull gray sky. A cool autumn
wind blew stray leaves around them as Charlie tried to keep
his hat on.
He wanted to keep Billy in front of him, not so much to make
sure he didn’t run, but to keep him in his sight as
long as possible. He knew the memory of Billy’s face
would fade and he wanted to postpone that for as long as he
Billy had asked that they drive out to the farm and Charlie
felt he couldn’t deny Billy’s last request. It
was the place they had both grown up. He at least owed Billy
the choice of where he wanted it done.
Driving up the dirt road to the rundown house that was once
owned by Billy’s family, Charlie was amazed at how the
power of memory could grab him.
It’s like our memories of being kids were just waiting
for us to come back to collect them,” Billy said as
they pulled into the dooryard. “Everything looks the
same, but it isn’t. It’s different.”
Walking to the middle of the field, Charlie’s mind turned
back to the days he spent in the field playing catch. He could
still feel the ball hitting the leather of his mitt. Charlie
wondered where that glove was. As a kid, it was always tucked
into his back pocket, but the need to have it around had faded
over time. He hadn’t thought about his battered mitt
since the day he left town with Billy.
They parked the car back at the farmhouse. No one would see
it there; the place was abandoned. The shingles were rotted
and hung off the roof. Random shards of glass remained in
the windowpanes. No ghost would haunt such a place.
It had stood empty since Billy’s mother died nearly
ten years before. The State seized the farm for back taxes
and Billy let them have it. He told Charlie he didn’t
want anything to do with the place. All of his parents’ hard
work disappeared through his negligence and hatred. The State
had forgotten the farm as well, and left it to decay. One
day it would all fall to the ground and no one would be around
to witness the dust bloom into the air when it did
When did this place become so beautiful?” Billy asked. “Was
it like this when we were kids, Charlie?”
Charlie was not used to hearing his real name. Ever since
he joined the syndicate with Billy everyone, even his enemies,
called him Deacon. Billy hadn’t called him Charlie in
If it was, I don’t remember it that way,” Charlie
Their pace was slow. There was no set destination and neither
was in a hurry to finish the walk. They both kept their gaze
toward the mountains and away from the woods that bordered
the valley. As kids they feared the woods and never played
there. It felt evil, as if Hell itself was located there.
That memory seemed foolish when they grew up, but the woods
were fouler at that moment than Charlie could ever remember.
A brisk wind blew the lapels of Charlie’s jacket around,
but he didn’t mind. He ignored the cloth hitting the
sides of his face and neck as he kept his head up.
Remember playing ball over by that oak tree?” Billy
said. “Christ, you were a god with that bat. You’d
hit a ball and it would go for a mile.”
Yeah, Billy, those were good times.”
They were. They were.”
Billy looked over the valley, turning his head to take in
the entire panoramic view. They made an effort not to look
each other in the eye, knowing why they were out there.
Did I ever thank you for when we were kids?”
How so, Billy?”
For being my best friend. I miss that.”
What do you miss? We’ve been around each other for years.”
Not the same. You miss the friendships you have when you’re
a kid, you know? You’re never as close to anyone as
you are when you’re growing up. Life becomes too complicated
to share. How can anyone relate to you and your problems?
We grow older, we become more distant to everyone. More alone,
no matter how many people are around. Never let anyone in.”
Billy stopped and looked at his shoes.
This is a good spot.”
Yeah, I guess it is.”
Billy looked out toward the distance.
The mountains seem so large compared to everything. Every
problem you or I may have. This whole valley’s that
way. Funny, when we were kids this place couldn’t hold
any of my dreams. I wanted to get as far away from here as
I could. Now, I want to be here more than anything. This is
where I was happiest. Right here. Never realized it. Always
trying to find it everywhere else. Money, women, booze. And
what I really wanted was waiting right here, always. Too stupid
Do you have any regrets for the life? What we do?” Billy
Used to. Not anymore.”
I haven’t thought about that until recently. Would you
have done anything different?”
Nothing, probably. Do it just as I had.
There are things that haunt me, Charlie. Terrible things I’ve
done. I’ll never gain salvation for them. Ever.”
Can’t think about that.”
The eyes of the dead will follow me. Men and women that I’ve
killed. Even a small boy once. Ended their lives for petty
shit. I watched their tears run down their cheeks, but they
never had any effect on me until now.”
Charlie tried to push back a feeling of regret. He had seen
enough tears to haunt him for the rest of his days.
Billy looked back toward the house. A tire swing Billy and
Charlie used to ride all summer still hung from a tree near
the farmhouse and rocked underneath one of the oak’s
branches. Funny how that remained up when the rest of the
house was decaying.
You know what I remember of my ma?” Billy said. “Her
running her fingers through my hair. She’d kiss me goodnight
and rub those fingers up over my forehead and down my scalp.
When I was sick she would lie beside me and just rub my hair
forever. It’s nice to remember that. To remember my
ma like that.”
Billy looked to the ground and rubbed at his left eyebrow.
I didn’t even come back for the funeral. Couldn’t
be bothered. Too busy shacking up with some tramp whose name
I can’t even think of. Screwing and gambling in Atlantic
City while my mother died alone. Lying in that bed. Just…”
Billy paused. He swallowed hard and let a gentle grunt escape
Just lying there trying to breathe. Her lungs filling up with
fluid, until they couldn’t help her any longer. Suffocated.
Couldn’t get air in. And I did nothing.”
Billy whispered something to himself. The wind didn’t
allow Charlie to hear what he said. Billy sniffed. Charlie
couldn’t tell if it was because of the cold and wind,
or the memory.
Are you afraid of death?” Billy asked.
Never thought much about it.”
And you? You afraid?”
Charlie didn’t know why he let the question slip. He
was afraid Billy’s answer would make it more difficult.
He had never asked that question before. He never thought
about anyone’s feelings, and always figured no one gave
a damn about his.
No. Not anymore. Not after the last couple of days,” Billy
said. “Used to be.”
Billy let out a long nervous sigh.
I see it as an end. Your soul finally at rest. That’s
what I need, a rest. I’m so tired. This life, it’s
too much. I really don’t want it anymore.”
Charlie felt his stomach tighten. He pressed his hand into
his belly for some relief.
What about the soul, Charlie, ever think about that?”
Never thought about that neither. Not much of a thinker, I
Sometimes I think we go on, but to where? I don’t know.
You think we have souls? Men like us, I mean.”
Who knows?” Charlie said, feeling the top of his hat
where its cleft lay. “Could be I don’t deserve
I think you do.”
Billy looked up at the sky and pointed. Charlie turned his
head up, following Billy’s finger.
Maybe there is a Heaven. Angels and all that,” Billy
You don’t believe in that do you?” Billy lowered
his head, but Charlie kept his gaze at the clouds.
No, I guess I don’t.”
Do you know I read somewhere that these assassins in ancient
time didn’t believe in God?”
Charlie returned his attention to Billy.
I didn’t know that,” Charlie said.
It’s true. They said nothing is real so everything is
permitted. No guilt. Pretty easy when you think of it like
You were always smart. Reading lots of books and stuff.”
Yeah, but I never did anything about it. Should have.”
We all have a lot of should’ves.”
A gust came from the north and hit the two friends. The strong
wind caught Charlie’s hat and lifted it from his head.
They turned to watch it fly into the air. Normally, Charlie
would run after it, but the fedora wasn’t important
to him anymore. He didn’t care if it blew away.
Lost your hat, Charlie.”
Yeah, the wind took it.”
It was a nice hat.”
It was once. It’s too worn out now. I guess I can live
Charlie and Billy watched as the fedora tumbled end over end
down the valley and into the woods.
It’s getting dark,” Billy said. “You should
be getting back.”
There was a silence. Billy turned his head halfway around
to acknowledge Charlie without looking at him.
I don’t want to wait any longer.”
Billy crouched down to his knees and looked over the field
for the last time. Charlie placed a hand on Billy’s
shoulder in a final goodbye. He then took the pistol out of
his coat pocket and raised it to the back of Billy’s
skull. The rough edge of the pistol’s grip was cold
in his palm. It brought a rush of reality into Charlie’s
chest that left him weak.
I’m sorry,” Charlie said.
Don’t be. This is how I played it. I screwed up. This
is what I get.”
The pistol shook as Charlie tried to steady his arm. He had
to hold the gun with both hands, but he made sure he was close
enough to Billy’s head not to miss.
I’m sorry, Charlie. I’m so sorry that it had to
Charlie held the air in his lungs, waiting for his mind to
allow him to go through with the deed. He let out a deep breath
and squeezed the trigger. The echo of the shot covered the
valley and a single crow resting on a dilapidated fence near
the woods launched into the air.
He felt the pistol buck and a ball of red mist spread wide
in the air in front of him. The specks of blood settled to
the ground covering the dead wheatgrass. The vibration of
the gun against his hand would stay with him forever.
As he watched the bird scatter, Charlie realized that the
tension in his body had disappeared. It was a surprising release,
something that should have been shameful, but as the relief
settled through his body, Charlie accepted it. He couldn’t
change anything now. There was no erasing it. What was done
It should have been a shameful relief, but as it settled through
his body, Charlie embraced the strange comfort
Billy’s body lay there as the overgrown grass flowed
back and forth in the breeze. A dead leaf floating from the
woods landed on his body.
The sun was going down, but Charlie couldn’t see it
because of the clouds. The light just dimmed gradually as
the day turned to gray. Soon it would be black and he would
walk back to the car in the dark. He had walked through this
field many times as a boy and he knew he could find his way
out. He didn’t mind waiting for night to come. He stayed
as the mountains dimmed from sight. Once it was too dark to
see Billy’s body, Charlie walked away.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Stephen Allan holds a Master of Fine Arts degree from the University
of Southern Maine; not that it means anything. Steve is a recovering
journalist who has since seen the error of his ways. His flash fiction
can be found on the Flashing In The Gutters website. You can also
read his random thoughts at noirwriter.blogspot.com. Steve lives in
Maine where he is finishing a crime novel.
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