Too Few Heroes

If I were a mom-loving, apple-pie-eating, Chevy-driving American hero, I’d do something—anything, everything—to stop that anonymous guy in the front row of the movie theater. The one you see in the lead story on the network news. The one wearing camo pants and a neon orange baseball cap, with a semi-automatic stowed under the raincoat at his feet. The one intent on going out in a blaze of goddamn unforgettable glory.

The one who lurks in the back of every citizen’s mind whispering, “You could be next.”

I glanced around the theater at the other patrons eating their popcorn and Skittles, watching the previews. Tried to picture the ensuing terror. Predict how things might unfold, if the unspeakable happened.

First to go—two blue hairs, four rows up, voices too loud, chatting about something unimportant, their cats or their grandkids or a recipe for pot roast. Easy pickings to get warmed up.

Next, a gaggle of four teenage girls in the center, all dressed alike, sure to scream and squeal at ear-splitting volume. Such a terrible shame, those promising lives cut short.

Then a suburban family of four. Mom, Dad, twin blond, curly-haired girls, tiny gaps in their smiles from missing teeth. The parents would try to shield the kids, but that was a symbolic gesture only. Bullets tear right through flesh. The entire community would reel from this horrific loss. Flowers and candlelight vigils and memorial funds set up for someone else’s needy kids to go to college.

After those unfortunate souls were picked off, the targets would become random. Bullets spraying, ripping through the confusion, fomenting more chaos. Most of the moviegoers would try to flee, sitting ducks as they clogged the aisles.

The ones who stayed, those who dropped to their knees and hid behind the seats, thinking molded plastic and cushions could stop bullets, would be annihilated as the shooter slowly, methodically, moved up the aisle, mowing down whoever moved. Whoever breathed.

If I were a hero, I might think about charging the shooter, but here, in this situation, that would be suicide. Here, it would take ten heroes, all attacking at the same time in a concerted effort, to bring down a determined shooter with a semi-automatic weapon and plenty of ammo.

I scoped out the audience. Didn’t seem to be ten heroes in the crowd.

I closed my eyes and again imagined the scene. Blood spatter on the walls. Carpet turning crimson.

Mayhem. Bedlam. Pandemonium.

I wasn’t a hero. In fact, there were too few heroes in this world.

Good thing for me.

I rose, hitched up my camo pants, adjusted my cap. Then I bent over and pushed aside my raincoat.

Happy Birthday

Clay found the note in the cupboard, behind the spices but in front of the old margarine container where we kept the birthday candles. He might have been a no-good, wife-beating shithead, but he always remembered my birthday. A creature of habit.

He didn’t take too kindly to the note.

“Who the fuck is Duane?” he yelled at me, waving the scrap of paper in the air from across the room. I was waiting for him to bring my birthday cake over to where I sat at the table. My phone was ready, in case we wanted a few pictures as I blew out the candles.

“Nobody,” I said, still hoping my birthday would be a happy one.

“Nobody? Well, nobody says he can’t wait to see you again. Can’t wait to feel his lips on yours again. That sure as shit don’t sound like nobody!” Clay stormed over, leaving the cake behind.

“Just a guy I met. Nothing happened. He was making shit up.”

He got up into my face, his beery breath familiar. Sickening, yet familiar. “’Zat right? It don’t sound made up. Sounds like you been stepping out on me.”

Who would blame me if I did? I didn’t say nothing. I been around Clay enough when he’s like this. Next comes the back hand slap across the face. I braced for impact.

He wound up and smacked me. Creature of habit. I absorbed the blow best I could, stayed put in my chair. Clay stepped aside and admired his work, like he was proud of the fact he’d walloped a hundred-and-five-pound woman. One who’d kept her hands in her lap.

“Teach you to fuck around on me, whore.”

He’d called me whore so many times, I’d worry if he didn’t. “I wouldn’t have to fuck around, you treated me right.”

“I treat you right enough.” He inhaled through his nose, whistling slightly, and I pictured that tiny steam engine from the kiddie story, aiming to climb that big hill.

“Hell, you can’t even get it up half the time. Least Duane knows his way around a woman.”

I knew Clay’s tipping point, and it was in his rearview mirror. He slapped me again, harder. My head rang, and I bit back tears. It was shaping up to be one hell of a birthday, all right.

“Duane wouldn’t beat on a defenseless woman, you know. Wouldn’t need to in order to prove his manliness.” After a couple of slaps, it usually went one of two ways. A fist to the face, or a right-left combo to the gut. Since I was seated, I closed my eyes and steeled myself again.

Pop! A couple of knuckles found my right eye; luckily, the bone below took most of the impact. Nothing broken, but I’d have a shiner for nine or ten days. With Clay, even the healing time was predictable.

“That the best you got?”

“Taking it easy on you cuz it’s your birthday.” He laughed, and it sounded more like a donkey braying than a human.

“You’re becoming a pussy in your old age.” I paused, put a little panic in my voice. “Hey, don’t point that gun at me!”

I pressed the stop button on my phone’s voice recorder app. Then I tossed the phone on the floor, as if there had been a struggle.

Clay straightened, eyed me. “The hell?”

“I thought I deserved a nice present on my birthday.” I brought my hand out from beneath the table, the one holding Clay’s loaded Glock. “Last I heard, you were allowed to defend yourself if someone came at you with a gun. Even if you’re married to the asshole.”

“Now, sugar…” Clay held his hands in front of him like a shield.

“By the way, I always thought it was sweet how you remembered my birthday every year. With the cake. And candles, too.”

Clay’s eyes went wide as the tumblers inside his head clicked. “So that note…you wanted me to…”

I smiled. “Behind the spices, in front of the margarine tub.”

“You bitch!” He lunged forward.

I squeezed the trigger.

Happy Birthday to me.

Shotgun Honey Presents: Locked and Loaded

Today we launch the third volume of the Both Barrels series with Shotgun Honey Presents: Locked and Loaded.

Featuring 25 stories by:

  • “A Boy Like Billy” by Patricia Abbott
  • “Border Crossing” by Michael McGlade
  • “Looking for the Death Trick” by Bracken MacLeod
  • “Maybelle’s Last Stand” by Travis Richardson
  • “Predators” by Marie S. Crosswell
  • “Twenty to Life” by Frank Byrns
  • “So Much Love” by Keith Rawson
  • “Running Late” by Tess Makovesky
  • “Last Supper” by Katanie Duarte
  • “Danny” by Michael Bracken
  • “The Plot” by Jedidiah Ayres
  • “What Alva Wants” by Timothy Friend
  • “Time Enough to Kill” by Kent Gowran
  • “Copas” by Hector Acosta
  • “Yellow Car Punch” by Nigel Bird
  • “Love at First Fight” by Angel Luis Colón
  • “Traps” by Owen Laukkanen
  • “Down the Rickety Stairs” by Alan Orloff
  • “Blackmailer’s Pep Talk” by Chris Rhatigan
  • “With a Little bit of Luck” by Bill Baber
  • “As Cute as a Speckled Pup Under a Red Wagon” by Tony Conaway
  • “Chipping off the Old Block” by Nick Kolakowski
  • “Young Turks and Old Wives” by Shane Simmons
  • “The Hangover Cure” by Seth Lynch
  • “Highway Six” by John L. Thompson

Available in paperback and Kindle editions. Buy your copy today!