Arn — Chapter One.

A boy slinked himself around the house corner, carefully planting each step to prevent any sound. A throbbing heartbeat deafened his ears. He approached the door of an old, beaten building, something which felt more like a prison to him than anything else. However, the shifting moonlight maneuvered him back to his original post beside the porch.

Come on, come on, he thought.

The chance of any sight…the chance of any sound. Gunner could not risk it. He could not.

Minutes passed until the clouds masked the whole estate. No moonlight; he was invisible. If he was going to make his move, now was his best chance.

Lurking over to the wooden door, he placed a knife in its crevice and fiddled the barrier open. His hand wiped the sweat from his brow and he entered the Master’s house.

The air inside felt humid and warm. Gunner was sure he smelt the stench of old, dry blood. His guts twisted. But, a distant snore spoke to Gunner.

He is near.

Gunner could feel his hands shaking.The throbbing vein in his neck felt as if it would burst at any moment.

Damn it! Take a deep breath. And he did, closing his eyes and visualing his mother. For her, he told himself. Gunner tiptoed across the floorboards, ensuring every step landed in its intended location. For weeks he had been memorizing the position of every crack, creak and hole while he would carry the Master’s waste bucket in and out of the house. Four steps forward, a little to the left, and one more forward.

There it was. The Master’s bedroom door stood before him.

Gunner turned the door knob, slowly. Carefully. A dim candlelight creeped through the opening door crack.

There he was.

Gunner reached into his pocket and withdrew a homemade shank. Finally. Gunner approached the bed. The Master, his face lit by the moonlight, breathing, snoring so soundly. He had no idea was about to transpire.

Gunner raised the shank above the Master’s chest. This was it. The moment he had schemed for weeks, but dreamed for years. The tense, but slight grin curled along Gunner’s face. He took one last deep breath and then…

a high wail clamored through the halls and against the walls. A pit formed in Gunner’s stomach and his his heart fell into it. Next, within an instant, Gunner felt a blunt strike knock him in the stomach. He felt his air leave his body. The shank slipped from Gunner’s hand and clinked somewhere in the darkness, out of the candlelight. The Master jolted out of his bed.

“What the fuck are you doing, boy?” he hollered.

No! No! — “Agggghhhh!” Gunner screamed.The Master had kicked Gunner’s side. “Agh!” My ribs, my ribs. Shit.

“Shit!” Gunner shrieked.

The Master croaked, “I’m going to — “

A second wail cut him off.

“My baby girl!” the Master yelled as he rushed out of the room.

There, alone in the room, Gunner laid, aching in pain, half-winded.

“Why?,” he cried to those gods above you were probably laughing at him. “Why did…did you do this to me?” Tear swelled in his eyes. Gunner would be a slave forever.“You’re evil!” he sobed and cursed.“You’re evil for doing this to me. You sit up there watching me and — ” Gunner coughed up blood. It ran down the side of his cheek. He started hyperventalating.“And you — you — you — laugh — at — me. Just kill me!” he finally uproared. “Go on and kill — kill me!”

The baby’s crying vanished. There was a moment of silence.cThen, hurried, thudding footsteps stormed through the halls. Gunner felt that his wish had been answered, but now he had wished it wasn’t.

A cold fear overtook him and he began searching the floor for the shank. Where? Where? Where! His arms flailed around wildly. I don’t want to die anymore. Please, don’t kill me! Kill him!

The Master entered the room, growling like a ferocious bear. He approached Gunner and towered over him, saying, “That’s it, you little fucker. No more games with you.” But, Gunner felt his arm, just for a moment, brush against the shank. Yes! He threw his hand back where he felt it and he nearly had the shank in his hand.

A boot smashed Gunner’s arm. The Master picked up the shank and tossed it aside.“You’re not going to need this,” he said. A vile grin exposed the Master’s horrid teeth. “Ha!” he laughed as he grabbed a coat off a nearby chair and threw it over himself. He grabbed the bedside candlelight in one hand and, with the other, snatched the boy’s arm, dragged him out of the room, down the hallway, and through the front door.

It had started raining. While dragged through the mud, Gunner felt himself growing weary. The only reason he remained conscious at all is because he felt his bare back scraping against the stones and exposed tree roots. He had stopped struggling to get away. It would be impossible anywas to make a run for it while he continued to cough up blood.

Maybe you should just kill me…he told the gods. But, a thought struck him. He could not let himself die. Dad needed him.With Mom gone, Dad would have nobody if Gunner left. But at the same time, Gunner could barely move. I’m going to die. Dad will be all alone.Gunner’s heart hurt.

As he thought that, the Master tossed him forward. Gunner’s face dug into the mud and when he lifted it, he realized where the Master had taken him.

The slave house.

“Alright lazy fucks, get out of here…that means now!” The Master exclaimed. “Those damn, fuckers,” he muttered to himself.

Within the minute, slaves poured out from the hut and into the rain with nothing but a cheap cloth like Gunner’s for each of them. The Master joked, “Happy to see you, too.”

The slaves looked confused and many of them were staring at Gunner as if he were already dead. “You all see this boy here? He tried to kill me tonight and my baby girl.”

Gunner interrupted, “That’s not true — ”

“Shut up.” The Master said, kicking Gunner against the chin. Gunner felt everything go fuzzy and all the sounds muffled.

“Now, I’m not one for killing children, but this boy has given me enough attitude. Since his whore mother died last week, he’s done nothing but give me evil looks and disobey me. Is that acceptable?”

Nobody responded.

“I said, is that acceptable?” he repeated, louder and angrier.

“No,” The slaves all said, stick shocked about what was happening.

“Good. Then it is settled.”

He pulled out a pistol from his coat and pointed the barrel at Gunner’s head.

“No! Wait!” One slave, who appeared to have just exited the shack, rushed towards Gunner. “You cannot kill him,” he pleaded, “this is my son. Please….please.” Gunner’s father, after kneeling beside his son, holding him, and telling him it everything would be alright, looked up at the Master, begging. For the first time tonight, Gunner felt safe.

Hi Dad, Gunner thought he said.

The Master looked like he had entered the biggest fit of rage Gunner had ever seen. “So you think it is okay for him to try and kill me and my newborn daughter?”

“No, I don’t but — ”

“So, then you think he should die?”

“No, but — ” The Master whacked Gunner’s father across the face with the butt of his pistol.

“Quite a show tonight,” the Master remarked.

“Look,” he addressed the slaves, “Do you all think the boy should die?”

Again, they remained silent.

“Answer me!” He raged, his voice cracking.

The slaves responded, “yes.”

Gunner, lightheaded from the blows and blood loss, noticed his father gaze upon the other slaves. “You betray your own people?” Gunner’s father asked them.

“Yes. They do. Now move.” The Master’s pistol butt just about struck Gunner’s father again, but he pleaded once more.

“Take my life. Don’t kill my, boy. I told him to do it. I didn’t think he would get caught.”

Dad, what are you talking about? Stop!

“I know you’re lying. You know that right? I know you did not send that boy to kill me.” The Master asked.

Gunner’s father remained silent.

Stop! Gunner tried to yell, but he could barely speak. He just mumbled.

“It’s going to be okay,” Gunner heard his father whisper.

“But, I must admit, I don’t want to kill a child.” The Master thought for a moment then asked the crowd of slaves, this time point his gun at them, “Should I kill the father?”

They all said, “Yes.”

“Good.” The Master aimed his barrel at Gunner’s father’s head. Gunner saw his father’s green eyes look at him.

“I love you, son.”

Why are you leaving me all alone? Gunner tried to ask. Why are you doing this? Stop! You cannot leave me alone in this world. Please, don’t do this. Please! He finally yelled, “Please — !”

But a deafening blow sounded off and Gunner’s father dropped dead into the mud.

Gunner, at his last drop of energy, dropped limp beside his father. The rest of the world disappeared. All he saw was his father lying there, bloody and lifeless. Soulless.

Walking off, the Master said, “Clean this up,” and then disappeared into the trees back towards his house.

The slaves picked Gunner up and carried him into the shack. With every piece of energy left, Gunner kept his eyes on his father until he entered the shack and finally passed out.