The Coil
Published in

The Coil

I Shot Tom Gardener?

Fiction by Jonah Marlow Bradenday

“I can’t see nothing.”

“Shut up, and keep moving.”

“Marv, I said I can’t see nothing. How can I move if I can’t see?”

“Pick your feet up high, so you don’t trip on any roots.”

“Roots? Where are we?”

“Shut up, Jacob. I’ve told you everything already.”

“I don’t recall any of that. My head hurts, and I can’t see, and I feel like a horse kicked me in the nose. Where are you? Your voice sounds close.”

“I’m holding your arm, Jacob. See? That’s me shaking it. Step high now, there’s a lump of peat moss.”

“No. I’m not moving ’til I get some answers.”

“If you won’t move, I’ll leave you here.”

“Why can’t I see you, Marv?”

“You ain’t got eyes, Jacob. Come on, now.”

“Hell to that. I got eyes. They’re green and gold. Miranda says they look like her kid brother’s.”

“Step high, Jacob. Step high.”

“Why’d you say I ain’t got eyes, Marv?”

“’Cause you don’t. Here, feel ’em with your fingers.”

“They’re sticky with something.”

“Blood, I s’pect.”

“What happened to my eyes? I need them to see. I can’t walk in the forest without my sight, Marv.”

“Yes, you can, and if you don’t, I’ll slug you in a ditch and leave you.”

“Where are my eyes?”

“Shot out, I already told you.”

“You did not. At least, I don’t remember it. Shot out, you say?”

“Shot out. Duck low, now. There’s a nasty twist of thorns.”

“Now, listen here, Marv. I don’t get your game, and I’m not playing it. Eyes can’t be shot out. I ain’t ever heard of a bullet that stops in the eye socket. They carry right on through the brain cavity and sometimes out the other side.”

“So what?”

“So what? Damn, Marv. If my head didn’t hurt so much, I’d speak a little smoother, but you’re a dimwit if you can’t see what I’m saying.”

“I ain’t no dimwit.”

“Apologies. No, you ain’t, but I wish you’d see my frustration. If a man shot my eyes out, he’s also shot my brains out. If he shot my brains out, I’d be dead and not here talking to you.”

“I ain’t no dimwit.”

“You already said that, and I already apologized, but Marv can’t you see what I’m poking at?”

“Shot out with shrapnel, Jacob. There’s a broken fence here. Step high onto this stump first. All right, now, jump down to me.”

“I wish you wouldn’t handle me so rough, Marv. Shrapnel? What kind of shrapnel?”

“Why does it matter? Shrapnel’s shrapnel, little bits of sharp things.”

“It matters to me. A man ought to know why his eyes are out.”

“I told you three times now, shot out with shrapnel. If you keep asking, I’ll pitch you in the mud.”

“Marv, you’re awfully short with me, and I can’t stand it. Here I am, recently disabled, and you won’t even tell me what the shrapnel was that made me blind. They call that persecution.”

“I ain’t persecuted you.”

“You don’t know what persecuted means.”

“You don’t, either.”

“I get the spirit of the word. It means you got to be gentler with me. I’m blind, and my head hurts, and I can’t remember anything.”

“Crouch, now, wait a moment.”

“What kind of shrapnel?”

“Quiet, now. Okay, I think we’re all right. Up, now, keep moving.”

“Keep your hand off my mouth, Marv. I don’t like being hushed, ’specially when I’m blind.”

“You wouldn’t stop talking.”

“I don’t want to stop talking. I’ve still got questions.”

“Wood chips.”

“Wood chips, what?”

“Wood-chip shrapnel, that’s what got your eyes. You were hiding behind a signpost, but the signpost weren’t bulletproof. He shot it to pieces and blew off half your ear, too.”

“My ear, Marv. You didn’t tell me about my ear. My right ear’s gone.”

“I just told you that.”

“I’m only surprised, Marv. My head hurts, and I don’t remember any of it.”

“Now you know.”

“Yes, I do. Thank you, Marv. That’s all I asked for, some decent exposition.”

“What’s exposition?”

“It’s like an explanation.”

“Just say explanation, then.”

“I won’t limit my vocabulary for you, Marv. I went to college, didn’t I.”

“For a month.”

“A month more than you.”

“There’s another fence here. Wait, never mind, there’s a gate. Come through.”

“Where are we, Marv?”

“In the woods.”

“I know that. I still got my nose. I mean, where in the woods?”

“Near Saddlebrook. Why are you stopping now?”

“I’m trying to see.”

“You ain’t got eyes, Jacob.”

“I said I’m trying.”

“It won’t work.”

“You gotta see for me, then.”

“What’s that supposed to mean? I can’t see for you. I got eyes, you don’t. Come, now, we’re hurrying.”

“No, I won’t move until you paint the scenery.”

“Paint the scenery? There’s no time for that, and anyway, I got no brushes or paints.”

“Damn you, Marv. I won’t call you a dimwit again, ’cause I know you don’t like it, but damn. Paint it with words, Marv. Tell me where we are.”

“In the woods, I said.”

“Who puts a fence and gate in the woods?”

“Whoever built the cabin I s’pect.”

“There’s a cabin? You didn’t say there was a cabin.”

“You were going to find out soon as we got there.”

“What’s it look like, Marv? Paint the picture.”

“I’ll leave you here, I swear.”

“Paint it, then I’ll come.

“Fine.”

“Thank you.”

“It looks like a cabin in the woods. There’s a fence and a gate, like I said, and an overgrown garden plot next to the porch. The roof’s caved in on one side, but the walls look steady. The wood don’t look rotted, so if I were guessing, I’d say the builders didn’t know how to build a roof any good.”

“Any windows?”

“Two, one on either side of the door.”

“Mailbox?”

“Not that I see. Hell, Jacob, why are you asking about mailboxes. We don’t have any letters needing sending.”

“I’m only trying to see.”

“Shut up.”

“I hear hounds baying.”

“Shut up, I said.”

“I hear voices, too. Voices and hounds. Get your hand off my — .”

“Quick, up the steps. Don’t trip. There, we’re inside now. You got to talk quieter.”

“Stop grabbing my mouth.”

“If you don’t whisper, I’ll shoot you.”

“Fine, I’ll whisper, but I doubt you’d shoot me.”

“Why’s that?”

“As far as I can see, we’re sneaking about like thieves. You won’t let me talk loudly, but you’re willing to shoot a gun? No, I don’t believe it.”

“I could smack you with the butt of my gun.”

“Please don’t, I’m already whispering.”

“Fine.”

“Thank you. I’ve got two more requests.”

“I might just shoot myself if you don’t stop.”

“You’re not a funny man, Marv, but I appreciate the effort.”

“You want me to paint the room?”

“That’s one of the requests, but the other one seems more pressing.”

“What’s that?”

“What are we doing out here? Who’s following us?”

“That’s two questions.”

“Answer them both.”

“Fine. You were there, but I wonder if the shrapnel didn’t nick your brain, too. Make you forget.”

“If it nicked my brain, I’d be dead.”

“Not if it was only a little nick.”

“Every nick’s a little nick. Damn you, tell me what happened already. My head’s going foggy. I think I’ll need to sleep soon, so hurry up.”

“It’s the law out there. Or a bunch of bounty hunters, I don’t know. Either way, they’re angry about what you did.”

“What’d I do?”

“You don’t remember any of it?”

“Hell, Marv, I already told you. I’m blind and forgetful, and awfully sleepy, so come on, now.”

“Okay, keep your voice down. You went and shot your sister’s husband in the street. Eddie the banker saw you do it, and he fetched the law. Things just got worse and worse until you took a face full of signpost. I fetched you from the side of the road, and we’ve been running for two hours now.”

“I shot Tom Gardener?”

“Yes.”

“I’m sure he deserved it. You know, I once caught him altering my rent check, changing the zeros to eights with a pencil.”

“He did deserve it.”

“What’d he do this time, pinch my wallet?”

“Asked Miranda for a discount because of being your brother-in-law.”

“Son of a bitch. He’s married to my sister, and he tries to buy a romp with my wife?”

“At a discount, too.”

“I hope I shot him in both knees before I finished him off.”

“Miranda stuck a lime knife in his thigh, and then you shot him.”

“A lime knife? I bet that juice stung his cuts horrible. Damn, Marv, I love that woman.”

“Why’re you telling that to me?”

“Hell, I can’t see you, but I bet you’re blushing. Never could take any love talk.”

“You got any more questions, Jacob?”

“I’ll change the subject for your sake, Marv, but I’m gonna lie down first. My head is thumping like an underwater bongo drum.”

“Those dogs sound closer.”

“They will be. Hunting dogs don’t stay put. They search until they find. Tell me, now, how’d you get involved in the bloody shindig.”

“What the hell is a shindig?”

“The incident, the shooting. Why’re you here and not just me?”

“I shot the sheriff.”

“You did what?”

“I won’t say it again. I know you heard me.”

“I guess I’m failing to understand, Jacob. For what purpose did you shoot the sheriff.”

“He was shooting at you.”

“That doesn’t seem like any reason to shoot the sheriff. From what you say, I shot a man first. Only fair that the sheriff shoots at me. There was no need for you to get involved.”

“Plenty of reason for me.”

“You’re an antihero, Marv, you know that?”

“I don’t know what that is, but I doubt I am.”

“So full of love and loyalty that you’ve brought the guns of justice down on your back. The best friend a man could ask for.”

“I could paint the room if you like.”

“You’re blushing again, so I’ll appease you, but the world’s going awfully soft around the edges, so you better be quick.”

“There’s a fireplace on the far wall with a shag blanket piled near it. I’m sitting in a rocking chair with only one rocker. There’s a bed for one man next to me, but the mattress looks full of dirt and worms, and there’s a table in front of the fireplace with a chess board on it. Most of the white pieces are gone already and a few of the black. It looks like the game was halfway through when the roof caved in.”

“I bet the bed for one was actually a bed for two.”

“I’m the one with eyes, aren’t I?”

“You’ve got eyes but no sense, Marv. You can’t play chess with one person.”

“Okay, Jacob, a bed for two, then.”

“You said there’s a shag blanket by the fireplace?”

“There is.”

“Would you get it for me. I’m too tired to go searching for it.”

“Sure. I’ll get it.”

“Marv, why are you taking so long. You said it’s just by the fireplace.”

“It’s not a shag blanket, Jacob.”

“What is it, then? A carpet would work just as well. I’m cold and any kind of shag will do.”

“It’s a wolf, Jacob.”

“Did you just say wolf?”

“Yes.”

“I don’t want no dead wolf as a blanket, no matter how shaggy it is.”

“Jacob.”

“What.”

“It’s not dead.”

“You’re saying there’s a living wolf in the cabin with us right now?”

“It’s old, but yes.”

“What’s its age got to do with anything.”

“Looks too old to do much but lie there.”

“I guess I don’t mind sharing a cabin with an old wolf, as long as it don’t move.”

“It moves a little.”

“How much?”

“It raised its head to look at me when I came near. That’s how I knew it wasn’t no shag blanket.”

“Can it walk?”

“How should I know?”

“That’s a good point, Marv.”

“Did you hear that?”

“I can barely hear you, Marv. I’ve only got one ear, and the other’s going fuzzy. What is it?”

“Footsteps in the yard.”

“Dogs?”

“Men.”

“I figure that means they’ve found us.”

“I figure it does.”

“Give me your coat for a pillow. The floor’s hard and uncomfortable on my head.”

“Aren’t you worried ’bout the men outside? And anyways, I’m not wearing a coat.”

“That’s a shame, Marv, and no. Things seem pretty dire to me. I’m blind and half deaf. If we started running again, I might just run right into them.”

“I wouldn’t let you.”

“I know that, Marv.

“Do bloodhounds howl?”

“What kind of question is that? Ask Miranda’s kid brother, and even he’d say yes. Do bloodhounds howl, what an outlaw you are.”

“I know they howl. That’s not what I meant.”

“You said howl, so how was I supposed to know you meant differently. I’m not a psychic.”

“I meant do they howl like that.”

“Like what?”

“Can’t you hear?”

“I said I can only barely hear you.”

“It’s louder than me, Jacob.”

“Oh, that. No, I don’t think bloodhounds howl like that. That’s a wolf howl if I’ve ever heard one.”

“I thought so. Sounds like a bunch of ’em.”

“You think they’re coming this way? Coming back to pick up their grandfather?”

“I don’t know if wolves have grandfathers.”

“Marv, your wits might not be dim, but they sure aren’t bright. Everybody’s got a grandfather. That old wolf by the fireplace. I bet he’s had litters before, and I bet those litters have had litters. That makes him a grandfather.”

“I guess.”

“Marv, what’s all that shouting.”

“And howling.”

“And gunshots. What is it, Marv, are the soldiers storming our castle?”

“It’s a cabin, and there ain’t any soldiers out there, just men and wolves.”

“They fighting, Marv?”

“Sounds like it.”

“Maybe they’ll all kill each other, and we can have ourselves a peaceful sleep.”

“You go ahead and sleep, Jacob.”

“I’ve never slept like this before.”

“On the floor? Yes, you have.”

“More funny talk from you. Ha-ha, I can’t stand it. It’s not the floor that’s different, Marv. It’s the way I can see the sleep coming.”

“You can’t see nothing. You ain’t got eyes.”

“Seems like I do.”

“How’s that?”

“There’s a brightness somewhere near my face, like sun through a fog bank.”

“You’re dreaming, Jacob.”

“I don’t think I am, Marv. It don’t hurt so much anymore. It’s gone quiet and gentle.”

“That’s ’cause the fighting’s stopped. Someone’s won, and I s’pect it was the wolves.”

“Why’s that?”

“’Cause the grandpa one’s standing up in the corner, and his tail’s wagging. Looks like he’s expecting company or something.”

“You got your gun?”

“Yes, but it’s got no bullets.”

“Where’re all your bullets?”

“In the sheriff, I think.”

“I take it back. You’re a funny man, Marv. Now let’s be quiet for a while.”

“Sounds good to me, Jacob.”

JONAH MARLOW BRADENDAY lives on Peaks Island, Maine, with his partner, Hannah. He works as a carpenter, but loves all things fiction, especially within the speculative sub-genre.

Finalist for the 2022 Luminaire Prose Award

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