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By:Jay Mclean

would this situation make any fucking sense.

I try to stop him from whatever he’s about to do but my feet are stuck to the floor, my hands glued to my gun, my finger on the trigger. Ready. Waiting.

No amount of training can prepare you for this. None. Not even in my nightmares, in the intense heat of the days or the shivering colds of the nights did I ever think I’d have to blink back the sweat falling from my brow while my finger shook—my weapon aimed at a kid—his life in our hands.

One wrong word is all it’d take.

One sound.

Or in Dave’s case, one move.

From the corner of my eye, I see him reach into his pocket. The pocket I know carries a picture of his family. But to this boy—this scared shitless little kid—whatever’s in there could be the end of him.

He screams, a sound so deafening it rings in my ears. But it’s nothing compared to the sound of his gun shot, or ten, as he raises his semi above his head, screaming, chanting the words of Allah.

More gun shots, familiar ones.

Not from him, but from us.

He falls to the floor.

More screams.

Davey’s in my ear now, yelling for it to stop.

It does.

I don’t know how long or after how many rounds, but eventually it does.

And then it’s silent again.

The smell and sight of gunpowder fills the air along with the dust and the harshness of all our breaths.

“Is he dead?” someone asks, but no one moves.


Blood pools around the kid’s limp frame, now leaning against the wall behind him. I wipe my eyes. It’s not sweat anymore. It’s something no one wants to admit.

“Is he dead?” Same voice. Different tone. Fear.

My shoes make a squishing sound as I step forward and for a moment I think it’s blood. It’s not. It’s clear and it trails back to the bottom of Dave’s pants.

I pretend not to notice as I take another step, then another, until my ears fill with nothing but the constant roar of my heart.

Thud. Thud.

Thud. Thud.

I reach for the kid’s hand to look for a pulse but his eyes snap open, stopping me.

He takes a final breath.

A final attempt.

A single, final shot.

More screams.

Then I feel the pain.

And I fall.






That’s pretty much all I remember after the kid let off his final round. That and an indescribable pain in my right shoulder.

Then there was the flight back home. The stares and the proud smiles as I hopped off the plane. The unwarranted attention and the nods of acknowledgment from random strangers and finally, an eerily silent cab ride home. Which is where I am now, standing on the sidewalk in front of a house I haven’t been to since I left for basic. The house hasn’t changed. Still the same single story, timber cladded, tiny home surrounded by a chain-link fence. It’s a different color now, I notice, which means Dad finally got around to repainting it like he’d been meaning to do since we moved in eight years ago.

The TV inside is loud—louder than necessary, like it always has been. The flickering of the screen illuminates the front window of the living room, causing a light display on the front lawn.

I exhale loudly, my left hand going to my pocket and fingering my set of keys. It feels wrong to use them. Almost as wrong as it feels to knock on the door.

With another sigh, I turn my back on the house and everything it represents. Just for a moment. Because I need the time to settle down, to think, to breathe. Tilting my head, eyes narrowed, I stare at the horizon, completely fascinated by it. Strange, I know, but it seems off—the way the sun sets over the earth. It feels calm. And that calmness makes me want to run. Fast. So does thinking about Dad’s reaction to seeing me. The pride in his eyes—pride greater than the smiles from everyone when I landed on home soil. Sure it was meant to be comforting, but it wasn’t. It just made me mad—because while I was here with an injured shoulder, my brothers were there. And the threats we were all searching for—they were everywhere… even in the hands and eyes of a scared shitless little boy.

I blink hard, trying to push back the memories but the pain in my shoulder reminds me of the truth. It always does. Frustrated, I remove my hat and pick up my bag, then ignore the thumping of my heart as I kick open the metal gate and make my way up the uneven pavers of the path toward my home.


Like that’s supposed to mean something.

I take one more look over my shoulder at the horizon, hoping the calmness it emits will somehow make its way to me. It doesn’t. And without another thought, I drop my bag and raise my fist.

Knock knock.


I knock again. Stronger and harder so it can be heard over the television.


He’s muted the TV. I know that much. The screen still flickers but besides that, nothing.

A light shines on the side of the house from the neighbor’s car as they pull into the driveway. I peel my eyes away from the lady stepping out and raise my fist again, but before I can knock, the sound of the TV starts again. Laughter, both from the TV and from the man watching it—a deep roar of a chuckle that flips my insides.

I smile.

For the first time since before the “incident,” I smile. And that smile, that emotion, that sense of home is enough to make me reach into my pocket and pull out my keys. I unlock the door and with the key still in the lock, I grab my bag and push open the front door. The smell of gravy fills my nostrils and has my stomach turning.

Two steps.

That’s all it takes for me to move from the front door, through the hallway, and into the doorway of the living room. I ignore the loudness of the television and look at my dad sitting in his recliner, a frozen dinner tray on his lap, his eyes on the screen and his fork halfway to his mouth.

He’s aged more than I expected, but besides that, he’s still my old man. Still the man who raised me. His dark beard