Once More

by Sam Stone


A man aware of the near end of his life, accepts his impending fate as he believes it is the last decent thing he could possibly do.

Once More

    Redd didn't cook supper for himself that evening. Not because he lacked the proper motivation or even the culinary suave, but rather his mind was preoccupied with what was sure to come through the door to his one bedroom, one bathroom apartment within the next few minutes. It wasn't a preoccupation that allowed his mind to wonder "what if" it doesn't happen tonight. This scenario reminded him of a classic western movie he had seen once where a gunslinger sat in a bar while staring at the door, only to say to the inquiring waitress that he was simply waiting for what's coming. Redd knew what was coming. He knew he would come.

    He sat at the dining room table with his back to the window that overlooked the city streets nearly 13 stories below. Streets sprawling with people that have their own cares, their own worries. They don't know of the tribulations that have transpired in Redd's life over the course of the past 4 days that got him to this point, sitting in his dining room at 5:09 PM with a loaded revolver sitting on the table in front of him while he awaits whatever chaos was due to visit him. His stomach sat empty and uneasy as his mind labored on the fact that his Smith and Wesson revolver only had 2 of the possible 5 chambers filled with .38 Special +P+ ammunition, meaning he had 2 chances to end whatever fight was in store for him that night. Those aren't good odds, he thought. Those aren't good odds for anybody. He ashed his short cigarette one last time in the empty scotch glass that sat next to the pistol and took another hit from it before putting it out and going for his almost empty pack in the back pocket of his jeans. He remembered the first time he smoked a cigarette when he was 10. His Ma had left her pack of Marlboro Lights on the kitchen table as she stepped outside to take a phone call with her ex-husband, inherently his father. She never let Redd listen to the phone calls, and she never even paid him any attention when she wasn't on the phone. He understood why as he got older, but at the time he took advantage of his mother's complacency and plucked one from the newly opened, yet heavily creased pack. The Lights pack he pulled from his pocket held the same creases as his mother's pack all those years ago. He smiled, if only for a second as he thought about the odd resemblance. Last one for me, Ma. He stared at the Smith and Wesson engraving on the side of the pistol's frame as he lit his cigarette with shaking hands. The guy he bought it from had never even shot it before. He told Redd that he had been carrying it for protection, even though he never kept it loaded. Not much protection in an unloaded gun, he thought to himself. Redd has always carried a piece for as long as he has worked with the Company. He knew how to use one too, for this wasn't about to be his first run in with one of the Company's employees. Only this time his hands shook because he knew it would be his last. One way or another. No matter what happened in this apartment tonight, he thought, he knew he was never to join the busy people on the streets below him ever again.

    A house radio blared punk rock somewhere down the hall, and he had just put the lighter down from his freshly lit cigarette when he heard a distinct sound in the hallway immediately outside his apartment door. He heard what sounded like footsteps of the impending fate that he had been waiting for for the past 14 hours, only he could have sworn there was a fuckin' horse walking around out there in the hallway. His hand didn't shake this time as he firmly grasped the near-empty pistol on the table, and his stomach stopped churning as his mind reached an apparent moment of clarity. He remembered a line from one of Shakespeare's works that he had stumbled across when he was in high school. Apparently the mind wanders when it's under duress, he thought.

    "Once more, unto the breach..."

    His life was about to be cut short at roughly the 29 year mark, however he had seen more of the world and human-kind than most men ever see in an 85 year life. He knew this was true, and he took another drag from his Marlboro. No matter how many run-ins with Death he had experienced over the course of his short life, he knew he could brave the breach one more time, even if it were to be his last. He exhaled with a plume of smoke that seemed to engulf the table and his front blade sight on the revolver has he oriented it towards the door that concealed his Grim Reaper. That's when he heard door knob rattle. He took a deep breath.

"Here we go."

He squeezed the trigger until all 7 pounds of pressure was relieved and the small J-Frame kicked in his meaty palm and his ears began to ring and his nose filled with cordite while the 158-gr Jacketed Hollow-Point sailed across the room and passed through the wooden door just above the tarnished brass knob. He marveled at the accuracy of his first shot and the neat entry hole the bullet had made, and that's when he heard a heavy object slump to the floor on the other side. He sat motionless and in awe for what seemed like an eternity, but what could've been a mere 2 seconds when a much larger, splintering cavity instantly formed a few inches above the one he just produced. The only noises he heard was that of the wood being punctured and the window that looked out onto the streets below that lay behind him cracking and he felt that his left shoulder was now wet. Instinctively, he tipped over in the chair, letting himself crash to the floor and landed on his wet shoulder. He figured that the lower he got to the floor, the better his chances were at lining up another shot with the pistol he desperately clutched with his left hand. His freshly lit cigarette had found its way on the floor in front of him on the floor and he noticed that the cherry was about to die just like he was. He lined up the front blade sight just to the right of the 2 holes in the door and allowed the piece to kick for it's last time. Before he could register whether his shot was successful or not, the dead bolt and knob assembly on the door exploded and was replaced with a gaping, splintered hole, sending wood and brass pieces all over the room. Fuckin' shotgun.

    Redd's shoulder began to hurt and his vision became blurry as he continued to squeeze the trigger of his empty pistol as he lay on the floor pointing it at the armed, massive man that had swung open the defeated door and entered the apartment. He had to step over the crumpled body of a young boy that lay in the middle of the door way. Redd now realized his first bullet found an unintended mark, because the man had forced the boy that happened to be passing by at the time of his arrival to knock on the door, knowing that Redd would shoot first. Now that same personification of indifference was being careful not to step in the cranial fluid that seeped from the .38 inch hole in the young boy's face. Kid can't be older than 10. Fuckin' piece of shit. Redd saw himself in the young boy. He wondered if this boy also took cigarettes from his estranged mother, and also wondered how soon he would be joining him.

    The large man's rubber soled boots thudded across the creaking wooden floors as he crossed the apartment and stopped just short of the dying cigarette that lay on the floor boards and squatted down with the shotgun cradled across his leg and picked it up. He wore well fitted black denim jeans, with black work boots, topped with a stained, beige Carhartt jacket that was zipped halfway. His boots didn't squeak as he squatted down. Redd could tell that the leather was well worn. He didn't make a sound. He placed the cigarette in Redd's mouth, being careful to not let the cherry go out. His massive, calloused hands were cold.

    You knew how this was going to happen, did you not? He annunciated every syllable and every letter, as it was apparent that english was not his first language.

    Savage. Redd thought. He didn't speak to him. He just stared into his unflinching eyes. Redd knew immediately that the accent didn't match his outfit, and it was clearly a disguise. The large man could have been one of the busy people on the street not 5 minutes ago. Although he had never seen this man before, it was clear he was another asset to the Company. He was a professional. He took one last deep drag and stared into the dark eyes of the embodiment of deceit that crouched over him. For the first time that day, Redd spoke.

    I'll see you again. The man held his response. His face remained expressionless.

    Yes, I know you will.

He leveled the shotgun and stuck the sawn off barrel into his stomach just above the navel and let it jump. Redd glanced down at the bitch in his gut and and glanced back to look unto the face of the man that wielded it and he saw in his place, instead, stood a pale horse mounted by a pale rider. He HAD seen this behemoth before, after all. This was the same figure that he saw hovering over his mother 15 years ago as she sat in a puddle of her own excrement and brain matter. He remembered the rider looking down at her, his face concealed by a pale, dusty hood, and he could see the horse's breath. He remembered how he felt all those years ago, and the feeling had returned at this moment and he knew looking into the rider's eyes would be futile. It wouldn't be no use, he thought. I've seen some ugly things and some beautiful things in this life of mine, and I don't want his face to be the last thing I see. The shotgun sent the contents of Redd's midsection spilling across the floor behind him, and he heard it impact the baseboards of the wall just below the cracked, red spattered window. He didn't feel it. Shot must've severed my spine. The blast rolled Redd onto his back so that he could look out the window at the darkening sky that overlooked his apartment and he prayed that God was watching him at that exact moment. He could remember the text that was engraved on the receiver of the shotgun : Serbu Super-Shorty. I guess it's over now, he said to Him. He thought that maybe even now as he lay nearly cut in half that he had lived the last few moments of his life well enough, and in doing so maybe God would heed his prayers and maybe reserve a spot for him up there. That's what his Ma always taught him. The same woman that would leave cigarettes unattended on the kitchen table. He knew now that maybe she had left them on purpose, so that she could say that she at least shared something, even if it was just a cigarette with her only son, the same cigarette that was still loosely sitting between dry, clammy lips. There was no pleading or begging in his short prayers to the God that he had neglected for so long, for even Redd knew that he, himself, was responsible for the life he chose. He alone was responsible for the point he was at at this moment. The words inscribed on the pump-gun's receiver ran through his mind, as he was always partial to shotguns.

    The man remained squatting over him for a few more seconds before saying his last words to his victim.


    He racked the slide of the short-barreled shotgun, ejecting a smoking, green plastic shot shell that clattered to the floor next to him. 2 3/4 inch 00 Buck was printed on the side. He leveled the shotgun again at Redd and sent another pay load through his midsection. His nose filled with cordite again. Redd fixated his now blurry gaze at the Heavens outside his window and his Ma's cigarette fell from his lips back to the floor boards that now ran red with life. His head tilted towards the open door, and he saw his mother laying next to him. The pale rider stood up, ejected the spent shell, and walked back across the room and over the slumped boy in the same doorway he entered. His footsteps faded down the hallway, as Hell followed with him.

    The cigarette went out, and Redd's blurry world followed soon after.

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