The jagged cliffs of Vasquez Rocks were a row of lazy needles that leaned against the clear desert sky.
The ’75 Chevy Nova Super Sport churned up gravel and dust as it drove up, and then came to a stop. The drivers’ door opened and a tall, powerfully built man got out. He wore black slacks with suspenders over a white undershirt, and the white undershirt was spattered with blood. His shaggy black hair blew about in the dry wind. His name was Edison. Looking around a moment, he drew a dull black .45 out of the waistband of his slacks, ejecting the magazine and clearing the chamber before tossing it onto the seat.
He took a few steps away from the car to admire the rock formations, and a second man got out the passenger side. This one was both older and shorter than Edison—an Asian man with a powerful physique and similarly flowing black hair, though his was shot through with grey. This was Stan, and he was the first to speak:
“Pretty impressive, huh? Can’t believe you never made it up this way.”
Edison turned back:
“I haven’t had a lot of time for sightseeing since I came back.”
“Sightseeing my ass—this place is great for dumping stiffs. Probably two dozen guys takin’ dirt naps under our feet right now.”
Edison glanced down at the gritty earth under his weathered boots, and Stan watched the younger man for a long moment.
“You’re still thinking about what went down back there. I figured you’d be a lot colder than that by now, after everything...”
Edison shrugged, “It’s not that, it’s just--” He trailed off, staring around him. Staring at nothing. But old Stan knew what was going on inside.
“You hit the wall, didn’t you? That moment where you look down at the shooter in your hand and the whole thing seems one hundred goddamn percent pointless. Pull the trigger, don’t pull the trigger. Life, death, no matter.”
“Sounds like you’ve been there.”
“Hell... I live there these days, kid.”
“So what made you keep doing the job all this time?” Edison asked.
“Well, if you’ll remember, I had this little orphan brat to look after. Little bastard needed food, a roof over his head, all kinds of annoying things.”
Edison grinned, despite himself: “And he never really appreciated it, did he?”
“He never said as much, no. But I knew he did.”
Edison’s eyes turned once more to the jagged cliffs above. Something was slowly occurring to him. His eyes came back to the hard ground beneath him again—back to the car, and then finally to Old Stan.
“So why did we come all the way out here, Stan?”
Stan smiled a small, sad smile. His right hand had casually drifted to the gun tucked in the back of his trousers.
Edison saw it, too. He glanced into the car, where his pistol sat unloaded on the seat, then back at Stan.
“He knows, doesn’t he?”
Stan nodded. “Yeah.”
“How do you think he got to be the in-charge guy? It wasn’t by letting the little things get past him.”
Even as he spoke, Edison’s mind was searching for options.
“It was gonna’ happen, son. This way, we figured—well, at least it’ll be someone familiar.”
“But how can you—?”
“You’re a big boy, Ed. You knew what you were messing with, and what the consequences would be. Look at me: I’m way past my prime. What am I gonna’ do, bag groceries in my twilight years? This is all I know. The Chief made it abundantly clear... when it comes right down to it, I’m the one that brought you into the Circle. I’m responsible. It’s you or me, kid, and it’s sure as shit ain’t gonna’ be me.”
The two men stared at each other. The hot arid breeze kicked up a bit.
“I thought I’d imagined every possible way this scenario could go down...” Edison murmured. “I gotta’ admit: this wasn’t one of them.”
Stan shrugged. “None of us ever see it coming. But it comes all the same, in the end. Now do us both a favor and turn around, okay? It’ll make it a helluva lot easier, I promise.”
Edison turned slowly, raising his hands up, and Stan took a few cautious steps towards him, drawing out his automatic. Edison listened to the sound of his footfalls, waiting. Then he felt the gun muzzle press against the back of his head.
Stan paused a moment before firing. He was fighting back his emotions—willing himself to do what needed doing.
“It’s gonna’ kill me to do this, you know,” he finally said.
Edison smiled: “Yeah. I know.”
“Hey, I want to tell you something... something I’ve never told you.”
Stan’s eyebrow raised a quarter inch. “Go on.”
The moment hung there, suspended, and then:
“You always wait too long to cock the hammer.”
Stan’s eyes widened. In half a second, his thumb reached up and cocked the gun, but that was the sound Edison had been waiting for. In a single motion, he spun ‘round and grabbed the gun tightly by the slide with his left hand. Stan’s finger jerked on the trigger, but the gun wouldn’t fire.
Edison snapped the pistol’s barrel around three hundred sixty degrees to point towards Stan, trapping the older man’s finger in the trigger guard and breaking it. Stan gave out a wail and immediately sank to his knees.
Edison stared down at his foster father for a moment, his own feelings at war with each other—but only for a moment. He shoved the gun towards Stan several times, pushing the trigger against Stan’s broken finger each time.
The gunshots echoed off the jagged cliffs, and Stan’s body collapsed to the ground at Edison’s feet, the gun hitting the dust a half second after.
Edison struggled to get his body and his emotions back under control as he stared down at the corpse. It took a full minute and a good deal of effort, but he finally managed to slow his breathing. As he did, he became aware of a barely-audible sound coming from the rear of the Nova. He stepped over the body and went round to the driver’s side of the car, taking the keys out of the ignition and moving to the trunk. Opening it, he paused.
Inside was a beautiful young woman, her wrists and ankles tied with zip ties, her mouth taped shut. She’d been crying and lines of heavy black makeup ran down her cheeks like charcoal tears. Her name was Yukari. She was the Chief’s wife—and Edison was in love with her.
“Hey, you’re not supposed to be here.”
He reached into the trunk, and Yukari held out her wrists, assuming he was going to free her, but instead his hand come back holding a shovel.
“Stay put. I’ll be right back.”
She screamed through the gag and he shut the trunk lid again.
Jim Towns is a writer, director and artist. His films include the silent expressionist feature Prometheus Triumphant: a Fugue in the Key of Flesh, the necromantic dark comedy STIFF, the haunted heist film House of Bad and the post-apocalyptic drama State of Desolation.
His published short fiction includes "Warlock’s Eye" (FunDead Publications), "Fools at the Feet of a Hanged Man" (Dodging the Rain literary magazine), Castrato (Things in the Wall), "The Grave" (Hellbound Books) and "Bad Coffee and the Bomb" (Switchblade Magazine). 2020 saw the publication of his debut nonfiction book American Cryptic (Anubis Press).
His paintings and mixed media artwork have been exhibited in galleries in Pittsburgh, New York and Los Angeles.
He currently lives in Los Angeles, CA with his wife and two mysterious cats.