5

Kyle grabbed the shirt of Purvis. “How do you know my son is coming?!” asked Kyle. It wasn’t the reaction Purvis hoped for, but it was the one he expected.

“Manny Marlow.  Said your kid came to his house looking for you,” replied Purvis, trying to breathe through his tightened shirt collar.

“And Manny told him!?”

“Your kid did that thing to him. You know when he looks at ‘em and people do what he wants.”

“He could only do that to animals.”

“Well, apparently he’s a lot stronger now. And Manny said he seemed real angry.”

Kyle released Purvis’ collar, and walked across his once green lawn, now covered in areas of dead, brown grass. “Figures. I give that kid something that people would kill for and he’s angry. Ungrateful little fuck.” Kyle let out a slight cough. “Well, there’s only one thing I can do.”

“What?”

“I’m getting the fuck out of here, and I suggest you do too.”

“What are you talking about, Kyle?” asked Purvis.

You remember how those animals would all start getting sick after he did that thing to them. I imagine that’s what he plannin’ on doing to me … anyone else who gets in his way.”

“Oh, shit … Manny.”

“Manny is as good as dead, and if you don’t want to end up like him, I suggest you get the fuck out of here,” said Kyle as he started towards his house, leaving Purvis with his arms at his sides and a mix of fear and confusion on his face.

Purvis had finally left the yard after standing there for almost twenty minutes. Kyle saw him leaving through a dusty, cracked window in his attic. Dust was caked on stacks of cardboard boxes, old Christmas decorations, and hardened rat turds. Kyle told himself “essentials only,” but knew that there were some non-essentials that he couldn’t part with. He walked over to a stack of boxes, tripping over a small shoebox on the way. The shoebox fell open, revealing several photographs.

One picture stood out to him, because it showed something that Kyle hadn’t seen in almost thirty years–Johnny with a smile on his face. Kyle had his arm around Johnny as they stood by the old oak tree that grew in yard behind their first home.

Kyle remembered that day well…

“Hey, Kyle,” called Johnny from the backyard of his old two-story home in western North Carolina. Johnny was wearing an old Ramones shirt from the first concert he ever went to. He and Kyle had to search forever for a kids’ size, but after they found it, Johnny never quit wearing it.

Kyle stepped outside, and onto the perfectly mowed lawn. Kyle had looked a lot better in his thirties. Clean, full head of hair, and eyes that were bright, instead of sunken in. He was holding a warm cup of tea. “What’s going on, son?” he asked.

“Look.,” replied Johnny as he pointed to the sky.

Kyle looked up to see a blank sky, devoid of any clouds or birds. “I don’t see anything, boy.”

“No, in the tree.”

Kyle looked up and saw three squirrels stacked on top of each other’s shoulders like three kids in a trenchcoat. Kyle dropped his tea. “Di…did you make them do that?”

“Yup,” Johnny said with a huge smile. “And watch this.” Johnny sang the first verse of America the Beautiful.

Kyle could feel his body start to get warmer and warmer with each word his son sang. It was as if he had taken a shot of whiskey on an empty stomach.

From sea to shining sea…

The squirrels paused for a moment, as if in a daze, then leapt from each other’s shoulders, and climbed down the tree. They ran up Johnny’s legs, causing him to laugh from the tickle of their furry feet. They stopped on the tip of his head and started to chirp. “Isn’t it cool, daddy?”

Johnny noticed his dad staring with eyes wider than he thought his eyes could open. “It…it worked?” Kyle stared for a few more seconds, then started to cry.

“Dad, what’s wrong?” Johnny asked. “Did I do something wrong?”

Kyle walked over to Johnny and wrapped his arms around Johnny’s head, causing the

squirrels to fall, and run back up the tree. “Oh my god, boy, you …. you are going to be something amazing.”

The front door opened, causing Kyle to come out of his daze.

Kyle climbed down the stairs to a woman in her late 50s entering the front door. She was tall, pretty, and her hair was pale brown, like coffee with too much creamer.

Kyle stared at her, arms at his sides, and eyes to the ground. “What’s wrong?” she asked.

“Get the kids. We have to go.”

 

4

“What kind of music do you play?” Johnny asked.

“90’s hits. Country hits. Popular bullshit.”

“Nothing original?” Johnny asked.

“Look at these folks,” Franz replied. “They only want you to play stuff they can sing along to. If we play anything original, they’ll throw bottles at us.”

Johnny looked around at the crowd and agreed. People didn’t come to dives like this to hear anything new or original, they came to remember the good ol’ days and drink away the bad. The place looked like it could use a few good ol’ days.

“You know them?” Johnny asked nodding toward the warm up band.

The band on stage at the moment had struggled through a string of classic covers – “Sweet Home Alabama,” a bunch of Eagles songs and were now ending their set with “Freebird”.

“Yeah,” Franz said. “Nice guys, but can’t play worth shit.”

“I haven’t played in a while,” Johnny said. “You think I could…”

“No,” Franz said. “Get your own band.”

Franz finished his beer and put it down with finality.

“I don’t blame you,” Bill said. “Johnny sucks.”

Bill finished his beer and put it down with the same sense of finality. He grinned at Johnny.

“Fine,” Johnny said getting up. “Anyone want another?”

Everyone at the table nodded and raised their beers.

“You’re not even finished with the one you have,” Johnny said to Eddie, the base player for Franz’s band.

“You didn’t ask if I was finished,” Eddie said. “You just asked if I wanted another.”

Johnny shook his head and went to the bar. The door to the bar flew open and a couple of cowboys blew in, their hats dripping from the storm. Bill looked at them and saw a big flash of lightning outside. Less than a second later a loud thunderclap shook the room and one of the cowboys turned quickly and slammed the door. Another thunderclap sounded, and even though the door was shut, the thunder was just as loud. The lights dimmed briefly but didn’t go out. The storm outside had forced Johnny and Bill to pull over and take shelter. Any other time they would have driven on by this dump.

Johnny ordered the beers and leaned back on the bar as he waited. He thought the bar was crowded for a rainy Tuesday night. The smell of old beer, cigarettes and damp carpet made him feel at home. He felt good. The urge to get on stage and sing was overwhelming. He watched the band as they finished up “Freebird”. They were having a good time doing the jam at the end. They weren’t that great, hell, they weren’t even good but Johnny smiled anyway and cheered and whistled at the band in approval. They were having fun and that’s what he wanted to do.

The bartender put six beers on the bar.

“Eighteen Dollars,” the bartender said.

“I wanted them in mugs,” Johnny said.

“Sorry,” The bartender said and grabbed frosted mugs out of the cooler. He poured the bottles into the mugs. Johnny helped.

“It’s on Franz’s tab,” Johnny said, nodding towards their table.

The bartender looked at Franz and the band at the table. He looked back at Johnny suspiciously.

“But this is for you,” Johnny said, handing him a ten.

“Works for me,” the bartender said, “That cheap sonofabitch never tips.” He took the money and stuffed it into the tip jar and moved on to another customer.

Johnny took one of the beers, held it below the bar and looked around to make sure no one was looking. Bill was looking. Johnny smiled at him. Bill shook his head “no.”

Franz also looked toward the bar, which Bill noticed.

“How long you guys been playing together?” Bill asked quickly.

“About ten years,” Franz said, turning his attention away from the bar and to Bill. “I think we opened for you guys one time seven or eight years ago.”

“Really?” Bills asked.

“Yeah, I thought you guys were pretty good.”

“Thanks,” Bill said.

“But Johnny was an asshole, that’s why I won’t let him play with us.”

Bill sighed. “Yeah, he gets in these moods and you can’t do anything with him.”

“Is that why he…” Franz started.

Johnny sat the mugs on the table. Eddie grabbed one, but Johnny snatched it away.

“That one Franz’s,” Johnny said. He handed it to Franz.

“What’d you do to it?” Franz asked.

“I spit in it,” Johnny said.

The band stared at Johnny.

“For god’s sake, Franz. It’s a Guinness. I remember you were the only one besides me that liked them.”

Franz noticed that two of the mugs were darker than the others. He smiled.

“Thank you, Johnny.”

“Least I could,” Johnny said, “I was an asshole to you guys back in the day.”

“Yes, you were,” Eddie said, taking another beer.

Johnny took his Guinness and sat down. “To old times,” he said holding his beer up.

They tapped mugs and drank.

II

Franz and his band were in the third song of their set when Franz abruptly ran off stage and into the bathroom. The rest of the band kept playing for a while, but when it was clear that Franz wasn’t coming back, Eddie went to check on him.

“What did you do?” Bill asked Johnny.

“Nothing,” Johnny said. “The man can’t handle his beer.

A few minutes later Eddie emerged from the bathroom and came over to their table.

“You think you can play a couple songs with us,” Eddie asked. “Just until Franz gets through puking up his guts. He was never much of a drinker.”

“I don’t think Franz would like that,” Johnny said.

Eddie looked around. The crowd was getting uneasy.

“I don’t care,” Eddie said. “If we don’t start playing soon, the crowd is gonna get ugly.

“I don’t know,” Johnny said. “I’ve had a few myself.”

Someone from the crowd shouted, “This is bullshit!”

“You’d be doing us a big one,” Eddie said.

“Well, since you’re begging and all,” Johnny grinned.

“I ain’t begging…” Eddie started.

Someone else yelled “Fuck this shit!” and tossed a bottle onstage.

“Okay, I’m begging,” Eddie said.

“Just a couple songs,” Johnny said.

“Just a couple songs,” Eddie repeated.

“Allright,” Johnny said standing. He and Eddie moved to the stage. Johnny gathered the band around him and asked them if they knew “Sweet Child of Mine” by Guns N Roses. Eddie, the rhythm guitar, and the drummer said they did, but the lead guitar, Tamarius, didn’t. Johnny had Tamarius unplug his guitar and took him offstage and back to the kitchen area.

The crowd booed. A bottle almost hit Eddie.

“It starts like this,” Johnny said and he stepped behind Tamarius and took his hands and played quickly through the song. Tamarius wanted to move away at first, but when he heard the sound coming out of his unplugged electric he was amazed. Johnny played the first part of the song and then stopped.

“That’s the gist of it,” Johnny said and stepped away.

Tamarius looked down at his guitar in amazement. He could still feel the song in his hands. He looked up at Johnny and for a moment, he was frightened. Johnny seemed to have black veins beneath the surface of his skin.

Johnny stepped up to Tamarius and whispered in his ear, “Remember.”

The next thing Tamarius remembered was being on stage and Johnny saying “And a 1 and a 2 and a 3”

The crowd was boisterous at this point and people were standing and cursing and then Tamarius started playing “Sweet Child of Mine” and everyone stopped cursing and stopped booing and stopped doing everything except staring at Tamarius. Even Eddie and the other bandmembers turned and looked at him, trying to figure out if the incredible sound coming out of his guitar was real. It sounded just like the song. It sounded just like Slash. For a moment Eddie thought it was a trick. Maybe Tamarius had a recording of the song playing, but when he saw the look in Tamarius face and his hands playing and his body moving to the song, he realized Tamarius was fucking killing it. He wanted nothing in the world but to keep watching Tamarius play, but Johnny snapped his fingers at him and Eddie seemed to awaken from a dream and joined in the song, trying his best to keep up. The other band members followed.

Eddie thought he had seen and heard the most amazing thing he had ever seen or heard on stage, but then Johnny grabbed the mic and sang,

“She’s got a smile it seems to me
Reminds me of childhood memories
Where everything
Was as fresh as the bright blue sky”

For a long couple of seconds, the crowd was still and silent, like a snake about to strike. They looked at the band. They looked at each other. They couldn’t get their minds around the sound coming out of the band.

Johnny sang on,

“Now and then when I see her face
She takes me away to that special place
And if I’d stare too long
I’d probably break down and cry”

Franz, vomit down the front of his shirt and in his beard, stumbled out of the bathroom and fell to his knees. No one noticed because when Johnny sang,

“Oh, oh, oh
Sweet child o’ mine
Oh, oh, oh, oh
Sweet love of mine,”

The crowd lost their fucking minds.

III

The bar was packed. People witnessing the bands unearthly performance had called, texted and snapchatted their friends. There was a line outside to get in.

Johnny and the band had played a dozen songs and it quickly became apparent that Johnny had the uncanny ability to sound just like whoever they were playing. They played “Take Me Home, Country Roads,” and Johnny had sounded like John Denver. They played “Margaritaville” and Johnny sounded like Jimmy Buffet. They played and played and played and then they played “Hurt” and Johnny sounded like Trent Reznor AND Johnny Cash and that’s when a few people in the crowd started to feel uneasy. Then the band played “Luckenback, Texas” and for a few minutes the uneasy feeling went away, because Johnny sounded just like Waylon Jennings.

“The only two things in life that make it worth livin’
Is guitars in tune and firm feelin’ women
I don’t need my name in the marquee lights
I got my song and I got you with me tonight
Maybe it’s time we got back to the basics of love,”

The crowd cheered and stomped. Women took off their shirts and showed their boobs. Years later, when the reporters and the cops asked the people who were in the crowd that night what they saw, the witnesses could only say that it was the best night of their lives.

Johnny kept singing,

“Let’s go to Luckenbach, Texas
With Waylon and Willie and the boys…”

The crowd sang along. And they would have kept singing along, but toward the end of the song, Johnny stopped sounding like Waylon Jennings and started sounding like Waylon Jennings AND Willie Nelson at the same time.

The crowd kept singing, but some of them seemed confused. Some of them didn’t know or understand what time it was, some didn’t know where they were. Some didn’t know who they were. One guy ran out of the bar screaming.

Johnny was about to play another song, but Bill had quietly moved onto the stage. He had a tuning fork in his hand and struck the microphone with it. It caused a little bit of feedback. Bill held the tuning fork to Johnny’s ear. Johnny stopped singing immediately, as if in a trance. In fact, everyone in the bar stopped moving except Bill.

Bill took Johnny by the hand and led him offstage, through the crowd and to the door. The tone from the tuning fork slowly faded. When they left the bar, the people in the crowd snapped back to life. There was much confusion. Franz wandered out of the bathroom, feeling better, but he was even more confused than the people in the crowd.

The reporters, years later, would also ask the people if they believed Johnny could have done all those horrible things to the people out in the desert that he was accused of. The ones that bothered answering the question would say “No. That man couldn’t have done those things. That man had the voice of an Angel.”

 

3

Kyle Hinton Pomeroy flicked his cigarette and studied the pattern the ash made when it splashed down on the floor. This was the latest addition to an ongoing attempt at a work of art… He was trying to make a rendering of the Virgin Mary so he could get some publicity from the local news station but so far it just looked like someone had tripped carrying an urn across the room. He was tempted to get down there and shape it with his hands but in his mind that constituted cheating. He hadn’t arrived at his cheating threshold yet.

The severe weather alert was scrolling across all three television sets, but the melancholy moaning of the wind and the constant grumbling of the thunder told him what he needed to know about the conditions outside. He noticed there was a little water trickling under the door so he adjusted his jute SAP bag, a long strip of canvas-like material filled with something resembling sand that doubled as a door stop and a flood barrier. It was never enough water to justify the bag but he felt a surge of pride knowing if a flash flood hit he was protected.

Now they were predicting tornadoes. There hadn’t been a tornado watch in this county for close to fifty years, even though the surrounding counties went to high alert every now and again. Kyle couldn’t remember the last time a twister had actually swept through Oakland.  In point of fact, he couldn’t remember because it had never happened in his lifetime… possibly it had never happened, period. But his bones were telling him things were about to change, and when they updated the watch to a warning he wasn’t surprised.

His man cave was well fortified… it used to be a standalone garage but he had converted it to a venison processing workshop. Currently he was cleaning the dried blood off his Dexter Russell 6 inch traditional handle skinner with the high carbon steel blade. He’d ordered it off Amazon Prime last month and never looked back. The deer hide was under his feet and he’d slung the carcass over the stainless steel counter. It calmed him to skin the deer while the storm raged around him. He’d never been too comfortable with storms… they announced God’s presence all too blatantly and he and God weren’t on the best of terms.

Seemed like he’d been in trouble since he’d first gained consciousness… he was a breech baby and had come out near sideways. Many a vigorous whipping had been accompanied by his father reminding him it took six months for his mother’s vagina to heal, an image that he’d never quite dislodged from his mind’s eye. Then he was excommunicated from his church when he was eight, less than a month after he’d made his confession of faith. To be fair, that confession was made with the misunderstanding that it would come with a lifetime supply of butter pecan ice cream. Neither his parents nor his former pastor could figure out how he had come to that conclusion.

The rain pelting the tin roof ceased abruptly.  The walls of the man cave were rattling, and the coyote hide tacked to the door flapped as said door stood up to the intense intermittent gusts. The eyes of the eight slain deer heads decorating the dimly lit plywood walls regarded him smugly, confident that they were about to be avenged. If the fates were just, all of the knives, meat cleavers and scalpels resting on various surfaces around him would be picked up by gale force winds and shoved through every inch of Kyle’s sinewy body.

But Kyle ignored his increasingly precarious situation as best he could, stumped out his cigarette, put on his reading glasses and started cutting into the red, thick muscle of the buck on the counter as he carefully carved out his supper. Even when the howling outside reached a deafening pitch he refused to let it distract him from the task at hand.  He hummed a tuneless dirge to the comforting throb of the backup generator, barely audible over the din beyond the confines of the cave. By the time he’d loosed a hunk of meat from the deer’s flank the winds were already subsiding. The corner of his mouth crooked into a smirk.

“Not this time,” he declared to his old adversary, but the Almighty didn’t offer him the satisfaction of a response, and he felt slightly foolish for saying it aloud.

A sharp rap at the door interrupted that train of thought and he wondered who was dumb enough to venture out in this weather.

“Come in,” he grumbled, and whoever-it-was tried to open the door but only succeeded in making a banging racket as the knob was tugged in six consecutive, rapid-fire attempts. Kyle rolled his chair across the floor and twisted the roughhewn wooden latch, freeing the door to creak open. A few seconds ticked off the clock before Purvis’s pockmarked nose pushed through, followed by Purvis, who looked flustered. Beyond him, Kyle noticed that the tree line that was there when he came in this morning had been flattened. He smirked again, but this time he didn’t say anything.

“Jeez God, you see what it done out here?”

Kyle shrugged, then cocked his left eyebrow. “What the hell you doing wandering around in it, then? You don’t got any more sense ‘n a billy goat with a brain tumor. Less even.”

“I got news.”

“It couldn’t wait another hour?”

“It ain’t the kinda news to wait.”

“Well go on and tell it.”

“It’s about your boy.”

Kyle shifted in his chair a little. He removed the pack of cigarettes from the sleeve on his bicep, took one out and let it dangle from his lips for a second before lighting it.

“About Johnny?”

Purvis nodded.

“He’s on his way.”

2

Johnny and Bill rode in Bill’s red Toyota Camry down an empty two-lane highway.  They were about two hours outside of Wichita, Kansas.  Johnny’s hands, callused from years of guitar playing, tightly gripped the steering wheel.  Bill watched as the sea of fences and wheat fields passed by.
“I’m hungry,” said Bill.

“I think I saw a sign for a Burger King a few miles ahead,” replied Johnny, not averting his eyes from the road.

“God, not Burger King again.”

“What’s wrong with Burger King?” asked Johnny.

“We’ve had Burger King over four times in the last 32 hours.  If we eat any more I think my shit is gonna start coming out with the Burger King logo.”

“Well, where do you want to eat?” said Johnny as he rolled his eyes.

Bill thought for a moment, then exclaimed, “Ihop!”

“Jesus Christ.”

“What’s your problem with Ihop?”

“I can make pancakes better than that overpriced shit,” said Johnny.

Bill crossed his arms.  “Well, I’m not eating at Burger King again.”

“Well, how about this, we’ll stop at the net gas station, and you can get some goddamn Boston baked beans.  How’s that sound?”

“Better than Burger King,” Bill replied quietly.

“Sorry.  I didn’t mean to be an asshole.  It’s just..”  Johnny fingers squeezed even tighter against the leather steering wheel.

The two quietly stared ahead for a few moments.

“Look man, if you want to turn back, it’s fine.  We can get you some actual help.  A therapist.  Some medication,” said Bill.

“That shit isn’t gonna cure me, Bill,” replied Johnny through gritted teeth.  “And we’re not turning back.  My dad…my father, is gonna to pay for what he did.”

“You ever going to actually tell me what he did?” asked Bill

“There’s a sign for Ihop.  Ten miles,” said Johnny.

….

Johnny and Bill sat in a booth near the back of the restaurant.  They both ordered a coffee and a water.  Bill looked around the restaurant.  Only an elderly couple and a lone twenty-something occupied the other seats.

“So, how far are we?” asked Bill.

“About an hour and half from Ellsworth.  My mom said that’s where Manny Marlow lives,” replied Johnny.

“And who is this guy?”

“An old contact of my father’s.  The only one my mom actually knew.”

“And you actually think he’s going to know where your old man is?”

“He’s the only lead I got.”

Bill took a sip of coffee.  “Why didn’t you just email him, or something?”

Johnny took a sip.  “Because, if he knows where my father is, he probably knows that my father doesn’t want to see me.  In which case, I may have to take specific measures to get the information from him.”

Bill raised his brow to Johnny.  “Specific measures?”

The waitress dropped three plates in front of Johnny.  One with pancakes and eggs, the other with toast, and the last with two slices of bacon.  Bill started eating his French toast before the waitress even finished handing him all his plates.

“You boys need any more coffee?” she asked in a soft tone.

“We’re good for now,” replied Johnny with a half grin.  The waitress grinned back, then walked away.  He took a large bite of the pancakes.  “How’d you manage to get your girlfriend to let you come on this little adventure anyway?”

“Told her we were going to a Motley Crue Reunion Show in Las Vegas.  Just a boys’ road trip for old time sake,” Bill replied with a sly smile.

“You gotta quit lying to that girl so much, or she won’t be around much longer.”

“Oh, so I shoulda told her were going to shake down an old man, so we can get some information about your dad’s whereabouts?”

“No, I’m just sayin’.”  Johnny lets out a loud belch.

“Jesus, man, have some manners.”

“Sorry, I-” He belched again.  This time, he felt a wad of food collect in the back of his throat.  “Uh, give me a second.”  Johnny jumped out of his seat, and ran to the bathroom while he covered his mouth.

Johnny slammed open the bathroom door, and dove into the nearest stall, barely closing it behind him.  A beige mixture of pancakes, eggs, and bacon exploded from Johnny’s mouth, some getting on the floor, some hitting the toilet rim, but most going in the bowl.

With every painful expulsion from Johnny’s mouth, the mixture became darker and darker, until it was as black and thick as dirty motor oil.

“It’s getting worse,” he whispered to himself.

After three more expulsions, Johnny collapsed back onto the bathroom floor, his throat swollen and his mouth on fire.

Johnny crawled over to the sink, and forced a handful of water into his mouth.  He pulled himself up to the mirror and examined his face.  There were pieces of food and the dark-colored liquid surrounding his face, and every vein from the base of his neck to the top of his forehead shown a bright purple-reddish color.

“I’ll kill you for what you’ve done to me!” Johnny exclaimed to his reflection.

Johnny stormed out of the bathroom and over to Bill.  “Come on,” he said as he grabbed Bill’s arm.

“But, my French toast,” replied Bill as he was being pulled out of his seat.

They exited the restaurant, and ran over to the car.  Johnny slammed his head against the steering wheel.

“What the hell is going on with you?” asked Bill.

“…I haven’t been entirely honest with you.”

 

1

“C’mon man, it’s ok.” Bill said. “This too will pass.”

Johnny held a handgun in his lap. He clicked the safety on. He clicked it off.

“Would you stop that?” Bill said.

“I could just walk out to the back. Few hundred yards into the woods, put this to my head, click. All my problems are over,” Johnny said.

“I understand. I’m not going to tell you to snap out of it. Let’s both walk away from, have a beer, talk about it.”

“See, you think this just started. PTSD or some shit from the war. But that’s not it. I never thought I’d seriously think about killing myself. I just toyed with it. I hated when other people did it. Fuckin’ Robin Williams. Fuck Robin Williams I thought at first. But then I understood.”

“I know, I get it buddy.”

“I don’t need you to fix me. Just listen,” Johnny said.

“I know you struggle with the weight of ….”

You’re not listening. I’m not in pain because of the shit that’s happened this past year. I’m fucked up because of a lifetime of things happening wrong, of seeing a future lifetime of not being able to fix anything. Of failing over and over again. I’m tired. I think it’s too late for me to ever make my life what I wanted it to be, or any semblance of it. It’s just too late friend. It’s not your fault or anyone’s fault. I’m just tired. I want to cry. I want to stop hurting. And I know One Hundred Percent that if I pull this trigger, all that pain goes away for me.”

“But not for us. Not for the ones that love you,” Bill said.

“I know that and believe me , that’s the only reason I haven’t done it before, it’s the only reason I’m not doing it right now in front of you. It won’t matter to me once I pull the trigger. It won’t matter to me that you witnessed it. It does matter right now, but I gotta be honest with you,” Johnny said, “It only matters a tiny small little bit. I’m ready to do this.”

“Can’t you think of any reason not to?” Bill asked. “Your mom? Your family? Me?”

“I tell you what,” Johnny said.

Johnny popped the magazine out of the pistol.

“If I can think of more reasons than there are bullets in this mag, I won’t do it. Deal?”

“No comment? Ok. Here goes”

Bill shook his head. Johnny held the magazine firmly in his hand and sat it on the table like a man out of his mind would set a goblet of poison on a table that he intended to drink.

“Mom,” Johnny said. With his thumb, Johnny pushed a bullet out of the magazine. The pressure of the spring and next bullet made the bullet leap out with a little bit of force. It landed on the table and almost rolled off the edge.

“My wife,” Johnny said as he pushed another out.

“My sister,” he said. Another bullet ejected out onto the table and this one rolled off.

“My kids,” Johnny said. Another bullet popped out onto the table with more life than it should have had.

“That should count as two,” Bill said.

Johnny stared at him.

“You got two kids,” Bill said.

Johnny pushed another bullet out shaking his head as if he’d been caught in a misunderstood lie.

Johnny paused a moment, thinking hard.

“My friend” he said as he held the magazine up and nodded to Bill as if about to drink a drink.

You have many friends”

“There’s only one here” Johnny said.

“The others will come if you, we call them”

“Too late,” Johnny said, “And I think I’m out of reasons”

“Your dad,” Bill said.

Johnny picked up a bullet from the table and put it back in the mag.

“What the fuck Johnny!”

“I got his genes. I got his habits and his problems and his nature to hurt people. That’s a reason to get this whole thing over.”

“Fuck Johnny. C’mon,” Bill said.

Johnny tapped the mag on the table as if genuinely trying to think of another reason.

“I think I’m out of excuses.” He said, holding the mag up to the light. Against the light he could count the holes in the mag.

“Looks like I got 4 left. Sorry.”

“Wait. Wait. Wait. Think of all the shit you’re gonna miss. The original guns and roses are back together. Their album comes out in six months. C’mon. Axel, Slash and Duff! C’mon, that’s gotta be worth something,” Bill said.

Johnny reluctantly pushed another bullet out.

“3”

“You said we’d be famous. I quit my job for you to go on tour,” Bill said.

“We lost a lot of money on that tour. They threw bottles at me,” Johnny said.

“At us.” Bill said. “They threw bottles at US. But I still believed in you.”

“I’m sorry.”

“Fuck you. That’s worth a bullet. Take one out,” Bill demanded.

Johnny sighed and popped another round out.

“Two” Johnny said. “I can’t think of two more.”

Johnny held the magazine up to Bill as if asking for confirmation.

Fuck it,” Johnny said.

“No.” Bill said. “Give me a moment,” Bill pleaded.

“You remember that time we saw Metallica and afterwards we met one of their roadies and he invited us backstage and we got to go to their hotel and party?” Johnny asked.

“Yeah. I remember. Great fucking night and there’s many more,” Bill said.

“And then after the party we were all hyped up. The best night of our lives…”

“Yes, Johnny, I remember. We can do that…” Bill said.

“But instead of going home, we stayed out. We ended up at that shit bar,” Johnny said.

“It was the only one open.”

“Exactly!” Johnny said as he stood. “We shouldn’t have lingered. We should have called it a night. That’s what I’m doing here old friend. I’m calling it a fucking night. ”

“Listen to me, Johnny.” Bill said. “If you do this, I will fuck your wife. I will tell your kids that you hated them. I’ll show them your freaky porn stash.”

“You..”

“I know all your passwords and if you do it, I swear to god, I’ll go on your computer and show them all your dirty secrets.”

“Nice try,” Johnny said. “First off, I know you won’t do it. Second. I’ll be dead. Won’t care”

“I will do it.”

“I got two bullets left. I could kill you also.” Johnny said.

“You recycling, repurposing, don’t waste anything piece of shit!” Bill said.
“What?”

“You’ll hang on to an extra screw and the one use tool that comes with a piece of Ikea furniture because you hate to throw it away,” Bill said.

“So?”

“But you’ll throw your life away,” Bill said.

“You’re wasting your time,” Johnny said as he loaded the magazine into the pistol.

“What I’m saying fuckface,” Bill said, “If you’re going to kill yourself at least be useful.”

Johnny looked at his friend, waiting.

“I know someone who needs to be killed,” Bill said. “Kill him. Then kill yourself if you want.”

“Who?” Johnny asked

Bill got up and went to the fridge. He opened it and got a two beers out and returned to the table. He placed one in front of Johnny and kept one for himself.

“Your father.” he said as he opened his beer and took a big drink.

Johnny took a deep breath. He sat down.

“Why?” Johnny asked.

“You know why.” his friend said.

“Goddammit,” Johnny said as he smashed his head on the table several times. A trickle of blood crawled down his forehead. After a moment he took the magazine and used it to open his beer.

He took a long draw from the bottle and sat it down on the table.

“Ok.”