James Babbs

The Man With the Gun

You open the door and step into the hallway where the man with the gun turns to look at you. He looks familiar as if you’ve seen him somewhere before but you can’t quite remember the place or the time. The man with the gun laughs showing his teeth before pointing the gun in your direction. Hey, he says. Don’t move. And you just stand there, watching him, wondering what he’s going to do next.

You notice the sunlight falling through the only window in the hallway and how it makes a rectangle of light on the opposite wall. You imagine it’s not just a rectangle of light but a hole in the wall through which you could escape if you were only capable of moving quickly enough. Maybe it’s not just a rectangle of light or merely a hole in the wall but some kind of portal pulling you into another dimension. Maybe it takes you all the way back to your childhood and the gray house on the corner.

You remember riding your bike into the front yard and dropping it in the grass before running inside. The sound of your father’s voice after he got home telling you to go out and put your bike away and you remember what happened if you ever forgot. You burst through the front door and the house looks the same as the last time you were there and you start to call for your mother but the man with the gun suddenly grabs your arm pulling you toward him and tearing you away from your thoughts.  

Come on, he says. Let’s go. And you wonder if you should try to resist him but there’s nowhere to go inside the hallway. Where are we going? You ask and the man with the gun squeezes your arm and laughs. Wherever I say, he says.

He drags you down the hallway and out through the door bursting into the sunlight and you feel it warm all over your face. Where’s your car? The man with the gun says and you point to the parking lot in front of the building. The red one you tell him. He pulls you over to the car and you wonder if there’s anyone behind one of the curtained windows in any of the buildings witnessing what’s happening to you. Open it he says.

The man with the gun pulls you around to the driver’s side door before pushing you into the car.  For a moment you wonder if you have time to jump out through the passenger’s side but the man with the gun is already there, pointing the gun at you. The gun is less than a foot from your head so you don’t move. You stay where you are and wait for more instructions.

You drive through the city streets passing people here and there and they don’t pay any attention to you.  You feel the man with the gun watching you but you don’t look at him. He tells you which way to turn and you just keep driving. You drive out of the city and get on the interstate. You travel for about an hour while the man with the gun doesn’t say anything at all.  

Then the man with the gun points at the windshield telling you to take the next exit. You read the name on the sign and you have a strange feeling inside. You know this town. It’s the town where you grew up. The town you left behind so many years ago.  

The man with the gun tells you where to turn and how far to go and when he points to a house and says pull in here you can’t help but exclaim. I know this place. I used to live here.

Good for you says the man with the gun. Why are we stopping here you ask him. Shut up, says the man with the gun.

The man with the gun shoves the gun at you and tells you to get out. Nice and slow he says. He gets out of the car. The yard around the house doesn’t look much different from the way you remember it. Maybe there are a few more flowers around the sidewalk leading to the front door. Maybe there are some different trees but you still recognize the place and you’re filled with the strangest of feelings.

The man with the gun stays close behind you. He walks you to the back door and you enter the house remembering this is where the laundry room was when you were growing up. You see a washer and dryer and a small sink in one corner of the room. You imagine your mother standing over the washing machine pushing dirty clothes into the opening. 

The man with the gun pushes you into the kitchen and it looks the same way you remember it and you can almost smell bread baking. The man with the gun guides you to the stairway at the far end of the kitchen. 

The man with the gun tells you to go up the stairs. That’s where my room was you say aloud and the man with the gun thrusts the gun at you and says Go! The sound of your feet on the stairs reminds you of your father’s footsteps. Your feet on the stairs remind you of the way your father’s steps sounded when he made his way up to your room. His footsteps so heavy and so slow.

At the top of the stairs you see a window without a curtain but there’s a metal curtain rod above the window. It’s the same window you used to look out of so many years ago. There’s a glass angel with a broken wing dangling from the curtain rod. The angel catches the sun and dances in the light. You try to remember who it was that put the angel there but the name doesn’t come to you. The man with the gun points you away from the window and into the other room to the left of it.

This was my bedroom you tell him but the man with the gun just snorts as if he’s trying not to laugh. The man with the gun tells you to open the closet door. How do you know about that you ask him and it almost sounds like a chuckle escaping from his throat. You feel your father’s rough hands touching your arms again. You feel your father forcing you into the closet and shutting the door again. You hear your father locking the door as you slide down into the darkness of the closet. You don’t know how long it will be this time. You never know how long it will last.

The man with the gun raises his arm and aims the gun at you. You see the hole in the end of the barrel. You think about the small cave in the side of a hill you once crawled into when you were just a little boy. You don’t know what made you crawl into the cave or why you stayed in there for so long even when you heard the voices calling your name. The man with the gun fires two times and you fall backwards against the wall and you feel your breath catching in your throat. You feel something warm moving over you and then you can’t stop shivering. You hear the sound of your mother’s voice calling up to you from the bottom of the stairs. You better get down here and eat she says or it’s going to get cold.

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