(Enjoy a preview of Deadman’s Tome Campfire Tales)

Standing with one eye shut in front of the shooting gallery at the county fair, Billy Hogan felt the crotch of his jeans tighten and raised his air rifle slowly. He didn’t budge. All the while his father’s words echoed in the confines of his mind: “You’ve got to get ’em when they don’t expect it, son! Ask yourself what Jesus would do and your aim will be true!” His father stood directly behind the boy with his brawny arms folded. Billy felt his hard stare driving him to succeed.

He stared at the yellow ducks passing by, watching them with deadpan eyes but seeing nothing, and knocked them down without missing a beat.

#

On one of their frequent trips into the dense woods behind their house, Billy’s father, a big bearish man with a grizzly beard, usually bagged a deer, or sometimes a bunch of squirrels, with four bullets, one for each of his victims. He never wasted a shot, no matter what.

Mr. Hogan taught his son how to focus on his target, at all costs. He stressed the importance of waiting until the prey appeared in the center of the telescopic site before taking the shot. “Like a martyr on the Cross” was the phrase he used to make the concept easier for young Billy to grasp. In Sunday school, he learned that a martyr was someone who endured great suffering for a cause they believed in, just like Jesus did.

Billy watched in awe as his father raised his Remington Pump Action shotgun swiftly and silently. He froze, shut one eye, squinted with the other, took a deep breath, switched off the safety, and waited until his prey, a deer this time, entered the crosshairs in the telescopic site before he exhaled, squeezed the trigger and the young buck fell down, dead.

Sometimes he would let Billy hold the rifle on his own when the magazine was empty, the muzzle still smoking from a recent kill. The boy loved the feel of it, sleek and heavy. It was a man’s gun, not a child’s toy, cheap and light, like the BB gun he’d had his eye on at the fair.

His father stood behind him, guiding his movements while Billy struggled to hold the gun level. Billy felt his breath hot, whiskey sour in his ear. “Don’t worry, Billy, you’ll grow into it before you know it.”

Billy nodded. “I can hardly wait.”

“Be patient, son. I know it’s hard, but you can’t rush perfection. You’ve got to take it as it comes.” He shook his head. “Always remember, practice makes perfect.”

The boy grinned. “I know, Dad.”

His father placed his callused index finger on top of Billy’s tender one and together they caressed the trigger before squeezing off a shot.

#

The old man behind the counter at the fair, dressed in a red and white pin-striped shirt and black pants, was aghast as he watched the tall, lanky kid standing in front of him knock everything down there was to hit, including the mechanical mother goose that flapped her wings right between the eyes. A crowd gathered ’round to witness the freakish occurrence, this being the first time someone ever hit everything the first time around.

Before he knew it, the man was shouting, “We have a winner!” He unlocked the glass case the housed the Grand Prize: a BB gun complete with telescopic site. Billy had had his eye on it since last year’s fair but at that time he had not been skilled enough to win it.

But a lot had happened since he turned ten this past summer: His penis got hard for no apparent reason when he least expected it, and he was frequently roused from exciting dreams about guns or girls by a warm dampness in his underwear.

The man behind the counter bent down to whisper in his ear: “Be careful how you handle this gun, boy. It can be extremely dangerous if it’s not used properly. Someone could get hurt.”

Billy nodded with a shit-eating grin plastered across his face. “Look what I won, Dad!” He grasped the gun tightly in his wiry arms and pointed it at a slight angle before bringing it over to his father.

“You’ve earned it, Billy. That was some fancy shooting back there. I’m impressed. You’ve got talent, son, that’s half the battle. Now you’ve got to whet your appetite for the hunt.” His father patted him on the heads.

“I aim to please.” He tucked the BB gun under his arm.

#

On their walk back through the woods, Billy’s father nodded his approval. “I see you’ve finally learned how to shoot your load.”

“Yeah…right, Dad.” Billy blushed and kept his eyes on the ground, embarrassed by his choice of words.

“I’m talking about the prize you just won!” He pointed to the BB gun. “I think it’s time we had a talk about the birds and the bees.” His father winked.

Billy rolled his eyes. “No one calls it that anymore. Stop trying to disguise sex. I already know the basics. I’m a real fast learner.”

Mr. Hogan snickered. “I’ll bet you are!”

The boy climbed the cracked cement stairs the lead to the back door, dug his house keys out of the front pocket of his jeans, being careful not to aggravate his raging hard-on, and unlocked the door. His father closed it gently behind him without saying a word, walked over to the fridge, pulled out a can of root beer and handed it to Billy. Then he grabbed some ice from the freezer, dropped it into a rocks glass and topped it off with a generous serving of single-malt whiskey, a clear sign his little talk would be long, involved and probably boring. Billy decided to get comfortable; setting his new BB gun across his lap, he felt self-conscious about his hard-on, though he doubted his father would notice it from the other side of the table.

Billy opened his root beer and took a long sip.

His father took a swig of whiskey, set his glass down on the table, and pushed it aside, more intent on the task at hand.

“Let us pray for forgiveness and strength.” He made the sign of the Cross, closed his eyes, and bowed his head.

The boy mimicked his movements.

Together, they recited their favorite prayer: “Our Father, who art in Heaven, hallowed be thy name; thy Kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in Heaven. Give us this day our daily bread, and forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us; and lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil. Amen.”

Billy’s father opened his eyes and cleared his throat. “Good sex with a woman is even better than that adrenaline rush you’re probably still feeling after your impressive performance at the fair.”

Billy smirked, guilty as charged. “The thrill of the kill really gets me going.”

The older man grunted and continued his lecture. “When you handle a gun or a woman, if you’ve enjoyed yourself, you’ll shoot your load without thinking about it. Of course the gun requires your undivided attention. You’ve got to zero in on your target at the exact moment it’s in your sights, or else you’ll miss your chance at the kill.”

His father paused to down the rest of his whiskey and wipe his mouth with the back of his hand. “When you’re with a woman, you’ve got total control, you’ve got your bullet in her chamber, pumping her full of lead, so to speak. Do you follow me?”

Billy finished off his soda. “Uh, I think so…Handling a gun is more of a challenge because you have limited control over what you’re after. But when you’re with a woman, and you’ve got more experience than I do, the challenge isn’t always there, but the excitement is.”

Billy’s father reached slowly across the table and patted one of his son’s bony shoulders. “Well, son, I couldn’t have said it better myself.”

#

Armed with his father’s words of wisdom and his brand new BB gun, Billy ran out back to the woods where he could pursue livelier game before it got too dark.

“Ask yourself what Jesus would do and your aim will be true.”

He paused when he heard something rustling to his left. A tiny chipmunk wiggled its nose and looked around, sensing danger, but not knowing who the enemy was.

Instinctively, Billy aimed in that direction, setting his sights on the disturbance, and pulled the trigger. The furry creature, concealed by dead leaves until the shot blew its cover, yelped and tried to flee, but he launched a BB directly into its hindquarters paralyzing it instantly. Billy clutched the gun in one hand and grabbed his prize, still squealing, by the scruff of its neck in the other. He rushed home, dropped the dying thing down on the back stoop, and ran inside to get his father, who was busy in the kitchen making venison stew for supper.

“Dad, come see what I got!” Billy grinned, finding it nearly impossible to contain his excitement.

His father stepped outside, looked down at Billy’s catch, gritted his teeth and said: “Wounded game is nothing more than a wasted shot! Bring me back something that’s dead tomorrow, or I’ll take that BB gun away and give it to a boy who knows how to use it properly!” He kicked the writhing chipmunk off the stoop into a pile of dead leaves, ignoring the pool of blood left in its wake, and went back inside, slamming the door behind him.

#

The next afternoon, not wanting to disappoint his father again, Billy snatched his BB gun from its usual spot against the wall next to his bed and crept out to the woods in search of an easy target. He felt his dick get hard in anticipation of the hunt. Perched high in a tree directly in front of him, Billy spied the perfect target a squirrel nibbling on an acorn.

He took a deep breath and set his sights on the tiny creature, waiting anxiously for the exact moment his target became a martyr on the Cross. His trigger finger twitched; he struggled to hold it still until the time was right.

Billy fired.

Still clutching the acorn, the squirrel hit the ground with a soft thud. Billy scooped up his catch and rushed back to the house, eager to make his father proud.

“Dad, look what I got!” He held the dead rodent up for his father to see.

“Nice shot, son. Right in the eye. Kills ’em every time! Remember that and you’ll never go wrong!” Billy’s father grabbed the carcass and admired the BB shining dully in the socket where the squirrel’s left eye had been. “This little fella’s a keeper!”

Billy licked his lips. “Can you stuff and mount him for me, so I can keep him on the dresser, next to my bed? A trophy is sure to inspire me.”

“You betcha!” His father winked.

#

The sun resembled a bloody orb sinking slowly in the western sky when Billy went out to the garage to swipe his father’s Remington Pump Action shotgun for a little experimental adventure in search of the ultimate fare game. The gun was much heavier than the BB gun he was used to, because it was a man’s gun. Billy hardly noticed the extra weight. Tremendous excitement filled him with deeper purpose.

While he set out on his mission, Billy tried to think of a place with targets that moved faster and were tougher to hit than the ones at the shooting gallery. He camped out in the tall grass a few miles away from the woods and waited for a commuter train to pass by; he decided that would do quite nicely. Billy set up his father’s camcorder on the tripod he’d brought and adjusted the focus, so he could record himself in action for posterity.

A few minutes later Billy heard a familiar whistle not too far off in the distance. He walked a few feet in front of the camera and stood off to the right, ready to open fire as soon as the train appeared. When it sped by in one big silver blur, he locked on to a random window, thumbed off the safety and fired in rapid succession. It was much harder to hit something moving so fast, but Billy managed to rise to the occasion.

That done Billy shut off the camera grabbed his gear and headed for home. He reloaded his father’s rifle carefully, so he wouldn’t suspect a thing, and put it back in the rifle rack out in the garage before heading into the house.

As usual, his father was in the living room watching the news and drinking single-malt whiskey. He turned around when he heard the back door slam and glared quickly at his son, not noticing the camcorder case in Billy’s hand. “Where you been, boy? You had me worried.”

Billy shrugged. “I had a train to catch.”

Mr. Hogan nodded vaguely and turned back to the television with a sense of wonder. “Get a load of this, son: an unidentified sniper just shot six passengers on a rush-hour commuter train. Turns out he only fired six bullets–one for each victim. He must’ve been quite a shot.”

Billy glanced at the raw footage and grinned. His father had a keen eye.

“Let me show you where I’ve been.” He took out the videotape he had just made and popped it in the VCR, so his father could see how much progress he made in the week that passed since he won the BB gun at the fair. Billy pressed PLAY and sat down on the couch next to his father to admire his handiwork up close.

Billy’s father was speechless as he watched his son stand off to the right, hidden by the tall grass, poised, ready to open fire as soon as the train was in view. When it sped by, he saw his son lock on to a window and start firing in rapid succession. His father winced when he heard gunfire and saw glass shatter. The passengers’ shrieks were drowned by the noise of the rumbling train, but the camera angle managed to catch one bloody face locked in a scream, providing a silent soundtrack to the carnage.

Slowly, still in shock, his father turned off the television, finished his whiskey, and shook his head. “How could you do something like this with my good rifle?”

“It was easy, I waited for the right moment when my target became a martyr on the Cross, just like you taught me. Then I shot my load without thinking about it. I sure caught those folks off guard, didn’t I? I was so excited I didn’t know I hit the train until I played back the tape, just now…” He started to laugh. “I really wanted to impress you; it looks like I’ve exceeded your expectations.”

“This is no joke, son. Shooting animals is a sport. But shooting people is different; it’s murder plain and simple. You’ve committed a serious crime.” His father’s scrunched-up face tried to drive the message home, but from Billy’s blank stare, Mr. Hogan could see that the boy didn’t understand what he had done at all. “You know, son, you could go to jail if anyone finds out you did this. What drove you to go out and shoot up a train?”

Billy stopped laughing. “You did.”

“I never told you to shoot anyone! You always twist my words around into something else! You don’t listen, you’re too busy hearing what you want to!” Billy’s father shook his head in amazement.

“You told me to ask myself what Jesus would do and my aim would be true. That’s exactly what I did; it works wonders every time.” He grinned. “I wanted to make you proud, Dad.”

“Well, you went about it all wrong. If you’d only asked me I would’ve taken you out to the woods and let you shoot some deer, instead of watching me do it. This time you’ve gone too far!” He shook his head. “You’ve got to think about the consequences of your actions, boy. I thought you knew that by now, but I guess I was dead wrong!”

Billy buried his hands deep in the pockets of his jeans. “I, uh… don’t know what came over me. I got caught up in the moment.”

“Come on, show me exactly where you found that rifle!” He grabbed his son by the arm and dragged him out of the house, to the garage where he kept his guns.

With his trigger finger, Billy pointed to the rifle rack hidden in a dark corner of the garage. “It was empty when you showed me how to shoot.” He bit his lip.

“You still don’t want to be pointing an empty gun at people, boy!” Without giving it much thought, Billy’s father grabbed the gun his son had taken without permission, switched off the safety, and pointed it right at the boy.

Billy felt the crotch of his jeans tighten. He stared at his father with vacant brown eyes; knelt down on the cold, dirty floor, spread his arms wide and waited.

His father’s hand shook uncontrollably, accidentally discharging the loaded gun. A single bullet lodged itself in the boy’s left eye.

Billy hit the ground with a soft thud, a pool of blood surrounding his head like a halo. A similar wetness spread across the crotch of Billy’s jeans as the final jolts of the boy’s body stretched a wan smile over his proud face.

About the author:

Amy Grech has sold over 100 stories to various anthologies and magazines including: Apex Magazine, Beat to a Pulp: Hardboiled, Dead Harvest, Detectives of the Fantastic, Volume II, Expiration Date, Fear on Demand, Fright Mare, Funeral Party 2, Inhuman Magazine, Needle Magazine, Reel Dark, Shrieks and Shivers from the Horror Zine, Space & Time, Tales from The Lake Vol. 3, The Horror Within, Under the Bed, and many others. New Pulp Press published her book of noir stories, Rage and Redemption in Alphabet City.

She is an Active Member of the Horror Writers Association and the International Thriller Writers who lives in Brooklyn. Visit her website: http://www.crimsonscreams.com. Follow Amy on Twitter: @Amy_Grech

Owner of Dedman Productions, a small production company that focuses on bringing entertainment in both fiction and film.

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