by JOSEPH LAMBACH
hey’d said it was just a game. Where you close your eyes, the blindfold way, not the squinting into the sun kind. And Jeremiah’d been there first, lined up, hands scrubbed clean, his dad’s nickel plated 1911 hanging from his fingertips. Like a cottonmouth that might launch, fangs barred, grab him the first chance it gets.
Just show up, walk in, try not to scream.
That was the pecking order for the whole ordeal. Not that the rules were really written down, photocopied, distributed anywhere. Definitely not on the hallway bulletin board.
Freshmen were stupid, were supposed to just play follow the leader. The way the senior quarterback could point and curl a finger, and pop goes the weasel, the guys would just come running.
Some sort of Friday Night Lights type of appeal.
A ring leader. Not that he actually existed, but there were always the alpha males leading the Fall Festival Bash, and the Freshmen lined up, down for whatever brought them into the group.
The way actors and celebrities owned L.A. Evolution in its truest form. Breaking the weak from the pack.
The football team kicking them in the balls, so to speak.
Jeremiah was beyond gung ho, supposed to be guaranteed second string quarter back in the fall. Not that he couldn’t launch a football, couldn’t run, but it was the weight standard thing. Not benching quite enough. Not enough for Coach. Not enough yet, at least.
A month of two a days, and he'd get there. In time.
First string next year if Chris Kyle actually graduated this time.
The way Mississippi farm boys sometimes lied, didn’t quite make the cut for the cap and gown ceremony. To stay along for that extra year of Senior glory. For a second, maybe third year in a row.
Not that the principal minded the banners hanging around town. State Champions year after year.
The age old Caveman syndrome. Beating their chests off campus, shit talking the next town over at the closest watering hole.
Beer and men, being boys with fake guns bang-bang-banging their insults back and forth. Snide comments with all the intention in the world of maybe just starting a fight. The one where they knew they could win.
Power in numbers, that whole concept.
The way growing up on a farm and seeing everyone else stick to not ever leaving their home town.
Not saying that the family tree wasn’t moving North, understood everyone stuck around, drove the same beat up, dusty old Fords and Chevys, and shot off fireworks almost every drunk weekend of the year.
And Jeremiah’s dad, the same as everyone else. Just with a couple inches on them all.
That 1911 packed away, polished, hidden under a towel in the master bedroom closet. It didn't take a genius to find it.
He'd been five the first time.
A few years later, elementary school, then middle school, then it was Freshman year. And the Bash, Fall making the beginning of the year worth looking forward to.
Word spreading around school, the cotton farm fire kind of way. Poof, and everyone knows.
It only takes one match.
Then the whole school's there, the curtains open, lights on inside, heavy breathing fogging up the windows. Then the dicks and cocks etched in fog on the glass, those same old gutter mouth jokes all the mommas slap them for at home.
Jeremiah knocked, the door to the trailer creaked open, no light. The flash light was in the truck, but he wasn’t no pussy.
Then the hands. Over his mouth, his eyes, more reaching out, bear hugging him from behind.
The gun fell. Hit the floor like an earthquake on the hollowed out floor boards. Jeremiah could hear the oh shits, and feet shuffling around. Playing ‘Dance Dance Revolution’ around the nickel and pearl. But more careful this way.
Not just kids dumping quarters into a machine, moving initials up and down the menu.
This time, trying not to get one over on the next guy.
Except for maybe Jeremiah.
But this time it’s supposed to be all fun and games. Or, just the game.
There was no masking the voice. The first string quarterback the whole town knew.
Chris Kyle. Giving everyone else commands. Just being the head honcho, the arm he was born with, entitling him to being one of these alpha males.
Maybe being the ringleader for this one.
He bent over, patted Jeremiah on the shoulder, whispered something about him knowing the rules without being told, outright.
Jeremiah kept his eyes slammed shut, knew his place in this pecking order, wasn't about to mess up the Bash because he couldn't keep up with tradition.
"It's simple, really, Jeremiah." Chris Kyle, throwing spirals with his words.
Jeremiah nods yes, he understands. Wouldn't miss it for the world.
Chris pats him again. Fatherly. "Good."
The silence is there, for a split second, then the movement of bodies. Arms swishing around, shoulders brushing, bodies in motion. Physics really.
Maybe it’s a gun Jeremiah hears, the sound of metal against moving skin. His eyes, though, closed, blindfold tight.
Chris again, “You know, it’s nothing against you, personally. Just the Freshman thing. And your dad, man, he was the pioneer after all.”
Jeremiah nods again. Mouths something, but it’s dark, and every one's watching the current high school football star. The Mount Everest of them all in that exact moment.
Chris Kyle, all legend. Who Mississippi needs—who that county needs at least.
Jeremiah, sitting there, sweat dripping down his rib cage, comfortable in this habitat.
Gun grease, he can smell it, so familiar. As familiar as his dad. That smell that lingered in the kitchen, after his dad left, thinking that covering the 1911 with his shirt was enough to hide it from Jeremiah.
This time, though, it’s right under his nose, almost clogging all the other senses.
Except for his heart, he can feel it. Everywhere. Chris Kyle can’t even talk over this, for a few seconds at least.
“You might lead the team next year, Jeremiah.”
More movement, but only one person this time, it’s more the sound of his shirt and metal rubbing together. Maybe it’s the sound of polishing.
“Hopefully,” Jeremiah says.
“But, you gotta understand, it’s all about the trust. Leading the team, all that.”
Chris is somewhere behind Jeremiah. A lighter flickers, smoke, coughing.
“Leading them, Jeremiah, you gotta fucking lead them. But they gotta trust you.”
Then it’s cold where his spine and skull meet. Metal on the back of his head—Jeremiah’s—that calculated feeling.
Weed, thick and drifting everywhere, and Jeremiah’s taking it in. Trying the second hand smoke thing. Thinks this is how it has to happen. Tradition, all that.
“And my Daddy,” Chris Kyle, again, “he’s gonna be at the Bash tomorrow, going to lead the whole town in doing it right. For the third year in a row. But, you know that right?”
Jeremiah nods, breathes in more smoke. More of that second hand kind.
Then it’s all slow, the room, the words, Mississippi, the earth and its axis.
Maybe another half hour later, maybe it’s longer this time. Chris says, “It doesn’t matter.”
That cold spot, it’s there, but on his forehead this time.
“I don’t know who here touched your 1911. But it’s the trust thing. You see, you either trust the team or you don’t. The team and God, one of them’s got your back.”
More and more smoke. Slower and slower.
“So, Jeremiah, do you trust me?” Chris presses the barrel deeper into Jeremiah’s forehead, making it a repetitive question this way.
Jeremiah, he’s all poise, confidence, nods yes.
But the gun’s louder than Chris Kyle thinks it will be. Everything just deep, deep red.
Then it’s another year, and Chris Kyle’s lobbing touch downs. Giving the principal—the town—giving them another banner. Another championship. Another Fall Festival Bash to get moonshine drunk on.
Strutting down the only hallway in that high school, pointing a finger, so alpha male, and more stupid Freshmen come running.
Joseph Lambach is married and the father of two beautiful children. He currently works as an avionics tech during the day, and spends most nights trying to get stories out of his head and onto paper. He lives in Southern California where he runs the electronic magazine The Dying Goose and is working on his first novel.
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