The Preacher had been hiding out in a shed. It had taken us four months to track him. He was stinking and bearded. There was a bucket in the corner filled with things he’d expelled, and flies glitched over to the bucket, from him and back again. I’d smelled worse. People often evoke the smell of charred flesh, in writing especially, but the charred flesh is alright. It smells like breakfast. It’s the smell of the raw meat that sticks with you. I took out my gun. Freddie took out his. Shuddering, he spoke,
“You lads have lost your way. To kill a messenger of Jesus Christ, do you not fear for your souls? Leave me my life, accept God in to yours, and you will be forgiven. You will, you will, truly you will”.
“Well that depends old fella”.
“On what now?”
“Whether we need to do something here today that would need forgiving. Do you have what we’ve come for?”
“No, I’m sorry. I can have it by next month, I’m sorry. I swear on Jesus our lord and savior, on my ma’s grave, I swear it”.
I lifted my gun. Freddie lifted his.
“That’s not good enough I’m afraid”.
He spluttered rather than breathed. The contours of his throat deepened like the revolving chambers of a six shooter.
“No, no! Wait, God Almighty. Have you no respect for the sanctity of life?”
My stomach cramped up.
“Aye the first person I killed, I cried all night. Then my friend stepped on a land mine, and as I dodged falling toes and splinters of shin, I did scream. Again I cried all night. I thought about dying myself. Surely there was no way I’d get home. I saw this every day. Sometimes I knew them, sometimes I knew of them, and most of the time they were just anonymous blood balloons, leaking all over and bursting. No, life isn’t sacred, but death might be…
Freddie shot two into his chest. The Preacher leaked nicely on the floor.
“Freddie, I was talking to the man”.
“Sorry, it just seemed like a good place in what you were saying to do it like. He’s still breathing. Say what you’ve got to say, quickly mind”.
“Freddie he’s bled half to death, he’s not going to be lending me his ear at this point”.
The Preacher gargled, mumbling where he was able. Freddie shot him just above the right eye. It hung loose, rolling gently on his cheek. Little bits of brain fell out his head, and bounced on the floor. They looked like popcorn if popcorn was meat. Reminded me how hungry I was. I didn’t have breakfast on account of having to come early morning to find this old fella.
“Can we leave? I’m starving over here, no reason we got to die along with this one”.
He had great blood. Slightly deeper red than most you see. It looked thicker. He mustn’t have had a drop of alcohol for decades. Maybe he ate too much salt. Perhaps it was just the floor.
“Isn’t that good blood”?
Freddie looked down at the dead thing, then turned to me with diving eye brows,
“What are you talking about, psycho”.
“The colour, it’s nice isn’t it, so rich. That’s the shade I want in my hallway. And don’t be off calling me a lunatic now, I’ve just seen you shoot that man in his guts twice, then in the head. There needed be only one, sadist”.
Last words are always interesting. They’re more interesting than first words. My first word was no. Funny how my first words answer his last words. It’s all backwards it is. The sanctity of life he says. See I went for a walk along the pier one afternoon a few months after I got home. It must have been around four pm. I was entirely alone, it was high tide, and the moon was strung fat and low, but there was still a nice light. The sky was fading gently from white on the horizon to a ghostly blue, getting deeper the higher you looked, and the water looked like molten opals. Opals that lapped, and lulled, and shivered on forever beyond sight. Now, sometimes some things make you forget that you’re on planet earth. Make your favourite Monet look like a cave drawing. They make you forget about sex, or that you have a dick at all. They make you forget you’re even alive, they make you forget about death, and as I sat that day on that bench I realised I’ve never dreamed anything so perfectly gorgeous. That was sacred. Not him, not his popcorn brains, not me, not my family, or his, not the living nor the dead, just the motion of the melted opals and the stillness of the greedy moon. That was sacred. Last week I lifted an old, warped pan off the stove with hot oil in it. I listened to the popping bubbles ping against the surface of the pan. It was this robotic orchestra of metallic harmonies that made Beethoven sound like shit. That was glorious. That was sacred.