Arrows

By Bud Smith

Short Story

Good Luck: Episode Fifty-Seven

 

Now I will get to the battle part. I hope I tell it all right. I am not very good at writing action scenes. How are you at reading them?

Earlier this year, I was thinking about how I needed to try and write down this event in my life, and I was absolutely dreading it. I thought to read and study War and Peace to see how Tolstoy handled Napoleon and all his friends at Austerlitz, and the horses and the sabres and the cannon fire and all that, but I never got around to it. It’s probably fine. 

This battle had no horses, or sabres, or cannon fire. There was only one gun.

We had it. 

But we were outnumbered, ten to one. 

I looked out the window and wanted to puke. 

They were charging at us from a great distance. The house shook. Those feet pounded the ground. Bodies getting closer in the terrible night. Three hundred torches waved in the air. My heart fluttered. 

Grandpa was up in the attic with a rifle. Just as I thought about him, he began to peel the shots off, one after another. Soon the house of memory stunk like gun powder. 

The charge, as large as it was, streaming out of the woods, halted around the twentieth rifle shot. They’d been spooked. Grandpa kept shooting. A voice screamed, “Retreat!” Figures were dead on the ground in the moonlit field. But as I watched the masses retreat, I saw Death come onto the field, and I saw it reach down and help the dead memories up one by one, and they went off dancing together to the far west, or was it east, or was at south, or was it north? I had a hard enough time telling direction when I was in reality.

I turned and looked around the living room. The memories there with me were positively shivering. Some held broomsticks and some were armed with cast iron pans. My Uncle John, wheelchair-bound and not yet recovered from a recent stroke, had a rolling pin on his lap. What were these wonderful people to do? 

Then I realized why they were looking at me so intently. We’d come to the moment when I was supposed to deliver some kind of rousing speech. I didn’t want to do it. Seemed corny as shit. But I knew these living memories of mine had seen too many movies where it’d happened to powerful effect. 

My oldest Grandma especially wanted the speech. She was the one who stood there in the purple floral shirt and in the green polyester pants and who was 70 or 71, who’d come from a memory of 1995 or ’96. She was expecting this rousing speech because she’d read The Lord of the Rings, and had seen Gene Hackman’s inspirational speech in Hoosiers, her favorite movie of 1986, and then she’d seen Mel Gibson give his ‘They may take our lives but they’ll never take our freeeeedom’ speech in Braveheart–her favorite movie until her death in 2002. She shifted her hefty weight to the other foot and cleared her throat, ahem, ahem. I shook my head. 

Some of my grandmothers a few years younger, in other floral shirts and other polyester pants and with pigment still in their hair and teeth before dentures, may have been thinking of George C. Scott standing in front of the giant American flag, playing Patton, in the movie of the same name. I didn’t give them that speech either.

I was alive, and I suppose I was scared too. Too scared to inspire them. I didn’t want to wind up in some mental institution, drooling, my mind erased again. So I just blurted out, “It’s going to be all right.” And that was it. 

Instead of a slow clap, the memory of one of my young mothers began to weep and a few others did too, and I hugged and assured them, “You’ve all got to be strong…or something.”

Outside, far off, I heard someone scream my name. And let me tell you, if I never have to hear someone scream my name in bloodcurdling doom again, I’ll feel happy and lucky about it. I looked out a little peephole in the wood nailed over the big window and I saw him out there, that little Charles Manson-looking freak dressed all in black. His arms were raised over his head. I saw a wall of fire behind him. He screamed my name again. I called up to Grandpa, “Shoot that punk.” When no shots rang out, my father went up to the attic to check on him. He was gone a moment and came down huffing and puffing, saying Grandpa was almost out of ammo and didn’t wanna waste any on a long shot. 

I called up that if you shot that particular guy, who seemed to be the leader of all the bad memories, then maybe we’d get lucky, like if you murdered Dracula all the regular vampires would turn back to doe-eyed happy mortals no longer thirsty for blood. Who knew how this shit worked? My dad said, “So Bud, you’re telling me that guy is Dracula?”

My name was screamed again. I looked out the window and now the man in black had a hostage. He yelled, “I’ll end her life. Surrender.” My eyes have always been kind of weak. I think I’ve had glasses since I was eight years old. Astigmatisms. Then I heard Rae’s sweet voice call out my name in fear. 

“The balls on this guy,” I said to the memories standing around the living room. I yelled up to Grandpa to take the shot. Everyone gasped. The Aunt Elaines yelled, “No no no.” They love Rae so much. But then the rifle went off. I saw the hostage fall to the ground. The men in black ran to join the others, totally out of range.

My Aunt Elaines and my grandmothers and my moms were bawling giant tears and I told them, “Save it. She’s fine.” 

“She was shot in the head! She’s not fine!” 

I took out my phone and called the real Rae, put her on speaker phone. She answered on the seventh ring. “Wuuuuuuzzz up?” She sounded drunk. 

“You’re okay?”

“I’m great! I’m out drinking with Janelle and some girls from work. Are you all right?” 

“I’m fine, yeah, nothing to worry about. I just wanted to check in.” 

“How was your day? Are you still at work?” 

“No, I didn’t make it into work,” I said. “I’m actually at my house of memory right now.” 

“Okay. I don’t think I’ll be out much later. See you at the apartment?”  

“No, take your time, this seems like it’ll a take awhile. We’re under siege. But it’s fine, I think. There’re a lot of them but they’ve just got sticks and stones.” 

“Sounds good. Be careful. Love you, babe.” 

“Love you too.” I hung up the phone and I called Rae’s name. She walked out from a far room, where 2019’s memories were forming, and joined us in the living room. “They didn’t kill Rae, she’s right here. I remember her. Do you remember her? We are okay.” Rae hiccuped. “We’re going to win this. I’m not going back to the hospital again. That’s all there is to it. We’re going to stop them. And then we’re going to get on with our lives.”

My brother William ran down the hallway. He was back from his raid of the sporting goods store where I used to get my little league gear–mitts and bats and cleats and all that stuff. He was carrying a bow and arrow. Behind him were other Williams, carrying other bows, other quivers of arrows.

“’Bout time,” one of my Dads said. 

The Williams were in a great big hurry to get to the windows. They looked, in all their glory, like they were finally living out their dream of starring in Night of the Living Dead, or Zulu or some shit. One of the Williams in a red beret handed me a bow and arrow. 

I said, “I don’t know how to shoot this thing.” 

“Pull back the string and let it rip,” two Dads said in unison. But he’d been a deer hunter and I’d never showed any interest in doing that with them, and so had never learned, just like I’d never showed any interest in working on cars with them and had never learned. Supposedly I knew how to write some sentences. You be the judge of that.  

I looked out the window. The mass of bodies ran at the house in full force again. The gun went off upstairs. This time they kept running. “Hold your arrows,” one of my fathers said. I pulled back my bow string. “Hold. Keep holding.” My hand started to hurt like hell.

“I’m just going to shoot,” I said. “It’s hard to hold the string back.” 

“Hold!” Two of the Aunt Elaine’s shrieked and hid behind the couch.

My father said “Fire!”

Arrows soared across the field. Bodies tumbled over into the grass, arrows punctured chests and bellies and one of them even got it in the face, through the mouth out the neck, Jesus Christ, gross, utterly disgusting, I wished I didn’t have to see it all. I released my bow string and I hurt myself like a little bitch. “I think I just sprained my wrist.” Everyone else kept shooting arrows. I yelled at the oldest William, the lead William, “Why didn’t you get some guns?”

“I tried, the second amendment libtards, have that fucking snowflake waiting period thing.”

“For handguns,” Dad said, “You could have gotten shotguns. Right to arrows?”

“There wasn’t time,” One of the Williams said, and was right back in the window shooting arrows. He was good at shooting arrows. Shit. Maybe he should have been in the army or something. But I guess the army doesn’t use arrows anymore. Whatever.

“The fuck there wasn’t time,” one of my fathers said to the group of my other fathers. They were all about the same age, mid-fifties and had survived earlier raids because they had been in the den, watching Banacek or Colombo DVDs together while others had foraged for food. 

More arrows. Arrow after arrow. My brothers fired on and on. Screams of pain outside. I felt bad. The memories were close enough now that I could see they were often just kids I went to school with who’d had some problem with me in science class or the lunch room, or someone who had gotten too drunk at a party and had wanted to fight me about some girl. I spotted some guy who’d cut me off in traffic in 1999. I even saw one of my former coworkers, Charlie, and the only reason Charlie was a bad memory was that he’d gotten laid off and I’d felt guilty that I’d gotten to stay at the job. Well, there you go Charlie, there’s an arrow from my brother, I’m sorry, I really am.  

I looked away. Oh well. I would’ve preferred Nazis or goblins or orcs. I said to one of my brothers, “This is terrible. I can’t do this.”

He shouted, “Take these bullets up to Grandpa. Make yourself useful.”

The angriest of my fathers shouted, “When were you going to mention the bullets, Will?” I expected William to shoot my father with an arrow but instead he just acted like he hadn’t heard the criticism, a classic tactic. 

I picked up the sack of bullets and carried them up to the attic. Grandpa was in a hospital bed now and there was a nurse about to hook him up to a life support machine.

“What are you doing?” I said to him.

“What’s it look like? I’m dying.”

“You can’t die right now,” I said.

And he said, “This family is exhausting. You can’t do anything for yourselves. I fought in World War II! I’m tired!”

“Listen, I’ve got bullets. Can you at least show me how to load the gun before you die?” 

I heard a great crash of bodies against the exterior walls of the house. I heard more screams of anguish. At the attic window I saw hands below, reaching out through holes in the wood, stabbing the attacking force, kitchen knives, forks. It was all so useless. The horde had the house surrounded and they were pressing in. The property was engulfed. In the distance, I saw the battering ram being dragged forward over the lingering casualties on the battlefield.

“These are the wrong shells anyway,” Grandpa said, throwing the bag on the floor. His nurse was angry. She told me visiting hours were over, sent me out of the attic.

I ran down the stairs and some of the Williams were brandishing samurai swords now and they didn’t seem very adept and I was worried they would cut their own feet or accidentally hurt one of my mothers. I said, “Forget the fight. We’ve got to get out. Everyone come with me.”

The wood was breaking on the windows. The door bulged. The only chance we had was to play hide and seek in the farthest fuzziest room of my memory house and hope the horde didn’t find us, eat us, turn me into a vegetable again. 

I opened a random door and it was 1985 and a small memory of my little brother and I were in there hiding. Tiny kids. I found them under the bed and made them come with us. I opened the closet, and saw someone had busted down the wall at the back of the closet. We went inside. I guided everyone into the passage and then I fixed the clothes on the hangers, hoping the passage wasn’t easily discoverable by anyone coming after us. We ran through the passage, stumbling into a memory of my wedding day at the historic Loew’s Theatre in Journal Square.   

On the stage in the theatre, I did a head count. There were nineteen of us. Whimpering. I told everyone to be quiet, relax. We hid behind the crimson velvet curtains in the back of the theatre where Rae and I had held our nuptial ceremony.

Above and below and to the left and the right, I heard rumbles of thunder. I realized it was the battering ram. The side of the house broke open. I heard the storm of bodies bursting into the house. Intruders shouting victory. 

All we could do was hide and wait and hope they had forgotten about us.

 

 

BUD SMITH lives in Jersey City and works construction. He is the author of the novel Teenager (Tyrant Books, 2020), among others.

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