One Foot in Front of the Other

06/25/24

Check the gun. That’s the ritual.

Check the magazine. Insert it back in. Pull the slide and check the chamber.

Check the clock. 8:27.

The night before I’m in the basement cleaning the gun again. All this work and after the job’s done the gun will be nothing but a puddle of molten slag, melted down with an oxy/acetylene torch and thrown into the river with the dozens of others.

I can see the back room through the elderly woman’s yard I’m parked in front of.

The woman has no family. No ring camera. I know because I’ve talked to her a week ago.

Check the clock again. 8:30.

I can see him through his back window dressed in his running gear. Like clockwork. Every night he runs on his treadmill then walks into the bathroom next to it and showers in his stand up shower. The treadmill faces the sliding door to the yard. The door doesn’t lock. Before bed he places a cut hockey stick in the track to prevent any intruders from entering.

I twist the titanium suppressor onto the barrel and tuck the pistol into my waistband. No neighbors are stirring. No one out on their porches smoking cigarettes. No joggers. It’s the kind of neighborhood where dark means stay indoors.

I exit the car and walk through the old woman’s yard, scaling the fence that separates her yard from the target.

I know his name, but it’s better to think of them as the target. Hunters don’t name deer before they shoot them. Same concept.

The stairs leading to the back door are rickety and rotten from years of weather, but I make it up without falling through. Gotta remember that on the way out.

I peek through the door and see him, already working up a sweat. It’s 25 degrees out here and the back room isn’t heated, so the glass on the door is already starting to fog up. With my gloved hand I grip the handle. Quickly I slide the door open and then shut behind me, my other arm extended with my weapon pointed at his forehead. It happens so fast he doesn’t even stop running; just makes a noise that’s part yell and part gasp.

I squeeze the trigger once and the bullet PTINKS out of the suppressor, entering his thoughts just above his left eyebrow. The wall behind him is painted with gore as his legs stop moving immediately, his body pushed against the wall directly behind the treadmill. It continues running, his face lying on top of the constantly moving belt. I watch for a minute as the flesh peels away, over and over until I can see the white of his skull, the treadmill straining and whining.

I think of how sensitive I once was, my mother telling me later in life with a laugh that I used to come to her room at night crying and when she would ask me what was wrong I would say, “The world is just so big.”

That boy has been long gone, replaced now by a man who has nothing, who has no one. Who can watch a man’s face peel away by a running treadmill and feel…

Nothing.

Gotta keep moving. I grab the spent casing and let myself out the same way I came in. Without the scraping of bone on treadmill it’s quiet outside and nothing moves. Only me.

Keep moving.

Back in the car I text the handler from the burner. It’s done.

The world is still so big. At least the boy and I can agree on that.

~ fin ~

tohnjeel

John Teel is a Union ironworker from Philadelphia. When he isn’t working, he’s spending time with his wife Jamie, their four kids and the ugliest rescue dog you ever laid eyes on.