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The Beginning

When you think about kids with BB guns, little rascals dressed as cowboys come to mind.

Not here in the Gutter. When we think about kids with BB guns, we slam our doors and lock them.

The Beginning by Bill Baber

My Daddy told me this was the place where I was destined to end up. Sure enough, like he was most always, the son of a bitch was right. I had arrived at the Big House just like he said I would. And when the Huntsville Prison gates slammed behind me, I thought for sure it was a sound that came straight from hell.

My old man was a Pentecostal preacher and he believed most of that fire and brimstone nonsense. Especially the part about spare the rod, spoil the child. He never spared it none and used a rod, a belt or a switch damn near daily. He thought he could beat God into me but I think all he did was make me meaner.

We lived on the outskirts of Cleveland, a little town between Beaumont and Houston. My ma was a little slip of a thing, thin lipped and dour and she was never one to dole out much in the way of nurturing. She mostly cow-towed to the old man, kept the house, cooked the meals and wore her hair pulled back in a severe, tight bun that I always thought was too tight for her tiny head and that she would be happier if she let her hair down once in a while and tried to get some joy out of life. But that wasn’t allowed by the God who ruled over my father’s house.

I remember the first time he told me I had the devil in me and that I would come to no good. I was ten years old. There was a hundred acres of cotton fields behind our house. A boy named Bobby Ray Chambers lived in a little house at the north end of those fields. His father was a tenant farmer for a rich man who lived in town named Carson Flynn. The Chambers’ were as poor as dirt; there were six of them living in that three room house, Bobby Ray, his ma and Daddy and three sisters. Bobby Ray had a BB rifle and one winter day when those fields were fallow, he was out there with his old dog shooting sparrows. He was a year or so older than me but smaller so he didn’t argue much when I took his gun. I checked and the tube was full of shot. It was a pump gun and I pumped it three times. That old dog was sniffing through the fields and was about fifty feet out in front of us. I took aim on his rear and pulled the trigger. The dog yelped and ran off in the direction of the house.

“What did you do that for?” Bobby Ray asked. “You hurt that poor dog. He wasn’t doin’ nothin’ to you.”

“Wanted to see if this old thing shot straight. Besides, it didn’t really hurt him none.”

Watching the dog run, I noticed no vehicle out in front of the house.

“Where’s your folks?” I asked Bobby Ray.

“They went to town,” he answered.

I started walking toward the old house. There was a big oak tree in the plain, hard packed dirt front yard. I could see paint peeling off the walls and one corner of the front porch hung at an odd angle as if a well placed kick would collapse the entire thing. There were piles of trash just outside a back door.

When I got near the front door, Bobby Ray said, “You can’t go in; no one can when they ain’t home.”

“Shut up, Bobby Ray, or I’ll shoot you too.” I said.

He backed up a little and started to cry.

It was the first time I had ever felt any power. With that gun, I could do anything I wanted. And I could get other people to do what I wanted too. I decided I liked the feeling. Maybe it was the way my Daddy felt when he had a switch in his hand.

His sisters were all in the kitchen. One sat at the table doing school work.  The other two were doing chores. Ginny was the oldest, she was thirteen. I waved the rifle at the youngest ones, told them to go to their room. Ginny was trimming a batch of collard greens. She was a pretty girl, hair the color of summer wheat and cornflower blue eyes. Her skin was as white as milk.  She had little buds of titties just starting to bloom. She was wearing a faded cotton dress; the fabric had worn thin in the rear. It was adorned with tiny flowers.

“What do you want Carson Fields? What are you doing with that gun? Y’all know no one is supposed to be in here when our parents are gone.”

“I want you to pull your dress down”

She looked at me like I was crazy. I just grinned at her. I had the power.

“You best git on outta here ‘for my daddy comes home and takes a belt to your rear,” she said.

I pumped the BB gun, three times, four, five. “You best drop that dress, Ginny.” I raised the rifle in her direction.

“I don’t believe I will,” she said.

Holding the gun on my right hip, I shot her in the thigh. I could see a small hole in her dress. A tiny dot of blood appeared. It was prettier than the flowers.

I will never forget the look in her eyes. It looked like some of the goodness had gone out of her and never since have I read more hatred in a person’s eyes.  To me, that was just more power. I was getting my first taste and I knew I was already hooked.

She dropped her dress all right. She was trying not to cry.

“You happy now? You happy about what you made me do”?

Yeah, Ginny, I am. I thought. I have never been happier.

That was just the beginning.

Bill Baber has had over two dozen crime stories published and his stories have recently appeared in Rogue from Near to the Knuckle, Hardboiled Crime Scene from Dead Guns Press and Locked & Loaded from One Eye Press. His 2014 short story Sleepwalk was nominated for a Derringer Award. He has also had a number of poems published online and in the occasional literary journal. A book of his poetry, Where the Wind Comes to Play was published by Berberis Press in 2011. He lives in Tucson with his wife and a spoiled dog and has been known to cross the border for a cold beer. He is working on his first novel.