‘Just squeeze the fucking trigger!’ Ken was looking over the barrel of his Smith & Wesson M&P Shield he had levelled at his son. The arid heat of Arizona’s Sonoran Desert was causing salty sweat to sting his eyes and blur his vision. The voice of his own father filled his head, mocking him. ‘Do it Ken. You know it’s the right thing’.
“Shut up!” he howled while lowering the pistol to his hip. “Just shut up…” With effort Ken turned to look over his shoulder at the twisted wreckage of their Cessna 150. Its blackened corpse was silhouetted against the golden hue of the setting sun. The misshapen aircraft was on its back, one wing gone, barely recognizable as a plane. Guilt burned at his innards like iodine on an open wound. How could he have not checked the fuel, how could he have possibly underestimated the fuel? Dragging his tattered denim shirt sleeve across his brow, he turned back to his son Josh and raised the pistol.
He studied the boy. He was such a good kid. Handsome, smart, respectful. Just last week he had cracked the starting line up on the junior varsity football team at school. Outside linebacker, just like his dad had been. ‘But you were never any good’, His father’s voice whispered in his subconscious.
“Shut the fuck UP!” Ken screamed and fired the pistol twice into the air. He fell to his knees and with a shriek of pain and anguish, began to sob. But the whisper continued, ‘You know it’s true. You never quite measured up, did you? Always looking for short cuts; the easy way out.’
“No, Dad. No” he coughed out through his tears, trying in vain to defend himself against the relentless voice in his head. ‘Yes, Ken. Yes. Look at you now. Did you map out your flight? Did you calculate the fuel? Look what you have done. Now you can’t even man up and do what is necessary, still looking for the short cut.’
“Nooo!” Ken wailed. ‘You need to do it son, and do it fast. How much longer do you think you have? Snake venom is running in your veins son, it won’t be long.’ Ken absently tugged on the soiled red bandana he had tied around his left arm. Ken had heard the rattle coming from deep within the smouldering fuselage, he had known the diamondback was hiding somewhere in the aircraft, but he crawled back in to free Josh. What else could he do? He had slithered in on his belly, hot oily sand in his face, shards of torn metal racking across his back and like a lightning bolt, it got him. Got him good; a deep piercing bite on his left bicep, then it was gone.
“We have time. Someone will come.” Ken whispered. ‘You are out of time, my boy.’ His father’s voice persisted ‘The sun is almost set. No search planes tonight. Even if by some miracle Josh doesn’t bleed out by morning, you won’t make it. Look at yourself, your vision’s already blurry. I bet your heart is beating like a bass drum and goddamn, your insides are burning, aren’t they? Feels like your liver and heart are melting, doesn’t it? So then what? Josh wakes up to his see his dead worthless father laying face down in the dirt? Leaving him to die alone in this God forsaken desert?’ Ken looked at his son. Josh was propped up against a large craggy rock with what was left of his shredded legs splayed out in front of him. They were a sickening potpourri of blue jean, red gore and white bone. Moaning, Josh stirred slightly.
“Dad?” His voice was weak, distant.
“I’m here, Josh” Ken crawled on all fours to his side, his arm muscles protesting each movement with jolts of searing pain.
“Hush, son”, he soothed while leaning against the rock beside him and carefully drawing him into his arms.
“I’m scared, Dad” he winced at the pain of being moved.
“Hang in there Josh, we are going to get out of this, I promise.” Ken reassured him while smoothing the boy’s blood matted hair from his eyes.
“My legs, Dad… I can’t feel…” mercifully Josh passed out again before completing the sentence and went limp against his father.
“I could do it I suppose” Ken said. “Shoot him, then myself.” Even saying the words felt like cold steel through his lower intestine. But the facts were facts. Rescue was at least twelve hours away, if it arrived at all. They were both critical. There was no way to hide from it. They were waiting to die. ‘No you can’t do it, dumb ass, you only had three rounds in the gun and you wasted two on me’ his father’s dry satirical voice mocked him, Ken covered his ears to block it out. ‘Just one left, boyo. See what I mean? Never quite up to snuff.’ Ken shivered violently. Was it from the snake venom or encroaching cold? He didn’t know, didn’t care.
“Yes, yes I can, DUMB ASS!” he shouted. He sat Josh upright and shifting his own position, slightly placed his head next to his son’s, squeezing them together, lovingly, painfully. Ken’s cheek was scalding with fever against Josh’s cold and clammy flesh. With tears welling, he put the pistol to his ear. “See? See Dad, I can do it.” Ken’s voice was barely audible against the rising night wind. Scrub brush began to rustle. The raspy call from the shifting sand filled the thick air of the indigo dusk. The knuckle of his index finger whitened as he slowly applied pressure to the trigger. He held his breath. Ken was aware only of the cold metal barrel pressing into the tender flesh of his temple and the pounding of his heart. His father intervened again, ‘What’s this? Could it be you are finally going to see something through to the end?’ A sour bile rose in Ken’s throat, searing it. He began to shake feverishly. The enamel of his teeth scraped together as he bit down hard to steady himself. At that moment Josh stirred gently in his arms and the sun dipped below the thin horizon and Ken did it. Dropping the pistol, he collapsed back on the sharp dry grass beneath him. Slowly he pulled Josh into his arms and the two of them huddled in against the dark Arizona night. Someone would come. Surely to God someone would come. His father be damned. This time Ken had decided not to take the easy way out