The sparrow flutters and perches on the Mercedes badge at the end of the bonnet. Even though this feels out of the ordinary, I don’t even blink. Up ahead, traffic lights complete their sequence for perhaps the fourth time. The gridlock remains steadfast. Engines idle with their measured drone. Exhaust fumes drift like dry ice. I shut the vents.

“Pt’chyoo!” the little voice behind me says.

I prise my temple from the cold glass of my window and look at Jack, my son, in the rear view mirror, elevated and strapped into the middle of the back seat. Monica thinks he’s old enough at seven not to require his booster chair but I insist. She says it’s demeaning. Jack doesn’t seem to care.

His left eye is scrunched shut, a white crease running across the bridge of his nose. The tip of his tongue peeks from between his lips. His hands are clasped in the shape of a gun and point between the two front seats, through the windscreen towards the bird sitting on the badge.

“Aw, Jack,” I say into the mirror. “You shouldn’t shoot the birdy.”


“Because it’s not nice to kill poor little birdies.”

“Avicide,” he says.

“Excuse me?”

“Avicide, Dad. It’s the killing of birds. Didn’t you know that?”

I frown. “I know what it means, Jack. I’m wondering how you know what it means.”

He shrugs and shuffles irritably in his chair, his index fingers still mimicking the barrel of a pistol. “A-V-I-C-I-D-E. Avicide. Avicide is the killing of birds.” And then, as if to emphasise this, he adds, “Pt’chyoo!” and his hands recoil so that they bump into his chest, his fingertips pointing up to his chin. For the first time, I realise how tightly the straps cross his body and how much his legs spill over the sides of the booster seat, like a frog sitting on a matchbox.

There’s the blast of a horn. An impatient Audi revs behind me. Ahead, cars pull away through the green light, dragging threads of exhaust fume fog behind them. The sparrow on the badge is gone. I can’t stop wondering about the proper name for what else Jack has killed today.

Originally from Central Scotland, Gavin Broom now lives and writes in Michigan, USA. He’s been published over sixty times both online and in print and in a very focused world tour, has read at Dire Literary Series in Boston, MA and Last Monday at Rio in Glasgow, Scotland and MSU Creative Writing Open Mic, East Lansing, MI. He edits fiction for The Waterhouse Review.

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 average 5 stars • 1 reader(s) rated this
  • This is nicely done, Gav. One of those small scenes in a character’s life where the whole world tips slightly and nothing’s ever the same again.

    Subtle, but poignant. Good work!

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  • Jen Tran!

    Short and subtle story, 5 stars!

  • Tad chilling. Very well done. What will young Jack be aiming at in another ten years or so?

  • Excellent writing. Poetic, highly observant and a bit chilling.

    My only beef with the story was that only half way through did I realise dad was the MC, not Jack’s mum. Subconciously, and perhaps chauvinistically, I’d figured it was a school run and mum was at the wheel.

  • Jennifer Ripley

    “…frog on a matchbox.” Perfect.

    Excellent work!

  • The story left out too much to work for me. And it seems improbable that a seven year old would know the word “avicide”, would be able to spell it, and would extend the common meaning of the word (which is a poison to kill birds) to the act of killing them in a way that evokes the idea of genocide. The parent should also be wondering why the boy would play at shooting a bird like this. I’d think: violent video games and movies, which speaks to the parents’ decisions about child rearing.

  • “Exhaust fumes drift like dry ice” is an example of over-abbreviation in flash that describes impossible actions. Dry ice is a solid.

  • But then, maybe the dry ice error was only an oversight.

  • SarahT

    I thought this was really good. Very realistic (assuming the boy had had the opportunity to learn the word).

    I love the matchbox line, and the ending sentence.

    Although I disagree with comment #7, #8 is correct. Perhaps “vapor” could have been added to that line.

    Great job! Keep it up!

  • Karen Jones

    What is the proper name for killing Dad’s illusions? For that moment when he realises his son really is growing up, really doesn’t need the booster seat, really does know way more than Dad ever imagined?

    Beautifully done, Gavin.

  • JenM


  • Just a thought… Expanded a little, the story could have explored the making of a mass shooter. (Maybe it was there, and if so I needed more help.) That would have been really chilling. My word-association obsessed mind is developing the dry ice metaphor…

  • Sarah Crysl Akhtar

    Interesting contrast between the father’s excessively childish speech and the son’s chilling response. It opens up a world of unexpressed backstory. Perhaps the father’s subconscious desperation to evoke childlike emotions in a child he already sensed was missing a crucial piece?

  • SarahT

    I don’t understand why the boy is being viewed as a potential sociopath.

    He probably learned the word from the news, or a product at a garden center. “Mom, what’s avicide?” A concept as…umm…. as this is bound to make an impression.

  • Joanne

    Kids pick up weird little facts. I think this was more a story about an overprotective father who realizes he can’t keep his son from all of the world’s dangers…

    If I’d read it two months ago, I wouldn’t have wondered if the boy was a future mass murderer. But I look at things a lot differently now. Even though I read the story three times and finally came to the same conclusion as SarahT @ # 15, my mind did go to “sociopath” at first.

  • Sarah Crysl Akhtar

    It’s true one can analyze a story to death, but I thought the author gave plenty of clues for why this should be an ominous story. Jack is seven, an age when most children have already developed a sense of moral values, and when healthy children dislike the killing of animals. He could have been just playing around out of boredom, but then he asks “why?” when his father says it’s not nice to kill birds, and later moves “irritably.” There is a sense of a sharp intelligence baiting the father and then quickly becoming bored. Jack hasn’t just outgrown the booster seat–he’s outgrown his father too. And that doesn’t bode well.

  • M.Sherlock

    I find it completely plausible that a seven year old would know the world Avicide. Children love to pick up words and factoids like this, especially if it related to any dark urges he might have. Perhaps the overprotectiveness and unwillingness to let the child grow up is a way for the parent to try to hold this darkness inside the child developing.

  • I’m about as alarmed that there are products at garden centres for killing birds (#15) as I am at the potential of this child. I wondered why Meredith (#7) believed the word to have such a specific meaning. On the authenticity of the story, I’m with Sarah (#17) here; I’d be looking under this child’s bed for headless soldiers and dismembered frogs. A sophisticated vocabulary is not so unusual where a child has very specific interests and this, plus his clear appreciation of meaning, plus his contempt, gives me creeps. I’d go further (maybe further than Gavin intended!) and say that his dad already knows somewhere in his unconscious, and he has been avoiding seeing that he’s older. With age comes realisation and that’s going to be traumatic. Very convincing stuff, Gavin.

  • SarahT

    The word “why” coming from a 7 year old has virtually no meaning.

    Habit: I’ll just say why to anything…

    Inquiry: Why shouldn’t I PRETEND to shoot the bird? Pretending never hurt anyone, and I’m bored, sitting here in traffic.

    And kids hate to be questioned to death over things… That’s why he was irritable.

    Anyway, either way, the story is sound, and I’ve enjoyed hearing other points of view.

    BTW, I haven’t seen bird-killer in a garden center, just figured it could be out there…

  • Thomas Kearnes

    Finely written on a technical level, but the last line killed it for me. It felt as if the author didn’t trust the readers enough to make the connection between “avicide” and lost innocencce, so he underlined the point for us. Conclusions about the stories we read always linger longer in the mind when we must reach them ourselves, not have them handed to us.

    Thomas Kearnes
    Tomball, TX

  • re: #19. I did an internet search for “avicide” and almost all that came up were about poison. I later added “meaning” to my search and the act of killing birds came up equally. At first I took the story to be hinting at “gun control”, but now I just see it being about a dad who’s out of touch with his son. If anyone is scary, it’s Dad.

  • This. as great… frog in a matchbox… drift like dry ice… ok so dry ice is a sokid, but it is used to make thick white smoke and we all knew what the author ment, so it worked

    The kid is not a sociopath and videogames don’t make scool shooters…

    Kids just learn stuff, and pull it out at will.
    I knew morbid words my parents didnt when I was a kid too, because i had an older brother that watched horror movies obsessively and I started reading Clive barker and steven king in 5th grade with a websters dictionary next to me that I hadda use every paragraph

    Sorry for the rant.

    5 stars

  • Nicely done!

  • Helen

    You capture the utter lack of morality that all but the exceptional child will show in unguarded moments. A true perception on parenthood, and the struggle to let go. Well done.

  • Very well-written, and wide open to interpretation. Good stuff!

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  • Jane Humen