MARKSMAN • by G. E. Smith

Frieda Jacobson drives west on I-80, her ten-year-old son Ron in the back.

“Daddy gonna meet us at our new home?”

Frieda lowers the visor of her small Chevy coupe against the glare of the setting sun. “Nope, and you hush now. Mommy’s gotta think.” She opens the glove box, leans right, and fingers the faded leather spine of Bring Forth the Power: Hidden Secrets of the Occult.

Her husband had found the book and shook it at her. “These words and pictures are nothing short of evil, disgus—”

“Careful. There’s a razor blade taped to the inside back cover.”

He froze, dropped the book, and rushed out.

Frieda picked it up, caressing and kissing the cover.

That evening, she hid his insulin. And surely he’d rush off to his doctor, but not before she drained his car’s brake fluid.

#

Ron Jacobson is older now. He leans on his worktable, knuckles white and jaw clenched. The nearby open shoebox isn’t filled with pleasant memories, just newspaper clippings: Six-year-old Kidnap Victim Found Dead. Cult Leader Jumps from Church Window.

“Curse you, Lisa Towne.” Ron slams his fist on the worktable. “Momma would be livin’ now if you woulda been nice and done what she told ya.” He picks up a leather-bound book and turns to the last page. A piece of yellowed tape still holds a razor blade in place. “To a longer life.” Ron slits his palm, letting the blood drip on the cover.

#

Rachael hopped out of her sister’s still-moving truck in the small, snow-covered field.

Samantha stopped about seventy yards from and parallel with the tree line, shut off the truck lights, and powered down her window.

Rachael looked through her binoculars and drew in a quick, sharp breath. “Jesus. Looks like the Grim Reaper as a child. Minus the scythe.”

“A poor man’s voodoo totem.”

Two small, dead trees flanked the dark form. Three human skulls hung by the eye sockets in both of them.

A thin cloud passed in front of a full moon. Tall, barren trees stood in the background.

Rachael lowered her binoculars. “Hey, Jacobson, you cruel, delusional bastard. Get ready to have your ass royally and totally kicked.” She pulled a .45 from the waistband of her jeans and turned to her sister. “Need help setting up?”

Samantha shook her head. “Jacobson’s shack is just inside the tree line. Last full moon of the year. We end this now.”

“I’ll take cover near the totem.” Rachael started toward the tree line.

“Hey, sis. Remember there’s nothing diabolical about the totem. It’s wood, and wood burns.”

Rachael went back to the truck and hugged her sister through the window. “We see this through no matter what.” She pulled away, chambered a round in her .45, and took off.

Samantha limped to the rear of the truck, lowered the tail gate, slowly got in the bed, and set up her archery gear. “He’s just flesh and blood,” she said softly to herself. She kissed two fingers, touched them to a bladed arrow, then pulled a gas-soaked arrow from her quiver. “Things burn, people die. And not because of chanting Latin or drawing a star on the ground with salt.” Samantha strung her bow. “No one in town has done anything.” She snorted. “Weak-minded cowards. They’ve all become hostages of make-believe evil.”

She raised the binoculars, scanned the tree line, and saw the light in Jacobson’s shack go out. “That’s right, you son of a bitch,” she hissed. “Come on out.”

A small light bobbed in the darkness.

Jacobson walked toward the totem, an unmoving bundle slung over one shoulder. “This time I’ll get it right, Momma, and I can live as long as I want, just like you said. Just like you wanted all those years ago. But that little Towne girl ruined it all.” He set the bundle at the foot of the totem.

“Hey, Jacobson.” Rachael stepped from the tree line shadows and whistled short and loud.

Samantha sat on a backless stool and switched on a floodlight mounted on a stand in the floor of the truck bed. She took a lighter from her coat pocket and lit a gas-soaked arrow tip. She nocked the arrow, drew back, took aim, and released. The arrow lodged in the totem and fire soon engulfed it.

“No!” Jacobson fell to his knees. “Give me power, Momma. They wanna ruin it.”

Samantha raised her bow overhead and let out a war cry. “I’m hardly finished, you psychopath.” She nocked a double-bladed arrow with serrated edges. Again her aim was true; this time it found its mark in the old man’s neck.

Jacobson stood fast and staggered back. He wavered, fingertips brushing the fletching and shaft. He shuffled forward a few steps then fell face down.

Rachael unwrapped the child. She motioned to the truck and the young girl ran.

Samantha teared up at the sight of the young girl running to the truck. She eased herself to the ground, embraced the girl, and helped her into the cab.

Rachael returned to Jacobson, crouched, and put the barrel of her .45 to the old man’s forehead. “You’re bleeding out. Gonna die out here in the cold by yourself.” She grabbed a finger and yanked back hard. It snapped and Jacobson howled.

Rachael leaned in. “It’s over, you murdering prick.” She cocked her head. “What’s this?” She picked up a thick book bound in worn leather. “This’ll burn along with your shack.”

Jacobson half groaned, half choked. He rolled to his side and clawed at Rachael’s coat.

Rachael smacked his hand away with the butt of her .45, stood, and kicked him.

“One day walking home from school we saw your mother talking with a classmate,” Rachael said. “Samantha bolted and messed up her knee somehow. She’s never walked right since.” Rachael grabbed the arrow shaft, twisted, and pushed. “This is for our sister Lisa.”

Jacobson inhaled quick and sharp, then coughed out his last breath.


G. E. Smith reads and writes short, dark fiction. He works in north central Illinois, where he lives with his wife Joyce and stepdaughter Wandia.


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