I scratched the branch under me with my dirty nails, feeling the tough wrinkles in the thick skin of the tree. After a while of staring at the never-changing grey sky, I slid my hand in my hoodie pouch and brought out the handgun I stole from Officer Gordon. It wasn't clipped very securely in his holster, and he didn't notice it was missing from his belt when he left. I smirked and examined the elegant weapon. I easily identified it as a Pietro Beretta, the common police corps firearm. I read the "MOD.92FS-CAL9" Printed on the muzzle over a dark red stain; old rust-like blood that had waited too long to be washed off. The thought of Gordon killing someone was an absurd idea to me. He just seemed too innocent to murder anything. Maybe this gun was someone else's before it was his. The black hole at the tip of the muzzle seemed like a black hole of death.
I looked into it with wonder, holding the black plastic grip on the handle with both hands. After staring into that Beretta I closed my eyes and sighed, relaxing my arm and tilting the tip of the cold metal to my forehead, kissing that black hole of death with my mind.
All guns had a sense of beauty to them. They were all made of metal, smooth to the touch and highly durable. The weapon was such a quiet little object, when left on a table it was perfectly still, mildly shaped in an L, resembling a shining ice sculpture of manufactured steel. When in someone's hand, it had a little more intimidation to it. You could see that it had a potential to kill, but only when it was in a human being's hand. Humans were murderous creatures by heart, which was no secret in this town. When that hand was raised and you were suddenly greeting that endlessly deep hole at the end of the slender metallic barrel, it was a whole new world. That little abyss was the eye of death itself. Everything else was a mere blur. There was only you and that little black hole. And you were forced to stare right into it. Your life didn't flash before your eyes when you died. Your death did.
"Friend, why are you avoiding me?" I whispered to Death. "I welcome your freedom with open arms. Come take me away."
Was it loaded?
My thumb didn't care if it was or wasn't. It fingered the smooth black trigger with unspeakable affection.
Harley!? I sat up suddenly and whirled my startled gaze through my surroundings. The sun had set and the city lights were sparkling in the distance. All was quiet except for car horns in the distance and the chirp of crickets in the dirt beneath the oak tree. My ears and mind were confused for a few seconds. "Ah dammit..." I had fallen asleep, judging by the sky, at least for three hours. That was dangerous and stupid of me. I checked my hoodie pouch and was alarmed when I didn't feel my gun. Had I dropped it when my hand relaxed with sleep? I peered down to the round form the high branch I perched on, but it was too dark to see anything.
I can't lose that gun! I need it. I felt around my branch, just in case it was wedged between a couple of knots in the wood. After taking a while sliding down the rough tree and earning a few new scrapes and scratches, I dropped to the ground and felt around with my shoes for an hour. Someone could approach me easily if my whole focus was on my search and if I were on my hands and knees, appearing from a distance like a small child. It was safer to stand and feel around with my foot. Finally I kicked something heavy and I picked up my dusty Beretta. Relieved, I put it in its place in my pocket and walked back to my foster parents' house.
"...." I turned and looked back at the oak tree before my feet touched the sidewalk again. Harley's voice...It pained me to hear it, and it pained me even more to realize it was just a part of my suicidal dream. With a shake of my head and a flip of my black hood, I hissed, "Just leave me alone Harl..."
The walk home was long and I was forced to take a detour when a group of men sauntered drunkenly down the street ahead of me. I was planning on using my gun only for emergencies. I still didn't know how many bullets I had. Now was not the time to check. I had to stay alert in this unknown territory.
Specks of white started to appear, drifting down from the heavens and melting on contact with anything they touched. I looked up at the dark clouds hiding in the blackness above the city. It was starting to grow too warm for snow. Spring was coming slowly. I walked through the floating white flakes in silence. My mind wandered.
"Alright class, pick up your scraps of paper and put the scissors back in the bucket at the front of the room! Time to go home soon." Mrs. Cloward. She was my first grade teacher. I remember her very well.
I wiped my blood off my tiny safety scissors and closed them, hiding the open cuts in my wrist by folding my arms over stomach as I dropped the scissors in the bright blue bucket marked "Craft Supplies" in front of the teacher's desk. I liked sitting in the back of the room, no one could see much of what you were doing if they were all in front of you.
"Michael, did you make any snowflakes to hang up in the windows?" Mrs. Cloward asked me with that friendly smile she gave me every day. Michael...I think that was my first false name my father ever assigned me.
I was shy to answer, keeping my gaze down. When she showed the class how to make the paper decorations earlier, I seemed to be the only one who didn't understand, so I stopped trying and started doing something that I did know how to do. Draw blood. "No, Mrs. Clawfurd..."
Her eyes sparkled with a grin at my mispronunciation of her name. She never corrected me. "Well, that's alright. They take a lot of practice to make."
She always said the best things to make me feel better about myself. I went back to my desk before I started to blush. I liked Mrs. Cloward a lot. When everyone was sitting again she wrote an assignment for us on the whiteboard. "I want you all to make a list of your Christmas presents this year. Tell me which gifts are your favorite and who gave them to you."
A girl in front of me got her friend's attention and chirped, "Last year Santa got me a Barbie doll! I asked for another one this year." The room was quickly buzzing with talk about a big kind man dressed in red and white that gave presents to good kids on Christmas Eve. I watched them babble and tried to understand their enthusiasm.
When the bell rang and everyone ran out, tumbling over one another, I hesitantly crept up to Mrs. Cloward's desk, seeing my opportunity to talk to her alone. "Um...Mrs. Clawfurd...?" My voice became stuck. I was so embarrassed.
She didn't seem to notice, only smiling and sliding over a stack of math papers to begin correcting with her red pen. "Yes dear? What is it?"
Something inside told me this was a dumb idea. Everyone seemed to know who Santa Claus was, so why didn't I? Something was wrong with me, wasn't there? I had never seen anyone ask this question. "...Who is Santa?"
Her hand froze and her eyes looked up at me as if I really did say something wrong. I was scared. I knew this was dumb. I should have just left with the others. The fear multiplied within milliseconds and I was certain she was gonna hit me.
"...Baby, you don't know who...?" She asked in a whisper, horror on her face. I held her gaze fearfully. Her eyes went to my bruise which still throbbed above my left eyebrow. She swallowed and covered her mouth with her wrist, not able to look at me anymore. I had said something terribly wrong! I made her cry. She sighed and smiled as a tear ran down her cheek.
She put her pen down and explained to me who this person was I had been hearing about over the past few weeks. I relaxed when I realized she was sad, not angry at me. When she was done, I was even more confused than before. "So...I'm a bad kid...?"
"No, sweetie, not at all." Her voice cracked as she quickly corrected my words. I wasn't convinced. "But...you said he visited good kids and got them toys..."
"...I know, but you are not a bad kid, Michael. Okay?" Her voice dropped to a whisper again. I stared at the floor. "You are a very, very good boy..."
Fire bubbled inside me as I gripped the gun in my pocket. I couldn't even identify what I was angry at. Not Mrs. Cloward, I could never be angry with her. I was angry at myself. I had the stupidity to go home that day and ask my father in person why the mythical jolly man had never visited our house on Christmas Eve. That day I had hope that he would suddenly remember that annual thing a father was supposed to do for his son on Christmas, I had hope that I would see a gift wrapped up for me in the blood-stained living room the next morning. I should have expected the only gift I'd receive that year to be a ruthless beating.