by Marc Zeedar,
The bomber was directly overhead. Thomas could hear the
dull drone of its sputtering engines -- it seemed to come from all around,
not a specific source. He could feel the vibrations. Far off in the distance
machine guns rattled, there were sounds of explosions. Thomas waited, ears
alert for the sound of a falling bomb.
The plane moved on, leaving an empty silence. Thomas breathed
a sign of relief. This time he was safe.
Suddenly he heard noises from up ahead. People!
Thomas braced himself against the tree truck, and slowly
lifted his rifle. He peered through the scope. At first his saw nothing,
then he recognized green bushes. A man came into view. He was wearing brown
shorts and a loose shirt, and was slashing his way through the brush with
a machete. He was sweating profusely.
Thomas waited, barely even breathing.
Next game several soldiers, and finally came Thomas' target.
A large white balding man, wearing a Hawaiian shirt, dark pants, and city
shoes. He looked very uncomfortable.
Thomas lined up his shot carefully. He mustn't move, mustn't
even breathe. The crosshairs of the scope were focused just before the man's
left ear -- right on a small black mole. Everything was perfect. Thomas
was following the man's movements with an arm so steady it was almost inhuman.
His finger slowly tightened on the trigger....
"Tom! Are you awake or just pretending?"
Slowly Tom shook himself alert. He was in the back seat
of a car -- a 1978 Ford station wagon, to be precise. And in pretty poor
condition, observing the torn seats and sputter of an engine that almost
sounded like it couldn't.
Driving was a balding middle-aged man, whom Tom recognized
as his father. The man was alternating between frantically looking into
the rear view mirror at Tom, drifting off the highway, overcorrecting, wrenching
the steering wheel left and right a few times, pausing, and then starting
the whole process over again.
Pitiful, thought Tom. That's
what he looks like, pitiful. The man looked like he had gotten too much
sun. He was pale and flushed, and almost panicked.
"Tom! Are you listening?" The man stared in the
mirror until the last possible second, suddenly swerving back into his lane.
"Yes, father. I'm here."
"Good. I couldn't see you back there. I mean I couldn't
see what you were doing. I've just got to get these contacts looked at.
I can't see a thing with 'em or without them."
Thomas stretched out on the back seat. If only I had
a sniper rifle,he thought. I could do great things with it. He
lifted himself to eye level with the rear window. A white Mercedes was coming
up behind them. It was pulling into the next lane. It was going to pass.
Suddenly Thomas noticed a man in the back seat rolling
down his window. He was pulling out an Uzi! Thomas acted instinctively.
Like a flash he pulled his RK-57 Sniper Special from its secret compartment
behind the seat and before the man could fire his Uzi, he had two bullets
in his skull. Thomas watched with pleasure as the car speeded on by, too
frightened to stay anywhere near such a crack shot.
"...and anyway, Tom, I just want you to know what's
going on. You see, two people, well, they just don't always agree. You know
what I mean? You don't always agree with Matt, do you? Of course not. Any
time you put two personalities together there is conflict. Sometimes it
may seem minor, but it is conflict just the same. Hey, are you listening?"
Tom's father turned as Tom stretched out across the front
seat, craning his neck to see the last glimpse of the disappearing white
Mercedes. "Are you listening, Tom? What are you doing? I brought you
on this trip for a reason, son."
Tom looked up at his dad. So you can go fishing and
feel good because you catch more fish than I do, he thought, but he
didn't say anything.
"Listen son, because what I have to tell you is a
matter of great importance to you. It will affect you for the rest of your
Yeah, right, thought Tom. So
you're going to be going on another business trip -- this time for a lot
longer. Who cares? I'm used to it. It's not like it's never happened before.
"I'm going to die, son."
Thomas' blood ran cold. Die? Forever? That didn't make
"The doctor says I've got six months ... maybe less."
Thomas swallowed slowly. Got to be brave, he thought.
"What is the cause?"
"Cancer." The Big C. There was no hope, and Thomas
knew it. His father was going to die. But wait! If he put his mind to it,
Thomas could come up with a cure! Of course he could. He'd been studying
medicine since he graduated from high school at nine years old. With some
extra work, he'd come up with a cure and save his father's life! He'd get
a Noble Prize and be on national TV....
"Tom! Tom! Would you listen!"
Tom stared at his father. The man was breathing heavily.
"I've been talking to you for the last five minutes! Can't you listen
to me for at least five minutes? I bet you haven't heard a word I've said.
Come on -- tell me what I just said."
Tom shook his head reluctantly.
"Come on -- tell me. Weren't you listening?"
"You ... you said you were dying." There --it
"What? What kind of a joke is that? That's sick, Tom,
just plain sick. Here I am pouring my soul out to you and you're making
sick jokes. You're twelve years old, boy. I would have expected more from
you than that!"
Steam slowly drifted from his father's nostrils. Thomas
could see it curling up around the ceiling of the car. He waited for fire
from the mouth.
"Son -- please listen to me. I'm sorry I yelled at
you, but you've got to understand how difficult this is for me. I've never
been through anything like this before, and it's tough. It's tough on all
of us -- even your mother.
"Now, like I was saying before, your mother and I
have our differences. She likes pork, for instance, and I can't stand it.
But we can live without pork. We can't live the way we have been. We've
tried to shield you -- we hoped we could work things out, but that just
hasn't happened. We tried talking, we visited a counselor, we even visited
Tom slowly sank into the back seat and tried to make himself
invisible. It almost worked, but he could still see his fingers when he
opened his eyes.
His father's voice droned on, the car continued to sputter,
the road when on and on, the sun was hot, the synthetic seats smelled like
plastic, and Tom was bored. He began counting the tiny indentations on the
vinyl seats, but after losing track and starting over twice, he soon tired
of that. He played with his finger, his toes, and his jacket. He pretended
to shoot his father's mole. And then he dived into the front seat to stop
the car from crashing as his father slumped lifeless against the window.
Finally Tom retreated to the back window, and watched the
featureless landscape go past. Cars, millions and millions of cars. With
people inside. People with lives and dreams and boredoms of their own. All
speeding by and no one stopping to say "Hi." Go go go. Hurry hurry
hurry. Rush rush rush. It all blurred together and Tom shook his head to
Then Tom saw the ant.
It was the tiny black kind. Three sectioned, like most
ants. It was crawling up the glass of the window. The ant wandered rather
aimlessly, sometimes going left, sometimes right, sometimes back down where
it came from. Tom watched with sudden fascination. For the moment, that
ant was the most important thing in his life. It was his salvation, his
savior. In fact, he almost panicked when he thought the ant was on the outside
of the window, but then he realized his eyes were just playing tricks on
Finally the ant seemed to decide where he wanted to go,
and up he headed to the top of the window. Tom realized that when he escaped
from the glass, he would be much more difficult to observe, so he decided
to prevent the ant from leaving.
Bump! There, his hand blocked the ant's path. The ant continued
forward, slowed as it neared the hand, paused, put out tiny feelers, and
then began to walk to the left. As he neared the end of the hand, Tom put
his other hand there and took his right hand away. The ant paused again,
puzzled, and then continued.
This game continued, and Tom slowly guided the ant around
back into the center of the window, and with only an index finger, managed
to keep that ant in rein.
Time passed quickly, and Tom began to admire that ant.
It was so tiny, so fragile. Yet it moved without hesitation or fear among
the giant hands that plagued it. It didn't complain, but tirelessly continued
to search for an exit. It refused to give up, even after countless tries
moved that there was no escape.
Tom was amazed at the fortitude of the insect. It was relentless.
And several times it actually almost did escape, and only quick thinking
on Tom's part caught it.
Then suddenly Tom's finger came down a little to soon,
or maybe the ant moved a little faster. All Tom knew was that the black
dot on the end of his finger a second earlier had moved and breathed and
now did nothing. And with that realization came the depressing fact that
now Tom truly had nothing to do, and this time the boredom was twice as
intense as before.
As Tom sat thinking about his suddenly departed friend,
he heard the drone of his father's voice, and remembered he was supposed
to be listening.
"... and I don't know why that's true, it just is:
people have a tendency to hurt those they love. You tend to destroy what
you most want to keep. And somehow that's what your mother and I have done
with our family.
"So, Tom, do you understand? I hope you know that
this doesn't affect us in any way -- I still love you as much as I always
did and always will -- it's just something between your mother and me, and
doesn't affect you. And it's not your fault or anything, nothing at all
like that. Your mother and I have grown apart, that's all. It's just us."
Tom slowly sat up. Had he missed something? "What
are you talking about, Dad? I wasn't listening."
Slowly the knuckles on the steering wheel began to turn
white, red color began making its way up the neck and to the cheeks, steam
began rising from those nostrils, and the unmistakable flicker of flames
showed themselves through that open mouth.
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