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Rated: 13+ · Short Story · Contest Entry · #1551774
Desperate times call for . . . semi-automatics. Will Mark's family be surprised?
1400-ish words

         Mark picked a large pump-action rifle from his arsenal. He slipped his finger into the trigger-guard and sited the family cat. This'll do the trick. The cat arched his hindquarters. It yawned and stretched, curling its claws and twitching its whiskers with feline satisfaction before settling back on the porch swing. Lazy cat. Mark pulled the trigger, one quick yelp and the cat was history. He grinned. This is gonna be fun.

         Mark propped the rifle next to the door before he went inside. His wife was cooking breakfast in his favorite Seahawks shirt. He'd lost count of how many shirts she'd stained up with bacon grease. Let it slide, Mark. Let it slide. That little voice in head seemed to do a lot more talking lately . . . or maybe he just noticed it more. No matter, either way, said the voice. Mark agreed.

         It had been a rough year. Marlene, his wife, had quit her job to have Baby Jo. Joanne was just five months old now and had colic since day one. Julie, his sweet baby girl, was diagnosed with autism shortly after her third birthday. "She's at the high-functioning end of the spectrum," said the doctor. Marlene nearly had to pull Mark out of the office before he planted a size twelve boot up that quack's spectrum. Last December, his mother had passed away. Merry Christmas, Mark. Merry Christmas. Then he'd been laid off . . . just icing on the cake.

         The first month wasn't so bad. It was a po' boy vacation. He helped get the twins ready for school, did the morning dishes, even shoveled the walkway snow once or twice. By the third month the bills were more than his unemployment could cover. Marlene had walking pneumonia and every "now hiring" ad he answered fell through. Too many people, too many problems. He started sleeping until noon, sometimes later. He sold his truck for half of what it was worth just to eke by another month or two. That had been a month or two ago.

         If he didn't have a diaper in hand, he was trying to tear the twins off of each other or threatening to break the door down to David's room. His eldest had become all mouth since he hit puberty. Mark was tired of it all. Something had to give. Today is the first day of the rest of your life. Mark grinned.

         "Whatcha smilin' about?" called Marlene, looking up from a pan of eggs. Mark thought she looked prettier this morning than she had in a while or maybe he just noticed it more. No matter, said the voice and, again, Mark agreed.

         "Nothin'. Well, maybe something. Where's the crew?"

         "Joanne's asleep; I just got her down, again. She's been cryin' since four. The twins are getting dressed. Dave's still in the shower and Julie's coloring under the table." Marlene set the skillet to the back of the stove and took a sip of coffee, "You're up early."

         Mark just nodded and sat down at the table. Lifting the tablecloth, he smiled at Julie, "How's it comin', Kiddo?" Julie didn't look up. He'd almost forgotten what color her eyes were. Mark rarely saw them anymore. "Breakfast is almost ready, you need to go wash your hands." Julie kept coloring. He fished through a sandwich bag of cards on the table, finding the 'Bathroom Duties' set. He told her to go wash her hands again and handed her the card with pictures of the sink, soap, bubble-hands and towel. Julie closed her coloring book, placed her crayons back in their box from shortest to tallest then trudged down the hall. Mark remembered how she used to laugh when he sang 'Itsy Bitsy Spider' and nearly lost it.

         "Okay, ya'll, listen up a sec," said Mark, as he helped himself to another pancake, "I got a little surprise for ya." He chuckled as the twins looked in unison, left then right around the kitchen like he'd snuck in a pony. "It's nothin' grand but --"

         "Did ya win a grand?" asked David, spraying the closest twin with a bit of egg.

         "Ewww, Dav. Say it, don't spray it." said his sister, wiping at her arm.

         "Shut up"

         "Make me"

         "I don't make trash I burn --"

         "Enough!" hollered Mark, a bit louder than he'd meant. Still, it got their attention. "Now I didn't win a grand, steal a grand, or hit a grand slam. Just shut up a minute and listen, will ya? I want you all to meet me out back after you help your Mom clear the table. Got it? I want ya all out there at the same time . . . I don't want any of ya to spoil it for the others." Mark swallowed the last of his juice and watched as Julie diligently colored her short-stack with a palate of syrup and butter and egg yolk. Lost. Content. Everyone should be so lucky. "All of you" he repeated, " . . . save Jules and Joanne."

         "Julie, I want you to go upstairs and color some pictures for the baby." Julie continued to work on her masterpiece, brushing on more yolk with a strip a bacon. "Jules, go upstairs." She held her bacon still and stared blankly at her breakfast "Go. Color for the baby," he said again slower, firmer. Julie left the table. Like any kid, she listened better when it involved something she was interested in.

         Mark headed out back while his family finished eating. He grabbed his rifle and a handgun before hiding amongst a clutch of willow limbs. Crouching low, he took aim at the back porch. The screen door opened. Mark steadied the gun. He was almost giddy with excitement. They hadn't made it off the porch before he opened fire. Screams shattered the morning's calm. Mark was mad with laughter, until he heard Julie. No, not Jules. Not Jules! But, curious, she'd followed everyone outside. Surprise. She understood that word as well as "color" or "baby".

         Fatherly instinct kicked in. Dropping the gun, Mark ran to Julie. She lay curled up in the doorway, screaming. "It's okay, baby. It's okay. Daddy's here. Daddy's here. I didn't mean to shoot you." He knelt beside his daughter as she thrashed wildly. He stroked her hair and softly reassured her. As her shrieks became more guttural Mark drew the pistol from his waistband. "I'm sorry, sweetheart. This isn't how I planned it." Jules lie still, gurgling.

         "I'm sorry, so sorry" he pointed the gun toward the roof of his mouth, "See?" Mark pulled trigger. Jules slowly pulled herself up and took the gun from her daddy's hand. She pointed to the clouds and fired. She shot the cooler next to the steps. Julie pointed the pistol to her chest and pulled the trigger. She watched as her blouse soaked through. She squirted it again.

         "See? Not so bad is it?" asked Mark. "There's more water guns over there," he said, pointing past a dinosaur pinata gently swinging in the breeze, "on the picnic table. I even got a purple one shaped like a crayon . . . just for you." Jules focused on the gun, squeezing the trigger over and over again. "Daddy got a new job and I wanted to celebrate." he explained. "Grandpa, Uncle Joe and the kids are all coming over for a cookout in a bit." Mark sighed, "I'm sorry, baby. An ambush seemed like a good idea at the time. I hope you understand . . . I didn't want to scare ya."

         Julie sucked water out of the gun and spat it at Mark. Though she didn't smile or laugh, Jules looked him square in the eye. That was good enough for him. Today is the first day of the rest of your life, Mark. said the voice; and Mark agreed.

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