When the hood is removed, I am standing alone on a small stage in what appears to be a long-neglected theater. Totally dark, except for a single footlight directed at my face. The two shotgun-wielding kids are positioned on the floor directly below me.
I can make out an audience of silent, shadowy figures standing with arms raised above their heads in a mock-religious pose. The air is hard to breathe—saturated with the sickening, sweet smell of incense. I have the strange feeling that I have played this scene before.
The recognizable voice of the bearded leader comes out of the dark.
“The defendant may now voice his plea.”
If my heart were made of stone, I could resort to the fine art of denial and deflection. I could say that I was just doing my job. I could say it was all about getting even. I could say how fucking tired I was—because I could never let up. Constantly wired together tight, because there was no way to tell the enemy from the innocent civilians, until eventually, they became one-and-the-same.
But for me, there is nothing left except the desire to be finished.
I’m about to speak when the quiet is interrupted by a sharp, metallic click. The flare from a cigarette lighter draws my attention toward the balcony. Caught in the light from the flame, the outline of a man’s face. Eyes on fire, he lights a cigarette.
He looks down at me and nods a greeting.
I have an unexplainable urge to smile, but I just nod in his direction. Tick… Tick… Tick… nowhere to run, nowhere to hide, no falling to the floor and crawling inside myself.
I glance down at my nameless accusers—back up toward the burning face in the balcony.
FLASHBACK—the face of a young boy humming to himself as he plays alone.
With some effort, I manage to say the word.
Instantly, and in sync, the armed guards rack their shotguns.
DB Cox is a Marine Corps veteran and blues musician/writer from South Carolina. His poems have been published extensively in the small press, in the US and abroad. He has published five books of poetry: Passing For Blue, Lowdown, Ordinary Sorrows, Night Watch, and Empty Frames. DB recommends the Best Friends Animal Society.