“Evan?” the younger boy said. Evan kept driving.
“Evan?” the younger boy said again.
“What, Ollie?” Evan said, not turning his face away from the road.
“Where are we going?” Ollie said.
“I told you,” Evan said.
The wind came through the gap between the window and the rubber around the door jamb, making a whirling noise. It blew into Ollie’s eye, making him wince.
“How’s your eye?” Evan said, turning to look at Ollie.
“It’s okay,” he said. The sky blackened, and the wind picked up even more. Evan turned the heater up.
“You sure Daddy knows we’ve got his truck?” Ollie said.
“I told you already,” Evan said. “Yes. I asked him right before I woke you up. He knows we’re just going for a ride.” They passed some cow-tipping frat boys and a truck stop. Ollie sat in his seat, quietly. The fishing tackle box and hunting rifles and empty beer cans in the truck bed rattled as the truck hit patches of unpaved road and gravel.
“That doesn’t sound like Daddy,” Ollie said after a while. “He’s really careful about his truck.”
“Look, I’m getting my learner’s permit in about a month,” Evan said, turning to Ollie, glaring. “Besides, he told me I could drive it. You calling me a liar? Well?” Evan said.
Ollie sat, not saying anything, looking down at his sneakers.
“No,” he said, finally. Evan clicked on the wipers, and sprayed the fluid to clean the dead bugs off the windshield. He clicked it off again, and leaned forward to see.
“Damn it,” he said. “I can’t see.” Ollie sniffled in the passenger seat. Evan glanced over at his brother and didn’t say anything. Ollie began to cry.
“I’m sorry I snapped at you,” Evan said, keeping his eyes on the road. Ollie wiped his nose on the sleeve of his favorite Spider-Man pajamas, the ones his mom had gotten him for Christmas that year.
“Hey,” Evan said, looking over. “I didn’t mean to snap at you.” He reached over and tousled his little brother’s hair. Ollie smiled a little, and Evan gave his own gap-toothed smile. Ollie blew his nose in a McDonald’s napkin he’d found on the floor, then wadded it up and put it in his pocket.
Evan kept driving while Ollie fell asleep in the passenger seat. Evan knew he’d done the right thing, taking his brother from the house, but he was getting tired of driving, and didn’t know what he was going to do next. Drops of rain splattered on the windshield, and Evan felt the small drops hitting the side of his face, coming in through the window. He strained forward to see the road, putting his face right up to the glass.
He saw a red barn up the road. Evan drove up to it and parked. He walked up to it, catching a whiff of animal droppings. Evan inspected the outside. He noticed the paint was peeling on the sides, coming off in big fat flakes. He opened the creaking heavy door. It was dark inside, but he could make out an area in the back that was dry. He grabbed some hay and took it back there, fashioning a makeshift bed. The roof was sturdy enough, but the rain was still getting through in several places.
Evan walked back through the yard, past the yellow patches of grass and rusted-out cars, and back to Ollie, who was playing a video game in the passenger side of the stolen truck. “Where’ve you been?” Ollie said as Evan got inside to grab his coat.
“I was just looking around inside the house,” Evan said.
“There’s no furniture, but I made us a little bed. Come on.” Both boys got out of the truck.
“What’s going on?” Ollie asked, pulling his jacket to his body.
“I thought we’d stay here tonight,” Evan said, as he pulled two sleeping bags from behind the seat.
“Why?” Ollie said. “Won’t Mom and Daddy wonder where we are?”
“They’re asleep,” Evan said. “Besides, they’ll still be asleep when we go back in the morning. Tomorrow’s Saturday.” Ollie put the video game in his coat pocket.
“Where are we?” Ollie said.
“I think we’re about twenty miles south of town. Amarillo’s that way,” Evan said, pointing north. He knew it was more like fifty, but he didn’t want his brother to raise a fuss, as Evan knew he would if he were that far from home. He’d never been that far from home before. Not like Evan, who had been hunting in the Hill Country with his father.
The boys went inside the barn. There were no animals there, but the floor was covered with hay.
“There’s a loft,” Evan said, pointing to the ladder in the back left corner. They walked through the musty barn, kicking up animal dander and dust as they went. The walls of the loft were covered in graffiti, and there were cigarette butts and beer cans strewn about the floor. There was also a dilapidated mattress, ripped and lying in the corner. They laid out the sleeping bags on the mattress, and rolled up their jackets for pillows. Ollie lay down, and curled up to go to sleep. Evan sat up in his sleeping bag, looking forward.
“Evan?” Ollie said, looking over at Evan.
“Yeah?” Evan said, looking in the direction of the barn door.
“We’re going home in the morning, right?”
“Yeah,” Evan said. “We are. Now go to sleep.” Evan waited until Ollie was asleep, then slipped out of the sleeping bag and stepped down the ladder and out of the barn. He started the truck, and thanked heaven that Ollie was a heavy sleeper. He took a rifle from the truck bed and laid it on the passenger seat.
As he drove, his mind kept going back to his dog. Evan could picture him sleeping in the yard. He had been on a hunting trip a few weeks earlier, with his father. He hadn’t been too eager to shoot a gun. He wasn’t sure what was supposed to happen when you went hunting.
“You aim it like this,” Evan’s father said, putting the rifle up and putting his shoulder back. He handed the rifle to Evan, who stood there, confused.
“Didn’t you hear me?” his father said, looking puzzled.
“Yes,” Evan said. “I just don’t know what to do.”
“I just told you,” his father said, reaching over, snatching the gun out of Evan’s hands. “You aim it like this,” his father said again, then shoved the gun back at Evan, who stumbled back a few steps.
“I’m sorry,” Evan said softly, afraid to say anything else for fear of getting slapped, or worse.
“What kind of a man are you going to be if you can’t even shoot a gun?” his father said. “Now let’s get going, we don’t have much daylight left.”
Evan had only been hunting once before, but hadn’t shot anything. The woods were thick where they were. The woods were the only thing Evan liked about hunting. He always walked behind his father so he could at least lose himself in his thoughts for a little while and not have to deal with his father’s exacting standards or his hair-trigger temper. Once, when Evan was eight, when Ollie was a baby, Evan’s father took him on one of his fishing trips. His father had let a fish get away from him, and Evan asked why. Thinking the boy was mocking him, Evan’s father flew into a rage and, grabbing the boy with both hands, repeatedly shoved his face down in the dirt. He ignored Evan for the rest of the day, and made him ride a hundred miles back to Amarillo in the back of the truck, in the rain.
On this outing, Evan was allowed to bring his dog, Bones, but only if it stayed tied to the truck the entire time. Bones had chewed through the rope while Evan and his father were off in the woods and, naturally, went off to find them.
“There it is,” Evan’s father said, pointing his rifle at a small white-tailed deer about a hundred yards away in a clearing. “Remember what I said before about keeping the gun level.” Evan was nervous, and his hands were clammy. Although his whole body was shaking, he leveled the gun, and shot.
The deer bolted when it heard the shot, but the bullet caught it in the back left leg. It started to run away, but Evan’s father shot and grazed its back. After the second shot, Bones came running out of the brush, barking, and knocking Evan’s father off balance. The deer ran away into the woods.
“God damn it,” Evan’s father yelled. “I swear to god…” He aimed his rifle at the dog.
“No!” Evan said, running over to his father.
“I told you to keep that god damned dog tied up didn’t I?” his father said.
“I swear, I didn’t know he wasn’t tied up, Daddy, I swear,” Evan pleaded. His father cocked the gun. “Don’t!” Evan cried. He fired. Evan heard a yelp, and he felt sick.
Bones ran away as fast as he could with Evan following behind him. The boy’s legs were weak as he ran. His mouth was dry and he looked around wildly, calling for his dog. He heard his father yelling for him, and ran faster.
“Evan!” he yelled. “Come here!” Evan didn’t even break stride. He kept running and weaving through the underbrush, looking everywhere all at once, calling for his yellow lab. Suddenly, Evan saw the ground coming up at him, and instinctively put out his arms to catch himself. He hit his head on the ground and lay unmoving for a moment. He heard his father yelling for him off in the distance and bolted up. He stumbled as he tried to stand on his ankle, which had been sprained in the fall. He called for Bones. The dog limped over to Evan, who was sitting on a fallen tree. The dog began licking the boy’s face, which was now flushed and puffy from crying. As his father approached, Evan covered the dog’s body with his own.
“Evan,” his father said calmly. “Quit your crying and get out of the way.” Evan didn’t move. The dog’s entire stomach was covered with blood, and a small bullet wound pumped blood down its hindquarter. Evan’s father picked him up with one arm and shoved him away. His daddy fired a second shot, and the dog stopped moving. Evan’s father looked at the dog, and his son, who was huddled over its body, weeping.
“Fucking dog,” his father said.
Evan passed the rundown gas station on the edge of town, and his own middle school. He passed his favorite video arcade at the strip mall, and the big woods behind the high school where he liked to go walking, and finally came to his own driveway.
He shut off the truck and took the gun from the passenger seat. He walked up to his house, which now looked foreign to him. He looked up at his and Ollie’s bedroom window which was still open a crack from when they’d escaped. The house didn’t seem real to him anymore. It was more like an apparition or an oppressive, inescapable hallucination than his home now. Even the trees in the yard, the ones he’d climbed summer after summer, looked sinister somehow — like their tree fingers would reach down and snatch him up if he came too close to them. Evan walked past the shade tree with the chewed, knotted rope tied around it. A light came on as he stood on the porch. A tear rolled down his cheek, and then he took a short, sharp breath and opened the door.
Josh Medsker is a writer and educator from New Jersey (via Alaska). His journalism, poetry, fiction, and creative non-fiction has been published in a variety of publications, including The Anchorage Press, The Brooklyn Rail, OVS, and We’ll Never Have Paris. Since 2001, he has published the literary/culture blog (and sometime zine), Twenty-Four Hours. He can be reached via email at email@example.com.