“Jason, Jason, wake up!” Jason was jostled out of a sound sleep to a violent shaking of his shoulders and a harsh whisper in his ear.

The boy groaned and rolled over, covering up his head with his pillow. “Go away.” he mumbled.

His older brother grabbed the pillow from Jason’s grasping hands and beat him over the head with it. “Get up, get up, get up!” Even though there was an urgency in his words and tone, he never spoke above a whisper.

“Pat, stop it!” Jason whined as he rolled up into a ball, protecting his head with his arms.

“Shh,” Patrick jumped up on the bed beside his brother. “Quiet, you don’t want ’em to hear you.” He sat tailor style on the bed, pulling the pillow close to his chest. He wrapped his arms tightly around it as if it could comfort him.

“Who?” Jason, satisfied his brother wasn’t going to hit him with the pillow again, sat up. He rubbed sleep out of his eyes and peered blearily at Patrick. The darkness of the room was cut only by the diffused yellow glow of the night light plugged into the socket near the bedroom door.

Patrick’s eyes glittered in the soft light; his pupils dilated and there was a look of stark terror in them. “Mama and Uncle Eddie.” he murmured, the words nearly inaudible.

Jason heard him as clearly as if he’d shouted the name. The younger boy shrank in on himself, collapsing like a deflating balloon. He pulled his knees up to his chest and wrapped his arms around them in a protective manner.

He shook his head in denial even though he knew Patrick would never lie about him, “When?”

Patrick knew exactly what Jason was asking. He shrugged, “An hour, maybe more. Mama and him are in the kitchen.”

“Mama’s awake? What time is it?” There was a spark of hope in Jason’s eyes.

“Late but not too late.” Patrick whispered back.

Jason’s eyes shuttered in disappointment, emotion draining out of him. He collapsed onto the bed as the effort to remain upright became too much for him. He curled up in the fetal position and automatically put his thumb in his mouth. “It’s not morning,” he murmured from around his digit. His words were a statement rather than a question.

Patrick nodded in agreement. “Come on,” he slid off the bed, still clutching the pillow. He grabbed Jason’s arm and pulled his younger brother’s thumb out of his mouth. Jason whimpered and tried to scramble back into bed.

“Jase, come on!” There was a cruciality in Patrick’s voice that cut through the fear paralyzing his brother. Jason got up and grabbed the quilt off his bed. He obediently followed his older brother over to Patrick’s bed where he loaded Jason up with another blanket. He pulled his own pillow off the bed and carried it along with Jason’s over to the closet which was built into the wall almost directly behind the bedroom door.

It was an average sized clothing closet: two feet deep and four feet long. It was just the right size for two small boys, ages ten and seven, to hunker down in for the night.

Patrick opened the door and sighed when confronted with the tangle of jackets, shoes and toys on the floor. Mama hounded them to keep the closet clean but it was so hard to do. She helped them hang their clothes but refused to pick stuff up off the floor. It usually wasn’t an issue but then Uncle Eddie hadn’t visited in a long time, months at least.

Patrick dropped the pillows on the floor and pulled the mess out of the closet, piling it in front of the bedroom door. Patrick pushed the pillows with his sock clad foot into the now bare floor of the closet. He turned around to find his brother.

Jason was still standing beside Patrick’s bed. He was staring at the bedroom door, his thumb firmly in his mouth, his cheeks and lips making sucking motions.

“Jase!” Patrick ran to the younger boy and tugged at his arm. Jason blinked slowly up at his older brother. He took his thumb out of his mouth and clutched at his brother’s hand, his fingers slimy and warm from saliva. To his credit Patrick held onto the smaller hand.

“Don’t want Uncle Eddie here.” He shook his head, trying to deny the truth.

“I know, I know. I don’t too. Let’s try an’ sleep. The closet’ll be safe. I promise.” Patrick pulled on Jason’s hand and the boy followed Patrick across the room. Patrick took the blankets from Jason’s arms and piled them on the floor on top of the pillows.

“Come on,” urged Patrick. The sound of footsteps in the hallway outside their bedroom made his heart pound. He shoved Jason into the closet and the boy fell on top of the pile of bedding.

There was a rattling of the door knob of their bedroom door. Jason burrowed into the blankets, hiding within the billowy folds.

Patrick stopped and stared at the door in horror.

“I just want to look in on the boys, Marian. I’ll come to bed in a moment. You don’t need to wait up for me.”

There was a murmur of a woman’s voice but from inside the room the children couldn’t make out the words of their mother. The sound of it, though, galvanized Patrick. He dove into the closet and pulled the door shut behind him, careful to close it gently so as not to arouse suspicion from Uncle Eddie.

Jason cried out when they were left in the dark. “Elliot!” He wiggled and kicked out, hitting Patrick in the side as he tried to reach the door from his corner of the closet.

“Hey, Jase, calm down.” Patrick reached out and grabbed onto Jason’s hands, keeping him from opening the door.

“Elliot’s still in bed! He’ll get hurt.”

“Jase, you can’t go out there. Your stupid elephant’ll be fine. Uncle Eddie won’t hurt him but he will hurt you. Remember?”

Jason stopped struggling in Patrick’s arms as memories of Uncle Eddie’s last visit washed over him. He started shaking and Patrick felt hot tears hit his forearm.

“Don’t leave,” Jason muttered over and over again.

Patrick pulled his brother closer to him, hugging the boy tightly, rocking him in his arms. “Never,” he whispered back. “I’ll never leave you.”

He pulled the blankets up over them and scooted back into his corner, continuing to hold his crying brother.

Jason learned at an early age to cry silently and, even though he continued to sob, he curled up against Patrick’s side and was quiet. Patrick knew from experience that his brother would be asleep in a few minutes.

He had to remain vigilant, though. He closed his eyes and listened as hard as possible. He knew Uncle Eddie was out there and he could enter the bedroom at any moment.

So far Uncle Eddie hadn’t pulled them out of the closet when he’s found them there but Patrick knew it was only a matter of time. Would this be the night? Patrick could hear his heart beat thumping in his ears; it drowned out the sounds from the room beyond.

Finally he heard something which originated from outside the closet. There was a muffled thud and a curse. “God damn it! This place is a pig sty. What kinda kids are you raising, Miriam?”

The softer tones of his mother’s voice wafted through the closed door and then the bedroom door slammed shut.

Patrick waited for a count of ten before he heaved a sigh of relief. Uncle Eddie seldom visited them in the middle of the night. Once he settled down in Mama’s room, he would be there until morning. Patrick never took a chance it would stay that way, though. They would sleep in the closet until morning and then sneak back into their beds before Mama knew they were missing.

Patrick held tightly onto his brother. He had to do something. There had to be some way to escape the clutches of Uncle Eddie. Waiting until Daddy got home from the war seemed like the only solution. Daddy was a soldier, he’d protect them from Uncle Eddie. Uncle Eddie couldn’t threaten Daddy. Daddy had guns. But what if Daddy never returned? After overhearing Mama and Uncle Eddie talking the kitchen he knew he could only depend on himself. No one was going to swoop down and rescue them, not even Daddy.

Patrick had to come up with a new plan.

He drifted off to sleep, dreaming of ways to save Jason and himself.

* * *

Patrick awoke when the light of the bedroom invaded the closet. He cautiously cracked open his eyelids, terrified by what could be waiting for him.

The closet door was open and Mama was standing in the doorway. She had her hands on her hips and she was looking down upon her sons with a frown on her face. She was wearing her ratty blue terry cloth bathrobe and it was open in the front to reveal a silky pink slip edged with lace.

“Patrick James Foster, you can stop pretending to be asleep and explain yourself.”

Patrick opened his eyes and pushed the covers back. “Mama?” he murmured. “What time is it?”

“Early, just after six.” she was going to say more but at that moment Jason muttered in his sleep and rolled over, bringing him to their mother’s attention.

“Both of you? What were you thinking?”

Patrick struggled to untangle himself from the covers and his little brother, “Don’t blame Jason, Mama. It was my idea.” He kicked off the blankets and scrambled to his feet.

“What are you boys playing at?” her voice softened as she looked at the sleeping figure of Jason curled up on the closet floor. She crouched down and began fussing with the blankets, folding and straightening them around the still form of her youngest son.

Patrick stepped around his mother and got out of her way. Her face took on that soft dreamy look she perpetually had when Uncle Eddie was around. There was a musky smoky odor about her person, one Patrick also associated with Uncle Eddie. At least she never smelled like rancid meat and stale sweat like Uncle Eddie.

Patrick controlled his urge to shudder as unbidden memories surfaced. More than anything it was the sour scent of the man that filled Patrick’s mind at the most inopportune times, such as the playground at school when Arnold “Ratface” Rafferty held him down and pounded on him. Vomiting on Rafferty was one way to get the bully to leave him alone but earning the nickname “Puking Patty” was humiliating.

Mama stopped fiddling with the blankets around Jason and rose to her feet. She looked expectantly at Patrick. “Well?”

Patrick shook himself from his revery. “Mama?” he asked.

“Why are you sleepin’ in the closet?”

“We was playing cowboys.” Patrick said the first fib that jumped into his head. He looked down at the floor, certain Mama would know he was lying.

“Cowboys? In the closet?” Mama cocked her head and looked at her oldest son.

Patrick nodded solemnly, “Uh-huh. We needed a safe place to hide from the Indians.”

“Why the closet, Patty?”

“It’s our cave.” Patrick was proud of himself for coming up with the idea but he didn’t dare show Mama how pleased he was with himself. He kept his head down, looking up at her through his eyelashes.

“Oh,” Mama looked startled as if she would never think of something like that. “How clever, Patty. But it’s still no excuse not to sleep in your bed.”

“Yes, ma’am.” Patrick said, again looking at the ground rather than at his mother.

She signed loudly and straightened her bathrobe, patting it down with nervous hands. “He can’t stay in there,” she commented as she gestured to Jason.

“I can wake him up,” Patrick claimed as he moved toward his little brother.

“No,” Miriam replied, “let him sleep. I’ll get Eddie to move him.”

“Oh, no, Mama, that’s okay. I can help him back into bed. I’m a big boy now.”

Miriam fondly ruffled Patrick’s hair with her fingers, “You’re getting there, Patty, but even you aren’t strong enough to pick up your brother.”

She pushed the closet door closed just enough so she could open the bedroom door. She hollered, “Eddie, come here for a second.”

Patrick felt a protest on his lips but he left it unvoiced. Uncle Eddie said he’d hurt Mama if they said anything and Patrick believed him. The big man was crazy, even the Army thought so. Daddy said the Army thought Uncle Eddie was “batshit crazy.” Mama yelled at Daddy for saying a bad word in front of Patrick and Jason. Uncle Eddie had laughed boisterously in that way he did when he had too much beer. He said it was okay that the Army turned him loose on a Section 8, at least he didn’t have to go back into that jungle and kill more Cong. He could stay at home and enjoy the sights.

Patrick remembered that night was the first time he’d seen Uncle Eddie touch Mama. Uncle Eddie pulled her close to him as he sat at the kitchen table and grabbed her butt. Mama giggled and swatted at his hands while Daddy laughed. Daddy said no Vietcong could keep him from his girl. It was the last night Daddy spent at home so Patrick remembered it clearly even though it was a long time ago. So long ago that both Jason and Patrick had celebrated two birthdays each without Daddy. Mama went off and visited him when he was on leave once but she didn’t take them along with her.

Patrick heard Uncle Eddie’s footsteps in the hallway. He resisted the urge to run. Instead he backed up until he felt his mattress hit the back of his legs. He hastily crawled into his bed. He curled up in the fetal position, feeling exposed and vulnerable without a blanket to cover himself with.

Eddie pushed open the door and literally stumbled into the room. He tripped over a shoe left in the doorway and nearly fell. He cursed and the hand rolled smoke in his mouth fell to the floor. He stooped to pick it up, having a hard time straightening back up due to his girth.

“God damn kids! Miriam, you need to do something about this mess or I’ll do something for you!” He scratched his hairy belly as he glared around the room, his eyes narrowing as he met Patrick’s. Patrick quickly buried his head in his mattress.

“Hush now, Eddie,” Miriam said, laying a hand on his arm. “They’ll take care of it in the morning, at a more reasonable time.”

Eddie calmed down immediately when he looked at Miriam. He pulled the elastic waistband of his blue and white checkered boxers up over his beer belly and returned the joint to the corner of his mouth, “Whadda ya need, Miriam?”

She nodded toward the closet. “Can you take Jason back to bed for me? The rascals decided to stay up and play instead of sleep last night.”

Eddie frowned as he slammed the bedroom door behind him. He opened up the closet door and looked down upon the sleeping figure of Jason. By now, Jason’s thumb was in his mouth but he was still sound asleep.

“Why do you let ’em get away with such behavior, Miriam?”

“Now Eddie, don’t be that way. They’re just being boys. Will you please put Jason back into his own bed?”

Eddie grunted what sounded like an affirmative. He squatted down and scooped up Jason.

Miriam followed Eddie, carrying the blankets and pillows from the closet. She stopped at Patrick’s bed, the one closest to the door, and covered him up with his quilt. She smiled slightly at him as she handed him his pillow, “Go back to sleep, Patty. We’ll talk about this later.”

Patrick pulled the pillow over his head and tried to pretend Uncle Eddie wasn’t in the room. Mama was there so they were safe but they wouldn’t stay that way as long as Uncle Eddie was staying in the house.

He heard Jason whine as he was awakened by either Uncle Eddie or Mama. The younger boy cried out and Mama shushed him. Patrick could hear Mama singing a lullaby to Jason. Patrick wanted to listen but he was so tense from Uncle Eddie being in the room he couldn’t concentrate on Mama’s low voice.

Patrick felt someone sit down on the bed and his heart rate increased. The cheap mattress dipped dangerously under the weight of the person and it threatened to spill Patrick onto the floor. He gripped the edge of the bed for support as he uncovered his head enough to peek out from underneath the pillow. He knew exactly what he’d see.

Uncle Eddie was sitting beside him, an unpleasant grin on his face.

The big man leaned in, his foul breath polluting Patrick’s nose with the odor of smoke and decay. Patrick held his breath and resisted the desire to cry out. He knew if he did then Uncle Eddie would make things worse for him and Jason the next time he caught them alone.

“Hey, Patty boy, think you’re clever, hidin’ in the closet from me, eh? You’ll be payin’ for that, boy. Your mama might be payin’ for it, too.” Uncle Eddie chuckled under his breath so Miriam wouldn’t hear him. He blew smoke in Patrick’s face and the boy had to suppress a cough.

He snaked a hand underneath the covers and Patrick tried not to move. The less he reacted to anything Uncle Eddie did to him the easier it would be. Uncle Eddie’s hand moved up Patrick’s pajama clad leg to the boy’s crotch. It was too rough to be called a caress; it was more of a grope.

Patrick held still under the man’s ministrations, only his white knuckled hand holding onto the edge of the mattress portrayed his terror. He expelled the breath of air he hadn’t realized he’d been holding in only when the man grabbed his balls and squeezed.

“You’re mine,” Uncle Eddie hissed, “Don’t forget that you and your brother are mine. Do you understand?”

Patrick’s eyes widened in fear and pain as he nodded violently in response to Uncle Eddie’s question.

Uncle Eddie was satisfied with Patrick’s answer and the dread he inspired in the child. He loosened his grip on Patrick.

Patrick squeezed his eyes shut and prepared himself for more abuse when Uncle Eddie suddenly removed his hand completely and stood up.

Patrick opened his eyes enough to see Mama standing over him. Uncle Eddie hovered behind her, a warning look on his face. Patrick knew better than to say anything.

“Go back to sleep, Patty. I’ll wake you up for breakfast in a few hours.” She leaned over and kissed his forehead.

Patrick nodded and sighed in relief when Uncle Eddie left the room in front of his mother. Mama looked back at the boys before closing the door behind her.

Patrick waited a few minutes to make sure Uncle Eddie wasn’t coming back before scrambling out of bed. He slipped across the room as quietly as he could and crawled into Jason’s bed.

Jason was as awake as he was. The younger boy immediately burrowed into Patrick’s side when the older boy crawled under the covers with him.

“He was here. Did ya see? He was here.” Jason’s words were muffled against Patrick’s stomach. He was shaking nearly as hard as Patrick even though Uncle Eddie hadn’t threatened the younger boy.

“Shh, I know but Mama was here, too.” Patrick rubbed his brother’s back, soothing himself with the motion even as it calmed down Jason.

“Don’t leave me, Pat. Don’t leave.” Jason was sandwiched between Patrick on one side of him and his stuffed elephant, Elliot, on the other. He was as safe as he ever felt in his bed but it wasn’t safe enough. It would never be safe enough as long as Uncle Eddie was around.

“I won’t, Jason. I’m here.” Patrick closed his eyes and snuggled down in his brother’s bed, once again contemplating how they were going to escape from Uncle Eddie once and for all.

* * *

Patrick lay on the bathroom floor. He was still nauseous but his stomach was empty and the dry heaves had finally subsided. He leaned his head against the floor. The cool tile felt good against his fevered forehead. He knew hiding in the bathroom would eventually catch his mother’s attention or Uncle Eddie would get suspicious but he couldn’t bring himself to leave the room just yet. The pain was receding but it was by no means gone. He knew from experience it would be days, maybe even as long as a week, before the the bruises and abrasions abated.

Tears flooded his eyes and he gave himself permission to cry for the first time in years. He sobbed silently, knowing, as his brother did, that to be too loud would attract the wrong kind of attention.

Where was Mama? Was she still at the store? How long did he have until she returned? When would this end? Would it ever end?

Uncle Eddie was getting more and more violent and there didn’t seem to be anything Patrick could do to pacify him even though he tried. What chance did Jason have against him when he was in such a mood when Patrick couldn’t stand it himself?

The thought of Jason made him panic. The worst raced through his mind. Where was Uncle Eddie? Was he with Jason right now?

Patrick pulled himself up off the bathroom floor and washed his face with cold water. His eyes were puffy from crying but he knew enough cold water would bring the swelling down, just maybe not quickly enough to save Jason. He patted his face dry on the floral guest towel Mama kept in the bathroom. He wasn’t supposed to use it but at the moment he didn’t care if he got in trouble with Mama. There were more important things, such as Jason.

He cautiously opened the bathroom door and peeked out. No one was in the hallway. He scurried across the hall into his bedroom. Jason was laying in bed, curled up around his ragged stuffed elephant, his thumb in his mouth.

Patrick was too late.

“Where’s Uncle Eddie?”

Jason shook his head. “Don’t know. Don’t care.” he mumbled. He hadn’t been crying but it was obvious he was in distress. His face was white and there was a fear around his eyes that hadn’t been there before Uncle Eddie caught Patrick alone in Mama’s room. He trembled, the movement so intense the quilt at the foot of the bed quivered. The hand sewn fabric blanket quaked like a leaf in an autumn breeze, the motion caused by the mattress keeping cadence with Jason’s fear.

Patrick crawled into bed with his brother but Jason moved away from him, “Go away,” he said.

Patrick knew better than to touch Jason. It was too soon, the memories too fresh in his mind. “I’m sorry.”

“You left me.” said Jason, his voice flat.

“I know. It won’t happen again.”

Jason didn’t respond.

Patrick curled up at the end of the bed. “I’m sorry, Jason. I promise I won’t leave you alone.”

Jason moved further away from Patrick until he was curled up in the far corner of the bed as far away from Patrick as he could get without getting off the bed. “Don’t believe you. Said that before.”

“I know.” Guilt ate at Patrick, making his stomach burn. He had to do something, anything to change their situation. What could he do, though? He was only one small boy and Uncle Eddie was a grown man.

He laid there on his brother’s bed and thought hard about what he was able to do to make things better for him and Jason.

* * *

“Jase, Jase.” Patrick ran up behind his little brother and slung an arm around his shoulder. “Come with me.”

There was suppressed energy in Patrick’s step. His eyes glittered with excitement and some other emotion was bubbling just below the surface.

He guided Jason into their bedroom.

“What we doin’?” asked Jason, confusion on his young face.

“You’ll see. I know what to do.”

Jason shook his head, not understanding his brother.

“I know what to do!” Patrick got even more animated.

“Tell me, tell me!” said Jason. His eyes widened in response to his brother. The energy pouring off Patrick was contagious and Jason bounced up and down on his heels as he stood there.

Patrick dragged Jason over to the closet. “I have something to show you.”

He opened up the closet door and stepped into it. He pulled Jason down to the floor with him. “Take a look at this.”

He pulled open his book bag and pulled out a gun. Jason’s eyes got as wide as saucers and he leaned back away from the weapon.

“Pat! What cha ya doin’ with that? Where’d ya git it?”

Patrick reached into the bag again and pulled out a handful of shiny brass cartridges. “In Mama’s room, in the closet.”

“It’s Daddy’s?” Jason was in awe. The boys knew Daddy had guns but it had been so long since Daddy was home and they’d seen any of Daddy’s belongings. Mama put all but a few photos of Daddy away when Uncle Eddie started staying the night.

Patrick nodded, “Yeah.”

“What ya gonna do with it?” Jason gnawed on his bottom lip.

“It has to end, Jase. You know it does. He won’t stop.”

Jason didn’t have to ask who Patrick was referring to, “You gonna kill him?”

Patrick shook his head, “No, no. That won’t end it.” He reached in the bag again and slipped another brown handled revolver out of it. “I got you one, too.” Patrick held the gun out to his brother.

Jason scooted back as far as he could, curling himself up in ball in the corner. He shook his head violently, “No, no, Pat. I don’t want it.”

“Jase, you have to. It’s the only way. He’ll never stop., you know he won’t stop. If we don’t do it, he’ll do it to us. You heard what he said, what he always says.”

Jason shoved his thumb in his mouth. “Daddy will fix it,” he slurred around the perpetually wrinkled digit.

“Daddy’s not coming back.”

Jason blinked at Patrick, “Whadda mean?”

“I heard Mama and Uncle Eddie talking. Daddy is M … M. I. A.”

“What’s that?” Jason pulled his thumb out of his mouth just long enough to talk before sticking it right back in.

“I don’t know.” Patrick shook his head, “Mama says we won’t see him again and Uncle Eddie is moving in to take care of us.”

“What?” Jason sat up, his thumb popping out of his mouth as if he forgot about the comforting digit. “He’s dead?” Jason loudly whispered the offending word as if it was as forbidden as the four letter words Uncle Eddie liked to use.

Patrick nodded solemnly. “Mama doesn’t want to tell us.”

Jason collapsed in a heap on the floor of the closet. A low whimper started in his chest and by the time it reached his mouth it was a wail. He sobbed and squalled, grief pouring off him in waves. Patrick let him cry for a few minutes. He’d come to terms with his father’s demise on his own earlier that day.

Patrick finally got impatient with Jason’s crying. They needed to stick to the plan. Mama and Uncle Eddie would be in her bedroom for only a little while longer. He grabbed his brother’s shoulders and pulled him upright, “Stop, stop it, Jase!”

Jason’s face was red and streaked with tears. His eyes were swollen and at some point he bit his lip. It was puffy and a spot of blood was on his chin.

“Daddy!” he wailed.

“Shh, Jase. We don’t want Uncle Eddie to hear.”

Unlike anything else, those words made Jason swallow his tears. He hiccuped and sobbed but he quieted down. He crawled back into the corner and stuck his thumb in this mouth. He sucked on it so hard it was surprising he didn’t draw blood.

Patrick picked one of the revolvers back up and opened the chamber. He loaded the gun carefully with the rounds he’d stolen along with the guns from the wooden box in top of his mom’s closet. His hands shook as he concentrated on the task before him but he was determined. There was no future for him or Jason, not now that their father wasn’t coming home from the war. Before he always had hope but that hope died when he heard about his father. There would be nothing to stop Uncle Eddie from moving in and marrying Mama without Daddy there to stop him, stop them.

He put down the first revolver and picked up the second one. He loaded it as carefully as he loaded the first. He knew his biggest obstacle would be Jason. His brother was too young to see the big picture. Patrick needed him to understand they had no other choice. There was no other way out.

Patrick finished loading the second revolver and he set it down on the closet floor beside the first. He looked up and saw Jason starting at him with wide eyes.

“What?” he asked his little brother.

“You’re right.” said Jason in a tiny voice. “He’ll never stop.”

Patrick nodded and reached for a revolver. He grabbed it and held it out to Jason. The younger boy extended his hand. It trembled uncontrollably and he nearly dropped the weapon once it was in his grasp.

Patrick lunged forward to catch it but Jason held onto it even though it took him a moment to adjust to the weight of the loaded revolver.

“We’ll do it together, Jase. I won’t leave you alone. We’ll never be alone again. I promise.”

Jason scooted over until he was plastered against Patrick’s side. Patrick picked up his own weapon.

“Okay, we’ll do this on the count of three.” Patrick cocked the gun, using both hands to pull back the hammer. It was more difficult than he was expecting. Loading the gun was much easier. Jason would not be able to do it.

Patrick took the weapon from Jason’s limp fingers and exchanged it for the one that was ready to fire.

“Be careful,” he warned Jason.

Jason nodded, tears once again streaming down his face.

Patrick cocked his own gun and held it up to his forehead. He nodded to Jason to do the same.

Jason held his gun up to his temple in imitation of Patrick. His hands trembled so much that he couldn’t keep the gun in place.

Patrick reached over and steadied his brother’s gun with his other hand. He wrapped his hand around his brother’s, his finger replacing Jason’s on the trigger, though the younger boy’s hand still held the grip.

Patrick took a deep breath. “Are you ready? Can you do this?”

“I’m scared, Pat. I don’t wanna be alone.” Jason’s tone was plaintive.

“You won’t be, I promise. And you know I always keep my promises. Right?”

Jason nodded slowly, his hand tightening on the butt of the weapon.

“On the count of three, okay?”

Jason’s hand trembled underneath his brother’s but there was a determined look on his face. Patrick’s tight grasp held the gun in place even though both of his index fingers were starting to cramp from holding them above the triggers in anticipation.

Patrick took a deep breath, “One … two … three.”

He squeezed the triggers on both guns simultaneously.

The concussion of the gunfire made Jason’s head jerk back reflexively. The barrel of the gun slipped at the last possible second and the bullet hit him in the throat. The small caliber of the projectile lodged in his spinal cord.

Jason was alive but paralyzed. His life’s blood pumped out of the jagged hole in his neck and it would be only a short time before he expired. He couldn’t move and couldn’t cry out but his mind still worked.

Inside his head he was screaming as the top of his lungs. His ears rang with the echo of the shots in the confined space of the closet. His nostrils were filled with the harsh scent of gunpowder and the rich metallic of blood. He could taste both smells as he breathed shallowly through his slack mouth. There was a fine spray of blood and black powder on his face. He could feel the warmth of it on his skin and see tiny globules of blood stuck to his eyelashes.

He was unable to close his eyes despite his fervent wish he could. His head had been pushed back against the back wall of the closet by the force of the gun shot. It was angled at an awkward position that could only be achieved by the mortally wounded or the already dead. Less than six inches away from him, directly in his line of sight, was the expressionless face of his brother.

Patrick was dead, his head hanging limply on his unmoving chest. A small entrance hole in his forehead was blackened with the flash of gunpowder. His eyes were half open and as Jason watched, unable to look away, the once bright eyes faded, becoming dull and devoid of not only life but spirit.

Jason could feel a numbing coldness creep slowly through his body starting in his extremities. The warmth of his blood pouring over him like a thick red blanket couldn’t keep the chill away. He knew death was upon him. The final thought that raced through his mind before the claws of the Grim Reaper snatched him away was, “Pat, you lied. You left me. I’m alone.”