Flash Fiction Friday: The Arm by Cameron Pierce
I shot my brother’s arm off when I was nine. We were playing with guns in the woods while our father was out. The woman we called our mother had left us the previous winter. We’d never known our real mother.
My brother and I went into the woods behind our house to play fox and hunter. We had played so many times before but nobody ever got hurt for real. I guess the difference was the gun we used, this time our father’s shotgun, not a pellet gun or toy.
The kickback and loud boom scared me. The gun fell out of my arms and I ran. I went into the house and climbed inside the attic and stayed hidden there until I heard our father coming up the stairs.
Our father was a short, potbellied man with a big dark mustache. When I climbed down from the attic, he shook me by the shoulders and said, “Where’s your brother?”
“Outside,” I told him.
My brother and I were not permitted to go outside alone when our father was away.
He dragged me by the arm out into the yard, shouting my brother’s name. I remember that no birds sang or cawed, as if they were all holding their breath.
My father squeezed my arm until I cried out in pain. He demanded to know where my brother was. I wanted to believe that what I knew to be true had never happened, that I’d not shot my brother, that he fell down at the same time the gun went off because he was so good at make-believe.
My father called his name. My brother answered this time, responding with a weak mewl that hardly sounded human. A sick deer sound.
When we came upon him, his right arm was lying next to him.
My father scooped up my bleeding brother.
“Pick up his arm,” he said to me.
I picked up my brother’s arm and followed my father carrying my brother back to our house.
For twenty-eight days, my brother tossed and turned in fever sleep. Without a mother to watch over him, I bore all caretaking responsibilities. I did a good job too. When our father stepped out for a few hours the day after the accident, I took my brother’s severed arm out to the taxidermy shed and skinned the flesh from the bone. I buried the skin and the rest of the arm in a mound of salt. The idea was to stuff his arm the way you’d do a hog or any other wild animal. When my brother awoke, I wanted the first thing he saw to be his arm, perched like a guardian on his nightstand.
That night, my father and I were awoken by a pounding on the front door.
The door nearly broke in on its hinges as my father dressed in boots and loaded his shotgun.
“How’s ’bout bear meat for breakfast?” he asked me. He grinned drunkenly as he said this, his eyes lost in the shadow glow from the bare bulb above.
I stood in the middle of the room, watching him, waiting for the arm to bust down the door, knowing it was no bear.
If it had been my brother in my place, our father would have given him a gun and allowed him first shot at whatever was beyond that door. But I was the weak and sallow one. Even by my own father, I was treated like an insect; though frail, I was not to be trusted.
He threw the door open and shot at nothing.
“Go back to bed,” he said, with a suspicious sneer in his eye.
Deep down I knew my brother’s severed, fleshless arm had scampered off just in time.
When I checked on the arm in the taxidermy shed the next day, I found it glowing, as if filled with fireflies. I packed on another layer of salt. If our father discovered what I was doing to the arm, he’d make me throw it out. As things stood, in his grief and confusion, he’d forgotten that he barked at me to pick up the arm. In fact, within days of my brother’s accident, he refused to see him at all. He talked as if I were his only son.
The night before the first day of deer hunting season, the night before my brother opened his eyes and broke from fit and fever, my father took me out to the taxidermy shed and told me to sit down on an old wooden box, the same box in which my brother’s arm was preserved. I thought he’d found me out. I felt sick. Instead, he closed his hands around mine and smiled out at me from dewy eyes.
“Tomorrow,” he said, “is yours and mine.”
In the absence of my brother, I’d finally become a man to my father.
The next morning before dawn, we set out into the woods.
Cameron Pierce is the Wonderland Book Award-winning author of Lost in Cat Brain Land, Abortion Arcade, Gargoyle Girls of Spider Island, Ass Goblins of Auschwitz, and other books. He is also the editor of Lazy Fascist Press.