a short tale
The Tahoe Ladies


My life was over.

I knew it as I looked into the barrel of that revolver. My life didn't pass before me but hung there in those few inches between my eyes and the gun. I swallowed hard even though my mouth was dry, cottony. Would I hear the click, see the shell fill the chamber? As much as I wanted to, I couldn't pull my eyes to the stranger's face. I couldn't open my mouth to beg, to plead with him, to not pull the trigger; to tell him there was no more money in the house. My knees were pressed into the hard wood floor and my hands were bound behind my back, making it hard to shake with the overwhelming fear I felt. Still, I sweated and shivered at the same time.

As I watched, mesmerized, I saw his thumb slowly rise then come to rest on the hammer. The clicking sound seemed to fill the room as it was pulled back, one slow notch at a time.

His finger curled around the trigger pulling my life away one halting, strangling breath at a time.

The world exploded into a single, deafening blast and blinding light. A shaft of pain lanced through me, catapulting me away from the gun. My body twisted and I fell sideways to the floor. Stunned, I watched the boards, once polished pine, turned red with blood. He had what he'd come for: money and blood.

The fact that I was still able to see, to think, to breathe, gave me no sudden joy. He wanted me dead. That was a certainty. That the first bullet had not done its job frightened me because now it would happen all over again. I knew I would be pulled upright and forced to look at death once more. My body convulsed in fear. There would be no calm bravado this time.

I closed my eyes, praying he'd think me dead and leave me, in my fearful shame, to die my coward's death.

It was not to be.

There was shouting, but I couldn't make the sounds become words. Paralyzed by the fear of what was to come, I couldn't fight but lay limp, still hoping against hope that he would think me dead.

Hands reached for me...touching...pulling. My bound hands were freed but I couldn't defend myself. They lay useless, like they belonged to someone else...someone truly dead.

Cruelly, he turned me onto my back. My soul shattered with the mere thought of looking again at that pistol so I kept my eyes closed. Then, strangely enough, I found my voice. With courage now gone, I begged my tormentor to simply kill me, and kept repeating those two words.

To silence my cowardly plea, a finger crossed my lips and a word, a sound, a sibilant shhh, came to my ear. Still I begged. Even as he lifted my body from the floor and held me in his arms, I implored him to just kill me.

Through my overpowering fear, I heard again his plea for silence. Yet then, the first time since the torment had begun, I heard my name. No, not a derisive slur of only the last name nor the demanding single syllable of my common name. I listened again, my own pleading silenced just as he had wished.

Then it came. Soft and gentle, like the hands that brushed against my face. Strong and unyielding, equaling the arms that held me. Steady and reassuring, like the heartbeat I heard and recognized.

"Joseph, son, it's over. He's dead. I've got you. You're going to be all right."

It was my father's voice, his words, his reassurance.





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