February 4, 2008
By Dustin Gallo, Reno, NV

The temperature is plummeting, and tears streak across my face like bullets—the ones you hear about in books that brush so close to the hero that he feels them tickle his skin. But in books, they never do any more than glance off the faces of the perfect, infallible heroes. They somehow have a positive magnetism, and the same positive force in the hero manages to reflect every blow thrown at him (I wish it didn’t have to be a ‘him,’ but that seems to be the norm in these stories). And then, as if god himself had built them with magnets in their stomachs, the bullets somehow seem to find their marks deep in the gut of the villains. Everyone in an action-packed story who deserves a bullet gets one: a bullet buried somewhere deep and secret inside their soft fleshy bellies.

There are two kinds of people in stories: the jerks who can be killed at a whim, and the immortal heroes who wouldn’t die if they tackled a live stick of dynamite.

I taste salt in my mouth, and smell the faint and unsettling smell of blood in my throat that plagues those who are over-exerting themselves after altogether ignoring physical activity for nearly two years. I can feel the wetness of my tears evaporating off my zit-riddled face, and at the same time I feel the salt left over harden into something unpleasant and crunchy on my bare skin. My hair is too long: it attacks my eyes and then blows up into the air assaulting my face. I hate the greasy mop sitting on top of me, and it hates me just as much. It always wanted to be a cleanly trimmed and attractive lid to top nearly as attractive a man. It was expected of me, however, to let it grow. I’m sure somewhere inside my head I have the sense to realize that I hate it long just as must as it does (because it’s so much more prone to cooperating when it’s cut short), but what the teenager wants for himself never does seem to make the decision, does it?

Either you hate yourself, and find sanctuary in the fact that everyone else likes you, or you let them all hate you, and cling to the knowledge that you’re being true to yourself.

I can hardly see anything anymore. The sun is baring down into my eyes at the speed of an Indy car with a drunk psycho ward escapee gripping the wheel, and I’m streaking toward it at almost the same speed. My bike wobbles under me, and I’m forced to focus on the ground for a moment to keep from falling off my train and being shred into pieces on the rails. I’m barreling down Great Mountain Avenue, but I’m sure I’m not in danger. I always told my mom that they should have called it Little Hill Avenue, anyway. I guess that whoever was naming the roads was so proud of the only sloped road on the only piece of sloped land in the city that they over-exaggerated it a bit. I’m not sure who decided to slap names onto that very last map that was simply a beautiful work of color and shape and not yet of language, but they didn’t have much tact, if you ask me. Nobody asks me.

Nobody cares what the youth says. They’re all worried about what those old people sitting on the schoolboard, or in the business meeting, or in the White House are saying. They know everything, and if you don’t know everything too, you don’t know anything.

I realize that the sun is only waging war on my pupils for the sake of necessity, and not out of spite. It’s sinking below the hardy mountains in the distance (and these ones really are mountains), and it’s taking some of the purple and red from them and painting onto the sky. There’s never a white cloud in Arizona during a sunset. Again, with my attention focused and the heavens instead of the earth, my bike wobbles under me. I remember that I’m going away from home and toward the city as fast as possible. I remember that the parents I love are people I hate, and that the twin sister I almost had was really the luckier of the two of us. Growing up as an accident is awful—they try to make you feel like you’re wanted when they’re in a good mood, but nobody can keep a smile stretched across their lips for too long, especially if they’re trying to point that smile at me.

There’s nothing more precious to the human mind than life—but only very rarely does that feeling extend toward the lives of others. It is, however, perfectly acceptable to take that precious life away from others, especially if the government gives you the gun and the bullets and the motive.

I try to protect the lives of others, I really do. And though I’m really not sure, I think it’s the reason I’m flying as quickly as I possibly can away from my home (house, anyway), down a hill that I’m sure my spindly, scrawny legs will never be able to make in the other direction. My dad’s pistol is riding with me. I can feel it prodding me, taunting me into doing something, anything, that I’ll regret. It chafes against my back, where it’s rubbing my skin between my back and my belt where it’s tucked in, under my jacket. It starts to itch, and I’m not sure if it’s because of the sweat it’s rubbing into me, or if it’s for a darker reason. I try to keep it out of my thoughts, and become increasingly glad that my house is shrinking further and further away from me.

I’m not unique in the fact that I leave on journeys without a destination. I don’t care where I end up. I’m leaving, just like so many others, to get away from the present and not to find a future.

For reasons I can’t explain, my fingers suddenly grasp onto the brake, and I can feel my weight shift in just the wrong direction right before it happens. I’ve stopped my front tire before the back, and I have the gut-wrenching sensation of weightlessness for a split second before my bike slips behind and out from under me. I can see my bony fingers, almost as if against my will, stretch out in front of me as I satisfy the useless human reflex to put some part of your body in front of some other part of your body so that it gets hurt instead. I slide across the gritty, brown pavement as I vaguely remember to thank my stars that there isn’t a car coming down the road at this moment, because I’m well out into the middle of the lane. There’s a cacophony of screaming metal on pavement and of bone on flesh, and then I come to a halt, straddled across the double yellow line dead in the center of the road. I get up, and leave my bike to wallow in it’s pain. For my part, I feel almost nothing. I haven’t felt real physical pain for a very long time.

I’m backwards—scars and bodily injury are the stuff that makes a man, and emotional pain, the pain that really hurts, is only for a woman to feel. I hate it.

The gun has somehow found its way into my palm, and I run my fingers over the thing, which is almost alien to me, as I make my way over to the road barrier on the edge of the road. I gaze up into the sky, which now is a spilled artist’s palette, beautiful even for a desert sunset, and wonder what I’m doing. I empty the clip (which I’m not even sure I know how to do) and turn over the tiny little metal murderers in my hand. They’re beautiful. Just the flick of a finger, the burst of some small contraption buried somewhere in this larger contraption that I don’t understand, and these beautiful little works of art will make a couple more men through injury. I’m still not sure what I’m doing, and my thoughts desperately hunt some piece of advice to guide me.

Advice from others is awful. “Fight for peace,” they say. “Everyone is unique,” they say. They can’t even agree with themselves.

Then, a burst of energy. It’d be plenty enough energy to simply put the shiny silver packages back into their sleek back delivery truck and send them somewhere, but I surprise myself. I watch them as I slowly tilt my hand sideways and they tumble away, one by one. There’s one left sitting on my palm, held only by sweat and friction, and I put it back into the pistol. I give it a glance, and the give the sun, which is slowly fading into the next valley, another admiring look. I always liked a good sunset. My grip tightens on the pistol, and I can feel as the adrenaline surges through my body, making my bleeding knuckles throb and the delicate muscles in my face tense all at once. I hurl it into the purple sky with this new burst of strength, and watch as it sails away. To my eyes, it travels up out of the atmosphere and into the sun, where it melts into a sticky mass of molten machinery. I stand, shocked by my own daring, for an immeasurable period of time, and then turn to my bike. It’s not going to be taking me anywhere, and I’ve decided I’m happier to walk, anyway. I hop the railing on the side of the road, and slowly make my way down the ravine, far away from the gun, and toward the sun, the mountains, and the purple sky. My wounds from the crash gradually begin to sting in a way I’d failed to notice before. I smile. I can feel again.

For a brief moment, I wonder if I shouldn’t head back home. I take a minute to lick a stinging cut on my blackened knuckle, and then decide against it. My home isn’t behind me—my house, maybe—but my home is somewhere in that sunset. So I leave on a second journey—one toward the sun, and not away from my family. My new life is the sun.

…And it burns bright in the Arizonan desert.

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