August 8, 2011
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Every morning, the alarm rang at o-five hundred hours and thirty minutes, never a second later. The high pitched ringing would echo out the open window and reverberate through the forest, waking the Man, and setting the birds nesting in the nearest pines to flight. Once, the man had sprung from bed, ready, willing, and eager to serve. Now, his body fought him, and every movement he made was a deliberate battle of wills. Time’s will against his own. Time had yet to win. He made the bed in silence. Tucking the corners in flat the way he’d been taught. Then, he walked down the cold hallway towards the kitchen, passing the cabinet of medals to his right with a somber glance. The morning light shone through the window, and lit the silver star afire in the center of the cabinet. Above the cabinet, hidden in the shadow of its crenellation, was his old rifle. The Man’s body creaked and groaned louder than the floorboards as he made his way to the kitchen.

The Man sat upright at the red linoleum kitchen table. The kitchen was a museum piece. The furniture and appliances were remnants of decades past. Not unlike the Man himself. A refrigerator from the early fifties buzzed constantly in the left corner. Inside the fridge, there was fish. The Man fried fish for breakfast every morning, and ate it with an egg, sunny side up and well done. He would finish his breakfast, and he would read the paper, skipping carefully over any violent articles. He read the funnies every day, and laughed out loud at Calvin and Hobbes.

After breakfast, his day began. The hours stretched on as the Man set himself to one chore or another. His house was old, and every summer he had to repair the damage done by the harsh Montana winters. At sixteen hundred hours, the Man walked back to the cabinet in the hallway. He gazed at the medals. He had earned all twelve of them, no one would argue that. In each medal he saw a face. Some were faces he’d saved, and others were faces he’d killed. The silver star in the center was called the highest honor by some. To him it was just a boy. A boy from a small village in Vietnam lying dead in the water, with a star-shaped hole in his eye where the bullet had exited. The medal symbolized his brightest moment to others, for him it recalled his darkest day.

At sixteen hundred hours and thirty seconds, he reached for the gun on the shelf. He took it to the table on the screened-in porch that overlooked the lake. Every afternoon, he cleaned the gun. It shone in the bright sunlight. The barrel was silver from years of polishing, and the wood was oiled to a sheen. The trigger was as quick as it had always been, never allowed to rust. The gun had not been used for decades, yet he cleaned it every day, and loaded it every night. As he rose to put the gun away, the phone rang, he set it near the door from the porch to the living room, and went inside. An old friend was dead. At seventeen hundred hours, he grabbed his fishing rod.

It was easiest to catch fish just as the sun began to set. In the day, they hid from the heat and the predators, but as the air cooled, the fish began to rise in hope of grabbing an early meal. The Man stood on the edge of the dock casting out, again and again. Ready, cast, reel. The mindless action cleared his mind and he felt at peace. Until, on the twentieth cast, the line snapped tight, and the jerking of the rod broke him from his trance. He calmly reeled in, letting out line when the fish pulled away, and reeling when it settled. He knew the fish, and the futility of its escape attempts. He ripped the hook from its mouth and, with two fingers, snapped the fish’s neck. The action was mechanical, burned in to his brain after years of practice. He knew how to kill men and fish. He only had trophies for killing men. For dinner, he ate oven baked trout with a squeeze of lemon.

At twenty-two hundred hours, the Man brushed his teeth, and went to bed. His alarm was set for o-five hundred hours and thirty minutes. At o-two hundred hours, a slamming door woke the Man. Once more, he sprung from his bed, and carefully turned in to the hallway. The medals were no longer in the cabinet, and the door to the porch rattled in its frame. The Man walked calmly to the door, and opened it with a steady hand. He reached for the gun, which lay behind the door. He stepped out through the open screen door, and saw a masked man standing on the edge of the dock. In one hand, the masked man had a bag, bulging with stolen faces, and in the other, he held a large pistol. The Man did not hesitate, the action was mechanical. The barrel of his rifle glistened in the moonlight. Ready, aim, fire. The burglar’s mouth gaped, and the moonlight caught his bulging eyes. His body flopped back in to the lake with a loud splash. The medals flew from his bag, and each one sunk to the bottom of the lake, shimmering as they fell.

The next morning, the Man described the events to the officer. The officer noted how calm he seemed. the Man’s words felt practiced. His monotonous tone suggested he could have easily been instructing the officer on how to kill and prepare a fish. The officer, satisfied that it was self defense, thanked him for his time and left, clearly shaken. That evening, the Man stood on the dock. He felt the tug on the line and began to reel faster. When the hook finally broke from the water, it was not a fish that dangled from the tip, but a small silver star. It hung to the hook from it’s ribbon, and blazed in the setting sun.

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