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A Choice

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“Do it,” she dared.
Her dare is more of a threat, an initiation. Do it or leave. We don’t want you here. Her words were cold, chilling, like an early November breeze that whips against your skin, more shocking than cutting.

She was waiting for me, they all were. Knowing smirks painted their faces, they licked their very red lips with slippery tongues that were ready to pounce on me once I failed, once I turned down the mission.

Would this be it? If I say yes, just do what they’re telling me to, will I be a member? Will I join the crowd that everyone fears, bows down to, and ultimately admires? Forget about checking behind my back every other minute, just waiting for the day when I am walking home from school or Cfrom hubby’s and someone stabs me in the back with the concealed weapon of their choice. I’ve always thought it would be a knife; those were afterall, easier to carry and much less messy once the job was completed. Knives didn’t have cereal numbers and you certainly didn’t need a license to carry one. Thin, sharp ones with a thick handle were best, but when you were desperate your basic kitchen knife would do. When the streets were really dangerous I’d carried a butter knife. Something was better than nothing at all.

Buzz was staring at me with sloppy, drooping eyes, waiting for my next move. Her put his finger to his throat and pretended to slice it open. Then, he laughed with no noise, like a dying silent film character. Of everyone in the Jaguars, Buzz was the worst. He’d got his nickname from being in a constant, drugged state. He’d tried to feel me up on more than one occasion, and been to jail a half dozen times for aggravated assault and once for manslaughter. He was 22, and the gang’s most psychotic sociopath.

I felt goose bumps chase my arms down to my wrist. I met Benni’s eyes. She mouthed the words again. Do it.

I lick my lips. They are dry. And chapped, very chapped. I’d need to get some Vaseline down at the 7-11.

It was then that I realized I might never get the opportunity to go to a 7-11 again. Or get a burger at Chubby’s. Get another piercing down at the tattoo shop. See my father, if he ever came around again.

Back to the task at hand. If I wanted to do these things, I had to follow through on the initiation. Everyone did it. Everyone who wanted protection, who wanted an identity and a place where they could feel at least mildly safe, did it. They pulled back their shoulders, tied their bandana a little tighter ‘round their heads, and went through with the mission.

My breath came in short, quiet gasps, smoke escaping from my pink throat. There was the issue of morality, though. Even though there was little of that around here, it still existed somewhere, probably tucked away nicely in a pretty little suburb.

I wonder what other people like myself have done in this situation. Those who’d been given the chance to be with the superior gang, who had a chance, like so many others didn’t: they could be safe or they could be dead in under 5 years, if that. The only cost was a human life. A person you don’t know, a crime you might be able to evade punishment from with the help of the Jaguars and the corrupt police department. A few ounces of heroin here, maybe some E, and anything could be covered up. I wonder what people like myself have done in a predicament likewise to this one. People with consciences.

The Jaguars had confronted me two nights ago with what I would have to do. They’d given me all the information clearly and with chilling detail. How I could do it, where, when. It was all laid out for me. All she I to do was pull the trigger.
Literally.
Benni had taken me aside afterwards, told me that I was picked special for this case. Other kids, kids who were old like I was, almost 17, were given the hardest acts to commit: grand theft auto and burglary, assault. Crimes where alarms went off and victims would live to speak their stories, testify in a trial. My job is quick, my job has much honor in it.
My job is to murder.
He was the new white boy in town. Tall and lanky and white. Very white. Casper the Ghost white. He wasn’t rich, but he was better off than most of the kids in the neighborhood. He was in my history class this year, although he probably wouldn’t know me since I rarely showed up anymore. He always had this sad, almost dry look about him. Like all those wet tears of sadness were too much for anyone to handle, so they’d dried them up like powder and taped them up inside of him, sealed deep within him. He had dark eyes, darker than you’d expect from such a fare kid. He was also quiet. Something just wasn’t right about him. He didn’t belong to any gang, and no one knew where he had come from or why he was here. He just was. And that made the Jaguars angry, because they had invited him to be part of them. He looked just scary enough, like maybe just maybe he would pounce on you if you weren’t careful, and he had just the right amount of menace in those dark eyes that made the Jaguars think the was just right for them. He could hold his own. He could be one of them. Only, he didn’t want to be. And that wasn’t acceptable.

Someone grabbed me with a cold hand, turned me around to face them. Beni. She unfolded my fists, which I hadn’t realized were clenched. She placed a heavy, metal gun in them.

“Aim for the back. He’ll never see it coming.” She spoke very seriously. Beni is all about business. She looks at me curiously, like she’s still trying to figure me out and says, “Just do it, and you’ll be one of us.” It is another order. She walks away back into the alley, and waits with the rest of them.

I begin walking slowly with shaky steps. Just down the block they somehow know that he will be there. He hangs around the string of empty shops that used to be a downtown.

I turn a corner and see a shock of white hair. No, blonde hair. Very blonde hair, gold like cornflower. He appears to be eating something, and he’s nodding his head back and forth. He looks crazy.

Maybe he’s some sort of lunatic and I’m doing society a favor by getting rid of him. It’s possible. There’s all sorts of crazies around here; maybe the Jaguars have chosen right.

But, as I step closer and squint harder at him through the bleary, black night, I see that he is listening to music. He is nodding his head to the beat and chomping on a sandwich. Such a normal thing to do.

Don’t think about that!
If I don’t kill him, the Jaguars will get someone else to do it for them, and he will be gone and I will be here, suffering the consequences. No one crosses the Jaguars, especially not when you’re so close to being one of them.

I slowly lift the gun up, my hands trembling like a pair of teeth. The gun feels infinitely heavier than it did a moment ago. I point it in his general direction, and click the safety off.

This is it, I think, whispering it to myself.
And at that moment he turns to look at me and his eyes peer at me closely. He is off the ground in a flash, puling a gun from his jacket.
“What the f*** are you doing?” He yells, still squinting, trying to figure out who I am.

Shoot…just shoot. Too late for a hit in the back, but the chest would be just as effective and if necessary I could shoot him twice to make sure the job was finished. He looked panicked, out of his element holding a gun that didn’t look right in his hands. He wasn’t going to shoot.

He takes a cautious step towards me. “I know you,” he says.
“No you don’t.” I answer back with artificial confidence. He sees through me.
“Yes…I do. I don’t know where, though. Where do I know you from?”
He is looking at me earnestly and even though I am holding a gun ready to shoot and he is aiming his weapon at my face I say, “From school.”
He takes another step towards me and now we are only ten feet apart and his eyes light up in acknowledgment. “I knew it. Can you tell me what the f*** you’re doing?” For a boy who doesn’t look like he could even own a gun, he seems to be able to point it rather accurately. My heartbeat is jumping up and down, alarmed and frightened.
“I have to,” I say, tears stinging my eyes. Tears of blood, tears of death. “I don’t want to…but you haven’t been here long enough. You don’t know what it’s like. I have to.”
Why aren’t I shooting him? Why am I justifying myself to him? Shoot! Shoot! Shootshootshoot.
“Don’t!” He begs. “Please don’t kill me.” He is pleading, pleading for his life. He has a gun but is begging for me not to shoot mine first. I knew he didn’t have it in him to kill. But I did, I could do this.
And, to my shock and horror, he begins to cry. Deep, sobbing, fearful gasps. “Please don’t kill me,” he blubbers. “I don’t know what I did, but I promise not to do it again. Pl-please…..” he drops the gun and it hits the ground a few feet away from him.
“I don’t want to!” I shout, but he’s still blubbering, saying ‘please’ over and over again and I trout to shout over him. “Stop!”
I have to think fast. He is my one-way ticket. It is only this one pitiful boy I have to conquer.
I could aim for his leg, though….I could tell the Jaguars it was all a mistake. But, they wouldn’t believe me. I live in this neighborhood, I can shoot, and quite accurately. Nothing would be acceptable except a dead body.
But, there was his leg and it looked so much easier to aim there than at his heart, at his scared, little face.
For a second, I wondered what this boy’s name was.
Then, I adjusted my gun accordingly.
And I pulled the trigger.



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