A novel by Travis Nichols, published by Coffee House Press
I don’t remember much about the first thing I killed, but I remember I killed it with a knife. I cut it open with a knife and said, “I want the guts! I want the guts! I want the guts! I want the guts!” My older brother turned green beside me. It was a fish. The knife I killed it with had a white handle. The white handle had small, blue marks on it.
My brother and I had been fishing in a pond by the Bombardier’s house. Cows and dogs strolled by with their different tongues while we stood in the grass with our lines in the water. Neither of us had ever caught a fish before. We had fished and fished and caught nothing but water. But I caught that fish, and when I caught it, I didn’t look at it, hold it, or study it. I just cut it open.
There is nothing in my mind now about the fish—what it looked like, what it felt like, or what it smelled like—there is only the knife, and my brother turning green, and me saying, “I want the guts!” over and over again.
Since that fish, I’ve killed a few other fish, plenty of flies, moths, beetles, worms, hermit crabs, fireflies, and a mouse.
I haven’t killed any people, Luddie, but it’s true I have come close. I’ve come close by holding my step-dad’s gun to my brother’s temple and pulling the trigger.
I was just a kid then, curious and alone and with my brother who was curious and alone too.
I didn’t know if the chamber held a bullet and I didn’t know what it would mean if it did, but I pulled the trigger. “On or off?” I said to my brother and then I pulled the trigger before he could answer.
“On,” I said.
And then I put the barrel to my own temple, and I squeezed the little metal tongue to prove there was nothing. Nothing at all.
“On or off?” I said again, and again the hollow click sounded.
“On,” I said.
Would it have been better off? To light up my eyes from inside, to feel my little brains go black?
My brother punched me in the head and called me a word I didn’t know, and my brains didn’t go black at all.
My brains didn’t go black at all, and my brother and I lived, and later that same year we killed other things with pleasure.
Ants, mice, spiders, fish. A swarm of horseflies had filled our room.
I remember the room was dark and heavy with flies and we swatted them out of the air with flyswatters. Giddy with killing, we swatted them so hard they splattered against the walls and the ceiling, and by the time the horseflies stopped flying around the room, black and red smudges covered the walls and the ceiling, and sweat poured off of my brother and me.
We turned all the flies off in wet splats and bursts.
Another time, my brother and I walked up and down the beach, taking turns hitting hermit crabs into the ocean with a piece of driftwood.
When it was my turn, my brother tossed a hermit crab into the air and I swung the driftwood stick, smashing the shell, sending its pieces one way and the little crab hurtling out over the ocean the other way.
I remember one of those crabs’ claws frantically scratching at the sky after I hit it with the stick. I’m sure I killed that one, Luddie, and I remember it didn’t seem to want to die.
From Off We Go Into the Wild Blue Yonder by Travis Nichols. Copyright © 2010 by Travis Nichols. Published by Coffee House Press: http://www.coffeehousepress.org/.
Used by permission of the publisher. All rights reserved.