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"Bird boy, anticipating my arrival, swung open his door and put the barrel of a short, small caliber pistol directly into my beer and whiskey expanded stomach. Hmm. I had not considered this possibility..."

once in a lifetime
fiction by j.b. hogan


This is how it went down. There were four of us driving around town looking for local girls. It was a little North Carolina town and the odds of us being successful in our quest were pretty poor. That didn't deter us, of course. No call, no sale, was what we used to say.

With our designated driver unhappily remaining sober, we hit a couple of bars to give ourselves some liquid courage in the search for what we thought passed for reasonable social interaction.

Unfortunately, we hadn't been cruising the streets for much over a half hour when our evening plans ran into a snag. It was a carload of local boys and they did not appreciate us roaming up and down their streets looking for their girls.

“Go the hell back where you come from,” one of our genial Carolina hosts called out from the front rider's seat of a ratty, twenty-year old Chevrolet sedan.

He punctuated his greeting with several internationally recognized hand signals - which we returned in the spirit of fraternity with which they had been presented.

“Piss off,” our sober driver smiled to the Carolinians.

“Pull in to the Quickie Mart,” the front rider challenged, using that clichéd hand signal again. Some of us were beginning to become perturbed by our inhospitable welcome.

“See you there, Bird boy,” I called out from my back left seat. Bird boy lifted a middle digit once again. Very little creativity.

The locals zoomed ahead of us and shot into the Quickie Mart parking lot, screeching to a crisp halt in an empty parking space. We pulled in slower and parked right beside them to their left. For a few moments we continued to exchange pleasantries, frequently punctuated by that oh so trite extension of the middle finger. We passed around beer and whiskey to prime ourselves up and we could see them doing the same.

“You punks go back to whatever rock you crawled out from under,” Bird boy remarked rudely, jabbing a beer bottle in our direction.

“Good one, Bird boy,” I yelled back. “You're a real bright boy.” I liked that line, I had stolen it from a story I'd been reading lately. It seem apropos at the moment.

“I'll give you bright boy,” Bird boy countered. He seemed irrationally aggressive and hostile - perhaps in need of an attitude adjustment.

“You need an attitude adjustment,” I told him. My pals laughed. It was a pretty good line.

“Maybe you want to try and do the adjusting,” Bird boy said, pointing his beer bottle at me. “Must be a big war hero or something.” His buddies laughed. It was a pretty annoying line.

“Screw you,” I said, handing a pint of whiskey to one of my buds.

I opened my door and stumbled out onto the Quickie Mart lot. The lights in the store and by the gas pumps and on the posts around the parking lot seemed very bright with glistening yellow trails coming off of them. I put my left hand against the side of our car and took a deep breath. Then I headed for the other car - on Bird boy's side.

I had to work a little not to bump into the back end of their car as I headed for an assumed confrontation with these pesky locals. I had not adequately considered what I was going to do when I got face to face with my new antagonist, or his friends, but I was determined to push on with all possible haste. Just as I reached the rider's side door, my resolve to adjust Bird boy's attitude took an unexpected turn.

Bird boy, anticipating my arrival, swung open his door and put the barrel of a short, small caliber pistol directly into my beer and whiskey expanded stomach. Hmm. I had not considered this possibility. No, this was a new one on me. I wondered briefly what to do. The answer came to me easily, almost instinctively I think, especially considering the circumstances.

With a calmness I had no idea that I would have in such a situation, I stopped pretty much dead in my tracks and then casually folded my arms across my chest. First step - good move. The barrel of that pistol was right against my less than six-pack abs. What next? Leave. That was a good idea.

With arms still crossed, I began backing up, walking slowly, one step at a time, left, then right, then repeat, carefully distancing myself from the pistol in Bird boy's hand. I kept going backwards until I cleared the back of the locals' car and then I turned and walked at a more determined and faster pace back to our car. Back to my buddies, back to where the pistol that had been aimed at my stomach was a recent memory rather than a moment in reality.

“That mother has a gun,” I pronounced loudly to my pals as I piled back into the car with them. The brief experience had done wonders for my previous state of inebriation. “He put that sucker right in my guts.”

“Let's get out of here,” the guy next to me in the back seat declared.

“Hell, yes,” our sober designated driver concurred.

He jabbed our car in gear and backed out of the parking space with a big loop that put us on the left side of our antagonists' car. They suddenly backed out in exactly the same manner, except their big loop put them a few feet behind us. While our driver tried to find a forward gear, the rest of us watched as the locals - who seemed to be scrambling around inside their vehicle - hit the gas and started to pull up alongside of us. Just as they got parallel to our car, Bird boy, now in the backseat behind the driver, leaned out of the window and pointed his pistol right at us.

“Holy crap,” the guy beside me hollered, “he's gonna shoot us.”

Without warning, then, the locals' vehicle sped up across from us - I remember hearing our car revving wildly as if the driver was hammering the gas with the transmission in neutral - and Bird boy stuck his pistol out their window and fired at us point blank.

“Jesus,” I cried out, diving for the back floorboard.

“He's shooting us,” the guy beside me yelled.

Crack, came the report of the pistol, followed by an immediate thudding, slapping sound against the side of our car. I buried myself deeper into the floorboard. Crack, came round two. Then the instant thud and slap against the side of the car. A loud squealing of tires was our clue that the locals had gunned their car and headed out of the parking lot.

I popped up in the back seat, a little dazed and confused. I looked over at the guy beside me. The driver and the guy riding shotgun turned around to look at us. All four of us looked at each other. We couldn't believe what had just happened.

“Blanks,” somebody said, “he was firing blanks. He had blanks in that pistol.”

It took a moment for that information to sink in. The sound had been so real, the slapping against the side of the car so strong it seemed only real bullets could have made such a noise, but they hadn't. The guy beside me looked out the window. There was no damage to the side of the car. No holes.

“Man, I thought we were goners,” our driver said. “I thought that was the real thing.”

“Let's get those punks,” the guy beside me suggested.

“Good idea,” the guy riding shotgun agreed.

“I don't know,” I said, shaking my head. “That was pretty wild.”

“We'll look for 'em,” the driver said.

It took about ten or fifteen minutes to locate Bird boy and his crew but we finally saw them turn at a stoplight and head out of town on a two-lane blacktop road. Our driver put the juice to it and we chased them for a couple of miles until they stopped along the side of the road. We pulled up on their left again a few feet behind. Our driver angled our car where we were sort of looking at their driver and Bird boy, who was still in the back left rider's side. Our driver opened his door a ways and called out to the locals.

“You ain't got nothin' but blanks in that gun,” he said. “You're punks. I ought to come up there and kick your butts.”

Bird boy held up the pistol for everyone to see. He pulled the hammer back to half-cock and spun the cylinder for dramatic effect.

“How do you dumb boys know I didn't switch to live ammo while you were chasin' us?” He held up a box of what looked like regular ammunition. “The real McCoy,” he added. “Feel like running the risk. Or maybe you should just turn around and go back into town. Maybe even stay away from town for awhile.”

“We ain't afraid of you,” our driver said.

“Not the point,” Bird boy replied with a kind of twisted smile. “Just a suggestion is all. You can come ahead or go on. But you'll have to see if I'm lyin' or not. Are you up to it?”

We looked at each other again. By this time I figured we were all as stone sober as our designated driver. There wasn't much we could do about this particular scene. The guy had us buffaloed with that pistol. None of us was willing to gamble on whether the rounds in it now were real or not. The whole situation was a loss, or at best some kind of unsatisfying draw.

“Let's get out of here,” I said, letting out a big sigh. “These guys are nothin' but local yokel jerks. To hell with them.”

We slowly backed away from their car. Bird boy waived a friendly goodbye with his pistol. We gave him a particular wave of our own and then drove on back into town. Locals 1, Outsiders 0.

For all the excitement of that little episode, it didn't stop us from coming into town looking to have fun. In fact, for the rest of the time we were in that little town we never saw Bird boy or his pals again. Hell, they may have been from some other little town themselves, just acting like big shots in this one.

Whatever it was, for me it turned out to be a once in a lifetime encounter - albeit one that had been punctuated by the barrel of a pistol being stuck into my stomach. Sometimes later I would hear people talking about having guns pulled on them and such and talking big about it as if it was something that happened all the time.

If I do talk about my experience to anyone, I sure don't talk big about it. No, one time is enough when it comes to having a gun pulled on you or leveled at your guts. Anything more than that begins to sound like Hollywood crap - phony and overdone. In my experience, one time is plenty. It's enough to last a lifetime.


J. B. Hogan spends his time writing stories and poems and researching local history. He was nominated for a 2010 Pushcart Prize (flash fiction) by Word Catalyst. His dystopian novel New Columbia is archived at Aphelion. His fiction e-book Near Love Stories is online at Cervena Barva Press and he has three stories in Flash of Aphelion, a flash fiction anthology.

He has published many other stories and poems in such journals as: Cynic Online Magazine, Istanbul Literary Review, Every Day Poets, Ranfurly Review, Dead Mule, Smokebox, Bewildering Stories, and Avatar Review. He lives in Fayetteville, Arkansas.More from J.B. Hogan can be found in the Smokebox Archives.

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