©Peter Edler 2001
He kept the gun loosely pointed at me, deceptively loose, in his right hand that rested on his right thigh. It seemed to me that no matter how quickly I moved, all he needed to do was squeeze the trigger and still hit me, if at best on the side of my chest, but maybe the heart. Not very good odds. So I just sat there, looking at him as we talked.
"I may well be the last terrorist," he said.
I told him, "Certainly a dying breed, terrorists. You miss the good old days, the twenties and thirties?"
A smile slid across his face.
"I'm too young for that but I enjoy the stories of the great massacres, the great martyrs. I try to emulate that."
"Not at all. I'm devoutly Christian. You?"
"Lutheran from birth but now I like Buddhist thinking. Believe me, I have nothing against terrorists. Every man or woman must do as they wish. No one escapes their own judgment."
He moved his shoulders a little, not necessarily disapproving. He just didn't seem to know how to take what I'd just said.
"We don't judge ourselves," he finally went. "God judges us."
I told him that probably amounted to very much the same thing. God helps those who help themselves, so probably God also judges those who judge themselves.
He raised his gun a little. It looked like an old Glock 40. A fast-firing semi that you didn't need to aim too precisely, at the rate it spit out rounds. I wondered vaguely how many times it had been fired and how many people had died as a result. Again I told myself not to try anything silly that I would certainly regret. He shakes his head.
"I still don't understand why there seem to be no more active terrorists."
"Maybe it went out of style. Face it, it never got anywhere."
Then he told me that if he shot both of us we'd ascend to heaven together.
"Forget it," I said. "The instant you kill me, even if you kill yourself immediately after that, we go our separate ways. My heaven ain't your heaven. So I'm saying goodbye to you right now. Goodbye!"
He actually laughed. Not a good sign. Too relaxed.
"Very clever but I'm not buying it. You can't possibly want me to shoot you. If you did, what would be the use shooting you? I'd be carrying out your wishes and there's nothing offensive in that. No terror in that."
"That's ridiculous," I said. "Of course I don't want you to shoot me. I want to keep on living."
For a while both of us looked out over the summery landscape. In the distance the ruined white walls of a village shone mutely in the veiled sunlight. A very peaceful scene. After a while of gazing like that he spoke up.
"When there still was a stock market I used to buy stocks. I was doing alright but I got out after the second crash." He shrugged dismissively. "I should have got out after the first."
I told him that that was a long time ago. He nodded.
"Yes. In the good old days."
It occurred to me the way he was holding that Glock he might just shoot me accidentally.
"Why don't you get rid of that gun and join the living? You could do something else. Why kill people? You don't really hurt them, you hurt only yourself. It's bad karma."
"I'm conflicted," he said. "You're right. I should do something new."
"Yes, you should. You put away that gun. We walk down to the village and see what there is to see. They may have a restaurant, we could eat something."
"Not a bad idea. But I think it's too late for that. I've done enough in this life, I want to move on."
"You want to move me on too."
"Shut up," he went. "Shut the fuck up!"
Naturally I shut up. I talk too much anyway. And as usual I wasn't getting anywhere. You can't talk reality out of the world. It is as it is and no talking will make it different. It's just a distraction, a way of getting around the fear and anxiety. I've lived a good life, I've been lucky. Luck runs in my family, we've been doing alright - my woman who passed on, now my daughter, my sons, all doing well despite The Collapse. Good thing they didn't know the situation I was in right now. It didn't look like I was going to be able to talk my way out of it. And I wasn't that ambitious, didn't necessarily want to go down talking. So I just sat there silently, looking out over this peaceful landscape. Then I closed my eyes. That offended him.
"Open your eyes," he commanded.
"Fuck you!" I said, keeping them closed.
Now, finally, he fired his old Glock. At this proximity it sounded like lightning slashing into an empty oil drum. Clearly he hadn't shot me. I kept my eyes closed. He had probably shot himself and I didn't want to see what that looked like. But then came his voice, steady and strong.
I opened my eyes. He was standing over me, his gun nowhere in sight.
I asked him what had happened. His laugh was tinged with embarrassment.
"Nothing. I just wanted to hear it one more time. I threw it away. Let's go."
I got up. True, he must have thrown the gun away. We started walking toward the village.
"You got money?" he asked.
"So how're we gonna pay?"
"Maybe you shouldn't have thrown your gun away," I said.
"I can go back and get it."
"If you try I'll strangle you with these bare hands."
"So what're we gonna use for cash?"
"Lies, lies and more lies," I told him. "Whichever comes first."
©Peter Edler 2001