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Late Arrow

            It was a busy afternoon at Granville Indoor Archery Range , which usually meant there had been a bunch of bad news in the morning paper. By two o’clock, all twenty lanes were filled with grim amateur archers and Curtis could hear the muffled twangs and thumps filtering through the glass door that led from the welcome area where he was working to the actual range. After a solid hour spent passing out rental bows, arrows, and arm guards, Curtis had finally found an opportunity to sit down for a breather on the padded stool behind the front desk when Mr. Granville came into the welcome area.

            “Curtis,” said Mr. Granville. “Get the push broom.”

            “Why?” asked Curtis. He was irritated at having his moment of solitude interrupted so quickly.

            “An irate customer threw candy out onto the range floor,” said Mr. Granville. He widened his tiny eyes and untucked his Granville Indoor Archery Range t-shirt before slowly tucking it back into his stiff, ill-fitting jeans.

            Curtis came out from behind the desk. “You want me to sweep the range floor now? With everyone in there?”

            “Yes, now,” said Mr. Granville. “It looks trashy with candy on the floor. Don’t worry, I turned the ‘No Shooting’ signs on.”

            “It just makes me nervous,” said Curtis as he got the push broom out of the closet.

            “Don’t be nervous,” said Mr. Granville. “What, you think the ‘No Shooting’ signs are just gonna turn off on their own?”

            Curtis carried the push broom back through the racks of recurve bows, compound bows, and crossbows to the service entrance that led out onto the archery range floor, just in front of the targets. He opened the door and poked his head out, looking down the lanes to his right at the row of customers watching him with their eyes hidden behind the glare on their safety glasses. Most of them had set their bows down and none of them had arrows notched on their bowstrings, but with their quivers bristling full right next to them, how long would it really take to draw an arrow and fire? Not long. Curtis couldn’t read the customers’ faces. They all looked the same. Middle-aged men with baseball caps and mustaches, their expressions giving nothing away. Which one had thrown the candy? Curtis hadn’t seen Mr. Granville kick anyone out, so that meant the irate customer was still present and possibly still irate. Shooting an innocent, teenaged employee with an arrow was a big step up from throwing candy, but irate people don’t behave rationally, and when would shooting someone with an arrow ever be more convenient?

            Curtis took a deep breath and walked out onto the floor, his hands trembling as he gripped the handle of the broom, pushing it in front of him. To his left were the targets, riddled with arrows, the “No Shooting” signs glowing bright and red above them just as Mr. Granville had promised. But signs weren’t foolproof. The signs posted on the walls prohibiting food and throwing things into the lanes had certainly been ignored.

Curtis quickened his pace, veering back and forth with no specific pattern to his sweeping, dismayed at how much the candy had dispersed when it was thrown. The whole process was taking much longer than he had hoped and he could feel the customers’ eyes on him, he could sense them fingering their bows, their fingers trailing along the shafts of their arrows. He tried to move erratically to make himself tougher to hit, but judging from the condition of the targets, most of these customers were good shots, and in his effort to sweep up all of the candy so he wouldn’t be sent out a second time to finish the job, Curtis was passing much closer to the customers than the twenty yards that separated them from the targets.

            The large room was quiet and Curtis’ footsteps reverberated in a way he’d never noticed before. It was all too easy to imagine the silence being broken at any second by the whistle of an arrow in flight, the thick, shuddering sound of it punching into his body, his own animalistic cries of agony. Curtis couldn’t look at the customers. He couldn’t do anything that might antagonize them,  that might nudge the unstable among them over the edge. How many of them had grown sick of shooting at a paper bullseye? How many of them had longed for something more satisfying to shoot at? It only took one. Curtis knew that if he looked up, that one customer would see the awareness on his face and the notion that had been stirring deep inside of him would spring to the surface as a clear directive. Curtis knew that his eyes would give permission.

            Or maybe that customer already had permission. Maybe the perfection of the opportunity was all the permission the customer needed. Maybe he had already pieced everything together, knew what was expected of him, and was drawing his arrow right now, sighting down the shaft with one squinted eye, his steady hand showing no evidence of the joyful anticipation raging in his heart.

            As Curtis pushed the last of the candy into a pile in the center of the floor he knew beyond a doubt, without looking, that the point of an arrow was following his every step, aimed just slightly ahead of him to catch him in mid-stride. It was coming for him, and there was no way to avoid it, there was nowhere to duck or hide, there was no plea or appeal to reason strong enough to halt it. He pushed the pile of candy back toward the service door, watching the brightly colored lumps roll along the smooth cement floor as the bristles of the broom urged them forward. His back was to the customers now and a spot between his shoulder blades itched with an incredible intensity. He looked up at one of the buzzing “No Shooting” signs and almost laughed aloud at its impotence. He had already been shot, in a general sense. Now it was just a matter of filling in the specifics.

            Curtis made it to the service door, which was still standing open, and pushed the pile of candy over the threshold with the broom. Then he propped the push broom over his shoulder, stepped through the doorway, and closed the door behind him. Mr. Granville emerged from behind a rack of archery calendars and handed Curtis a dustpan, saying, “That was quick. Did you get all of it?”

            “Yeah,” said Curtis. “I got all of it that I saw.”

            “Alright,” said Mr. Granville with a nod as he began the whole untucking and retucking process again. Curtis knelt to scoop the candy into the dustpan and Mr. Granville patted him on the shoulder. “I couldn’t help but notice that you don’t have any arrows sticking out of you,” said Mr. Granville. “I told you there was nothing to worry about.”

            Curtis said nothing as he dumped the candy into a garbage can, but he knew Mr. Granville was wrong. The arrow was still coming, flying at him from an unknown distance, perhaps fatal perhaps not, but swift and straight and true. It was just a little late.