Bedtime Stories . One Man's World . The Mispronouncer . Downloads . Support
HUGEPOP!!!Bedtime StoriesOne Man's WorldThe Mispronouncer

Shotgun Photo Shoot

              On the afternoon of the Sunday before Thanksgiving, Benjy watched football with his three new friends, Mike, Dave, and John. One cool thing that all four guys had in common was that none of their names were short for a longer name. That was exactly how their names appeared on their respective birth certificates: Benjy, Mike, Dave, John. They were also all 43 years old, they all had wives, they all had one daughter a piece, they all had trimmed beards, and they all wore caps most hours of the day.

               They gathered at Mike’s house a little after noon. His basement TV had the biggest screen. He also had a sectional sofa gigantic enough for each man to sprawl out on his own section. Mike’s basement also had a bar, but it wasn’t functional because its entire surface was piled with old mail.

               The guys drank bottled beer and talked as Mike flipped between multiple football games. He had some kind of package where you could watch all the games. Dave and John had split the cost three ways with Mike at the beginning of the football season before Benjy had joined their group. Now Benjy was reaping the rewards for free, although he actually didn’t care about football. The other guys cared a lot, though, sometimes they’d get up and shout and high-five each other. Benjy tried to join in, but it was hard to match their energy. Mike, Dave, and John had been friends with each other for a long time, since high school. They were Multioak natives, whereas Benjy had only moved to town with his family a year ago. He had met Mike at work, they had slowly developed an on-the-clock friendship, and it had recently evolved into an off-the-clock friendship, and then Benjy met Dave and John through Mike.

               Mike’s friend group absorbed Benjy with very few complications, but it was inevitable that Benjy would sometimes feel like an outsider. Or if not an outsider, then at least that he would feel like he was struggling to catch up, or that he never would catch up. Today, for example, Mike, Dave, and John were wearing thematically linked shirts. Benjy didn’t get the impression that they’d coordinated the shirts, but that was just how synced up they were, they all independently chose to wear thematically linked shirts on the same day.

               Mike’s shirt said, “I’m her father. Any questions?” and this message was accompanied by a picture of a shotgun. Dave’s shirt said, “I have a pretty daughter. I also have a shotgun, a shovel, and an alibi.” It also featured an image of a shotgun. John’s shirt said, “Any young man who intends to date my daughter should be aware of the fact that I own a shotgun and I’m prepared to use it. And one more thing: it’s loaded. And if you’re wondering if I’m a good shot with it? I guess you should ask the last guy who brought my daughter home after ten o’clock PM. Oh wait, you can’t. Why not? Well, in case you haven’t heard…the dead don’t speak.” With all that text, there was no room on the shirt for a picture of a shotgun or anything else. In fact, half of the shirt’s message was printed on the back, so John had to turn around so Benjy could finish reading it. Benjy’s shirt was plain gray.

               “Isn’t your daughter only seven?” asked Benjy.

               “Yeah,” said John, plopping back into his section of the sofa. “But the shirt’ll last until she’s old enough to date…which for her will be when she’s 30!”

               This got a big laugh from everyone.

               “My daughter can date when she’s 33!” said Dave.

               This got a mild laugh. 33 wasn’t enough of a heightening from 30.

               Mike took a shot at it. “My daughter can date when she’s 50.” He took a pull from his beer bottle. The laughs remained mild. The joke wasn’t improving.

               “Check this out,” said Dave. He leaned over from his section of the sofa to show Benjy his phone. On the screen was a picture of Dave standing between his teenage daughter and a scrawny teenage boy. The teens were in formal clothes, while Dave was holding a shotgun and scowling.

               “Ha ha,” said Benjy.

               “That was before they went to prom last spring,” said Dave. “And let me tell you, this kid had my daughter home 45 minutes early!”

               “Check this out,” said Mike, leaning in from the other side and holding his phone out for Benjy to see. “I posted this online and everyone loved it.” The picture was Mike standing between his teenage daughter and a date. Mike was also holding a shotgun, but he wasn’t scowling, he was grinning. The teens were visibly annoyed.

               “Wow,” said Benjy. “And this is legal?”

               “Sure,” said John. “Why wouldn’t it be? Check this out.” He stood and walked over to Benjy, showing him his phone screen. In the picture, John brandished a shotgun. He was flanked by two confused-looking children, one of whom was his daughter.

               “Who’s that other kid?” asked Benjy.

               “Oh that?” said John, looking at the screen as if to refresh his memory. “That’s my nephew. He’s just pretending to be a date for my daughter for the sake of the picture.”

               “I thought you guys said your daughters couldn’t date until they were 30, 33, and 50,” said Benjy. “Aren’t those pictures of them going on dates?” His daughter was a teenager and she had a newish boyfriend, but Benjy didn’t want to embarrass himself by revealing parenting approaches his new friends wouldn’t approve of.

               “We’re just joking around,” said Mike. “My daughter dates, but I have strict rules about who she dates, where they go, how long she can be gone, and so on.”

               “So your shirts are jokes, too?” asked Benjy. “About the shotguns, I mean?”

               “No,” said Dave with a grave look and a grave tone of voice. “You think we’re joking about protecting our daughters?”

               “We’ll do whatever it takes to protect our daughters,” said John.

               “You wouldn’t do whatever it took to protect your daughter?” asked Mike.

               “Of course I would,” said Benjy.

               “Well, there you go,” said Mike. “Sounds like you should invest in a shotgun.”

               Dave and John chuckled. And the chuckles were knowing chuckles, the implication being that they knew Benjy did not already own a shotgun.

               Which was true, but Benjy had never discussed shotgun ownership with them before, so how could they be so confident? For once, Benjy was relieved when something happened in the football game on television that made his friends leap around, whooping and fist-pumping. Benjy joined in more vigorously than he ever had before. His friends noticed. Their looks were affirmatory, which was good, Benjy needed that.


               That night, Benjy’s daughter Macy came into the bedroom without knocking while Benjy and Lydia were reading in bed.

               “Don’t you ever knock?” asked Lydia.

               “I thought I did,” said Macy. Was she absent-minded or did she often pretend to be absent-minded to reduce scolding and punishment? Benjy didn’t know. He couldn’t get to the bottom of it.

               “What do you want?” asked Lydia. She was lying on top of the covers wearing the clothes she’d worn all day: white jeans, an orange-and-brown flannel shirt, thick hiking socks. She didn’t like to change into her pajamas until she was done reading. Benjy, on the other hand, didn’t like his regular clothes to touch his side of the bed, not even the top of the comforter. If he was on the bed, he was in pajamas.

               “Can Eamon stay with us over Thanksgiving break? His mom is going with his step-dad to visit his step-dad’s family and Eamon doesn’t want to go. He hates his step-dad’s family. Do you know what they do at their Thanksgiving dinner?”

               “No,” said Lydia. “How would I know that?”

               “They pray to The Spirit of Thankfulness instead of God,” said Macy.

               “I’m sure they don’t do that,” said Lydia.

               “Yes, they do,” said Macy. “Eamon went last year and that’s what they did. They asked The Spirit of Thankfulness to make them thankful all through the year.”

               “They probably asked God to give them the spirit of thankfulness all through the year,” said Lydia. “That would make more sense.”

               “No,” said Macy. “And they also asked The Spirit of Thankfulness to make their enemies get sick, lose all their money, and suffer public humiliation.”

               “Why would The Spirit of Thankfulness do that?” asked Lydia, wrinkling her nose.

               “It wouldn’t,” said Macy. “That’s why Eamon doesn’t want to go there. That’s why he wants to stay here.”

               “Well, I don’t care,” said Lydia. “Eamon’s so quiet I barely notice when he’s around. But it’s up to your father.”

               Macy turned to Benjy. She looked at him like this was a mere formality. He decided to pretend it wasn’t. “Where will he sleep?”

               “The guest room,” said Macy. It was the obvious answer.

               “When will he come over?” asked Benjy.

               “Wednesday after school,” said Macy. “He’ll stay Wednesday night through Sunday morning.”

               Benjy felt like he should ask one more question. Three seemed like the right amount of questions to ask, three seemed sufficiently thorough. He was struggling to think of a third, though. “Um,” said Benjy. “Does he have any sleep disorders we should know about?”

               Macy was sincerely surprised by the question, Benjy could tell. He was proud to have penetrated her defenses. “I don’t know,” she said. “I don’t think so.”

               “Then it’s fine with me,” said Benjy. He was impressed with himself, with how well he’d concealed his eagerness for Eamon to stay over. He would buy the shotgun tomorrow. He couldn’t wait to show his friends the picture. Macy and Eamon, but then Benjy between them with his shotgun. It would be funny, yes, but would also convey a serious message about his willingness to do whatever it took to protect his daughter from the likes of Eamon or anyone.


               The next day, Benjy bought the shotgun. He didn’t tell Lydia. The guy at the gun store showed him several different kinds of shotguns and ammunition, but Benjy spaced out, he didn’t care about the specifics. The guy probably upsold him, but whatever. He had a shotgun, he had shotgun shells, and he was delighted. When he got home, Benjy watched some videos online about how to load his gun, how to shoot it, how to store it, things like that. It didn’t seem too complicated. There were a lot of people dumber than him who owned and operated shotguns, he was sure of that. He put the shotgun in its case, carried it down to the garage, and put it in a cabinet. He wanted it to look immaculate for the picture. Or pictures, maybe, as in plural, as in maybe they’d do a whole photo shoot so he could try out some different poses, facial expressions, and so on. One where he was physically pointing the gun at Eamon might be fun. All the videos said not to do that, but Benjy didn’t imagine himself as the type to accidentally shoot someone. It felt out of character, inconsistent with the events of his life so far.

               On Wednesday afternoon, Benjy asked his boss if he could leave work early. His boss didn’t care. A lot of people had left early to get a jump on the holiday weekend. On his way out the door, Benjy ran into Mike and told him he’d have something to show him when they got back on Monday, something funny, but with a serious message, something he knew Mike would like. And Mike was intrigued, Benjy could tell.

               When Benjy got home, Macy and Eamon were already there watching something obnoxious on the TV in the living room. It wasn’t a TV show, it was just some kid with shockingly reflective eyes talking, talking, talking into a camera.

               “I’m going to change clothes,” announced Benjy. “And then I want you guys to come with me to the garage.”

               Macy, sideways and horizontal across a chair, shushed him.

               Eamon said, “Hey, Mr. Russett.” He sat on the floor with his back against Macy’s chair.

               Benjy changed clothes. He wore rugged jeans and a t-shirt that wasn’t snug enough to emphasize his torso flab. He wished he had a t-shirt that looked vaguely tactical. Mike, Dave, and John all had several shirts like that, although none of them had ever been in any branch of the military. He wasn’t sure where they got them. He put on the old sneakers he used to mow the lawn. No, they wouldn’t do, they were just battered and stained green. He switched to his barely-used hiking boots. Based on what the mirror was showing him, Benjy thought the boots were more in line with the look he was going for, although still not perfect. But the shotgun was the star of the show, most people probably wouldn’t even notice the boots, they’d be too focused on the shotgun.

               Benjy thumped down the stairs. “All right, kids,” he said. “Follow me.”

               “Are you serious?” asked Macy. She paused whatever they were watching, which was a step in the right direction.

               “Yes, I’m serious,” said Benjy. “I have this idea for us.”

               “‘Us?’” asked Macy.

               “Yeah,” said Benjy. “You, Eamon, and me.” He saw Macy recognize an opportunity to achieve very high levels of disdain for him, a prospect she could not pass up.

               “Come on, Eamon,” said Macy. She rose from the chair in a way that put undue strain on one of its arms. Eamon got up from the floor. His hair was cut too short; it didn’t look good. He had a round face, but a skinny body. He was a few inches taller than Macy and a few inches shorter than Benjy, which Benjy thought was probably ideal for the pictures he had in mind, although it would have been nice if Eamon had a sneakier face, if it looked like he possessed a bit more cunning.

               Benjy led the way to the garage, the teenagers trailing behind. When he pulled the shotgun case from the cabinet and laid it on his work bench, Macy gasped. It was the second time in two days Benjy had managed to surprise her.

               “You got a gun?” she asked. “Are you borrowing it from someone? Why?”

               “Nope, not borrowing it,” said Benjy. “It’s mine.” He took the shotgun out of its case and tried to cradle it in his arms like he’d seen some of the people in the videos do. He couldn’t see himself, but he knew it didn’t look right. He should have been creeping out here the last couple of nights while his wife and daughter slept to practice holding the shotgun so it would look more natural when he did it in the photos.

               “But why do you have a gun?” asked Macy.

               “To protect you,” said Benjy.

               “From what?” asked Macy. Shock had temporarily held back her disdain, but now it was beginning to pump, beginning to rise.

               “From Eamon,” said Benjy. “Or anyone else who tries to hurt you.”

               Eamon could have looked nervous, but instead he looked baffled.

               “That’s so stupid,” said Macy. “Eamon doesn’t try to hurt me.”

               “But if he’s tempted,” said Benjy. “Now he knows not to. And let’s be honest, you’re not going to be with Eamon forever, so maybe your next boyfriend will try to hurt you, and when he does, I’ll be ready.”

               “You’re going to follow me everywhere?” asked Macy. “And leap out of the shadows to save me?”

               “Well, it’s a deterrent,” said Benjy. “Or I might just have to use it after the fact. To exact justice.”

               Macy scoffed.

               “Are you saying you’re going to shoot me?” asked Eamon.

               It was a difficult thing to say to Eamon’s face, but Benjy said it. “Yes,” he said. “But only if you try to hurt Macy.”

               “Try to hurt her how?” asked Eamon.

               Benjy didn’t feel comfortable going into too much detail. “You know, not following our rules. Not, uh, getting her home by curfew.”

               Macy laughed with viciousness. “You’re going to shoot him if I miss curfew? What if it’s my fault?”

               “I’m not gonna shoot my own daughter,” said Benjy. “Look, this isn’t why I brought you out here. I brought you out here to explain the pictures I want your mom to take of us when she comes home. I want a whole series where I’m standing between you two holding the shotgun. We can go out in the yard if there’s still enough light, or we can do some in the house. Maybe one in the kitchen like you two are about to leave on a date, another one on the porch like you’re about to leave on a date, maybe one where I’m actually pointing the shotgun at Eamon, and I will not shoot him on accident, I’m sure of that.”

               “No,” said Macy. “We won’t be in any pictures like that. Those sound so stupid, Dad, I hate this idea, and Mom’s gonna hate it, too, she won’t even agree to take the pictures, I promise I’m right. Eamon, come on.” She grabbed her passive boyfriend by the sleeve and dragged him back into the house.


               When Lydia got home from work, she was exactly as enthused about the shotgun photo shoot as Macy had predicted she would be. “I hate this idea,” she said from within the walk-in closet as she changed out of her work clothes. “I will not take any pictures like that.”

               “It’s just for fun,” said Benjy. “But it also conveys an important message.” He stood in the middle of the bedroom holding the shotgun, which felt more clumsy now, not less.

               “What’s the message?” asked Lydia. “That everyone should steer clear of our family because you’re a psycho now?”

               “No,” said Benjy. “Not that. It’s that I’ll do whatever it takes to protect my daughter. My friends all have pictures like that with their daughters and no one thinks they’re psychos.”

               “How do you know?” asked Lydia. She emerged from the walk-in closet looking as displeased as she sounded.

               “Well, I don’t think they’re psychos,” said Benjy. “They’re good guys, and they want to protect their daughters, which I think is a good thing, and they also want to have a little fun with the fact that they want to protect their daughters, which I also think is a good thing.”

               “So because I don’t want to take pictures where you’re implying you’re going to shoot our daughter’s very nice boyfriend, then you think that means I don’t want to protect our daughter as much as you?”

               “I’m taking on the responsibility for both of us,” said Benjy. “And trying to have a little fun in the process.”

               Lydia gave Benjy a wide berth as she walked past him and out of the bedroom, eyeing the shotgun as she went. He followed her, accidentally banging the stock of the shotgun against the doorframe. He stopped to examine the stock for damage, and was relieved to find there wasn’t any.

               Downstairs in the living room, Benjy encountered a united front of non-cooperation from Lydia, Macy, and Eamon. He suspected that if he could convince Lydia, she could maybe convince Macy, and Eamon would do whatever Macy wanted. But Lydia was entrenched. He didn’t see any daylight there, no wiggle room at all. But Eamon was staying over until Sunday morning, maybe Benjy could think of an approach to win everyone over before then. Maybe the Thanksgiving meal tomorrow would put everyone in a better, more accommodating mood.

               “Eamon and I are going out,” said Macy. She made a point of not eyeing the shotgun in her father’s arms as she moved past him to the closet in the front hall and began to don her coat. Eamon followed pulling a gray stocking cap out of the back pocket of his jeans and down over his ears. He knelt to tie his shoes, a task he appeared to struggle with. Macy took his jacket from the closet and draped it over his shoulder.

               “Where are you going?” asked Benjy. His hiking boots made every step on the hardwood into a careless clomp. He held the shotgun in the least intimidating position, the barrel pointed at a patch of floor to his immediate left, his finger well away from the trigger. The safety was even on.

               Which made Macy’s response especially unreasonable. “What if we don’t tell you?” she asked. “You’ll shoot Eamon?”

               “We’re just going over to Julian’s house to watch a movie,” said Eamon in a tone intended to reduce tension.

               Macy gave him a withering look, which partially withered him.

               “Oh, I know Julian,” said Benjy, happy to take this exit ramp. “Just make sure you’re home by 10.”

               “By 10?” said Macy. “My curfew used to be 11! And we don’t even have school tomorrow!”

               “Well, now it’s 10,” said Benjy.

               “Or what?” asked Macy. “If we don’t make it home by 10, you’ll shoot Eamon?”

               “Come on, Macy,” said Eamon, apparently not withered enough. “We’ll be home by 10, sir.” He nodded at Benjy.

               “Great,” said Benjy. “See you then!” He waved with his right hand while holding the shotgun incredibly non-threateningly in his left.

               Macy slammed the door.

               Benjy wasn’t happy that his daughter was so upset with him, but he was glad that it seemed unlikely that he would need to shoot Eamon.


               Benjy and Lydia ate leftovers for dinner, then teamed up to begin preparing dishes for the Thanksgiving meal. Benjy leaned the shotgun against the wall next to the sliding glass door to the patio. He had hoped that while he and Lydia worked together on the food he could generate some good will to set up a reasonable discussion about the photo shoot, as well as the overall meaning of the shotgun now that it had entered their lives, but it turned out that Lydia had similar plans. Before he could casually introduce the topic, Lydia casually introduced the topic, but pointed the reasonable discussion in the wrong direction. It took a lot more than Benjy would have expected to resist her attempts to turn him back into the non-shotgun-toting version of himself. There was certainly some appeal to the idea. Lydia even pointed out that Benjy could keep the shotgun and use it for defense against burglars, for shooting clay pigeons, for the actual hunting of game. But, she said, using the shotgun to threaten nice young men like Eamon was just too weird. In fact, it disturbed her.

               “That’s just because you don’t understand how common it is,” said Benjy. “It’s very socially accepted.”

               “No, it isn’t,” said Lydia.

               “It is,” said Benjy. “It’s so common they make shirts about it. A variety of shirts! And they sell very well!” He didn’t really know how well they sold, but he figured they must sell well enough if the shirt companies kept making them.

               From there, the reasonable discussion fizzled. They both seemed to recognize that a change of subject would be a better option for now. They weren’t a couple who relished arguments with each other. Then there was a major disaster with the sweet potato casserole, Benjy had to make multiple emergency trips to the Diamond Food, and he lost track of time. He and Lydia had finally restored order and were at the stage where they could laugh at all the trouble caused by the sweet potato casserole when the front door opened, then banged shut, and Macy came strolling into the kitchen with Eamon at her heels. She was pleased with herself, and defiant.

               “We’re late,” she said. “Look.” She pointed at the clock on the microwave. It was 10:18 p.m.

               “I’m very sorry, sir,” said Eamon. “We wanted to look at Christmas lights on the way home and we…I…lost track of time.”

               “Where’s your shotgun, Dad?” asked Macy, already gloating over her impending victory. “Aren’t you going to shoot him?”

               Benjy immediately intuited that Macy had made sure she and Eamon were late getting home in order to challenge him. She wanted to render the photo shoot ridiculous before anyone so much as struck a pose, before any discussion of backgrounds, even. But still, Eamon was the boyfriend. Eamon was driving. Eamon could have gotten her home on time.

               As Benjy reached for the shotgun, Eamon bolted for the patio door. He struggled with the lock, which could have doomed him, except that Benjy was so awkward with the gun. And he forgot about the safety. By the time he remembered to switch it off, Eamon was halfway across the yard, and that’s where he fell when Benjy shot him in the back.


               Mike picked up the phone after the fourth ring.

               “Sorry to call so late,” said Benjy.

               “Not a problem,” said Mike. “Just trying to organize some of this mail in the basement.”

               “Ah, cool,” said Benjy. “Gonna get the bar up and running?”

               “That’s the goal,” said Mike. “But we’ll see how it goes. Sorting mail is pretty boring. And more just keeps showing up.”

               Benjy chuckled and said, “Isn’t that the truth?”

               “So what can I do for you?” asked Mike.

               “Just a quick question for you,” said Benjy. “What’s the procedure after you shoot your daughter’s boyfriend with a shotgun?”

               There came a long silence.

               Eventually, Benjy felt obliged to fill it. “Because my wife’s saying I’m in big trouble, but I keep telling her there’s some kind of immunity for fathers shooting their daughters’ boyfriends for violating rules, or for fathers shooting any guys who put their daughters’ safety and reputations at risk. Right? I figured you would know since you’ve got the shirt and the picture and everything.”

               The call disconnected. Benjy tried calling Mike back, but to no avail. Mike wouldn’t pick up. Which worried Benjy.

               He tried Dave next. He didn’t know Dave as well as Mike, but Dave had the shirt, Dave had the pictures, and Dave was friendly, he’d readily accepted Benjy into the group, hadn’t he?

               Dave picked up after the second ring.

               “Sorry to call so late,” said Benjy.

               “It’s fine,” said Dave. “I’m kind of an insomniac. I usually don’t get to sleep until 11:30, sometimes later.”

               “Ah,” said Benjy. “That sucks.”

               “Tell me about it,” said Dave. “Anyhow, what’s up?”

               “I already called Mike about this,” said Benjy. “But he wasn’t much help.”

               Dave laughed. “If Mike can’t help you, I’m not sure I’ll be able to. But I can try.”

               “Great,” said Benjy. “So I’ll just tell you what my issue is. My daughter’s boyfriend brought her home after 10 p.m.”

               “Mmm,” said Dave. “Yeah, that’s annoying. I hate it when that happens.”

               “Oh, so you have experience with this?” asked Benjy.

               “Unfortunately, yes,” said Dave.

               “Huh,” said Benjy. “I really thought the shotgun would be more of a deterrent.”

               Dave laughed big. “I wish!”

               “So from your experience,” said Benjy, “what’s the next step after you shoot him?”

               “Shoot who?”

               “The boyfriend,” said Benjy.

               The same silence from Benjy’s phone call with Mike was back, and more silent than ever. But Benjy waited it out this time, he let Dave gather his thoughts. “Did you shoot someone?” asked Dave.

               “Yes,” said Benjy. “So what do I do next? Do I report it to the police so they understand the circumstances? And who notifies the boy’s parents? I just don’t know the etiquette for this. These are all questions I should have asked before I shot him, I know, but I didn’t want you guys to know I got a shotgun until I could surprise you with the pictures.”

               “Is the kid dead?” asked Dave.

               Benjy resented the way he referred to Eamon as a kid. “No, he isn’t dead. His back’s all full of buckshot, though. Or birdshot. Whichever kind I have, I forget which. But it’s annoying because now he’s in the guest room half undressed and my daughter’s trying to tend to his wounds, which is a bit intimate for my taste, so that’s part of why I’m calling. I mean, I dunno, should I go finish him off? Is the goal to kill them, or just to shoot them?”

               “Oh boy,” said Dave. “Benjy, man, you’re going to jail.”

               “But how did you not go to jail?” asked Benjy.

               “By never shooting anyone,” said Dave.

               “But you said guys brought your daughter home after 10 p.m.,” said Benjy.

               “Yeah, they did,” said Dave. “And I grounded her. Not that it does much. But I’m not gonna shoot someone over a curfew violation, man, come on!”

               “You’re starting to scare me,” said Benjy. “I’m getting a little worried.”

               “You should be!” said Dave. “You better hope that boy doesn’t die!”

               The call disconnected. Benjy knew better than to try to call back. He knew it would be pointless. Should he call John? It didn’t seem like it would help. He knew John the least of his three new friends. And John’s daughter wasn’t even dating yet, he wouldn’t have any real-life experience to draw upon.

               Benjy stood in the back yard near the spot where Eamon had fallen. There were spots of blood on the frosty grass. He didn’t see any activity inside the house, but Eamon, Macy, and Lydia were all in the guest room crying out, tending wounds, and tending wounds respectively, and no guest room windows were visible from Benjy’s position. He had told Lydia he was making calls to deal with the situation. Under less stressful circumstances, she would have noticed the evasiveness of his phrasing. But as it stood, she thought he was calling 911. She thought the shock of his act had gotten through to him, that he had come to his senses. “His senses” according to her definition, that is. But no, he hadn’t. Or, not when she thought he had, anyway. But maybe now, after how the conversations with Mike and Dave had gone, he had come to his senses? Maybe he was going to call 911. Right now? Raising his phone, staring at the dark screen, lifting his thumb to tap those three digits?

               The phone rang in Benjy’s hand. He nearly dropped it. The name on the screen was “John.” What were the odds? Benjy had just been considering calling John, and now here John was calling him. This had to mean something good. This had to be the answer he was looking for. Where Mike and Dave had failed Benjy, John was going to save him.

               Benjy answered. “John?”

               “Tell me it’s true,” said John, his voice husky with lurking energy. “Tell me you really did it. Those frauds Mike and Dave have been texting me in a panic, and I want to believe it, but I have to hear it from your own lips.”

               “It’s true,” said Benjy. “I did it.”

               “I knew it,” said John. “I’m already in the truck on my way over. I’m just a few blocks away. I’ll be there in minutes.”

               “You’re coming to help me?” asked Benjy.

               “I’m coming to see it,” said John. “With my own eyes. I’m coming to be in your presence, man! Tonight! They very night it finally actually happened!”

               “But can you get me out of trouble?” asked Benjy.

               “Better,” said John. “I can make you a legend. How late did the boyfriend get her home?”

               “10:18,” said Benjy.

               John laughed in exultation, elated, overjoyed. “18 minutes!” He laughed again, intoxicated by that number. “Listen, Benjy, what are you wearing? You still got the gun handy? You didn’t try to dispose of it or anything?”

               “Normal clothes,” said Benjy. “I’ve got my hiking boots on. And no, I didn’t dispose of the shotgun, I’ve got it with me right here.” He held the shotgun in his right hand, his non-phone hand. It still felt unwieldy.

               “Perfect,” said John. “Change nothing. I’ve got my camera. Not just my phone camera, but my camera camera, a real camera for a real event, a monumental occasion. We’re going to capture this moment, man, we’re going to freeze it, nail it down, keep it forever. You, the gun, the furious daughter – she is furious, right? – and the shotgunned boyfriend, oh yes, in graphic detail. They don’t have him too cleaned up yet, do they? Are the bandages ragged, blood-soaked? Never mind, I’ll see for myself momentarily. I’m pulling up now. I’m at the curb. I’m getting out of my truck. Come let me in!”

               Benjy hung up. A small voice from somewhere within him tried to explain that the photos John proposed would be incriminating, would very likely appear projected on a courtroom screen someday soon, would perhaps play a significant role in the ultimate ruination of Benjy’s life.

But even that voice had to also admit that the pictures would be significant, exceptional: the pinnacle of a genre. 

Discussion Questions

  • Let’s say there’s a crime. Now let’s say there’s a punishment for that crime. In your opinion, should one be able to say about that punishment for that crime that it – meaning the punishment – fits that crime? Or would it be better, in your opinion, for one to be able to say that the punishment for that crime does not, in fact, fit that crime?

  • What’s YOUR mail-sorting technique, hot shot?

  • Are you a stranger unfamiliar with the Bedtime Stories podcast who came to this particular story looking for in-depth discussion of shotgun minutiae? Sorry!

  • What’s the funniest number of minutes past curfew to shoot a boyfriend over?

  • What is the exact number of words that can be on a shirt before that shirt becomes too wordy?