A Young Flame
Chapter 2 – Part 2
An Old Torch and a Young Flame
The moments that are the most precious flash by the quickest, and so those few weeks shot by as if Einstein’s relativity theory had engaged a hyper-drive. As a naturally quick learner, John absorbed his father’s new guidance. The time appeared to be coming swiftly when his father would have taught him all he needed to know.
John wondered at what would happen when he was finished. His father’s condition rapidly waned and his complexion paled to the color of a sunset fog. How could he go on a quest and leave the weakened man in this state of health? Yet, how much more could the lesson plan hold?
The next morning the young man arose at dawn as usual. He slid from the thermal cocoon of his blankets and stealthily walked onto the stoop. The crisp air hinted that autumn was trekking down from the far tundra. John lazily stretched his tendons and craned his face skyward to the iridescent blue of a summer sunrise. His nude body quivered lightly and the furze of body hairs prickled as his flesh adjusted to the chill of the outdoors. The morning was cool but soon enough his skin would be sweating and attempting to throw off excess heat.
“Wake up sleepy squirrels and go collect some blueberries. You need to pack a healthy lunch for winter or you won’t see spring.” John leapt off the stoop to begin his naked, barefoot run along his oft-trod forest trail. The tree rodents chirped their displeasure at his regular intrusion.
“A special occasion?” Two hours later, John was back at the cabin, slick and shining with perspiration. An aroma of coffee had been detectable after he passed the generator shack. Now, he saw Eggs Benedict and hungrily slid into place for it.
“No shirt, no shorts, no service.” The father pulled back the dish with a chuckle that ended in a weak cough.
John returned in a flash, wearing the stated minimum attire.
“Let’s go for a walk.” After the meal, the father finished his advanced liquid nutrition then feebly pushed back from the table. “Fetch your rifle and meet me out front.”
Taking a gun along in the remote woods was always a wise precaution. They meandered together for a time and stopped where a small stream poured into the river. It was a beautiful spot in nature but the trek had taken an effort. John had assisted the once mighty man over tougher sections where the path traversed fallen logs.
“This is the spot I selected.” The father sat down on a stump in a patch of strawberries to regain his breath. “I’ve brought you out here for one final duty.”
“Why here instead of back at the cabin?” A duty? Prickling of impending dread began to travel up and down John’s spine.
“I have a subject to teach and this place is appropriate—it is lovely here.” The father smiled around at the peace of this pristine glade. “I’ve taught you many methods of killing. You know the how, where and when. Now, we’ll tackle the questions of who and why.”
“You’ve told me before those can’t be taught.” John nervously spoke. He had a bad hunch, even if it seemed like teaching. “The decisions come from within and all depend on the circumstances.”
“I was wrong about not being able to impart the knowledge.” The father was grave. “I didn’t have the lesson plan before and the instructor can only give the final quiz once.”
“I don’t care how sick you are.” The last statement nailed the spike into John’s peaked concern. He suddenly knew what an exam would involve. “I’ll give you the care you need. We can—”
“I’m wasting away by large increments.” The father didn’t have the strength of voice to override his son anymore but in this instance a weak one sufficed. “I would prefer your not watching me wither to a sickly skeleton. I want your recollections of me to be as I was when I was strong, or at worst as I am now.”
“I have memories to last my lifetime and nothing can diminish those thoughts of you.” The set of his father’s face told John he was loosing this argument regardless of any valid points raised.
“The eyes are the memory’s camera and I vainly wished to look my best for my son’s lens.” The father grinned. He hadn’t counted on that angle being likely to work. He gave another. “Dying in my sleep would be an insult to all the men I’ve killed.”
“That ploy of yours only works if I don’t see it coming.” The son knew that particular grin. The weaker shots were intended to brace John up for the haymaker to follow.
“When a virgin presents her cherry it’s a gift of immeasurable value. She has only one but it also represents a long fruitful life to come.” The man’s blue eyes met his son’s of identical hue. “I have only one life and though I’m fading, my existence still has meaning.
“Your life will always be precious to me.”
“Your first kill will be the hardest so I’ll be your icebreaker.”
“Why now?” How like his father—even his own death should have a lesson. As John studied the resolve on his father’s face, he knew that the man had known it would come to this one day. Time’s drive had been on a collision course with this moment.
“Allow me to give you my life while it’s still worth something.” He didn’t need to add the rest. His son would understand that after the pain and cancer damage became worse a mercy killing would be as slaying a truck-struck deer in a ditch. Worse then, would be making him live on in continual torment. “Bury my discarded shell in an unmarked grave. Look back on me only with pride and love.”
There are times when a pupil has no pertinent questions left to ask. As a squirrel that frittered a summer away without storing nuts, He wouldn’t last a winter and there would be unavoidable hardships. Conflicting emotions squelched his voice and John’s eyes sought for advice from his mentor.
“Embrace me now.” The faltering man took his son’s arm for assistance struggling to his feet. “Then go up to those blueberry bushes. Get yourself settled while I enjoy the beauty and silence of this spot for a spell. My finger will point the target.” Ever the instructor, he added. “I’ll watch that your bullet finds the mark.”
“I love you too much.” John hugged the withered man but too firmly as he felt softness of atrophied flesh pressing against barely padded bones. He relaxed his grip but was loathe of fully letting go and they stood just holding each other while long moments ticked. “I don’t know if I can do this.”
“Then we’ve reached a final quiz of who and why,” the old man squeezed with his meager strength and then let go, “but this one doesn’t come with a pass or a fail grade. If you choose not to shoot, it only means you’ve changed your mind about my mission. We can go home and I’ll spend all my days telling you everything. I suspect though,” the man held his son’s shoulders at his arm’s extension, “a man who can terminate his father can kill anyone.”
“You know it was a pledge.” John knew the chance to recant was genuine and the sentiment behind the words tipped his balance. I’ll be stalwart for him. The boy’s eyes locked on his father’s. He knew it was a final time. “That maxim is of your last lesson but it can’t sum up your life. I want better feeling words to remember as your last.”
“Deadly force in abeyance is mightier than it is in actuality.” A line came instantly to the old assassin’s mind. It seemed in sharp contrast to the moment and perhaps that was a comfort to both.
John snatched up his rifle and jogged to the firing position in the blueberries as indicated. Of course, it was the perfect vantage point. His dad was the consummate professional to the end. The assassin’s protégé stretched prone in the grove and steadied his weapon with a cupped palm. He wished he could envision this as one of his many hunting trips but he knew it was impossible. This was not a stag or a bear. It was cherished man that meant everything to him. Tears welled in his eyes but he let them flow. His vision could still permit the shot.
At the stream, KGB Colonel Vassily Orestovich Antenenko, AKA Assassin Jeff Thomas, also known by other inconsequential names, watched as the lithe, well-knit frame of his son ran gracefully up the hill. I’ve superbly trained him. He watched his boy adopt the ideal sniper’s posture.
Vassily looked at the lovely azure blue of the heavens with only several small scudding clouds to mar the perfection. The glade was verdant, serene and a bumblebee buzzed at a nearby flower.
“No, it’s not a bee.” It was a hummingbird moth. If there could be any omen of the right thing, this was it. Young Vassily had seen a Snowberry Clearwing like this, on the day his father was killed so many years ago.
If John had refused my task, I would’ve enjoyed telling it all. The father had shared many of his past experiences. He only withheld what he couldn’t divulge. All the rest is too much for now.
“Thank you for accepting my gift.” He smelled the freshness of the air and it was a treat. My life is still precious so I’m freely giving my last treasure. Few men have the honor of choosing their death’s instant. The Dallas assassin breathed deeply and his skin tingled afresh as he entered his zone. How better to die than while still alive and vital?
“Forestall your son’s suffering.” Vassily issued a last command and his self-discipline crisply saluted. He put his fingertip gently to the center of his forehead and tapped once lightly. A bullet was so precisely placed that its passage burnt the tip of his fingernail.
With the clarity of a self-induced trance, John intensely felt the rifle’s recoil. In slow motion, he tracked the twirling metal streaking along the appointed path to its ultimate vocation. He watched the bullet coming and didn’t even flinch. John’s final vision of his father would ever endure as the picture of his calm but resolved face. A red-petal flower blossomed on his brow with his finger as the stem.
The gun tried to lurch but he held it steady. The body crumpled to the ground. The once pastoral setting screamed in protest at the violence of the instant past. The gunfire’s report diminished to a rumble of echoes.
John stood, only because it was better than plunging his face in the forest duff. His mind was a tangle, as string falling away from a suddenly lost kite. Paying no attention, he stumbled on brambles to stand next to where his dad last had. He couldn’t look down just yet but a movement to the side caught his attention.
“That’s an unusual bug.” The insect was flying like and also acting as a hummingbird. It was larger than a bumblebee but its striped body resembled one. Intrigued, he looked closer. Its tail was shaped as a lobster’s. “Its the Snowberry Clearwing!”
“Today was my father’s destined day.” The rare creature has a very widespread range. They’ve been seen throughout the northern hemisphere but few people will spot one in a lifetime. My father saw his second today. Though how John’s grandfather died wasn’t part of the retelling, his dad told of a sighting long ago. Until now he had wondered if the description was an imaginative exaggeration born in a young boy’s grief. “It’s just as he said and history has repeated.”
John sat beside his father’s corpse and watched as the moth hovered at flowers. The bug’s beak was like a coil that extended. It seemed to sip away his sorrow with the nectar. What my father and I both did today was necessary. Each taking was also a bestowal. The father gave a life in a lesson but received final dignity in return. The son gave angst in a bullet but took from it an undimmed legacy.
“I would be getting an earned verbal whipping right now.” He laughed in spite of his hurting. His rifle had been left in the dirt and he jogged back to collect it. John knelt beside the body and opened the breach. Out came the old and in went a fresh round from his pouch. He slipped the ejected brass into his father’s shirt pocket but it clinked against something else metal. John Fitzgerald Kennedy’s assassin had brought his memento to his own Dealey Plaza.
The casing for a slug that killed his father could enjoy no better companion. One page-marked a next chapter for a nation. The other spelled a sharp coming of age transition for a ghost’s writer tasked with the purpose of dotting the final punctuation.
Running back to the cabin to fetch a shovel, he wondered if he should’ve carried the body back to bury him next to his mother. She had been a junky prostitute. His father wouldn’t discuss that topic and it was odd that he wouldn’t. John vaguely knew her in a faint edge of a child’s memory but another hazy notion was there too. It never quite materialized into his mind but it always succored his loneliness. It was needed today and as usual it helped.
“No, he chose his place and I’ll put him where he fell.” John dug the internment then rolled the corpse in. He briefly thought of arranging the finger at the bloom of his fatal head wound but he cast the dirt back instead. This wasn’t his father anymore: the life spark had departed.
“It’s done but what could adequately say a tribute?” Suddenly he had his answer. It wasn’t much but it would be enough. He lit a fire on the mound and stoked it to an inferno. Emptying bottles of his dad’s favorite Cognac into the blaze, John watched as flame devils swirled and tried to remember all the many good times.
“Could kill his own father but the why and who came from without.” A thought of the final examination intruded before he could push it to bay. His dad said the instructor could only give one quiz. Yet the man had confidence so John must also, even if he couldn’t comprehend it. Hopefully, he would stumble on the test’s internal answers. For now, I’ll just follow his instructions. That constant had never once faltered.
John returned his mind back to the present and the past. He screamed to the aurora borealis as he had as a lad, when his dad teasingly told him loud noises made the lights dance. Back then he believed the atmospheric phenomena were enemy ghouls haunting his father. He pictured them here now to pay their respects. When exhaustion caught up with him, the boy in a young man’s body rolled up in a blanket to sleep by the graveside.
In the cold pre-dawn, when tendrils of mist rise from the night dew, John awakened shivering. The fire was now glowing embers. After the smoldering died completely, the first plants to grow would be fireweeds. The wild forest fescue would follow.
“Your mound will be a grassy knoll. I only wish I could plant it with the Amazonian Acai Berries that you loved so much and that kept you young and healthy through most of your life.” John reverently folded his hands. “It’ll be smaller than in Dallas but of no lesser stature. One oath I gave you in life. I swear this one in death. I’ll pull your name from the shadows and light it up like a beacon.” A final tear traced a searing trail down his cheek and fell sizzling into the shimmering coals of his father’s pyre.
“I am my father’s immortality.” The man’s earthly life was ended but his spirit would live within John. He took a long swig of his advanced liquid nutrition and left without uttering a goodbye. “You’re not gone if I carry you with me.”