The man is middle-aged. He is dressed in new blue jeans and a
short-sleeved white shirt with a collar and an empty breast pocket. His
hair is almost black and is cut in the cut worn by millions of men, not
long and not short and parted on one side. He is on his knees in the
dirt of a desert road, next to his new, big, dual-cab, clean and shiny
red pickup truck. A desert ant is crawling up the leg of his jeans. The
nearest town is small and far away.
"He says he doesn't want to be shot," Candy says. You know this, you
heard the man.
Candy stands by the driver's door. The truck is taller than he is. The
door is still open from when the man got out. The truck's engine is
turned off. It cools, and clicks come from under the hood. Far overhead,
a jet airliner leaves a thin white contrail ahead of the distant,
hollow and hushed whisper of its engines. The contrail slowly
evaporates and vanishes after the jet lays it down.
Candy holds a pistol in one hand. He points it at the man who doesn't
want to be shot. You hold the man's thin and beat-up old
black leather trifold wallet and you count the bills you find folded
neatly inside. You've already pocketed the credit cards and the
"Fuck. There's not much."
"Not much? How much? Not much? You said not much?"
"Not fucking much." You look up from the wallet and the money. Candy is
pointing the pistol at you, casually, carelessly, not aiming.
"Hey, goddammit! Don't point that thing at me! Point it at him!"
"Oh. Yeah. Sorry. Sorry."
A click comes from under the hood. The sun is bright and hot. The man
who doesn't want to be shot has his hands pressed flat together in
front of him like he's praying. His lips don't move. He's on his knees
in the gravel circle of a desert ant colony. He put himself there after
he got out of his truck, not paying attention to where he was except to
know that he had been pulled over on a very empty back road by two men
who had a gun and who ordered him to get out of his truck and get on
his knees. He raises his hands in fluttering supplication and begins
pleading for mercy until you tell him to fucking shut the fuck up.
The desert ants are nearly a half-inch long. They bite from one end and
sting from the other. They are brainless. In this heat, they are
vicious at the least provocation.
"So how much?"
"Shit. Forty-seven dollars. That's not fucking much."
The man who doesn't want to be shot begins to shudder and cry. He
whimpers softly. You watch the ants crawling on his white athletic
shoes, his white socks, on his legs. You wonder if the ants bite first,
or if they sting first. You wonder if anybody knows.
"Ow!" The man scrambles to his feet and slaps at his pants. "Mother of
Candy shoots. The man who didn't want to be shot falls down like a sack
filled with something broken. His blood pumps out of a hole in his
"Oh fuck! Oh fuck! Oh, Jesus-fuck!" Candy's eyes are wide, his mouth
You hear the man breathing and gurgling and see him struggling.
"Finish him off." You slip the wallet into your pocket.
"I can't, I can't." Candy looks like he's about to drop the pistol.
He's holding it like it's about to turn itself around and shoot him.
"I've never shot anything before!"
"You told me you shot—oh fuck, never mind. Give me the gun."
You reach and Candy gives you the pistol. You walk over to the man who
hadn't wanted to be shot and you shoot him again. He gives one big
flopping and is still. Candy is crying.
"Thank you, man. I'm sorry."
"It's okay," you say, but not like you mean it, because you don't. Then
you say, "There's something I've been wondering."
"I want to know," you point the pistol at Candy, "if they bite first or
if they sting first."
Candy looks at you and his mouth is open and slightly moving, like he's
trying to find something to say but can't. The circle of gravel soaks
up the man's blood. There is no shortage of ants.
Tetman Callis lives in Chicago. He's the author of HIGH STREET and FRANNY & TOBY.
Detail of art on main page courtesy
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