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A drop of sweat, glistening in the stage lights, grows on his forehead. I stand, focused on his face, trying not to shake. Whispers and shuffles tell me that there are people out beyond the lights. Every once in a while I think I see action out near the edge of my vision, but my pupils are constricted and I can't trust anything I think I see out there in the dark. There is a world there, some wanting to communicate with me or him, others trying to avoid our notice. I have no choice, my world cannot extend that far.

His face is sharply defined, the attention of all my energies. I can see individual eyelashes and eyebrows, every feature, every pore, as it gives me something real to hold on to. Between us I see a dark blur that was a gun, last time I looked, but it feels like I haven't moved my eyes for an eternity, and I no longer trust my memory.

The drop starts to flow, changing its path as it hits other drops, dodging here and there, finally falling between his eyes, gaining speed until it stops, perched on the end of his nose. I swallow, afraid to speak, afraid that it will come out as a horse rasp, afraid that I've forgotten how. Yet, somehow, I know that something has to be done, and I'm the only one who knows how.

My hands appear to hang by my side, my fingers are held rigidly at an angle that I hope looks relaxed. I feel every sway of my body, every movement, as if it is amplified to a painful intensity. My breathing is slow and shallow, carefully measured, trying not to give anything away.

The drop stretches and hangs, then falls, slowly at first, then gaining as it races beyond the periphery of my attention. I swallow again, and blink, my eyes hurting from dryness and fear. And then, with a deep breath, I push my fear as far away as I can and speak.

"Do you," I start, and though I feel the fear and quavering in my voice somehow I find the strength to continue. "Do you know what it feels like to kill?"

I watch his eyes for something that tells me I've connected, something that tells me I've found him. Maybe I see a shift, that waver that tells me he's as afraid of it as I am. Maybe, but I can't be sure.

"Have you ever seen the look? The look in the eyes when both of you know that you've stepped over the bound and nothing can stop the action?" My voice rises, almost a shout, except that I'm crying inside. The end of the sentence leaves a void. Time has stopped for the space outside the spot lights, I no longer hear the murmurs or see the shadows.

"Do you know what it feels like to pull the trigger? To feel the drop as it clears the catch? To watch the hammer as it starts to fall? To know that as slow as that is happening, you cannot move fast enough to change anything? No matter how much you want to take it back?" I'm breathing heavily now, and tears are welling in my eyes, distorting my focus. I think I see the gun waver, but I can't be sure. The tears magnify everything until he is terrifyingly huge, his gun is terrifyingly huge, life is terrifyingly huge.

I scream: "Do you?" I feel something from him, something I can't attach to physical cues, and I continue on instinct.

"Have you ever seen the look of that acceptance? That wisdom? That knowledge that there is no control over destiny any more? That fate has taken over? That there isn't any more time even to be sorry, to repent, or to gloat? Just to die?"

"Do you know what it feels like to know that you have killed someone? To have made the decision? Pulled the trigger? And suddenly they no longer exist? Do you?"

The words hang in the air. I stand, breathing heavily. Sobbing, except that my throat won't constrict enough to make the sobs. Tears roll down my face. I can't focus. I try to slow my breathing, to focus again, to tell if I'm beyond that point. We stand, facing each other, each not knowing how our existence is affecting the other, each totally isolated, without knowledge of anything beyond ourselves.

Then, something tells me that it is time. That the world does exist around me. That there is more than I am aware of, and that I have to trust something other than me.

It happens in slow motion. My left knee folds and I fall, bending at the waist. I hear the shot, a shot, or possibly several shots, I can't tell. My left shoulder rolls forward as I feel it hit the hard floor, and I roll on to my back, arms outstretched, head back, totally helpless to my environment.

I wait, thinking that pain must come at some point, that the adrenaline can't cover it forever. Then I hear a clatter, and a thump, and my mind expands to see the curtains framing the empty seats, the supports for the lights, the ropes and backdrops above me, and the grain of the wood floor outside of the brightness and my body goes limp.

I am aware of people, too. Rifles are lowered, bolts pulled back and chambers emptied. Time goes back to normal as a stretcher is wheeled in and two people lift him on. I roll over and raise myself up, my legs unsteadily holding me as I walk to a table and lean against it on my arms, breathing heavily, shaking.

Someone drapes an arm around me and I stand up, smiling, crying, all of the emotions flowing out of me. I look around, and notice a rookie in uniform, bolt still closed on his rifle. He looks my age, but younger, leaning forward against a pillar. I walk over and start to speak quietly.

"You've seen it?" He stands up and nods. I look him in the eyes with a painful intensity. "Thank you." His eyes drop. "Look. Everything I said out there was true. Everything. Your buddies are going to tell you that you're a hero. I agree. But right now you don't." I pause. "They're going to tell you to go home, drink a six pack, and forget about it. But you can't." He swallows. "That's part of you now, and if you bury it it's only going to hurt more later. Cry. Grieve for him as a human, but know that it's over, and you did what you had to." I extend my hand and he holds it, caught in a tight handshake for a very long moment. In a low voice I say "Thank you," and with a final clench I walk off.

As I go through the door, I pause and watch him pull the bolt back, eject the spent shell into his hand, clasp his hand around it, then let it roll on to the floor. I turn, smile, and walk out into the sunlight.

This is a part of the Dan's Stories collection in the home pages of Dan Lyke, reachable at