Daniel Adler was born in Brooklyn, New York and has also lived in Portland, Oregon. He studied at New York University and is currently pursuing an MSc in Creative Writing at The University of Edinburgh. His fiction has appeared in BlazeVox, The Opiate, ThoseThatThis, Five2One, and elsewhere.
The man woke the child while the mother was still in bed. “Where are we going?” the boy asked, his voice heavy from sleep.
“We have a meeting,” said his father. “I’m making breakfast. Get dressed and come downstairs.” The boy groaned and rolled over. “Come on,” said his father. The boy sighed and threw back the covers, swinging his legs onto the floor. His bones ached; he was growing. He picked up the pants he had left at the foot of his bed, put on yesterday’s t-shirt one arm at a time, and stood, the floorboards creaking under his weight.
The boy’s father stood over the stove. Eggs spat grease, a bowl of oatmeal steamed on the table. He slid an egg from the pan onto a plate and brought it to his son. The boy took the spoon from his oatmeal and dug at the yolk, letting it run over the white, brown at the edges.
“We have a long day,” said his father.
“Where are we going?” asked the boy again.
The morning was still purple. Despite the boy’s coat, he shivered as he opened the car door and waited in the silence. His father slammed the door, blew on his hands, buckled his seatbelt, and turned the key in the ignition. At the light before the entrance ramp to the highway the boy reached to turn on the radio, but his father said, “No music. Too early.” The light changed; the car lunged and did not stop accelerating until the road was passing underneath its wheels at sixty miles an hour. The boy closed his eyes. When he woke large shrubs had replaced the forest, the sun was high and mountains stood on the horizon.
“We’re going to the desert?”
“We’re in the desert.”
“What are we doing?”
“What do you mean?”
“I–we have to change how we do things.”
“What do you mean?”
“You’ll see. Be patient.”
“Is it a surprise?”
“Yes,” said the father, but his gaze stayed straight ahead. The boy stared at his father, mouth ajar and then looked out his window.
Soon the car began to climb. The desert became a sandbox, the sky turned gray, and on the side of the road snow patches grew into fields of white, piles higher than the car. They slowed and crunched gravel on the shoulder. The father turned the keys in the ignition, clicked his seatbelt and opened the door. “Come on.”
The boy inhaled the cold air. His father moved to the backseat and the boy ran to a boulder and scuttled to its sloping crest. From here he could see the back of the mountain, a landscape of rock and hardy plants that gave way to more forest. He recalled a mountain goat he had seen once standing this way. When he turned, his father was at the foot of the rock holding a gun.
“Trust me, son,” said his father, cocking it. “We have to believe this is for the best.”
“What’s for the best?”
“The other night I had a dream. God came to me and said, ‘Take your boy into the mountains and sacrifice him to me. And if he believes, if he really believes, then you can point the gun at him and pull the trigger and everything will be made right. I will come to your aid and fix everything in my name.’ Now don’t be afraid. Just believe.”
“Believe that everything will be all right. That it will be okay, that God will make it right.”
“Does Mom know about this?”
“Your mother and I are being run into the ground, boy. Every month the bills come and we pay them with credit. It’s getting worse. We can’t feed you, we can’t buy you clothes for school, we can hardly live. But if you believe, if you really believe, then it will be okay. Now I’m going to come closer, so that when I pull this trigger God will have no objection, he won’t be able to accuse me, I’m not going to let anyone accuse me of not believing. Think–do you really want to go on living this way?”
The boy backed away.
“Please, son. Stop. Just trust me. Trust that you’ll be okay.” Tears of fear streaked the boy’s cheeks. “Don’t cry, don’t be afraid, trust me. Make it easier and get on your knees.” The boy backed up but there was nowhere to go but down. “Please,” said his father. “Nothing bad will happen if you trust me. I swear.” The boy looked into the gray sky, as if for an angel to come save him. His father was only a few paces away, the gun at his side. “Listen to me, it’s for your own good. It’s for our good.”
The boy gulped and wiped his tears with the back of his hand. “Okay,” he said, taking a knee. The stone was sharp through his jeans.
“Thank you,” sighed his father, the gun cold on the boy’s forehead. “Now I’m gonna count to three. Nothing is going to happen, I need you to believe that. Because if you don’t…” The boy could not control his tears and he quivered like a lamb. “Look,” said the man. “You gotta say it to believe. Say, ‘I believe I will live and everything will be all right.’ I’ll say it with you–”
“I believe,” said the boy but his voice trembled and cracked. “I believe I will live and everything will be all right.”
“Now really mean it,” said his father. “Say it again. Say ‘I will live and everything will be all right.’”
“I will live and everything will be all right,” said the boy.
“I will live and everything will be all right,” they repeated together.
“Okay,” said his father, “keep saying it.”
The boy went on, “…and everything will be all right.” And then his father pulled the trigger.
You can follow Daniel via his Twitter, @DanielRyanAdler.