January 1999
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*Warning: This story contains violence and some graphic scenes. If you do not like to read things of that nature, please refain from reading this story. Please don't mail the Shrub with complaints. You were warned.*

The Thin Line- Part 1

by Jessica Brandt

Drake lay still, and closed one eye to line up the sights on his rifle. The buck, nearly twenty-five feet away, silently munched on the tall weeds that seemed to grow around him. Drake stopped breathing. He fired a shot that landed deep inside the buck's shoulder and sent him sloping to the ground. A flock of crows resting in a nearby tree exploded like fireworks and flew away. He cocked and fired again, this time sending a bullet right through the animal's still-pulsing belly.
Drake waited.
When he has sure that the buck was not going to move again, he slid out from under the bushes in which he hid. Rifle at his side, Drake strode up to the buck. The animal was clearly dead, not a muscle twitched, but its left eye was open still, staring at Drake as he lay his rifle on the ground. He reached into his boot and unsheathed a glimmering blade that was his hunting knife. He knelt at the belly of the beast, touching it ever so slightly with his kneecaps. Drake noticed the buck's open eye, and reached over to close it, gently.
The knife rose high above Drake's head. He stopped breathing. The knife came slamming down hard into the beast, cutting through fur and flesh with a "rip" and then a "thud." The knife came back out. It went back in again, to the hindquarters. Next, to the neck. Hot blood spurted into Drake's face, and he closed his eyes. His hands were covered in bits of fur and fleshy blood. The knife went in and out again and again. Seventeen times Drake stabbed that deer carcass. The head, the spine, the powerful thigh muscles. Blood flew into his mouth and nose; it covered the whole front of his camouflage jumpsuit…
And then it stopped.
Drake withdrew the knife from the deer, and wiped the blade with a rag he pulled from his back pocket, and returned it to the sheath inside his boot. He wiped his hands free of any blood left sticky on them. He sat back on his heels and looked up at the sky. Two hawks glided overhead, and he knew that the crows he had scared off would return soon as the rising sun began to rot the deer's steamy flesh.
"For you," he raised his hands towards the sky and smiled.
Drake stuffed the bloody rag back into his pocket, collected his rifle, and headed back to his camp. It was a little dirt clearing next to the stream, complete with a fire pit and a crude bench made out of a plank. Of course, Drake's truck was parked next to it and he wouldn't be staying another night. He removed his jumpsuit and placed it in the fire pit. He stood there naked as he lit a match and set the blood-soaked jumpsuit ablaze. Drake threw some branches in the fire as well, then walked into the stream, gingerly wading in up to his chest. The water was nearly fifty degrees, but he dunked his head in anyway, washing his hair and face and hands of all the blood. Drake gritted his teeth as he scrubbed his hands through his hair. When he felt he was clean, he skipped out of the water and shivered next to the fire. After defrosting his icy body, Drake went to his truck and put on his clothes, then sat near the fire to clean his rifle.


The seven-year-old boy's eyes widened as he heard the blood-curdling scream that came from the kitchen.
"No, no, oh God no, Justin."
"Fucking bitch! Whore!"
More shrieks. A crash. The boy rushed to the kitchen door. There, he saw his father standing over his mother, knife raised above his head. The boy stopped breathing. The knife came slamming down into his mother's back. His father's eyes were mean and filled with rage; his mother's eyes and mouth wide open, as if she wanted to say something but couldn't. Seventeen times the boy's father stabbed his mother. The boy was forced to watch, as fear had paralyzed his whole little body, there in the doorway. Blood splattered over his father's face, the kitchen sink, the floor. It became part of the picture the boy had made that now hung on the refrigerator.
When it was over, the boy's father slumped back, and slid down the cabinet face until he was sitting on the floor. His mother, eyes still wide open, did not move, but stayed hunched over the kitchen sink, head on the draining board.
The boy, mouth agape, suddenly turned and ran. He ran out the door and blindly into the street, where he was almost hit by a car.

"This is gonna take a long time, you know," the tattoo artist said as he looked at the sketch of the dragon. "My guess is about three, five hour sessions.
"It's all right," Drake said. "I really want it."
"Is this your first?"
"Yes. I want it."
The man measured Drake's back and made the necessary enlargements on the copier. The dragon was to cover most of Drake's back, with its tail wrapping around his side and continuing onto his belly. Its wings would cover his shoulder blades, and the long neck and head would creep up his right shoulder to his arm. Drake's masterpiece - his dragon.
He wanted it for the aesthetic purposes, sure. But there was more to it. He was curious about the pain, the feeling of thousands of needle pricks. He wanted to know where the pleasure was in this.
Drake removed his shirt and lay down on the cushioned table. The man told him to stay still but he could grab the handles beneath the table for support. The man wiped Drake's back clean with a cool alcohol swab. His hand stopped and poked at the long, raised scars on Drake's back.
"You can cover those up, right?"
"Yeah. No problem, we do it all the time, kid. It won't get rid of them, but we can cover them up." He made an imprint of the dragon on Drake's back, and then began filling his needle with black ink. "You ready?"
"Mhmm…." Drake stopped breathing.
The needle began bussing and it pierced Drake's back. He squeezed the handles beneath the table until his knuckles turned white. He clenched his teeth. "Keep breathing, kid," said his artist.
Drake had to think about it. In, out. In, out. He concentrated on that for a long while.
The pain was so great, that after an hour of relentless uncomfort, it was gone. He had passed the threshold that he had wondered about, if it stopped hurting after a while. He felt something, but pain was not the constant and no longer the issue. Drake almost began to like it. He smiled.
After four-and-a-half-hours, it was over. The dragon's outline was mostly done. The man told him to come back in three days so he could do the tail and the head. A couple of weeks later, he would do the color.
Drake didn't dread coming back. He almost looked forward to it. Not too much, though. He didn't want to seem masochistic. He wasn't. He wanted to know what that pain was like.
Drake. Dragon. That was him.

Mr. Owen,
	We regret to inform you that your father, Justin Owen, has passed away
after suffering a heart attack while serving time in the Montana State
	Please contact us if you wish to claim his belongings, which include:  One
pair denim blue jeans, one pair black leather boots, one navy shirt, one
pair socks, one gold watch, two cigarettes, one comb, one Holy Bible.
	Your father's lawyers will be contacting you shortly about any legal matters.

Warden John Thomas
Montana State Penitentiary
Drake dropped the letter and fell to his couch. Shit. This was not supposed to happen, this was not part of his plans. His father had four more years of his sentence to serve, and then parole. Twenty years was all they gave him. Drake was there at the trial. Drake testified. He said that his father was crazy, looked crazy.
So they sent him away for being crazy, not really for being a cold-blooded murderer. But Drake would take care of the rest. He would find his dad, and then do the same thing he had seen his father do to his mother. Seventeen times.
His muscles tensed.
What now?

The little boy saw the bird crash into the window and fall to the ground. He watched it flop once, then stop moving. The boy went to it and picked it out of the flowerbed, then placed it beneath his climbing tree. He looked for a stick, found one, and broke it in half. The stick splintered and was pointed at one end. He knelt beside the bird. The stick rose above his head. He stopped breathing. The stick came down, missed the bird. The stick rose again, and this time came down right in the bird's belly. A bit of blood squirted out onto his hand. The boy's eyes widened. He tried to pull the stick up again, but the tiny bird carcass came with it. Nervously, he flung the stick and the bird over the fence. He went to the spicket to wash his hands.

Drake sat cross-legged in the middle of the floor in nothing but a pair of boxer shorts. In front of him were three large pumpkins atop layers of newspaper. A Clockwork Orange played quietly on the television.
What the fuck am I going to do now? He unsheathed the hunting knife that lay beside him. As he thought, the knife rose above his head, and then slammed down into one of the pumpkins with a "thud." He calmly pulled it out of the gourd's thick skin.
I can't go on like this forever. He rose to his knees, and the knife lifted up once more. He stopped breathing. With greater force than before, the knife went into the pumpkin. He stabbed it over and over. The rind cracked and bits of sticky pumpkin insides covered his arms and chest. He turned to the second pumpkin and brutally mutilated that one as well.
"Ludwig Van!" he said in time with the movie's lead character. Drake whistled Beethoven's "9th Symphony" as he shifted the piles of pulp and rind to the side.
The idea struck him at that moment. He knew what he could do now, to quench this bizarre obsession. He needed to kill his dad, that's what. But since the bastard had beaten him to it, he had to find someone else. Sixteen years of planning didn't get thrown out the window over some minor detail. He would find someone else, someone who (like his dad) wouldn't be missed. A girl, perhaps, just so he wouldn't seem queer trying to gain her trust. Trust was important to Drake. His mom trusted his dad, and look what it got her.
"Tsk, tsk," he said. He moved the third pumpkin in front of him and cut a hole in the top. He scooped out the insides as he whistled, piling them on top of the two other pumpkins' remains. Drake began carving into it. A dragon. A happy dragon, with a winking eye.

Continued next month in The Shrubbery

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