The man woke the boy early, while the mother was still in bed. “Where are we going?” the boy asked, his voice unfamiliar from sleep. “We have a meeting, said the father. “Get dressed and come downstairs.” The boy groaned and rolled over. The father left the room.
The boy lay there for another few minutes before something inside him made him throw back his covers and swing his legs onto the floor. His bones ached. He was growing. He stretched his arms over his head and yawned, smacking his mouth. Then he picked up the rumpled pants he left at the foot of his bed the night before. He put yesterday’s t-shirt on one arm at a time and walked downstairs, floorboards groaning.
The father stood over the stove. Two eggs spat, a bowl of oatmeal steamed on the table. The father spatulaed an egg from the pan, slid it onto a plate and brought it to the boy. He moved the spoon from his oatmeal and punctured the yolk, letting it run. “We have a long day,” said the father. “Where are we going?” asked the boy. “You’ll see,” said the father.
Once finished the boy followed his father into the car. The morning sky was still purple. In his light coat the boy shivered as he sat in the car’s ringing silence. The father buckled his seatbelt, blew on his hands, and put the key into the ignition. The father put the car into reverse, and with a hand behind the headrest of the passenger’s seat, looked over his right shoulder into the rear windshield, backing out the drive and onto the road. Down the hill, he made a right at the first stop sign, a left at McGuiness Street, and a right at the school, down Kramer Boulevard. He stopped at the light before the entrance ramp. The boy reached forward to turn on the radio. “No music,” said the father. “It’s too early.” The light turned green, the car lunged forward and did not stop accelerating until the sound of the road was passing underneath the wheels at seventy miles an hour. The boy closed his eyes.
The father drove on and on, away from the city to the west. The trees became fewer. The sun rose in the sky. By the time the boy woke again, the outline of mountains could be seen on the horizon, large shrubs had replaced the forest, and the father’s window was cracked, the wind whipping. “We’re going to the desert?” the boy asked.
The father shifted his grip on the steering wheel. He held on with both hands, one at eleven o’clock, the other at two. “No.” The father kept looking straight ahead. The boy stared at his father, his mouth ajar. Then he closed his mouth and looked out his window. Two birds circled above, off the road, to the north.
The father drove until they reached the mountains and then they began to ascend. When the boy looked out his window he could see the desert beneath them, and in the distance, the green from whence they came. The car moved along the switchbacks, ascending. Soon they saw snow. The sky turned gray. Patches of white became fields, and then, almost as suddenly, the snow was gone, and the sun re-emerged in a sky of blue.
The car slowed and crunched gravel as it rolled onto the shoulder. The father turned the keys in the ignition and unclicked his seatbelt. “Come on,” he said, and opened the car door. The boy unclicked his seatbelt too, opened the door, and stepped out. He inhaled the mountain air and looked over the roof of the car at his father, who walked forward and around the front of the vehicle. “Go ahead,” the father said. The boy galloped to the top of the bluff and looked down at the backside of the mountain, a landscape of granite and hardy plants that gave way to forest. He recalled an image of a goat, standing this way on a mountain in Europe or farther West. Then he turned. His father was thirty paces away, pointing a handgun at him.
“Trust me,” he said. “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 as it shall. I will come to your aid and fix everything in the name of Hallelujah. And you won’t have to worry about money or love or anything any more, because I will provide for you and your wife and your son with plenty, so that whatever you want you shall have and your descendants will be as many as the stars in the sky, or grains of sand upon the shore. Don’t cry. Don’t be afraid. Just believe. Believe that everything will be all right. That it will be okay, that if I pull the trigger nothing will happen because God or whoever came to me in my dream will step in and make it all better. Do you know how hard it is for me and your mother right now? We’re being run into the ground in debt. Every month the bills come and we don’t have enough money to pay them. We pay on credit and then the bills on the statement are even higher. It’s not getting better. I’m on my last hope.”
The boy began to cry. He whimpered, “What does that have to do with me?”
“What does it have to do with you?! Everything! How can we keep feeding you? How can we buy you clothes? How can we live? Don’t you see? It has everything to do with you! But if you believe, if you really believe, then it can all be better. Believe that it will get better.”
From the road, a crow cawed. The boy backed up.
“I’m going to come closer so that when I pull this trigger that person who came to me in my dream will have no objection. He won’t be able to say that I didn’t believe it could happen. I’m not going to let anyone tell me that I wasn’t doing it the right way. Please, son. Stop. Just trust me. Trust that you’ll be okay. I have to. We have to. It’s the only way things will get better. Think about it. Do you really want to go on living this way? Do you want to grow up and watch your mother and I die only to take on our debt? Do you think that’s an existence worth living? Do you?”
Tears streamed down the boy’s face. “I don’t know,” whispered the boy. “I don’t know,” he repeated, this time louder.
“It’s not.” The father pulled back the hammer. “Make it easier. Get down on your knees and let me put it to your temple. Trust me.” The boy backed away, but behind him was no where to go but down. “Nothing bad will happen if you trust me. I swear.”
The boy looked up into the sky. Wisps of cloud bedecked the blue-white sky. He looked at his father, who was a few paces away, the gun at his side. His eyes were wet. “Please,” whispered the father. “It’s for your own good. It’s for our good.”
The boy gulped. Tears fell down his cheeks and he wiped them with the back of his hand. “Okay,” he said. He took a knee. The stone was sharp through his jeans.
The father sighed. He put the gun on the boy’s right temple and the boy felt the steel cold through his hair. “Now I’m going to 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. His body quivered lightly, like a lamb’s.
“Say it,” said the father. “Say I believe. Say, ‘I believe that nothing is going to happen to me and everything is going to be all right.’ I’ll say it with you—“
“I believe,” said the boy, “nothing is going to happen and everything will be all right.”
“Nothing is going to happen and everything will be all right,” chanted the father and the boy at the same time.
“Nothing is going to happen and everything will be all right,” they said for the third time.
Then the father pulled the trigger and the gun exploded in a ball of light.