Flagstaff, Arizona

The lights were off in my mom’s room, but we didn’t need a light to see the mess. The lamp that usually sat on the nightstand was smashed on the ground. Picture frames that sat on the dresser were broken into pieces. The bed sheets were tangled into a heap on the bed. How did I not hear all of this?

Cory and I stood motionless, observing the chaos.

“Tristan talk to me. What’s going on?” The dispatcher asked.

I looked down on the ground.

“Mom?” I cried out and dropped down to my knees.

The phone fell from my hand. Red, almost-black blood fountained from her chest. Duct tape covered over her mouth. My hands shook.

“Mom.” I cupped my hands around her face, but it lolled to the side. I carefully peeled back the tape from her mouth.

“Don’t touch her,” a deep, husky voice spoke. I’d recognize that voice anywhere. Jay emerged from the bathroom.

“What did you do?” I lashed out.

“What have I told you about putting your noses into other people’s business?” Jay dangled a gun to his side. He wiped his mouth with the back of his hand.

I wiped and wiped at her chest, my hands trying to fix her, to clean up the blood, but my mind spun.

Cory’s face turned dark. My brother charged him, knocking the gun out of his hand. Jay took Cory by the back of the shoulders and slammed his head into the edge of the dresser. He fell to the ground in a pile of dead weight.

“Cory,” I yelled, trying to get up.

I went for the gun, but before I could reach it, Jay’s arms shoved me down to the hardwood floor. I shimmied on my butt out of the bedroom, making it to the stairs. My foot clipped on something, and I fell down the stairs. I hit the landing with a thud. I quickly got to my feet, but Jay wasn’t far behind.

I saw the flash of the gun. He shoved me with his hand, and my back slammed into our large hanging glass mirror. The glass shattered, some pieces jutting into my back. The pain from the glass pricked, and I cried out in pain.

His hand firmly wrapped around my neck while the barrel of the gun pointed straight at my forehead.

“Please,” I begged. If my mom was dead, maybe I was begging for him to get it over with. “Please,” I said again.

“You can escort your mother to hell, golden boy.”

I winced at the metallic sound the gun made, but I heard only a dry click. Both mine and Jay’s eyes widened at the fact that no bullet entered my brain. The gun jammed. I seized my opportunity and used all my effort to knock the gun out of his hand. It flew across the room, smacking the floor with a clunk.

Jay grabbed my shoulders and drove into my body, forcing me to the ground. My head hit the floor, and for a second, I saw black and yellow spots. He held something shiny in his hand, a glass shard from the broken mirror. It swiped across my face, splitting the skin of my eyebrow. I covered it with my hand to try to dull the pain. I couldn’t see anything as the blood covered my eye, dripping down my cheek to my neck.

I tried to wrangle him, but his weight was too much for me to handle. I couldn’t breathe. His knees hugged my torso. I was pinned like a helpless animal. His forearm pressed across my throat, choking me. His nails dug into the soft part of my jugular. I started to lose consciousness. His other free arm gripped the shard of mirror. It rose above to sink into my neck. I flinched hard, preparing myself for the end once again.

But the pressure of Jay’s weight disappeared. My eye was shut from the gushing of blood. I wiped it out of my face and saw Cory. I scrambled to my feet and saw Jay on his stomach. My brother clenched the metal bat in his hands again. A stream of blood gushed from the back of Jay’s head.

I was on my feet, ready for the next round, but still paralyzed from fear. “You knocked him out,” I spat through blood. “Are you okay?” My chest heaved up and down.

A bump had already formed on Cory’s forehead. “So much for sending me to basic training.” He looked at me. “It didn’t work for shit. He almost blinded you.”

“He almost killed me,” I huffed.

A sea of red and blue lights lit up through our living room windows.

We looked at each other.

“Mom,” we whispered.

We sprinted up the stairs, knocking into each other on the way up.

Her top was so drenched in blood I couldn’t see where the bullet entered. Cory started CPR. I just kneeled there, dumbfounded and scared as hell.

“Mom?” I cradled her head in my hands as Cory pumped her chest. “I’m so sorry,” I cried. “I’m so sorry.”

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