Tom Howard

Tom Howard is a banking software analyst in Little Rock, Arkansas and thanks the Central Arkansas Speculative Fiction Writing Group for their help and support.


By: Tom Howard
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“Not before they eat all our food,” said one of my older brothers. “And leave us to starve this winter. Already they have killed three of my llamas for sport. When I complained, they said it was either the llamas or me.”

“I have a big knife,” said Senor Blanco, personally offended that they were drinking his beer. “Pitchforks, shovels, stones. We’ll wait until they’re all passed out and kill the bastards!”

A cheer threatened to spread through the room, and Sister Joan quickly motioned for caution and silence. “They leave armed watchers who aren’t drinking to guard the ones who are. General Franco is smart. He won’t hesitate to kill every man, woman, and child in San Joye if he feels he’s threatened.”

As Sister Joan talked, her silent left head stared at me across the room. I grew increasingly uncomfortable, but the sister pointed at the pew she was standing near and nodded. The right head of Sister Joan was gradually convincing the rest of the village to wait. They had sent word to the church and the authorities. We just had to hold out until help arrived.

Grumbling, our families slipped out in small groups, disappointed that bloodshed – especially someone else’s – had not been the result of the meeting. I said good-night to Sister Joan and passed the pew she had been standing near. When her back was turned to hug my mother, I picked up the small bottle sitting there.

“What is it?” asked one of my brothers when we got home. The small glass vial was clearly etched with skull and crossbones.

“It’s a gift from Sister Joan to Generalissimo Porko,” I said, and we smiled for the first time since our “protectors” had arrived.

It would have worked had I been able to get the entire bottle of poison into his tea the next day. Jorge, the largest of the guards, came early to pick up the tray before I had time to empty all Sister Joan’s gift into the teacup. Only one of my brothers, carefully keeping a lookout at the end of the hall, prevented me from getting caught red-handed. As it was, Jorge gave me a long look as I busily mopped around the table holding the tray.

I’ve seen men drunk, and I’ve seen men near to death with the fever, but I’ve never seen anyone afflicted like the generalissimo. He sang, he took off his clothes, he shot out the windows in his office. He cried, he laughed, he screamed at wind-up cockroaches living inside his head. Three of the guards had to sit on him to get the knife away when he tried to cut them out.

Then, he got really sick. Everywhere. He messed himself and the floors and walls. Three chamber pots couldn’t hold everything that came out of that man. But the bastard survived.

With swollen pig eyes and a blanket over his clammy rolls of fat, he ordered the servants locked upstairs. Sister Joan had been right – he was smart. And vindictive. It didn’t take Jorge long to remember he’d seen me by the tea tray, and the generalissimo ordered me searched. I’m not smart; I still had the half-empty bottle on me.

I wasn’t frightened when the intended murder victim – still coughing up bile and staying within sprinting distance of the chamber pot – ordered me shot by a firing squad at dusk. I was angry that I’d failed my family and my village. I was ten years old, sentencing me to death was as unbelievable as giving me a train ticket to the moon.

I was tied, kicked, and thrown into a befouled corner where the generalissimo could keep an eye on me. My despair worsened when Sister Joan forced her way through the guards and stood before the angry officer.

“What happened here?” she demanded. Before he could answer or order her thrown out, she noticed me. “What have you done to that child?”
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