I’m standing in line at the big box general store waiting to pay for an axe when the guy in front of me pulls a gun. He points the gun at the cashier and tosses her a garbage bag. I expect him to ask for cash but instead he waves the gun at the cartons of cigarettes in the cabinets behind her. He says one word: “Smokes.” The cashier begins loading cigarettes into the garbage bag. She’s calm like this happens every day.

It doesn’t occur to me that I’m holding a weapon. I’m buying an axe to chop some wood and get some exercise, and I’m totally freaked out that a robbery is happening right in front of me. The guy in line behind me realizes that I’m holding an axe before I do.

“Dude, do it already,” he whispers.

I don’t realize that he’s talking to me. All I can figure is that he’s trying to get the guy with the gun to shoot the cashier, but why would he do that? Are the two of them working together? Why would he want his partner to shoot the woman who is obediently bagging up their cigarettes? I would never have imagined how many cigarettes were behind the counter. The bag is really starting to fill up.

“Give me the damn thing,” the guy behind me says. The urgency in his voice is unsettling. “If you won’t do it, I will.”

I realize that he’s talking to me only when he reaches for the axe. My instinct is to pull away as you will when someone tries to take something from you. Then I realize: Holy shit, I’m holding an axe!

Without further thought, I swing the axe at the gunman’s head, but as the axe begins its descent, the gunman leans over the counter to point out some cigarettes that the cashier has missed. I try to adjust the direction of the axe, but I still miss the gunman’s head. I hit his neck instead, and, as it turns out, a neck is considerably easier to chop than a log. Everybody knows about the blood that flows through the front of the neck—the jugular vein and the carotid artery and all that—but the back of a neck can make a bloody mess too. Either that, or the axe has gone all the way through his neck and got his jugular and carotid, though his head does still seem to be attached to his body. Or at least it isn’t rolling off the counter and onto the floor.

The cashier, who had been so calm, is screaming now, and other cashiers and customers are looking over and trying to figure out why she is screaming.

Then the guy behind me says, “Dude, did you fucking kill him?”

I can’t look away from the corpse. Blood pounds through my veins so hard I feel like it will burst out of my pores.

Then the guy says, “Dude, what the hell did you do?”

Still staring at the body, I say, “I took him out. Just like you told me to.”

“What? No way. I told you to swing for the gun, chop his hand off, maybe. Chop his head off? No way.”

Now I turn to look at the guy behind me. “What? No, you told me to—” What exactly had he told me to do?

I hear sirens outside.

“It was self-defense,” I tell the guy. “Kill or be killed.”

The guy looks surprised and says, “You think he was pointing that gun at you? He wasn’t pointing that gun at you.”

I know he’s crazy. I stopped an armed and dangerous man in a crowded store. No jury will convict me and all that. But as the sirens get louder, how can I not panic?

I turn back to the body, and for some reason I want to hit it with the axe again. The robber is already dead, so what will it matter?

All the people who are looking at me, that’s what will matter. The first swing was heroic. What would the second swing be? In court, how would I explain the second swing?

The sirens are almost here.

And then, “Dude, you totally fucking murdered that guy!”

Okay, enough of this, I’m leaving.

I push past the corpse and walk out the front door of the store. I’m heading into the parking lot when I realize that I have no idea where my car is. I stop and look around me, scanning for my car, when I realize that I’m still holding the axe.

Now I’m a shoplifter.

I swing the axe through the air. God, but it feels good.

As the first law enforcement pulls into the parking lot, a sedan pulls into a parking space close by. A middle-aged man gets out. He has a paunch, a beard around his mouth, thinning hair. He doesn’t look like much. He walks toward me because I am between him and the store. I step toward him so that I can harness all my strength as I bring the axe down on top of his head.

Damn, but it feels good.

Two sheriff cars have sped all the way to the front door of the store and parked with their front tires on the sidewalk. For now, no one is paying me any attention.

I continue my walk through the parking lot, still looking for my car. Now I’ve got no reason not to kill anyone I see, but there’s nobody around. I’m no longer sure just what happened inside the store, but I know for sure that I just murdered someone in the parking lot, and it was good. It was really, really good. So I have two thoughts competing for my attention: First, why am I starting to kill people only now, and second, where the hell is my car?

I see another person. There’s a woman one aisle over, and she’s opening the back door of her car. I walk quickly in her direction, and I arrive while she is leaning into the back seat. I plant the axe between her shoulder blades. She falls forward into the vehicle, almost pulling the axe out of my hands as she goes. The axe is stuck good. I wonder what holds it in place. Is it the pressure of her flesh closing around the axe head? Could the edge of the blade be stuck in her spine? My speculation, of course, is silly. I don’t know the first thing about human anatomy beyond my newfound capacity to destroy it, but new experiences do make a man curious. I brace one foot against the woman’s tailbone, and I work the axe free. I’m about to turn away to see if my car is parked nearby when I see what the woman was after in the backseat: a sleeping baby.

Wow. A baby. Do I have it in me? I would never have guessed it, but I think I do. I lean my axe against the side of the car. I grab the mother by her belted jeans. I pull her corpse out of the car, and I drag it out of my way.

The baby’s seat faces the rear of the car. I lean in and have a look. The baby is still asleep. A pink ribbon is tied unconvincingly to the baby’s wispy hair, so I assume it must be a girl. How the girl slept through her dead mother falling on top of her, I cannot imagine. For a moment, I feel impressed, and I hesitate in my mission. Then the baby stirs just a bit—slight turn of the head, quick twitch of the lips, brief flex of the fingers—and I come back to my senses. In for a penny, in for a pound, and all that.

I retrieve the axe, and I lean into the car for another look at the baby. She opens her eyes, and she smiles at me. She has no teeth, and spit bubbles out of her mouth.

“Hey, there, baby,” I say. “I’ll get right to it.”

The baby’s brow wrinkles. She looks concerned. A pacifier hangs from a ribbon clipped to the front of her clothes. I put the pacifier into her mouth. She sucks it.

I reach into the back seat of the car with the axe. I raise the blade to swing, but I can go only so high before I hit the roof of the car. If I let the blade fall from this height, it might not kill the baby immediately. I have no interest in making a baby suffer.

I lean the axe against the side of the car again so that I can get the baby out of the car. I decide it will be easier if I keep her in the car seat so that she won’t get any ideas and try crawling away or anything like that. I lean over the baby, who still sucks away at her pacifier, and I unbuckle the seatbelt that holds the car seat in place. I pull the belt from underneath the car seat, and it bangs and catches as it snakes through. The car seat is free. There’s a handle above the baby’s head that looks like it should swing into carrying position, but it won’t budge. I look for a button to push, and I push on every part of the car seat I can find while I tug on the handle. Eventually I hit the spot, and the handle rotates and locks into place. Now I can carry the baby like a picnic basket.

I grab the seat by the handle, and I lift it out of the car. I close the door with my hip. I look around for a good place to put the car seat, and I see the baby’s dead mother lying on her back on the ground. Struck by the poetry of the possibility, I put the baby on her mother’s stomach. I have to get busy. More law enforcement is arriving. And two ambulances. And a fire truck for some reason. And media soon, I imagine. I’ve got to kill this baby, find my car, and get out of here.

I pick up the axe and turn to face the baby. I spread my feet wide to make a solid base for swinging the axe, just like my father taught me. I bend my knees slightly and raise the axe above my head. My left hand grips the bottom of the handle tightly. My right hand holds the handle next to the head loosely, ready to slide toward my left hand as the axe falls. I take a deep breath and swing for the baby.

CRACK!

The blade hits the handle of the car seat, which breaks. The axe should continue downward into the baby, but instead it deflects into the side of the car, which makes even more noise than the breaking handle.

WHUMP!

The car seat tumbles off the corpse. The baby loses its pacifier and cries.

I glance at the front of the store. Law enforcement, milling around, are looking in my direction. I drop the axe, which I don’t think they can see, and they definitely can’t see the corpse, but they can certainly hear the baby. I have to act like I am the baby’s father. I bend over, put the car set back on top of the corpse, and unbuckle the baby. I pick up the baby. I lay the baby against my shoulder.

“There, there,” I whisper into the baby’s ear. “Don’t look at your dead mother. Pretend you like me.”

The baby screams. I have done something to upset the baby.

I fight the urge to look at the front of the store again. If I am the baby’s father, I am concerned only about the baby. I find the baby’s pacifier dangling from its elastic strap, and I stuff it into the baby’s mouth. The baby spits it out and screams louder.

Realizations: If I put the baby back in the car, no one will hear it, and people will stop paying attention to me. It doesn’t matter where my car is—I can take the keys from the dead woman and drive her car away. I can come back and find my own car later.

I am opening the back door of the car when I hear a new scream: A woman, walking to her car with a shopping cart of groceries, has stopped. She is staring, goggle-eyed, at me, the baby, the corpse, the axe.

“Afternoon!” I say, trying to seem nonchalant. I pitch the screaming baby into the back of the car and close the door. Now I have only the screaming woman to attend to.

She is standing across the aisle from me, her white-knuckled hands gripping the shopping cart, and apparently she has no need to breathe. The screaming just goes and goes and goes.

I pick up the axe and walk toward the screaming woman. I keep the axe hanging by my side. I’m not threatening. I’m just a dad who chops wood.

“No worries!” I say to the woman as I approach. “My wife just had to lie down for a minute. It’s a post-partum thing. I tried to get her to lie down in the car, but the seat won’t recline flat, and the parking lot is flat, and she said she had to be flat, and if you want to know the truth, just between you and me, I don’t think she’s been in her right mind since the baby came, I mean, it wreaks havoc with a woman’s chemistry when she basically has this giant parasite living in her for nine months, and then suddenly it’s gone, you know?”

Screaming, screaming, screaming, the woman is still screaming. I’m going to have to kill her, which I don’t mind. The baby was supposed to be next, but I’m willing to be flexible.

I start to raise the axe, but then there is a voice: “You with the axe. Stop right there. Drop the axe, raise your hands, and turn slowly this way.”

I turn my head to look. Four police officers are no more than ten yards away, and their guns are drawn.

At once, I realize my stupidity: I shouldn’t have put the baby back into the car. The baby could have been my shield. The baby could have been my ticket to safety. I could have driven away with the baby and killed it later.

“Sir, I’m going to tell you for the last time: Drop the axe.”

I know what to do. I raise the axe, run toward the officers, and

 

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