With his index finger and his thumb, Martin Zipper turned his hand into what an adult would consider an “L” turned sideways but what he knew was actually a six shooter, the likes of which John Wayne once used to rule the West. He could still recall the films, could still smell the weird stench that plagued his grandparent’s trailer home, could still hear his grandfather quoting each and every line, could still quote the lines himself. It was hot then; it was hot now, the trailer serving as a metal can that concealed the intolerable Arizona heat with them and the insects that flew in from the open windows. “Bang!” he shouted, “Bang! Bang! I know you’re back there, Johnny!”
“Your bullets can’t go through walls!” a faint voice retorted, failing to even project at the necessary volume.
“Yes, they can!”
Indeed, it was that very ability that allowed him to stand so blatantly out in the open despite the chaos in progress. He had only one boy left to kill, and with his poncho of invisibility, Martin could not be seen unless he said he could be seen, so he took to the streets, seeking out his hidden Indian adversaries and letting loose a hail of imaginary gunfire whenever he stumbled across one. They would clutch at their hearts and head—he always aimed for the heart and head—and fall to the pavement and play dead until Martin called for a “reset,” something he only did when he had killed everyone (fellow cowboys included) or when there was a particularly annoying boy he could not find. As a result, the game had lost its appeal for the other children of East Cooper Street, but Martin wanted to play regardless. He was a child of legend, Martin, one who could not be refused and one whose very presence struck fear in the hearts of all other nine year olds. “Martin the great,” his peers had dubbed him, “Principal slayer.” Yes, you may have heard the story already but allow me to reiterate. Martin Zipper killed Sheriff Williams … or, rather, was present when Sheriff Williams died. It was a normal Tuesday in the dusty old ghost town of West Elementary, but it wouldn’t end a normal Tuesday, not for Martin Zipper. According to some, Deputy Lawson had turned Martin over to the Sheriff after a brief altercation during which Martin had called the deputy a “big fat bitch” and the deputy had scolded Martin for using such language and threatened to lock him up in the county jail for the rest of his life if he could not improve his attitude. He admitted none of that to Sheriff Williams. Instead, he chose to remain silent, playing with the ends of his sleeves and staring down at his feet. Some say there was a duel, that Martin drew his pistol in a fraction of a second and struck Williams through his right eye. Everyone knew of Martin’s quick hand. In an instant he could turn it into a pistol, and in that same instant you would have to collapse to the pavement and experience the tireless boredom of death until the game restarted. Others say that the very thought of facing Martin’s pistol terrified the Sheriff, and his old heart elected to save Martin a bullet. Martin’s peers saw only the black body bag, that reminded most of the trash their parents required them to dump every Thursday night, and the ambulance it was loaded into, but Martin had seen it unzipped. He had been in the office when it occurred, when a tyrant fell, when the west was truly won.
No one saw Martin for a couple of weeks. It was just him and grandma Zipper alone in the trailer, watching old John Wayne films and pretending nothing had ever happened. And when he did return, the poncho was draped over his shoulders. It swallowed him, his feet peeking out from underneath. He had an eerie confidence about him that day, the sort of confidence that hides behind the empty eyes of adults. With that confidence, he stood atop the playground and looked over the earth, hands on hips and head held high.
“It is I! I slayed Principal Williams!”
There was a pervasive silence about the scene. The silence that hung over the street just a year later as Martin approached the cowering Bobby, his pistol-fingers loaded and aimed ahead. That confidence seeped from him.
“No, I’m not!”
“Yes, you are!”
And so it went, on and on and on and on, an endless debate consisting of no more than five words repeated ad nauseam. Martin could feel it swelling inside of him. The heat of the summer sun began to drain him—the poncho did not help.
He clutched at the poncho in the area of his heart, the sweat beading down his face flooding the pavement. Meanwhile, Phil came around the corner of the Erickson’s home. He had been shot and revived by the magic whisk. Given the circumstances of his resurrection, he had to walk with a stagger, moaning with the dreariness of the undead. Martin did not notice him. He had only Johnny’s demise and the heat on his mind.
It was swelling in him. He clutched at the poncho, and he pulled it up over his head, the heat still pressing against his pale neck, the silence lingering between shouts. Phil crept up behind him, still moaning, and bit his naked arm.
“You’re dead,” the boy laughed, “you’re a zombie now.”
The poncho fell onto the pavement and burnt up in the summer heat. Martin collapsed into the ashes, his knees scratched and bleeding, and he began to cry. The other boys knew only to walk away—they would not play again.