It took Gerty Hamilton fifteen minutes to climb the ladder. She had a heavy duffel bag slung over her shoulder and her hip, the new plastic one, was stiff and sore ever since the operation. When she made it to the top she sat a safe three feet from the edge of the clay tile roof and struggled to catch her breath.
Gerty looked out across her award-winning yard—the well-manicured lawn, the lush garden, the wispy young apple tree dotted with pink buds—and she knew that she would win the Silver Stream County Cottage Competition. She would be crowned the Homestead Queen of Silver Stream County for the tenth time. Her fingers brushed lazily against the duffel bag and watched the sun warm her domain. Lettuce unfurled and tomatoes glistened as the automatic sprinkler system came to life. Zucchini the size of a man’s arm rested on barely visible watermelon. Long trails of creeping vine snaked around fences and latticework and dripped from birdfeeders, blowing in the pleasant breeze. It was perfect, and nobody could take it from her. Not the pests, not the critters, and certainly not Mrs. Maryanne Wilson-Smitts. Gerty glanced over her fence, past three houses with mediocre lawns, and there she was, that rich old crone, trimming hedges. She hired professional landscapers to install them; avant-garde designs strewn all about. Gerty thought they were hideous, but she knew the judges would eat it up. She patted the duffel bag and smiled.
A quick movement in the garden caught Gerty’s eye. She stared for a few moments at the rabbit, its bob tail quivering in the air as it nibbled a bright orange carrot, freshly dug from the dark soil. It was young, plump, and sported a lustrous grey-brown coat, surely well-fed on Gerty’s precious vegetables. She narrowed her eyes and pulled a small square of paper from the duffel bag. It unfolded again and again until she held out the huge diagram, assembly instructions for the .50 caliber sniper rifle she purchased on the internet.
Gerty spun the barrel into a threaded hole and locked it in place. She adjusted the scope and oiled the moving parts, loaded the magazine, felt the weight of it in her hands and assumed a prone position further up on the roof where the grade was less steep. She pressed her face to the scope and whispered an apology to her grandson for dipping into his college fund. He would understand when he was older.
Through the lenses and down the sight rails, glowing guides on the curved glass, the range display and the thermal filter, she watched the rabbit’s nose twitch. She heard wind chimes tinkle and squeezed one eye shut.
“I’m the Homestead Queen, you cute little son of a biscuit.”
She regained consciousness almost instantly. Her ears were ringing from the report of the rifle and her face throbbed. With some difficulty she returned to the prone position and looked through the scope at the long trench in her garden where the rabbit used to be, as wide as Gerty’s fist and still smoking. There were bits of white fluff drifting on the breeze.
Her chest swelled and Gerty felt the same tight pain as she had a week before, during her third heart attack. She took a deep breath through her nostrils and felt proud, strong, like a queen, like the Queen. Nothing could keep her from winning. Nothing.
Her eyes followed the barrel across the lawn, up and over the fence, past three houses. Maryanne Wilson-Smitts was looking at the sky and shielding her eyes. She kept looking for the source of the deafening sound while Gerty found the exact middle of her forehead.
Justin Bostian is a writer and editor killing time in the city of Chicago. His editorial eye has worked with first-time novelists and industry-tested professionals alike, and he currently edits subversive stories for Criminal Class Press and book reviews for Columbia College Chicago. He is a tutor for students of creative writing and the producer and editor of Friction, a zine focused on the insane creations of emerging writers. His work has appeared in Story Week Reader 2011, Zine Columbia, Perfect Distance from the Sun, Half Nelson, and is forthcoming in Hair Trigger 34.