This week’s Free Fiction Friday story from UnWrecked Press is “Gunning for the Buddha.”
UPDATE: Now that the free week is over, you can read the rest of this story by downloading an ebook from Amazon or Smashwords. Then you can read it on your laptop, desktop, Kindle, iPad, Nook, iPhone, or whatever device you use to read ebooks.
“Gunning” was first published at S1ngularity, March 2003, and it was an Honorable Mention story in the Year’s Best Fantasy and Horror vol. 17. It was also reprinted at Farrago’s Wainscot, 2007 as well as in my story collection of the same name.
“You don’t have to be young and fiery to feel that kind of anger these days, but finding a way past it can be a tortuous journey. Jasper crams that into a few short pages — then reality turns inside-out.” — Locus
Gunning for the Buddha
We killed the Buddha for the first time outside of Berlin.
It was fitting that we caught sight of him walking barefoot next to the autobahn, where it would be a real bitch to stop in time to pick him up. But we were nothing if not up for a challenge. I brought our ’75 Firebird screeching to a stop next to him on the narrow shoulder, giving him a few centimeters of breathing room between muscle car and blocky metal guardrail, and opened the passenger door. Traffic screamed past us like bullets as the little man lifted his robes and stepped into the car. With a groan, Ari had jumped into the back and onto Marco’s lap, crushing Annina, Marco, and Yeshev. The Buddha rode shotgun.
He was bald, of course, but a lot skinnier than I’d ever imagined. He’d been walking west, out of Berlin into the German countryside, probably headed for Madrid or Amsterdam or some damn place like that. I had to grin at the dirt trapped under his fingernails like brown scars. His face was made up of delicate bones, like a china doll I’d had as a little girl, before I broke it with my baseball bat.
When the Buddha smiled at me I felt the world teeter, but that could’ve been caused by the two oversized bottles of beer I’d already downed. Before tromping on the gas, I checked the rearview mirror for the first time all day, looking around the multi-colored faces cheek-to-cheek in the back seat so we wouldn’t get into a wreck. I wanted to savor the moment, stretch it out like day-old taffy. It wasn’t every day you came across someone who — for all intents and purposes — was a major player from the spiritual realm, thumbing a ride.
In seconds the Firebird was hitting 190 kilometers an hour, the dashboard shimmering like an ocean at low tide. I watched him out of the corner of my eye while the others hissed laughter in the backseat, waiting for my patience to run out. They knew me too well, my fellow travelers. We were between gigs, regrouping. Our next rendezvous was with a bridge in downtown Frankfurt later that afternoon. Time was of the essence.
When we passed the first sign for Frankfurt am Main, still some fifty kilometers away, I’d finished off most of the bottle of German ale I’d been balancing between my legs, and my bra was flapping in the wind next to me, wedged between door and window like a flag of surrender. The breeze cooled me off, reminding me of the metal pressed against my side under my thin T-shirt. I was always amazed at the way our assignments took shape, usually at the last possible minute before or after a jump, in spite of — or was it because of? — all the chaos in the world.
Next to me, the Buddha had started talking. His soft voice carried clear as a bell over the wind howling through my cracked-open window.
“In some ways, my girl,” he said, “I am helpless. I have what I have if only I will surrender to things as they are.”
His lash-less eyes stared at me, into me in a way I’d rather not remember. I hated it when men called me “girl.”
“We must return to the sea,” he continued, “or the sea will return to us.”
“You’re damn skippy,” I said.
The others in the backseat exhaled in disappointment. They’d wanted me to blow him away from the moment he got in the car. To hell with them — I wanted to hear what this Buddha had to say. Plus I was distracted; Frankfurt’s Eiserner Steg was approaching, and I’d forgotten that this was a footbridge, and the pedestrians weren’t cooperating. But the Buddha’s time was coming.
We had to get it just right, hitting the midsection of the Iron Footbridge where the blue metal arches of the supports for the bridge dipped down. Then we’d be back into the ether, casting about for a new when and where, for more chaos to unravel. I needed to be rid of the skinny little shit by then. Who knew what sort of cosmic balance he’d tip over if we jumped with him in the car?
“Trusting the young is the only hope of each aging generation.” Pointing a delicate finger at me, the Buddha gave me a smile that made me think of cheap ceramic statues and sleeping lions. “However, pointing at the moon is not the moon itself.”
“Like a fortune cookie you are,” I muttered.
A man and woman dressed in black dove out of our way as we jumped the steps leading up to the bridge. I had my gun out by that time, the Firebird’s wheels ba-dang-dang-danging onto the near side of the bridge over the Main. When we were a quarter of the way across I pressed on the brakes.
“Be a lamp unto yourself–” the Buddha began, but I didn’t let him finish. I’d had enough of his whispering voice and his suspect wisdom. It was time.
I took two shots, but I think the second went high into the afternoon sky over the Main River. Ari pushed the false Buddha out the door at 140 k.p.h., and we launched ourselves off the temporal bridge backward — or forward — to some other damn when.
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