You sit in the near total darkness and wait for the Bullet-Harvester to arrive. Pins and needles have set in to your right foot from lack of movement, so you twist it, trying to remove the crosshatched pain that’s started there. It’s a distraction at least, something to keep you from falling asleep. It’s been hours since you arrived but you long ago learned to be patient.
The phone in your pocket is turned off, not because they told you to, but because this is serious business. Instead you fidget with and tighten your fingers around the handles of the backpack that’s resting in your lap while in your head you go through the lines you’ve rehearsed. Over, and over, and over again, practicing what you want to say.
Then suddenly the lights go on and you blink in surprise; every one of those prepared sentences disappears with the darkness.
A door to your right slides open and the Bullet-Harvester steps in. He looks down, inspecting you silently. He’s not at all what you expected. Elderly, with dirty grey-white hair and a face so creased with lines it could have been carved from petrified wood.
“You’ve made it this far. Now tell me why you are here?” he asks in a voice strong and confident, that of a man used to getting answers.
You’re a month from your thirteenth birthday. Small for your age and scrawny along with it, but your voice is a match in confidence for his when you say, “I want to be your apprentice.”
And you meet his stare.
“No. Tell me why you are here?” his stony face is completely unreadable.
You lick your lips before speaking.
He doesn’t reply for almost a minute; you count the seconds in your head. Then finally he speaks.
“Good. Come with me.”
With that he turns. You gather your things and follow him before the door has time to glide shut. As you head deeper into the building you notice a damp smell which reminds you of the alley where your parents were killed. You picture their bodies, sprawled on the ground, blood pooling in the darkness, growing cold.
You remember kneeling between them and seeing the face of their killer. For the first time in a long time you don’t repress the memory, focusing instead on those wide maniac eyes set into that thin, sick face, the visible underbite with bottom teeth creeping out over the top lip, as he reached out to you with bony fingers, yellow with nicotine stains.
That was six years ago and you can still taste the rotting garbage, stale piss, the metallic tang of blood and conflicting smell of fresh bread from a nearby bakery. You cradle the bag closer and bite the inside of your cheek. The pain helps you focus.
The Bullet-Harvester stops in front of a security door and holds his hand over the keypad.
“There is no going back now,” he says and you nod.
The doors swing open and through the thick plastic sheets hanging from the ceiling you get your first glimpse of the Grow Room. There are plants everywhere, soaking up the green-white light, their leaves heavy with bullets ready for the harvest.
You listen in awe as the Bullet-Harvester tells how he will teach and you will learn over the years to grow bullets for the Rasmussen Family’s assassins. You will learn to tweak the formulas and develop different strains, to tailor each subsequent batch accordingly, to suit both user and target. He talks of mixing oil with blood and vegetation with meat and metal, to bring about new bullets, new ways of killing.
You walk slowly through the sweltering, furnace heat that is this place of creation, this temple-laboratory to the science-magic of death.
And there on the back-wall, suspended in a free-fall simulator, as if even gravity is not allowed touch it is a man’s body. Naked, except for a multitude of tubes and wires, he hangs, floating like a ghost, a person in pause. The left side of his face ends just above the eye-socket leaving it an incomplete puzzle, a three-quarter head. In the hollowed-out stomach, from the ribs down to the pelvis, is a miniature garden womb, dressed with the familiar shapes of leaves and bullets.
“This was my love and my lover,” the Bullet-Harvester says. “His heart has stopped beating so now mine beats twice as hard, beating a rhythm of revenge. Ricky Oh was shot in the back on a morning hazy with fog. It was an unfair way for a noble killer to be ended, a mere murder, not even an assassination. He had no chance and there was certainly no honor in how they threw his body in the river.”
“In his remains I have sown vengeance. Each one of those bullets is specially grown from his head, his organs, his very soul. When the time comes to harvest I will go out in the darkness and everyone who was involved in his death that day will be cut down. Years may have passed but my hatred has not withered. And if any who had a hand in Ricky’s death have died in the meantime then I will plant my bullets in their families.”
You take a deep breath and nod in agreement. This is the greatest achievement of a Bullet-Harvester, this is what you want. You look at the black and red torso in admiration. It is a beautiful thing of which you feel immensely jealous.
“This is not a job, it is a vocation,” the Bullet-Harvester continues. “It will age and drain you. The need for vengeance consumes. I was twenty-three when they pulled Ricky from the water. On that day I vowed to become a Bullet-Harvester. That was five years ago.”
“I’m ready,” you say and even though you’re little more than a child there’s no argument.
“Good. Do you have the beginnings of your bullets?”
From the back-pack you remove a freezer urn and unscrew the lid. The Bullet-Harvester looks inside. Frozen eyes, lips and hair fill the urn, the meat of your parents that you managed to salvage. The blood of what will be your bullets, that which will bring forth the blood of those who brought you such harm and set you on this path.
“Good,” he says and smiles. “You will need to be patient for revenge. To give your anger time to take root, grow and blossom into the beauty of the final weapon, before it can be harvested and wrought to destruction. Anyone can hire a Bullet-Harvester to create a bullet for them, but only a select few will become one and grow their own.”
“For now though you will tend to the soil and the growth. You will spread the oil and the minerals and feed these bullets, nurture them into ripeness. And you will tend to your own crop and learn the ways of bullet harvesting. You will learn that when this much love and attention goes into the bullet then each shot is sacred, every pull of the trigger is vital and is to be treasured. It is not mere bullet-monkeys we grow these bullets for but true artisans. Bullets that will each be brought into the world for a specific purpose and target in mind, each with a name grown into it.”
“We are the scientists,” he continues. “We are painters and creators. We are farmers. We grow and supply the others with unique and beautiful items. And most importantly we are the harvesters.”
He pauses and looks down at you. “What if I had said no?”
You remember the tests you went through to get here, the beatings you both took and delivered to work your way up into the Rasmussen Family until finally you met Daniella Rasmussen herself and begged her favor to allow a meeting with her Family’s Bullet-Harvester.
You shake your head.
“I would not have accepted that. I will know the science and alchemy, the very magic of bullet-harvesting. Then I will have my revenge. If you said no I would have killed you and found someone else to teach me. I will not be stopped.”
The Bullet-Harvester smiles at you and says, “very good. Now, let us begin.”
Ken McGrath lives in Dublin, Ireland. His fiction has recently appeared in Cirsova Magazine, Trickster’s Treats #2 (Things In The Well Publications), KZine, Bards & Sages Quarterly, and Liquid Imagination Magazine among others. He also has stories due for publication in the anthologies Terror Politico! (Scary Dairy Press) and Transcendent (Transmundane Press). You can find him online here https://kenmcgrathauthor.tumblr.com/ if you like.