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It Was Always Temporary
About the Author: Chris Preston is a writer of fiction and creative non-fiction from Ontario, Canada. You can currently see work by Chris within Ash Tales, SERIAL magazine, and Asymmetry Fiction. To find out more, feel free to visit

Gnats, suicidal and smothering, swarm as dusk sets in. They’d left me alone when the sun was high, while I made my way through the bush and foliage from a neglected dock nearby. Now, they find me even high up and camouflaged in the forest.

During my younger years, I hated coming up North with the family in summer, because of how bad the bugs would get. And yet, here I am. At least I’m not that kid anymore, the one who’d spastically swat the air around me whenever the gnats would swarm. Not after the years of training. Of killing.

My eyes stay fixed on our old family cottage, waiting for movement. The sap on my fingers is finally flaking off as I absently pick at the pockets of my tactical vest for loose buckles and snaps.

Being in the family business, every task has always felt slightly personal, and this assignment is no different. While this is a target I should know so well, there are many ways he’s continued to be a stranger. I don’t know his kids, or what he does for a living now. Hell, I’ve barely seen him express a single emotion. We both were taught to shed feeling long ago but my anger still gets the better of me at times.

There, dead center of my binoculars. He emerges through the front door. Hello, brother, it’s been a while.

Chatter comes through my headphones, attached to my handheld listening dish. It’s between him and an uptight-looking bitch who’s not his wife following Garrett out. They talk about housing prices; she must be the agent listing our old place, which held many generations of Langdons within its wooden walls.

“I’m heading down to Toronto for some supplies, and back tomorrow morning,” he says. “The master bedroom is finally going to get the paint job it deserves.”

“Garrett, your place here is full of a life lived! People in the cottage market love that. No need to take away from that. It’ll sell fine as is.”

“Maybe.” He stretches tall and, when done, takes a quick look around. Garrett would see me too, if he would bother to remember one of my favourite hunting perches. That lean frame reminds me of Mom, while his face is more and more like Dad as the years pass. Genetically, we’re opposites.

Garrett continues. “I’d rather spend my Sunday any other way than painting the bedroom, but I won’t be able to rest until I do. Paint’s already ordered.”

The rare assignments we performed together; he’d never get his hands dirty.

“Fair enough,” she says. “Want me to drop by again? Bring coffee?”

“Thanks, Karen. No, won’t be necessary. I’ll leave a key in the lock box for you to begin showings this week. We’ll talk soon!”

They shake hands and depart separately, her in an obnoxious SUV while he still drives that piece of shit Nissan. I’ll wait, not just until all residual sounds of their engines have left, but until dark, when I can redeploy for the final leg of my hunt.

Until then, I’m left taking one last look of the place our great grandfather built with his son. Where I had broken five different bones over the years. Where my mother passed away peacefully, surrounded by her kin.

This will be merciful, swift. For her sake.

The Week Before …

“Say it.”

“But why is Garrett’s pic—”

“Drew.” Dad’s enforcer, Tatum, says as I look back toward him. He pushes himself off the office wall to approach me. His shadow engulfs my chair. “Don’t disrespect your father. Just, say the fuckin’ words.”

I glance up from the surveillance picture of my brother on the office table to Dad, who’s patiently awaiting my compliance. Between crunches of peanuts from his candy bowl, he repeats, “Say it.”

“Sorry, yes.” I sit up and straighten my mechanic’s shirt, which I wear when visiting this business front for our organization. My left hand goes on the middle of my chest to begin the oath. As always, fingers are pointed toward my right shoulder and thumb toward my left. “We are The Family, incorporated.” I twitch my fingers, one at a time. “My life, my soul, my will, and my heart all belong to the cause. For that,” my thumb jerks, “I am given purpose.”

“We need to talk about your brother.”

“I’m listening. What’s going on?”

This story appears in our MAR 2021 Issue
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