March 22, 2010

Sheldon Lee Compton

The Stars Are a Birthmark for Me

The Captain was the heir. His father was an ice pick of a man, developed himself from immigrant to boss. The story was known. The Captain was known. There were many captains, five in all, but only one Captain. The son. The heir.

Kilill tattooed all the captains. Each one, as they rose in the family came to him and sat for their stars. Some were placed on kneecaps, others above the heart. These were the most noteworthy. Of his many, the Captain had two above his heart.

He told his soldiers the stars were a birthmark for him. Said in solitary confinement they called him The Wall because he couldn't be shifted. After he told them this, some of them in idle moments, long hours standing outside hotel rooms for the father, would call him Captain Wall.

The tattoos told your story. The Captain had plenty. Sat for his first stars before he was ten, one on each knee. The father told him this was a reminder he was never to bend to any man. To crush the stars beneath the weight of your knees was to gut yourself. He started looking people in the eyes and in the eyes only after that talk.

When Kilill gave the ten-year-old Captain his first star he was told to push deep, scar him. He was forced to drink half a pint of vodka before he sat for Kilill, ensuring plenty of blood.

The night his father asked him to toss a five-month old baby into the river, the Captain refused, said he would not kill a child.

We don't kill children, Papa, he said. And this child is my blood, my sister, born from your stable of whores.

For that transgression, the Captain was spared. He was not made to throw the child into the river, only to watch while two of his soldiers carried out the task.

The blood is not on your hands, son. It is on the hands of your soldiers. It should always be this way. Do this, and you will live many years.

It took a week for the Captain to build up the nerve to cut away the star covering his right knee.

Once he had both stars cut away from his knees, the Captain wrapped the ragged pieces of inked flesh in hand towels and carried them to his father. He presented them from his knees, the blood soaking through his pants and making puddles on the parquet flooring.

These are for my sister, Papa. These are for my sister. My sister.

His admittance to the hospital was kept as quiet as possible, but his soldiers knew what had happened. Captain Wall became Captain AWOL. When they heard the Captain had used a bed spring to cut away the stars above his heart, they stopped talking. And before very long, it was as if the Captain had simply been killed in battle. He became a memory best forgotten.

Business continued. The father survived, as was his tendency.


Sheldon Lee Compton lives in Eastern Kentucky. In his county, most everyone carries a gun, boots are the primary footwear, and there are cemeteries located along hilltops. All in all, he doesn't so much mind living in the The New Old West. His work can be found in places like PANK, Emprise Review, >kill author, Monkeybicycle and elsewhere.

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