Growing up in a steeltown going obviously down the toilet, sometimes I had to dodge a bullet. The first time I was fourteen years old standing in the woods near a strip cut smoking a filtered cigarette. An older boy I’d known for a long time, a dark-haired boy who’d had a driver’s license for over a year and could bench press nearly 200 pounds, said he wanted to shoot the cigarette out of my mouth with a pistol. The boy’s younger brother was there too. He was leaning against a birch tree. A minute earlier, offered the same proposition, he’d said, “No way, man. Not a chance.”

Of course, that sealed it. If his own brother refused to stand at parade rest in the middle of a replanted forest on the ridge line above a played-out coal mine and let him fire a copper jacket hollow point a few inches from his milk-white face, I sure as hell was willing. “Why not?” I said. I took a quick drag and pursed my lips, pushing the cigarette out as far as I could. Closing my eyes, I locked my hands behind my back. I waited. A pistol crack echoed through the forest.

After, the cigarette still jutted from my mouth. Untouched. No one said a thing. When I asked the younger brother afterwards if it was Doug’s suspect marksmanship that kept him from volunteering, he told me that wasn’t it. “He’s a pretty good shot,” he said finishing up his Coca-Cola and getting up, “as far as that goes.” It was only later—after Doug took a pot shot at two boys fighting in a field—that I heard he’d been talking about shooting somebody square in the head all that antic summer and how he just might get away with it.


About the Author

Damian Dressick is the author of the novel 40 Patchtown (Bottom Dog Press) and the flash collection Fables of the Deconstruction (CLASH Books). His writing has appeared in many literary journals and anthologies, including W.W. Norton’s New Micro, Electric Literature, Post Road, New Orleans Review, CutBank, Smokelong Quarterly, and New World Writing. A Blue Mountain Residency Fellow, Dressick is the winner of the Harriette Arnow Award and the Jesse Stuart Prize. He co-hosts WANA: LIVE!, a (largely) virtual reading series that brings some of the best Appalachian writers to the world. Damian also serves as Editor-in-Chief for the journal Appalachian Lit. For more, check out


Image by <a href="">Lena Fichter</a> from <a href="">Pixabay</a>