Author: Joe Wood

Most folks hide the question at first. Maybe they’ve seen me on patrol. Maybe they find me tearing thistles out of my lawn, or walking over to pick my daughter up from school. It starts so casually. Just a chat between neighbors. Somehow, in the haze of how my day is going, my thoughts on the weather, and an innocent question about work, they’ll hit me with it. Kids at least don’t take cover behind pleasantries. Every time a pack of boys spots me walking my dog Messy, they’ll hit the brakes, and blast me with, “Nice duster! How many guys have you shot?”

Last week a kid – maybe fifteen – pointed at my gun. I thought I had it concealed under my shirt, but just enough of the chrome pistol poked out to catch the sun. When the kid asked me the usual question, I turned to make sure there was no one watching. Then, I took the duster out of its holster and tossed it at him.

Lord, how his eyes went wide. But the boy caught it. Unfortunately, he didn’t count on how light it was, and fumbled the gun onto the pavement. Whether he was more scared of me or breaking the duster, I wasn’t too sure. I nodded at the kid, and the boy cautiously retrieved it.

“At ease, rookie,” I said, grinning. “It’s not charged.”

Last time I charged it was three months ago. If you told my brothers in the precinct that, they would send you to our staff psychologist. Harris or Jang would say, “Sandman turned his duster off? You’re high.” Not that I blame them. I once found myself caught between two gangs using lead bullets to turn Peach St. into rubble. By the time backup arrived it was just me and twenty-five piles of sand. They needed half-an-hour to vacuum the remains into body bags.

Imagine a pile of sand blow-torched until each grain burned like a coal. That’s all a person is when they get disintegrated. The second my pointer finger passed a sensor on the trigger, my duster made them disappear. Oh, civilians loved it. Instead of swat teams smashing down doors and putting down criminals with the force of a hurricane, justice is quiet. One officer spots the target on infrared, the other takes the shot. A few flashes of light, and they’re neutralized without any lingering blood stains. Lots of problems disappeared once our boys got dusters six years ago.

Lots of people disappeared too. Not that anyone really noticed, or cared. I sure didn’t, until the night when a few officers chased a man clutching a “mysterious item.” When I found the suspect, he had cornered a young girl. After grabbing her shoulders and yelling something, he slipped something into her pocket. I couldn’t risk using the duster without hitting her. So, I walked towards him with my hands at my side.

Maybe it was my expression, or my tone. The man let go of her, and turned to me. We stood there motionless, silently watching each other as the girl ran into a nearby alley.

“Alright. Stop,” he said as his body turned to dust.

The suspect did not “lunge” at me like the report said. I don’t know which of the four officers pursing him claimed that, or even which one fired. But in the same moment the man’s eyes pleaded with me, he ceased to exist. Any memory of that man was erased – his life reduced to a cloud of molten dust. With a gust of wind, his embers singed my body.