One of my first credits in a fairly well-known publication. This appeared in February 2004 at 3am Magazine.
Jerry smoked secretly. The habit had formed some thirty years before in humid jungles, and he’d never kicked the craving nor the need to hide it. Sitting on his back porch in the wee hours of the morning, overlooking the neighborhood’s shared greenbelt, he cupped his cigarette’s cherry signal behind arced fingers.
He always made sure to turn off all the lights in the house before easing out the sliding glass door to the water-sealed deck, lest even the thinnest nightlight rays give away his position. And when he’d finish a hand-rolled cigarette, he’d touch the thumb and index finger of his non-smoking hand to his tongue, and pinch out the ember behind a still cupped hand.
His best friend lived two doors down. And it bugged the crap out of Jerry how vulnerable Dave always left himself. He always turned on the kitchen light while finding a cigarette, so his arrival on his porch was announced well before he emerged from the house. And then he’d flip on the porch light as well. All that light would hardly matter, though, because Dave left his smoke’s cherry exposed to the night like a beacon as he puffed.
More than once, Jerry had sighted along an outstretched arm and phantom sniped Dave by the glow of his cigarette. And Dave never had any clue that Jerry was even awake, much less sharing the night with him.
Once, Jerry had even taken aim at Dave with his favorite Luger. He’d brought it out on the porch to break down and assemble, another habit that died hard. And when Dave presented himself as a target, Jerry had looked over the muzzle at him and damned near pulled the trigger. It would have served Dave right, being so fucking careless.
Jerry had considered telling Dave of the danger he was in several times, as the two quaffed beers over freshly mowed lawns. But to do so would have been to reveal his habit, and he was loath to do that, even to his best friend. He remembered those thoughts as Dave smoked his last cigarette one night. Dave flicked his butt out over his dew-stained lawn and noisily made his way back inside, extinguishing lamps as he went. The night was black again and belonged to Jerry alone.
What kind of man was he, he wondered, that he couldn’t reveal even to his best friend something as simple as the fact that he smoked? Was he so paranoid or was it just an odd quirk, the sort of secret that was inconsequential but that everyone harbored?
Considering this, he lit another cigarette and made a distinct effort not to shield its glow from the night’s eyes. Something in him wished against logic that there really was a Viet Cong soldier patrolling the greenbelt.