Pierce by Jake La Botz

When teenager Joshua's behaviour gets totally out of control, his largely absent father doles out an unusually severe punishment.

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"He just won't listen, James!"

"Did you go through the steps like we talked about?"

"You don't know what it's like when you're gone for weeks at a time."

"You knew what I did for a living when you met me."

"I thought you might consider your son's welfare a little more at some point..."

"Nope. You don't want to go there, Lis. My job supports this family."

"I'm just so... I'm frustrated, James!"

"Oh, for Christsake. Let me unpack my gear, then I'll talk to him."

When he finished putting away his last pair of socks, James gave a listen at his son Joshua's door. The mixture of sounds - digital computer noises and heavy metal grinding and grunting - caused him to wince before knocking.

"Josh? It's dad."

From down the hall Lisa shot her "just do it" look. James tightened his already tight jaw, twisted the knob of his thirteen-year-old's door, and pushed through the barricade of dirty clothes, food scraps, CDs, and electronic equipment.

When Joshua wouldn't look up from the computer, James put his hand on the boy's shoulder.

The scream that came out of his son was loud and horrific enough, James thought, to make the neighbors think someone was being tortured. He immediately removed the unwanted hand and retreated out of the room where Lisa was looming with folded arms and her "I told you so" look.

James closed the door, shaking his head.

"It's bad," he said.

"It's really bad," Lisa confirmed.

In the kitchen the couple aimed weary eyes at one another until Lisa started crying.

"No choice. Time to go to level five," James said coolly.

"You and your goddamn levels. This is not Gitmo, James!"

With renewed firmness, James pushed open his son's door and waded through the mess to the overfull power strips behind his son's computer, yanking every cord out of the wall with a meaningful grunt.

"What's the matter with you!" Joshua yelled.

"I'm your father and I have a duty to you, your mother, and to our country to deal with your behavior. You've given me no choice. It's not just your computer this time. I'm taking away your name."

"You can't take... wait. What?"

"You heard me. You're not Joshua anymore. You're just 'hey you' or 'hey kid.' Understand?"

James watched as confusion turned to panic on his son's face, before picking up the large computer monitor and walking out the door, dragging cords and video game accessories behind him.

"Thompson, Renee."


"Simmons, Edward."


"Pierce, Joshua."

When no response came, Mr. Giordano, the kid's aged homeroom teacher, looked around the room and called the name again.

"Joshua Pierce, are you present?"

The kid raised his hand sheepishly.

"Why don't you speak up, son?" Mr Giordano asked.

"I have a note," the kid said.

Mr. Giordano waved the boy to the front of the room and took the carefully folded paper from his hand. As he finished the two-sentence note from the kid's father, the teacher raised his thick black eyebrows and took a deep breath.

"I see," he said. "Well, have a seat... you."

At recess other kids from the class read the note left on Mr. Giordano's desk. Word soon spread throughout the school of the boy who no longer had a name.

At eighteen, when the kid graduated high school, he joined the army. It was comforting for him to be among men who called each other by last name only. It not only gave him a chance to have a name again, it gave him the freedom to move away from home and shoot real guns instead of the ones on video screens. He was deployed to Iraq for the last year of the war there and then to Afghanistan for a second year of combat.

After two years of active duty, the young man, now known as "Pierce," took an industrial construction job as a pipe-fitter - once again keeping the company of men who responded to last names only.

At twenty-one Pierce married Sophia, the sister of his army buddy "Schlotsky," at St. Edward the Confessor church in her hometown of Appleton, Wisconsin. As the priest finished the ceremony he said, "I now pronounce you Mister and Misses Pierce." Pierce cringed when he heard "mister" as it sounded too much like a first name. "Pierce and Misses Pierce," Pierce corrected. The priest, slightly taken aback by the interruption, took one look in the groom's eyes and quickly amended his wedding pronouncement.

At twenty-three Pierce's wife became pregnant. After the ultrasound informed the couple their baby would be a boy, Sophia began excitedly talking about names.

"He needs a Bible name, don't you think?" she asked.

The blank-eyed, half-smiling look on Pierce's face indicated his lack of interest, but amenability to her decision.

Over the next several days, as Sophia went through the list of her favorite Bible boy names, she started repeating one more than the others. "Joshua fought the battle of Jericho. Jericho. Jericho. Joshua fought the battle of Jericho and the walls come tumbling down..." she sang.

Pierce, no longer able to offer a half smile to his happy bride, objected firmly to the name. Sophia was crestfallen - not only by the rejection, but by something hard she was starting to notice in her husband.

By the time his son Isaiah was born, Pierce was spending the majority of his time on the job or at the bar among his last-name-only co-workers. Sophia shifted all of her love and attention to their child.

A rare phone call from Pierce's mother came one evening while he was working a twelve-hour shift at a nearby power plant. When he got home late that night, Pierce found the dinner leftovers waiting for him on the kitchen table along with a note written in the brusque, utilitarian style that both he and Sophia now habitually employed with one other:

George Washington University Hospital. He's dying.

After a sleepless night, Pierce called in sick to work for the first time in his life and booked a flight to DC.

When he arrived at the hospital, Pierce walked through the cancer ward until he found a door with Pierce, James written in purple marker on a wipe board.

"Who are you?" His father asked.


"That's my name."

"It's your son, Mr. Pierce," the thoughtful nurse offered.

"Oh. How are you, kid?"

"I want my name back."


"You heard me."

"I don't make those decisions anymore," James said resignedly.

After holding his father's gaze a few moments, Pierce leaned over and whispered something in the old man's ear. He watched confusion turn to panic on his father's face before leaving the room.

As the door closed behind him, Pierce pulled a carefully folded handkerchief from his pocket and rubbed his father's entire name off the wipe board.

When he returned home Pierce greeted his wife with the half-smile she hadn't seen since before their son was born. Isaiah, as if expressing the welling emotions in his mother, or the buried ones in his father, began crying uncontrollably in Sophia's arms.


  1. I read “Pierce” twice to see if some enlightenment would surface, and here’s what I came up with: James is some kind of CIA-esque spook who dwells as a manipulative bottom-feeder in the world of clandestine skullduggery. Somehow – perhaps metaphorically – he has untold power over circumstances and deletes his son’s identity for bad behavior. Unaccountably, everyone else seems to go along with his dicta and Joshua is reduced to just Pierce. Naturally, this has a profound effect on Joshua and colors his whole future. It is only when James is old and sick and dying that he no longer has the authoritative power he once had and Joshua symbolically erases James’s name, thereby reducing him. And his son morphs from just “Pierce” back to Joshua again. How did I do?

    1. BT - I too was puzzled. Your response could explain the ending.

  2. The conceit of this short story is fresh and entertaining.
    It’s Kafkaesque but less dark, more silly.

    (Of course, according to the folklore “law of names”, not having a name makes the protagonist immune to magical attacks - but that’s just me geeking out…)

  3. An interesting read which I found somewhat disjointed, but I appreciate that this was intentional, so in that sense works very, very well. Perhaps its a bit meta, but I felt like I was, in a sense, reading a story that followed a set of levels, much like a video game. Another thing I liked a lot was the dialogue which is very natural and well written.