The only light that I can see is from the desk lamp on the bedside table, its rings splayed against the empty carpet in the middle of the room. It seems strained in this moment, deprived of its usual warmth and comfort.
It's early September, the subtle midnight warmth hanging closely on my t-shirt's collar. I shiver uncontrollably, sitting at the head of my bed, barefoot. The books on the short shelf are shrouded, untouched by the sparse light from the lamp. The two windows, one over my right shoulder, the other on the far wall, both reflect the deep blackness of the night outside. The doors to my closet, open, are normally a stark white but melt into the wall of black, open floodgates spilling over.
I don't consciously notice any of those details. My fifteen-year-old mind is turned inward, thrashing against the dirty water being poured over my head, lonely in a vast ocean of darkness. You don't need to put yourself through this, I hear, cavernously echoing in my ears. It could all be over in a heartbeat, Brady, don't put yourself through this. Click, boom. I over my ears to shut out the siren song, but the whispers turn into shouts.
I fight to not look at it, but there it sits, taunting me from the far corner. A black Monolith around which everything circles. I hear the droning cacophony of voices swirling in my ears, overwhelming. Without my glasses on, Its glass front looks like a third window. Its sturdy wooden base seems cemented, Its four feet bolted into the carpeted floor. It reaches all the way up to an inch off the ceiling, an eight-foot monster, unflinchingly staring at me, longingly. It's dangerously close and seems to be shortening the distance between us.
Its contents are very familiar, long-time friends: black pump-action 20-gauge, synthetic-feeling stock, satisfying sound when pumped; sleek marbled wood over-under 12-gauge, gold trigger that pulled cleanly, black lever on the thumb to break open the chambers to reload; light-brown .22 rifle, heavy black bolt-action, seven-round black clip that clicked into place loudly with a hunter-orange piece of plastic at the bottom when the rounds were out; deep brooding-brown .30-06 rifle, long black conical scope, black flaps on both ends with little red triggers on the left to flip them up, wide dark camo strap, thick with comfortable foam that formed to your shoulder; .22 revolver, black with wooden grip, gold circular inlay right in the curve between the forefinger and the thumb that said "S&W", wrapped in a bright brown leather holster, with a white seam around the perimeter, big strap that went over the handle and under the hammer to button it securely.
Even unloaded and locked behind the glass door, this is the loudest they've ever been.
"The squirrel now."
"How 'bout that pheasant's head?"
It was my normal stage act, always to a full audience in my father's en. There were eyes always on me, and they knew if I had hit or not. The animal heads, the quarry of Pops's hunting trips, hung around the walls. The squirrel was mounted on a swath of tree bark, peering over its shoulder, frozen. Two bleached white sheep heads hung on opposite walls, the skulls contrasted with the twisted brown horns, sharpening to a point. The ring-necked pheasant's wings were fully spread, colorful feathers faded with age, perpetually trying to fly away. Another one stood stoically on top of the gun cabinet in the corner.
From his plush reclining chair, Pops would call out the targets and watch my technique closely as I pulled the revolver up into aim and dry-fired. "Make sure those fingers on your left are firmly locked against your right. If you fired it like that when it's loaded, it would jump back and hit you square in the forehead." I made the minor adjustment with my young hands, aimed, clicked back the hammer, dry-fired again.
The den always smelled stale, like the locker room after the gym period in middle school, an acrid concoction of body odor and sweaty socks. When he wasn't focused on my shooting technique, he watched the Flyers game, losing as always, on the TV behind me. He would intermittently reach for the two-thirds empty old Deer Park bottle and fill it with dark brown chewing tobacco excrement, which added another layer of pungency to the room's musk.
Pops had taught me all that there seemingly was to know about guns: the difference between buckshot and birdshot, what it means when a cartridge is rimfired, how to unjam the action if some gunk on the round gets it stuck, how to take all the pieces of the revolver apart to clean them, how to put all the pieces back together again afterwards. He had taken me on his hunting trips for years, proudly fulfilling his paternal duties of teaching his son what every son should learn. Whenever he introduced me to any of his hunting friends, or any of the other contractors at the office, he always told the same story, with a beaming smile on his face.
"Hey, here's a good story. Brady was either eight or nine, we were out in the marshes up at my cabin hunting woodcock, a group of about five or six of us. Some of us were landing shots on 'em, but they're fast little things, ya know? And the trees, the foliage was so dense. But Brady, with his little .410, basically a toy, hit two woodcocks that day, outgunning all us old guys with 12-gauges!" Pops's buddy always oohed and aahed genially. I never really knew how to respond, just sort of sheepishly staring down at my feet.
After my target practice performance for the night met the satisfactory standard, I got up from the deer hide-brown carpet, walking barefoot across the room, to pick up the revolver's leather holster from its nook on the top shelf of the gun cabinet in the corner. Gingerly wiping off my fingerprints lingering on the black carbon-steel, I tucked the revolver in, secured the heavy snap-latch, and placed it back where I found it.
I reached up on my tippy-toes to grab the key on the top part of the gun cabinet, a squat brass object with a circular head. Bending down, I stuck the key in the lock and turned left, feeling resistance. "Remember, 'lefty-loosey, righty-tight.'" I sighed, locked the cabinet, replaced the key, and walked up the stairs to my room.
My hands are on fire, and I try to pat them out by rubbing them on my elbows. I throw them under my thighs, pinned against the mattress, imprisoned. Yet still they burn.
I'm dizzy from the screeching sound of overheated brakes in my head, but the room doesn't spin, cloaked in deep black robes, steady in its menace. The voices shout their funereal incantations, droning together with a kindled intensity, growing louder and louder.
I can't even distinguish what they're saying now, articulation overcome by sheer mass and volume.
As I sit near the head of my bed, immobile, a cold breeze grazes past me, unexpectedly chilling my body, and the shivering makes its unwelcome return. Bent over, chest now on my knees, arms connected in a tight grip at my ankles, heels digging into the lip of the metal bedframe, I cradle myself against the enclosing intruders.
No one will miss you.
The unintelligible droning falls away, and the chorus of voices all shout it in unison. Again. Again. Again. Louder. My meager defenses are no match, the thousand-ton sledgehammer repeatedly slamming against my temple too strong, too overwhelming. The voices rise to such a volume that I begin to not hear them, not hear anything anymore, deafened.
I slowly uncurl, silently drawing in a deep breath. Exhaling, I gently place my bare feet, right, left, on the carpet below me, not feeling the softness underneath my toes that I had always felt. Crick by crick, I trace each vertebra up my back as it straightens, coming to attention. My shoulders roll back and sink firmly into place. I twitch each of the fingers in my hands, right, left, but don't feel the blood flowing to them, frozens in my veins.
Another breath in, stepping with the exhale.
The black Monolith in the corner emits a piercing high-pitched ringing in my ears as I approach it. I keep stepping forward, in time with my breaths, palms open. I stop directly in front of it, staring straight into it, not blinking. Another cold gust, shivers. Another breath in. Another breath out.
I stretch out my arm to the top of the Monolith, fingertips searching for what I couldn't see. It was as if the key was cowering, had run away from the darkness. One more prowl with my right hand and I touch the brass, slowly removing it from its high position, holding it firmly in my hand, no escape. The turn of the key in the lock, lefty-loosey, sounds like it's drawn out over thirty seconds.
Slithering my hand between the upward turned barrels in its way, I wrap my fingers around the wooden handle and delicately maneuver it beyond the impeding obstacles. Holding it so it faced downwards towards my feet, I unsnap the button, removing the leather holster with my left hand and dropping it on the ground.
I unlock the bottom section of the Monolith and reach back, without looking, to pull out the green rectangular box, sliding the top portion off to reveal last remaining ingredient. I remove one and place it in one of the six open slots, carefully swiveling the black circular wheel back into its place.
The revolver seems heavier in this moment than it did for all of those years of target practice downstairs. Turning it so it pointed left, I look down at the long black barrel. Another breath in, another breath out. My finger creeps onto the trigger.
Another. Another. In. Out. In.
I feel the pressure of the barrel, cold against my right temple.
This piece was written as part of a memoir class during my senior year at Dickinson College.