Safety

“No, you cannot have a target that looks like a real person,” the woman behind the glass at the outdoor range’s shop smacked through her gum. “That’s illegal in this state.”

Evelyn sighed and grabbed a target from the bin, sliding it across the counter without bothering to look at it. The young woman working the register raised one eyebrow at her choice and popped her gum as she handed Evelyn back her change. Evelyn slid on her ear protection, and grabbed the rolled up target and her black gun case from the table alongside the register. She turned sharply on her heel and moved quickly towards her designated spot in the range. There was no one on either side of her, which is what she had hoped for.

Evelyn stood calmly, listening to the dull thumping of infrequent gunfire through the think padding of her earmuffs. Baking in the summer heat, she stared across the vast swath of dirt that made up the outdoor range. The sound of weapons discharging seemed far away and syncopated, like small waves crashing on countless distant shores.

Evelyn reached down with trembling hands and opened the black gun case. It took her a moment to realize that she was squeezing her eyes shut, but she gathered the strength to open them and look into the case. Inside, her father’s Glock 17 sat dourly.

As she waited for the signal to end firing, she contemplated the matte black gun case on the small counter. She had only seen it a few times in her life.

Once, when her father had purchased over a decade ago. He had shown her what was kept inside.

A second time, when she was 12, and nosing around looking for Christmas presents in her parent’s closet. She didn’t look inside.

The third time, a year ago when Evelyn’s mother told her what Evelyn’s father had done. It was open, and empty.

The fourth time, six weeks ago when Evelyn’s mother said she couldn’t stand to keep it in the house anymore. She hadn’t looked inside until now.

Evelyn felt something terrible uncoiling in the pit of her stomach. A shrill horn sounded and she snapped back to reality, blinking away a bead of moisture that trembled on the precipice of her right eyelashes. She looked over her shoulder at the gun case as the range-master’s voice came over the public address system.

“Ceasefire. Clear your weapons and stand behind the white line. Firing will recommence in approximately five minutes.”

A wave of silence descended on the range. In the mute caverns of her earmuffs, Evelyn listened to the blood thunder in her veins.

“You may now enter the range to adjust your targets.”

She waited a moment, then strode out onto the range to set up her target. As she stepped out from under the shadow of the awning that stretched lazily across the shooter’s area of the range, the temperature seemed to double. She instinctively raised one hand to shield herself from the rays, but was too late. For a moment, she was blinded and everything was awash in white light. It seemed, for an instant, that the distant silhouette of the target board wavered and danced mockingly in the heat of the burning noonday sun. She reached the board and dragged it halfway back to the shooter’s area, planting it firmly in two small steel-rimmed holes in the ground.

Carefully, she unrolled the target she had purchased: A brazenly cartoonish image of “Zombie Santa Claus.” She stared in shock at it a moment. The undead illustration’s mouth foamed, his eyes burned, and he gesticulated threateningly with a gore-slick candy cane. A fresh headwound was splashed across his forehead by a zealous illustrator’s hand. Evelyn choked slightly, forced down a wave of nausea, shook her head, and walked back to the shooter’s area. As she reached her spot, the public address system crackled to life, and the static-laced voice spoke again.

“The range is now clear. Shooting may recommence with the sound of the siren.”

The siren horn sounded, and the muffled sound of intermittent gunfire began again. Her father’s Glock 17 seemed to look up at her, the safety winking mockingly. Evelyn’s heart sank, and her father’s face burned on the periphery of her mind’s eye, trying to edge in past all the anxiety and drag along with it all of the sadness and regret and anger that it was burdened with now.

Deep down, she was afraid that what he’d done to himself, to all of them, might seize her in a poltergeist grip and manipulate her very hands. She was afraid it might twist her own fingers around the grip and clamp her teeth down on the barrel. As Though it might be possible that it was the gun itself that made him do it, possessed by some terrible goblin or malicious demon that waited for any poor soul to pick up that firearm.

She shook away her fears and snatched the pistol by the plastic grip. That was why she was here – to shake off those feelings and accept the reality. She slid the loaded magazine, short one bullet, into place. She flicked the safety off. She was here to undo the power of the object that her weeping mother couldn’t abide the existence of another day. As she pulled back the action of the Glock, Evelyn felt something move inside and click into place. She leveled the gun downrange and looked past the little white dot of the sights.

She was here to kill the idea that anything other than her father’s weakness had possessed him to pull the trigger and end his own life. In the distance, the stupid bulbous face of the demonic paper Santa Claus jeered in frozen lewdness, an idiotic totem full of angst and rage.

She stared past it, into the abyss of her fear and loathing, and fired.

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