Gunpowder reeks in a way you can taste, like you are sucking on an acrid piece of burning chalk. The smell slithers into your brain through the nostrils and the mouth, coursing through veins like venom. I was frozen, silent and completely still, clutching the smoking revolver in my shaking hands as I stared in horror at the dime sized hole I had blown through the skull of the paper man on the wall.
“Great shot!” My father exclaimed with a proud grin, beaming to his friends as I carefully rested the smoldering weapon on the counter stained with dark lines of powder. “You’re a natural!”
I was silent as I looked at my hands, stained with black smudges as the stench crept into my eyes and into my clothes, covering everything in its caustic odor.
“How does it feel, Maddie?” My father’s friend asked as he casually plucked up the Colt Python and pushed six more bullets into the shiny cylinder with a rattle. “It feels good doesn’t it?”
I nodded my head, but my heart was pounding in terror as I felt him replace the heavy weight of the gun in my hands. It was too heavy, really, not at all what I thought it would feel like. That vision of Lara Croft and James Bond twirling their pistols evaporated the moment I held the dense metal in my outstretched arms.
I thumbed the hammer and gazed out at the target, feeling the rapid beating in my chest clatter inside my ribcage. My index finger stroked the trigger but did not squeeze.
“Now breathe out.” My father whispered behind me, and robotically I fired.
Bam! The recoil reverberated through my bones, and I saw a fresh hole in the chest of the paper man on the opposite wall. It was so fast, as fast as the bite of a cobra on an unsuspecting mouse not even able to process the sharp fangs wrapping around its body until it was already stone dead.
I stared out at the paper man like a deer in the headlights, my wide eyes gazing at the smoke wafting off of the barrel. It was surreal and disturbing the way the serpentine tendrils of smoke seemed to wrap around me, twisting around my arms and curling up my neck. It seemed to squeeze my lungs, constricting and suffocating as it coiled around my body.
I put down the gun and tore off the tight headphones that pressed against my brain, desperately trying to breathe despite the pressure of the thick acidic air.
“I need some air,” I muttered before dashing out of the subterranean cave of the gun range. I clawed my way up the stairs towards the sunlight peaking out from underneath the door. I fumbled for the handle of the door but my hands were trembling. I pushed it open and stepped into the blazing light of the pure summer sun. I took a deep breath, inhaling the fresh air unpolluted by the black odor that still clutched to my clothes and hair.
I was not scared exactly, nor was I disgusted either. All I know is that I felt a certain emotion of magnetic repulsion at the smell of gunpowder and the weight of the metal in my small hands. The image of the two dime-sized holes in the body of the paper man was haunting and disturbing as my brain subconsciously visualized the way a bullet would slice through flesh and organs and spill out blood onto the field of littered shell-casings below. The idea of using such a frightening weapon of destruction on another human being sickened me in a way that made me shake all over. While my father and his friends laughed, speaking of shotgun blasts that could tear basketball sized chasms in the chests of men without even aiming, I shuddered in a solemn aversion for the smooth metal of the revolver they had placed in my hands.
I did not fear the weapon in the careful hands of my father or his friends, nor was I scared when I saw police resting their wrists on the holsters of pistols. I did not fear those I knew who chose to wield such great and terrifyingly mortal power.
I feared only the implications, and the icy rush I felt experiencing such dreadful dominion over life and death.
On the drive home from the gun range my father asked me a hypothetical question. If someone was trying to hurt me or my family, could I pull the trigger?
I looked at the case of the revolver in the car. It was sleeping now, curled up in its nest and quietly waiting to strike. I gazed back at him, studying his familiar face.
“Yes.” I whispered. And that is what scared me the most.