Song: “Rain” by Luke Eskelund
I woke up screaming. My whole body was shaking and all I could hear was my voice echoing everywhere. I was on a mountain overlooking a bunch of other mountains. But I was too angry to appreciate the view. My body was pulsing with anger I’d never felt before and I just kept screaming and screaming.
I saw someone move on my right and I jumped to my feet. In the blink of an eye, I loaded a magazine of rejections into my gun and fired shot after shot straight into the man’s head.
When the dust settled, he was hunched over his knees and suddenly my senses came back. I felt the anger leak out of me and it was replaced by an instant flow of regret.
“I’m so sorry!” I ran up to him and helped him up. But by the time I reached him, he was already standing straight.
“Don’t apologize,” he replied. “That was long overdue.”
I looked him up and down, still worried that I’d hurt him. “Who are you?”
“Who I am doesn’t matter. What I am does. I’m the Gunsmith. I made you that gun.”
I looked at the patches of dirt around us and the mountain peaks surrounding us in the distance. “Am I dead?”
“Feelings don’t kill,” the Gunsmith said. “They reveal. So you’re not dead. You’re about to become real.”
“I’m sorry for shooting you,” I said, lowering my head. “I’m normally not like this. I promise.”
“I know. And that’s the problem.”
I looked up at him. “What?”
The Gunsmith aimed his gun at a flock of birds that had just landed nearby. “Those are the people in your life. And this…is what you think will happen if you shoot straight.” He fired one shot and the birds scattered. “You’ll lose everyone.”
“Of course,” I shrugged. “No one wants to stay with someone who shoots them in the head.”
“You know that’s not true. Eight has friends. And all she does is shoot people in the head.”
“But that’s Eight,” I disagreed. “I don’t shoot people in the head.”
“I beg to differ,” he tapped his skull.
“That was literally the first time I’ve done that.”
The Gunsmith smirked. “You don’t have to defend yourself to me. And you don’t have to shoot everyone in the head. You just have to shoot straight.”
I sighed. “I don’t think so. There’s always another way to get a feeling across.”
“Is that why Sixteen came back? Because he got the feeling the first time?”
I opened my mouth to say something, but couldn’t think of a response.
“You’re not afraid that people will leave because you shoot them,” the Gunsmith went on. “You’re afraid that they’ll leave because you’re not worth staying for.”
The words stung sharper than a rejection in my chest. But he was right.
“Come here.” I followed him over to where the flock had been. When we got there we saw one last bird flapping on the ground. It rolled onto its feet then chirped up at us.
“When you shoot straight,” the Gunsmith explained. “Some will leave. But some will stay. And the ones who stay are the ones who count.”
The bird chirped again then flew onto my shoulder. I couldn’t help but smile as it went on chirping into my ear. “So you’re saying that what I do matters?”
“No, Nine,” the Gunsmith replied. “I’m saying that you matter.”
I lowered my head and thought that over.
He handed me a magazine and I read the label etched across it: PEACE
“What’s this?” I asked.
“Your new weapon,” he told me.
I grabbed it and read the label again. ‘Sounds kind of…contradictory, doesn’t it?”
“Peace isn’t the absence of conflict,” he explained. “It’s what you bring to the conflict. Now shoot me.”
I loaded the magazine into my pistol then took a deep breath. Before I could even think about what I was doing, the Gunsmith aimed his gun at me and pulled the trigger. But quicker than lightning, I had already fired my shot too. Straight in his forehead.
But I was the only one who dropped down. I didn’t know what his bullets were, but I felt a flow of affirmation trickling through my blood. And the last thing I heard was the Gunsmith’s voice above me: “Shoot straight, kid. The world needs it.”
Artwork by Jessica Bryant