Without

By J. Parrish Lewis
© 2018

They didn’t come for our guns, we surrendered them.

On March 15, 2021, the inexplicable desire to be rid of every gun in my home woke me from my sleep. It wasn’t long before I learned that the same desire welled up within every gun owner. None of us seemed to understand our own actions —  myself included — as we gathered our guns and piled them into our cars, our backpacks, our oversized eco-friendly recyclable shopping bags. Glocks, Shields, Rugers, Sig Sauers, AR-15s, Remingtons, Magnums — you name it, we had it — and bullets, bullets, bullets, truckloads of bullets, all of these rounded up willfully even though we could not understand why.

Somehow I knew where to go — we all did, each of us in our towns and cities, our towns and cities across America and beyond, the whole world in fact — as if everything had been carefully planned with us. To the police stations, to the steel mills where it all would eventually go, to small forges, anywhere the metal could then be melted down, the wood stock burned to ashes, the bullets collected for disassembly.

I said nothing, even as others cried, “This is not right.” For some things, no words are needed.

We hurried to get these things away from us, for we had to, absolutely had to, get them away; to even be near these weapons we once treasured violently and physically sickened us. Our faces reddened, our bodies were damp with sweat.

“What’s happening?” cried Jase, a guy I knew from work. We’d hunted together, once, but he for the sport and me for the meal. I hadn’t hunted with him since. We locked eyes, his cheeks flushed as if ashamed of his torment, and he looked away. I wish I had said then that he didn’t need to look away, that he didn’t need to feel ashamed, but I didn’t. For me it was not the loss of guns but the loss of control that tormented me in those early hours. I couldn’t say anything then. I couldn’t bring myself to say anything at all.

Those who collected our guns, the police and the steelworkers and the firemen, even they did not know why they were compelled to collect. Even they did not want to handle the weapons, but did so out of some strange duty assigned to them by the unknown. Their own weapons were buried under the growing mass by then, much to their discomfort.

“We don’t know,” they said in a hundred ways, taking the offered guns, their own faces racked with confusion. “We don’t know any more than you do.” Here, too, were the flushed cheeks and timid glances. What drove their shame, I wondered.

The trucks ran all day, rumbling down the streets, overfull with war. “Second Amendment,” muttered some, softly and weakly, our minds a muddle of confusion over our own actions.

By 10:30 that morning, after a meandering and mindless drive home — during which I noticed more than a few gun shops had shuttered their doors already, the owners hammering “out of business” signs to the walls — I called in sick. I was already late, but I did feel sick and, even though the feeling was beginning to pass, I felt like someone’s puppet. Anger and guilt and relief all washed over me in waves.

I grabbed my laptop and went to the news for answers, but there were none to be had. Only confusion everywhere. The world was full of fear and happiness. Every story was a gun story. The gun owners — former gun owners — demanded answers, blamed the government, spouted a thousand stories about a thousand likely reasons, and who was to blame. Accusations were fired like bullets. Those who hated guns cheered, for the most part, but even they felt the twinge of fear of what could possibly control the actions of so many, and so easily.

“God,” some said. “Hypnosis,” said others. Still I said nothing.

I stared at my gun safe. Stormcloud grey, left open, its cream-colored interior looking abandoned. I thought of oysters, I looked for the pearl, but there was none to be had. I noted the dried coffee that I had spilt on top quite by accident a week before, which I kept reminding myself to clean up but hadn’t yet, being the procrastinator that I am.

I thought of the code, because the keypad called out for it, but I didn’t think I’d ever use it again. What is a gun safe any use for, if not to house my guns? I only had two, it’s true, one for protection and one for the hunt, but they had been mine. Now they were gone and who knew what would happen next. There would be no hunting, with Jase or anyone at all.

I went back to bed, eventually. I couldn’t sleep at first, just turned restlessly, until I had to get up and brush my teeth again because I needed something I could control, some little act I could do, even for a few minutes. Going back to bed, I pulled the blanket over my head but I couldn’t sleep. To be honest I didn’t care about the guns. I never had. For me the guns were never part of my identity, nor even something I brought up with anyone unless it was to plan a hunt, but still. But still.

I was doubting myself, questioning my life — questioning all lives, to be honest — because if we had been compelled to do this one act on this one day, then what of the rest of life? Was it all a sham? Has the puppetmaster really been pulling the strings all along, and we never knew, because we each lived our own ways, rarely aligning enough to notice?

If free will is an illusion, then who are we, really?

Eventually, I fell asleep. It was dark when I awoke. I thought I dreamed the sound of an explosion, but when I looked out into the night, I saw the smoke and the fire and the approaching fire engines. I couldn’t see the crowd that I knew had to be gathering, some six blocks away over by the factory. They made dolls there, nothing else, so I couldn’t understand why there’d be an explosion there, why a fire. For a moment I thought: gas leak.

But I knew it wasn’t a gas leak, nothing so innocuous as that. It was the guns. It had to be the guns. Someone couldn’t handle it, someone whose life and identity was wrapped up so tightly in being a gun owner that to have given up the things he treasured broke him. I rushed out the door and downstairs, into the street. By then you could hear smashing of glass and yelling, so much yelling, all of it meshing together into an angry song.

I stood at the curb. Other neighbors, some of them at least, came out, joining me at my watch from their own spaces. Something was shifting, and the guns had only been the trigger.

I noticed her then, on the roof of her house, facing the factory. She sat, dressed in a simple white dress, the kind one would wear to a summer party, and her hair down: Ms. Delaney, watching. Whether she watched the sky or she watched the fire, I could not tell. In the moonlight her dress seemed blue, her head mere silhouette. She did not turn, but I knew it was her, though seeing the widow in such a dress in the cold night surprised me more than the fact that she was on her roof, which would have required a climb from her second-story window onto a too steep roof.

I thought of her husband. A man I did not know, long since gone, a man once a cop. Possibly the day was a day she wished for, come too late.

Still the engines cried, the voices overlapping its own song, and still we watched from afar, not seeing the hardware store next to the factory being ransacked for its knives, not seeing the cars overturned and set on fire, not seeing the arrival of the riot squad to face down the angry men who came out of shadows into the light.

Still we watched, from afar, a cold night with stars and a moon shining upon the back of a widow who waited. Here was no puppet.


This is a work of fiction by J. Parrish Lewis, all rights reserved. Please do not reproduce this without permission. A note of thanks to Chuck Wendig for the challenge. See Flash Fiction challenge here: LINK