My word! A short story?! God’s bones!
So I realize I write about guns a lot. It’s not a penis thing, I swear. At least not in this case.
Ryan sat in exact centre of his father’s study, on the floor, looking up at the walls. A small stack of books lay on the floor beside him. He leaned back on his hands, his legs crossed in front of him. He gazed upwards, lolling his head back and forth between his father’s collections; books and guns. He stood slowly, pushing off his own knee, it was harder than usual. He inspected the rack of guns, rifles and shotguns mostly, with a few curious pistol here and there. He ran his finger down the length of a 1906 Purdey double-barrel sporting rifle. His father bought it at an auction just before Christmas. He sniffed the bore, it was clean and metallic. It was never fired. He looked at a Beretta from 1891, a 12 bore breach loader. Polished and finely crafted. A dozen more adorned the wall, most of them looked the same to Ryan.
Snow blew against the window.
They were all left to sell. The books Ryan and his brother were to cherry pick from for their own libraries and donate the rest. But the guns were to be sold. It was all set out in Mr. Babcock’s will. Every gun was to be auctioned off in a memorial event organized by a friend of the family and overseen by Ryan. The guns wouldn’t go far, all the buyers were bound to be friends or associates of Ryan’s father. The proceeds were to be spent on renovating the family mausoleum. Share the wealth, huh, Dad? Ryan thought.
Every gun but one, a 20 gauge Winchester 1912. The gun that won the west, Ryan’s father would always say.
Unlike the rest, it was in a closet covered with a charcoal gun-sock. Ryan pulled it out and sat back down on the floor. The gun rattled as he pulled off the knit cover. He grunted as he sat back down, resting the artifact across his lap. Its wooden grip was polished by a hundred years of steady hands, oil and dirt worked into the hard wood. The metal was pitted and worn and grey, but bright brushed steel where the action rubbed.
A creek drew Ryan’s attention. His brother, William, leaned against the door frame. His was still dressed in his dark suit, wrinkled from a long day. He sighed and took a sip from the tumbler in his hand.
“Jesus,” William said, running his hand over the day’s stubble on his face. “If dad didn’t buy all these guns and books, he could have bought an island.” He walked toward Ryan and sat beside him on the floor. “A big one.”
“Manhattan,” Ryan scoffed.
William took the shot gun from Ryan’s lap and turned it over in his hands. Absently, he said “Would have been funnier if we stopped at ‘England.’” He spoke more to himself than his brother as shouldered the weapon and pointed it at the desk. “Why did dad want us to keep this one, anyhow?”
“I’ve been cataloguing them.” Ryan leaned back on his hands, the rug felt rich on his palms. “Dad has notes about all of these. And that’s the only one that was given to dad, you know? By grandpa, I mean. It was out great-grand father’s.”
“Yeah? Ol’ James Babcock’s, huh? That’s pretty cool.” William kept looking down the length of the gun. The end bobbed unsteadily. “I think I remember him telling me that.”
“Did he ever tell you the story of first time anyone fired that?” Ryan looked at the gun in his brother’s hands. Hands so like his own and their father’s; thin fingers and knobby knuckles that didn’t know how to hold anything with grace. “It was back when Ol’ James lived in Newfoundland.” Ryan drew out the O sound in “Ol,” in a lovingly mocking tone. “Apparently, some guy rowed ashore in a right panic. Seems that an octopus worked its way up his oar and up into the dingy or punt or whatever.”
“Ha, that’s fucking terrifying.” William smiled and lifted the glass to his lips.
“There are some pictures of the bruises in an archive somewhere. Dad has… had copies. Anyway, the guy was on the beach with this cephalopod inching its way over him. All these people ran down to the beach — ”
“Poor bastards didn’t have much to do, I suppose.” William said, running his finger along the bottom of his glass. Ryan sighed.
“Or they worked on the docks there. Whatever the reason, they were all there when James came striding though the crowd with that gun in his hands. Dad said that the guy screamed louder when James pointed this here at him,” Ryan snatched the gun from his brother’s grip and shouldered it, taking aim at the desk.
“That poor desk…” William chuckled as Ryan pantomimed firing a shot, sounds and all.
“BAM! James picks off this octopus right in the dome—”
“With a shotgun?”
“Yes! With a shotgun!” Ryan was standing now, pacing and turning with each sentence. “Right in the dome. Dad used to say it must have exploded like a garbage bag full of beef and barley soup. Just picture it. This poor guy. Covered in little purple circles. Just standing there with chunks of octopus brain all over him.”
William rolled his eyes and said, “Ryan, octopuses have liquid brains.”
“Whatever octopods have in their heads, it was all over this poor fellow,” Ryan said, again teasing his brother. His eyebrows rose with his inflection. The shotgun rattled as he gesticulated, though it was always thoughtfully aimed at the window, towards the back of the property. “Someone must have ran and got a priest because a little while later he came trotting down to James’ garden.”
“Well, a priest would have been the most the most educated man in town back then.”
“Couldn’t have been too educated. Someone told him that James Babcock had killed the Devil on the beach. And the priest asked him where the Devil was now that he had killed it.”
“Ha! And where was the Devil then?”
Ryan bent and started to make a digging motion with the gun. “He was tending to his garden when the priest found him. Story goes that he snorted at the priest and said ‘I don’t know nothing about the Devil,’ while he was shoveling a load of tentacles across his turnips.”
The two brothers laughed hard for a moment. It felt like breathing. But the laugh trailed off until the same silence that had settled like a fog in the house returned. Ryan put the Winchester on the heavy desk and leaned, self-conscious all of a sudden, against the bookshelf. When he jostled the books, undisturbed for years, he could smell their nutty, rich aroma.
“You sound like Dad when you tell stories.”
“It’s Dad’s story.”
William held the grey gun-sock in his fist and pulled at it with his free hand.
“I guess it’s ours now.”