My dad, a country minister, used to have a locked closet full of guns. He owned more than I can even remember, and he was always selling one or two of them to make space for another. My mom wouldn't let him keep the guns anywhere else. When they got married she even made him get rid of his gun locker because it was “too ugly.”
Now, dad had some fine guns, but the one I remember best is a revolver that had a white handle and was black matte metal. As a kid I thought my dad was a cowboy, but not a dirty antihero like Eastwood. His white-handled revolver made him seem more like John Wayne, a tough guy with a heart of gold. It was displayed in a locked glass case hanging on the wall of his wood-furnished study, the one gun mom didn't make him keep in the closet.
Dad and his group of friends were all gun nuts, and guns seemed to be a natural part of life. They'd go shooting on Saturday and to church on Sunday. My dad led the good Christian flock with love and compassion, and over a few drinks he was apt to yak about Jesus. He unfailingly voted Republican at every national and local election.
He considered Reagan the greatest president and never batted his eye at NRA rhetoric. To him it just made sense to conceal carry a pistol even while at the Sunday pulpit. Why wouldn't he? He knew he wasn't the bad guy. Bad guys were other people, the people he needed to protect himself and his loved ones from. A good reliable firearm is the only assurance anyone can ever have in the world.
My dad and his friends were good men. Outsiders might've called them rednecks, stereotypical Christian Republican white guys with sick obsessions with their firearms, but that generalization excluded their sense of duty and vigilance.
Since I was young I had always known the unspoken respect we should have for firearms, a reverence so embedded in our culture that we don't even consider not respecting them.
My dad and his friends were peacetime warriors. Their weapons gave them the comfort that if something ever did happen, if the government crumbled or someone tried to harm them, they were ready to take care of themselves and their family. They weren't looking to start trouble, but they sure could end it.
Hell, a lot of the people around here that spend thousands of dollars on weapons and hulking off-road trucks raised on massive tires would be fucking thrilled if the world went to shit. My dad wasn't quite that eager. He sincerely hoped nothing ever happened and everyone remained safe, but on the off-chance something did occur he was ready. The idea of readiness is key to understanding my father's fascination with firearms.
When my younger brother shot his brains out with dad's white-handled revolver nobody knew how to account for it. We found his body after church on Sunday. I remember dad going into his study and coming out with a blank expression, clearly in shock. He said, “Your brother's dead in there. What do I do?”
I asked him what he meant, panic rising in my chest.
“He shot himself.” The grief gradually hit him. Tears ran down his red face. “What do I do?”
“What the fuck do you mean?! Call the cops! Tell mom!”
He repeated the question. “What do I do?”
It hit me that he didn't mean 'what do I do' as in what to do in that immediate moment but something else. “Let's just take care of this.” I wiped the tears from my eyes. “We'll worry about all that later.”
I was too much of a coward to look at my brother's corpse. Last I had seen him was that morning, and he seemed fine. He told us he didn't feel like going to church, and we said he better go next Sunday for Jesus's sake before we left.
His funeral was closed casket because he didn't have a face. None of us knew 'what to do' because we all thought Ellis had been a happy guy. We didn't know of any dark suicidal tendencies just beneath the surface. Sure, he tended to seclude himself, but it was normal for a seventeen-year-old to want their privacy.
He didn't get into guns like everyone else, and he was a little more liberal than what we liked, but, I swear to God, we loved and accepted him. I wish he had told me he wanted to kill himself. Maybe we could have talked about it. Maybe I could've told him how much I loved him. But I didn't, and now I'm stuck missing him every day.
As far as I know Ellis's body was found on the couch in the study. He held the white-handled revolver. The glass case hadn't been broken, so he must have found the key.
I remember mom throwing out the couch and screaming at my dad to sell that goddamned fucking gun, but dad wouldn't. I don't know why. He confided to me that even though it killed his kid, it was the last thing Ellis ever touched, and he didn't want to get rid of it. Getting rid of it was like getting rid of a part of Ellis, and so he continued to keep it in the same glass case.
Dad never changed a single thing in Ellis's room or in his study, and those two rooms became locked in stasis, as if they were in a time-warp from before Ellis shot out his brains.
Everything else changed, though. One by one my dad sold the guns in his closet. Every single one, except for that white-handled revolver. My dad's refusal to part with it sparked my mom's fury, and from then on they never got along. They divorced. After that my dad spent long, quiet days in the study. When I moved out on my own, dad was utterly alone.
In hindsight my dad's suicide attempt shouldn't have surprised me. He shot himself in the head with the white-handled revolver, but botched it and ended up surviving. The town considered it a miracle. A chunk of his skull was missing, sure, and half his face sagged like a deflated balloon, but people still rejoiced and welcomed him back to the church.
His sermons were never the same. Trouble really started when he started calling people in the congregation out. He'd point at perfectly respectable older women in modest frocks and shriek about them being adulterous whores. He told little girls they were going to grow up in sin. He told little boys they'd soon be murderers and called their fathers drunks and gamblers.
He canceled all the pleasant church events like picnics and dinners, saying that the church no longer had time for it. He talked less about God, his son and God's love, and more about the devil. He'd go and and on about the dark prince.
He said, “Devil's coming! You can hear him now! The devil's at the door! The devil's knocking! Devil's got six shots! Knock, knock, knock, hello, devil!” At this point he always banged on the pulpit. “The devil waits quietly, and then he appears in an instant. He's in our heads. Devil's in our heads! Devil's here! Devil's here!”
At first people forgave him because of all he had been through. After all, he was still their good minister, but gradually my dad's sermons really started to unsettle them. The congregation became smaller and smaller until only my a few of my dad's oldest and closest friends still showed up out of pity.
The town kept the church open out of respect for whom my father had once been, their final gift to him. Dad didn't keep the church up, and so it fell into disrepair. My dad's friends tried to spruce it up, but their efforts never lasted and the church got stuck in a perpetual state of decrepitude.
The windows were all busted from kids throwing rocks at them, allowing roaches and spiders to climb in. The spiders nested in the corners, weaving webs all around the walls. The black roaches scurried from shadow to shadow across broken glass. The lights went out until only one dim light remained.
Eventually even my dad's friends stopped showing up, and for a while it was just me and my dad on Sundays. My dad would get on the pulpit and belligerently evangelize, ranting about the devil over and over.
“We must defeat the devil! We must defeat the devil! Don't let the devil get you! Don't let the devil get you! The devil hides in plain sight! He watches, watches, watches! We've got the old devil in our souls! What do you do? What do you do? Do you let the devil consume you?! Can God save us?! God, where are you?! Merciful Lord, where is your mercy? Where is your love? Is it really a lie?” He pontificated as if the room was full of people, but it was just me and him, father and son, alone in a shitty church.
And, you know, I started wondering if maybe the devil really was coming. Sometimes I thought I sensed something in my head, something sinister, something dark, something that encroached upon me. I sensed an evil thing. My dad's cries washed over me, as the dark something coagulated in my head.
The roaches stormed past me. The spiders lurked on ugly webs. It was as if I entered a trance, and when I came out of it my face was wet with tears. Sundays left me in a daze. I'd go into church with a heavy feeling in my gut and leave with this something in my head. This something just beneath my skull in my brain, twisting my insides up, consuming me, wasting me. Oh, devil. Oh devil's coming.
I stopped going to church. As much as I love my dad I had to get away from that darkness. I don't know what it was. What it still... is. It's not gone. Never leaves. It lurks still. Lurking, lurking devil. Scratching on my brain, becoming my brain, interjecting itself into my thoughts.
Kids around town talk about my dad all the time. They dare each other to linger by the church on Sunday. They say they hear my father sermonizing inside as if the pews aren't empty, as if he's not alone. I'm not sure the last time he left the church. But, you know, I haven't left the house for a while either, have I?
I'm hungry. So hungry. I'm going to go ahead and list my dad's revolver on Craigslist. He doesn't need it anymore, and my bank account's looking slim. Just gonna sell it. It's beautiful. Someone will want it so they can protect themselves and their family and shoot the Devil away. Shoot 'em up.
Lately I've been having some thoughts. About my brother's body, but mostly about my brother's head where the bullet lodged itself. Maybe I should have looked at him for one last time. Maybe I should have picked that bullet out of his head so it'd stop speaking to his soul. I should have cracked open his skull and poked my fingers into his soft brain, stirred the organ around until I got it out. I could've saved him. Too late now. Ellis's in a casket with the devil.
Got the six shot Devil in my soul. The Devil's in the gun case. The old devouring Devil eats. I put the Devil to my temple, listen to the whisper, and let it eat my brain.
Written by WhoAreTheYoungDisgraced?