WORDS || Jack Cameron Stanton

When Frankie found himself in the alley, rifle slumped over his shoulder, Jay and Roach cheering eagerly behind his back, only then, when the rifle jammed and spat out three tumescent bullets, did he, Frankie, start to digest the absurdity of his situation.

Being totally unqualified to handle a firearm of such magnitude was one of the few certainties his life currently maintained.

He hadn’t slept or eaten for two days. What had happened was that he and the boys ingested some bad LSD three nights ago – some imported Mexican ‘Kesey Tears’, which should’ve alerted the warning bells; not to mention the fact that the dealer, a bearded twenty year old that goes by the alias ‘Art’, guaranteed, with eyes ablaze, that a quarter tab will send you soaring. Anyway, they, being the boys, endeavoured to ‘reach the fringes of consciousness’ – or so Jay said before sticking four unassuming cardboard squares along his gums. Roach and Frankie followed suit by swallowing the others, and so it’s no surprise, really, that the acid has kept them awake for so long.

This morning, he, Frankie, smoked a joint and drank some beers before feeling light-headed, and after escaping the company of his friends by climbing a flight of stairs to his remote bedroom, collapsed on the floor and had an epileptic seizure. Now, as a recovered benign epileptic, the seizure itself wasn’t horrifying: in fact, it enhanced the surreality of his nostalgic trip, in which each doorway in the house seemed to be a portal reversing in time, inverting it towards memories of the shared bedroom with his sister where he first experienced a neurologically caused fit; or, even worse, the paintings, which looked like his bastardised soul, invoking himself as a clown balling his eyes out and a vulture’s sneer. But despite all these momentary horrors, Frankie was, as it were, more worried that he had hit the wall, finally discovered the peripheries of his drug limits. What a terrible confession to share with his friends. Shameful. Emasculating. So he didn’t admit anything. Instead, he groped for his half-drunk Three Gents in the darkness, vision a scintillate mess, until he found the beer completely spilt underneath the bed.

So as you can imagine the fear was already running in his veins on the way to the firing range. Jay tried to reverse park between a brand new Toyota Prius and a fire hydrant. He fucked it up. After mounting the curb, he ignored the increasingly panicked beeps of his car’s sensor (which reached a doomsday flatline beeeeeeepppp) until his car gave the Prius behind him a little love tap. No one checked to see if any damage was done. They just sped two blocks down the road and parked there.

When Frankie arrived at the firing range, clinically unwell from the drugs sweating out of his system, he wondered if these institutions were equipped with any sort of intoxication detection systems. There must be, right? Every junky/wino can’t stumble in to shoot a few guns, right?

But there wasn’t anything to stop them coming inside, apart from a brief security check that involved a man with tattoo sleeves speaking to them through a bulletproof glass partition. When they confirmed that, No, Sir, we don’t have any guns with us, they were beckoned through the armoured door and into the shop inside.

It was around this time, when Frankie had signed a waiver (without reading anything) and been equipped with a M & P Rifle (whatever that meant) and given a quick demonstration by the tall and slender tattoo sleeved attendant, around that point, that he realised the gravity of what he was holding. Gunshots cracked and bounced audibly inside the next room. Oh, and not to mention the cornucopia of ammunition, earmuffs, a Glock pistol just to try, the pistol’s ammunition, a pen lid to snap out the clip, seven enormous paper targets – four depicting a sexy temptress with handguns akimbo, the others basically offensively portraying the idealised terrorist aesthetic – and two sets of safety goggles. At first, the attendant put three safety goggles into the tray, but soon noticed that Jay, who was distractedly chewing an old and weathered piece of beef jerky, was wearing glasses, and that he, Jay, ‘would be fine’ with those.

Inside the range, the boys argued meaninglessly over how to operate the rifle. Jay seemed to be whispering to himself in the corner. He swallowed the beef jerky (it looked like a gnarled branch) before reaching into his pocket and pulling out another, sticking it into his mouth, fluff and all. Roach, being plagued by obesity and chronic insomnia, was sneaking comatose bumps of ketamine every hour or so, and all afternoon until now was paralysed and enfeebled. To Frankie’s surprise, Roach was excited, alive, ready to shoot something dead. He was adamant that you grasp the rifle’s handle and extend out the scope and peer down it with one eye closed. Maybe that was right, but Frankie assured the others that shooting was hardly as picturesque as that. To shoot properly, you had to keep both eyes open, every sense available, smell the gunpowder, hear the patriots yell ‘Fuck off’ or call their gun a ‘useless piece of shit’, hear and smell and see every incredible unreality and decide to embrace them. Become another bobbing horse on the spinning carousel.

Four Americans strolled in with impressive steel briefcases. They set up beside the boys and pulled out massive weapons: a sawed-off shotgun, an Uzi, a Desert Eagle, and a sniper rifle.

The Americans took one alley each, and trundled down paper terrorists, each to varying lengths.

Roach massaged Frankie’s shoulders.

‘Come on man, shoot the fucking gun’, he said.

Frankie breathed in air ruined by gun smoke. He raised the rifle shoulder height. The paper temptress seemed to throb and breathe with the wind. But since there was no breeze inside, the swaying woman signified his torment. He desperately wanted to shoot. It seemed cathartic, the solution to his miseries, something real at last. He aimed down the sight (closed an eye without realising) and squeezed the trigger.

A few timid clicks. Three stray and unused bullets clinkered on the ground beneath his feet. They bounced on the floor mockingly. The rifle had jammed up. Roach kept shouting ‘I fuckin told you, I fuckin knew it’ and Jay bit his tongue and the patriots around seemed to snigger inwardly as the illusion that he, Frankie, could-ever-really-shoot-this-fucking-gun dissolved. The blazing sound of gunshots rang in his ears. His body trembled. Blackness dominated, his legs weakened, tongue numbed.

After Jay and Roach managed to unjam the rifle, using the pen lid to wedge out the bullet in the chamber, they turned and saw Frankie on the ground, uttering creatural noises and foaming at the mouth, his body uncontrollable. They could tell he was conscious because his fiercely emerald eyes stared at them longingly, like an abandoned lover.