The Summer of the Gun

Hucklesby gun

 

“All the kids know where the guns are.” – Conventional wisdom.

 

The Huckle’s. Two boys – Ben, and Alex. Both older than me by a couple of years. They lived down the road from me on the Island. Their mum was a long-haired hippy throwback fifteen years behind the times. Their Father worked on boats and looked exactly like Captain Haddock from the Tin Tin comics. He even wore the same hat.

I was seven when I first met the Huckle’s. We’d moved into the old rectory up from them. It was a hideous Amityville type place full of ghosts and darkness and evil. I found secret rooms, and a huge mural in an attic room all about some secret society. Crawl spaces led to places half blocked off, and pillows, beard clippings in a paper bag, and a code book. Things from the dead past that a child could revel in if they weren’t already so scared of the living.

The Huckle’s were outdoors types. Their house was white painted wooden boarded with a large garden full of honeysuckle and trees and places to build bases. We dug a trench and started a tunnel towards my house a hundred meters away. We got about two meters before the tunnel was set up for a home by too many creeping animals to make further work viable. Large spiders in the dark. Maybe demons, too. But we had lots of other things to do, anyhow. We talked of girls, climbed trees, stole apples from large gardens on the street, walked the beaches, dug more trenches, and played detectives in their house – using flour for fingerprint recovery and always locking up someone innocent. The innocent should suffer. It was more realistic that way.

Ben was the younger of the two and he was a Bear Grylls type kid – all fake energy and mock fearlessness. Alex – three years older than me – did more sitting and thinking, but he was still pretty decent with a gun-elastic catapult and ball bearings. He could hit the roofs of houses that seemed to be a mile away – thwack…..PING. Their parents never minded what we did, even that night when me and Ben threw a great pile of leaves into the windscreen of a car heading up past my house; the driver screeched to a halt and chased us down the road. I got away, but he caught Ben heading into his drive. I think he gave me up, but I wasn’t punished, mercifully. Yeah, their parents were cool.

The three of us were playing with another older neighbourhood kid – Adam – one summer holiday afternoon; just hanging about the Huckle’s house and messing about with a small vial of gunpowder that Alex had in his bedroom. We were laughing. Then Adam said something to me – that I was weak, which was a bad thing to tell me  – and I chased him out of the room and across the landing. He ran inside Ben’s bedroom and slammed the door shut in my face. The solid wooden doorknob hit me just below my right eye. When I started getting up off the floor I knew he was in trouble. The pain gave me license to free up the rage I always struggled with back then. I opened the door. Adam was laughing. I let him have it, everything I had inside from all the days and nights of terror at home – scared into a whimpering wreck. No, Adam, I wasn’t weak, you motherfucker.

By the time the Huckle’s Mum dragged me off of him I’d knocked out four of his teeth. She took him into the bathroom and put his head over the sink but the blood was pissing out from so many places, and all up the wall, that she moved him to the bath. His head drooped over the edge and the blood ran and ran. He sobbed. I watched it all from the doorway. He had it coming.

His parents complained to mine. I thought I was in for a hiding, but I had a huge black eye from the doorknob and that kind of watered down what I’d done to Adam. It was self-defence anyway, right? That was my story. It worked. Adam wasn’t seen for a few weeks – I’d busted him up pretty good. Word got round. I wasn’t proud but it all blew over. The sun got hotter as July turned to August.

On a cool August morning, me and Alex were alone in their house, sitting in the living room and wondering what to do that day. The weather promised no drama off of the sea and we knew the Island’s treasures were totally available to us. But that day we weren’t in the mood to travel far. When you’re young, exploration is almost as good if you did it with diligence close to home – got to know the nooks and crannies. And there were plenty. Next door was the holiday home of Sir Clive Sinclair – home computers, shit electrical vehicles, beard, newly rich on the back of the computer boom. His daughter stayed there a lot and she used to walk a pet goat up and down the street on a lead. It lived in their overgrown garden, so we were thinking of letting it loose – it was good, lazy fun – but Alex changed his mind and told me he had a secret. “Yeah?”

In the corner of the room was a seaman’s chest – old, gnarled, patina’d up from a hundred Oceans and the hands of porters somewhere were the sun always shone. He opened it up and told me to come over. It was full of papers, a dark blue wool coat, and…there…. “What do you think?”

“Whoah…that’s amazing! Is it real?”

“Yep…got the bullets too.”

“Wow!”

The gun was some type of old revolver, and it was loaded. Alex waved it around then aimed it at something outside. “I don’t think I’m allowed to shoot it,” he said.

“Pity.”

I wanted to touch it, but Alex put it back and made me swear not to tell anyone. “My Dad says that it’s there to stop the bad people from hurting us. It’s not a toy. It’s our secret, right?”

We went outside and played in the trees. It was a beautiful day. At tea time I went home and sat at the little desk in my bedroom drawing pictures of guns until my father came home in a bad mood and started shouting and screaming downstairs, smashing something up in a rage. Terrifying. I hated being a child.

I dreamed of that gun for the rest of that summer. I had plans for it. Early September I was alone in the Huckle’s living room while Alex went out to take piss. I didn’t have to think twice – just headed right for the chest and dug down into it looking for the gun; a way out of being terrified my whole home life; salvation in a second; every problem I ever had would be gone tonight. I would be trembling for the last time. Yes, yes….I could make it all ok.

I pulled the wool coat from side to side and dug in every corner. It had gone.

We went outside and threw stones at the Sinclair’s goat. It seemed the right thing to do.

 

 

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