IN THE MOUNTAINS OF FIRE
Dolores J. Nurss
Volume I: Welcome to The Charadoc!
THE ART OF THE GUN
Friday, February 21, 2708
We pause in the march. I sit under a tree, trying to ignore the throbbing of my feet or the clank of the chain, every time I move, that loops around its trunk, or the ants that persist in crawling up my legs. Instead I watch the way the sunlight dances in between the shadows of the leaves. I watch a dainty green bug make his careful, looping progress from blade to blade of grass. And I watch Cyran drilling children on how to shoot. I listen to the laughter as the little ones learn a brand new game.
(I have to abandon my desk. I don't know why. Perhaps I lose my mind. I hear laughter in my head, the laughter of young boys, and I hear blood in it. I have to leave this desk, this building, something.)
(Something has gone wrong. And Fireheart Friendclan will have to fix it. It's way up in the northwest. It’s down in the southwest. It's nowhere. It's everywhere. It…it just is.)
“Show them how it's done, Marduk. Now watch carefully—we don't have that many bullets to spare for practice.”
(I feel it in the halls, too, as though blood dyes the polish in the paneling, as though murder sparkles in the dust upon the air. I have to get out!)
(I have to get out, into the night, feeling the sunlight on the other side of the world beat down upon my heart, illuminating nothing. I fret in this vacation that Randy has insisted on; my muscles tense for action, my fingers crook as though I had a trigger to pull.)
“Try again, Rashid. You're hitting too low. Watch your pattern and learn from it. Raise the gun a little bit higher...that's better. I don't expect you to hit it on the first try.”
(I feel like a truant, leaving my desk. But nobody tells the Headmaster where to come or go. I sit at the bench by the door and pull on my heavy snow galoshes. I fasten them slowly, deliberately. Nobody must know my panic to get out of here as quickly as I can. None must suspect their headmaster of going mad.)
“Hey, not bad, Lufti!” You hit it on the second try!” The sandy-haired little boy grins from ear to ear, and goes to put the can that he grazed back up on the stump for the girl who usually guards me when I'm not chained to a tree.
(My overcoat feels heavy on me as I finally make it out the door, trudging a dirty line through last night's clean snow. But I welcome the frosty air; it seems to blow from someplace pure, someplace beyond the school walls...what a stupid, terrible thought! Who cares what lies beyond the school walls? Here we have learning, wisdom, the grace of the old classics, the refinements of generations of gentlemen learning to take their proper places in society. Here we have the ghosts of snickers, something evil choking up the stuffy halls. Here we...oh, I don't know!)
“Try to brace yourself better, Kiril...uh, no, that's not quite it. It's the recoil, dear. I'm sure that when you grow a bit you'll aim just fine. In the meantime, we can find other ways for you to serve the revolution.”
I start to rise from my seat, the chain clanking ominously.
Kiril whips around to glare at me. “I can cook!” she declares. “Whadja think e meant, you nasty sow?”
(What do I mean by all of these thoughts? Surely they must come from me, mustn't they? Neuroses of my own wandering imagination? I hear that other countries indulge in telepathy and all manner of impropriety, but we don't have anything like that here in Toulin, we do quite well without it. No, we are all as innocent as that pure white snow ahead of me, unmarked by step or shadow. Except for those tracks over there, converging on the shooting range.)
“Fantastic, Damien! You nailed it on the first go—I mean right down the center!”
“Thanks.” The boy tosses his dark curls and blows smoke from the pistol. “My uncle taught me shooting, while he lived.”
(I hear the shots, ahead, of students learning the manly art of the hunt. I put on the ear protection at the gate, and all becomes muffled. They don't see their Headmaster behind them, coming up to see their progress. They don't hear me shouting, “Stop this madness!” when I see the birds and rats and squirrels that they have tethered to the targets, and the blood upon the snow. Sportsmen do NOT shoot tethered animals! I have to grab a boy and wrestle his gun away. A wounded badger gives me a bleared look, still alive with several bullets in him, and then he expires before my staring eyes.)
“You'd be amazed,” Damien says, “How long my uncle kept on shooting, with all those bullets in him, before he died. Someday I'll have to tell you the story.”
“What do I mean by all these thoughts?” Deirdre mumbled, halfway waking up. Some of that didn’t even belong in The Charadoc, not even the same hemisphere; it seemed like winter, there—wherever “there” might be. “Dreams,” she decided, “Just memories of memories of dreams.” And she fell back into the trance before Justín could stir.