There is a certain kind of bloodlust that comes with being inexperienced with death, being really young, and being handed your first bb gun. I know that that sentence sounds like the first words on the back of an Asylum production’s knock off of a We Need To Talk About Kevin DVD, but it was actually about me, surprisingly enough. And I know that last sentence is poorly worded, but as I’ve learned from the internet, when writing jokes, you either need to be unintelligible or be a picture of a dog that looks stoned.
Growing up, my family owned a second piece of property in a rural area in northwest NC. From the top of the driveway, you could see Pilot Mountain and from the other side of the property, you could see the fear of being devoured by bears. To an eight-year-old, every time you visited was a new adventure. It was 110 acres of land, only touched by people who had once used it for farming and little else. It was a mixture of dense forest, wide fields and creeks that ran, vein-like, throughout. I once told a friend that my family raised dinosaurs there, and he believed me, which says a lot about my friend’s intelligence at the time, but says even more about the fact that, as a child, I was an insane liar.
My brother and I had been given bb guns and free reign over where to use them. The closest thing we had to human contact out there was our own echoes, so there was no fear of us accidentally pestering someone with our pellets. And shoot each other? We were tough enough to handle that. The only fight I’d ever gotten into needed a link cable between two Gameboys, but, when you live in a house that can’t be seen from the road, everyone gets the idea that you’re a dirt-caked, redneck brawler, a myth that I disprove every time I’m near a bee.
My brother and I set out down into the valley and made a trek through the woods, shooting at trees and leaves, and marveling at the tiny destruction that we caused. But I wasn’t satisfied. I wanted to shoot something. I wanted to display my dominance over the outside world. As a constantly bullied kid at school, I took any opportunity to grasp what little control I could. Also, as stated earlier, I didn’t understand death yet. It had never had an impact on me. That would all change when my grandfather, someone who I loved dearly, passed away two years later, but the ending of a life at that point, whether it be human or animal, didn’t mean much to me.
That’s why, when I saw a tiny bird sitting on a low branch, I flipped out. THIS WAS MY CHANCE TO BECOME BEASTMASTER. I could literally touch it with the end of my bb gun barrel if I raised my arm high enough. I signaled to my brother that I was about to perform a slash and burn campaign on this poor bird’s everything, but all he did was shake his head disapprovingly.
I walked directly behind it, only a few feet away, and I was amazed that the bird didn’t move. It seemed so content, sitting on that tree branch, sunning itself in the afternoon heat and remaining still, still enough to murder. I held my bb gun as high as I could, not caring about aiming since it would’ve been impossible to miss at that distance, and maintained a position that military tacticians refer to as “being inside the enemy’s ass.”
I fired, and the bird dropped into the withered foliage that covered the ground.
I approached it, ready to admire my dead prey and I was terrified at what I discovered. The bird had been shot through the neck, and still twitched. Its eyes were open and staring at me as I peered down at it. Its feet kicked lightly at the ground. And, to put it lightly, I flipped.
I didn’t know what to do. It was supposed to die, but not like this. It was supposed to evaporate into nothingness, and cease to exist. There wasn’t supposed to be pain or suffering or the lingering of a life gone too far. I yelled for my brother who walked over and immediately asked me to shoot it again. He’s always been smarter than I am, more sure-footed and ready than his impulsive, reactionary older brother. And when he saw that I couldn’t kill the bird, he told me to go away and let him do it.
If you’ve never heard a bb gun fire, it’s not dramatic. I know a staple of shooting something sympathetically in movies involves a slow walking away in silence, followed by a deafening blast. Bb guns don’t sound like that. They make, for lack of better onomatopoeia, a “phew” sound. I turned away from my brother as he “phew’d” the bird out of existence. A single second shot.
I walked back curiously to the bird’s body and saw where that shot had hit: right next to first. It was dead now, motionless, and my brother and I covered it in leaves, and walked back to the other edge of the property, back to our parents.