SURRENDER TO THE DARK WATERS
THE CABIN ON RABBIT ISLAND, 1975
In which a miracle occurs.
Mercury C. Ternbuckle wasn’t depressed, wasn’t bankrupt, hadn’t been spurned by a lover or cuckolded by a wife. He had none of the usual motives for pointing a pistol at his head. And yet there he was with an ivory handled Spanish War souvenir he’d found in the back of a drawer. He lowered it, set it on the edge of the bathroom sink and studied his features in the mirror. The cobalt-blue eyes of the Ternbuckles, the uncombed hair, white from birth, the wide and furrowed brow that suggested intelligence but with a lurking brutishness behind it, and particularly the teeth, what an anthropologist might ascribe to an archaic hominid, or even an animal. Indeed, a psychic once claimed a dog lived in his head. He’d scoffed at the time, but now wondered if she was right. It would explain so many things — the dark times, the vague memories of chasing and feasting on small animals, and the even worse dreams that might not have been dreams. A priest thought demonic possession was possible, but couldn’t (or wouldn’t) help him as he wasn’t Catholic. A half bottle of rye whiskey hadn’t helped either. It only made the coastal heat even more insufferable.
But a pistol?
That was the cure for every ailment, big or small.
He opened the cylinder and took a cartridge from the box on the ledge behind the sink. Rolling it on his palm, he felt its substantial weight, more than enough to do the job. He slid it into a chamber, closed and spun the cylinder, and again put the muzzle to his temple. Staring into the silvered glass, he called on the beast to either leave him or join him in hell, pulling the trigger before he could lose his nerve. The hammer rotated back and sprang forward, clacking on an empty chamber, and in the corroded mirror he saw a flicker of faces over his. The angry faces of men shouting at him. Astonished, he repeated this, and again saw those faces. Warriors with beards, blue lips and geometric tattoos, their deranged voices like a kennel in an uproar.
“Shut up!” he yelled. “Just shut up and leave me alone!”
And they did, the sudden silence startling him. But they weren’t gone. He sensed them in the dark corners of his thoughts, trying to wrest control. Not a fair match, their iron will against his whiskey courage. He set the revolver in the sink and picked up the signet ring he’d found in his pocket as he was drawing his bath — the horror that had pushed him to the edge this evening. Not so much the ring itself, but the severed finger inside it. Bloodless white and gnawed by teeth. Even the metal was scratched and bent. He brought the finger to his nose. It smelled like — oh god! — like filet mignon. Resisting a mad urge to eat it, he flicked it in the toilet and flushed it away. This couldn’t go on. He’d be caught and charged with murder and cannibalism, and how could he defend himself? He imagined the national sensation, this scion of a political family paraded before a howling crowd, cameras flashing, relatives of his victims clawing at his face.
No wonder he wrote that damn book, someone would shout. He’s one of em!
No, fuck it. That would never happen.
He picked up the revolver, opened the cylinder and filled its five empty chambers. This took a while as his fingers were numb and the ammo spotted with corrosion. The cylinder creaked as he forced it closed. He considered the odds, which were now one hundred percent.
“Last words?” he asked himself. He’d always thought he’d have something pithy to say at the end. Something a biographer could use as an epigraph. But who would care? Who would even hear? Just those blue-lipped assholes in the mirror.
“Alright, boys,” he said. “If you’re still in there, pack your bags. It’s eviction day.”
He placed the muzzle in his mouth as the narcissistic did to preserve their looks, but found the sensation of metal on teeth unpleasant, so he placed the muzzle to his temple, then moved it around to the center of his forehead. This would be his last decision: he would have no open casket. He would have no one looking upon him and judging him. His wrist wouldn’t cooperate, however, so he used both hands to hold the gun perpendicular to his forehead and placed his right thumb on the trigger.
Yeah. That was better.
He squeezed his eyes shut and tried to think of something pleasant. A memory that would resonate for eternity, should death work that way. He thought of his childhood on Prosperity Plantation and grainy images arose in his mind: A sweltering day. Playing with painted tin soldiers in the dirt. Robins chirping. His brother Bill Henry yelling “heads up,” then the shock of a baseball colliding with his skull. He’d forgotten that last part, but it seemed appropriate. Expecting that same shock, that same sudden roaring in his ears, he pulled the trigger. He felt it depress, felt the sluggish click of its mechanism. He pulled until his thumb slipped off the trigger, but there was no roaring, no explosion, only the honking of geese on the lake. He lowered the gun, opened his eyes and saw his face in the mirror, beaded with sweat, a red circle on his forehead.
He dropped the toilet seat, sat, wiped his face with his sleeve, and studied the ancient Smith & Wesson. The hammer had risen to full cock and stuck there. Revolvers weren’t supposed to jam, but this one hadn’t been cleaned in god knew how long. Fifty years, possibly. He swirled it through the tepid water in the tub, where it left bobbing carcasses of stink bugs in its wake. Those blasted things had infested the cabin over the winter. They’d squeeze in anywhere.
Had they died so he could live? Was this a miracle of the stink bugs that would change everything?
He rapped the gun’s cylinder against the chipped porcelain rim of the tub, then held it up, pointing it at the opposite wall while again pulling the trigger. Nope, nothing doing. The cylinder wouldn’t finish its rotation, wouldn’t even open. Machines were allegedly made to serve humanity, but it was the other way around, wasn’t it? They were the masters, forever demanding maintenance and oil, then not performing when required. But he hadn’t oiled it, thus the fault was his and not the machine’s, a thought that irritated him even more.
Using his knees to clamp the handle, he twisted the wet cylinder back and forth with the fingers of his right hand while gripping the barrel with his left. Light from the kerosene wall lamp shown down into the chambers and he saw the dull hemispheres of lead, each rimmed with water from the bath.
“Come on,” he said as his fingers slipped on the metal, “come on you stupid —”
A crunch and the hammer snapped down, and now he was barking and running down a wide stone boulevard bordered by pyramids painted red by the setting sun. Two endless lines of near-naked men shook their war clubs at him, calling him a devil-thief in the language of the Aztecs. He might have wondered about that, were his brains not splattered on the wall behind him.
© 2019 Lou Dischler