Tenderfoot

Fiction: The Gun

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by Annabel Price

Based on the events of the Flying Foam Massacre
Roebourne, Western Australia, 1868

“A real beudy Mista Sholl. Top of the range. Ya ain’t gunna miss any of the little darkies with that, eh! You won’t regret it, sir.”

The gun was admired from the moment it arrived at Bignall & Sons Rifle Dealer on the sunbaked stretch of track that was Withnell Street, Roebourne, WA. It was a British rifle in truth; streamlined, polished and modern. All it had seen of the world before then was the inside of its dark, musty box.

The dealer opened the heavy wooden box with a flourish and lifted the gun with a sweaty hand, fogging up the gold plating with a huff of tobacco. The customer, however, lifted the gun with steady hands that smelled of crisp pressed paper and official wax seals, of hot dusty tracks and pearling ships. The gun decided this was rather pleasing. Especially when its buyer filled it with two solid silver bullets.

“Take it if you must, Constable, but just to capture him. It is against the interests of our colony to have dead natives on our hands.”

The gun had pride of place on Governor Sholl’s grand desk, beside a photograph of a serious young boy in a burnished silver frame. It saw how the Governor signed documents, ordered officials, and gazed out at the squat line of houses dotted amongst barren dirt and salty scrub, engulfed by the intense blue dome of sky. It was a peaceful life. That is, until Constable Griffis came and swung the gun over his shoulder with a heavy-handed grip and a satisfied pat.

“I duna nuttin’ Mista Griffis. I na steal nuttin’, I swear – ”

CRACK!

A flash of euphoria then a burning sense of satisfaction overcame the gun when it shot the first silver bullet. The black man collapsed into the red dirt with his wife. The horses whinnied in fright. But the silver bullet was lost to the azure sky.

The Constable snatched the girl off her shaking husband by her bare arm. The gun felt the fiery euphoria sweep through it again as it was pressed to her temple, but its overwhelming hunger was not satisfied. Instead, the Constable forced the girl into a pocket of stunted ghost gums. Then the gun was cast aside abruptly and hit the hard dirt with a thud, scraping its polished side before tumbling into the spinifex. The gun was furious. Quality rifles such as itself could not be treated so disrespectfully! So preoccupied was the gun that it hardly heard the hysterical screams of the girl, or the distressed shouts of her husband as he was chained to a tree at the Constable’s camp.

“Coolyerberri… Coolyerberri”

It sounded like a cicada at first. But the gun had a feeling there was something wrong when a dark shape flitted past, ghostly and silent. More shapes darted past, nine in total, all carrying spears and whispering insect-like calls. Calls which also sounded like a name. The gun glared scornfully up at the spears they carried from where it lay forgotten amongst the prickly spinifex. What a dated weapon! Hardly comparable to the gun’s streamlined shape and smooth trigger, perfect for killing swiftly and efficiently.

Dark clouds devoured the crescent moon. The gun was impatient. Enough was enough – sitting in spinifex all day was preposterous. But now this! The low voices of the Constable and his two men camping nearby hovered in the thickening air, tantalizingly close.

A single, fat drop of rain fell on the powerless rifle.

A shout echoed through the still gums, followed by a scuffle. The sound of splintering glass, ripping canvas, chains clanking to the ground, a shot being fired. Then a groan, and silence.

The nine returned, as ghostly as they had come, but this time another followed. Having nothing else to do, the gun counted their spears again. There were only six. It pondered this, but only for a moment. Then, chilled and waterlogged, it was back to wondering when the Constable would finally fetch it from the now dripping spinifex. But the Constable never came.

“From the tracks, men, I would say there were at least one hundred of them. They are obviously vicious and brutal in their method of killing, and show no mercy. It is time for us to teach these savages a lesson.”

Governor Sholl glanced down as he spoke, a dull glint catching his eye. The gun felt relief flood through it as those steady hands lifted it once more, wiping it dry. But this time, the admiration, the warmth that had been in those icy-blue eyes the first time was gone. A new terrible gleam had crept into them, and the gun felt damp uncertainty worming into its core, quenching its fire. It realized that it had caused this. It saw the Governor’s ambition. It saw the bodies that would fall, the women and children’s pleading eyes, the dark stains in the red dirt that no rain would wash clean.

And it didn’t want any of it.

“Take no prisoners. These people are our enemies and the cause of all our problems. They deserve death.”

A bitter cheer emanated from the lines of roughly uniformed men as they charged down the beach. The boat rocked and the gun felt sickened as Governor Sholl gave a cold, pitiless smile. The first gunshots echoed across the water, then the screaming began. The blacks with their spears had no chance, the gun realized, against machines such as itself. Machines designed purely for this!

A wave of shame and disgust washed over it as the men emerged from huts, shepherding women and children down the beach to where a pile of fallen logs provided a last chance of escape. They desperately paddled their makeshift rafts towards the island, only to find Governor Sholl and his men in boats waiting for them.

The Governor laughed cruelly and raised the gun, aiming it at a small child.

The child’s eyes were huge with fright. His mother and siblings had already vanished beneath the crimson waves. The gun saw that he looked just like the Governor’s son, only darker.

The trigger was squeezed.

“Darn it. Blasted Rifle. Rain got to it after all. Fetch me another, Bignell…”