I don't remember much before I turned 18. The term of art in psychology is repression. Whatever name you give it, you have to admit it's amazing how much the human brain is capable of forgetting.
I remember my Granddad handing me the rifle. I remember him explaining the impossible task ahead. How I was to stand precisely where I would be told, aim exactly where the letter said, set the timer to exactly the correct date, and then hand the rifle off to my own grandson years later, thereby continuing the Cycle.
But what was the Cycle? Who guided its extra-temporal hand? How did it begin, and to what conceivable end?
I never saw Granddad again after that foggy night. I tried to imagine it had all been a strange dream - the sort of spirit dream my mother believed in - that Granddad's spirit had come to me and gave me an imaginary mission, a dream mission of the soul.
But then I would go into the basement, and pry up the trick wooden slat, and stick my hand into the moist blackness there to touch the rifle's cold metal. I would do this once a year, just to remind myself I was not insane.
Twenty years passed. I got married. I had a child. We were happy. I almost managed to banish the rifle from my mind.
Then the letter came. It was a large envelope, addressed to me with no return address. It came to my farm house, the same one my daddy owned and my granddaddy before that.
I opened it when my wife and child had gone to bed. I was alone on the porch with the scent of the grass and an orchestra of cicadas. I cut the envelope open and inside was a single thin sheet of paper.
August 24th, Thursday, go to the abandoned mill on Hanover Street, in Pollock county. There is a concrete platform with a red X spray painted on its surface in the mill yard. Stand on the X. From that spot you will be able to see a large totem pole. In the middle of the pole, third figure from the top there will be a wolf. Set the rifle for June 2nd, 1997, aim at the wolf's right eye, and fire at exactly 4PM.
I read the note three times. It was type written and printed out. There were no other markings on it whatsoever. For a long time I debated whether to follow the instruction. In the end, it was only my great love and trust for my Granddad that made me do it. He had told me this was necessary, and so I would see it done.
Come the afternoon of the 24th I retrieved the rifle from its dark hiding spot, stuck it in my truck, and drove to the old mill. I arrived by 3pm and searched the mill yard for the concrete platform. I found it easily enough and there, near the center, was the red X. Standing on the X I spun around real slow until I saw the totem pole. It was a big one, like they sell in the tourist traps on the way westward, and the third figure down was in fact a mean looking wolf.
I waited until two minutes to four, then set the odd dial on the rifles side to June 2nd, 1997, each of the digits clicking into place.
I stood there, waiting.
In that moment the mill and the date, the whole experience took on a surreal quality. I felt like I was forgetting something, in that way that happens when you're right on the verge of remembering it. I guess they call that Deja Vu.
Before I could consider the feeling in more depth my watch neared four. I lifted the gun, aimed at the wolf's right eye and, getting as close as I could manage to 4 on the dot, I pulled the trigger.
The gun discharged with a loud pop, but the wolf remained unscathed, though I believe my aim was true.
I breathed a sigh, took one more look around, and went on home.
Two weeks later another envelope came. It read simply.
Well done. Give the rifle and the bullet enclosed to your grandson when he turns 14.
I upturned the envelope and a strange looking, quick-silver bullet fell into the palm of my hand.
From that point on, life went on as any normal life might. My child grew up and she married and had a child of her own, a boy, my grandson. She named him John, after my granddad.
I grew close to the boy, closer even than to my own son. Perhaps it was the secret knowledge I would one day need to share with him.
John grew older and soon his 14th birthday approached. I had never felt so uncertain about anything as I did on that fateful day. Yet, after a lifetime abiding my Granddad's secret, I could not betray his trust now.
So, after John blew out the candles on his birthday cake, I told him to get in the truck as I had something important to show him. I felt it fitting somehow to bring him to the old mill.
When we got there I walked him over to the mill yard and I sat him down on the concrete. Then I explained everything my granddad explained to me.
I had an important task for him, a task I was given by my granddaddy when I was his age. I showed him the rifle and I said what to do with it. That he was to load it with the special bullet, and wait for a letter that would come and tell him where and when to fire it. That he was to set the date to the one specified in the letter and aim where the letter told him to aim.
The boy was confused at first, and suddenly I remembered that I, too, had been confused. But my granddaddy had gotten angry then and he'd grabbed me by the shoulders and made me swear I'd do it and that I'd tell no one and that everything depended on it.
So I did the same, I scared the boy half witless. And after he had agreed, I felt badly and I told him how I had done it, decades earlier, when the time came. How I had stood on that concrete block, on that X right there, and aimed at that totem pole, and the wolf's right eye.
And I stood up, and I turned around, and I pointed at the totem, behind me.
Then the past hit me. All of it, came rushing back from wherever I'd hidden it all away, all those years ago. The Cycle, in all its inexorable, inexplicable pointlessness, was laid bare before me.
I could see him, my granddaddy, here in this very mill. He'd stood up himself, on the day of my 14th birthday, and he pointed at the X and then at the totem. Then he turned back to me and smiled and he said... he said...
"And ya see, I did it, and everything turned out just fine."
I didn't see the bullet - neither back then nor now.
Back then I just saw my grandad fall to the ground, that smile turned into a quiet look of confusion as bright red blood streamed out from behind his eyes.
This time I didn't see much of anything, only my grandson John's resolute face and then a crimson flash as the bullet - his bullet - traveled back from the immutable future, as mine had before him, and me struck true.
Lead Photo - anonymous medieval illuminator; uploader Carlos adanero, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons