The oldest brother was home for his six months tour of duty with the National Guard. Their parents were in town running errands, free of the children who were finally old enough to take care of themselves.
The youngest brother, still in grade school, was pleased to have his brother back. He held his hand like a gun, “Kapow! Gotcha!” he grinned. The older brother faked mortal pain in his chest and collapsed to the floor.
He lay there silently a long time. Too long for the little brother whose smile faded into a frown. Hesitantly, he walked over to the silent body and stood beside it.
Suddenly it bolted upright, hand held in the shape of a gun, “Bang, got’cha.”
Relief, joy and mischief flooded the child’s face.
He went dashing down the hall, using his hand as a gun. A round of shooting, running, faked falls and duels to the death followed.
As soon as one shot had been registered, the victim stood up, sneaked through the house, gliding around corners stealthily until he had a good aim before making a shot when expected.
The fun of finger guns waned and was replaced with more realistic cap guns. Their more satisfactory sound and almost real appearance were abruptly discarded when someone said, “Hey I got an idea, let’s use Dad’s rifle and pistol.”
The big one took the empty weapons from their hiding place. He cradled the rifle for himself as he handed his little brother the pistol.
One sibling ignored the noisy game. Another followed at a safe distance, while the next youngest, seeing real guns, ran for the kitchen closet, crouched down in a corner and hid.
Around the dining room table and into the kitchen, the National Guard trainee tracked the baby of the family. He cornered him against the door of the closet.
The youngest recognized the inevitable. He would have to fight a duel to the finish.
Undaunted, he grinned and faked a fall to the left, as the unloaded rifle exploded. A real bullet, with real powder and deathly power pierced the door where his head had been.
Around the house, the others jumped at the explosion and rushed for the kitchen.
The oldest stood staring at the smoking barrel. The youngest, unharmed, still on the floor, stared at him in astonishment.
The silence was broken as the hider cautiously opened the closet door. The bullet had whisked over the safe hiding place in the closet corner.
Before the parents returned, the hole was covered, the story hushed up as our secret and the weapons returned to their hiding places.
Years later when they reminisced about it, only their memories had holes. “You were hiding in the closet?” they asked the next to youngest in astonishment. One brother vowed he had not been there. The others told him exactly where he and been and what he had done after the shot was fired.
The descendants of the siblings there that day were never allowed to play with guns – with one exception. To this day, the one who fired the unloaded gun considers guns an essential part of any family’s safety.