Chekhov's gun is a dramatic principle that states that every element in a story must be necessary, and irrelevant elements should be removed. For instance, if a gun is present in the first scene, it must go off by the end of the story.
The sound of my own name breaks me out of whatever trance I am in.
Milli walks into the lobby, skirt swishing and eyes sharp. She catches my eyes with a strangely concerned distrust, then sees what has caught my attention. “What’s that?”
I gesture towards the table. “It’s a gun.”
“I can see that.”
“Then why did you ask?”
“Didn’t think you’d be so obvious.”
The two of us stare at the gun on the table. It is a clean, smooth, black gun with silver embellishing, although nothing fancy enough to make it extravagant. The table the gun is on is a few feet away from the front door and made of old, knotted wood that probably has not been polished in years, dull against the shining gun. “Where did it come from?”
I shrug. “Don’t know. Haven’t seen it before. You remember a gun being here?”
With an eyebrow partially raised, Milli shakes her head. “No, I don’t. Because we don’t have guns in this house.” She pauses. And then, just for good measure, “And I didn’t bring one in.”
“Didn’t think you would.”
She looks at me with something between gratitude and indignation. It confuses me, so I try not to spend too long worrying about it. “Well, if it wasn’t you and it wasn’t me, it must be one of the other two who brought it in.” Milli pauses again, then snorts. “Probably Nix.”
“What did I do?”
Nix walks in, halfway between biting into an apple. It is old and bruised and weirdly wrinkly as none of us like apples, but Nix has the hardest stomach. A small sacrifice for living here. Milli glances at him, then me, then the gun. “You bring a gun into the house?”
“Gun? What gun?” He stands to my right side and looks to where we are looking. He holds the apple still in his hand. “There’s a gun there.”
Milli snorts again. “Well done, genius.”
I turn to Nix before he can turn on Milli. “We don’t know who brought it in. Neither me nor Milli did, so… thought it might have been you.”
His eyes turn strangely cold before he looks back at the gun on the table. “Well… it wasn’t. I wasn’t. The one who brought the gun in, I mean.” There is an awkwardness that follows which is both broken and enhanced by his added, “And it wasn’t here yesterday, so.”
Nix glares at Milli, but quickly controls himself when he catches my gaze. “Yeah, I’m sure.”
All three of us stare at the gun. It looks too clean; there are no fingerprints, no smudges, nothing to even hint that anyone had ever touched it. But someone must have – how else could it have ended up on the table by the front door?
There is a long pause as all three of us ponder how the gun got here. Nix lets out a low hum. “Might be Kindling.”
“Did you guys need me?”
Kindling walks down the stairs, her hair a sleepy storm around her head and an origami frog already in her hand. She looks at Nix, then follows our eyes. Slowly, she blinks once, then twice, then three times in a patient pattern. “Why do we have a gun?”
Nix shrugs. “Hoping you could tell us.”
She looks at him with blank eyes, but something around her rises in the air that doesn’t taste good. “No… never seen it before.” She presses down on the back of the origami frog, making it hop out of her hands and onto the floor a few feet away from the gun. Kindling does this all with careful efficiency, as though she were performing to an audience of hundreds. “Why did you guys think I put it there?”
Milli has not looked away from the gun since Nix arrived, but she tilts her chin slightly towards Kindling as she speaks. “Wasn’t anyone else here. Didn’t mean anything by it, Kin.”
Kindling lets out a strained ‘hmm’ before pulling a second origami frog out from her jumper pocket.
Now all four of us are staring at the clean gun on the old table. The air is sharp and painful, pressing against my lungs and fingers. When I try to look at the others, no one quite meets my eyes. We have lived together for a while now, but the distance between us feels like it would take years to travel.
With a decisiveness that nearly makes me jump, Milli pulls a pen out of her hair, walks over to a wall and pulls down a painting. “Ok – brainstorming time. We need to work out the deal with this gun. Let’s do a mind map.”
Nix huffs. “I hate mind maps.”
Milli huffs back. “I hate you.”
“I hate you too.”
“You shut up!”
“Guys.” I pull the pen out of Milli’s hands. I also hate mind maps, but I hate annoying Milli more. “I’ll write. The five main questions, alright?”
Kindling lets out a noise close to a childish squeal. “I remember these! You asked them to me when I first appeared!”
Milli snorts for a third time with no less power than the last two. “We’ve all been asked the questions, Kin.”
I write on the wall, ignoring the wallpaper. It is a weird shade between blue and grey that does not look good, so none of us complain if we write on it. Depending on which paintings you took down, there were entire conversations between the four of us on these walls. “Ok, the five main questions. What, when, where, why and how. What?”
All of them stared at me with sharp bemusement, so much so that I shrink into my skin. Nix eventually breaks the pause with a light yet weighted voice. “It’s a gun, Atlas. It’s a gun.”
I write ‘A gun’ since Nix is being so passive-aggressive. “When?”
“Last night.” Everyone stares at Milli. She methodically glares at each of us in turn. “Well Nix said that it wasn’t here yesterday! So… look, I have no idea where it came from either!”
I believed her. And even if I did not believe her, I did not want to annoy her further. When – last night. “Where?”
Four pairs of eyes look at the gun on the table in front of the door. The table is in the centre of the lobby, a few feet away from the front door. None of us take any steps towards it – a forcefield surrounds it, something sharp and poisonous to be close to. Apart from my writing on the wall, no one had made any attempt to get closer to the gun or the front door.
“In front of the door. Why?”
A long silence stretches in front of us, winding around our heads and holding on tight. Why was the gun here? None of us were physically violent; maybe a bit sharp towards each other, but I had never dreamed of hurting someone else. Was it a threat? A prank? Was someone else trying to scare us? There were too many options.
I wrote a question mark by ‘Why’. “How?”
There is another gap, but not as long as the previous one. Eventually, Milli speaks. “Not through the front door.”
Nix frowns at her. “How do you know that?” Milli scowls at him, but stutters to defend herself.
Kindling blinks, then gestures vaguely towards the door in a mild attempt at supporting Milli’s claim. “The door is still locked.”
“Could’ve been unlocked.” We all stare at Nix. He tries to stare back but flinches, instead staring at the floor as though it is telling him what to say. Maybe it is. “Just saying, we may not have the key but someone else might.”
Milli’s head snaps towards Nix. He doesn’t look back. “You’re saying that someone else unlocked the door, put a gun in front of it on a table and then left again?”
Nix is silent but his cheeks darken for a moment. Kindling clears her throat, not because she has to, but because there is no other way to comfortably break the silence. “Well, it’s either someone else or one of us. So.”
One of us. Someone finally said it. One of us could have put that gun there. The pen is heavy in my hand when I go to write something, as though weighed down by the future words that I would write. My mind hurts when I try to figure out what the right answer is, or even which answer I would prefer it to be.
Another long silence. None of us want to address any of the answers on the wall. The air is thick and swirls around us in huge, white waves until I am on the verge of drowning. I can breathe fine, but whenever I turn my head an inch more to the right, glistening metal meets me halfway. No one quite looks at each other, always just an inch to the side or just slightly too far below the eyes to make any kind of human connection. Someone else.
Another paper frog bounces onto the carpet. Kindling turns away. “I’m going upstairs.”
Milli walks around me on her way to the kitchen, disappearing in a swirl of fabric and perfume. “I’ll make breakfast.”
The two of them leave and now it is only me, Nix and the gun. No one has moved it, but it looks between us, judging us and our determination.
Nix chances a glance at me. We make eye-contact and it sticks. “So… it’s just us now. You know anything about this gun?”
I wish I could tell him everything about it. But I really have no clue what is going on.
Thank you for reading!
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