He liked how the smooth grain of the wood felt against his palm as he slid his hand along the downward slope of the stock. He pushed back up along the butt, against the grain of the stained wood and let his finger slide around the trigger-guard in a playful arc. The action slid straight back when he pulled it and, when let go, it snapped back in place with the precise, metallic snap of machined perfection.
“Stop playing around with it!” a voice huffed at him from behind. The street thrummed with the overlapping excitement of anticipation and he had let himself drift into his own fantasies. The sudden bark snapped him back into the crowd.
“Sorry,” he mumbled and set the butt of the gun against his boot.
“Like a twelve-year-old just discovered his downstairs,” a rougher voice grumbled, nearby.
He turned to find the voice.
The man was older, his face lined with years, a thin, unamused look pulled tight across his face. Nearly six feet tall, the older man used his height to look down at the young boy before him. He shook his head and seemed very sad.
“God allows, you’ll never use it.”
The anxious street heaved against itself.
“I like it,” the young man said and smoothed his hand along the tight grains of wood again. “It’s neat and tidy, ready to be used.”
The older man sniffed at him.
“Used for what?” he asked, his voice low and flat.
“For defense,” the excited young man proclaimed. He clenched his free hand into a tight fist at his side. His eyes were full and proud.
“For death,” the older man said. His voice was frank and unimpressed.
The mass of people they found themselves in lurched forward and just for a second, through waves of green fabric, the young man could see the tables lined up.
“Necessary,” he shot back, still trying to catch a glimpse of the tables. He pushed up onto his toes and craned his neck.
“For what?” the older man asked. “To be just like all the rest of them?” He swept his hand up at nothing in particular. “Whole world looking to die and we have to join in?”
The young man snorted.
“We didn’t chose to,” he quipped, and shot a mean look back to the older man. “And so, nothing’s decided yet. Everything’s just precaution.”
“Isn’t it always?”
They pushed forward and the tables came into view. On each one, thick metal boxes, like wrapped candy bars were stacked on top of each other. He smiled: knew each one would fit six shells, each at 7.5x55mm, each capable of hammering a lethal hole through the soft jelly of human flesh. He fitted the strap tight over his shoulder and caressed the stock with the tip of his index finger.
“Can’t say there’s much else to do, though,” the older man agreed. “If they come at us, we got to do something.”
“Right,” the boy chirped. He eyed the metal cases the thickness of playing card decks with hunger.
“A full mobilization,” the man whistled. “How long’s it been? Twenty? Twenty-five years?”
The young man rolled his eyes, not looking back. “I don’t know.”
They moved forward a few steps before stopping in front of a cleverly hidden machine gun emplacement. From the mouth of the bunker protruded the barrel of the weapon, sighted across the street, somewhere past the milling, green uniforms.
“Just look at this,” the older man grumbled. “Our beautiful streets marred with great, big metal monsters.” He slapped an open hand over the barrel of the machine gun and went on. “Damn metal demon sitting here waiting to eat up someone’s life right up in the middle of the street.” He snapped his fingers. “Like nothing.”
“Oh, shut up.”
“Just a game to you, isn’t it?” The old man sighed.
“All this. All these big, hulking playthings you can’t wait to get your hands on.” He blew air from his nostrils and arched his back. It creaked and popped.
“There’s nothing to do for it,” the young man retorted. “There’s no one to turn to, only us.” He paused. “I will kill for us.” He paused. “Always, for us.”
“They all will,” the older man said, and looked away down the street, following the far-off gaze of the well-hidden machine gun.
“Good,” said the young man. Then, he turned and strained his back higher, just to catch a glimpse of the metal boxes the thickness of playing card decks.