The use of a gun by vegetables
It was dark, but then everything was in darkness now. It was night, but then he’d extinguished the sun. He hadn’t known what to expect, after pulling the trigger, but it wasn’t this; the dull brown bulk of the classroom dissolving to something else. He wondered if he was dead; whether there was an afterlife after all. He’d calculated on that not being true, when he’d fired the weapon. He’d bet everything on the hope that there wasn’t a God.
But it was a strange afterlife, if that’s what it was. A dark, cobbled alley; a grey, brooding sky. It looked to him like the sort of place your mother warned you against going: a place for criminals, although he was a criminal now. He shivered, although it wasn't cold. Two figures were standing cloaked against the rain.
He knew them, of course - the Doctor and the Batman — because they were people who all Americans knew. There have been many Doctors, and there have been many Batmen, but it didn't occur to him to ask which ones these might be. They imposed as the kinds of figures who blot out petty details, who bludgeon you with the fact they exist at all. This was the Doctor, that was the Batman. That was all that mattered then, and it is all that matters now.
“You know why you’re here, of course,” said the Doctor in a voice that was space and time. “You know why you've come to the place where things like us all live.” And of course he knew: it was because of the single fact, the thing that swelled inside of him and swallowed up his tiny mind. The trigger and the smell of it; the female scream. The fear of it, and also the joy. What he’d done seconds ago, in the room where he should still be.
“I shot her,” he says, the fact still large in his voice. “She angered me and I’d had enough. I didn't think I'd have the guts. But I did.”
“Guts,” repeats the Batman in his carnivore voice. When the boy had been younger he’d laughed at how Batman had sounded in the films, all gruff and mumbling in a very unthreatening way. But this Batman was not in a film, and at first you might call his voice inhuman.
“You thought of her guts when you shot her,” the Batman says. “The intestines and the organs all working away. Like guts are all that a person really is. Thinking like that was a comfort to you.”
It was true. The gun had spoken to the boy, the night before the shooting, had said that it was beyond the childish things that he had known. “There is only power and those too weak to see it,” Professor Quirrell had said to Harry Potter, and you were supposed to think that made him evil when it just made him wiser than the woman who wrote him down. The Batman and the Doctor didn't use guns, not ever, but the guns they didn't use will never appreciate it. They think not using them is naivety; that refusing them is a childish thing. We all have doubts, they say, but when you grow up you put them away and you pick up a gun. It says something like that in the Bible, after all.
But the Doctor looks like something as old as the Bible, and like he's cut from the same sort of cloth. He has had many faces and many eyes, and all those eyes have seen voids far greater than the one that has swallowed the boy. His gaze makes the boy remember how the Doctor had seemed when he was a child, how he’d look at adults like adults looked at you, like there was so much they didn't understand about the earth and the vastness of the world. The boy told himself he knew more than a child; he was older, wiser. But the Doctor is older than any knowledge could be.
(And there's something else they have in common, the Doctor and the Batman. It's not just that they don't like guns, but that guns should defeat them. Both have beaten Gods and saved entire worlds, but you could end them both by shooting them in the head. The gun is strength and everything else is weakness. That has to be true, like the truth of her body on the ground.)
At first you might call the Batman’s voice inhuman. But you would soon realise that this is not the case. The voice of the Batman is the voice of a species that has walked on the dead moon, that has massacred the sea. It is the sound that things who are not human fear, when they see that we are coming for them. It is speaking as the Doctor stares, but the boy doesn't hear what it says. The sound of that awful voice is drowned by a thought that is worse:
Every teenager knows it's easy to kill the Batman, and every teenager is wrong. You can aim your gun, can pull the trigger, but he’ll be a robot duplicate or wax model; he’ll have covered himself in bullet repellent spray. You can't just kill him because he's never in that kind of story: you can't kill a myth by shooting it in the head. The boy has known for a long time the power a gun has, but he only now sees the power of a story. It is a story that will make his classmates dial the number, a story that will bring the policemen to his side. The story of the boy who killed the girl will carry him to the court, and the stories of justice and vengeance will land him in a jail. The figures in front of the boy are stories for children; of course they would never use a firearm. Why would you use something weak as a gun, as a creature as powerful as that?
“Guts,” says the Doctor, and of course the boy understands. In one way a person is indeed just guts, a pile of stuff that turns all your food into poo. But in another, they’re something quite different: a secret love of knitting; the time they spent naked on the beach. But the Doctor knows even that's not the end of it. He has liked cricket and hated sweets, sworn off alcohol and drowned himself in wine. He has had so many aspects through being so many people; name one thing you like and a Doctor will like it too. But below all that the Doctor is still one man, because a person is more than the things they like and do. They’re the pair of eyes that stares out at the universe, that creates it; they're the thing that builds a whole new world and puts itself at the centre. The boy has destroyed a world, in killing a person. The Doctor knows all about the costs of committing that crime.
Inside, the boy makes his decision. You can't become a child again. But you can outgrow the desire to push all childhood away, to embrace the grim and the brutal and pretend there is nothing more. Time can be rewritten; facts can be rearranged. At the end of the episode things always go back to the way that they were before. The boy looks at his judges, and begs. And the figures do what they do, and save the day.
It was all a dream, of course. Childhood is a dream, and teenagerhood, and the world. The girl is still alive, he never bought a gun. The world continues in its aimless way.
As an adult, they’ll ask him about his comics and his children's shows, ask if it’s immaturity that draws him to them. Not at all, he'll say– in fact, it's quite the reverse. They won't understand what he means by that, but the Doctor and the Batman will understand very well.
And you, of course. You'll understand him too.
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