Pilgrimage to the Range
I didn’t think that when I killed myself I would have become a martyr. Didn’t think that hundreds upon thousands of people would replicate my journey and exit from stage left. Delusions of grandeur weren’t exactly on my mind when I committed suicide, more so the opposite if the truth be told. When you book a one-way flight to Arlington, Texas (because one to Houston is out of your price range) and then go to the first gun range that you can find, set yourself at ease in a booth, place the cold steel barrel of the CZ 75B semi-automatic 9mm pistol into your mouth, making sure to angle it so that the back of your head will soon resemble a blooming poppy, you don’t necessarily think this is going to become some kind of universal trend.
After I turned the back of my head into a flesh flower and repainted a portion of the wall behind me with a sloppy coating of blood, brain matter and whatever else, I lay on the floor thinking I had somehow messed up. I lay there paralyzed, or at least believing myself to be. I thought that I had turned myself into a vegetable and had made my life even worse. This wasn’t something I had anticipated. I tried to wiggle my foot to see if I still had control over my body. I felt movement and thought that being able to communicate by ankle movement to doctors, friends and family would be something at least. I flexed my fingers, straightened my legs and discovered that I still had movement in all of my limbs. This was a relief, which was odd considering I had just made some modern art out of my brain a few seconds ago. I instinctively brought my hand to the back of my head, preparing myself for the sensation that my fingertips would feel upon touching the new body orifice in place of where the crown of my hair should be. My fingertips only brushed hair though. I ran my hand over the back of my head and felt nothing that would indicate injury. Not even fresh blood.
Slowly, I got up on my feet. Standing up, still curving my arm to probe at the back of my head, searching for the exit wound, I turned to look at the wall behind me and saw the residue of what was once my thought factory. That, and whatever else had stuck to the wall or was in the process of sliding down it. Death can be confusing for the first couple of minutes.
My inspection of the accidental tribute to Jackson Pollock I had made was cut short when I heard a shrill scream from behind. I turned and saw a woman whose left hand was resting on a pair of earmuffs that she had brought back to rest on her neck. I had taken mine off, as I didn’t want to ruin them when I ate a bullet. I brought my hand from the back of my head and put it up in a mock gesture of both surrender and introduction. “Oh no, I’m fine… really,” I said while pointing at the wall behind me, then bringing it back and waving it slowly to suggest that worry was not necessary.
Her eyes left the wall and dropped to the floor next to my feet. They widened while her eyebrows rose to the point that they nearly touched her hairline; her lower jaw slacked and then she let out a longer and louder scream than before. At this point, other people were exiting their booths to see what all the screaming was about. Some were in the process of removing their earmuffs, showing that their concentration was no longer focused on the black silhouette targets but, instead, on whatever this woman was reacting to.
“Really,” I said, feeling slightly embarrassed. I turned my gaze to the floor, finishing the sentence as I did. “I’m fine,” I blurted out as my eyes came to rest on a sprawled figure next to my feet… a person who looked identical to me, except for a hole in the back of their head.
It, no I, lay there, lifeless on the hard ground. The gun was still in my slack hand. Its, no, my eyes were open, staring at nothing down the aisle of onlookers. One of them now had a phone to their ear, calling an ambulance when they might as well have called a hearse. I was standing next to myself, looking down and inspecting the sack of flesh and bone I used to be. Like I said, death can be confusing for the first couple of minutes. I thought this might be some kind of trick the remnants of my brain was performing, my open eyes seeing what was going on around me and projecting myself out of the body that was going to be entering the rigor mortis stage of death in less time than it took for my plane to complete its one-way flight. But then the paramedics came and my body was soon after cart wheeled out of the range in a body bag, and then, when an hour or so went by and I didn’t fade into the abyss of unconsciousness, I didn’t think that this was some kind of ‘death dream’ anymore.
It takes about a week to adjust to the afterlife. Takes about another week to see how boring it’s going to be. Not much to do except roam around and talk to other dead people when you stumble across them. Chances are slim that you’ll find this person again, though; the afterlife is real crowded. People also disappear sometimes too. There are rumours of Heaven and Hell, that the current plane of existence was purgatory and that it didn’t have to be forever. This can be as relaxing a revelation as it can be a terrifying one. Especially to those who spend their purgatory spying on people in changing rooms. Consequence and the inability to continue in their voyeuristic activities can reduce Heaven to Hell and Hell… well, to just Hell. Nobody seems to know how to escape purgatory, and if they did, chances are they wouldn’t be around to say how.
My death was reported in the news and kind of gained notoriety. I think the determination of traveling to the USA from the UK just so I could die in a quick albeit messy way, really spoke to some viewers. But probably not in the way the media wanted. Within a week of my suicide, another two occurred; both instances were people who had travelled to America from places where there were no guns. They had both gone into gun ranges and blown their brains out. Within a month this had snowballed to the point where an average of sixty-five people were setting out on a pilgrimage to gun ranges across all the fifty states.
My suicide had accidentally made me a martyr to those who were planning on leaving life prematurely. Some people loved me for introducing them to what I thought was a pretty simple idea at the time. Others hated me. The media that first reported my death as tragic, now branded me as a sort of anti-Christ who was the catalyst for the deaths of over a hundred people and rising. Weirdly, no one pointed a finger at the media for reporting my death. They read my suicide note and essentially turned it into a death manifesto when they showed it to viewers all over the world. I may be a ghost and a martyr, but that still heart my feelings. The media’s coverage and detailing of my death felt more invasive than the foreign body that I had propelled through my skull.
The gun range in which I had submitted my art piece eventually became a gallery. People flocked there from all manner of places in unprecedented numbers. For whatever reason, people taking their life in the gun range where I had taken mine was considered some sort of tribute, from what I hear amongst the rumours of the life-impaired. The owner refused gun access to anyone if they specifically asked to be in the booth where I was situated. Unfortunately, the business eventually went under as people killed themselves at this range more so than any other. The proprietor was in no market to run a suicide hot spot and there was no way he could run his business as he did before I accidentally inspired other artists to submit their own art pieces to a wall that was, at the time, being more routinely scrubbed and cleaned than the average household.
The building is now boarded up and acts more like a tourist destination. The front is graffitied with all manner of odes to myself and to the subsequent pilgrims who took their lives after.
I never meant to be a source of inspiration for depressed and/or lonely people when I killed myself. Never meant to be the reason for people going out of business. For a while I ended up being more miserable in death than I ever was in life. No amount of walking through walls and watching new cinema releases for free could change the state of mind I was in. And it wasn’t like I could kill myself again. Not like I could accidentally start another trend.
Gun ranges across the United States essentially went under; they became synonymous with suicide and people who didn’t intend on leaving the store in a body bag generally seemed to avoid them. Nobody wants to be at a gun range, shooting in a booth, only to realize that they’re the only one firing at the targets. Trauma is something people tend to avoid.
There were numerous petitions and arguments over the Second Amendment, which I felt really bad about. I certainly didn’t mean to cause political outcry and start a societal civil war when I made my exit plan.
Airline travel stopped selling one-way tickets and capitalized on peoples’ desperation. People had to spend money on a return ticket if they were traveling to any of the states and were not from America. A lot of planes leaving America had more empty seats than the ones that were entering. New policies came into action where no foreigner could handle or discharge firearms at gun ranges. The applications for American citizenships skyrocketed. For sixth months, America closed all gun ranges across the states. The owners were paid for their troubles. Everything had a knock-on effect and the tedium of trying to stop the trend never seemed to end well or do as was intended.
After the six months, when the gun ranges finally reopened, vigorous tests were put in place to ensure that people were not trying to pull a “Kevin Willard.” I never thought that my name would become a euphemism for a suicide trend.
People were at first hesitant to attend gun ranges, but after visiting them and leaving with their hemispheres, cerebellums and brainstems all intact, a large number of the populous breathed a sigh of relief. Others sharply exhaled through their nostrils with frustration.
The epidemic has since calmed down; life in the USA and for gun ranges seemed to crawl back to some form of equilibrium. But every now and again, someone decided to shoot themselves instead of the target. The pilgrimage had come to be accepted in a weird way. In the same way that people die during construction work and so on. Chances are it will now be this way forever.
During the height of the craze, when close to two hundred people were dying daily, some would stumble across me in the afterlife and stare at me like I were a celebrity. They would approach me sheepishly and say, “Hi.” I’d respond and ask, “Are you another dumb ass who pulled a me?”
The pilgrims who had been inspired by me and who had replicated my suicide seemed to like me less when they met me in person.
Sometimes I hang around the gun ranges. In the event that someone pulls ‘a me,’ I introduce myself and apologize. I greet them and explain to them the predicament that they are now in. Some take it well. Others don’t. Being trapped in purgatory can be quite the confrontation when you originally thought that death would be like sleeping forever. I speak from personal experience. Greeting such people can be quite awkward, but being stuck in the afterlife forever has given me time to work on some icebreakers:
“Hi, so you’ve decided to pull a me and this is now how you’ll likely spend the rest of your existence…”
“Hey, So I see you’ve pulled a me…”
“Yes, I’m Kevin Willard. Yes I’m dead and so are you…”
“Nice shirt; I like that band too…”
Overall, once I’ve introduced myself and spoken to the person for a while, things seem to generally play out okay. Apologizing to people who commit a me is something I feel compelled to do. I’ve made quite a few friendships in the afterlife from doing this. I’ve met people who were lonely like me. I’ve made more friends in the afterlife than ever did whilst I was alive, though some people who commit a me act more like irritating celebrity stalkers, following me and my new friends around in the afterlife. I’ll ask them to kindly stop following us, and in response they’ll put their hands over their mouths and giggle like a child. Apparently, my acknowledgment of the pilgrims in the afterlife is considered the final part of their journey. Upon their untimely deaths at the gun ranges, those who aren’t greeted by me or by my friends (we work in shifts) seem to find others who committed a me in the afterlife. God knows there are plenty of them. They usually band together and search for me like a demented pack of paparazzi. They’re usually disappointed when they meet me and all I have to say to them at the end of their great journey is, “Do you want to watch a movie with us?”
If you’re sitting in a cinema watching a new film release, chances are high that I and other bullet-munchers are taking up all the remaining seats. It’s unanimously accepted that movies are a good way to pass the time in the afterlife. I never meant to spend eternity watching movies for free in a theatre surrounded by people who participated in a suicide trend that I accidentally started, but life can take you to strange places. The afterlife to even stranger ones.