Bad guys must make quite an impression on me, because Through the Dark, my remembered version of Eyes at the Window, painted the villain in pretty much the same colors as the original manuscript. The names changed. He was Mathias Payne in the beginning, and that name will be resurrected as I polish off the third version of this old idea. But to my ear, that name has a similar ring to the one I made up from memory: Harlan Hunter.
Both men liked to preach about the evil of guns, since that was, and is, a pivotal plot point. The only real difference is that thirty years ago I was at least partially a believer that armed citizens was a good thing, while now I am mainly a believer that upholding the rights of gun ownership has gotten way out of control. I haven’t quite figured it out yet, but I need to try to find a way to reflect that difference in the latest version of my story. Here’s what I’ve done in the past.
Her uncle paused when he caught sight of her .45 automatic on the mantle. “Where did you get that gun?”
“I bought it.”
“Now, Sarah, you know I don’t like firearms. They’re dangerous.”
“I’m ready to go,” she said to distract him.
Sarah’s hope that her uncle would forget his lecture on guns was disappointed. Once in the car, we went on at length about the evils of all firearms. In self defense, Sarah reverted to an old habit. She appeared to listen intently but was actually light years away.
“The way the crime rate is rising, something positive as to be done. The jerks in office now, some of them, anyway, beat around the bush with petty bills that will do absolutely no good at all.”
“That’s what I’m basing my platform on this election. There are plenty of people who agree with my point of view. Once I win, even though this is only a small office, I’ll be on my way. I have connections, you know, and that’s all it takes these days. Connections and people who think the same way you do.”
Sarah imagined coming across a handsome hitchhiker along the road, convincing her uncle to stop to give the man a ride.
“Yes, soon there will be enough politicians like myself in office to get things done the way they should be done. It’s just a matter of time before all guns are banned. Imagine it, can you? No guns. What better way to insure peace? The whole country settled down to domestic bliss with no fear.”
Patty cut a piece of pork chop and ate it, speaking around the food. “I saw you on your soap box there, Harlan. What is it this time?”“The usual,” Sissy answered. “Politics. Gun control again. Harlan is trying to make pacifists out of all these NRA members sitting around the table here.”
The mayor and three of the men laughed, but one woman said “He’s right, though. Just last month a six-year-old over in Riverside accidentally shot his little sister playing cowboys with a loaded revolver. His daddy had a whole room full of rifles and hand guns. What’s a man
“Now, now,” the mayor said, wiping his mouth and then laying his napkin neatly across his knee again. “Guns don’t kill people—”
“Yes, yes,” Harlan interrupted. “We know. People kill people. But guns make it a lot easier to kill people and you can’t deny that.” He leaned forward again, jabbing his finger to make his point. “You can’t tell me there’s any good reason a man needs an assault rifle as his personal weapon, for Pete’s sake. If I had my way, all guns would be illegal, but at least—”
The debate they’d interrupted took off again full throttle. Someone argued that any move to ban the personal acquisition of assault weapons was just the first step toward banning all weapons.
“That tired old argument?” Harlan countered. “That’s like saying establishing a police force in town means we’re going to live in a police state. Ridiculous. Did banning public smoking lead to arresting everyone who buys cigarettes?”
“Not yet,” someone said to a spattering of laughter.
“You talk like guns are some kind of pathogen,” one white-haired man said. Miranda tried to remember his name. Doctor somebody. “As if getting rid of guns would eliminate violence like penicillin cures syphilis. Violence is the disease if you ask me. Until we find a cure for that, let me keep my aught-five.”
“Statistics show the crime rates go down when households are allowed to own guns for self-protection,” someone else argued.
“And I can show you data that the number of accidental deaths goes up in those same neighborhoods.” Harlan pointed a barbecue-sauced finger around the table at his listeners. “500,000 guns are stolen each year in the U.S. Who do you think they get stolen from? Law abiding citizens too stupid to be allowed access let alone ownership of a dangerous weapon.
“Take this little girl here.” Harlan jabbed his finger toward Miranda who flushed in anger at being called little girl. “Know what she had on her the other day? A handgun. That’s right. She came to greet Sissy and me at the door with a gun in her hand. What kind of training do you think she had, city bred girl that she is? What if she’d accidentally discharged that weapon? Or mistook us for trespassers?”
I haven’t yet written the scene in this final version that shows Sarah’s uncle as an advocate for gun control. I suspect it will include a lot of the same arguments I wrote for the remembered version. How the theme is handled now needs to rely on more than just what the villain of the story has to say about it. He’s an unlikeable character, so naturally the reader is going to be inclined to think I’m saying his opinion is the wrong one. In fact, that was my original intent, when I leaned toward painting advocates for gun control as zealots with untrustworthy ideas.
Any message this version will contain about gun control will need to be written into the fabric of the story itself, into the mindset and growth of all the main characters and how the whole gun-specific plot is resolved. For that to happen properly, I’m going to have to draw some lines in my own mind about my thoughts on the subject so that I can be true to my own vision. I write stories not only to entertain, but to communicate. Whether people will agree with me or not, I write to extend my understanding of the way things are, and the way I feel they ought to be.