Thanks loads to Dr. Self Destruct and eatmyawesome for the constructive criticism!
It was never a question for me; it was always a matter of knowing.
"Six shots?" you ask, disbelieving. You can't believe me because it's too hard. Too hard to think that your baby girl can take six shots. It's that nasty part of growing up that parents like to ignore; the part where their child grows into an adult. They prefer the easy parts. The parts where the child is a child, and the parts where the child is an adult. The in-between is messy. The in-between is complicated.
"Six shots," I respond grimly. I have something to prove now. I always did, but the disbelief has me – I admit it. I'm a sucker for proving myself. I up the ante. "Six shots in five minutes."
The disbelief turns to bemusement. This was what I was looking for. You never take me seriously anymore. You used to claim that I was talented, special, gifted. But not since I threw that all away. And now you sit there, eye-corners crinkling and eyebrows arching out of necessity because otherwise it's too much.
Time to prove myself. I click the timer and turn to the onlookers.
"Hit me," I say. It's possibly a phrase more appropriate for a game of poker or twenty-one or whatever other card games people play, but I don't care. It fits the tangible tenseness of the atmosphere. Everyone knows I have something to prove now, and they want to see me do it. I was issued a challenge; I took the challenge. Now it's time to take my medicine.
The first one hits my stomach like a lead ball, exploding into heat and not-heat simultaneously. I stagger back, taken by surprise by the feelings. Blood rushes to my head, to my fingers, to my toes. The heat emanates from my stomach, pulsing through the rest of my body with each pump of blood. Sharing the wealth, as it were.
No big deal.
The second one makes the pumping go faster, but I'm ready for it this time. I know what to expect. The third is the same. I am stalwart and I am in control. Even though the onlookers have turned away, I know that they're still looking, still judging. I remain stoic through the fourth, although the tingling has reached my extremities now. It's no longer in my stomach. It's all over me. It's in me, coursing through my veins. It's overtaking me.
I've heard that at this point, it's mostly psychological. The adrenaline, the dizziness – all my body's methods of coping with the stranger it has been so intimately introduced to.
The timer's still ticking and I urge on the fifth. Two more to go and I'll have been vindicated. My long-time doubters would be silenced and I would be victorious. No more injustices for this brave Spartan; I would be free and clear and there would be nothing else stopping me. Nothing else standing between me and whatever lies after. No longer a little girl, I would -
The fifth takes me by surprise and I double over, stomach pains overwhelming me. Too much too soon? No, I would have to triumph. My pride is riding on it, so I straighten despite the white-hot pains grasping and rending my organs, stand despite it.
"Hit me," I say once more. The final shot, and the only thing standing between me and my destiny. I can take six shotsI said, and I meant it. Six shots.
The sixth leaves me foggy and breathless, gasping for air like a victorious fish, too busy savouring its moment to miss the water. My temples buzz and my vision is black around the edges. I wonder if this is what a religious experience is like. Perhaps I'm a prophet. A six-shot prophet, born to save the world from the petty evils. Invincible.
A final crack – thunder over the mountains.
The seventh shot.
The bullet enters my chest as the gun, spent, clanks to the ground. The acrid smell of burnt powder that has been crowding my senses is suddenly overwhelming, and
My vision films. Things become grey. Sound becomes muted; heard through water. Everything is in slow-motion. It's like a movie, but instead of a heroic soundtrack all I hear is my own voice echoing in my head, stark harbinger of the belated truth.
I can take six shots. But not the seventh.