“Come see the trees!” shouted the children of the town. Huge, white blossoms covered the trees in the park that springtime. After the blossoms wilted and fell to the ground, the fruits that formed behind them took the shape of handguns–tiny and silver at first, like the pistol game piece from Clue–and two weeks later, swollen to the size of squirt guns. The children picked one and passed it around at recess, their shared secret.
By the first of June, the boughs hung heavy with firearms and that’s when the adults finally noticed. A stroller-jogging mom called 911. The cops roped off the whole grove and posted patrolmen while the lieutenant pulled down a few of the ripest-looking guns and took them down to the range to test-fire.
“Where did you get these?” the range officer asked. “They’re in mint condition.”
“At the city park,” said the lieutenant. “The trees are full of ‘em.”
The next town meeting was packed with townsfolk.
“I move that we open the topic of the gun trees for discussion,” said the council president.
“Second!” shouted the crowd.
“I suggest we pick the guns and sell them to other cities as a fund-raiser,” said one councilwoman. “Our streets need repaving.”
“After we save a few for us, of course,” said the chief of police.
“Nonsense!” shouted the crowd. “The park is public property. A free gun for everyone!”
Noisy crowds always get their way.
The population of the town was 12,708. After every household received a free, near-ripe gun, there were still two thousand or so left on the trees in the grove, so the Public Works Department erected a twelve-foot-high, barbed-wire fence around the park. Just so things don’t get out of hand, they all said.
It was too late. July arrived humid and stifling, and one Saturday morning, a Little League umpire made a bad call and the opposing team’s coach spittle-yelled in his face. The ump ejected the coach from the game. The fuming coach stormed off the field just before the first shots rang out. The umpire went down, followed by two dozen others, including the home team’s catcher. Catchers are always getting hit with something.
The guns ripened the same week as the peaches, and all across town, people were shot daily. For cutting someone off on the highway, for stiffing a server on her tip, for putting thirteen items on the conveyor in the 12-or-less express lane at Save-a-Lot, for letting their dogs shit on the neighbor’s lawn.
The mayor called an emergency meeting. “School starts in three weeks,” she said. “What should we do?”
“Arm all the students,” said a notorious helicopter mom.
“But what if the students get out of hand?” asked someone.
“Let the teachers carry, too,” shouted a teacher.
“And what if a teacher goes rogue?” asked the principal.
“Then we’ll arm the janitors,” said the superintendent of schools. The janitors liked that idea. All they usually got to carry were mops and buckets.
“What if there’s a bipolar, deranged janitor?” asked a lunch lady, but she was really thinking about one of the other lunch ladies, Ruthie, and how that crazy bitch would react if she was fondling a gun in her pocket the next time the kids complained about the gray hamburgers.
The crowd agreed to arm the clergy of the town and let them roam the school hallways, to keep peace over the rest. Everyone had forgotten the lessons of history.
“Come see the birds!” shouted the children of the neighboring town, pointing at the huge flock of vultures gathering and circling to the west, like a lazy tornado. A few days later, the adults noticed the stench in the air. It was the end of September. The sheriff drove out to investigate. An hour later, he radioed back, barely audible—his voice shaking.
“They’re all dead,” he said. “Every one of them.”
The sheriff called the FBI, and the FBI brought in the Centers for Disease Control. It may be some sort of weaponized weapon-virus, they thought. The head scientist at the CDC was scared—more terrified of this than the Ebola outbreak. “Call in the pacifists,” she said. “They have immunity. And tell them to bring chainsaws.”
It was mid-October when the pacifists arrived, accompanied by the military. They were spellbound by what they saw. The gun trees were rusted to a gorgeous shade of orange-red. Guns had started to fall from the trees, pistols and semi-automatics, carpeting the grove in a blanket of ochre. Some of the pacifists set up easels and began to paint the scene; others composed sonnets and sonatas. One of the pacifists said, “I bet these trees are even more beautiful in the spring, when they blossom.”
The others nodded, throwing down their chainsaws. They stretched out on the ground, picturing it. Wanting it.
“We can always cut the trees down next summer,” they said, staring at the fleeing clouds, watching the vultures pierce holes in them.