Short Non-Fiction: A Turn At the Tiger’s Tongue

While writing my first novel, I had to research handguns. I had no prior experience with the intricacies of how they work. I wanted to know how they felt in your hand, what “kick-back” felt like and I wanted to be able to describe the smell of gunpowder. Fortunately, I had the opportunity to visit a police firing range and experience things firsthand. I took notes on the experiment and crafted the flash non-fiction piece below.



“Eyes and ears on!”

I tap the side of my bulky ear protectors once more, hearing the hollow, tinny knocking. The crowd at my back dissolves into a sea of comforting murmurs. I shift nervously, foot to foot, my dress shoes covered in the newly-mown lawn. As I breath deep to relax my nerves, I can feel the straps of the Kevlar pull around my sides and shoulders.  This thing is supposed to be tight, but did I overdo it? A couple deep breaths and I forget about the tight vest and the grass on my shoes. I adjust my sunglasses once more.

I stare at my paper opponent 12 yards ahead of me. He’s vaguely shaped like a human, but he doesn’t stare back. He has no eyes. Just an unassuming X in his center, surrounded by larger concentric circles.

Good luck hitting me, amateur.

Just like the dartboard.  Just like the Wii. Just like the composite bow targets I’ve hit a hundred times before. Except, this is the real deal. This is police standard issue. This is real life.

The instructor walks the line pausing next to each of us.

“Keep it downrange!” he says, as he hands me the weapon. The voice is directive, but kind. He’s done this many times before.

The weapon heavy in my hand, small but solid – a .45 Caliber Heckler & Koch Compact, also known as the HK45. The slide is pulled back, exposing its innards. But these guts aren’t soft. It’s forged in shades of charcoal and black with smooth edges gleaming in the morning sun. The grip is snug and rough – like a cat’s tongue in my hand. But if it’s a cat, it must be a tiger.  This is no tabby. It’s a deadly, beautiful compact piece of steel. I steal another deep breath – in through the nose, softly out through my mouth.

Be cool.

As I keep my black beauty pointed at my paper adversary, the instructor makes another round.  He hands me the magazine, loaded with a single bullet. Gold. Small. Power.

“Magazines in!”

I put the magazine in the butt of the pistol and pound it in with the heel of my palm. It “snicks” into place.  Just like in the movies.

My right hand curls back around the tiger’s tongue. I cradle the base of the grip with my left palm and curl my fingers up around my other hand.

“Release the slide. Index off the trigger!”

I push down on the slidestop. The slide moves forward. The hammer stays back. Now the gun is hungry, ready to pounce. My finger wants to curl on the trigger. But I keep it parallel with the slide.

“Range is hot! On my command, line up the sights and take one shot at the target.”

I breathe and hold.  The vest strains against my chest. I bend my knees slightly. I squeeze the grip and lock my wrists. My biceps tighten. I slide my index finger down until I feel the trigger. In the foreground, I line up my front sight in the valley of the rear sight. Downrange, I see the X on my adversary, directly in front of my sights. Dead to rights.


I don’t have to pull…just a gentle squeeze of my finger.  A quiet pop, a tiny puff of smoke.  A kick against my ready wrists. I lower the gun and relax my arms and shoulders.

Holy shit!

Slightly above and to the left of the X, but still within a couple inches of the tiny x-marks-the-spot, is a small but well-defined hole in my adversary.

Who’s laughing now?

I release the magazine and catch it as it slides out of the grip.

I can’t help but flash a quick smile as I wait for another magazine and another turn at the tiger’s tongue.


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