There were three of them. Decades old grease oozed up from between their barrels and the battered wooden stocks, smelling of something I couldn't quite relate to but was immediately fascinated with. They were Russian rifles M44s stamped with a hammer and sickle, complete with retractable bayonets and dated 1945.
My friends had rescued these weapons from the bargain barrel at a small gun shop in Alabama for the price of $45, and my visit this past weekend would include their first firing.
Now this wasn't something we took lightly. The guns were 60 years old, packed with grease and sitting in storage for an unimaginable amount of time. My friend Mike has a new brother-in-law, Charles, an Apache helicopter pilot who has served in the military for 10 years, so he took the reigns with regards to firearm safety.
Finding a place to fire off weapons in lower Alabama isn't a problem, so we headed to Mike's grandmother's house to take advantage of her acreage.
Charles set an empty oil container against the base of an old tree, stepped back 100 feet and dropped to one knee. Mike and I stood still, watching him take aim in the early summer heat.
I flinched when I first heard the sound, sure that something had gone wrong. In the split-second before I realized that nothing had, my imagination told me that the rifle had misfired and exploded, sending fireworks of splinters into Charles, our poor pioneer. Thankfully, it was nothing that dramatic.
Charles did immediately conclude that a trip for some ear plugs was our next order of business.
On the return trip from the gun store, ear plugs in hand, I had serious reservations about handling one of these weapons myself. Having grown up in the suburbs of Cleveland (Ohio, that is) I had no real exposure to guns, and had only once in my life fired a very weak 22 rifle.
Back at the ranch, Mike and Charles took turns blasting cardboard boxes and unlucky chunks of firewood while I watched, still unsure if it was my business to get directly involved.
Then we set up some cinder blocks to mow down, and that was all I needed.
Mike took aim and popped one, smashing the thing apart. It looked like a small bomb had gone off underneath it. I wanted in!
Shouldering the rifle felt alien to me, but I wasn't slowing down now. I took aim, closed my eyes and pulled the trigger back.
Nothing but hot Alabama air. Feeling a little more comfortable this time, I dead-eyed the cinderblock and focused on keeping my arms as still as I could.
That poor cinder block never saw it coming. I almost felt guilty. Gray dust and small flecks of rock filled the air as the block split across its midsection. It collapsed on itself and the top half fell from its perch to the ground.
A feeling of power overcame me. Not the kind of power that makes you stroll into work and cleanse the office of inferior co-workers, but the calm confidence that seems unique to having some degree of control over an instrument of death.
My trips to Alabama happen with some regularity, and the next time I make the trek, those cinder blocks better find a good place to hide.
Rob Felt is the photographer for the Daily Herald. He can be reached at (770) 957-9161 or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.