I kept seeing this image of a crazed-looking Donald Duck holding a handgun to his head. It sometimes popped up on social media. I found the image disturbing, but I dismissed it as a work of parody. The product of some internet edgelord, I assumed. I had little interest.
The image stuck with me though. For months, it flashed into my mind at random moments during the day. It made brief appearances in my dreams. I opted to ignore this (probably the last thing I should have done), still operating under the belief that the real Donald Duck would never do such a thing, place a pistol to his temple while grinning like a maniac. Still, something seemed profoundly sinister about the illustration. Some of my dreams eventually deteriorated into one long still of the image, which only vibrated slightly. The dreams lasted hours, it felt. I would wake with splitting headaches.
Locating the source was easy. Through a basic internet search, I learned of a 1943 Disney cartoon titled The Old Army Game. It’s a work almost too strange to be believed: Donald Duck has joined the U.S. Army, apparently. He sneaks back onto base after an “some unauthorized leave,” having tricked his sergeant (the Disney character Black Pete) by placing a dummy in his bed. Well, Black Pete discovers the ruse prior to Donald’s return, and a conflict ensues, as detailed in this poorly written Wikipedia entry:
“Black Pete goes into Donald’s bed to surprise him. Donald Duck goes to his bed, and sleeps in it, knowing that he ‘put it over on the sarge,’ not realizing that Black Pete is in [it]. But when he does, Donald runs for it. Pete chases Donald and Donald hides under one of three boxes, Donald switches the boxes repeatably [sic] to fool Black Pete. But when Pete finds him, and when Donald is still hiding in the box, Black Pete kicks Donald’s box which flies through the bladed fence and the box cracks in half as Donald’s lower half falls in a hole [with his body still intact]. But Donald thinks that his lower half was cut off, and when Pete comes, he [believes] that he killed Donald and he is crying over Donald’s tragedy. Donald feels so upset, he grabs Black Pete’s gun and attempts suicide.”
There, at four minutes and fifty-seven seconds into the cartoon, is the iconic image of Donald, wild-eyed and holding a handgun to his head. Pete weeps harder for Donald and requests that he shoot himself “behind the bushes” (presumably so he doesn’t have to witness the act). Both Donald and Pete realize that Donald’s lower half is still very much attached as he pulls himself toward the bushes to honor Pete’s abysmal request. Unfortunately, the sarge becomes enraged at this. He grabs a bayonet and chases Donald until the screen iris-wipes to black, then reopens to a frame reading: “The End: A Walt Disney Production.”
All’s well that ends well, as they say. But there is no way of knowing if Pete ever mutilated or murdered Donald with that bayonet.
Andrew Novak is a journalist and news editor in Washington, DC. He likes to read. He likes to write. He likes to take pictures with his camera. His fiction has appeared in Fluland, Shotgun Honey, Dark Moon Digest, Out of the Gutter Online, and Bizarro Central.