The schools are starting back in my area this week. The summer holiday is over for traditional schools. As a child, I always viewed the resuming of the school year with a bit of sadness. I loved the freedom of summer, the ability to sleep late, sit up late and do whatever I pleased, at least until I got old enough for summer jobs.
Once in college, I could hardly wait for the summer to end so I could get back to my friends and the freedom that living in a university town meant. Where high school had been drudgery, college was exciting. I loved the challenge and exhilaration of learning new concepts, something I rarely encountered in high school. I also had completed my own coming of age, growing into the person I always wanted to be in college. I chose friends that I really liked and had common interests with rather than just friends of convenience (or inconvenience).
As an adult, it has come to signal the changing of the seasons, the slow exit of summer into the fresh air of fall. I have come to appreciate the benefits of all the seasons and love living in an area where we experience all four.
More recently I have come to have a bit of dread with the coming of the new school year. I wait in silent trepidation, knowing it will eventually happen. A school shooting. Some kid or outsider will show his ass and randomly murder as many children as possible before surrendering, taking his own life or being taken out by SWAT. There seems to be no exit, no way out. As long this nation continues its bizarre obsession with guns and is held under the thumb of the NRA and the senators they have purchased, we will continue to experience this “collateral damage”. The Earp brothers knew how to deal with this way back in the 1880s. Guns and people spell trouble. They managed to tame Dodge City, a wide-open killing field, by the simple expedient of disarming. If you wanted to come into town and experience the pleasures of civilization, leave the guns at home. For those who were forgetful, the marshal met people coming in and collected the guns for the evening. A pity nothing like that can happen today. People have intentionally misinterpreted the second amendment to agree with their overarching need to have a firearm. Okay, I can be good with that. Buy why do you need an assault weapon with rapid fire capabilities and extra-large magazines? I must be missing something here. By this reasoning I should be able to keep a bazooka in my bedroom and a scud missile launcher in my backyard.
Sorry, I did not set out to get on my soapbox. These paragraphs are supposed to just introduce this week’s story. And the story is about a school shooting. It is a look at the affect it has on a few select people. The horror of these acts exacts a price on all of us in a variety of ways. My heart goes out to all returning students. You are all now targets.
Johnny’s Got a Gun
It’s all Digges’ fault. I never would have been there but for him. He’s always in trouble and got me mixed in, too. Mom and Dad hate him. Call him white trash. Mom says he’s a hoodlum. I guess he is, but I wouldn’t have hung out with him so much if they hadn’t been so against it. I’d have probably got tired and dropped him after a couple of weeks if they hadn’t made such a fuss over it. So, it’s their fault, too. The more they ragged on him, the cooler he seemed. I even took to sneaking out the window after bedtime to hang with him. On weekend nights I’d tell them I was meeting up with Benjie. He’s just a doofus who runs along behind Digges like a puppy all the time. Digges treats him terrible. Talks down at him, calls him bad names, makes him run errands. I even seen him hit him. Benjie just smiles and comes back for more abuse. I guess it’s who he is. What a wastoid. The first time Digges called me an asshole, I called him a cocksucker. I won’t taking no abuse from him. He laughed and messed up my hair. He said, “Chad, you’re okay.” He’s treated me like an equal ever since.
To tell the truth I don’t know how I had the balls to talk back to him. He’s tough as nails and kinda scary. He’s what Dad calls ‘bad news’. He’s in our grade but a year older on account of he was held back a year, so he’s bigger than most of us. He’s not any taller than me, but he’s solid. All sinew and muscle. And not the gym rat kind of muscle but the kind that comes from a hard scrabble life. I remember that back before we actually liked each other he got into a crazy incident at school. Digges was complaining about being held back.
“My dad says it’s all bullshit. Said if I was a nigger they’d a had to promote me. Just because we’re poor and white, we get shit on.”
“You ain’t white. You’re a freaking dago, Digges the Dago,” Dale Anderson razzed him. Dale was two years older, four inches taller and twenty pounds heavier than Digges. Didn’t matter. Digges sailed into him.
“You take that back, you SOB,” he yelled wrestling Anderson to the ground.
“You and your whole family are a bunch of greasy wops,” Anderson grunted, trying to get Digges into a hold to control him. By then Anderson’s friends had joined in. They pulled Digges up and shoved him away.
“Get the fuck outta here or we’ll beat the crap outta you,” Anderson snarled.
Digges’ look was murderous. He was red-faced, his wiry brown hair sticking up, leaves snagged in it. He was outnumbered and had to retreat. But it burned him to do so. There’d be a reckoning.
The next day Anderson’s bike was missing after school. All that was left was the front wheel which had been locked to the bike rack. Dale came looking for Digges.
“I ain’t seen your freaking bike. I got better things to do than come after shit like you,” Digges told him. But I could tell there was glee in his voice. “Ask my teachers. I been in class all day.” He was the picture of injured innocence.
A couple of days later, Anderson opened his locker and pieces of metal came falling out, making a loud crash in the hallway. It appeared to be the remains of a bicycle that had been through a metal compactor. And grossest of all, a dead pit viper was mixed in. When it flopped free of the framework it caused a frantic stampede among the students.
The police got involved. They were able to determine that the wreckage was indeed what was left of Anderson’s bicycle. One officer smirked and was overheard saying it was ‘teenage hijinks’. Everybody assumed it was Digges’ doing, but there was no evidence. Recently after we became friends I asked him if he did it. He didn’t exactly admit it. He did say that when he and Anderson were released from the principal’s office he had a message for Anderson.
“I whispered in his ear ‘stay outta my way or the next one will be live.’ He ain’t said boo to me in two years.”
Digges was crazy like that. He didn’t forgive and he held a grudge. Coming from a poor family with an alcoholic father who regularly beat up his wife and children, Digges had plenty of anger at the injustices he’d been subjected to. He met the world head on with his chin jutted out and a chip on his shoulder. But it he didn’t go looking for trouble. He didn’t have to. It always found him.
But anyway, when he texted me (from Benjie’s phone) that it was time for a prowl, I duly slipped out to meet him. I was dying to get out of the house anyway. I’d been cooped up on account of my cousin Howard.
I guess it’s not Howard’s fault that his parents gave him such a dorky name. But he does his best to live up to it. He is such a nerd. I only see him on holidays since they live like a hundred miles from here. I know I could stand to lose a pound or two but, damn, Howard’s a freaking tank. I swear he’s as wide as he is tall, and none of it is muscle. And Coke bottle glasses and a huge nose. Poor guy has no assets. At least I got no big issues. A few zits on my forehead, but all the girls say I’m cute.
But as I was saying, Howard and Uncle John and Aunt Ruth came over for New Year’s Eve. It was just for a nice family dinner. I played a little Xbox with Howard afterward. To my everlasting shame he kicked my ass.
A few days later, Mom put a big glass of orange juice beside my dinner plate.
“I just got a call from Ruthie this morning. Howard’s come down with a terrible cold. She imagines he was probably contagious New Year’s Eve. We need to start pushing vitamin C.” And just like magic, three days later I woke up with a scratchy throat and felt like my head was gonna explode. Thank you, Cousin Howard. Not. I’d much rather be sick when it’s been a while since a vacation, like February. Not the week after a long break. Well, it beats being sick during a break I guess.
“They say a cold is three days coming, three days with you and three days going.” Mom has a saying for everything. “I think you should stay home this week. You can go back on Monday. You should be feeling better and not contagious by then.” She gave me some kind of medicine and made me go back to bed. I have to admit, it felt good to lay back down. Mom said she’d stay home with me in case I needed anything. She’s got some kind of job where she can telecommute real easy. Not like Dad. He’s nine to five and can’t miss a day.
Aside from the fact that I felt like crap, being sick and out of school is really a drag. Everyone’s at school so I have no one to play with or talk to. Mom won’t let anyone come see me since I’m contagious. A few friends texted me, just to be sure I wasn’t being held against my will, they said. Janine down the block called and gave me the assignments so I wouldn’t fall behind.
After doing all the schoolwork, determining all the one player games I have are lame, and noting once again that daytime TV is like a slow death, I surfed on my laptop. And after awhile, you know what that leads to. Yeah, I know a few porn sites. Hey, I’m fifteen. Deal with it. I don’t have any restrictions on my computer and Mom and Dad never try to check where I’ve been. I don’t think they’d know how. I’m still careful, though. A friend, Kylie, showed me how to cover my tracks so no one could tell where I’d been. He said he doesn’t bother because his dad is okay with him looking at porn. Must be nice. I bet mine would blow a gasket.
I had to work on my timing with it. Mom was checking on me every few hours. I didn’t need her popping in while I was popping off, so to speak. So, I sat at my computer and used two hands. One on the keyboard and one taking care of business. And a blanket for my lap in case of the need for emergency cover. But after a while, even that gets old. Yeah, I said that. So by the time next Monday rolled around I was definitely ready to go back to school. Yeah, I said that, too. After dressing I trotted down the long hallway of our ranch style house to get some breakfast. I went to say good morning to Mom but nothing came out. The more I tried to be heard the more concerned Mom became.
“Lordy, you catch everything. I ‘spect if the devil ran through the house you’d catch him, too. Looks like that cold has gone down in your throat, baby. Looks like laryngitis. Back to bed, buster. I’ll bring up some oatmeal.”
I wanted to argue, but well, no voice.
I wasn’t sleepy so I checked Facebook. Zilch. Twitter. Nada. Snapchat. Where is everybody? I saw a post on Instagram.
“I’m gonna be famous. Everybody’s gonna know my name.” It was Johnny Jenkins. What, was it song lyrics? Who knows? Johnny’s weird. He’s hard to like. He’s always so negative, never a nice thing to say about anybody or anything. Most people have decided they don’t need all that negative shit and avoid him. He’s got a few friends, but not many. Digges just says he’s a big asshole. Now he wants to be a rockstar?
I was dozing in and out of consciousness around eleven when my phone went crazy. It started buzzing so much it almost rattled off my nightstand. Facebook was blowing up for some reason.
I picked it up to see what the deal was.
“Shooter!” “Gunman in school!” “Somebodys firing a gun”. “Somebody help us.” Oh, shit. Something crazy was going down. I went to find Mom. She was sitting at her computer, looking stricken. She turned when I entered, as tears started running down her cheeks. She was up so fast her chair tipped over. Before I could even process that, she had me in her arms.
“Oh, baby. I just want to hold you. Why us? Why did it have to come to our town? Oh, my baby.” I guess she has a news feed on her computer. She went to turn on the TV, dragging me with her. It’s like she needed to keep touching me, to prove to herself that I was there. That’s when it hit me. I should have been at school. I could have been getting shot at right now. That’s a very sobering thought.
The TV caption showed they had ‘breaking news’. The news anchor said they had reports of shots fired at Valley Forge Senior High School. He urged people to avoid the area and that police were setting up a cordon around the school. He said SkyFive, their news helicopter, was on the way, and promised more on ‘this developing story’ as details came available.
Mom seemed frantic for something to do. She tucked the afghan around me and came back after a few minutes in the kitchen with a cup of chamomile tea for me and a fresh cup of coffee for herself. We waited through interminable commercials for indigestion, feminine issues and toilet paper. When the news was back on it was quickly obvious they still didn’t know much. There was shaky footage from the news chopper, magnified. It showed at least a dozen police cars around the school. You could also see students pouring out of windows and doors. A general evacuation was in process. It was hardly orderly. Students could be seen running frantically in any direction, just as long as it was away from the school.
“Police have confirmed that there is a gunman firing within the building. People who live in the neighborhood are urged to stay away from windows opening on the school as we don’t know what kind of weapon is involved and thus don’t know the range the ammunition can travel. And please, if you have loved ones in the school, do not come to the school. There is a staging area in the arena across the street. Only the Jackson Street access is open. Repeat, only access the arena via Jackson Street. The Valley Forge Avenue gate is closed and Valley Forge Avenue is barricaded. Please report to the arena to pick up your children if you want to collect them. Otherwise, buses will leave as soon as the crisis is over.”
“Mom?” I managed a raspy croak. I wasn’t sure how I was feeling about this, but it wasn’t good
“It’s okay, baby. Hold my hand. We’ll get through this. Oh, Lord, help us get through this.”
The television anchor babbled on about what was going on. He said they were picking up messages through twitter and Facebook from people still inside, hunkered down in closets and locked classrooms. The helicopter camera zoomed in on a policeman standing at a window, physically pulling kids out the window and shoving them down the embankment where other police were grabbing them and quickly pulling them to safety.
“We don’t know who the officer is, but this is the face of bravery we have come to expect from our public servants. Heedless of his own safety his has moved toward the firing to save as many kids as he can. It is a true testament of Foxborough’s finest.” I thought about that. If I heard firing I’d be running the other way as fast as I could. I could never be brave enough to be a cop.
“We have more information coming in. There are confirmed fatalities. We have definite confirmation that stu-, that stu-, oh Christ what is wrong with this country?” He just hung his head. The camera refocused on the female anchor beside him.
“Yes, we have confirmation that some students have been killed. We’re all very upset here in the newsroom. We’ll have more after this.” The focus turned to the perky weathergirl for a weather update. Shit, how bad does it have to be when even the news guy starts crying? Mom was a total mess by this point. She was crushing my hand.
“We’re back, and I’d like to apologize for my earlier lapse,” the news anchor said. He was red-eyed, but seemed composed.
“No, Bob. You don’t need to apologize for being human. This tragedy is hurting all of us.”
“Thanks, Linda. We now have some video posted from inside the school. The footage is violent and intense and may disturb some viewers. Please be advised, the footage is very disturbing. You may want to turn away for a few minutes.”
“Baby, I don’t think you need to see this,” Mom murmured.
“It’s happening to my friends and I can’t do nothing to help them. The least I can do is watch what they’re going through,” I whispered.
The footage was apparently a grab off Facebook. Someone had turned on their cell video while running for cover. It was only about ten seconds long, but it seemed like an eternity. It was shaking so much from the person running that it was hard to make out what you were seeing at first. One rapid scan down the hall showed students on the floor, some injured, some trying to crawl to safety. The white tile of the floor was slicked red and in some places it was also on the wall. There was constant screaming in the background, punctuated by gunfire. There was an unfocused flash of a girl, blond hair streaming, running by the camera suddenly jerking forward as she was struck in the back by bullets, and fell out of sight. Then a quick view of a pile of several students perhaps helping each other before the video abruptly shut off.
The anchors brought the video up again pausing at two seconds. A little extra focusing from the tech guys and it was clear that many students were lying in the bloody hallway. Another pause as the blond girl came by.
“Oh, no!” I rasped.
“Don’t look, honey.”
“I know that girl. She’s Sharon Kellar. She’s the prettiest girl in school. They shouldn’t show this. She might be seriously hurt or worse. It’s not right.”
The video review ended with a still shot of the group of students in a little pile. Extra focusing revealed it to be three students. A large redheaded kid was pulling a kid with brown hair off the floor. He was apparently trying to use his body as a shield for the blond kid under him. They were all covered in blood. The blond kid seemed to have bled out and was most likely dead.
“No, no, no!” I squeaked at the screen hoarsely. These are my friends, people I know. Who could do such a thing? I don’t know who the shooter is but he needs to die. Mom grabbed me and pulled me to her breast, shielding my eyes from the damning video. I didn’t even realize till then I was crying.
“We apologize again if any of our viewers found the video too disturbing. Oh, Linda, there appears to be something happening. A tactical team appears to be entering the building.” The shaky helicopter camera showed several men in camo with special helmets, shields and serious looking weapons rushing into the building.
I jumped when my phone buzzed in my pajama shirt pocket. I fished it out. It was Dad.
“Oh, thank God. Where are you? Are you okay?”
“I’m fine, Dad. I didn’t go to school today. I’m still a little sick.”
“I never thought I’d see the day when I’m glad my boy is sick,” Dad said shakily. “You guys know about the shooting, I guess?”
“Yeah, we’re watching it on TV.”
“Okay, son. I just needed to hear your voice and know you’re safe. Take care of your mom. I’m sure she’s a mess. She feels these things strongly.”
“Will do, Dad.”
“And Son, always know I love you. Bye.”
“You, too, Dad. Bye.” I looked at Mom.
“I’ll bet he was worried sick. He loves you so much. We both do.” She hugged me to her body again. We continued to watch the talking heads talk. They were stalling, going over the sick litany of other school shootings. I have to echo the news anchor. What the fuck is wrong with this country?
“Bob, there seems to be new movement. Somethings happening.” The ground crew couldn’t get close so the video feed remained from the helicopter. The enhanced view showed a phalanx of EMTs rushing into the south entrance of the school.
“Yes, Linda, they’re allowing the medical personnel in. That must mean the shooter is neutralized.” I thought that was an odd word to use – neutralized. I hope they killed the son of a bitch. Or neutered him. Yeah, that would work, too.
The two anchors prattled on, basically stalling waiting to start the noon newscast. It was obviously their lead story. It opened with a statement from the chief of police. He confirmed a shooting had occurred at the school. He praised the rapid response of police, the tactical personnel and emergency medical people for their efforts to curtail the loss of life. He said ten students and faculty were confirmed dead and an undetermined number wounded. He said the number could change. The only other information they released was that there was only one shooter and it was a male student. He also said the school would be closed until further notice. Wow. It’s mid-January and I haven’t been in school except two days since mid-December. I’m afraid I’ll forget everything before I go back.
By now my Facebook page was filling with “Safe” statements by people I knew. I was most worried about people from my grade. Later that evening I called Cheryl, a girl in my homeroom who always seems to know what’s going on. She didn’t know much, she claimed. She said they’d identified the shooter as Johnny Jenkins.
“Oh, crap. I saw his Instagram posting that he’s gonna be famous.”
“Yeah. Looks like he’s getting his wish, in the worst possible way. The SWAT people shot him in the head. He had an AR-15 pistol. A freaking assault weapon. I know he was a bit of an ass, but why in hell would he do something like this? Tell me, Chad. What the fuck is wrong with us?”
“I wish I knew, Cheryl. I wish I knew.”
She gave me the names of the five people in our class who got killed. They were people I talked to everyday. This is so messed up. She also told me her buddy Kylie was wounded. They didn’t know if he’d make it. We cried with each other for a few minutes and then hung up.
That’s why I was ready when Digges texted me on Wednesday evening that it was time for a prowl. I had to get out of the house.
After the house was quiet, about eleven, I eased out the window of my bedroom. It was only a five foot drop to the ground. God bless ranch houses. I had on my longjohns, a thermal t shirt, sweater, thick leather jacket and knit cap. It was cold as a witch’s tit out. But that’s Mass in January for ya. I met up with Digges and Benjie at the all-night Fast Fare two blocks away. I spotted them a block away, two figures standing in the parking lot under the streetlight. Benjie was taller but slighter than Digges. I bumped fists with Digges and then Benjie when we met up. Digges had on a knit cap like me. Benjie was hatless, his colorless, lank hair hanging limply around his face.
Our ‘prowls’ were mostly just roaming around. We’d sometimes break into abandoned buildings or factories. Nothing momentous, but it broke up the monotony.
“Let’s go,” Digges ordered. He seemed focused on a destination rather than an aimless ramble.
“Where we going?” I asked.
“You’ll see.” That was all I could get out of him. As we continued I began to get a sinking feeling. We were nearing the school.
“We’re not supposed to go to the school, Digges. They said it’s a crime scene. It’s got police tape all around it. We might get arrested or something.”
“Don’t get your panties in a wad. The CSI guys have been all over this place since Monday. If there was any clues, I’m sure they found ‘em. They ain’t nobody standing guard over it at night. I just want to take a look see. Don’t you want to see all the bloody floors and walls.? All the bullet holes in the blackboards? I know I do.”
“Me, too,” Benjie giggled nervously.
“I know you do, you fucking psycho,” Digges said to him, derisively. Benjie was unrepentant and giggled some more.
“How are we getting in? That place is locked up tighter than a virgin’s pussy,” I silently congratulated myself on remembering the colorful term.
“Shit. You don’t know jack about pussies,” Digges teased. “And I know a window where the lock’s been busted for a few years. I guess you just cain’t get decent maintenance men no more.”
We found Digges’ malfunctioning window behind the school in a dark bend in the architecture. With practiced ease, as if he’d done this a thousand times, Digges pulled an unused old crate over to give himself a boost. He pulled himself up to the window ledge and balanced while pushing the window open. Then he was in. He had barely cleared the sill when Benjie was scrambling up. I didn’t like the idea at all. I was afraid we’d get in trouble. But I didn’t want to look like a pussy. So I climbed up and struggled through the window. I overbalanced going in and landed on my ass. Digges and Benjie howled with laughter at me.
It was much warmer inside. They keep the heat turned on all winter. I guess it’s cheaper to keep it warm than trying to reheat it everyday or after a weekend. I imagine it also keeps the pipes from freezing. It was dim, though. The soft glow of the emergency exit lamps and the ambient glow coming in the windows from outside was the only light. It was an overcast night with no star or moonlight. The school was in a residential section with no overnight business lighting. Just a few lampposts on the school grounds. There was a coppery smell on the air, with a hint of dead things beneath it.
“What’s that fucking stink?” asked Benjie.
“You idiot. That’s the smell of blood, shit and piss decomposing. They ain’t got around to cleaning it up yet. This is just like it was a minute after Jenkins stopped shooting.” Digges seemed fascinated.
“You were in school Monday, won’t you?” I asked Digges.
“Yeah. Come on. I’ll show ya.”
We exited the classroom. It was darker in the hallways without windows. We crept down a hallway toward the north end.
“He started up here. Classes were changing so the halls were full of people. Yeah, he was going for the maximum kill. I won’t but about 20, 30 feet from him when he started. You always hear people say they thought it was firecrackers or a backfiring car. Where I come from, I knew in a flash it was gunfire. I spun around and made eye contact with Jenkins. We ain’t never been friends, but he ain’t never crossed me either. He just looked at me for a second. His eyes were wide and won’t nobody home. Johnny was gone. He had a big grin on his face. I dived behind a trashcan, but I think I was safe anyway. He coulda killed me, but he didn’t. I been thinking about it ever since. He coulda shot me right then. But he stopped, looked at me and move on. Why? I really wish I knew.
“He came on down this way,” Digges continued, walking down the hall. “Most of the people had cleared the halls by now. I was watching from behind my trashcan. He shot some of the wounded who were still in the hall. Just shot ‘em, point blank. Most of the classrooms have locking doors. That’s what saved peoples’ asses. Before he could blow the lock off, they’d busted out the windows and gone. He found a few more people but after the big start, he mostly just shot up the place. I bet it pissed him off. I saw him go in and out of several classrooms. I don’t know if he killed anybody there or was just shooting off. There was wounded kids all over the place and now the shock of what happened wore off, they just started screaming and moaning and shit. I think that was scarier than him shooting. Suddenly he come running down the hall back toward me. Turning and firing behind him every couple a steps. I seen some guys coming through the gunsmoke with rifles with laser aims. One of ‘em took him down with a head shot. Then everybody got in on it. I bet that boy had a dozen bullets in him by the time they stopped.” Digges paused. I could see in the dim light that he was lost in the past, reliving the moment. Maybe even enjoying it.
“Whoa, dude,” Benjie said reverently, clearly impressed. “I didn’t see nothing. We was already outside when it started.”
We had been making our way slowly down the hallway as Digges talked.
“There were several students dead right here,” he said stopping. I could see the floor was discolored, and suddenly did a little dance step trying to get out of it.
“It’s dried now. Ain’t gonna mess up your sneaks.” I still didn’t want to be standing in folks’ blood, dried or not. A fly buzzed my ear and I slapped it away.
We moved on. I began to detect more and more discolored places on the floor and even the walls.
“Folks ain’t nothing but a bag of blood. Poke a hole and blood goes everywhere,” Digges said, as if he were philosophizing. I swiped at another fly buzzing my ear. I realized I was getting hot and pulled off my knit cap, sticking it in my pocket. I reached up to smooth down my short black hair. I felt a faint breeze lift the hair at the nape of my neck. I heard someone whisper something behind me. I spun around but only saw a very dim hallway. Something touched my ear. I swatted again.
“What’s wrong with you?” Digges looked at me, annoyed.
“A fly keeps landing on me.”
“It’s freaking January. Ain’t no flies.”
“Well, something touched me, and I thought I heard something.”
Digges laughed derisively. “Yeah, the ghosts of all the dead students have come to get ya.”
“Don’t, Digges. I’m scared of ghosts,” Benjie murmured, as if afraid to admit it.
“You fucking pussies. I show you some of the coolest shit in town and you’re scared of ghosts? I gotta find me some new friends.”
“I ain’t scared, Digges. Not really. It’s just Chad’s trying to spook me and it’s dark,” Benjie placed the blame on me.
Johnny’s got a gun. I distinctly heard the whisper behind me. At least I thought I did. But when I looked wasn’t anybody there.
“Digges, was that you?”
“I thought I heard you say, ‘Johnny’s got a gun’.”
“Why would I do that?” Something crawled over my ear. I jumped, swatting at it.
“Something’s on me! And there it is again. Can’t you hear it?”
“I don’t hear nothing.”
“I don’t like this, Digges,” Benjie said nervously. “Let’s go.”
“Pussies,” he spat at us. We walked on toward the south end. He stopped at a large stain.
“I figured it out from the video on TV. This is where Sharon Kellar bled out. Fucking shame. She had one fine ass.”
Somebody help us!
Benjie jumped as if touched by a live wire.
“I heard somebody whispering in my ear!” He backed violently into a locker, making a loud ‘clang’ sound, that echoed down the empty hall. “Which one of you is fucking with me?”
“Cut the crap, Ben,” Digges warned. I stumbled into Digges.
“What the fuck, Chad?”
“I got pushed.”
“Ain’t nobody there to push you. You trying to cop a feel?”
“We need to get outta here,” Benjie was totally spooked. “Shit, something touched me.”
“You’re just scaring yourselves like a bunch of old women.”
Hn, hn, hnnn. I couldn’t tell if that snickering was in my head or not. Benjie must have heard it because he yelped and bolted. The first classroom door he tried was locked. He dashed to a second, but Digges grabbed him.
“Don’t freak out on me,” he commanded. Benjie yanked open the door.
“I just can’t stand this dark. Lemme turn on a light.” He palmed the classroom switch. There was a brilliant flash during which I could see every blood vessel in my eye. Benjie’s yelp was cut short and we were plunged into darkness. Within the dark I had a pulsing purple blob in front of my eyes.
“What the hell?” I shouted.
“We must have blown a fuse,” Digges said. At least he was still calm. The purple blob slowly faded. It was totally black now in the classroom. The windows, mostly boarded up, were only fainter black against funereal black.
“Benjie. You okay?” No answer. “Hey, Benj. Can you answer?” Still nothing. “The shock mighta knocked him out.” I could hear the worry in Digges’ voice.
“He fell right here,” I said fumbling for the door jamb in the dark. I couldn’t see Digges. He softly bumped into me, then grabbed my arm.
“We need light. Ain’t you got your cell phone?”
“No. I left it at home. Benjie’s probably got his. If we can find him.”
“We need to stick together,” he breathed in my ear. “Benjie must be on the floor near here. You feel around the left, I’ll take right.” We both got on our knees and started sweeping motions with our hands. After a few minutes Digges called from several feet away, “Anything?”
“Okay, turn and start toward me.” After a few minutes my sweeping hand contacted Digges’ sweeping hand.
“Well, fuck. Where is he?” Holding my wrist, he stood up. I joined him. We crept forward. The doorway was just a bit darker black than the surrounding black. We stepped into the hall.
“Benjie, -jie, -jie!” he yelled, echoing down the eerily black void of the hall.
“That’s weird. Why’s it echoing so much,” I asked.
“Empty places in the dark? I don’t know.”
Hn, hn, hnnn.
“Digges, did you do that?”
“No. I bet Benjie’s fucking with us, though.” I wasn’t so sure. It didn’t sound like Benjie’s voice. In fact it didn’t sound like a voice at all. If Digges hadn’t indicated he heard it, I would have sworn it was inside my head. It sounded inside my head.
Hn, hn, hnnn, kill you all.
That was totally inside my head. Until Digges yelled.
“Stop fucking around Benjie. Come on, we’re leaving.” Suddenly gunfire rent the air. Digges dropped, pulling me with him.
“Jesus Christ! Who’s shooting?” It was suddenly deadly quiet.
Johnny’s got a gun.
Somebody help us.
Hn, hn, hnnn. Kill you all.
“We need to get outta here, fast,” Digges hissed into my ear.
“We can’t leave Benjie.”
“We don’t know where he is. He probably hightailed it outta here when the lights went.”
We fast walked down the hall, our hands on the lockers looking for the first open classroom. Another burst of gunfire sounded, accompanied by frantic screaming.
“Oh, shit. It sounded just like that,” Digges groaned. We had stopped, pressed up against the lockers. A light breezed kicked up. I could smell gunpowder. And a thicker smell that must be blood. We found a door, but it was locked. We moved across the hall to check the opposing classroom. Digges’ feet went out from under him. He pulled me down as he fell. The floor was slick with wet slime. What the hell? I raised my hand to my nose. It smelled of blood.
“Shit, there’s wet blood all over the place,” Digges yelled. His composure was failing. Mine was pretty much gone. We scrambled to the wall. We found the door, but again, it was locked.
Johnny’s got a gun.
Somebody help us!
Ohgod ohgod ohgod!
I’m scared. Somebody help me!
I’m afraid. Don’t leave me!
I clamped my wet hands over my ears, but the sound was in my head. Digges grabbed one of my hands and we went running down the center of the hall, slipping and sliding. Suddenly an awful pain slammed into my back. I went crashing face first to the ground, suddenly illuminated enough that I could see my long blond hair flowing about me. I heard a voice in my head, no I’m too young and popular to die!
Hn, hn, hnnn. Kill you all.
You need to die. I hate you all.
I pushed myself up. I’d lost Digges’ hand.
“Digges,” I called. “Digges, where are you?” I was now in full panic. I pressed up against a locker, sidling down the hallway, looking for the next classroom. I suddenly bumped into someone hard enough to make them grunt.
“Thank goodness, Digges.” He didn’t answer.
“Digges?” I felt up his arm to his head. Digges has short wiry hair. I felt longer, floppy hair. Benjie.
“Oh, Benjie. We didn’t know what happened to you.”
“Johnny’s got a gun. He hates you. You need to die.” He clamped both hands around my throat, squeezing. Fortunately, Benjie has virtually no muscle tone. I quickly broke his hold and shoved him hard, skittering away, hoping he couldn’t find me in the dark.
“Hn, hn, hnnn. Chad. You’re going to die. Johnny’s got a gun. Gonna kill you all,” Benjie crooned crazily. I continued to put as much distance between me and him as I could.
I was nearing another door when I felt an explosion of pain in my abdomen. I went down, again. I felt a body on top of me. I wanted to struggle, slip away but I couldn’t move. I heard, as if in an echo chamber, ‘Come on, buddy, we gotta hide. Gotta get away. Come on.’ Then it was gone.
We gotta hide!
Johnny’s got a gun gotta gun gotta gun gotta gun. JohnnyJohnnyJohnny.
Kill you all.
I scrambled up and immediately felt an explosion in my head, followed by piercing pains all over my body. I went down screaming.
Gotta gun gotta gun.
Help help help!
I’m scared! Don’t leave me!
I crawled to the doorway beside me. I used the knob to pull myself up. It was unlocked, thank god. I stumbled in and looked at the far wall. In the lighter black within black I could tell all the windows were boarded up.
“Shit!” I muttered.
“Gonna kill you, Chad.” That wasn’t Benjie’s voice, but it was probably him, coming from very nearby. I slammed the classroom door and locked it. I immediately heard as well as felt him throw his entire weight against the door.
“Let me in, Chad. Johnny’s gotta gun. He’s gonna kill us all. Let me in!”
“Nothin’ doin’. Go away,” I yelled knowing it would do no good. I ran toward the windows, falling over desks. Once at the windows I tried to pull off the plywood cover. It wouldn’t budge. I heard a loud crash against the door and the breaking of glass. Benjie must have used something like a fire extinguisher to break the window in the door. I renewed my efforts to pull off the plywood. One strip started to give. With a squeal like nails on a chalkboard it gave way. I looked over my shoulder. With the small amount of light removing the board from the window provided I could see Benjie crawling through the window. I pulled frantically at the next board. It stubbornly refused to give. Benjie stood up in front of the door. I grabbed a nearby waste can and threw it at him. He batted it away.
“Hn, hn, hnnn. Gonna kill you all,” he murmured menacingly.
Suddenly there was gunfire in the hallway, people screaming. Johnny’s got a gun! Help! Help! Hide! Somebody help! I’m so afraid. Don’t leave me! Johnny’s gotta gungungungungungun. Kill you allallallallallall.
“I hate you all,” Benjie said. “Kill you all.” With his eyes totally vacant, he lurched towards me. I sidled right. I picked up a chair and heaved it at him. He caught it but stumbled backwards. I tried to dash around him but there were too many desks in the way. I noticed a supply closet at the back of the room. I ran for it, snatching up a chair as I went. Benjie was quick. As he neared me I swung the chair at him. Since he was already moving the blow knocked him to the ground. I reversed direction and dashed out into the pitch-black hallway. I new the south entrance had to be directly down the hall to my left.
Johnny’s got a gun, Chad. Johnny’s got a gun!
Gonna kill you all.
I put my left hand on the lockers and began moving quickly toward the door. I knew it would be locked, but I was out of options.
Suddenly there was a blinding flash in my eyes, like a million suns going on at once.
“What in hell do you kids think you’re doing?” More lights. I froze. A group of men entered the hallway with flashlights. Policemen. The lead one was silhouetted by the men behind him. I could see he had one hand on his taser. I raised my hands and didn’t move. There was a blurred movement beside me as Benjie charged.
“Kill you all!” The policeman fired his taser and Benjie went down in a quivering mass. I still didn’t move.
“Come on over here, kid. I’m not gonna hurt you,” one of the men said to me. I slowly lowered my hands and moved forward. I could see in the glare of his flashlight that my hands were no longer bloody, that my clothes had no bloodstains on them.
I told them that we were just looking around when the lights went out and we got spooked. I told them Benjie was panicked and that was why he rushed them. What was I supposed to say? I didn’t know what had happened.
“There’s another one of us somewhere in the building. Digges.”
“Vittorio Digges? Shoulda known that bad seed was involved. Kid’s always in trouble.” Suddenly, the emergency lights flared on.
“Guys must have got that transformer fixed,” the cop said, looking up at the lights. “A frozen limb fell on it. Knocked out lights all over this side of town. Just a minute before that we got an electric alarm of an intruder at the school. If you guys had just waited a few more minutes before breaking in, you could have had the whole night to roam around.” I shuddered at the thought. We might have all been dead by morning.
“Let’s get you and this guy down to the station for a checkup. We’ll find your friend and bring him, too.”
Dad and Mom were none too happy to be called down to the police station in the middle of the night. I’m grounded “until further notice”. Probably for the rest of my life.
Right after that night I began having nightmares. Awful nightmares. Every night. Mom took me to a counselor and I eventually spilled my guts about what happened at the school that night. So I’ve been on Zoloft for a few weeks. Doctor Savage gave Mom some psychobabble. Let’s see, it says on my official papers “Commonly known as survivor’s guilt. Depression stemming from a schizo-affective disorder manifesting in paranoia, feelings of guilt, auditory and visual hallucinations.”
I’ve talked to Benjie. He doesn’t remember hardly anything. He says we met up for a prowl and he woke up in a cot down at the police station. So, nothing happened. I’m just a nutty kid. But if nothing happened, how come Digges is still in the nut house rocking back and forth chanting “Johnny’s got a gun”?