SHOOTER - MATTHEW C. FUNK
Brian ate a toaster strudel as he watched the dawn play with the graffiti colors on Feliciana Street and imagined how Carver High would look when it exploded later that day.
He rubbed his hands to rid them of crumbs and cold sweats. It was time to prepare. Preparation took resolve, Brian reminded himself. He had that. It was exactly one year since he had resolved to blow up Carver High and pick off the survivors as they fled the burning building.
Brian shoved away the grocery crate that he and his mother used as a dining room chair and snatched up his backpack. Its camo canvas sagged under all the metal and gunpowder inside, already creased in so many places. Brian was going to miss that bag.
He had ambition, though—Brian repeated this to himself as his knuckles went beige from clenching. He had to have ambition. He had to be better than his neighborhood.
Brian was going to be more than just another shooter.
More than a thug. More than a pusher. More than a sports star.
The mantra tattooed his mind as he checked his gear. A year’s worth of death’s design flowed through sweating fingers.
Brian’s thoughts flew to his Pride and Joy—his PJ—the propane bomb that would be the showcase of the event, detonated during all-school assembly at 8:45. The PJ hunkered outside under an overgrown bush where he had stashed it the night before. It was not time to collect it yet.
He rolled his four pipe bombs—the bombs just in case things had to get messy—to inspect them. Each fuse was solidly caulked in place, work he had done in his room this last month. Brian slid on the harness he had the Good Will sew together for him.
Brian harnessed the bombs and dipped his fingers into the backpack for his clips. Eight banana clips—each a week’s salary from the Louisa Mini Mart—fit in his bandolier. The fit was good and snug and precise.
It was just how Brian had to feel.
An instant later, he was thinking of the PJ again. That was the element that would make him what he resolved he was born to be:
Not just a gangster. Not just a preacher. Not just a rap star.
Brian would matter. He would be Nietzsche’s superman. He would be a real life Lex Luthor. He would be Armageddon in high tops.
Brian’s hands were dry as he tied his shoes, eager to pick up the PJ. His hands rose instinctively to the table where his research paper sat. It took a moment to realize he would not be turning it in for another ‘A’ grade. He took the paper anyway, pocketed it.
Brian wished his mother could have afforded a mirror other than the stained glass in the bathroom as he straightened and slipped on his duster—a birthday gift from his poor, deluded Black Panther uncle, Anjel. Brian would have liked to see himself—to enjoy one final record of his ambition realized. He consoled himself with the weight of his guns as he holstered them. They felt so meaningful.
The guns had been easy to purchase: two months of working the counter behind bulletproof glass and cleaning up the Louisa Mini Mart floor when the bangers tossed things around as a joke. A single day’s bus ride to Hollygrove, a neighborhood just distant enough that nobody would hear he was carrying.
A handshake; not even a look.
It had been so easy.
And that was partly the point, Brian thought as he hurried out the door before his mother could wake. Death came too easy in East New Orleans.
300 homicides a year—20 times that of the Columbine massacre; an annual Oklahoma City bombing—and not a one made the national papers. But this would mean something.
Brian would make the papers.
He would make God blink.
He was out the door and swimming through the sultry spring air that steamed from the Mississippi and the refineries when he realized he had forgot something. He was losing control.
His heart set on full auto and adrenaline pulled the trigger hard.
Brian stood in the swelter of the yard trying to remember what he had forgotten.
He had the Tech-9. He had the Smith&Wesson carbine. He had his trench lighter, the one reading “I’d Fuck Me” that was his first purchase of transgression at the age of 12.
Brian patted his pockets a second time. The absent weight there yawned: he had forgotten his lucky Saints keychain that mom gave him.
Should he go back? He didn’t actually need it after all. Everything felt terribly superstitious—stained sepia with fate—but he wasn’t superstitious by nature. Brian made his own destiny. This was about him.
He turned back and bounded into the house.
Brian resigned himself to why—this was his day; his drama to play out. If he wanted a piece in place, it had to be in place. Brian loved that keychain. It was all best intentions in a single blessed piece of plastic.
He loved it like he loved how his mom loved him.
“Brian, baby?” Momma called from her room. “Did you forget something?”
Brian sped like he was made of ice, rushing to his room.
“Yes, Momma. I just forgot my keys.”
“Oh, baby. You never do.”
“I did this time,” Brian said, trying to hide the anger in his voice. He was blushing and he hated the feeling—the physical fact of his weakness.
“Is everything alright?” Momma had heard his tone. “You worried about term papers?”
“No, Momma. Just thinking about...” Brian didn’t have a ready answer. “American Idol.”
He chided himself as stupid as he heard his mom’s bed creak with her rising. He yanked open his drawer and fished out the keychain.
“American Idol? Brian—you playing fun?”
“No, Momma.” Brian definitely did not feel fun. “I just forgot. I won’t again.”
He made for the door, trying not to sound like he was running, the heaviness of the loaded harness making a grind of each step.
“I know you won’t.” Momma was pressed to the door, not opening it, just standing there, speaking to him like a priest from confessional. “You always remember in time. So good at taking care of us.”
“See you for dinner.”
Brian locked up behind himself.
Even with the PJ dangling in its rucksack by his right hand, all three feet of it, Brian did not feel better. He glared at the ramshackle houses and the mess of light that spilled over them, hating them—he had wanted to feel hot this morning. He had wanted to feel like a fired bullet—trajectory smooth, body bloodless, burning with purpose.
Momma had left him cold. His mistake had set his hands shaking again. He could only console himself with his mantra.
More than Lil Wayne. More than Marshall Faulk. More than Harris and Klebold.
Harris and Klebold had made a mistake, too—they had failed to set the timer properly on their propane bombs designed for Columbine. Brian had remembered to test his timer using light bulbs, right up to the night before.
He was as sure of his planning as he was of his purpose.
Better than Superman. Bigger than King Kong. Brian would be Biblical.
Not better than Jesus, maybe, Brian thought as his long walk to Carver High found him reaching the parking lot. Jesus forgave the world their sins—Brian was just shedding light on them. There was no saving Desire District—not in this world; not in this life.
But Brian’s star would burn with doom, brief but brighter than any other product of this forsaken neighborhood.
Brian looked on the parking lot with hatred. The lot stoked it. It was cracked and abandoned and desolate of any cars but for the tricked-out SUVs that the local pushers rode. The bricks of the buildings slouched tired and senile with graffiti. Carver High looked like what it was—dead already.
A final glance around confirmed he had arrived on time—late enough that the students were already in assembly. Brian unzipped the PJ enough to access the timer.
He figured he would set it for five minutes. In five minutes, that meant, most of Carver High would be turned into ash—a final cremation of its corpse. Five minutes left for his school friends to live.
Brian thought of Jenny and Todd and Sandy, his best friends. He did not feel sad for them. Their lives would only be an agony of winding down, turned by the watchworks of Desire District—the drugs, the depression, the diseased diet of day after day in this desolation. It wasn’t about them anyway. It wasn’t really just about him.
It was about meaning—meaning something more than all this: More than just a shooter—than just a bullet; another spent life that flies brief and dies hard.
He keyed on the timer when he heard the voice behind him.
“Yo, shorty, you got a gift for me in there?”
Brian froze. The timer still read all zeroes—not yet set. He scrambled to remember what time he had wanted to set it for—to recall how to set it; to plan for this distraction.
The voice didn’t wait.
“Yo, get the fuck on out of there, shorty and show your wallet.”
Brian turned and faced a gang of thugs.
The gang of four kids were known to him—the Aces, part of the Dirty-30 crew. They wore the same clothes—black hoodies, black shorts, the same clothes every gangster in Desire wore. They had the long, stretched bodies of lynching victims. Their eyes were dull as asphyxiating fish—eyes like bullets.
The kids were dead already. But the kids had guns.
“What you ’bout?” The broadest kid—Rabid, he called himself—chucked his chin at Brian. Brian could just turn to face him, stand slouched, cast his eyes to the ground like he always did. He felt unplanned.
“Motherfucker!” Rabid waved his gun at Brian and took a half step back. “You strapped like G.I. Joe!”
“No, I...” Brian thought of what to say. He had to tell them he was more than a shooter. He was more than the Old Testament. He meant something.
He just couldn’t feel what that was.
“You damn crazy is what you is!” Rabid yelled. “Gone around the motherfuckin’ bend, strapped like that—looking to hurt people!”
“Well...” Brian began.
“Light this fool up,” Rabid said and started pulling the trigger.
Brian was on the ground before he heard the shots. He didn’t understand why. This wasn’t part of the plan. He tried to move—to get back on track; he was never off track.
One twitch of his body emptied all the holes in it. Blood fired quietly onto the ground from a dozen openings. Brian could feel all the weight inside him sighing out in a single red breath.
“That was close.” Brian heard Rabid shiver as the dawn in him ran out into a permanent night. “One less psycho in the world, you know what I’m saying, dogs?”
BIO: Matthew C. Funk is a social media consultant, professional marketing copywriter and writing mentor. He is the editor of the Genre section of the critically acclaimed zine, FictionDaily, and a staff writer for FangirlTastic and Spinetingler Magazine. A graduate of the Professional Writing MFA at USC, Funk’s online work is featured at sites such as A Twist of Noir; Thrillers, Killers and Chillers; Flash Fiction Offensive; ThugLit; Powder Burn Flash; Pulp Metal Magazine and his Web domain.