Fiction: Wandering William

2018 Fiction, 2018 Issue

By: Brenden Jung

“I know I saw it ove-“

“Or maybe it was over the- “

William shuffles through the wet dense wood, looking for the bright white blaze that he promised himself he wouldn’t lose again.

“I’ll just retrace my steps. Yeah that should do it. That did the trick the last time.”

He looks around at his unfamiliar surroundings, seeing nothing but towering rows of pines. He can hear the distant chirp of birds, smell the freshness of the air, feel the cool snap of wind slipping beneath his jacket to tickle his belly and chest. He feels the moistness of the ground beneath his boots. After all, it was that feeling of sinking into the earth that snapped him back to reality.  

As he looks around, he can’t help but feel disappointed in himself for losing his way again.  

After some deliberation, he walks south.  

“That stone, I know that stone! I put my pack on that stone!”

Excitedly, he walks to the large boulder, hoping to see the white blaze from the stone’s position on the ground. He looks left, then right, and sees nothing but trees upon trees stretching across the dense landscape.  

Disappointed, he walks on.  

The more he walks, the more his mind wanders. So much so that his body operates as a separate function from the mind. His body focuses on the brush and terrain, expertly avoiding tree branches, roots, and rocks on the mildly treacherous trail. His mind occupies itself with the thoughts of science-fiction: zombies, nuclear fallout, wars to end mankind, the good stuff.  

His body fails, sending him tumbling over a large moss-covered rock lodged in the ground.  His senses return, and he feels himself falling towards the damp earth. His palms strike the ground, absorbing a majority of the force, but not enough to prevent his face from colliding with the cool earth. Warm liquid wells in his nose.  

“Dammit!”

He gets up, peels the pine needles from his cheek, and holds out his hands to observe the damage. Nothing serious, just some pebbles, dirt, and thin scratches painted across his palms.  Gravity does its work and coaxes the blood from his nose to fall to his feet. He puts his 60 Liter pack down and grabs a tissue from the poop kit. He holds it to his nose, looks up at the sky, and squeezes his thumb and pointer finger to forcibly close his nostrils. Above, he sees an endless canopy of tree branches stretching to embrace with other neighboring branches. The leaves filter the light, only allowing small streams of sun to penetrate and fall upon the forest floor.  

William tests to see if blood is still falling by releasing the tissue and lowering his head; the blood has stopped. He’s fine.  

He hurls his heavy pack towards his body, catches it on his back and continues searching for the bright white blazes. This time he suppresses his imagination, concentrating on his surroundings.

He arrives at a clearing, no doubt a tent site. On a nearby pine tree he sees a weathered sign that reads “Fisherman’s Trail” with an arrow underneath pointing west. He takes out his map and locates the trail; it just about runs parallel and then converges with the AT.         

“If I follow this for about three miles, I should run into some white blazes,” he mutters to himself.

Relieved, he puts the map in his back pocket and starts on the trail. Feeling safe and back on track, he allows his mind to wander,  leaving his body to maneuver its surroundings.

He couldn’t help but think about Kelly. Kelly had a smooth round face, a light complexion, dark green eyes, and a smile that took up the entirety of her lower face. She was tall and lanky with red hair and polka dot freckles. Her teeth were white, whiter than fresh snow, whiter than the white blazes he was searching for now.

The night that it happened was when he decided to leave, to escape the life which caged him for 34 years. He didn’t blame her, but he resented Steven.  He felt so betrayed, like he wasn’t good enough.

It was their anniversary, he had driven over to Kelly’s apartment on the corner of Lafayette and Grand.  He had originally told her they wouldn’t be able to go out to celebrate because he was stuck at work with a client, but none of that was true, he just wanted to surprise her. She had been upset, but he knew that what he had planned would make up for it.  

He sat in the parked car for a long while. He was anxious and sweating profusely. He had flowers in his left hand–wild orchids, her favoritehis car keys in his right, and a small black velvet box in his blazer pocket. He tapped lightly to make sure he hadn’t misplaced it: it was there.  After a few moments, he opened up the door of his silver Toyota and crawled out. He locked the door and started down the path. He felt so unbalanced, his legs buckle with each step. He felt the dampness in the crevices of his knees and the heat rushing over him; he wished he hadn’t worn his wool-blend suit.    

He approached the red door, took a deep breath, and knocked.

No answer.

He waited a few moments; he was about to knock again but remembered that she’d given him a key. He thought it was strange; he never had to use it before; she had always answered.  Through shaky hands, he located the key and unlocked the door. He stepped inside and called out, “Kelly! Sweetie! I have news!” He was excited and nervous all at the same time.

He listened, but there was no response.

He called out again, “Kell?”

No response.

He walked towards the kitchen on the opposite end of the apartment, “Kell?”

No response.

He walked around the living room and down the hall, but there was no sign of her.  

He headed towards the staircase leading downstairs.

As he descended the steps he heard grunts, oddly deep grunts; noises he’d never heard Kelly makenoises he’d never heard any woman make.  He crept slowly towards the bedroom door which was slightly ajar.  Through the crack he saw them. He saw Steven, his dearest friend since grad school, thrusting violently; shaking the bed frame with his every movement.  Under Steven’s large naked body, he caught a glimpse of Kelly’s curly, strawberry red hair…

“Quit it!” he says to himself.

He’s back in his body.  

When he looks up, he sees the white blaze painted on the tree signaling that he’s on his desired route: the Appalachian Trail.

He’s overtaken with joy. He’s made it back on the trail again.

After letting out a triumphant “Yeah!”, he allows his pack fall to the earth.  From the side pockets he extracts a journal, pen, and granola bar. He opens up the small leather-bound book and writes the date at the top of the page, 7/12/2002, exactly two months since his first entry.

 

7/12/2002

Can’t stop thinking about her today.  I’ve been so distracted that I

walked nearly 3 miles off trail.  No worries, back on the AT now.

Glad to be here in the mountains, away from the noise of the city,

away from life.  I think this is good for me. I needed an escape from

that prison.  I’m about 1,850 miles in. I recon another few months till

completion.  Note to self, buy more granola bars/med kit at next town.

 

After putting his journal back in its designated pocket, he opens the granola bar, and takes a bite. He looks around to see where he is, looking for a landmark in case he gets misplaced again.  He sees nothing. There’s not much in the woods of New Hampshire, at least not much to differentiate one part of the trail from the other. It all looks exactly the same, which is why it’s easier to let the mind and body wander.  

After some time, he gets up and flings his pack up to catch it on his back, tightens the straps, and continues on the path, wandering.    

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Fiction: The Wine

2018 Fiction, 2018 Issue

By: Hunter Leduc

The Wine is dark and glossy, reflecting the scant light that comes through the curtains. She holds the glass to her lips, fine crystal stained by chapped lips and peppermint gloss. She holds it there, resting, breathing in the warm air she makes against the wine, tasting its aroma and smelling its thick scent. She then blinks and moves the glass away, setting it down roughly onto the marble countertop. She sighs through her nose, taking her free hand and rubbing it across her forehead in agitation or maybe even frustration; she isn’t quite sure anymore. She blinks again and gazes around the room slowly, vision obscured by a haze of wine and late nights of no sleep. She turns her head towards the window, a motion that drags her body along with it in a dance of uncoordinated drunkenness. Little light slips through the cracks of the curtains, but she can tell by the hazy gray of it that it is dusk, and she has spent at least two hours dedicated to drinking.

She groans as she turns her body back toward the counter, planting her hands firmly onto the countertop, her vision swaying in tandem with her body. “Drunk very drunk,” she thinks to herself, and she rests her forehead gently onto the countertop, the cool marble, a vision of relief and swirling browns and blacks. Her eyes cross trying to concentrate on the ballet of the marble in front of her, and she closes them tightly, a headache slowly bursting to life on the crown of her head. She doesn’t know how long she’s lain there for, but she hears the distant sound of keys clinking together and the unmistakable hitch and groan of her front doors lock being turned moments later. The door is pushed open, the bottom scraping the floor, and then it slams shut, the loud cacophony of noises echoing through the house. She squeezes her eyes, groaning at the headache now blossoming into a monstrosity.

“Do you not have a fucking phone anymore? Because you sure don’t know how to fucking answer it.” A sharp voice echoes from the foyer, the undertones of agitation wavering the usually clear and steady accent. The woman grumbles, lifting her head from the carnival of marble dancing in front of her eyes and toward the back counter, where her phone lay upside down and abandoned next to an empty glass bottle of Tempranillo. “Well, I see you’ve been busy.” The voice sighs behind her, quiet and reverberating like a tap on crystal. The woman turns in her seat slowly and squints her eyes at the voice now in her kitchen.

Dark, olive-green eyes peer at her disappointedly, flicking over to the empty bottle on the countertop and back to her, and a sigh escapes his merlot colored lips before he moves around the tiny marble top island to the back counter. She watches quietly as he picks up her phone and turns it in his palm, turning it on and frowning at all the messages that pop up, missed and ignored. She can’t help but admire the smoothness of his hands from where she is, and she silently glances down at her own calloused and worn pair in envy. She jerks her gaze up when she hears him move the bottle off the counter and into the bin under the sink; the rustle of plastic and the clunk of the glass a ritualistic choir song so sickly familiar to her. “I don’t know why you do this Bach, I just don’t,” he says, and she brings her gaze back up to his eyes, and she sees a sadness in them she fleetingly feels she must try and validate.

“It died,” she replies, her voice quiet in the dark gray of the kitchen. He looks at her steadily, his olive eyes never wavering. She can see them darting if she keeps herself steady enough, going from one eye to another, as if searching for something in her. She knows she has nothing to give, nothing to lose, but she lowers her gaze anyway, the dark in the kitchen slowly becoming hard to see through, hard to concentrate in with her tired self. She grunts and turns to the light switch in the corner, moving off her chair to turn it on, at least to get a better look at him. She stumbles when she gets both feet on the floor, one hand reaching out for the wall and the other shooting out for balance. The tile floor is swirling, dancing, the checkered black and white moving like it’s marble and not some cheap plastic from Lowes. She belatedly realizes afterwards that the man has come to her side, the smooth palms just as soft as they look as they press into her side and bare arm, pulling her up from her awkward hunched position near the wall.

“I think it’s past your bedtime, darling. Come on, let’s go,” he says, voice once so clear like a crystal glass, now soft and concerned, almost conscientious of the headache brewing a storm in her head. She nods slowly in agreement, though she realizes later it must have seemed more like a loll. She can feel her feet dragging underneath her as he begins to lead them off, and it’s a slow and tedious waltz to her bedroom that they’ve practiced before. She closes her eyes briefly as they pass a window in the hall, the dim gray light striking her eyes, agitating her headache. Her thoughts are a low fog in her head, muddled and discombobulated, and even though she can’t understand the incoherent sentences in her head, she feels a sense of victory and triumph coming from them, the metaphorical screams of her memories drowning in dark red bitterness.

She opens her eyes as they turn down the hallway, and she squints at the mahogany floorboards in dissatisfaction, in contempt, as a dark, malcontented thought rolls through her head. She wishes she didn’t have to drink, didn’t have to put herself into such a stupor that Amon had to drag her to bed, and she looks at him now to the best of her ability, and she memorizes the side of his face, the contour of his cheeks, and the sharpness of his jaw. It’s an image she will try not to forget, try not to drown in cheap wine, but she can never guarantee it for herself, she sadly realizes.

It is because I must drink,” she reminds herself, “I must drink to sleep, and to sleep I will forget.” She knows she cannot survive without drinking, at least not now. She has hopeless thoughts of the future not marred by sour thoughts, where she doesn’t have to drink to sleep, and the memories that grow like thorny vines in her dreams will remain trimmed and neat. She has memories not stained by red wine in her subconscious, before she found the rounded edges of a bottle soothing and idyllic. They’re so soft and sweet, so easy to rip, and she savors them when she does remember them, but it’s so easy to drown something so little, so she chooses to leave them be when in this state. The memories now are all fermented and sour, harsh, and biting wire fence that chokes.

And it doesn’t help that they happen to be in her dreams every night, in different scenarios and engraved in different faces. She drinks to forget the dreams she had, and it works, like a miracle of water to wine. But she remembers the taste of the wines for each one, for every nightmare there is a flavor, now ruined by the memory of twisting faces and burning hands. The first to mind is a Cabernet Sauvignon she had the night after a nightmare. It is broad and spicy, a finish that was firm and acidic, and it sent her stomach roiling afterwards for hours on end, the faint memory of hanging meat and rusted hooks, and she eventually upturned it all onto her carpet, ruining it.

The sight of a worn door jamb makes her carry her gaze up, and she realizes she is in her room, the bed unmade, clothes strewn across the floor, and the heads and bottoms of wine bottles peeking out from corners of the room undiscovered. She feels a nudge to move her, and she complies by walking forward slowly and gracelessly falling into the bed, half on half off. She hears Amon huff behind her, and she feels a warm pressure on her ankles before her legs are unceremoniously rolled into the bed with her. She rolls onto her side, facing inward, and she listens to him move around her room, her house, gathering things and bringing them to her. As she sits and listens to the music that Amon makes, it reminds of her of another wine she drank: a Port, deep, rich and lively. She does not remember the nightmare associated with it, thankfully, but she remembers what happened when she woke up, Amon shaking her awake from where she was slumped on the wall. She had been so startled she had swung at him with the empty bottle, a face that was not his own masking his lovely features. She brings a hand up slowly to her face, a long-calloused finger trailing the crooked bridge of her nose absently, and she thinks back to how she had missed, and instead broken her own nose when the bottle came back to hit her, her limbs and uncoordinated mess. She huffs out a tiny laugh, and thinks “Yes, maybe that wine was much too rich, much too ‘spirited.’” She feels her mind begin to fog slightly, her eyelids drooping into sleep, when the rustle of a plastic bag and the thunk of metal makes her turn back around, slowly as her headache seems to shift with her.

A trashcan sits at the side of her bed, a water bottle and two little red pills sit next to it on her nightstand, stained by a cheap Lambrusco. It is an altar she is accustomed to seeing every week, and she drags her tired eyes up to the man, the frown on his face an ugly mar on his otherwise smooth and delicate features. An uncalloused hand comes down and tries to detangle her hair, but gives up after a moment, deciding to leave it for her to deal with in the morning. She stares up at him, his frown specifically, face lax and eyes closing slowly, sleep dragging her down into a warm abyss. She sees his eyes, dark, olive green, so full of an emotion that threatens to overflow, and her own hand reaches out, clumsy and uncoordinated. Rough hands meet his cheekbones, tired eyes tracing his fine Roman features, but she is stuck on his eyes. She feels the confusion in them, hears the question sitting still on his dark wine-colored lips. “I’m sorry, Amon,” she chokes out, voice hoarse with drinking wine and remembering. His frown deepens even further, and her hand slips away from cupping his cheek back to her side, sleep a dastardly creature that keeps pulling her away.

“What do you mean?” Amon asks, voice soft in the encroaching dark of the room, and he pauses for a moment, bringing his hand up to trace the sharp lines of her cheekbones. “Bach, what died? What happened this time?”

She breathes, slowly, a soft dark coming to the edges of her vision, and she silently thanks the wine for finally putting her to sleep and prays it’s dreamless. She keeps her gaze on Amon, eyes heavy lidded, and as she feels herself start to fall into sleep, she mumbles something to him, quiet and almost unheard.

“I think I did.”

Fiction: The Fist

2018 Fiction, 2018 Issue, Uncategorized

By: Lukas Hughes

One morning, about ten o’clock, an immense fist appeared in the sky above the city. Many proclaimed it was god, while others just stared in awe. For several years, the fist stayed stagnant, and after several failed attempts to contact it, it was eventually ignored. On the fifth year, however, the fist moved. Not only moved, but it destroyed. It came crashing down, wiping out buildings, homes, and whatever stood in its path. Killing by the thousands and showing mercy to none. In one short hour, the fist had turned the city into rubble. Ten years after the incident, the fist still hangs in the sky,  reminding those of what it is capable of. Only it has not moved since that dark hour. Society has lived in constant fear. But one day, they’ll forget about what the fist did and what it can do. On that day, the fist will move again.

Fiction: Memories Inscribed in Skin

2018 Fiction, 2018 Issue

By: Caitlyn Johnston

It’s shaped like a crescent moon, no more than an inch in diameter. It’s slightly raised, and tinted pink against the rest of pale ivory skin. The little lines running through and over it are indication of how much I picked, pulled, and tugged at the scabs. This is the first scar I remember getting. I was on my bike riding along the gravel drives of the camping grounds. We each were holding fresh ice cream in one hand and riding with the other. He made a joke and I laughed, looking to him for only a moment, and found myself flying face first into the pebbles and dirt. It wasn’t deep enough to need stitches, and I hated the sensation of a band-aid on my jaw, so I allowed the scabbing to be visible. That didn’t help though, because like I said, all I did was pick at it.

This one’s a smooth line of white along my thigh. It’s barely raised and is very noticeable. I’d been playing with my childhood cat when he stopped by, he didn’t know I was holding her, otherwise he wouldn’t have jumped out to scare me. The cat jumped and slid, her nail catching my flesh and dragging down as she fell.

They’re pink and purple, smooth fleshy tiger stripes along my hips and the sides of my stomach. They zig-zag in miraculous patternsindications of my growth. I got them as a preteen, hitting puberty and quickly starting the transition into adulthood. A few weeks later I started my period, which for some may be hell, but I was excited.

This one’s my favorite. It’s a tiny white line, placed at a horizontal angle on the left of my inner wrist. I don’t think anyone notices it except me. I was on swim team through high school, and during a meet I stretched too far to catch the wall to take my place in first. My wrist bashed the edge of the wall, and opened just enough for me to be out the rest of the match. It hadn’t mattered though, I’d already placed myself in first in my stroke.

The polka dots you always ask about? I was starting college, and I was excited for what was in store. This guy in my dorm helped himself into my room one night. He tried to act like we were friends, like he was welcome. He came after me and I used a lamp to get him off. The glass bulb shattered, pelting my shoulder blade with tiny shards, but most importantly his face. The cracked door and the noise provoked the RA and his friend to check on me. They pulled him off and the rest was up to campus security. That’s where these white polka dots on my shoulder came from; it’s why I’m so careful about you being alone.

This white blotch on the back of my ankle is from him. We were dancing at your aunt’s wedding, and we sucked. He turned at the same time I did and rammed me in the ankle. He felt so bad that he took care of me the rest of the night, carrying me around so I didn’t have to walk on it.

This one, the long pink line down my chest and stomach, is from surgery. I was in a car accident shortly after graduation, and they didn’t think I was going to make it. The driver veered from his lane, he was drunk, and he rammed the front of my old car. I was in recovery for a while, and even after it still took some time for me to get in a car again.

This sagging, loose fleshright here, on my tummy. It’s discolored, and it’s vastly different from the rest of my flesh. This is from having you. I take it back, this is my favorite. He and I, your father, we didn’t have a plan. We never had plans. We took life one step at a time. Through all of the happiness, and all of the pain, we found ourselves with each other, and with you.

I’m telling you all of this because I want you to know that these little tiger stripes on your thighs that you’re so upset about? They’re important. They’re good. They show who you are, and what you’ve been through.

I know they may seem unattractive, and your peers may think they’re embarrassing, but you need to know that they’re a normal and natural part of life. Life is messy, and not always good, and mysterious, but it’s worth it. And these marks, these are just memories of the journey. They’re writing in your own life story. They’re beautiful, and rather than resent them, you should embrace them. Be glad you’re around and you’re able to look down and see every important thing you’ve been through embedded on you forever. I love you, my girl. And I love every blemish my body has. From childhood, to horrible events, to memories with your father, to having you.

I hope one day you can look down, see these marks, and smile at the memories they hold.

Fiction: Jared the Janitor

2018 Fiction, 2018 Issue

By: Camiren Mehlenbacher

Jared slams his door shut, wincing at the noise it makes as it does. He’s never been a good judge of his own strength and is concerned that he’ll one day break something because of this. For now his car is fine and he hustles to the entrance of the building in the predawn darkness. Some of his colleagues are pulling into the parking lot as he fumbles with his keys at the entrance doors. He quietly curses the cold air of autumn as he finds the key labeled ‘Entrance’ and unlocks the doors with it.

The lights turn on automatically as he enters the foyer of the building. It’s much more peaceful here in the early mornings and late nights than during the day. In a few hours the building will be filled with people, much too crowded for his tastes. Jared prefers the quiet hours where he can clean and think without the input and noise of others crowding his mind.

It takes less than a minute to walk to the elevator. He presses the arrow pointing to his feet and the elevator arrives quickly. Jared ducks inside and reaches his hand for the ‘B’ button and watches as it lights up under the pressure of his fingers. The doors begin to close before he hears someone call out to him. “Hold up!” Despite enjoying his alone time, Jared complies, sticking his hand between the closing doors, causing them to reopen.

“Thanks,” Janine says breathlessly as she glides into the elevator next to him.

“Is anyone else coming?” Jared asks her.

She shakes her head, smiling at him. “No, the others have started some fitness thing. They’re taking the stairs down.” Jared nods his head once in recognition. He removes his hand from between the doors and they shut soundlessly.

While the elevator jerks downward Janine starts a conversation, picking up where she left off. “I would have joined the others, you know, but it’s so hard to climb up or down anything with this attached to me.” She looks down at her rounded belly, the fabric of her shirt straining to cover what it was not designed to cover. There’s stress in her voice when she says this, but Jared can see nothing but joy in her eyes. He remembers that it’s her first. Memories of his first proceed to flood his mind. He certainly remembers that feeling; it’s something he still feels every day.

It is his turn to speak. “Hey, don’t knock the pregnancy. That one will be forcing you to run after them before you know it, you’ll have all the exercise you need.” This elicits a small burst of laughter from Janine, fading as the elevator doors open. Jared allows her to exit before him, watching as she takes wide, awkward steps to compensate for the large mass on her front.

As they enter the basement they can hear the door from the stairwell open to their right. Abena, Sebastian, and Dyler enter the room.

“Yo! How’s it hanging?” Sebastian calls to Janine, causing the other two with him to laugh and shake their heads.

“Fuck off, Sebs.” Janine responds humorously. “I get it; I have a huge stomach, would you just shut up and do your job?”

“I thought annoying you was my job.”

“C’mon, drop it, Sebastian. We have work to do” Abena says, gently taking hold of his elbow and guiding him towards the back right corner of the room. Sebastian complies, grabbing

Abena’s hand as they go. Young love, lucky enough to be hired in the same place and share their days together. A smile forms on Jared’s face.

Morning pleasantries are exchanged between the five individuals before they head to different parts of the building for the day. Jared is the only one who stays in the basement. Today it’s his job to organize and take inventory before continuing to clean this level.

For a few hours, he organizes and does inventory. They are surprisingly well stocked for this time of year. He was expecting them to be in short supply on carpet cleaner, but apparently kids hadn’t thrown up as much this cold season as they usually do. Nevertheless there are plenty of supplies that need to be restocked such as light bulbs and toilet paper.

He makes sure to take his medication at eight, popping it into his mouth without water. It has been years since he injured his knee working a construction job in the summer between sophomore and junior year of college. Unfortunately, the ache from his injury is consistent. Chronic pain was the prognosis from his doctor, nothing to do but medicate until he needs a knee replacement in old age or dies. After a while, Jared had given up taking medicine the conventional way. It was a hassle to find the nearest place he could get water, or to carry a bottle with him everywhere he went. More efficient – he thinks, as the bitter taste of pill he has become accustomed to envelops his taste buds – to eat them.

The ache slowly resides and he carries on with his duties. He sweeps the floor first, making a beat out of the sound of broom on concrete. It is like the underlying beat in a song, something he likes very much. Most people he talks to about music are only interested in the louder instrumentals that are easily noticeable, such as a guitar or the sound of cymbals on a drum set. Jared prefers to find the note or rhythm that is able to evade people’s awareness but remains steady and consistent. He contemplates creating lyrics to go with the beat, but he’s never been a good lyricist.

When he finishes sweeping, he continues on to mop the floor. He feels a longing to be home. His wife should be dropping their children off at school and daycare soon. Ryker, their oldest, is in middle school now. Jared feels his heart lift as he remembers Ryker’s first day of kindergarten. He had been little more than a giant backpack with feet, arms, and a puff of red hair when he got on the bus that day. Now, his backpack doesn’t even cover his entire back. His legs are long and lanky, and his hair has taken on an auburn hue.

Tyler is the middle child. He started second grade this year. It seems he comes home with a new word every day, full of pride at his ability to spell something new. He is much more involved with Charlene than Ryker is. Charlene is his youngest, only three-years-old. She is the wonder-child with nothing in the world that doesn’t interest her. She had once jabbered on about dandelions for an entire hour. It was fascinating to her that a yellow plant could turn into a white ball of fuzz. Never before had Jared thought so much about such trivial things. The world, he had come to recognize through her, is a wondrous place.

It had been a long time since Jared felt the consistent wonder he does when Charlene observes these subtle beauties. Of course he has moments of overwhelming mystification with life, but they have been rather sporadic and inconsistent. The most awe inspiring moments he can remember are milestones in his life rather than arbitrary ones. The smile he had seen on his wife’s face right before he kissed her for the first time as husband and wife, how the sunset had caused her face to appear rosy and bright, just as he imagined his future with her. His wife revealing each pregnancy to him in more elaborate ways; a shirt that said ‘I’m a dad’; a cake that had a caricature of Ryker and another face that was blank with a question mark; a scavenger hunt for clues that led him to a positive pregnancy test.

Jared smiles as he replays these moments of his life. It’s all he cares to focus on. He doesn’t hear anyone enter the room. He misses the faint sound of the elevator doors sliding open. He doesn’t hear the light sound of footsteps on concrete. It comes as a shock when he feels a cold, hard object press into his back. At first he thinks that it’s a joke. Perhaps Sebastian came back for supplies and couldn’t resist playing a little prank. He begins to turn before a stranger’s voice echoes around the room. “Don’t turn around,” is all it says. The tone is serious, and harsh. Jared feels a primal sense of danger overwhelm him. His muscles tense, he stops mopping, his hair stands on end. He swallows hard and closes his eyes. All he can see are his children. All he can hear is his wife’s voice.

“Where are your keys?” A high pitched male voice asks him. Jared says nothing; he’s too shocked to respond. The hard object presses further into his back. Jared feels his eyes fill with involuntary tears. “I said,” the voice is more agitated this time, “where are your fucking keys?”

Words return to Jared. “Here,” he says, cautiously and slowly moving his hand from the handle of the mop to point at his front right pocket. At the first sign of movement, the hard object presses into him again, but nothing more happens.

“You have a master key, right? You need it in order to clean the building.” Jared nods. “Give it to me.” Jared hesitates. What will happen if he doesn’t comply? Surely he’ll be killed. It doesn’t take a genius to realize that the object pressed against him is the barrel of a gun. If he complies, will he be shot anyway? Yes, if he complies he will still be shot. Whoever this is has a plan, and the police stopping it so soon is certainly not a part of it.

So Jared will die. He will die. This realization hits him with extreme force. Tears begin to flow from his eyes, but he makes no noise. He thinks desperately about how to prevent this. A hundred scenarios race through his mind in mere seconds. No matter how many he thinks of, in each of them he’s slower than a bullet.

Too much time has passed. The man behind him yells for the keys. Jared moves his hand to his pocket. His kids, his wife, his favorite place to vacation, the color of the sun as it sets behind the woods in his backyard, the last time he kissed his kids to bed, the last time he told his wife he loved her, what he had done with his life. How his life is ending, how this isn’t what he pictured, how he can’t die like this and the overwhelming fact that this is exactly how it is going to happen. Something in him resolves. He won’t die without seeing his face.

He takes the keys out of his pocket. “Drop them on the ground next to you.” That’s it, the end game. Swiftly, he turns his body to face the gunman, and he hears the roar of the gun as the trigger is pulled. There’s an intense, indescribable pain that rips through his abdomen and explodes throughout every inch of him. It overwhelms him as his body continues to turn. His arms change their trajectory. His right arm darts toward the blood staining the front of his shirt while his left arm stretches in front of him as he falls to the floor. He struggles to breathe, shock spreading through his body. His eyes fix onto the gunman’s face.

The only thing Jared can think about is how young he is. There’s no scruff on the boy’s face, he’s too young to grow any. The boy’s face is cool and expressionless, but there’s fear in his eyes. This is the end for him too, in a way, and he knows it. With that one shot he’s set his fate. Jared watches as fear turns to determination and thinks of nothing but dandelions before darkness and the sound of gunfire envelops him.

In the hours that follow, after the sound of gunshots have faded into the sound of police sirens and news reporters, it is revealed that Jared is one victim out of one hundred and three. Over twenty others were injured. The use of the master key had been effective. Students and staff had thought they were being retrieved by administrators in order to be escorted to a safe location. They had only been following protocol.

Protocol is followed in the event of Jared’s death as well. His name appears on lists of the dead. His death fades into hundreds of others, a drop in an ever growing ocean. He is just a victim of a mass shooting. Is there really anything special about that? No. Nothing special at all.