The Gunner

A short story of the madness begat by middle-class, suburban-American living.

“Life is a curse.”

My father said that to me. Every day, over and over again, my father reminded me that, “life is a curse, son. Every new day is a new kind of suffering. It’s the human condition. You get used to it.”

I never got used to it.

Every day, I work with people I hate, doing something I hate, for the purpose of “helping” people who hate what I do. I teach eighth grade math. No one wants to be there. The other teachers preach these high-minded ideals, these concepts of educating the youth of America, but it’s all lies. I can tell. The quirk of their mouths when they talk to me, the manic flitting of their eyes, they give it away. They know our job is pointless as well as I do. And the kids, my god, the kids, they’d rather be doing anything else. My job is a pointless, miserable slog of torment, for all involved.

Today was worse than usual.

We opened a new semester today; a fresh batch of kids, a new start. Usually at least one or two kids in each period enjoy the subject. They are my lifelines, they’re the reason I keep going. But not today. Today, every single one of them made it very obvious just how much they hate my job. I wish I could tell them how much I agree.

Late in the day, during the last period, I found one kid that I think I understand. His name is Marcus, but he goes by Mark, and there’s something behind his eyes. Something that makes sense to me. It’s obvious he knows how pointless this all is - not just learning, not just teaching, but life itself. Mark makes sense to me.

I went home and heated up a microwave dinner. It tasted like airline food. A mash that purports itself to be potatoes, rubber pretending to be chicken, and amorphous green something, all combined on a semi-plastic, biodegradable tray. It tastes like vomit, but I don’t care enough to cook. What will I gain from cooking? Taste is overrated as a sense. It all comes out the same in the end.

As I watched the news and tried to ignore the bilious mass going into my mouth, my thoughts went to Mark. I wondered if he would grow up to be like me. He understands the world like I do, he understands that life is a curse like I do. Maybe one day, he’ll be slumped halfway down a stained recliner, mindlessly chewing what might as well be pre-chewed food, contemplating suicide. I glanced at the semi-automatic sitting on my end-table. It was chambered in 9mm, Glock patterned, with a seventeen round capacity. I never kept it that loaded. One chambered round was all I needed.

“No, not today. Not quite yet,” I muttered to my pistol.

I fell asleep listening to a news report on a vaguely Middle-Eastern bombing.

It’s been one week. Six more nights of microwaved dinners. Six more nights of disaster on the TV. Six more nights of contemplating Mark.

He really drew my attention today. He never looked up from his desk, but he wasn’t slouching or sleeping. He simply never looked around, like he was in another world. We were covering a basic algebra concept, when a girl in front of him asked to go to the restroom. I wanted to say no, because I hate her. Every question she Kristen Stewart-whispers out is asinine, I swear she doesn’t think through a single word she says. But I said yes, because the rules for girls are Different, and as she walked out, she bumped Mark’s backpack. He froze, and his eyes shot to the pack, and as she finally passed him by, he visibly relaxed. I understand his disgust. I would flinch if she touched anything I owned too.

As I was trying to leave, I was accosted by one of our history teachers. Sorry, “social-studies” teachers. Pretentious assholes.

“Hey, Jimmy!” she greeted me, nearly shouted at me. Too cheerful by half. How can she not know how awful life really is?

“Hi, Pam,” I grimaced out, feigning a smile. She bought it.

“Listen, we know you’ve been having a rough go of it this time around. It’s hard when your kids don’t like your subject, but, and hear me out, a few of us think we can help you,” she lied. They all know I’m beyond help. “Me, Sam from the English department, and your very own Andy Emerson are putting together a little gathering at my place this weekend. We’ll talk about, y’know, the kids and how we can better ‘engage’ them. We gotta work, but if we make it fun, it doesn’t have to feel like work! And engaged kids mean more fun!”

I nodded, and “hmmed” appropriately.

“So can I pencil you in? We’d love to have you, and we think we could really help you with these kids!” Her smile was wrong. They don’t want to help me. They want me around so they have someone worse than themselves. It’s comforting to know you’re not the worst in the room.

“Sure, I’d love to go,” I lied. I have to play nice or they’ll know I’m onto them.

“Great! It’s BYOB, but I’ve always got a little wine stockpiled away!” She winked as she concluded, then turned on one of her entirely too high heels, and stalked back down the hall.

I dragged my feet all the way to the car.

The next day was Tuesday. Three more days until I have to pretend to like the horrible pricks at Pam’s meeting. I had my usual black coffee and cigarette for breakfast. The drink hurt my stomach, like it always did. First period was full of cramps. After the pain subsided, my day went by in a blur, until I got to last period. Mark was present, and he looked alive. He had brushed his black hair out of his eyes, his hoodie was down, and he was laughing and joking with some of the larger, meaner kids on his way in. They were picking on him, and he didn’t know. It made me sad to think he was losing his grasp on how the world really works. As I taught, he paid attention and watched me with a bright spark in his eye. He asked questions, real ones, and I answered them, but I could tell he already knew the answers. He wanted attention. I kept him after class.

“Alright Mark,” I said, after the others had all filed out. “What happened?”

“Oh, oh, Mr. Schumacher,” he burbled, “my folks, they, they finally got me to go to a psych! He tested me and told me I have ADHD and gave me pills and now I can focus on things! It feels so strange, to care, but I finally do! And I finally have a plan!” I cringed internally. He had, indeed, lost his way.

“That’s,” I hesitated briefly before conceding to diplomacy, “great! I’m so glad you’ve found a way to succeed here. You put together a study plan?” As if studying is any help. As if any of this material is any help, anywhere.

“Yeah, after a fashion! I’m excited, I can finally see the light at the end of the tunnel!” He was grinning ear-to-ear. All trace of the knowledgeable creature I had, somehow, grown attached to was gone. I could not have been less pleased.

“That’s amazing, Mark. I hope it goes well for you, and don’t hesitate to let me know if there’s anything I can do to help.” I think I kept my distaste out of my voice.

“Oh don’t worry Mr. Schumacher, I won’t. Hesitate, I mean,” he said. We exchanged goodbyes, and he left.

I drove home sad and angry that night. My microwaved dinner tasted worse than usual, and my gun was more insistent than usual. I hoped he would find a way to see the truth again.

Saturday came much sooner than I had hoped. Our meeting was at eleven, so I slept in until ten. I threw on some fresh clothes, didn’t bother to brush my teeth, and hopped in the car to drink my coffee and smoke my cigarette on my way to Pam’s place. She lived in a nice house, a suburban house, one of a thousand exactly like it. Faux-brickwork siding held up numerous small windows, spattered seemingly at random around the building. Fucking modern architecture. She greeted me at the door with that lying smile of hers, and ushered me through the short entryway to her living room. Sam had already arrived, and was crouched in front of her coffee table, unfurling a perhaps endless number of papers out from a folder. He looked genuinely excited to be sifting through the pointless, meaningless morass of “student engagement” concepts. I bit my lip to hide my sneer.

“Andy hasn’t got here yet, so here, have some snacks. I’m trying out charcuterie!” Pam babbled as she brought a tray of cheeses and meats out from the kitchen. It looked positively edible. She set it down on the coffee table, and I politely tried a piece of the least smelly cheese. I gagged on it, but swallowed anyway.

“This is delicious,” I lied. “Excellent choice as always, Pam.”

“Why thank you Jimmy,” her voice took on a sing-song quality, as if she was speaking to a child. “I love giving people good things to eat. Satisfies some deep inner need, y’know, like my human instinct to break bread with others is being fulfilled. Eat as much as you like!” I cursed internally. Great. Now I’ll have to eat even more of this unstomachable garbage.

Fortunately, Andy arrived soon after, and attention was taken off Pam’s miserable cheeses. We spent the next four hours “discussing” ideas for “student engagement.” I had nothing to add, which they all knew when they invited me, so I sat in awkward silence, nodding along and agreeing when one of the others did. For some reason, they never tried to box me into discussing my students. They must have known I had nothing to add. I had thought they’d invited me to have someone worse than themselves around, but now I knew they just wanted a yes-man. A promotion of sorts, I guess.

By around four, the conversation had moved on from “productive” topics to personal lives. I hate these kinds of talks. They’re alienating by nature. What am I supposed to bring up? The specific flavor of vomit that last night’s dinner had?

“So, Andy,” Pam lead-in, as she poured herself (and me) a massive glass of wine, “I hear you’ve got a new boo.”

“Hah, yeah,” Andy chuckled to himself, “but you wouldn’t know her. She goes to a different school.”

They laughed. Was that funny? I didn’t think it was funny.

“She’s great,” he went on, “bright, funny. Gorgeous, drop-dead gorgeous. I’ve never been happier with a girl in my life.” Gross. Dragging more people into your life is just setting yourself up for sorrow. They either leave you, or die.

“Oh that’s wonderful! What’s she do? Does she have a car? Is her house nice?” Pam chittered. Sam was looking on with polite interest, but I could tell he’d rather be talking about literally anything else. Me too, Sam. Me too.

“Well,” Andy looked sheepish, “She’s still trying to complete her GED. It’s how I met her, actually - she was looking online for a tutor, and I do teach for a living.” Pam and Sam laughed. I hate Sam’s laugh. He sounds like a sneezing guinea pig. “Since she’s studying,” he went on, seemingly endlessly, “she doesn’t currently have a job, but she’s been a receptionist before. And yes, she has a working car and a nice enough house. I’m going over later tonight actually.”

Sam raised a suggestive eyebrow.

“Not like that!” Andy followed up, just a little too quickly. “At least, not initially. I’m going over to help her study.”

“On a Saturday? She must be a very studious girl, good for you,” I threw out, in an attempt to appear polite and interested.

“That she is,” Andy nodded, “that she is. I admire her dedication.” Of course you do, Andy. You don’t have any.

“Personally, I like ‘em a little less studious and a little more, y’know, nuts. I spend enough time watching people study at my day job,” Pam tried to joke. Sam and Andy laughed. I don’t know why. She isn’t funny.

“Yeah, yeah, you aren’t happy if they won’t help you steal tranqs from the zoo,” Sam riffed. Another laugh from Andy, and one from Pam. They’re not really stealing tranqs. Why is that funny?

“You know it!” Pam shrieked, garnering a guffaw from the room. Her voice cut right through my skull. I wanted to choke her.

I went to sip my wine and realized I had downed the entire glass already.

“Hey, I know this is a little spontaneous, but there’s this free concert next weekend. Saturday, noon to six, out in Green Park. You guys should come! It’d be so much more fun with friends!” Sam said. God, no. I’d rather be anywhere else.

“A week in advance isn’t spontaneous, c’mon man,” Andy laughed. “But sure, I’m happy to go. Anything free is well worth the price of admission.” A pun. The lowest form of humor.

“I’m in! I’ll bring the girls, we’ll make a whole evening of it! Bar crawl after, yeah?” blathered Pam excitedly. “The girls.” Who has so many friends that they warrant their own label?

“I,” I hesitated, searching for a polite out, “I’ll be visiting my mom for her birthday. Sorry fellas.” What an obvious lie. They’d see right through it.

“No worries, Jimmy! If you find time, you’re always still invited!” chirped Sam. They can all tell I’m lying, I can see it on their faces, hear it in Sam’s needlessly chipper voice. Condescending fucks, why don’t they ever call me on it? Why don’t they say something?

“Hey, thanks. For the educational afternoon, and the invitation, I mean. But I gotta go, it’s getting late and I don’t want to mess up my sleep schedule too badly,” I told them. Excuses, obvious ones, but if they won’t call me on it, I’ll milk the lies.

“We’re so glad you could make it! I hope we helped!” lied Pam.

“Me too,” I lied in kind.

Monday was all set up to be an insufferable slog. Same terrible kids, same terrible school, same terrible coworkers, all conspiring to remind me, once again, that life is a curse. The day dragged on, seemingly interminable, unending. I was taking lunch alone in my classroom, when suddenly I heard screaming. I was used to screaming. Kids are loud, and the inside of my head is louder, but this was different. This was a whole crowd of screaming children. My heart-rate jumped and I felt adrenaline flush through my body. My hairs stood on end as I went to the door. I opened it and leaned out into the hallway to see what the matter was, which I quickly found to be a mistake. A flood of terrified children shoved me aside and poured into my classroom, flipping desks on their sides and cowering behind them.

“What the FU-” was all I had time to yell before we were all deafened by the gunshots. Somewhere, out in the halls, someone was shooting a gun. The panicked screaming outside reached a fever pitch, and I could catch the faint hints of agonized screaming from wounded children through the noise. I was still holding the door open, and two kids pushed me aside to slam it shut. Two others hefted a desk and pushed the chair-back up under the knob before all four of them retreated back behind the desk blockade the group had constructed in the room. I stood by the door and watched them huddle, fascinated. It was an out-of-body experience for me, as if it wasn’t really happening at all. I felt sluggish, like I was in a dream. I could hear stampeding kids fleeing down the hall. A few tried our door, but couldn’t get it open.

More shots rang out, closer this time. Our door had a tall, thin window in it. I peered through at the thinning, terrified crowd. I knew I should be afraid, but instead an eerie sense of peace overwhelmed me. Perhaps I would die, and this curse would finally be lifted. I heard more shots, very close now. One of the stragglers slammed against my door and furiously cranked the knob. I watched through the window as he struggled. He looked up at me, terror etched across his face. I was unable to suppress a smile as it dawned on him that he’d be unable to get inside. I watched a hooded figure walk up behind him, and my smile drew to a rictus grin. He turned, saw the figure, turned back to me, and pounded on the glass. His voice cracked as he shrieked and begged for help, then his head exploded. Short, blond hair, fragments of skull, brain matter, and more blood than I thought was possible painted the window. Through a tiny dry spot I looked out at the shooter. He stalked the short distance over to the door, looked down at the body, and fired four more times at the corpse. When he looked up at me, his hood fell, and I saw Mark’s shining green eyes sunken in a face painted with the sprayed blood of his fellows. He saw my grin, and flashed one right back at me, then turned and ran down the hall, on the hunt for fresh prey.

I realized suddenly that I was hyperventilating. The therapist I saw when I was a teenager had taught me some breathing exercises, and I leaned on the doorframe, doing my best to soothe myself. Even as shots were still sounding out down the hall, I felt the adrenaline drain from my body. The grin fell from my face and I sagged, eventually falling and rotating into a seated position against the wall.

The kids in my room were crying. Some of them were my students, others I’d never met before. Deep sobs, the kind that come not from any human definition of sadness, but from a deeper, more animal place, wracked their tiny bodies. I was so glad that so many students got to learn the most important lesson in life today: that life is a curse. Every new day is a new kind of suffering. It’s the human condition.

You get used to it.

By the time the police and the paramedics arrived to escort us out, the excitement was over. They had moved the child’s body out of our doorway, but we still had to step over a pool of blood and memories. There were news crews interviewing the survivors. Out in the parking lot, as I headed, numb, towards my car, Pam crashed into me, enveloping me in a sobbing hug. She blubbered and sobbed into my shoulder, staining my dress shirt with snot. I couldn’t even feel disgusted. She said something about one of her favorite students going down. She watched her die, she said. Watched her bleed out, she said. An ugly death, a death no one deserved, she said.

I wanted to tell her the truth, to point out that life is a curse, to remind her that her favorite student was free of this burden, but I didn’t. I bit my tongue so hard it bled.

My microwave dinner tasted better than usual tonight. I watched the news reporting on the shooting late into the evening. Listened to Mark’s family talk about how no one saw it coming. Watched weeping children talk about their dead friends. Saw the helicopter footage of the SWAT team spraying Mark down with their MP5s, killing him on the pavement outside.

I knew, in my heart of hearts, that Mark had always known the truth.

The school was closed Tuesday. The administration said it was to give people time to grieve, but the reality was that they needed to mop up the blood and cover the bullet holes. My numb feeling was gone, replaced by something else, a greater understanding, of sorts. I realized that yesterday was the first time I smiled a genuine smile in a very, very long time. The terror on that boy’s face, the realization that he was going to die, it stuck with me. I had nothing to do with myself, so I sat in my chair and continued to watch the news, reliving the event in my head over and over. True knowledge always comes at a price. Suffering is a necessary part of the learning experience. That boy, in his final moments, experienced the horror of learning, with the utmost certainty, the truth. I thought about what Mark had said the week before, about having a plan, about seeing the light at the end of the tunnel. I thought he was talking about a plan of study, or maybe about having gotten a tutor. I was wrong, and in that moment that Mark and I shared a grin through the window, our roles reversed. He was the teacher, and I was the student.

I lay awake long into the night, staring at the ceiling, seeing the carnage. I imagined what must have been going through Mark’s head, how he must have known that he was freeing his peers. He was a liberator, a revolutionary. Heroes are rarely understood in their own time, but I understood. As I lay in bed, I saw, I felt, what Mark had seen and felt. The desire to be a savior, the plotting, the execution of salvation. I fell asleep, and knew what had to come next.

I woke the following morning with more life, more desire, in me than I had ever felt before. The sense of purpose that had always eluded me had finally settled deep within me. My chest felt light, I felt free. I sat on my chair with a legal pad and pen, and began to plan, just as Mark had done. The first step, choosing a location, was easy. Sam’s free concert at Green Park would be a perfect venue. Unsuspecting morons, brought together by the common goal of pretending life can be pleasant, all gathered in a wide, open space. Security would try to stop me, but I could plan for that too. I admired Mark’s intent, but felt he had made one crucial mistake: lack of an exit strategy. If I am to spread the truth effectively, I cannot allow myself to be stopped. Using my phone, I pulled up a map of the park and quickly sketched it out on my pad. The park was largely square-shaped, with an outward-jutting entry area near the parking lot. For concert security, I was certain they would set up temporary fences around the sides. These I could scale easily. The stage would be placed near the far side of the square, away from the parking lot entryway.

If I was to get away after the deed was done, I would need to stay on one side of the square. Getting caught in the middle of the crowd was a bad idea. Adults are more prone to fighting back against new ideas than kids, and if I were to navigate to the center of the crowd before beginning my service, they would doubtless swamp me and disarm me. Looking at the map of near-by buildings, I decided the left side of the square was probably the best way to go. Green Park was in downtown, and the left side had only a narrow side-street to cross before I could disappear into an alley. Being away from a major avenue might mean lighter security on that side as well.

For my armament, I settled on my suicide pistol. It had always been intended to be used as a curse-breaker, so it seemed only fitting that it should be used for such a purpose now. I would need a set of bulky, oversized clothing to disguise my appearance, and to stow my weapon until I was in position. I decided to visit a resale shop later in the afternoon. I already owned a bulky denim jacket, and planned to wear it under my disguise - I’d heard something about denim workmans’ jackets stopping police rounds before. Obviously I had no intention of taking shots, but if it came down to it, I’d rather be protected than not.

Gear and locale selected, I had only my actual strategy left to decide. Security locations weren’t listed anywhere online, so I figured I would need to drive around the park once or twice, marking locations of security guards. I’d take a switchblade with me, and if any guards were stationed near my exit point, I would need to quietly take them out of the picture before the main event. The concert itself, I thought, should provide enough noise that no one will hear a man choking on a blade. After dispatching guards as necessary, I would enter the park through the main entrance. The venue was large enough that metal detectors were unlikely - I suspected there wouldn’t even be any kind of checkpoint to speak of, just a large, open gate with armed guards on either side. After entering the park, I would work my way up towards the stage on the left side, ultimately coming to a stop about halfway through the field. The concert would be in full swing by this point, so all I would need do is check my surroundings for danger, then draw and fire.

I looked down at my paper with a deep sense of satisfaction I had never felt before. My plan was coming together before my eyes, as if it were not me guiding the pen, but Providence herself. I allowed myself a few tears of joy before rising, grabbing my keys, and heading out the door to a resale shop.

The remaining week passed by in a blur. School resumed as normal on Thursday, and though my hate for my coworkers, job, and students persisted, I felt safe, clean, guarded. I had found my calling, and no amount of bullshit from others could temper it. I remembered how Mark had looked, how he’d sounded, the week before he showed me the way. He was chipper, happy, glad to have found his purpose, just as I felt now. I felt a sense of kinship with him, and it made me happy to think that he had found a way out from under this monstrous cheat, this curse of life. One day I would too. But not yet.

Pam and the others tried to console me, and I let them. I feigned grief, though in truth the only reason I knew any of my students were dead was because I found their chairs empty come Thursday morning. I even managed to cry a little, and that made Pam happy. I knew she’d always wanted to see me break down. On Friday, I joined them in the lounge for lunch, and Pam bowed out of the concert, claiming she just didn’t have it in her now. Maybe she told the truth, maybe she lied. I never thought she cared about her students that much, but what the hell, Mark’s actions seemed to teach us many things. It was all fine by me anyway. If I managed to free some of my coworkers on Saturday, that was fine, but if not, that was fine too. Mark didn’t discriminate, and neither would I.

I woke up positively giddy on Saturday. I had spent most of Friday evening cleaning my pistol and loading rounds into my spare magazines. For a time, I had spent every weekend at the range, and had bought ten magazines to reduce time spent reloading. Lane rentals aren’t free, after all. Now they would finally see good use. I had my breakfast of coffee and cigarette at eleven, and went inside to put on my redeemer’s gear.

I had bought a set of steel-toed boots (one size too big), cargo pants (two sizes too big), and a zip-up hoodie (four sizes too big) at the resale shop, and I slipped into them. The hoodie fit easily over my denim jacket, providing disguise and protection. The pockets of the denim jacket and the cargo pants would serve as magazine carriers, and the pistol fit nicely under the waistband of my usual pants, worn under the cargos. I slid my switchblade into the back right pocket of my cargos, zipped up the hoodie, and was ready to work.

I drove to the park in a daze. My stomach kept coiling and uncoiling, first I was sweating, then I was freezing, then I was sweating again. Adrenaline kept spiking my heart rate as I kept realizing anew exactly what I was about to do. I felt alive, but as I arrived, I began my breathing exercises once more. Appearing panicky or otherwise abnormal would not do.

As I had planned, instead of parking immediately, I drove slow laps around the park, jotting security locations down on my legal pad in my lap. The fence that would serve as my route of egress was guarded, but only by one cop. One I could deal with. I turned off the small road on the left of the park down an alley, and drove just far enough to reach the center of the block. There was a dumpster in the alley, but it left enough space for me to squeeze through. I parked on the opposite side of it, with my front end facing the opposite side of the block. It would be easy to jump in the car’s back seat, strip my disguise, hop back in the driver’s seat, and melt into city traffic.

I left the car and walked, as normally as I could manage, back down the alley towards the park. I felt light and bouncy on my feet, despite the weight of the clothing and weaponry. Soon, I reached the street, and jay-walked across it to the security officer.

I waved, and said, “Excuse me,” getting his attention. He nodded cordially at me. “Could you point me at the entry to the concert? I got a little turned around, I’m not sure which side it’s on.”

“Oh, sure!” he smiled as he spoke. “It’s, uh,” he turned to point, “that w-”

I very literally cut him off by, in one smooth motion, pulling out my switchblade, flicking it open, and jamming it straight into his voice box. He gurgled and sputtered as he tried to grab at my arms, and blood poured out of his wound down his chest and over my hands. His strength failed him as he choked on his blood, and his knees buckled. As he began to slump forward, I pulled the knife back out of his body, and quickly knelt to wipe it on the ground. I glanced around as I did so, but I had no need to worry. No one had noticed. All eyes were on the main concert stage. I dragged his body a few feet away to stash him under a near-by tree, so if anyone happened to drive by, he would look like a vagrant, or a drunk, passed out in the shade. Perfect.

As I walked towards the main entrance, I wiped my hands on the inside of my jacket as best as I could. Only a few flecks of already dried blood remained, not enough to be noticable. I blended into the crowd near the entrance and, as I had guessed, there was no entry checkpoint. Everything was going according to my meticulous plan, and I couldn’t prevent a shiver of pleasure from wracking my body. The park was heavily crowded, and getting around to my planned point-of-attack was slow going, but eventually I arrived.

My heart was racing and my stomach was trying to escape through my throat. I realized suddenly just how fucking unprepared I was to do this. No amount of planning would make this part any easier. I sat on the ground and pulled my knees up to my chest, and practiced my breathing exercises.

Two short breaths. One long breath in. Hold. Hold. One long, slow breath out.

All I could hear was my blood rushing through my skull.



I don’t know how long I spent sitting in the grass, but eventually the sound of my pulse gave way to the sound of the concert, and my nerve returned. I rose slowly to my feet, and turned away from the crowd.

It’s okay.

You can do this.




I pulled my weapon and turned my body, extending my gun-arm fully towards the crowd, then, without hesitation, began to fire. Each shot sent a jolt down my arm, but I was too adrenaline jacked to care. The people closest to me were only six feet away, and I saw in beautiful detail as the bullets ripped through their flesh, tearing apart organ and bone. I watched a young woman, twenty at the most, fall to her knees, gripping her bleeding throat. I watched an older man, probably her lover, collapse instantly to the ground as his head exploded, showering the people around him in meaty chunks of brain and fat. Human after human learned the true nature of life in front of my gun. My weapon clicked, and I pulled the magazine. A teenager wearing a recently-purchased band t-shirt tried to rush me as I reloaded, but he was too slow, and I plugged three rounds into his chest. He fell, gasping, clutching his wounds. I could see the realization that he was dying cross his face. I stepped over him and advanced on the cowering, screaming crowd.

I noticed, only for a brief moment, that the music had not stopped, but the band had fled already. They were only lip-syncing. Fucking posers.

People were ducking and covering their heads as they ran, which didn’t help them, but afforded me a view of the police by the entrance beginning to draw their weapons and run towards me. I swore as I realized I’d only gone through one magazine. This wasn’t enough time, this wasn’t enough people! There were still so many that had to learn! I stood up on my toes and tried to fire over the crowd at the cops, but only succeeded in dumping more rounds into the terrified crowd. Blood sprayed and people fell, but the police kept running at me. I shouted profanity as I reloaded again, and popped the slide on my pistol back into place just as the cops got a clear bead on me. I aimed and fired a spray in their direction, and they both fell, but I was just a little too late. One of them managed to squeeze off a round, and I felt it slam into the right side of my abdomen. In that moment, all my focus drained, and I panicked. I was shot. I was shot. I was fucking shot! Fuck!

I wish I had been braver, but I turned tail and ran. I stuffed my pistol into my pants as I reached the fence, and adrenaline gave me the strength to heave myself over it despite my wound. I gripped my side with one hand and sprinted past the dead cop under the tree and across the street. I slowed to a pained, limping jog as I made my way down the alley, but fortunately I had the presence of mind to look behind for followers. A disheveled looking man was breaching the end of the alley, walking slowly towards me. I think he was homeless.

“Hey!” he called out, in a rasp. “You alright?”

I drew and fired three quick shots into his chest. He dropped immediately. I realized, with a shot of sudden dread, that I had fired too close to my car. This could raise suspicion. Fuck. Fuck. Fuck! I sprinted the rest of the way down the alley to my car, all thoughts of my gunshot wound gone. I yanked open the rear door of my sedan and dove into the back seat. In a panicked frenzy, I ripped and tore at my clothing, desperate to get my disguise off. I felt like an animal, thrashing in its harness on the way to the vet. It felt like it took years for me to remove it all, but if I had to guess, I took maybe three minutes to get all my outerwear off. I stuffed it all under a towel on the floorboards, clambered over the seats, and slumped into the driver’s seat. I turned the key, shifted into gear, and pulled out into traffic.

The whole way home I kept checking my mirrors, terrified of being tailed, but no one had followed me. I had gotten away clean. I had shown a whole crowd the reality of life, that it is suffering, that it is a curse, and I had gotten away with it. My elation was only mildly tempered by my throbbing side. I arrived home, parked in my garage, and went inside to inspect the damage.

I staggered, slowly, to the bathroom. I stood in front of the mirror for a long time, looking at the blood seeping through the hole in my jacket. Perhaps, my fevered mind reasoned, if I did not check the damage, there would be no damage. But irrational fear soon gave way to reason, and I stripped off my jacket and shirt. I looked down at my wound, and was shocked to find the rear edge of the bullet still visible. With shaking fingers and gritted teeth, I pulled the round from my flesh. The bleeding became much, much worse with the round removed, and I swallowed back panic as I grabbed an enormous wad of cotton, soaked it in alcohol, and stuffed it into the hole. The pain was unimaginable. It burned deep, deep within my body, as if I had shoved a red-hot knife within my own torso. But I knew that if it burned, that meant it was keeping me clean. I wrapped gauze around myself, cinching the cotton in place, and settled down in my recliner by the TV. I flicked on the news, and watched with intent gratification as the story of my heroism broke on television. They smeared me as a monster, of course, but heroes are never understood in their own time.