Shooting the Ending

We had all of five minutes to grieve when we heard. Just about the time it took between the knock at the door and the first journalists to start Googling her name and making their way over, just behind the cops.

The first of them, a young guy from a local affiliate to one of the big networks, he got our name wrong. He got her name wrong. He ran up asking about Rachel Jennings, which for a moment made everything almost better. Maybe there had been a mistake? It’d be easy to make in the chaos after the shooting. Maybe Jenna was ok, hurt perhaps, not able to call or let us know where she was, but more ok than dead. The tetchy looking cop who was still lingering in our doorway killed that hope quickly enough though, half shoving and half punching the young hack away from our door. The right thing to do, even if he shouldn’t have done it. I almost went to stop him, ask him why the hell he was trying to keep good news away from us but I figured things out soon enough. My wife was already ahead of me, crying and retreating into the house. I had to start again, too confused to be angry at the journalist, too confused to cry myself, for a moment at least.

The tide after that was relentless. Cameras, broadcast vans, polished and shined TV faces making the whole damn street look like prime time. I’m told they had policies about not bothering families who’ve lost someone when shit like that happens and maybe they weren’t trying to. It’s a small town though, it was harder to miss the grief than it was to find it and most every family on our block had lost someone, or knew someone who had.

We locked down for those few days where people cared. I saw neighbours talking on camera, only from a distance though. I plucked at the blinds, staring at the circling journalists and occasional police car – just about the only escape I had from the wailing and crying we had in the house. It was good, in a way. I could watch the story unfold, muted, but there – moving and fading as people spoke or clammed up. My wife wouldn’t have the TV on, not with our other daughter, Haley, in the house. Stupid, I thought. If we could watch it then we could get some distance, y’know? She thought I was just in shock though, when she could talk to me anyway. I was a burden she told me later, gawping at TV vans and getting my face half caught in the edge of framed shots. Now maybe I think she was right. At the time though? Fuck that. She wanted to sit and cry and stare at nothing. At least watching it we could have seen something happening, seen some kind of memorial for Jenna being played out by someone who wasn’t us, someone who wasn’t trapped inside that damn house.

By the time the press left and the police stopped hanging around I was going stir crazy. It’s odd but I didn’t grieve then. Not really. Haley and my wife were crying and screaming and talking, healthy I guess, processing it all. I just felt locked in though, trapped with a fact and, to be honest, with people I wanted to be away from. Jenna was dead for fucks sake, shot in the chest and dead. All the mourning in the world wasn’t going to change that, not in our suddenly tiny, claustrophobic cell of a house. At least out there people were offering an ending, a story they were telling with an end that came when someone said ‘cut’. Shock, again, I was told. Bullshit really, it was meant as an insult because I wasn’t weeping and sobbing like I should. And it wasn’t like Jenna was going to see me weeping and sobbing was it? That was the whole point, she was dead, she was gone and she was dead. There was no crying for her, there was just crying for us.

I got a hold of the news footage later on, it was all over YouTube. Crying kids just after the shooting had stopped, traumatised parents, talking heads guessing at how and why it had all happened. Hours I spent watching that stuff, all of it, every channel, every reporter, every jackass with an opinion. She said I hadn’t gotten over it, hell, she said I’d never accepted it in the first place. I got my resolution though, just not like she wanted, I got something far bigger than she did. I got the story, I got a beginning, a middle and, when the story stopped, an end – of sorts.

They shot him, the kid that is. The one who’d started the shooting and fled the scene. Cops caught him in a parking lot a few miles away, shot him when he wouldn’t drop his gun. I watched that too, although it wasn’t supposed to be out there. Someone posted the footage, fucked up as that is. A load of strangers left comments, half of them calling him a hero, half of them giving a play by play of the bullet that took him down. Like I said, an end, of sorts. Certainly more than anyone else got in that house.


Decaying Idea


The eulogies were beautiful. Weeping and barely controlled mourners outlined a saintly life, the sort which only ever really existed post-mortem and whose loss devastated individuals and diminished all else.

Tyrone struggled to look on passively. This day belonged to grief, to sorrow. The anger he felt had no place there. Not that that did anything to ameleorate it of course, if anything the struggle to surpress his reaction heightened the feeling that demanded it. A price to be paid though, not a high one either given the costs already incurred by the person that body in the ground had been.

He knew why they’d invited him of course. Duty. They felt a duty to let him know about the funeral, he’d felt a duty to attend it. In the small talk surrounding the event they’d all been aware of their ignorance as to what more could be expected from the experience. He’d been tempted to cry to break the awkward silences. Not for himself, but for them, to give them some hint that their sorrow was his too. The lie of it would have hurt him more than it comforted them though, or so he told himself, not bothering to question his own selfishness.

In truth he knew he’d never cry for the dead man. How could he? In life they’d hardly known each other, the finality of the grave didn’t alter that fact even if he’d wondered before coming whether it might.

The dead man was his father. A technical label more than anything else. In life they’d had no relationship except perhaps for a distant awareness edged with ill defined and vague feelings. A pattern both men had been seemingly content to let endure. Death, though, had issued it’s own demands. Hollow labels had been reasserted as biological fact, ceremonies of grief had laid out patterns expected not just by society but also by the individuals who felt themselves beholden to it.

Beside him a woman let out a tear fuelled yelp. Tyrone felt himself visibly tense up. She had loved the dead man, that much was obvious although he didn’t know her connection to him. His first thought was to comfort her, a human thought, a natural one, but following it came the truth of uncomfortable apathy. In the sea of grief here he was the only one not drowning, to offer her a shoulder to cry on would be a lie in itself and if she didn’t notice it he certainly would. So he ignored her, half watching as a flock of friends and relatives swarmed over, tears in their own eyes and sorrow obvious on every face. Tyrone stepped back, clearing ground for the grieving. With awkward looks they both condemned him and showed a painful awareness of his reasons for holding back, not willing to sympathise but not quite ready to condemn either.

Later on Tyrone cried. Alone and hunched over a bottle he shed the tears which he knew would have been an unintended lie to any observer. Still, he knew the honesty of them, in solitude he could accept that the tears were his own and not the work of real sorrow delivered by death. That body in the grave was just that and no more, inert matter left to fade away beneath the turf. A tragedy for those who saw more, but nothing to him. He wept for his own loss, something separate from the rest, the departure of something far more simple than flesh and blood. He cried for an idea, a hope that was now interred six feet under. The idea of a paternal love never known and now never to be known.

For an instant he hated the mourners he’d ignored. Detested their hold on the dead, their existence as a barrier between himself and what might have been if their own grief hadn’t screamed so loudly over his repressed sorrows. But how could he resent such feeling? In life the dead man had never won such disdain from him, to let him send waves of it out in death would be a needless defeat. No, his loss was of something that had never existed, a man that never was, an idea that had no right to spawn living reticence.

Still he cried. The idea deserved that much if nothing else.

For more from me you can check out my collection No Cure for Shell Shock – available in paperback and digital formats. Or you can try any of my other work here – variously available as ebooks or paperbacks. 

The Accursed Blessed

No Cure for Shell Shock Cover

‘You are blessed. You are blessed. You are blessed. You are blessed. They’ve given you love, all the love you’ll ever need. You are blessed.’

The woman had been crying and repeating herself for hours now. No one was staring at her any more, though a few dull eyes still fell in her direction. There was nothing there though, just eyes hanging in sallow faces. They’d had their vision drained on the journey they had taken and been blinded by their arrival.

“… they’ve given you love, all the love you’ll ever need. You are blessed.’

I hug my baby closer and try to filter out the unceasing chant. Perhaps I am. I’m the only one left living here. The rest have stepped over already but I have something to fix me in place, love, all the love I’ll ever need. Her words are meaningless, a desperate lie but my eyes aren’t lost yet. I still see. I see enough to know that they took him and he won’t be back, enough to have watched that old love cut apart and buried. I saw them slice at him, through cracks in flimsy wood. He was made nothing, another object to be dragged away, no longer lover, father or man. And I was given a replacement, all the love you’ll ever need wrapped in rags torn from the blind who bore broken witness to the birth.

I feel no blessing though, no love, no nothing. I am no better than the rest. But still, I am not yet blinded. All the love you’ll ever need. Enough to see, for now.

“… you are blessed.”

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Last Moments

Space Shuttle Launch - Last Moments Short Story

“I’m sorry” he sobbed, voice jerking as it worked it’s way out around the tears. It wasn’t true, at least he wasn’t sorry that it had happened, although he may have been sorry to have upset me, if I was being generous. Or sorry that I might be angry, to be honest.

The gash in his suit was too big to repair, six inches at least. Not that it would have mattered if it was five inches less or a dozen more, I had no idea how to do anything about it either way, none of us did. I reminded myself that it was an accident, I was fairly sure that it was. There was no value in anger now and I couldn’t muster up much by way of sorrow, not underneath the leaden weight of his saliva flecked gasps for breath anyway, the sobs gradually slowing to a sedate and unconvincing pace.

She was standing a few feet away from us, eyes blankly staring down through the grill of the gantry and down towards the distant grey concrete ground. Another one who wasn’t sorry, not that she’d done anything to apologise for beyond be there and not care as much as I did and how could I blame her for that?

“Come on” I spoke through a clenched jaw “we need to get out of here, back down to the ground.

I hauled him to his feet and cast a mournful look towards the shuttle, the cockpit almost at eye level as it quietly thrummed with the early growl of engines warming up. Inside they’d be going through the last checks, probably. In my ignorance I could imagine them tapping dials and reading off impenetrable numbers and reports. One more flight of stairs and I could have waved the world goodbye. At least we hadn’t made it that far.

He was on his feet now and fiddling pointlessly with the hole in his suit, flicking at the freyed edge with heavy gloves, a finger coming away tipped with red from the cut beneath. The part of me that still cared reminded me, louder than I’d expected, that he should get some anti-septic cream on the wound, maybe get a tetanus shot. I ignored it and pulled at his arm, reaching out my other hand to gesture for her to follow me as we began the slow plod to the solid ground.

“You could still go, your suit’s ok”

“It’s ok, let’s just head down”

I tried to keep my voice level and to my surprise it worked, belying the panic that was chewing me up. Hers, as always, was as flat as an iced over lake, not out of cruelty, I reckoned, but because she’d given up on being here a long time ago and wherever she was now there wasn’t much room for caring about things. He just stayed sullenly silent, either joining her out there or just wary of my reaction if he spoke.

“I could put tape around it, he might make it if I put tape around it”

I nodded. He wouldn’t, not where the shuttle was going. Not that we had any tape anyway. Looking at her as we took metallic steps back down the first set of downwards stairs I could see that she’d forgotten the thought as soon as she’d mentioned it anyway. Like a death rattle it was a last, hollow act as her mind drifted even further away.

I could see figures moving below, scurrying their way up the first steps to the launch tower. My legs started to protest as my eyes watched their progress. There was no chance they were friendly, although I reckoned we might have the same fear in common. They would be armed though and full of the same desperate desire to survive that I’d felt as I dragged the others up with me, leaping up four steps at a time to try and make it onboard intact. Driven by a hope which had evaporated in an instant as he’d fallen.

If I were them I’d shoot me for not leaving him behind out of simple disgust and if they did I’d find it hard to blame them. The last seconds before destruction were ticking away around us and here I was walking away from the one way out because… because of what? Loyalty? Pity? I didn’t like to ask myself as we moved further towards the surface.

“Don’t you want to live?” I asked, wondering who might answer. No one did, although he grunted and she whistled to herself, an eery echo from whatever distant place she’d arrived at.

A gunshot rang out from below, a bullet clanking off of the metal rail somewhere close enough to send small vibrations rattling around me. They were shouting down there, at us or at the shuttle, I couldn’t tell which. More bullets followed, missing if they were meant to hit anything I could see. I recoiled with every crack of gunfire, my instincts for self-preservation almost folding me in on myself even as I struggled to keep my feet moving forwards.

The thrum of the engines was growing louder as they came closer to launching. We might not even make the surface before the thrusters forced out a pillar of flame and smoke around us. The strangers below might not make it up in time to take their anger out on whoever they thought deserved it.

I reached out a hand to each of them, grabbing one of theirs and squeezing it. Neither one squeezed back but I took comfort in the gesture. Holding them harder and tighter I could forget the fear, if only for a split second and after all, that’s all we had left.

For more from me you can check out my novel Crashed America – available in paperback and digital formats. Or you can try any of my other work here – variously available as ebooks or paperbacks. All ideal escapes from 2016 and, if you time the reading right, you can dodge a chunk of 2017 too just in case…

Threat #1

Death is a threat
a punishment poised to tell life its place
ensuring reverence
and fearful respect
for fine finality

Bigger than myth
bigger than beauty
primacy set in omnipresent absence
and conversation silenced
by no voice
and tender children,
like all of us,
recoil at oblique punishments
cowed into reticent life
beneath imposing ends

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