the muse apprentice guild
--expanding the canon into the 21st century




WORK
BY BRYAN CARON

LOSS OF YOUTHFUL INNOCENCE

        A pair of black-laced hands lifts the gun from the bed and flips the cartridge out from the side. Bullets are guided into each of the six empty holes, one-by-one until the golden backs of the bullets highlight the black circle and sparkle in the dense light. The cartridge is pushed back into its rightful position and is laid back down on the desk next to a piece of paper - a piece of paper that lists a series of names, each one marked with a different color; each one with a number listed next to it; each one listed for no other purpose but for the pure pleasure of being on the list. There would be no consequences to the actions placed on these five young people. The game was easy to play, and the owner of the weapon, mapping out the destruction on a small map of the school, knew how to play it, and they were more than ready to begin.

* * *

The school bell rang and hundreds of teenagers broke from their classes and headed toward their next destinations. Some went to their lockers before joining up with friends down at the school bus loading docks; some strode directly to their cars and hung out for a bit before roaring off to wherever it was they were headed; and still others walked away solo, straight home to do their homework, or watch television.
        Danielle, wearing a short skirt and thin blouse, stepped out of her last class with her friend Kelly, wearing a crop-top and short-shorts.
        "I can't believe this shit is happening," said Kelly softly. "How can someone
possibly do a thing like that?"
        "They're insane. Anyone who would bring a gun to school has either been abused, neglected, or has some other kind of serious malfunction."
        "I hear ya'. I can't even fathom pointing a gun at someone, much less pulling the trigger. Shit, I just hope someone doesn't get a bright idea and try that crazy shit here."
        Danielle didn't respond and the two girls walked in silence until they caught sight of Peter Drake and Darren Poe, who were punching each other and laughing.
        "Oh shit," Kelly whispered. "Let's go the other way."
        Kelly began going the opposite direction when she heard Darren call out, "Hey, Kelly!"
        Kelly stopped in defeat and turned around. Darren and Peter strode over to her and Danielle as if they were the hottest men in town.
        Darren took a drag of the cigarette in his hand and looked Kelly over before asking, "Hey, Kelly. Kill anybody lately?"
        "Shut up, faggot."
        "And Danielle. The beauty of Four Oaks High. How gracious that you honor us with your presence."
        Peter and Darren began laughing as Danielle and Kelly watched in utter disgust.
        "What do you want, shithead?"
        "Oh, come now, sweet cakes. I just wanted to ask you for a ride. You know, like old times." He took a puff and looked at Peter, letting out a stream of smoke. "And, if you have time, Peter here would love to see what its like to screw an actual real-life female."
        Kelly ignored Darren and looked to Peter. "Why do you hang out with this shit, Peter? We've lived next door to each other our whole lives, and you never struck me as one to actually become friends with shit."
        "You're right, Kel. But you should also know me well enough to know that I am full of surprises." Peter grabbed his crotch and shook it as he said, "Now, are you going to suck this for me, or what?"
        "You're both shits, you know that? Get out of my way." Kelly tore through Darren and Peter and marched away as the horny twosome watched with eyes of lust.
        "Mmmm, mmmm, mmmm. How I would love to ride that ass one more time," Darren exclaimed, licking his lips.
        "She's right," chimed in Danielle. "You are schmucks." Darren and Peter turned to meet her gaze of repulsion.
        "Does that mean I'm never going to be able to taste the sweet flavor of the virgin pussy anytime soon?" asked Darren before sucking more smoke down into his lungs.
        "Go to hell." Danielle stormed away from Darren and headed toward the street.
        "She loves me," Darren whispered as he watched her trot across the street. "And with Nicolas out of the picture, she's as good as mine."
        "Alert the media," Peter said, "Darren Poe has officially lost his mind."
Darren turned to Peter and punched him on the shoulder. "Shut up, freak." The two walked the opposite direction of Danielle, punching each other and laughing as they rounded the administration building and headed for the baseball field.

* * *

Kelly slowly glided down the length of the pool, along with a dozen other girls. Her coach, pacing up and down the side of the pool, watched her team, yelling at those who were acting lazy or doing things wrong.
        Sitting on the bleachers watching the team was Nicolas Parks. He kept checking the door near the stands and his watch with frequency and tapped the heel of his right foot on the bench beneath him.
        As the coach blew her whistle and all the girls stopped swimming and joined together near the side of the pool for some inspiration, Jake Thompson entered the gym. Nicolas had his backpack around his shoulder and was hopping down the steps in an instant and met up with Jake at the bottom of the bleachers.
        "Hey, thanks, man," said Jake, slapping Nicolas' shoulder. "Sorry I'm late."
        "No problem."
        "How'd she look today?"
        "Same as always. Fast and smooth, like she was born a fish."
        "Cool." The two boys chuckled.
        "Okay, I'm gone. If I don't get to the shop my dad'll kill me. I'll catch you tomorrow."
        "See ya', man."
        Nicolas slapped Jake on the shoulder before racing out of the gym. Jake stepped up to the first bench and sat down and watched all of the girls pull themselves out of the pool and grab their towels. Kelly stayed in the pool and once again began swimming as the rest of the team headed to the locker room. After three laps, the only people left in the room were Kelly and her boyfriend, Jake.

* * *

Danielle Hargrove: dirty-blond hair; green eyes; thin lips that excite any horny seventeen-year-old; popular without trying; funny and intelligent; prom queen.

* * *

Danielle walked into her small apartment. She shut the door and, as she always did when she arrived home, kissed her hand and tapped a picture of a blissful couple, smiling with no care whatsoever apparent except each other. The date listed: June 16th, 1978 - married right after their high school graduation. The date of their death: June 16th, 1997. A robber had entered the house on that date and instantly killed the husband and raped the wife before sending her to her peaceful rest. Danielle had been asleep when the man entered the apartment, but was wide-awake when he entered her bedroom. Her sister, Sara, was crying in the bed next to her as the man walked up to Danielle, slowly, waving the gun in his hand, mesmerizing Danielle with fright. He stopped before reaching her bed, and turned to Sara, pointing the gun at her. Sara was only three, but Danielle could do nothing as her petrified body kept her glued to her bed.
        She watched as the man slowly pressed his finger on the trigger, and then watched it being released as sirens were heard outside. The man looked at Danielle once again before leaving the apartment. The cops never caught the man, and Danielle swore to herself that nothing would ever happen to her sister. She eventually won custody of her, granted she hire a babysitter for whenever she was away. A member of DCF was assigned to her case to make sure Sara was getting enough nourishment and that the environment she lived in was sensible and that no harm would come to her through Danielle's negligence. So far so good.
        Danielle laid her backpack down next to the table near the door where she kept the last picture her parents took of all of them together, which was wrapped around the crown she received almost eight months ago at the prom. She sat down on the couch and turned on the television. She began flipping stations, all of which seemed to have the same news report on. Even the channel she would watch with Sara everyday before going to work had interrupted the broadcasting of cartoons in order to show what every reporter dubbed "Late breaking news."
        She watched as frightened kids were escorted to an open area of a nearby baseball field. The graphic near the bottom of the screen read:

TRINITY HIGH SCHOOL

        Trinity high school was only some eight miles away from Danielle's high school, and just a few miles from where Sara was sent to everyday. A cold glow struck Danielle's body as she thought of this, and although she was able to control the fear after hearing the news in her fifth period class, flashes of watching a gunman take refuge in Sara's school gave Danielle a sense of nausea and tears.
        "We know for sure that there have been twelve kids wounded, and at least six are dead. Authorities say they have one shooter in custody and are looking for two others."
        The door of the apartment opened and Sara walked in. Danielle turned to her and smiled in relief. She quickly stood and hugged Sara as tight as a mother would her own daughter.
        "What's the matter?" was Sara's replay, and Danielle tried to hide the fear with a smile.
        "Nothing. But how about I call in sick to work today and you and me hang out together?"
        "Really. All day?" Her glee lighted up her cheeks like an angel.
        "Yeah. All day."
        "Okay."
        Danielle hugged her again and then walked her over to the couch and sat down.
        "How about, we watch something else today?" she asked, quickly changing the channel so that she would not enquire of the insanity being portrayed on the television.
        "No, I want to watch-"
        "Please. Let's watch something else." Danielle could see the blaze of disappointment emanating from Sara's eyes, but she also knew watching the news was not what she wanted her six-year-old sister to be watching.

* * *

Nicolas Parks: Brown eyes; black hair; a six-pack that excites the cheerleaders; football quarterback; drives a black firebird; Varsity MVP his freshman year.

* * *

Nicolas entered the gun shop in a hurry, rushing past the counter, and trotted straight to the back as the man behind the counter retorted, "You're late."
        "I know, dad," Nicolas yelled back as he tossed his backpack on the table. He grabbed a rag from the shelf and walked back out to the front. The store was empty, but he knew he had things to do. "I was doing a favor for a friend."
        "Favors are for the weak, you know that. And I told you -"
        "Yeah, get my ass to work on time if I want to keep my car," Nicolas cut in, tiredly.
        "That's it, boy. Give me your keys."
        "What for?" he asked, astonished.
        "For striding your ass in here late and giving me that attitude." Nicolas's dad stuck out his hand. "Give 'em here."
        "Come on, dad," Nicolas said in frustration.
        "Don't make me take away anything else, boy. Your keys."
        Nicolas rolled his eyes in anger and pulled the keys from his pocket and slammed them in his dad's hand, hoping one would cut him. His dad just slid the keys in his pocket without any indication of pain. "You'll get them back when you decide to get your sorry ass back on that football field and get that scholarship."
        "Fine," Nicolas whispered, beginning to dust the top of the counter.
        "I want you in the back today. I got a new shipment of rifles and I need you to log them in the computer."
        Nicolas left the towel on the counter and walked to the back without looking at his father. It wasn't his fault he couldn't play football. Nicolas was sacked in the second game of his sophomore year and was sidelined for the rest of the year with a knee injury that he had to go under the knife for - an operation that had taken longer than his dad expected to recover from. Nicolas was prepared to return to the field at the beginning of his junior year to once again go after a scholarship, but the fluids in his knee started to inflame and he decided to sit out the season and let it heal completely for his senior year. His father was disappointed in him for making that decision because they both knew a scholarship was most likely the only way Nicolas would find a life in college. But it infuriated Nicolas that his father resorted to these types of tactics to get him to succeed where his father couldn't. Football, girls and cars were all Nicolas had, and with the loss of his car, he found himself with nothing; and that's how he saw himself as - nothing.
        Nicolas found the shipment and ripped the tape off the first box wondering how much longer he'd be able to last in his current position without going mad. He began wondering what would happen if he took one of the rifles he was pulling out of the box and threatened his father with it until he got his keys back. He gave up on the idea when he figured that doing something that stupid would just piss his father off more, and he didn't want to find out what the words slow, agonizing, and death really meant when placed together, so he unpacked the first box and started on the second, pissed at the world, but taking it in stride.

* * *

Darren Poe: Six-three; blond hair; green eyes; no after school activity; straight-C student; gets in trouble once a week, if not every other day.

* * *

Peter climbed through the window of Darren's bedroom as he did almost every afternoon around four. Sometimes they would play the Playstation for a couple of hours, sometimes look at the Playboys Darren stole from the liquor store just a few blocks from the house, and sometimes they would take off together and pick up a couple of chicks and run down to the local Cineplex or drive out into the old field and make-out.
        But as Darren watched his friend jump through the window, he had a huge grin on his face, holding something behind his back.
        "What's up, Darren?" Peter asked, noticing the unusual grin.
        "Check this out," Darren murmured as he pulled a cloth-covered object from behind his back. Darren began unwrapping the handkerchief revealing a six-shot revolver. Peter's eyes grew wide and he looked at Darren in awe.
        "Is that your dad's?"
        "Hell, no. You've seen my dad's gun, no way. I got this off the internet the other day. It only cost him three-hundred."
"He let you get it?"
"No way. He'd kill me if he saw me with this thing." This was not an exaggeration. Darren had watched his father beat his mother so hard she'd sometimes call into work sick, when she was really trying to heal a broken arm or just wanted to stay in bed because her whole body ached. When she disappeared a few years earlier, Darren became the target of his father's drunken rages, sometimes going to school with a fat lip and a black eye or a bruised stomach. He always wondered if the disappearance of his mother was her leaving or if his father had killed her one night and buried her somewhere to hide the evidence. He always thought it to be the latter, and knew someday the same would probably happen to him, and he set out to make sure that if he did get killed, that his life would not have been a waste.
"So what are you going to say about the credit card bill?"
"I'll just tell him he must have bought the gun one night when he was drunk. He'll never know."
        "Let me see it." Peter slowly picked up the gun and began peering over its black metal body. "This is hot. Is it loaded?"
        "You bet to hell. And I plan on seeing it work, tonight. You up for it?"
        "Where?"
        "In the field. We'll shoot some bottles or birds or something."
        "What about Heather and Gloria?"
        "Fuck 'em."
"That's what I was hoping for."
"Don't worry. They're not going anywhere. Tonight will be for us. Balls and testosterone. No pussy's allowed. We'll get the chicks laid tomorrow. You've waited this long, what's one more night?"
        Peter peered at the gun, then up to Darren. "Cool, man. Let's hit the road."
        "That's my man."
        Peter placed the gun back into the handkerchief, and Darren wrapped it back up. The two boys stole out the window and left, nothing more on their minds then hot steel ripping through the air.

* * *

Kelly Franklin: Black hair; blue eyes; a pair of breasts that bring out the guys to watch her swim; ex-cheerleader; tutor; swim team captain

* * *

Kelly swam through the crisp water, taking lap after lap. Sitting on the bleachers acting as lifeguard was Jake, who had been dating Kelly for almost a year since she broke up with Darren. He knew that Darren had hurt her once, but did not know how, and he wasn't going to press the issue. He didn't care. All he cared about was Kelly and didn't want to see her get hurt.
        As Kelly stopped herself against the wall, Jake jumped off the bleachers. Kelly pulled her goggles off and pulled herself up out of the pool with her feminine, yet bulky muscles and was quickly overtaken by the tight grip she was so accustomed to. She began giggling as Jake tickled her stomach and began removing the water droplets from her neck with his tongue.
"Stop, stop," she giggled, trying to move away. When Jake finally let go, she turned around and smiled at him with playful stubbornness. "Shit," she giggled.
"You taste good today, darlin'," Jake said playfully.
"Well, thank you, big man. You're so kind." Kelly stepped up to Jake and kissed him - long and hard, as if they were shoving each other's tongues down the other's throats. Kelly liked when they kissed. When she had been going out with Darren they had done it all the time, but whereas Kelly has limited Jake to kisses only, her and Darren had gone further, and he was her sexual partner for some time. They would do it almost every night until three in the morning when her mom was working the night shift, and she couldn't get enough. When she finally broke it off with Darren, she completely gave up sex. She loves to kiss Jake, but that's as far as she'd promised herself to go.
           As they continued to kiss, Jake found his way to Kelly's backside and began sensually rubbing her ass. After a couple of circles, his hands inched their way under the thin, blue swimsuit and he pressed her body up against his with great force. Kelly liked it also when Jake would touch her. Although she would never let him insert himself, he could do anything else he wanted. Sometimes the two would find themselves lying around in their underwear, watching a late fifties black and white. Sometimes, they would skinny-dip in her pool, and sometimes they would give each other oral sex, if the time, place and mood were at their height of arousal.
           Kelly stopped kissing him and moved away, allowing Jake's hand to slide from out of the bathing suit. "Now, now. You know the rules."
        "How about a dip," Jake said, taking off his shirt and unbuttoning his pants. Kelly grabbed his hand, stopping him from unzipping his pants.
        "Shit, here?"
        "Why not?"
        "Why… No. What if somebody comes in?"
        "Come on, it's nearly six. No one's here. And besides, it'll be kind of arousing, you know?" Jake smiled and finished getting undressed. He jumped in the pool as Kelly stood in embarrassment. "Come on," Jake yelled out, "Have some fun."
        Kelly chuckled in embarrassment and hesitantly removed her suit. The air striking her moist body made her shiver, but she jumped in and it immediately became warm. She swam to Jake and pushed him under the water. She felt him grab her legs and begin pulling her under, and let go. He came back up and the two chased each other around the pool for about an hour. When they were through, they walked their clothes to the locker room, and turned on a shower. Kelly hadn't had a man watch her shower for a long time, and it scared her a bit. When she felt Jake's hands swirl around her breasts, slick with soap, and felt his hard dick pressed up against her back, she began to shiver with fright. She could hardly do anything, could hardly move. Usually when Jake began to arouse himself against her in any situation, she would immediately stop him. So, with her body locked in anxiety, Jake took it as a sign that she was finally ready, and he inserted his penis into her body and had sex with her for the first time. What he didn't notice during his breath-quickening period of arousal and ejaculation was Kelly's eyes, which were filled with pain and a dark, blank gaze of guilt.
        Kelly didn't say a word as Jake dressed himself afterward. He kissed her but got no response, unaware that she had not received any pleasure from the act of passion. So he left, figuring Kelly needed time to herself. When he was completely out of sight, Kelly sat on the bench near her clothes, and cried.

* * *

Danielle sat in the soft shadows of her room, using the streetlight to highlight the diary she was scribbling in. She began writing in her diary after her parents died, and she'd been writing in it every night since. It was the only source of refuge; where she could spill her thoughts without being ridiculed or show her weaknesses.
        Suddenly, she heard her front door open and close, and her eyes were immediately transfixed on her bedroom door. Thoughts raced through her mind as she heard a small banging coming from the kitchen. She quickly slid off the bed and reached underneath, pulling out a small lock-box. She opened it with great accuracy and pulled out the gun that was sitting inside. She walked slowly to the door and turned the handle as quietly as she could, and peaked out into the hall. Nothing could be seen through the dark, except a small band of light coming from the kitchen area. The only phone she had was in the living room, and she always regretted not being able to afford a second line in her bedroom.
She paced her way out of the bedroom and flipped the switch on the wall next to her, flooding the apartment with light, hoping it would scare whoever it was away.
"Danielle?" A familiar call came from the kitchen and Danielle paced her way down the hall to find Nicolas sitting at the table, drinking some orange juice out of the carton.
"Nicolas," she said softly. "What the hell are you doing here?"
"I had to get out of the house. Besides, you told me I could come here anytime."
"Yeah. But, it would have been nice to know you were here. I was ready to shoot your ass to Jamaica." Danielle sat down in relief, setting the gun on the table.
"I thought you couldn't stand guns," Nicolas said, eyeing the gun.
"I don't. But, I'm not about to let Sara get hurt. I need some kind of protection. She doesn't even know I have it."
"But isn't that why you broke up with me? Because my dad owns a gun shop?"
"No. You still don't get it. I broke up with you because of that stupid game."
"What? Paintball? What's wrong with that?"
"It gives people a legal way to learn to shoot guns and it's sick. Everybody blames the movies and television for these shootings, when things like family and crap like paintball is staring them right in the face."
"Paintball is not a resource for violence."
"Come on, Nicolas. People shoot each other to win points."
"Yeah, but nobody gets hurt. I told you, there's medics on hand at all tournaments, and referees make sure no one gets out of line. It's as safe a sport as any out there."
"Okay. So what happens when some mentally damaged kid gets his hands in the sport? He shoots up some other kids, with absolutely no consequences, and it's all good for him. Then, he gets his hands on a real gun, thinking he can play paintball anytime, anywhere, and he shoots up some kids thinking there's no consequences."
"What are the odds of that happening? Most of the people that play paintball know the difference."
"It teaches people how to shoot, and I won't be a part of it. And that's that."
Nicolas looked to Danielle. He loved playing paintball because it was the only competitive arena he could find when he wasn't playing football and he needed the drive to keep him alive. But, sitting in front of Danielle, he found himself confused on whether the game was important enough to risk losing her over it.
Just then, a sound of footsteps came from behind Danielle and they both looked to see Sara sliding down the hall, rubbing her eyes.
"What's going on," she muttered. Danielle quickly swiped the gun off the table and held it behind her back.
"Hey, muffinhead," Nicolas said sweetly.
"Uncle Nick," Sarah said excitedly as she ran up to him. She hugged him then sat on his lap. "Where have you been, Uncle Nick? I miss you."
"Well, I miss you, too, muffinhead. But your sister doesn't like it when I'm here."
"Why not?" Sara asked Danielle, who couldn't do anything but stare at Nicolas, offended.
"Because she thinks I might be dangerous," Nicolas answered. "But, I'm trying to show her I'm not. Do you think I can do that?"
"Danny, Uncle Nick in't dangrous."
"I know that, sweetie. It's more complicated than that."
"Then can he come over tomorrow?" Sara looked at Danielle with her puppy eyes and it made Danielle's answer that much harder.
"I'm sorry, Sara. But I don't want him to."
"Why not?"
"How about I take her out to a movie tomorrow?" Nicolas asked Danielle, perking Sara up.
"Yeah. Can I? Please."
Danielle looked at Nicolas then back to Sara, who awaited her answer with wild anticipation. Danielle lowered her head and then looked to Sara. "Okay. You can go to a movie tomorrow."
Sara shook her fist in excitement. "Are you coming too?" she asked, hopeful.
"No. It'll be just you two."
"Oh, why not? I want you to come too."
Danielle didn't want to talk about it anymore. "Sara, go back to bed. We'll talk about this in the morning."
"But -"
Danielle eyed her, giving her the look of authority. Sarah didn't like it when Danielle was mean to her, but she also knew Danielle knew what was best for her.
"Okay. Night, Uncle Nick." Sara hugged him again and slid off his lap. She trotted back to her bedroom and shut the door.
"I want you to leave, Nick," Danielle said, placing the gun on the table.
"Can't we just talk about this?"
"I've talked enough. We're through. Get out of my house."
Nicolas stood up and walked to the door. Before leaving he turned to Danielle and said, "I've tried to fix things between us, but I can see that you could care less about it because you're weak and scared." He paused and thought a moment before adding, "I don't need this. You want me out of your life, fine. I'm gone." Nicolas slammed the door behind him, and Danielle sat at the table, still and lonely. She did love Nicolas, and the thoughts of him being right sent tears rolling down her cheek.

* * *

Kelly opened the door and Jake picked her up with a huge hug. "My lovely flower. How are you doing tonight?" He kissed her and jumped on the couch. He positioned himself up against the back and began tapping the cushion next to his stomach as he peered seductively toward Kelly.
        "Jake, I want you to leave."
        "What, why? What's wrong?"
        "I just don't want to see you right now, okay." Kelly stood next to the open door, waiting, holding back her pain.
        "I don't get it. I thought we were going to be able to fool around tonight."
        Kelly didn't answer and Jake could see the fear swarming her body.
        "Kelly? You okay?" Jake walked up to her and grabbed her arms. She immediately backed away from him.
        "No, don't touch me. Just leave."
        "But, Kelly -"
        "Go, Jake." Kelly was leaning up against the wall near the kitchen, trying to hide herself within its white confines.
        "Okay. I'm leaving. I'll call you later." Jake waited for a response but got only a blank stare. He took a deep sigh before leaving the house. When Kelly saw his car pull away from the driveway, her tears returned and she slid her body down the wall and curled herself up into a tight ball.

* * *

Peter Drake: five-foot-two; brown eyes; brown hair; anonymous chess club member; sophomore; straight-A student; never been in trouble.

* * *

Peter fired a shot and the beer bottle exploded, showering the ground with glass.
        "Nice shot," yelled Darren, who finished the beer in his hand. "Try this one." Darren flung the bottle as hard as he could away from them and Peter tracked it down and fired, hitting the bottle feet before it hit the ground. "You're a natural."
        "No, only a crack-shot." Peter was not a natural. He spent nearly two hours every other day at the firing range. One of his friends father's worked there and he allowed him access to the firing ranges for twenty bucks pocket change a month, in addition to the regular club fee. Nobody knew, even his parents, who thought he was the ideal straight-A student. If they knew he was a master with a gun, it would break their hearts and he didn't what that to happen. He had an image to uphold in their eyes, and he didn't want that to fade. Even Darren was a secret, but he liked that he hid these things from his parents - it gave him a rush.
        Darren walked over to his old, beat up El Camino and jumped into the back. He went to the cooler and pulled out another beer. He then laid himself out on the bed and popped open the top. Peter jumped up to join him.
        "You think you'd be able to shoot another human being?" Darren asked as Peter lay down next to him.
        "I don't know. It seems like it'd be a pretty tight rush. The problem I'd have would be getting caught."
        "And if you could get away with it?"
        Peter looked to Darren who took another gulp. "If I could get away with it? Yeah, I could probably do it."
        "At a school?"
        Peter stared at Darren, who raised his eyebrows.
        "Don't even say things like that, man."
        "Come on, isn't there anyone in school you'd love to kill? Remember, you'd be able to get away with it, and no one would find out."
        Peter pondered for a moment, then responded, "Yeah, I guess there are a couple of people I'd like to whack. With no consequences, I'd probably do it."
        "That's what I'm talkin' about," Darren said. He took one more drink and chucked the bottle away from him. Peter instinctively followed the bottle and fired, striking it, causing glass to fly and beer to splash all over a passing car.
        "Oh, shit," Darren cried out.
        The car stopped and Nicolas stepped out. "What the hell's going on?"
        "Nicolas, baby. What's up?" Darren called out, hopping off the bed of the El Camino.
        Nicolas shut his door and made his way toward Darren. "Darren? What the hell are you doing out here?"
        "I always come out here. It's usually to have sex, but tonight, we're trying something new."
        Nicolas spied Peter jumping out of the car. "Something new, huh? So, who's sucking who, or is it like a team effort?"
Peter walked up to Darren holding the gun in his hand. "I should pop this one right here."
        "Where the hell did you get that?"
        "The internet. Cool, huh? It beats the hell out of those shit-assed paintball guns."
        "What the hell are you doing with a real gun?"
        "What does it matter?"
        Nicolas didn't answer. He just waved his arms in the air, giving up on the whole thing and walked back toward his car.
"Where you going Nick? Too bad-ass to hang out with us?"
"I don't hang with fags," Nicolas responded, opening his door.
"Hey, man. What's up with you tonight?"
"What would you have done if I had been a cop, huh?" Nicolas stood next to his car waiting for a response. He didn't know why he stayed, but he did.
"Probably would have shot 'em, those damn pigs," Peter said.
"You guys are pathetic." Nicolas started into his car.
"At least I'm not a fuckin' cheat," Darren called out. He watched as Nicolas rose out of his car.
"What?"
"What? Did I hit a nerve?" Darren asked mordantly.
"I'm not the one who wiped away the hit, you freakin' asshole," Nicolas said.
"What hit?" Darren asked, acting with stupidity. "I don't remember getting hit at all. I was playing the game fair and square and you know that."
Nicolas walked back toward Darren, and was starting to become red. "Okay, and the shot after the game? You almost hit my head with that damn paintball."
"Oooo, poor Nicolas Parks gets hit by a paintball and he has to run to mommy to kiss and make it better," Darren said, in a sad, mocking tone. Nicolas wanted to knock Darren's jaw to the back of his head, but he restrained himself and turned back toward his car.
"Oh, come on Nicky, baby. What are you, pussy-whipped by that bitch prom queen? I know. Maybe I should ride that lovely ass for a couple hours and show her what real sex is all about."
Nicolas stopped, and although Darren couldn't see the outrage, he knew Nicolas's blood was pumping. "Then maybe I'd put her out of her misery with one shot to the head."
Nicolas immediately turned around and ran at Darren, knocking him to the ground and hitting him as hard as he could. After only two punches to the head and a couple to the gut, Nicolas heard Peter cock the gun behind him and he stopped his assault.
        "Get off him right now!" Peter said with a cool calm.
        Nicolas turned to Peter and stared at him in anger and fright.
        "Get your sorry ass off him before I have to use this," Peter said, completely determined. Nicolas stayed still until Darren shoved him away. He was about to attack Nicolas when Peter pointed the gun at him.
        "What are you doing?" Darren asked.
        Peter just turned the gun back on Nicolas. "I don't want to have to kill you, but I will if you force me. Leave, now." Peter was stoic, and Nicolas wasn't about to find out if his words had any weight or if they were only shallow threats.
        "You guys can have each other, you freaks." Nicolas jogged back to his car. This time he wasn't going to stick around. He jumped in and peeled off, leaving the air filled with dust that settled before Peter or Darren moved a muscle.
        "You should have let me pulverize him, you jackass," Darren screamed. Peter kept the gun pointed on Darren. "Let's just go home." Peter lowered the gun and began walking back to the car. He slid into the driver's side and waited for Darren, who slowly stammered over to the car and pulled another beer out of the cooler before he got in.

* * *

Nicolas walked through the door and was met by the cold gaze of his father.
        "Where the hell were you?" he said with his deep, booming voice.
        "No where." Nicolas started walking to his room.
        "I was ready to call the cops on you, boy."
        "The cops? Why?"
        "You disobeyed me and you didn't tell me where the hell you were going. In my book, that meant you stole my car."
        "I just needed to get away for a few hours, okay?" Nicolas again headed for his bedroom but was stopped by the tight grip of his father's large hand on his forearm.
        "If I find out you were out drinking and screwing around, I'll have your ass, boy."
        "I went to Danielle's, okay? Nothing happened."
        "You didn't knock her up, did you?" The tone in his father's voice was a bit lighter and his grip was softer. Nicolas knew his father felt he was turning into him.
        "No, dad. I just needed time to think. I'm sorry I took the car, but -"
        "Butts are for sitting, and I don't need to," his father retorted. "You need discipline, boy."
        Nicolas just stood in silence, not quite sure what to do or say.
        "You're grounded for taking the car."
        "What?"
        "Two weeks. And if I find out you're lying to me, it'll be two months."
        Nicolas tossed his head with agitation. "Well, don't worry. Nothing happened." He pulled his arm away from his father. "I'm going to bed." He walked down the hall and slammed his door shut as his father shook his head in disappointment.

* * *

Darren crawled in through his back window and placed the gun wrapped in the handkerchief on his bed. He went to his bedroom door to head for the bathroom, when his father tore in and pushed him to the floor.
        "Where the fuck were you, you asshole?"
        "Fuck off, dad. I was with Peter."
        "Fuck him. You're supposed to be here, you little shit."
        "Why? So you can smack me around like I was your little bitch?"
        Darren's father immediately punched Darren in the face. "You shut your fucking mouth, boy. I want an explanation about this." A piece of paper fell to the floor near Darren's face and he could tell it was his dad's credit report. "Do you know anything about this shit, asshole?"
        "No," Darren said quickly, and then felt the force of his father's foot to his gut.
        "Don't lie to me, you little shit. Where is it?"
        "I don't know," Darren said, completely out of breath, as his father began tearing his room apart. When his father was digging through the closet, Darren reached up and grabbed the gun, tucking it away under his body. His father soon got tired and went back to Darren.
        "You're going to repay me that fucking money, and if you don't, it'll be coming out of your ass." Darren's father kicked him in the stomach again and left the room. Darren didn't move for some time; he just lay on his bedroom floor, trying to will the pain away.

* * *

Kelly sat at her desk in the darkened room. The only light was filtered through the blinds from the mellow street lamp outside. She frantically scribbled some incomprehensible words onto a sheet of paper as tears fell from her eyes. But she didn't seem to care if anyone ever read it - she knew what it said, and that's all she cared about.
        The shower sprayed her back.
        When she couldn't get her hand to write anymore, she dropped the pencil to the table and laid her head in her hands, moistening them with the overflow of water and salt, and sat for some ten minutes shaking and thinking.
        The large hands made their way around her body gracefully, as she felt a hard object enter her body, hurting her in a way that she had never felt before.
        A drawer in the desk was then opened, and Kelly slowly picked up the small pistol that lay, cold and dark inside. She raised the gun to her mouth and stuck the barrel into it as her hands shook, her body ached and her mind was lost.
        With every thrust she felt from the thing stuck in her body, she could feel one of his hands on her vagina, softly rubbing it up and down with grace, and she could feel the rub of the other hand along the smooth, wet arcs of her fledgling breasts.
        Kelly took in a large breath as she pressed her thumb against the cock of the gun and then wrapped her index finger around the trigger when she suddenly heard the front door open. She immediately pulled the gun from her mouth and pointed it at her bedroom door. She waited a moment as the sound of the front door closed and she quickly moved herself away from the desk and into the darkest corner of her room.
        As she sat, she could hear footsteps pacing down the hall, and she kept the gun aimed at the door, crying in silence, "No, dad. No. I will not let you take a shower with me. I will not let you take a shower with me. I will not let you take me into the shower dad."

* * *

The sun shone bright at noon the next day. Danielle walked briskly past a couple of buildings heading toward the cafeteria.
        "Danielle. Danielle!" Jake ran up to her a little out of breath. "Danielle, have you seen Kelly today?"
        "No, she's not at school today. Why?"
        "I don't know. She's acting kinda weird."
        "How weird?"
        "I went to her house last night and she was scared to death of me."
        Danielle stopped and looked at Jake. "What did you do to her?"
        "Nothing, I swear."
        "No," she whispered. "There had to be something."
        "I made love to her last night, but…" he trailed off as he saw Danielle's eyes grow wider with angry fright.
        "You what?" she howled. "How could you do that?"
        "Why? What's wrong?"
        Danielle paused, and then said, "I shouldn't be telling you this, but Kelly hasn't had sex with you because she had an abortion last year. It scared her to death."
        "Shit," he whispered.
        "That's why she broke up with Darren."
        "Shit." Jake didn't know what else to say. "Do you think I should go talk to her?"
        "I wouldn't," Danielle responded. "I'll stop by her house later and talk to her."
        Jake nodded in acknowledgement.

* * *

A black ski mask watched the conversation between Jake and Danielle carefully from one of the many buildings that was under construction. The black gloves that hovered beneath it held tightly onto a revolver, pointed at the dusty floor, waiting. The weapon was soon raised and held in the dark air and was pointed steadily at the two targets when it suddenly spotted a third, and it watched the group a while longer, waiting for the precise time to strike.

* * *

"Danielle!"
        Danielle turned from Jake and watched as Nicolas walked up to them. "Hey, Jake."
        "Hey, Nick."
        "Danielle, we have to talk."
        "No, Nick. I told you last night." Danielle renewed her pace with Nicolas in tow and Jake a step behind them.
        "That's what I want to talk to you about. I've decided. I'm giving up -"
        He was cut off by the sound of a loud shot. He ducked in fright, pulling Danielle down with him, as Jake fell to the ground. Nicolas turned to his friend and watched the blood begin streaming out of a small hole in his chest. "Shit," he screamed as he moved away from Danielle and over to Jake, placing his hands over the wound, trying to stop the blood finding its way through the cracks in his fingers. "Somebody help!" he cried out over the insanity of the frantic crowd of teenagers.
        But his words were unheralded as a bullet pierced through the air and struck Nicolas' right temple, and drilling its way to the brain, knocking Nicolas to the ground in a quiet, eternal sleep.
Danielle screamed and stood up a little to move toward Nicolas and a third shot was heard, biting Danielle in the lower thigh above her right knee. She fell to the ground, grabbing her leg as she felt a cold chill run throughout her entire leg. Danielle rolled around the ground for a moment when the air was pierced by a fourth bullet, heading toward Danielle in full-force.
But the bullet was forced from its target as a young girl, running toward the parking lot for safety, blocked the shot with her calf. She fell hard to the ground and screamed in pain.

* * *

"God damn fucking freshman!" a voice pronounced from under the mask. The gun was aimed at the young girl and was fired, the bullet racing toward the innocent bystander, and ending her pain with a strike to the center of her forehead. The gun was turned back toward Danielle, but she had disappeared. "Fuck," the voice pronounced before the shooter ducked through the darkness and headed away from the scene. The shooter raced through the metal pillars and gaps in the walls until they made their way out into the open. The shooter looked around and then took off toward the gym, down the hill from the corpses - a place where teachers and security would not be. As the shooter rounded the corner of the cafeteria, they noticed the young man who would make the perfect owner for the last bullet. The target was standing alongside the gym, looking safe and comfortable, waiting for the madness to stop. The shooter chose to round the gym from the opposite side and slowly made their way to where the target was stationed. The gun was raised as the shooter paced over to the mark. The barrel was carefully placed on the young man's head. "Turn around," said the shooter. The target began to turn, sweating, and when the barrel was pointed at the side of his forehead, the shooter said, "Stop." The gun was cocked, and the shooter said in a low, quiet tone, "It was nice knowing you."
A loud explosion rang through the air as half of the young man's head splashed to the pavement below, ahead of the body, which landed on top of the cold, moist blood. The gun instantly found it's way into the young man's cold grasp, his fingers being carefully folded around the handle and trigger of the gun. The shooter then slid the black gloves and ski mask off, followed by the blood-speckled shirt, which were all thrown into a near-by trashcan. A pack of matches was then ripped from the shooter's pocket. After a flame was formed, the book of matches was tossed into the trashcan, followed by the small flame, and in an instant, the trash was engulfed in fire. The shooter watched the fire for a moment before joining the rest of the students in their chaos.

* * *

The coroners zipped up the black bag, hiding the destruction Kelly had done to her head as a forensic investigator took a snap-shot of the circle of blood on the wall, and of what had trickled down to the carpet below. The coroners were quick, wheeling the body out of the room past a second splash of blood that covered half of the bedroom carpet and half of the wooden floor, and followed the flow of blood down the hall.
When the coroners reached the wagon outside, they slowly loaded up Kelly's stiff corpse next to a second body that had been removed from the house only moments earlier. The coroner's truck then pulled away from the empty, haunted house.

* * *

News-choppers hovered above the calmed school as cops and reporters swarmed the grounds below. Some students were churning out exclusive interviews as others sat together, staring at the school in mad fright. Danielle's white body was wheeled from out of one of the near-by buildings and behind most of the reporters toward an ambulance. An oxygen mask was strapped to her mouth and an IV tube was strapped to her arm, as one of the paramedics held the bag high above her. Near the gym, yellow tape was wrapped around the area as a detective looked at Peter's dead body, trying to answer the questions that swarmed his mind - about the ashes that were being fingered through in the trashcan, and the motives behind the violence.
A student was thanked by one of the reporters and then she turned back to face the camera that peered at her intensely. "We have reports now that the incident was a murder-suicide, as the body of Peter Drake was found with what police believe to be the murder weapon. He shot and killed three students, senior Jake Weathers, junior Nicolas Parks, freshman Nancy Thackery, and wounded another, junior Danielle Hargrove."
        Darren walked solemnly through the crowd of frightened students. The reporter saw him and quickly made a call for him. "Here is another student. Maybe he can shed some light on this tragic incident." The reporter turned toward Darren and asked, "Sir, what have you to say about what happened here today?"
        "I don't want to talk about it, okay."
        "Where were you when the shooting took place?" the reporter asked, shoving the microphone in Darren's face.
        "I was at Carl's, grabbing myself a burger."
        "Would you consider yourself lucky, then, that you weren't here?" The reporter waited for an answer as Darren looked at her in confusion.
        "What kind of question is that? How can I feel lucky when one of my best friends was killed?" Darren shook his head in resentment.
        "Did you know all of the kids that were shot today?"
        "No, not all of 'em…" Darren slowly faded out, unable to speak.
        "What about the shooter, Peter Drake?" Darren didn't answer as he lowered his head, trying to hide the pain. "Were there any signs that he would do something like this?"
        Darren looked back up, shaking his head. "No. He was perfectly fine last night, same as he's always been. There was nothing about him that would warrant this kind of insane act of violence. He was the perfect friend, and a class act." Darren raised his head to look at the clouds, wiped a tear away and whispered, "I can't talk any more." He lowered his head and walked away.
        "But, wait. Just one more question!"
        Darren ignored the reporter as he paced past the stacks of ambulances and cop cars, his sadness turning into a slight mad pleasure.