The torn T-shirt emblazoned with some or other death metal band caught Peter Jones’s eye as Steve Simms – Stevo to his friends – sauntered into the detention room fifteen minutes late. Jessica Arenstein was in charge of the detention this Thursday afternoon, and she demanded absolute silence for the two hours they were required to remain after school. Arenstein’s left eyebrow arched as she spoke. “Welcome to the detention class, Mr Simms. Sorry we started without you.” Her sarcasm was palpable.
“Yeah, Ms Arenstein, sorry I’m late.” Simms was mumbling as usual. He seemed to Peter a bit of a dope head, eyes always carrying heavy luggage, thin and pale arms dragging whatever excuse of a school bag he was wont to use. The death metal image was also contrived, Peter thought. This kid, although the same age as Peter, seemed lost in eleventh grade. In any event, Steve did not seem particularly interested in anyone other than the other members of his gothic gang, and Peter felt pretty much the same about Steve.
“Go sit down there where I can see you, young man,” Arenstein said. She pointed at a desk close to where she was seated. Her latest book was another pulp thriller from the master of horror Stephen King, and she smiled quietly to herself at the similarity in names between the author and Mr Simms.
The other members in this detention class aside from the disapproving Peter Jones were a group of three eighth-graders who had been caught in the back room of one of the science laboratories, stealing potassium. It never failed to amuse Jessica Arenstein that in all her years of teaching, it was always the boys who ended up in detention.
Steve dragged his school bag behind him as he almost lurched to the seat and collapsed into it. He took a casual look around at the rest of the room, passing over Peter without even a glimpse of recognition, and sighed loudly, mostly for effect. Jessica arched her left eyebrow again and then put her attention back into her Dark Tower book.
Peter also went back to his work: Biology was so much easier in absolute silence away from his family. The particular section he was dealing with was the reason why he found himself in detention in the first place. Cellular functions with Mr Hamilton, and this week he had managed to trip over someone’s feet and break a very expensive microscope. Mr Hamilton had seemed more hurt than angry, and although he did not want to, he had signed Peter up for the detention class as a matter of school policy.
So now Peter had to resort to textbooks to know what a cell looked like, and he was cross with himself for being so careless. All through his life he had been clumsy, and this was just another item to add to the list of things he had broken.
The three eighth-grade boys, Peter and Steve were all sitting in the front row in a class that seated 25. Jessica was at the teacher’s desk in the front of the classroom, facing the students. Aside from the scratching of pen on paper and turning pages, the room was silent, just the way Jessica liked it.
An airborne missile in the form of a spitball landed directly in the centre of the page on cell walls. Peter looked up and saw Steve looking at him slyly while pretending to get a book out of his bag. Peter shook his head and rolled his eyes before looking back at the textbook. What a goof, and messing around in detention would only make Steve’s life more miserable. He did not wish to be involved.
After a few more minutes of reading, a loud bang and the sound of splintering glass came from outside. Everyone in the classroom looked in the direction of the door. Jessica told everyone to stay seated, and stood up to investigate. As she got to the door, a man dressed in coveralls and a mask kicked open the door, knocking Jessica down. She cried out, and held her yeas where the door had struck. Steve jumped up at the attacker, who had now entered the room. Peter saw his hand holding what looked like a gun, but before he could warn Steve, the attacker swung at him, pistol-whipping the boy across the face. He began to bleed from the mouth almost immediately.
Peter heard one of the younger boys begin to cry. The attacker fired a warning shot into the ceiling, the shot louder than anything Peter had heard before.
“Shut up. No crying, no talking, no noise. You two on the floor, get up and sit there.” He motioned to two desks at the front. “Hurry up!”
Steve was holding his hand against his top lip, and used his other hand to help up Jessica. She moaned but didn’t say anything, fearing the worst. Peter could not understand what was going on, and despite all his reading of crime novels over the years, could not come up with any plan of action except to sit and stare.
Yes, that was it! Peter took a very careful look at the man with the gun. He looked about six feet tall, and had broad shoulders. He was wearing blue coveralls, faded denim by the look of them, and worn running shoes. His face was obscured by black markings, probably dirt or make-up, and he seemed to be in control of his faculties. The violence towards Ms Arenstein and Steve was calculated to strike fear in the classroom, and it was working. The gunshot into the ceiling showed that he meant business. Peter was sure this man would kill anyone, including the younger boys behind him.
A sound of running in the corridor, followed by loud whispering, made the attacker look out the door. He swore under his breath and then fired two shots into the corridor. A voice cried out in pain, and Peter heard whoever it was fall down. Detention just became a murder dinner.
He snuck a look at Steve and Jessica. Steve’s bleeding appeared to have stopped, and Jessica’s face was developing a lump above her left eye. She looked very distraught, and Steve looked out of it.
The attacker looked at his hostages. “Kids, my name is unimportant. I’m here to make a political statement. Since I’ve already killed someone now, I’m not going to stop until I’m dead myself. If that means you will die today, then I guess I’m sorry. It’s not personal.”
Peter was now very aware of the lack of his mobile phone. The rule of detention was to hand it in to the teacher in charge, who would then turn it off and put it in a drawer. If he had his phone, he could text his father to —
Peter sighed deeply. It had been two weeks since his father had passed away. Two weeks of hell, in which he had acted out by breaking things in his house intentionally, breaking things at school by accident, and now he was facing his own death. Two freaking weeks, couldn’t God give him a break?
His thoughts were interrupted by a familiar sound. Police sirens were drawing close and with them, a hostage negotiator, with any luck. The sirens got louder, and then after what felt like an interminable wait, stopped. The attacker was pacing, albeit slowly, up and down the front of the classroom. As the sirens drew nearer, he looked up at the windows and Peter thought he saw a look of resignation in the man’s eyes.
A voice on a loud hailer: “This is the police. We know you have hostages and that you have killed at least one person.”
The attacker strode to where Jessica was sitting, and grabbed her arm, forcing her up. “Go over to the window and talk to them. I will tell you what to say.”
She shook her head dumbly, not understanding him. He showed her his gun, and the penny dropped. She walked to the window. He told her to open it, which she did. They were two floors up from the ground, so the police would not have a clear view into the classroom.
“Tell them I am not giving myself up.”
Jessica shouted out the window, “He’s not giving up!” She began to cry, with deep heaving breaths, but the attacker did not seem to care.
“How many people are up there?” called a policeman. Peter barely heard him. Jessica shouted, “Six, including him.”
The attacker tutted. “No, my dear, you can’t add. There are six of you, and one of me. That makes seven. Oh well, I guess I’ll have to either call you a liar, or fix your mathematics.”
He looked at Jessica, and then at his gun. Without changing his expression, he shot her in the chest, and the force of the gunshot sent her through the window and to the ground below. Peter heard the sickening crunch as she landed, and his eyes teared up.
“Kid, stop crying. Life sucks. Deal with it.” The attacker was looking at Peter directly. It was the first time since he had burst in that he was really looking at Peter. He thought he even saw a glimpse of recognition in the man’s eyes, but that was not possible.
“You shot her in cold blood,” said a voice, shaking. “Ms Arenstein did nothing wrong and you killed her. You’re a goddamn murderer.”
Peter realised it was his voice. He was shocked that he even had the courage to speak up.
“You’re right, kid. I am a murderer. I took someone’s life and it was not in self-defence. I am not insane, and she was not a terrorist. But she couldn’t add, and she’s supposed to be a teacher!”
Peter shook his head, in the same way he had with Steve’s spitball incident, which as it turned out was less than twenty minutes before. How quickly life could go down the toilet. He remembered thinking that same thought two weeks previously, when his father had wrapped his car around a tree and not come home. Life was certainly not very fair.
Steve and the other three younger boys were watching this exchange quietly. Steve spoke up. “Hey, listen. One of these boys needs to go to the bathroom. Can you let him go?”
The attacker smiled. “You know, if you’d just spoken up a couple of minutes sooner, I could have made us six people without killing the woman. Yet again, detention is full of stupid kids.”
Peter spoke again. “Well, you haven’t made any friends down there with the cops, and we certainly don’t like you, so how about it? Let the youngsters go and then you can kill us.”
The attacker smiled again, but Peter noticed it did not reach his eyes. “Kid, you’re not as stupid as the others. What are you in here for?”
“Damaging school property, but I deserved it.”
“Everyone deserves punishment, kid, even me. I also appear to have damaged school property. Two teachers and the window? That’s going to add up.” He sneered, and looked at the three eighth-graders. “So which one of you needs to pee? Raise your hand.”
The boy in the middle raised his hand slowly. Judging from the look on his face, Peter guessed the need to evacuate was stress-related. The attacker looked at the boy, and then raised his gun, lining the youngster up in his sights. The boy started shaking, and then the attacker said, “Bang”, very softly. The boy wet himself, the smell of urine hitting Peter’s nostrils, and the attacker laughed. The boy began to cry, but tried his utmost to stop, fearing the worst.
“I don’t know what’s worse: a crying teenage boy, or a teenage boy who pisses himself.” The attacker raised his gun again, and shot the boy in the forehead. Blood, skull and brain matter hit the other two boys, who started screaming. The attacker shot both of them in the heads as well, between the eyes.
“So it’s just us three, huh, boys?”
Steve looked at Peter with tears in his eyes. “Dude, I’m sorry I locked you in a locker in fifth grade.”
Peter was shocked. “That was you?”
“Yup, that was me and Gleason. We thought it was really funny, but when your dad came over to my house later, he didn’t think it was as funny. I wasn’t allowed near you after that. My dad threatened my life if I even spoke to you. But now that we are about to die, I want you to know that I love you. I’ve had a crush on you since ninth grade, and I know you were gay with that other kid, Jeremy or something.”
“His name was James”, Peter mumbled. “My dad almost killed me when he found out.”
The attacker was watching this conversation, back and forth like a tennis match. “Well this has been educational. Which one of you can I kill next?”
Peter looked up. “Kill me and leave him.”
“No, that won’t do. I think it’s only fair that I kill him and leave you alive, Peter.”
Peter winced as the attacker said his name. It sounded foreign coming from him. Steve started saying something when the policeman on the loud hailer broke the silence. “You in there. We counted the shots. Release your last hostage and come out with your hands in the air.”
“That stupid woman may have come in useful after all,” said the attacker. “They think it’s only you and me, Peter. That means I can kill your boyfriend here, and we can make it look like he did it. Then I’ll kill you with a stomach shot, you know, as a lover would, and then I’ll disappear.”
Peter was horrified. Steve’s expression seemed to share the sentiment. The attacker was completely mad. All that bluster before, all that control, but he was completely insane.
The attacker took a look at Steve, and then charged at him, shouting, “Peter, Peter, I love you!”
Peter, not thinking, shouted “Steve! No!” and jumped up. There was a scuffle between all three men, and the gun went off. Steve’s eyes glazed over as his life left his body. Then the attacker shot Peter in the stomach, just as he said he would.
As the world began to fade away into darkness, and the attacker manipulated the gun in Steve’s and then Peter’s hands, Peter had one last thought before the blackness consumed him.
I’m coming, dad.