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First pages

CHAPTER ONE

TUESDAY, MAY 12, 7:59 A.M.

 

You tell yourself today will be different.

Maybe it will.

The lockers are the same sick, pale blue as yesterday, the linoleum floors still shine with the same pungent cleaners that have been disintegrating nose hairs and SEAL-Team-Sixing brain cells for all four years you’ve spent in this school. And your classmates – if they’ve changed anything other than the color of their hair, it’d be tantamount to a modeling agency sending donuts to their clients.

But still.

That pale blue used to be your favorite color before your wardrobe and your attitude took an about-face to the dark side. The chemical glint and nauseating smell from the floor is fading with each sneaker’s squeaking step. And those people – the juniors, sophomores, freshman, even your classmates – they all could––

Your head snaps against a locker so hard it’s unclear whether the high-pitched hum ringing in your ears is a sudden bout of tinnitus or if the blue-painted metal is actually screaming back at you. You try to pull away and see if the locker’s ugly color was repainted red, but the hand that put you there doubles the pressure from its sweaty palms, digging the blunted and jagged ends of chewed away nails into the back of your head and your left cheek.

You stop struggling before you start.

Because . . .

Today will be no different.

Embarrassment is the baseline of high school, and pain is just a reminder you haven’t left yet.

Yet.

“Why?” Daryl McFadden’s muffled voice seeps through his palm, over the bell tolling in your ear. You don’t answer because you don’t know what he’s talking about. You do not answer because you’re smart. Nothing good will come of it, and you’re above the games.

And right now . . .

Right now, all you want to do is run or cry or start your plans a few days early.

“Why?” he asks again, drawing out the words as he shifts his grip on your face enough to make sure your ear can feel the heat and moisture and resonance of the words.

“Hey, Gray Son,” McFadden tightens his grip, laughs. “What a stupid name. You should be Redson, since your dad’s a ginger bitch like you. Redson, I asked you a question. Why?”

Still, you don’t want to answer. But you know this interrogation won’t stop until you do or . . .

Until McFadden’s done with you.

“Why what?” You try not to sound desperate or scared or annoyed or anything, but you’re afraid all the emotions, each and every one, came out. Fears confirmed by the sting of tears spreading their salt down your cheek. Please don’t touch his hands, you beg the inanimate drops of saline. Please don’t let them see.

But that would take a miracle or luck or a sudden bout of blindness for everyone in this school, hopefully followed by uncontrollable diarrhea. But fate doesn’t work like that. Not for you.

McFadden laughs. His friends laugh. Darby. Saunders. You don’t hear Mayes but he must be around somewhere. You hear a couple of girls in the mix as well. Sarah Hill and Meagan Ward most likely.

“Why do you insist on insulting my eyes every morning with your horrible. Hideous. Ginger. Face?” McFadden gets closer, pressing his chest against your shoulder, letting the slight stubble of his chin scrape your previously unmolested skin.

Then his words come out, almost a whisper, but still hitting harder than being slammed against a locker, squeezing tighter than his grip on your cheek and chin, inflicting more damage than any weapon he could use.

“Why. Haven’t. You. Killed. Yourself. Yet?”

You’ve heard that question a lot. From McFadden and his friends.

You’ve even heard it from your own lips.

Why?

Fate’s not on your side. Fate is for people like him and Darby and Mayes and Saunders. Not you.

So, you dig deep. Down to that place where you’ve accepted the cards you’ve been dealt, and decided to act on them. The place beneath this version of you who cowers and allows a bully to slam you into a locker and take away your dignity. Even under that small bit of you that’s left screaming for him – for everyone – to stop. From there, a single word floats up and out. Mustering up the voice that seems to have vanished.

“Soon.”

The promise . . . your promise comes with no emotion. It’s not clear whether it’s the single word, and the ambiguity of what it might mean that pushes McFadden back, or the coldness it comes with. But whatever it was it worked.

The metal bows and bounces against your temple as he gives a final nudge before releasing. He retracts his hands raising them in a mock surrender, shaking his head as though he’s not quite sure what just happened. The others in his group glance back and forth with the same addled expressions.

Your head bubbles out then sucks back in, keeping rhythm with your pulse. And you wonder why they’re putting on the performance. There aren’t any teachers around. No one for them to convince you made it all up. As if you’d ever bother telling. Haven’t they done enough damage?

Apparently not . . .

The teenage terrorists all cluck like chickens in a coop. Their questions throwing salt in the wounds McFadden opened: What just happened? Where did the loser – you – come from? Were we here this whole time?

Glares from all of them freeze you, like ice. Then they leave and trample through the hall and other unsuspectings and undeservings.

But their questions linger. Were we here this whole time? You shake your head. The bruises can prove that. Bruises. You probably have McFadden’s fingerprints on your face, etched in black and blue and purple, and they have the nerve to try and gaslight you. Like you’re the crazy one. It doesn’t work. It only leaves you to think of all the things you should’ve, could have done.

Nothing.

There’s nothing you can do. You can’t fight him. Well you can, but you might not survive. You could tell on them, but to who, Mr. Gordon? He’ll tell you he checked the school’s cameras but they were down for repairs like last time. And just like last time, things will be worse when they find out you snitched.

It’s odd that they’d be so outwardly and openly hostile. Since the time you did report them, they’ve always been careful to avoid the areas where cameras could be watching. And when McFadden or the others were aware of surveillance, they’ve made their work a delicate and subtle practice.

It’s probably just because graduation is so close and they’ve stopped fearing the school’s laughable anti-bullying campaign.

What just happened? Where did the loser come from?

Forget it. Shake all their nonsense questions from your mind. It doesn’t matter. They don’t matter. They will always be who they are, and there is no rational reason you should let what those cowards are get your goat a second longer.

What the hell kind of saying is get your goat anyway? Did the bullies of yesteryear steal livestock in place of playing locker pinball? Perhaps when there’s no Facebook people have to make do with barn dwelling things. Darby would’ve been good back then. He would’ve taken your goat and your sheep and any other animal you had and only given them back when they had something suited for Dr. Moreau’s island in their bellies.

You laugh, wiping tears, lamenting the feel of shame as it shimmers from your cheeks and the backs of your hands. Don’t worry about that. Think of how absurd they looked acting confused, how stupid they sounded asking their scripted questions. It is in the past. Make like the icy chick and let it go. Gather your books. Go to class. Focus on Saturday. If you must.

The other students bore holes in you with their lack of attentive eyes. They don’t care. Being savaged by your betters has become so commonplace that they could strip you nude and leave you in the halls and not an ounce of shame or pity or disgust would be wasted by even glancing in your direction. They are bad people.

You turn away from them. Their ugliness, but then you notice the word and realize there is nowhere safe for you to turn.

FAG

Dried red ink, likely a Sharpie, sprawls across your locker encroaching on the lockers of the two poor kids forced to be your neighbors. They are parts of an F and a bit of a G, but there’s no mistaking whom the message is for. I’m the red head with the red letters. I’m the fag.

“No,” the left-of-your-locker’s owner yells. You don’t know his name because he’s never bothered to share and you’ve never felt the invitation to ask such a thing. “I need to switch lockers. People might think I’mmm the homo.”

“I’m not gay.” Your words startle him. He probably didn’t know you were capable of speaking. This obviously isn’t a rational thought, but given the ignorance he displayed with his choice of words, it’s clear he’s not the sharpest cheddar in the meat drawer.

“Do me a favor,” he looks around like the favor he’s about to request is a dangerous one, a matter only to be mentioned in the privacy of a whisper, “Stop living.”

Again, you freeze. The timid part of you wants to ask why? Why instead of offering condolences for the way you’re treated, this guy chose cruelty. That small, angry part of you wants to scream. Maybe insults, maybe no words at all, just a roar to let him know what is coming. But nothing comes out. Not even breath. Your heart seems to be the only part of you working, beating its pulse louder and louder in your ears and face and eventually everywhere.

But why? Why is it bothering you so much? It’s not the most creative way someone’s told you to end your life. Heck, it doesn’t even top McFadden’s demand two minutes ago. The standard procedure for students at Mayville High to tell you to kill yourself is to attach instructions such as swallow a bullet, or Drano, or something made by Monsanto, like corn.

You consider this. These last two . . .

Their simplicity hurts you more. The people here don’t even care to be specific anymore. No need for creativity – any way you kill yourself will do just fine for them.

And you agree. Finally, a voice fights its way up from the freeze that’s overtaken you. But again, it’s not your voice. It has no feeling. No thoughts. No sense of right or wrong. It just is.

“Okay.” You add a nod to emphasize your answer. And with only four letters you abandon your hope for a different today. You can do that. For the first time in a long time you feel confidence crash like waves inside your ribcage. Dropping your book bag, you grow an inch and then another.

“Okay!”

 

 

TUESDAY, MAY 12, 8:47 A.M.

 

The sliding door coming off Mr. Miller’s porch is open as always. Which is good. If it weren’t, if say the Universe didn’t want you to follow through with this craziness, the door might’ve been locked, forcing you to wash your hands of this plan and maybe apply to college. Or maybe you would’ve broken it with Mr. Miller’s patio furniture; the end table with rust cracking through the white paint would do the trick nicely. But, that would set off an alarm, gotten you arrested, and then no more murdery day.

You step in and note the absence of any keypads for any alarms. Mr. Miller’s all about being tricky though. And just because you don’t see something, doesn’t mean it isn’t there – think ghosts, the Holy Spirit, the Koch brothers.

Still lifted by the aplomb that pushed you from the school, you float through the kitchen and down the stairs. Since Mr. Miller babysat you as a child, you remember what he has, what you need. You remember ogling them in the basement, wondering how heavy they were, if they’d really explode like he warned you.

This is a horrible idea.

They will.

Explode.

Like he warned.

What you should do is turn around and go back to the school with the confidence and swagger you have now. Standing here, knowing your plan . . . no exaggeration, you’d be the coolest.

You think of all the students flocking to you and your sudden buoyancy, and yet your body moves in the opposite direction.

To what you’ve come for.

The wood and glass case holding the rifles, shotguns, and other Weapons of More-than-enough Destruction.

The grin on your face stretches to a smile. As if securing them in a flimsy display case wasn’t silly enough, Mr. Miller leaves the loopy golden key with its black and yellow garland string, resting in the lock. The frosted deer adorning the glass case takes you back to a different time in your life, when you would stare at it for hours while Mr. Miller sat next to you watching his old shows. When concocting this scheme, you were sad about the possibility of needing to shatter it. With a nod, you reach by it and let the cool gold-plated key tingle between your index finger and thumb.

But . . .

You don’t turn it. You don’t do anything, paralyzed by the sight caroming off the undecorated sections of the glass.

They aren’t wrong to hate me. How could anyone feel any other way for such a hideous face? McFadden, Darby, Saunders, Mayes, Sarah Hill, Megan Ward – that’s them talking, their voices, not yours. Your voice is the fun, halfway comedic one that doesn’t use words like hideous unless talking about that odd blocky thing the school cafeteria calls meatloaf.

Hideous.

That’s what the bad people think about you. And bad people don’t deserve to live.

Twist. Click. Creak.

With the door now open, the musty smell of decaying wood, laced with the tinge of lead and steel, punctures your nose, coating the back of your throat, touching your tongue. The air even feels different, heavier, as you reach in and take what you need.

You’re surprised. They are not heavy, and they don’t explode.

Not yet, anyway.

You drop the duffle bag you brought and begin to load. But why? The plan only called for one. One gun, one bullet. How many does one need to do himself in?

Now . . . it seems, though, the plan has changed.

Those voices. Those words. Those bad people.

You formulate a new plan, taking all the weapons and all the ammo. You know you won’t be able to take everyone with you before SWAT Teams arrive. Maybe only two or three. Maybe only McFadden.

The long silver barrel of a revolver gleams like a message. The etchings in the steel read TAURUS and 44 MAGNUM. You locate the matching ammo and load. Six shots are enough for McFadden and Mayes.

And for you.

Goosebumps flood your legs as the cold steel slides down the side of your ass. The black grip hangs nicely over your belt, accessible, yet concealed entirely behind the back of your shirt.

 

TUESDAY, MAY 12, 9:30 A.M.

 

The school’s door swings open with more ease than usual. Maybe you’ve grown stronger.

Could be. You’ve never felt this way, this powerful. Like you’re in charge.

The wretched smell of Mayville High’s glossy floors assaults you for the last time. A fragment of regret pokes at you, prodding its way to the forefront of your thoughts. This place is full of bad people. Why not wait? Why not kill them all?

The options you’d have for finishing the job, doing it right, are endless if you wait. Prom is coming, and they’ll all be in one place at one time. Contained.

But waiting when you feel so in charge, now?

You shake your head. Then consider starting a fire. No. That’s dumb. The sprinklers would put it out before anyone died, and the rush for outside would make finding McFadden or any of the others next to impossible.

McFadden.

You reach up the back of your untucked button-down. The rough, molded plastic fits nicely in your palm. The indentations along the front dip, peak, and smooth effortlessly under and between your fingers. This gun was made for you.

The numbers above room one nineteen’s entrance emanate brighter than you’ve ever seen, or at least ever noticed. You reach for the forty-four, but stop. What if someone’s able to stop you before––

You grab the door handle instead. Turn. Open. Step in.

There he is.

McFadden.

Your heart pounds, and the urge to kill him now, right this instant, is almost overpowering, but your better senses kick in. You apologize to the teacher, and she requires a better excuse after class. This makes you smile.

You walk past Darby’s chair, stepping over the foot he places in your way. An asshole right to the last. Thankfully he’ll be dead soon, along with McFadden.

Clink. You snap your head to the left and right hoping no one heard the gun hit the chair. But no one cares. It’s only you after all. And so what if they did? You have a gun. They don’t.

What now? You search the room for any of the others. Saunders and Mayes aren’t in this class, but McFadden and Darby are here, and Megan Hill and Sarah Ward. You have enough bullets for everyone plus you and one more. The teacher should come too. She saw Darby try to trip you and did nothing about it. She’s seen everything they’ve done and never even attempted to stop them. Doesn’t that go against everything a teacher stands for? Turning a check when she should be interfering? Maybe you should kill her first.

No.

You let blood rush through your body, as oxygen fills your lungs. Forcing yourself to relax for a minute. Think this through. How does your life get any better after it’s ended? Sure, you’ll take them with you, some of them, but not all. And even if you could take them all, you would still be gone. And that would mean they have won. They succeeded in making your life so intolerable . . .

“Umm . . . Miss Kali, isn’t it true that the gene for red hair is a mutation?”

“Well, yes, Mr. McFadden, it is.”

“So, then it’s correct to say that anyone with that gene is by definition a freak. Right?”

They look at me. They laugh.

McFadden.

The mixture of perfumes and colognes is nauseating. The hum of whispers and the god-awful shrieking the teacher calls a voice is unbearable. You stand.

Tremors pass on from your hands to your elbows, then your shoulders, back, waist, feet, every muscle and bone until your parts are no longer yours, just a vibrating group of flesh pushing to your target. All the shaking blurs your vision, or maybe it’s the sudden rush of blood that rippled through your skin, drowned your ears with its rhythmic harrumphs, then flooded your forehead with enough heat to sear a hole through your skull and do the job before the forty-four has a chance.

It’s cold on your back – the gun – colder than when you first stored it there, more demanding, too. You oblige, give it the air it craves. You don’t have a choice. You have never had a choice. And if anything is true, today will be different. It is your destiny. You need to die now. They need to die now. It will never end until you stop it.

Behind the beating and ringing in your ears, the teacher’s voice turns to a shrill. McFadden doesn’t even flinch, doesn’t look back to see why she’s screaming, why the desks are flipping, students are running. You don’t even matter to him now. The barrel dances in tight twirls around the back of McFadden’s perfectly trimmed hair as you try to level and steady the gun.

Click.

He shows you the wax in his left ear. And soon a whole bunch more. With red, lots of red. More red than you’ve ever seen.

More red than what McFadden got out of you this morning on your blue-shitty-colored locker.

Boom.

CHAPTER TWO

TUESDAY, MAY 12, 7:59 A.M.

 

You tell yourself today will be different.

Maybe it will.

The lockers are the same sick, pale blue as yesterday, the linoleum floors still shine with the same pungent cleaners that have been disintegrating nose hairs and SEAL-Team-Sixing brain cells for all four years you’ve spent in this school. And your classmates – if they’ve changed anything other than the color of their hair, it’d be tantamount to the most democratic country on Earth trusting it’s people to pick their leader.

But still.

That pale blue used to be your favorite color before––

“The fuck?” Daryl McFadden searches the halls looking for something, or someone, sticking his arms out to the sides and spinning around with his eyebrows around his hairline and his eyeballs taking up most of the real estate on his face.

“There was a click . . .” All the color of McFadden’s tan complexion drains as his expression flips from surprise to horror. His elbows bend as his hands reach the back of his head looking like a cop just ordered him to freeze. He frisks his hair frantically, rubbing his ear, his eyes darting from student to student, more and more accusing with every glance.

He’s looking for someone all right, and three and a half years of attending the same school with him taught you being that someone is the last thing you want. So you fold your head into the books snuggled tight between your chest and arms. With a duck and run combination accomplished with such skill it could’ve landed you a starting spot as tailback on the school’s football team, you avoid McFadden’s glare well enough. Relief floods through you in a hot wave, warming you to the bones. No assaults from him this morning. At least not physical.

Your locker, though – that is a different story.

The red Sharpie’s ink isn’t original or accurate, but still your breathing stalls a moment when you see it. Is that even an insult?

Well yes, the wording is crass at best, but who cares if someone is calling you a fag? You’re not, but even if you were, does anyone even consider that a bad thing anymore? And who even uses that word?

The list of whoevers willing to write this is short and obvious. But they aren’t intelligent enough to come up with a decent insult, and don’t deserve the brainwork-induced-boredom solving the crime might entail.

While it does hurt, it’s minor like a sting from a bee. This is far better than McFadden’s fist any day.

Mitchel. It would hurt him.

You hope your best friend doesn’t see this.

“Bro.” Saunders drops a hand on McFadden’s shoulder loud enough to pull your attention back to them. The cool kids, the popular ones, the ones who don’t have FAG written on their locker savor the smacks on backs, echoing laughs, and generally obnoxious acts that demand attention. “I think you might’ve been knocked down a little too hard in lacrosse last week.”

“Wait . . . Listen! I was in class,” McFadden reasons. “I was sitting there and then . . .” Through the hundreds of buzz cuts, fades, bobs, braids, mohawks, fohawks, and rainbows of hair passing through the halls of Mayville High, McFadden finds you. But . . .

The look on his face.

Reflexes harden your shoulders and arch your back like an ugly old gargoyle, brittle stone, ready to crumble away with McFadden’s first touch. You tell yourself not to do that. It’s unbecoming, and more vital for survival in this tribe known as high school, it makes you look weak.

Or weaker, if that’s even possible.

The kid whose locker adjoins yours begins cursing, lamenting his luck, saying he needs a new locker, but your attention cannot be pulled from your approaching assault or that look in McFadden’s eyes.

Is it horror? Disbelief? Maybe Shock?

Whatever the blank, gaping look means, it is very un-McFadden. And quite terrifying. As he moves closer, he shuffles and drags his heals absent any hint of the signature McFadden Saunter.

What the hell is going on?

McFadden’s forehead’s absent the arched creases and bulging vein present whenever he’s screaming in your face. Also missing are his stretched, cheerful, perfectly dimpled cheeks he has when he’s finished with you. Now his face is a cool, blank, paler shade of brown than usual. The only part of him that’s familiar is his eyes. But even those aren’t his, they’re the terrified, pitiful things you see whenever you’re unfortunate enough to stumble upon a mirror.

You snap out of it and decide that whatever weirdness is going on, it’s time to go.

Now.

 

TUESDAY, MAY 12, 9:30 A.M.

 

The majority of the students are attentive, or as enthralled as seniors can be in the final months of high school. All but two.

You haven’t paid much bother to school since . . .

Actually, you haven’t paid much bother to anything since you made your decision.

And who could blame you? It’s what everyone wants.

It’s what you want.

Right?

And McFadden. He seemed his typical, joyful, sadistic self in the parking lot when he gave you that I’m-going-to-eat-your-soul grin. But given the whiplashy way he’s investigating the quietest heeltap, he might’ve spent the time between his hallway-meltdown and now developing a meth habit. Good for him.

You look around. Everyone here is a bad person. Not one of them has said or done something nice to you since . . .

Since?

When was it? Ever? Has anyone in this school, apart from Mitchel, ever done you a kindness? Some of them weren’t horrible when your sister was around, before she went to college, but that doesn’t count. Failing to be cruel might be something you accept as a mercy, now, but it shouldn’t be mistaken as niceness. A real, actual, honest-to-goodness good deed. Has a single student done that for you? If so, you can’t remember.

So why should it just be you?

Ending.

Why should it be you at all? They all deserve to die horrible, flamey deaths, with spiders and your grandma in yoga pants. And they’ll get that, they will. Maybe without your grandma’s involvement, but can you see them all continuing to be the horrible people they are and it never affecting their own lives? Some of the more vicious ones like Darby or Mayes or McFadden might never feel bad about what they’ve done, but that doesn’t mean they’re going to leave high school and have wonderful lives.

They have peaked.

From here on out, it’s downhill for them. They’ll go to college and realize none of them are good enough athletes to skate by. If they do graduate, it’ll be in phys ed, and then they’ll all come back here to fight for the same job at the high school none of them will get.

You on the other hand. You’re smart. You’ll do great in college. And you’ll find more people like you, people who share the same interests and want the same things. People you can care about. You’ll have a future.

As long as you make it there.

The girl next to Sarah Hill points to you and laughs. Then a few more join in on the joke that you’re a part of, but not privy too.

And that’s it. That’s all it takes. Some girl who isn’t even important enough to be named laughs, and instead of continuing to think about a future after this school, you get back to strategizing. You formulate a new plan. You won’t miss them. Any of them.

But there are people, things you will miss.

An overdue library book peaks out from your stack. You’ve decided to keep it, well, until someone else finds it and takes it back. Books . . . you’ll miss them. You’ll miss the feeling losing yourself in the colors and magic and impossible hope of any of the many other worlds you were meant for. Instead, you’ll be lost to this one and nothing more.

Darby knocks a book to the ground, breaking your thoughts and sending McFadden to his feet, wearing his desk like a tutu. When the plastic and metal crash to the floor, the sound it makes is nearly drowned by the shriek leaving McFadden’s lungs. His fingers stop millimeters from his mouth, realizing the special ability or skill of unscreeching a startle is not found on the curriculum vitae of a hand.

His arms shoot down to his sides with the type of shaking, veiny fists you’d expect Adamantium to reach out from. He tips his chin to the teacher who only responds with arched eyebrows, and storms from the classroom.

“What. Was. That.” Sarah Hill manages to pronounce each word, full stops and all, with her jaw extended like a caricature of a Barbie doll mixed with Satan. People say she’s the hottest thing next to . . . some other hot thing. She isn’t ugly by any means, but what’s sexy about evil? Even if she does have a nice ass. And legs. And face. And hair. And chest, and arms and smiles and eyes. But other than those parts, she’s average at best. And evil.

Darby can’t contain his laughter, even for a close friend. The tiny particles of spit he pushed from pursed lips float through the sunlight pouring in from the side window. It’s quite disgusting and unsanitary and revolting, but reminds you of freshman year when Mr. Faraday taught English in this room. If McFadden or Darby or any of the jerks would’ve dared torment you in his presence, the plume of chalk that exploded from the eraser as it careened into their skulls would’ve silenced them quick.

He was a good teacher and a great person. If he were still around today, things would probably be a lot different. You wonder if the restraining order’s still in effect.

The bell rings. Twenty-nine periods to go until the week ends. Along with everything else.

 

TUESDAY, MAY 12, 11:42 AM

 

“Gray,” Mitchel, your friend, the only person who will miss you if you follow through with your plan, calls your attention away from the jerks at the table across from you. “I know you think you need to recon, like you’re some sort of clandestine operative, but sitting so close to the enemy during lunch is commensurate to self-smiting.”

He takes a breath, looks around then continues. “What actionable intelligence are you going to gain? You know they are going to prom, you know they are taking a limo, you know they’re a large wad of moldy sanitary napkins. What else is there to figure out? Why do we always have to sit near these loud-talking twats? What are you planning?”

“I just don’t want to be caught by surprise with anything,” you lie. Well, not necessarily a lie, but not the whole truth either. You should tell him. Tell Mitchel everything you’re planning to do. Tell him about the prom and how you’re going to show up, uninvited, with an arsenal as your date. See how he takes that info in.

But . . .

After you’ve completed your plan, after the blood is on the walls, the bodies are on the ground, and there is no one left to explain what happened, people will think Mitchel was implicit in it all. He’ll be arrested for something he had no knowledge of and didn’t even expect. But the world won’t believe that. Cops won’t. People will be on news stations screaming that someone must’ve seen the signs. Someone should’ve stopped you. You’re dooming Mitchel to be that person. The one everyone blames.

His name may be cleared once the smoke blows from the barrel, but the stigma of being best friends with the kid who killed everyone isn’t likely to serve him well. Plus, he’ll probably be upset about you not being around to help him get through the hard times.

 You never thought of that. You never considered that killing the bullies who have picked on you and Mitchel, could, would hurt him. Your friend.

“You look in need of serious help. Go see the school counselor,” Darby tells McFadden, his words sliding out from a smile, loud enough he might as well’ve sang it from the school’s speakers.

Your friend.

He would’ve never sold you out like that. Mitchel would never say you need help.

If he knew though. If he knew what was swimming inside your head. Then would he say you need help, not as insult, but as a friend? Maybe he should’ve seen the signs . . .

McFadden’s eyes show the red-bordered, glossy look of someone who recently wiped away tears or soon will feel the need. He blinks away the sadness and returns his look to a more familiar one, an angry one, one that signifies only bad things. Except for once those eyes are not on you and they aren’t on Mitchel. They’re on his second favorite target. The fiery look is burning its way through Darby, cremating him in his lunchroom seat.

McFadden rises, the skin covering his knuckles threatening to disintegrate from the pressure of his clenched hand. He releases his grip on the air, but only to open and receive a grip on something worse, judging by his temperament and the direction of his momentum, looks like Darby’s throat.

You smile. It seems there will be one less terrorist for you to kill.

Leaning over the table, hand an inch from Darby, McFadden’s eyes shift. “What are you looking at, with that stupid-ass grin?”

You do that dumb thing where your face spins around looking for someone else, anybody else he could be talking to, when all the laws of nature and being the runt of Mayville High require that person to be you. Still, you say it. “Me?”


AUTHOR Q&A

About me

S. R. Lucas is not actually a four-year-old with a painted-on mustache and beard, vaguely resembling a henchman who may or may not have been lassoed in a Zoro flick. That’s all I can say.

Q. What was the hardest part of writing this book?
A.
Keeping the start of each chapter original. Originally, each first paragraph ended with a slightly different pop culture reference. However, my former agent convinced me that making too many Kardashian jokes could cause legal trouble, so I made them more general. I'm still sad about the switch
Q. Tell us about the cover and the inspiration for it.
A.
Anyone who reads the book should understand the reference. I tried REALLY hard to get the A in the center, but it just kept looking weird with the rest of the title and the name. Also, I changed the pen name five times until I came up with one that fit on one door nicely. Commitment.
Q. Is there a message in your book that you want readers to grasp?
A.
I wrote the book to comment on our desensitization to violence. My CP's all commented on how violent it is, but when I pointed out that I cut off each chapter before (nearly) each killing, they read it again and were shocked. Their brains filled in the violence that I left out, and that's a problem.

Next in:
Mystery, Thriller & Suspense
The Redhead Rises
Time to expose a small town's dark secret.
Broken Souls
Innocence becomes a trophy for the deranged.
Shadow Lives
What can death teach a det. about people?