7.03 / March 2012

West

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When Stephen Linkfelt was headed to his locker to retrieve his father’s M14 semi-automatic rifle, Cal Jones was in Art History getting ready to ask if he could visit the restroom. It was game day and as such Cal, West High’s three-year starting Quarterback was dressed in slacks, dress shirt, tie, and jersey. But that wasn’t the only game day tradition Cal Jones observed.

The first game of the season had been a disaster. A 56-7 romp courtesy of Colony. For the first time in his high school career the competition for state was wide open and Cal had big dreams. Dreams of playing college football in the lower 48. He wasn’t dreaming too big, of course. He believed in being practical. He didn’t imagine himself at USC or Ohio State. But Boise State was a possibility, or maybe, if he had a great season, University of Oregon. But after that first week doubt set in and when the second game was on the horizon he was getting nervous.

It was midday, Economics, when his girlfriend, Jeannie Foster, passed him a note saying to meet her in the girl’s bathroom. Jeannie, a good girlfriend accustomed to the emotional acuity of her boyfriend, had sensed Cal’s nervous energy and took it upon herself to ease his tension. So Cal met Jeannie in the girl’s room where they fucked against the wall of the handicap stall.

That night West beat Eagle River 48-21, behind Cal’s three passing touchdowns. To add icing to the cake he’d even run for one. Thus Cal Jones developed another game day ritual, equally as important as eating a meal of Captain Crunch, two scrambled eggs, and two pieces of toast with strawberry jam.

 

***

     Miles Linkfelt, Stephen’s younger brother by a year and eight months, was in Biology when he got Stephen’s text message. It said, GO TO THE PARKING LOT. While Miles and Stephen didn’t exactly get along, they didn’t not get along either. He held his phone under the desk and texted back, WHAT’S UP? But there was no answer.

 

***

     Stephanie Frank was West High’s new English teacher. She had moved to Anchorage from Montana, figuring it couldn’t be all that different. Beside, her fiancee was working on a construction crew on the North Slope where he was gone for four to six weeks at a time. At least being in Anchorage they would be in the same state as one another.

When she passed Stephen Linkfelt, a student in her fourth period Shakespeare class, in the hall as she headed to the Teacher’s lounge, she noticed sweat dripping from the boy’s forehead as he fiddled with the combination of his locker. “Everything all right,” she asked, continuing to walk toward the stairs at the end of the hall.

Stephen chuckled, the same nervous gurgle of a laugh that exited his mouth when she called on him to read aloud in class. “I always spin past the second number,” he said.

“Have a good weekend,” Stephanie said as she started down the stairs, and, as an afterthought, “go Eagles.”

“Go Eagles.”

Stephen’s voice followed her down the steps, as did the click of his locker finally opening.

 

***

     Jeannie Foster was staring at herself in the girl’s room mirror. Fluffing her hair, adjusting her bra, smelling her armpits. Her boyfriend, Cal, would be walking through the door any minute. She chewed her spearmint gum vigorously for ten more seconds–she counted them out in her head, then spat it into the trash.

Her arms were covered in goosebumps and her legs shook a little. It was, after all, a public bathroom. They were lucky to have not been caught yet, and were tempting fate by continuing the practice. But if Cal was consistent about one thing it was his game day routines. Especially when the team was winning. And because Jeannie loved her boyfriend she smiled at herself in the mirror then slipped her panties off from under her skirt, to make things a little quicker, and tucked them into her backpack.

 

***

     Cal took a breath mint from his pocket and looked at his watch. He’d give it a minute to dissolve before asking to use the bathroom. During this minute, Stephen Linkfelt was wiping sweat from his forehead with his sleeve, then finally steadying his nerves long enough to open his locker.

 

***

     Miles checked his cell phone for the third time, still finding no reply from his brother. Maybe there’s going to be a fire drill, Miles thought and texted, FR DRL? to Stephen, while holding his phone inside the pocket of his cargo pants. Stephen was friendly with several teachers at West High and always seemed to have insider information on things like fire drills or changes in the lunch menu.

Mr. Lyle, the Biology teacher was diagramming what the class would be looking for when it came time to dissect their frogs. Miles stared into the drawing of a frog cut in half, wondered how he would bring himself to stick a knife into the rubbery hide of the amphibian.

“It’s not so bad,” Stephen had told him. “Though you can always be the inevitable wuss to plead his way out of it in exchange for dissecting a flower.”

Miles thought again about the frog. He and Stephen had caught frogs as kids. Baxter Bog was right outside their backyard fence, and the two boys were constantly unlatching the gate and slipping out onto the gravel path when their parents were busy making dinner, or paying bills. Miles thought about the slippery frog skin in his hands, holding them tight so they didn’t jump free until he was ready to let them go. It wouldn’t be so bad to have people think he was a wuss.

 

***

     Stephanie–Mrs. Frank, sat at the formica table in the teacher’s lounge, blowing on her Cup O’ Soup. The Spanish teacher, Señorita Whitefield was the only other teacher in the lounge. Mrs. Frank took a folded piece of paper from her pocket, laid it on the table next to her soup. It was a note from Principal Holsworth, suggesting he would like a date with her.

Mrs. Frank thought about her husband, who had been away for three weeks during his current stint at work, and still had three to go. It was a long time for anyone to be away from their spouse, but Stephanie had an easier time with it when they were first married. When she still lived in a place where she had family and friends. She was happy to move anywhere to be nearer to her husband, but she was starting to think he’d been wrong when he said they would be closer to one another if she lived in Alaska.

“Would you like to come to my house for dinner after the football game?” the note said. Principal Holsworth was only recently divorced, but Mrs. Frank remembered the way his eyes were glued to her chest when she interviewed for the job. At the time she thought, if it helps me get the job, what the hell. And Holsworth wasn’t so bad looking. He was a little older of a man than she saw herself with, but after a few weeks without her husband in bed next to her, Stephanie thought maybe settling a bit wasn’t such a bad thing.

 

***

     The door to the girl’s room opened and Jeannie held her breath. But it wasn’t Cal. Just some girl Jeannie didn’t recognize. Probably a Freshman. The fact that the girl wouldn’t even look at Jeannie made that probably a definite. Jeannie basked in the glow of the upperclassman intimidation factor. The girl went into the stall next to the handicap one and Jeannie tapped her foot, hoped it would be quick.

She turned on the faucet and washed her hands. For the hell of it. She pinched her cheeks and checked her cell phone for the time. Cal was one minute late, knowing him it would be another five before he showed up. Jeannie hoped that this time, at least, he’d remembered to suck on a breath mint. The last time it had been taco day at lunch and his breath had smelled of cafeteria guacamole.

Jeannie kept the water on until she heard the toilet flush. She didn’t want to hear the Freshman pee. When the Freshman exited the stall she came to the sink and washed her hands without looking up. She didn’t even check herself in the mirror. Jeannie looked her up and down. The girl wasn’t so much of a mess, but she was still a Freshman.

 

***

     Cal raised his hand. “Can I use the bathroom?” The team’s tight end snickered behind him because he knew Cal’s routine and Ms. Rodriquez waved Cal toward the door. Cal patted his pocket, to make sure he had a condom, felt it’s tell-tale outline under the denim, and rose from his desk. He was already getting hard.

When Cal opened room 215’s door, Stephen Linkfelt was at the end of the hall, maybe half the length of a football field in the direction Cal was headed, loading a round of ammunition into his father’s gun. When Cal noticed Stephen the door was just clicking shut behind him.

 

***

     Miles stood over the tin dish where his frog lay lifeless and shiny under the slight flicker of the florescent lights. He wondered how Stephen could have cut into one. After all, Stephen had enjoyed the frog-catching even more than Miles, keeping one as a pet–secret from their parents, for two months. And when it died Stephen cried for two days. Sure, they were 9 and 7 1/2 back then, but still.

Mr. Lyle made eye contact with Miles and mimed a cutting motion. Miles held the scalpel at a 45 degree angle, poised just above the frog’s white speckled stomach. Slowly, he lowered his hand until the blade rested on the frog’s skin, creating a small dimple.

There was a loud echoing blast in the hallway. Miles’ hand slipped and the scalpel skated across the frog’s stomach and sliced into its throat. Blood oozed into the dish and Miles dropped the blade.

 

***

     Stephanie texted her husband, HOW’S WORK? LUV U! even though she knew at this point in the day he was probably fighting against permafrost to dig a trench where electricians would run wires. And his cell phone was probably back in his room at the camp. But she was feeling guilty for considering Principal Holsworth’s invitation. Feeling guilty for leaning toward accepting.

She tried to distract herself as she ate her soup. Thought about the boy in the hall, Stephen Linkfelt. He did well in her Shakespeare class, beside the nervousness of reading aloud. He seemed to get along with his classmates, but there was something off about him, too. Maybe, she thought, he was just awkward around her because he had a crush. She had, after all, noticed him staring at her during reading time in class. Or getting lost in her cleavage when she tried to talk to him about late homework last week.

For a second she wondered what he looked like naked. He was a senior and seemed in good shape. Why didn’t he play sports? She ate a spoonful of soup, careful not to slurp because Señorita Whitefield was still in the lounge. She thought about the sweat dripping down Stephen’s forehead when she passed him. That’s what it would look like, she thought, during a strenuous fuck. She flipped Principal Holsworth’s note in her fingers. She was getting herself excited, her thighs tingling. There was a loud noise upstairs, a clash and echo, as she made up her mind to have dinner with the principal.

 

***

     Jeannie was growing impatient. She looked at the time again. If Cal was more than five minutes late her panties were going back on and she was returning to study hall. Screw his game day superstitions.

She was fluffing her hair and pouting her lips in the mirror for the hundredth time when the crack rang out like thunder in the hall. She went queasy. Her father had taken her hunting since she was a little girl. She knew the sound of a gun. She opened the bathroom door and looked out. Someone was standing by the lockers holding a M14. She knew the kid from something. Her Shakespeare class. Linkfelt.

Jeannie froze in the doorway. He hadn’t noticed her yet, and though she knew she should retreat, hide herself in the stall where she’d expected to be having sex with her boyfriend right about now, she couldn’t move.

Linkfelt began walking down the hallway. Jeannie took a step out of the bathroom, the door swinging closed behind her. When it latched shut, she cringed. Linkfelt turned, looked her in the eye. He was always looking at her in class, she realized now, like she was feeling a stare for the first time. Out of habit Jeannie raised a hand to cover her cleavage. Linkfelt, in turn, raised the gun.

 

***

     Stephen Linkfelt was not angry. He wasn’t mixed up, or feeling left out. He was not an outcast, as seemed to be the stereotype for what he had been planning. He couldn’t fully explain it, but could, if nothing else, pinpoint the initial thought to the day he first held his father’s M14. His dad, an engineer for BP was an avid weapons collector, had multiple lockers in the garage and basement full of guns, knives, and even swords.

Even though he knew how he would come to be characterized by the media, and the sound-bytes of friends, family, classmates, teachers, and neighbors, he thought the plan was worth it. It came down to one thing: mediocrity.

Stephen knew he was no genius, he wasn’t particularly skilled in any area, skating by with high C’s and low B’s his entire academic career. He wasn’t athletically gifted, either, erring more on clumsy. And mediocrity only resulted in one thing in Alaska: working a mediocre job for the rest of your life. He was primed to end up working on a construction crew on the North Slope, on a fishing boat, or in a hatchery.

Aching deep within him, Stephen had always wanted to be famous, but mediocrity did not result in fame. Ever. People got famous for being great, or for being horrible at something, like the folks who auditioned for shows like American Idol and got famous for singing off-time, out of tune, and with a slur. Those people sometimes got more famous than the people who were great at something.

But Stephen wasn’t even horrible at anything. He was just middle of the road, average.

Sure, he experienced nerves when the day came. He could barely open his damn locker his heart was pounding so fast, and his hands were so sweaty. Seeing that new English teacher, Mrs. Frank didn’t help, either. She was wearing a tight sweater and her breasts–all breasts, made him nervous. Like he couldn’t control his insides from revolting against him when a girl was around.

But he was going to be good at this one thing. He was determined. So he took a deep breath, put Mrs. Frank’s rack out of his mind, and opened the locker.

The gun was cold in his hands. He gripped and re-gripped, pitting it against his shoulder. He loaded a round of ammunition. Down the hall a door opened. Cal Jones, the quarterback, stepped out and looked right at Stephen. This was the moment, the true test.

Stephen took a deep breath as Cal stared down the hall at him. He slid his finger along the trigger, pulled.

“Go Eagles,” Cal Jones said as he fell to the ground like he’d been sacked by an invisible middle linebacker. The blood in Stephen’s veins ran hot. He wiped sweat from his eyes. There was a click of a door behind him and he turned to find Jeannie Foster, Cal’s girlfriend, walking out of the bathroom.

For a second Stephen thought of sparing her. He’d had a crush on her since fifth grade, though it was unlikely she even knew his name. He looked at her tanning salon brown legs, her hand placed modestly over the mounds of her pinkened chest. He imagined her so grateful that she got naked for him. But he knew there would be no time for that, not what with what would happen to him after today. He lifted the gun from his side, lined up the sight with the divot of her cleavage.

 

***

     When Stephen pushed open the door to the Biology lab the first person he saw was his brother, Miles. He had texted Miles to go to the damn parking lot. “Fuck,” he said, and razed the room. There was no turning back at this point. He’d made it through the second floor, and was surprised the police had yet to arrive. Of course it was only a matter of time.

Stephen ran down the stairs at the end of the hall. He had been sure he would have been stopped by this point. There was one thing left he wanted to do. Not for fame or infamy, but for himself. And since he’d yet to hear a siren, he headed for the teacher’s lounge.

He walked past classrooms he knew were full of students. But this was not about revenge against certain people or crowds as the media would surely portray it. There was no desire to kill a certain amount of people, only to make a mark. So, the students and teachers on the first floor would survive to talk about the high school massacre in Anchorage to news crews and national morning shows.

Stephen swung open the door to the teacher’s lounge and found Mrs. Frank huddled on the couch at the back of the room with the Spanish teacher, Señorita Whitefield. He soaked in the surprise and horror on their faces before pointing the gun at Señorita Whitefield. “Over there,” he said, sweeping the gun to point at the corner, near the refrigerator. “Por favor,” he added, pleased with his improvisation. When she had relocated he squeezed the trigger and she dropped to the ground.

Mrs. Frank was crying uncontrollably, but in her silent gasps for air between sobs, Stephen heard sirens finally approaching. There was no point, he knew, in playing the nice guy. He lifted the gun, pointed it at her chest, knowing full well the round was empty. “Take off your shirt,” he said.

As she undid her bra, her pale breasts dropping with a heft that surprised him, Stephen thought he heard a helicopter circling above the school. He dropped his father’s gun and reached out, touched Mrs. Frank’s chest. He could feel her heart pounding wildly, feel her body trembling, the sweat beading from her pores. He reached into his belt and pulled out another gun, a 9mm. Mrs. Frank unbuttoned her pants, hands quaking like she hadn’t eaten in days. Stephen shook his head, closed his eyes, lifted the gun.

The sirens were right outside now, the parking lot filled with police cars. This is it, Stephen thought, placing the barrel to his temple. This is forever. Go Eagles.


Ryan W. Bradley has fronted a punk band, done construction in the Arctic Circle, managed an independent children's bookstore, and now designs book covers. He is the author of three chapbooks and a story collection, PRIZE WINNERS (Artistically Declined Press, 2011). His debut novel, CODE FOR FAILURE is due from Black Coffee Press in 2012. He received his MFA from Pacific University and lives in Oregon with his wife and two sons.
7.03 / March 2012

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