Greetings, fellow indie writers and readers! I am Beem Weeks, author of the historical fiction/coming-of-age novel JAZZ BABY and SLIVERS OF LIFE: A COLLECTION OF SHORT STORIES. My goal in life is to promote the indie movement to the world. I can be found on Twitter @VoiceOfIndie and @BeemWeeks. I enjoy indie films, loud music, and a well told story. Lansing, Michigan, USA.
Slivers Of Life
My photograph is there in the yearbook, smack in the center of page 57, right above my full name: Thomas Alvin Rieger, Jr. I hate that picture, though. Not too fond of the name, either. I mean, a fresh haircut never translates into a cool character. And judging by the sparkle in my eyes, I do believe I was stoned that morning.
The name? It's not really mine. It belongs to my dad.
We're nothing alike, him and me.
Anyway, my mom made sure the yearbook committee included my picture when everybody else just wanted to forget. I suppose it's her way of proving I had nothing to do with all the trouble that jumped off right before spring break. I mean, we were set to spend a week in South Beach. Why would I jeopardize a trip like that?
But Tristan and I were best friends; everybody just assumed I shared complicity. Officer Tenneman sure thought so.
Thing is, Tristan never told me.
Not even a hint.
Nothing of that awful morning stands out, no warning signal, nothing spelling evil intent. Subtlety belongs to the cunning, I guess. Besides, I'd have stopped him had I'd known.
But I didn't know.
Can't convince the good people of Thornville, though.
Tristan's mother died of an overdose, he once told me. Heroin, he claimed. But you could never be certain with the likes of Tristan Chalmers; details tended to shift in the retelling of a story. His father? Who knows. Foster families and apathetic relatives played three-card monte with this boy's life. He never had what most people take for granted.
I first met him in an alley behind Sandusky's Party Store, where all the stoners go to get high before school. The air blew crisp that morning, cold enough to lay ice to puddles gathered where the pavement falls in dips. Tristan didn't wear a jacket like everybody else; all he sported was a pair of acid-washed jeans and a faded black Nirvana concert T-shirt.
Tina Yelba spoke to him first, said something like, "Aren't you cold?"
Tristan flinched a quick shake of his shaggy head, said, "Nope," before offering a joint of his own. "Anybody wanna match me?"
My eyes fixed on that pinner. "You call that a joint?" I asked, retrieving a fat one from a half-empty pack of Marlboros. "This, my friend, is a joint. One toke will put you up there with Sputnik."
His dark gaze scanned the clear sky overhead. "I don't think Sputnik's still up there," he mused. "In fact, I'm pretty certain it's not. And neither is Mir."
Tina giggled, ogling the boy with boldness. "Are we gonna smoke, or are we gonna talk Russian space junk?"
We wandered in a quiet high back to school, the three of us, speaking only when comparing notes on just how stoned we actually were.
Tina had a thing for him right away; one of those mad crushes she could never allow herself to have for me--even though I'd known her since kindergarten.
"I see you as a brother," she told me the one time I tried my best move on her.
But hey, that was freshman year. It doesn't really count, right? I mean, nobody expects to score in ninth grade, do they? Everybody brags on such things but seldom is legitimate proof of anything beyond a hickey ever offered--and even those are suspect.
We became fast friends; a tight trio; Tristan, Tina, and me. A lot of weed got smoked; classes were skipped. After the trouble jumped off, everybody blamed Tristan for all of Thornville's problems. Truth is, we were getting high and cutting class long before he ever showed up. And nobody ever thought much about it, either.
Until that Friday.
I wouldn't call Tristan a popular kid at school. But he wasn't bullied, either. He had no real enemies--at least none that I knew of. And I'd like to believe he'd have told me if there'd been problems.
We got high that morning, same as always, out behind Sandusky's. He didn't act differently from any other day.
The thing with Tristan, though, is he never really said a lot--stoned or straight. He lived by the belief that the more people say, the more of themselves they give away, until there's nothing left, no secrets, nothing to call yours alone.
Maybe he'd reached that point--in his own way of thinking, I mean. The guy just never really had anything to call his own. Whatever there might have been, it all went away with his mom.
Mrs. Rainy's art room absorbed the tail end of those first echoes coming from the opposite side of the second-floor hallway.
"Firecrackers," claimed Delvon Marlin, finishing a watercolor meant to be flowers of some sort.
But LeRon Keege heard it in a different sort of way. "Ain't no firecrackers," he argued, moving toward the door. "That's a piece, Dog."
Me? I guess I didn't care either way. I'd gone missing inside my own head, working on a sketch of a girl I'm pretty sure doesn't really exist. I couldn't get her eyes right, though. I'd meant her to be Chinese. Instead, she just appeared sad.
Screaming kids scrambled into the long hallway. Chaos seized custody of the moment like a truancy officer taking charge of some class-cutting freshman.
We all crowded the doorway hoping for a glimpse of reality, of somebody else's nightmare.
Mrs. Rainy's voice ran high and tight. "Get back inside and shut the door!" she demanded.
I saw him, though--Tristan, raising a black pistol level with Mr. McKutchin's head. The sudden report gave me over to a startled flinch, an immediate thing that nailed my eyes closed for only a moment, so I didn't actually see the act itself. The aftermath, though--a mind can't undo the truth.
Behind the locked door of Mrs. Rainy's classroom, spastic kids flung themselves through open windows, dropping two stories down, landing hard against a strip of grass stretched between the building and a parking lot, preferring the prospect of a broken leg or a fractured arm to the pinch of lead passing through gray matter.
I couldn't jump, though--not that I feared the fall. I just figured if anybody could bring Tristan back to his senses, it would have to be me.
Problem is, Tristan had gone MIA in the time it took to convince Mrs. Rainy to unlock the door and let me out.
A stark dark quiet lounged lazily atop Mr. McKutchin's prone body. The scene brought to mind a drunken uncle sleeping away an all-night bender in the very spot he chose to fall. It might have spawned a few laughs--if not for all that blood.
I can't recall too much about the mess inside McKutchin's classroom. I only remember bodies, three or four maybe, slumped over their assigned desks, like napping stoners bored with the day's lesson.
A scuffle overhead provoked another round of firecrackers mingled with the panicked cries from kids caught too high up to just toss themselves to the ground below.
Jennifer Littman burst from the stairwell like a wild-eyed spider monkey, fixed her frantic gaze on me, and hollered, "Why are you guys doing this, Tommy?"
"I'm not!" I yelled at the retreating girl.
Other kids bolted past me, eager for escape, most already working out details for stories they'd offer to the gathering horde of news maggots waiting at the finish line.
I cut against the grain, shoved my way toward the third floor, up to where Tristan's current commotion dug deep into Mrs. Kennerly's typing class. The wounded and the scared plunged into the hallway, searching for a reprieve that wouldn't come easily.
How does one go about unplugging a hard-wired head case?
A thing almost invisible drifted through shadows just past Mr. Ronson's chemistry lab. I knew that shirt, Nirvana, Teen Spirit, and all that noise.
That shaggy head turned my way. He didn't raise his pistol, though; Tristan knew me.
"I give you the day off, Tommy," he said, dipping deeper into the shadows. "Go home, dude."
"Why would you do this?" I wondered aloud.
He never did tell me, though. Tina Yelba tumbled into the scene like an actress who's missed her mark, jumped her cue.
I don't for a moment believe he intentionally meant to shoot her; Tina was practically his girlfriend. I'm of the opinion he mistook her for another girl, raised that piece, squeezed its familiar trigger, before actually considering the facts of the moment.
And he didn't stick around to lament this accident, either. Those shadows covered him like spilled ink on paper.
Tina never moved again. Tristan's bullet settled in her head, right above her left eye, put the girl lifeless and lost on the hallway floor.
I stayed with her for a minute or two, held her hand, pondered that glassy-eyed stare I'd never get out of my own head. I suppose I'd have made it out unscathed had I just remained there with her, or maybe taken Tristan's advice and gone home. But when does a teenager ever consider common sense?
A flash and a pop put Tristan in the stairwell leading back to the second floor--or maybe the first, if he meant to escape.
There'd be no escaping this mess, though.
Officer Tenneman crouched low in the main hallway, shielded behind a book-return box near the library; waiting, stalking, as if he himself entertained intentions of a murderous sort.
I occupied space beside a drinking fountain just inside the west entrance.
Tristan might have stood a chance had I been inclined to issue a courtesy shout. I didn't feel especially inclined, though. He had to answer for all he'd done--specifically for Tina.
The first shot from Tenneman's pistol struck Tristan's shoulder, spun him reckless and wild into the great wide open, where a second bullet tucked itself neatly against the boy's heart.
Tristan's hand betrayed him, loosened its grip, let fall his own gun, brought his brief reign to an end.
It should have been finished right there. But like I said, me and Tristan were best friends; the assumption of my complicity fell across every remaining face in that hallway.
A combat stance, they call it, that aggressive crouch officer Tenneman adopted. Gusto clouded his gaze. He'd waited out a career for this sort of action. He would not be denied.
My hands rose in quick surrender. "I'm not part of this," I swore.
"Sure you are," he declared, squeezing gently his trigger finger.
* * *
They never charged him for shooting me--Officer Tenneman, I mean. My death became one of thirteen attached to Tristan Chalmer's rampage. Mrs. Rainy never said a word, even though she saw the entire scene play out from her hiding place in the stairwell.
And I can't admit to being angry about it, either. I mean, Tristan's to blame for stirring up the whole mess. Everybody else--we were just the debris from whatever it is that set him off. And that's something even the experts can't agree on: Why did he do it?
It doesn't really matter, does it? It's not like they'd ever learn enough to see the next one in time to stop it.
Still, my picture's in the yearbook. Tristan's isn't, but mine is, smack in the center of page 57, right above my full name: Thomas Alvin Rieger, Jr. Maybe I don't really mind that photograph. And just maybe my name's not so bad, either.
* * End * *
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