Note: This story was created in 40 minutes in one of our writing sessions. The story is based on the following writing prompt: “I was sitting in the school canteen when an old friend who I thought was dead walked in carrying a bible.”
Silenced by Luke Ryan
It was after midnight and I was sitting in the old school canteen. The room had seen better days. If you looked closely, you could still see slight flecks of blood on the grouting between the wall tiles from the shooting last year. Mandy sat across from me, the glow of her cigarette providing and the moon providing the only light in the room. She always had a cigarette in her mouth. She still looked gaunt and unkempt but at least she was clean again.
She had hardly said a word since I arrived more than an hour ago and I had given up trying to talk to her. Her note had told me to be here at midnight tonight. So I came. I had known Mandy since we attended this very school and although we had barely spoken in years, I would trust her with my life. Not the most sparkling conversationalist, but trustworthy without doubt.
She wouldn’t be drawn on the reason she called me here this evening so I sat and waited for whatever was meant to happen. As I stared around the canteen, I remembered the images from the television, the whole building sealed off with police tape. Stretchers being carried out. Two dead children to a stretcher. Onlookers in tears, parents screaming to be let through the police cordon.
And then the adults, one to a stretcher. The hawkers behind the police cordon desperately trying to get a glimpse of which teachers had been killed. And of the murderer. My friend Mo. I had known him longer than I had known Mandy. I was at his tenth birthday party. I was at his twentieth birthday party. I should have been at his thirtieth birthday party but the dumb bastard went and shot up the fucking school. And then he shot himself in the face.
Four teachers dead, seventeen children dead and Mo, dead. The lives of many of the town’s families destroyed in fifteen minutes during lunchbreak. They still put flowers outside the doors of the canteen building every Saturday and Sunday. They used to put them every day but the school had to stop them. The kids didn’t like it. Trying to eat your dinner while watching poor little Timmy’s parents lay flowers in his memory when you had seen three bullets rip through his chest killing him instantly. The kids didn’t like it.
Mandy finished her cigarette, stamped it out on the floor and promptly lit another. Still, the smell of the smoke was better than the permanent smell of grease which had seeped into the pores of the room. If I ever had to eat another meal in this room, it would be too soon.
I asked Mandy would it be much longer. I had to be up at six in the morning for work and hanging around the school canteen after midnight wasn’t my idea of how to spend my night. She just shrugged and went on smoking.
A short while later I heard a sound. It was from the corridor that led between the canteen and the main school building. I could hear footsteps now and there was a faint shadow cast by the moon’s light. A figure stopped when it reached the doorway but I couldn’t see who it was.
‘Hello John,’ said the figure, and I nearly fell of my chair in shock.
I still couldn’t see the figure clearly but I would never mistake the voice. Mo. I just stared at the doorway. My brain couldn’t even think. I don’t even think I was shocked because shock didn’t come close to the feeling of seeing my former best friend standing in the doorway to the room where he had murdered 21 people a year ago.
Mandy stood up and went to Mo and hugged him. I stayed rooted to my seat. Mo approached and as he got closer, he opened his arms as if to hug me.
‘Remember me?’ he asked.
‘Sure,’ I replied, still sitting. He lowered his arms, the hug not coming. I noticed and book in his hand. It was a bible.
‘What are you doing here?’ I asked. It’s hard to know how to speak to a murderer you believed was already dead.
‘I’ve come back to take care of some unfinished business.’
‘But you were fucking dead.’ I said. I was finding it hard to keep calm so I stood up and went to the window.
‘Doesn’t look like it,’ said Mo, ‘wouldn’t be talking to you now if was would I?’
‘Mo didn’t kill anyone,’ said Mandy. I looked around.
‘What do you mean? Of course he did, everyone said it. They even had a funeral for him and then buried his body anonymously to stop the locals desecrating his grave.’
This was the most ridiculous thing I had heard.
‘Let him explain, John,’ said Mandy. ‘We talked earlier. He told me it wasn’t him.’
‘But they found his body, he’d blasted half his head off.’ I replied. ‘How can it not be him?’
‘Who saw the body? Who saw my dead body?’ asked Mo.
‘The cops, the teachers the poor screaming students that you hadn’t managed to kill yet. The mortician, the undertaker, the coroner. They must have seen your body.’
‘They saw a body, can’t have been mine though. Mine is right here talking to you.’
‘So why did everybody think it was you?’ I asked.
‘Because I wanted them to. I was the shooter. I shot up the canteen, I killed all those little kiddies and those dumb fuck teachers but my body never went out in the body bag. I went down into the store cellar from the kitchen.’
‘That’s where you shot yourself.’ I said.
‘That’s where I hid. And that is where the cops found some bum homeless dude with most of his face blown off. And he was carried out. Everyone in the canteen who hadn’t died identified me and you know what a dumb fuck town this is. They saw me run down to the cellar and they heard a gunshot. That was all. And all it took was some money in the right pocket of the coroner, who by the way is balls deep in debt because of his raging gambling problem and it’s officially signed off as me in the body bag.’
‘And why the hell would you do this?’ I shouted.
‘Gun control,’ he replied.
‘Gun control? You shot up a school because of fucking gun control? Are you insane?’
‘Too many whackos with guns going round and the Republicans are only too happy to let them. Senator Morton was getting fucked in the polls and was in danger of not getting re-elected. He needed something to bring to the people. He wanted to stand on his democratic soapbox and attack the gun lobby after the shooting. The shooting here last year galvanised his campaign.’
I just stared at Mo is disbelief. I couldn’t fathom what he was saying. Even Mandy was speechless, her latest cigarette almost burnt to the butt, half hanging from her fingers. Mo continued.
‘I used to work for Morton remember? I still do. Albeit a lot more quietly know. Wouldn’t have had a job much longer if he didn’t get re-elected. We staged the shooting to give him a platform to fight the Republicans and virtually ensure his re-election. It worked’
I stood there dumbfounded. Mo continued.
‘Mandy saw me earlier today. Purely by chance. She was in the city this morning and maybe I was getting sloppy lately. I had a decent disguise but she knew it was me. I told her I didn’t do the shooting. I promised I would come here tonight and explain.’
‘And why have you got a bible.’ I asked.
He pulled a revolver from his pocket.
‘Because I couldn’t find a cushion’
He put the barrel of the gun against the bible, using it as a silencer, and fired two shots. One into Mandy’s head, one into my heart. I saw him walking out of the canteen in the moonlight as I bled to death.
‘No one can ever know,’ was the last thing I heard.