He wore a long brown trench coat that
fluttered open in the wind. Alex didn’t see where he came
from, the man just there, reaching behind his back. He had
on a white, button up shirt and a pair of nice, black pants
underneath his coat. Even though the temperature easily
topped eighty on that windy day, he didn’t seem to sweat.
When the shotgun became visible from beneath his coat,
others took notice.
Light stubble lined his jaw, a
cigarette in his mouth, black hair slicked back. The
double-barreled shotgun swung out from behind him. Alex
stood in the middle of a busy campus filled with people who
all froze along with Alex when the gun rose into the air.
Alex didn’t stare down those double barrels, aimed instead
at a couple who sat on a bench.
The guy had his arm around the girl’s
shoulder, and just a few seconds beforehand they had been
kissing. Alex had noticed them, right before the man
appeared. Now they only stared down those twin metal
cylinders, not that they were given much time to. Fire
erupted from both barrels in quick succession. Suddenly
neither of them had a face. They flew from the bench, two
corpses strewn on the grass, one with his arm around the
As soon as the shots fired the man was
already turning to run, but for just the briefest second
Alex saw the man glance over in his direction, and wink.
Within seconds the man was around the corner of a building.
Some people followed him, while others screamed and ran.
Alex didn’t move, and stared at the two corpses, and the
grisly remains of their faces. He wasn’t alone; other people
surrounded him as he stared. Someone threw up, and Alex
heard people on their cell phones as they told the person on
the other end what happened. Maybe they talked to the
police, and maybe just a friend. Alex didn’t know.
He left behind the carnage and the
dead. He saw the face of a killer as he winked and offered
Alex the smallest of salutes while running. But most of all,
Alex saw a fictional character. He saw a figment of his
imagination, not that the recent slaughter had been in his
head. That had really happened, which meant the killer
wasn’t who he thought it was.
The news hadn’t reached his dorm just
yet when he walked into the lobby. Alex glanced at the
people as they talked, but didn’t bother to join in. He
walked up the stairs to his floor, and down the long hall
filled with open doors, blaring music, and loud laughter.
Alex ignored it all, and walked into his room.
He didn’t have a roommate. His roommate
had dropped out just three weeks into the semester. Alex
hadn’t particularly cared for the guy anyway, and in the end
enjoyed the solitude, even though he had had just a little
too much of it recently.
Alex stopped in front of his desk and
stared down at the half finished drawing from the night
before. He stared at a character he’d created over five
years ago. Rick Stellowin wore his standard brown trench
coat in this recent drawing, his button up white shirt on
underneath, along with his black slacks. Rick held a handgun
with both hands, and fired at nothing in particular. This
wasn’t a panel drawn for Alex’s ongoing comic, but a still
picture for his own entertainment. Rick even had his five
o’clock shadow and cigarette in his mouth.
The man he’d seen was a flesh and blood
person, not a picture on a piece of paper. A character in
his head hadn’t taken a shotgun and killed those people.
Others had seen it, proof enough it had happened. Still,
Alex turned on the TV and waited for the news. They covered
the incident, described in detail by the many eyewitnesses,
and then they showed a sketch of the killer. Alex stared at
the picture they had drawn, and then at the one on his desk.
They hadn’t drawn the eyes close enough together.
Alex turned off the TV, aware of what
he was already beginning to think, and scolded himself for
even considering it. Rick wasn’t real.
Outside his room Alex heard some of his
fellow residents talking and laughing and it made Alex
cringe. They started up their stereo so loud Alex almost
felt the vibrations from the bass. He didn’t even consider
going out there to tell them to turn it down. Complaining
would only get him pegged as their enemy, and enemies were
something he didn’t need. Still, he scowled at his closed
door and the pounding music, and then got to work on
finishing his drawing.
Headphones helped block out the blare
of the stereo. Drawing had become Alex’s escape from the
world, and he enjoyed it. There was homework to be done, he
knew, but the day had troubled him, and understandably.
After all, he had seen two people get killed, though he
found this didn’t disturb him as much as he thought it
would. Alex shared no love for his fellow students. Of
course, he could’ve done without the sight of their passing.
Over an hour passed before the scream
found its way to Alex’s ear through his music. He pulled off
the headphones, noting first the lack of stereo in the room
next to him, and next the screams and shouts from outside.
Halfway to his door to find out what was happening, Alex
heard the gunshots in rapid succession, and immediately
Careful to avoid the door in case
someone decided to fire into it, Alex knelt down next to his
desk. When the gunfire ended, he heard footsteps pound down
the hall, but didn’t they pause first? Alex thought they
did, right outside his door, before they continued on and he
heard a door open and close. For a while he didn’t hear
anything but the faint sound of his music still pouring out
of his discarded headphones.
Finally someone screamed again, and
cried for help. He heard the sound of sirens in the
distance. Hesitantly, Alex rose from his crouch and walked
up to his closed door. He cracked it open, and stared at the
blood splattered on the wall across from him.
Few people dared venture out of their
rooms as Alex did. Most watched him through slits in their
doors, still fearful that the killer might come back, but
Alex didn’t think so. He knew, in fact, that the killer
wasn’t going to come back, because he knew the killer hadn’t
been killing at random.
The room next to his had been hit,
along with the room across the hall from it. One body was in
the hall, his chest torn apart with bullet holes.
He could see more, he knew. He could
look in both rooms and see how many people had been killed,
but Alex didn’t see any reason to. How many corpses did he
need to see in one day? So he turned around and walked back
in his room. The police would want to talk with him, surely,
given how close he lived to the massacre.
The day had been eventful. Something
about that struck Alex as funny, and once out of sight with
his door closed, he put his hand over his mouth and began to
laugh. Looks like he wouldn’t have to put up with loud
stereos from them anymore.
Over two weeks of calm passed while
classes were suspended. Everyone in Alex’s dorm was
temporarily moved into another building as the questioning
and searching failed to turn up any leads as to who the
killer was or where he had gone.
Eventually the students were allowed to
trickle back onto the campus, and then back into the
Alex sat back in one of his classrooms
roughly two and a half weeks after the slaughter and stared
at the teacher. Nearly two hundred other students
accompanied him in the massive auditorium. Alex glanced over
at a few of them as they talked and giggled to each other.
He listened to them tell each other what they’d done the
night before; how drunk they got, what girl they had had sex
with, what house party was good.
Alex sat in the back corner right next
to the door. A few other people joined him in the back of
the classroom, but none of them sat very close. He felt the
same sense of hate for all of them that he always felt.
The door next to Alex opened and in he
walked. Alex stared as the man took up a seat next to him,
his attire the same as it had been weeks before. He kicked
his feet up on the chair in front of him and leaned back in
his seat. A few people glanced over, but apparently none of
them recognized him.
At first Alex stared straight ahead, as
if ignoring the man might make him go away. After a few
minutes passed and Alex didn’t say anything, the man leaned
his head closer, and said, “It’s a lot, but I can handle it.
Might not get them all, but I’ll get enough.”
Alex couldn’t help but stare at the
stranger. He met the man’s gaze. He stared at a face he’d
seen so many times before, just never in the flesh. He
stared at Rick. Then the words sank in.
“What?” Alex asked.
“The people,” Rick said, and kept his
voice low, a voice Alex had heard in his head over and over
again. “I don’t think I could get them all, not at once
anyway. I’d get them eventually; you could count on that,
but not at once. There’s just too many.”
“What are you talking about?” But in
truth, Alex did know what he was talking about. And before
Rick could answer Alex’s eyes swept over the crowd of
people. “I don’t want you to kill them,” Alex said.
Rick smiled and pulled a pack of
cigarettes out of his pocket. He lit one up with a familiar
lighter Alex had drawn for him. “I’m afraid it’s a little
late to get cold feet.”
“How are you here?”
“You remember being born? The exact
moment you were born? Hell, remember the first few years of
your life? If everyone else can’t remember their birth, why
should I remember mine? You made me. You tell me how I got
here.” Rick took a long drag on his cigarette and blew out
smoke into the classroom. Alex saw a guy near the end of the
row look over and scowl at the sight of the smoke.
“I don’t want you to kill anyone.”
Rick sat up in his seat and turned to
face Alex. He jabbed his finger into Alex’s chest as he
spoke, and said, “That’s the biggest load of bullshit and
you know it. I don’t know how I got here, but I sure as shit
know why I’m here. You want those assholes to pay, but you
don’t have the guts to do it, but I do.” The guy at the end
of the row stood up and started to walk closer to them. Alex
watched him approach, while Rick continued. “Every time you
start to get pissed off at someone, I hear it, and I take
care of it.”
Alex leaned his face closer and
whispered, “If you’re killing these people for me, well, I’m
telling you to stop.”
“Sorry, but the thing of it is, I’m not
restricted to what you think.”
“Excuse me.” The guy had reached them,
and tapped Rick on the shoulder. “You’re not allowed to
smoke in here.”
“Like this guy,” Rick said, and as he
spoke he pulled the gun out from his coat. The guy saw the
gun only a few seconds before it fired and sent a bullet
through his chin and up into his head. The back of his skull
exploded outward in a spray of wet, chunky red. “I kill him,
not because he pissed you off,” Rick continued, his eyes
still focused on Alex, “but because I wanted to. Now if
you’ll excuse me, I have your enemies to take care of.”
By that point people had already begun
to scream and run out of the room. The teacher yelled
something, but Alex couldn’t hear what it was over the boom
of gunfire. Another handgun appeared from Rick’s coat, a gun
in both hands as he fired into the crowd of people. Alex
stared at Rick’s face as he fired. No emotion touched him.
The act of killing was nothing but business to attend to.
When one gun emptied, Rick ejected the
clip and loaded up another. Alex stared down at the clip
discarded on the floor and ignored the screams of panic and
pain. He ignored Rick, who had moved out into the aisle for
more mobility. What he held in his hand wasn’t a figment of
his imagination. He held onto a real clip, whose bullets had
killed his classmates.
Alex ran from the room. The gunshots
had ended, as had the screams. Alex didn’t know if Rick was
still there, or if he’d already made his own retreat to
wherever it was he went. In his panic he forgot his
backpack, but did that really matter?
The main hall to the building was
empty. He stepped out into a surging crowd of people right
outside, some of them covered in blood. They were the
survivors. The campus police were running up. The flashing
lights from their cars filled the day, along with the
constant murmur of the crowd as they talked about the horror
of it all. Alex pushed through them and fled.
“Are you okay?”
“I’m fine,” Alex said to his mom. He
heard the tension in her voice, and listened as she told his
father that he was fine. On the desk in front of him Alex
stared at the picture he had nearly finished the night
“When I saw the report on the news
about the shooting at your campus, I couldn’t stop thinking
about you. Where have you been? I’ve been trying to reach
you all day.”
“I was walking home from class.”
Alex wanted to end the conversation. He
understood his mom’s concerns, but he was the safest person
on campus. Right now he needed to think about what he was
going to do. He wished he hadn’t bothered to pick up the
phone. In truth, he had been expecting it to be Rick.
“Have they caught him yet? Do you know
anything about it?”
“I don’t know anything.”
“I think you should come home for
“I’m not coming home.” Alex’s finger
began to tap harder and harder as he listened to his mom. He
didn’t have time for this right now. “I have to go.”
“I was just calling to see if you were
okay. You should at least consider coming home for a while.
Who knows what kind of affect this has had on you.” Her tone
hardened, and it became clear that she had already made up
her mind on the best course of action for Alex. While she
talked as if she was merely trying to convince him, should
he continue to refuse, her words would turn into demands.
His ex-neighbors weren’t the only
people who played loud stereos, and Alex listened as some
people in a room down the hall started up theirs. The music
shook his room while his mom kept telling him to come home.
Alex closed his eyes, and saw a couple, arm in arm, thrown
off of a bench as a shotgun blew their faces off. He saw the
emotionless expression on Rick’s face as he fired into a
crowd of people. Alex couldn’t take anymore of it.
“I’m not coming home,” he screamed into
the phone, and slammed it down in the cradle. For a few
seconds he sat in his chair, hands clenched into fists, face
tinted just a little red from the anger. He stared at the
wall and thought about the people playing that music. He
almost wanted Rick to come and shut them up. He wanted some
peace and quiet.
And then, right as the smile began to
touch his face at the thought of it, Alex understood his
mistake. Rick might come for those people and kill them, but
probably not first. No, Alex had given Rick two other
targets first. No part of Alex denied the truth of this
Looked like he would make a trip home
The drive took him two hours. By the
time he pulled into the driveway at his parents’ house, the
sun had already set. He didn’t see any lights on in the
house, even though his dad’s car was in the garage.
Alex got out of his car and slowly
walked into the garage. The door to the kitchen was
unlocked, and a dark, empty kitchen and dining room greeted
him. He called out to his parents, but he didn’t get a
response. He knew what had happened, but still, his mind
tried to come up with excuses to explain away the situation.
He descended deeper into the house. He
turned on the lights as he went, and found nothing in each
room, until he opened the basement door. A light glowed in
the far end of the basement. Alex slowly walked up to the
couch along the wall where his parents sat. They stared at a
blank TV, but then, neither of them really saw it. They had
their heads tilted back from when a bullet blew through
No red marked the wall behind them,
which meant they hadn’t been killed down here. Rick had
moved them here, positioned them to be together. It even
looked like the blood had been cleaned up around the back of
Alex collapsed to his knees as he
stared at them. His eyes burned, but he didn’t cry. From
behind him he heard soft footsteps on the carpet. Rick
stopped right beside him, and stared at his handiwork. He
held a gun in his right hand, perhaps the weapon he’d used
to kill them.
For a long while they just stayed that
way. Alex remained on his knees, slumped down, hollow
inside, and Rick stood next to him. They both just stared at
the dead bodies, until Alex broke the silence.
“When are you going to go away?”
“Since I made you, I want to unmake
“You can’t unmake a child. You have to
Alex lowered his head and stared at the
ground. “Then I’ll kill you.”
Rick chuckled, and pulled out a
cigarette from his pack. He moved over to the wall and
leaned against it as he lit up. “You think you can, do you?”
“After what you’ve done?” Alex met
“I’m not questioning the conviction,
I’m questioning whether you’re physically capable of doing
the deed. You think I won’t defend myself? I’ve got the
skills, you don’t.”
“Then I’ll kill myself.” And Alex meant
“Think that’ll get rid of me? Maybe it
will, and when you die I’m gone too, or maybe it’ll just
sever the ties between us and I’ll go my own way. I don’t
They lapsed back into silence for a
while, as Alex thought about it, and Rick smoked his
cigarette. While he did mean it, deep down, Alex didn’t
think he could actually go through with it. As much as he
wanted to end his life, he didn’t think he could do that to
When he finished with his cigarette,
Rick tossed it on the floor and stamped it out. “If you’re
just going to sit around like that, I’ll leave you alone. I
have a few stragglers I need to finish off from earlier
today, and take care of those people living next door to
you.” He started to walk to the stairs, and then stopped.
“Don’t blame any of this shit on me. You’re the one who made
me. I didn’t ask to be born, or whatever the hell I was.” He
opened his mouth to say something else, but only shook his
head and walked up the stairs.
Alex stood up and walked over to the
couch. He sat down next to his parents. The blank TV screen
drew his eye, so he stared at the reflection in it. Maybe,
if he thought about it really hard, he could hate himself
enough to make Rick kill him. Alex didn’t know exactly how
the system worked. He knew Rick could kill whomever he
wanted to, but could he choose not to kill someone Alex
hated? Perhaps he should put that to the test.
Every horrible thing Alex had ever done
floated to the surface. Every angry thought, selfish desire,
and a sense of self-disgust over took him. He needed only
look to the right and see his parents to help this along. He
blocked out all else. Maybe it really would set Rick free,
and let something like that roam free in the world. Alex
didn’t particularly care. The world wasn’t his concern
Three hours later, he heard the front
door open. He heard Rick walk down the stairs and through
the living room. Alex hated himself. He wished someone would
just kill him, and he listened to Rick approach.