the short story project


Steven Schwartz | from:English


His picture would appear in the paper, scrutinized for any sign of dementia. People would read between the lines for hints of indiscretion or scandal in his background as to what had motivated him. They’d find nothing. No illicit love affairs resulting in blackmail, no crushing gambling debts to do himself in over, no terminal illness that he couldn’t bear. Not a thing would be amiss.

He hadn’t even planned on doing this. Oh, that was untrue. He had, he had. But not in front of the students. He was sorry; it wasn’t like him really. He’d snidely told Kelsey Dunn to “shut her pie hole” in a moment of frustration at her interrupting his concentration, and sorry, too, that he’d alarmed anyone by warning Matthew Morgan to remain in his seat, afraid the boy would stop him, unable to face the humiliation of remaining alive as “that teacher who’d held the gun to his head.”

He’d initially planned to carry out the task after school (though he would have liked to consider it more a deed than a task, imbuing the act around its edges with a corona of historical significance). Drive to the lake or to an isolated and wooded area in the foothills. But he knew that would entail a search for a missing person, and although he had been missing from himself for some time, he didn’t wish to be officially designated as such and cause Margaret the extra hardship of agonizing about his whereabouts before his body was found. Best to get it over in a conspicuous place, and what could be more conspicuous than in front of his class?

Too conspicuous, in fact. He’d been staring blankly at his students’ quizzes when he reached down and felt the outline of the gun in his briefcase, the .44 caliber Colt black powder revolver. One hundred fifty thousand of the sidearms had been manufactured during the Civil War. Their durability and better firepower—the South had preferred the .36 caliber Navy model —had helped the Union to prevail. Or so he liked to suggest to his students in the reenactment club. He had hoped using such a weapon would lend his action a hint of noble sacrifice, but of course that was folly. He was not, and never had been, a soldier; he’d bonded with an army of men long dead, wearing their blue uniforms and wring their muskets. He read their words in ancient diaries, imagining their battles from Shiloh to Sharpsburg; he collected their regalia and mementos of battle, and remained as ripped apart in himself as the war had rendered the nation.

It would be humiliating for Margaret. Her husband of thirty years a “dedicated high school teacher” who “had snapped” after “holding his class hostage” in a “bizarre incident.” He could write the story himself: “a terrifying ordeal for the students,” “a frightening experience for the parents,” “a complete shock to his family.” Honestly, he’d wanted the opposite: privacy, oblivion, indifference; he’d wished to slip away without a splash, just like an old caiman. Or that wonderful last shot in On the Beach—the submarine, the last human habitat left in a nuclear toxic world, descending without a wake into the sea.

But he’d made a spectacle of himself now, fucked up again, as he was coming to think of his existence in these latter years, though there was no evidence of such failures, just the twisting pain he lived with all the time, the miserable discharge of dread and disappointment into his guts, as if from an unsalvageable rusting ship (he could not stop thinking about the oceans—those immense bodies of water that both swallowed one up and promised rebirth).

He had the little pink pills the doctor told him would help, and he had the schedule of exercise classes Margaret had highlighted for him, and he had the cell phone number of a “good man of faith” who wanted to aid, and he had his rightful mind, lest anyone excuse his behavior as that of a madman, and he had his family, of course. Yes, the family, their love, the children and grandchildren, and, if he could only bear staying alive, the great grandchildren too. All the years of watching their blossoming, bountiful lives . . . he’d had it all.




Gabriel Hap thought Mr. Adams looked well, considering. Their teacher stared at the white phone next to the bulletin board after the sheriff’s voice came over the classroom’s loudspeaker asking him to pick it up. The phone was only to communicate with the office.

“Would you like to pick up the phone, Mr. Adams?” asked Kelsey Dunn, as if she were his secretary. Mr. Adams had no response, which wasn’t a surprise, since he’d been standing there for an hour with the gun against his head. Gabriel didn’t actually know what would happen if any of them tried to leave, but based on what Mr. Adams had said to Matt Morgan about not moving, he suspected they weren’t free to do so. The problem, as Gabriel saw it, was God’s anyway. Their fate rested in His hands. At least that’s what he believed most of the time. At their Young Fellowship meetings they’d discussed destiny. The youth pastor, Chad, said that God knew every person’s fate but had given people free will to act independently, whether that be for good or evil. When Gabriel asked how you could have a destiny but still have choices, Chad said, almost too quickly, as if he’d gotten this question a thousand times, that it was a blessed paradox and had to be accepted on faith. God wanted Man to make the right choices even if those choices were predetermined. You could make bad choices, which were part of your free will, but you could make positive choices to follow Jesus’ commands and be in accord with God’s grace.

“So,” Gabriel had asked, “free will is bad choice and destiny is good choice?”

“Not exactly,” Chad said. “Both are your decisions, but only God knows which ones you’ll choose.”

“Then why doesn’t He tell us what to do?”

“Because He wants you to figure it out,” Chad said.

Gabriel decided Mr. Adams was in one of those “blessed paradoxes” right now. How else could you explain the behavior of a teacher who was one year away from retirement and had never so much as come on the radar screen as far as the crazy stuff teachers did, like Ms. Evers last year, their tenth-grade English teacher who wore a cheerleading outfit to class for a week straight, a joke at first, but then she wouldn’t stop, her pleated maroon skirt getting shorter and shorter. Or Mr. Norton, the married technology teacher who was seen groping his student teacher in the parking lot and then got fired. Those were at least explainable, even Ms. Evers who just wanted “inappropriate attention,” as it was communicated to them in an assembly after she got booted too. But with Mr. Adams it didn’t figure. He went to Gabriel’s church and his wife was in the choir. His kids were grown. Only last week, Gabriel had seen Mr. Adams and his grandkids helping out at the church’s charity car wash.

And wasn’t Mr. Adams worried about Judgment Day? Gabriel had accepted Jesus as his savior when he was thirteen. He didn’t do drugs, he didn’t drink or smoke, and he never cussed. He prayed every morning and evening to walk in Jesus’ footsteps, but he did, however, spill his seed at least four times a day, and despite what the sex-ed teachers said about such behavior being perfectly normal, he expected to go to hell. He would just as soon go now. Which was why he stood up from his seat and walked straight toward Mr. Adams.




Elissa Lorge watched as groups of students outside snaked their way along the perimeter of the school’s fence. She concluded the entire building was now fully evacuated, fifty minutes after Mr. Adams had put a gun to his head and thirty-three minutes after Kabir had glanced in the classroom door’s window. The policemen, the SWAT team that had surrounded the school seventeen minutes after Mr. Adams first lifted the gun to his head, were locked and loaded at every conceivable position, including belly down on the grass right outside their classroom windows.

Before this, she had counted the number of times Mr. Adams had shuffled his quizzes from right to left—six times—and vice versa—eight times—and the frequency with which he had sipped from his coffee cup—fourteen swallows—which was in line with how long, on an average, it took him to usually finish his morning coffee. She had also counted the words in each of Mr. Adams’ post-gun utterances, which divided by two, the number of times he’d actually spoken, added up to eight, an ominous sign because reticent murderers usually proved more cruel. Of course it was quite possible that Mr. Adams was not going to kill anyone, including himself, and that the eleven times the gun had moved from the center of his left temple to a slightly lower region at the top of his jawbone to his eardrum to the orbital arch of his eye, a total radius of not more than eight centimeters, possibly indicated he was losing his nerve. Elissa would be relieved if he did. She did not want to go through the aftermath of such a tragedy, as everyone would term it, because it would mean extra counting (and no doubt more enforced therapy).

Not counting at all meant, of course, she’d have to go to her room, close her blinds, lie on her bed, stare up at the ceiling, cross her arms, and watch those same old boring reruns of her stepfather holding a knife to her mother’s throat and telling the bitch, as he had put it, that he was going to cut off her fucking head. While Elissa screamed in the corner. Ho. Hum.

“Mr. Adams,” came a voice over the school’s intercom, “this is Jack Cunningham with the Severton County Sheriff’s Department. Can you please pick up the classroom phone?”




What Roland Fineman was thinking about, besides the fact that his father had quit his job as an accountant in midtown Manhattan and moved everyone to this small Colorado town on the Front Range because he believed it was paradise, was finality. What did it really matter that Mr. Adams had a gun pointed at his head? Hadn’t Nietzsche written, “Men are even lazier than they are timorous, and what they fear most is the troubles with which an unconditional honesty and nudity would burden them”? What could be more unconditionally honest than standing in front of your AP history class and putting a gun to your head? And talk about “nudity,” as in baring your soul—here it was in the flesh, but did anybody in this class of hicks, jocks, phats, spooners, and huggers really appreciate Mr. Adams’ guts? He doubted it. Kelsey Dunn was apoplectic with concern, no doubt dying to get in there and do some “peer counseling,” if only Mr. Adams hadn’t told her a few minutes ago to shut her pie hole, a retort Roland found positively and insanely lovely. He wondered for a brief moment whether he should stand up there in solidarity next to the man. He could quote Nietzsche: My death I praise to you, the free death which comes to me because I want it. Boom!—the gun would go off.

Was that relic even loaded?

“No can do, Mr. A,” Dan Brock said. “We can’t just turn our seats and let you shoot yourself—or us.”

“Why not?” Roland put in.

“Excuse me?” Brock said. The last time Roland had talked to Dan Brock was when he left his copy of The Power of One at home and asked Brock if he could share his. “You can have it,” Brock had said. “I’m not going to read it anyway.” The only other exchange had been Brock asking Roland why he used so many big words.

“If he wants to shoot himself, that’s his choice,” Roland said. He saw that Mr. Adams had lowered his gun a bit, as if from the strain of holding it in place.

“What the hell are you talking about?” Dan Brock asked.

Brock mostly sat in the back of class with his aviator sunglasses on, when he wasn’t sleeping. Roland was fairly terrified of him. He’d already sent a couple of kids to the hospital while playing football, a sport Roland despised but couldn’t help appreciate for its unbridled destruction.

“‘Nihilism stands at the door.’ Wouldn’t you agree, Mr. Adams? From ‘whence comes this uncanniest of all guests’?” Roland saw Mr. Adams’ eyes flicker—was that in recognition of the tele-meta-philosophical level they were communicating on?

“Why don’t you shut your trap?” Matthew Morgan told Roland, and then to Mr. Adams, “Were our quizzes that bad?”

“You idiot!” Roland burst out, unable to control himself. “This is nothing to do with us. It’s . . . it’s about the Overman. Right, Mr. Adams?”

“You’re not helping,” Dan Brock said, through clenched teeth.

“I’m not trying to help, you jerk,” Roland said. “I’m accepting. ”

“Be quiet! Shut up, all of you! He’s standing there with a gun at his head, I’m fucking pregnant, and you’re all mouthing bullshit!”

“Ariana?” Oliver said.

“Yes, your goddamn selfish bastard of a brother is the father!”




Dan Brock was just coming out of a dream when he got nudged by the team’s center, Matt Morgan. In the dream, he’d been sitting in front of two college coaches, one from Texas A&M and the other from UT Austin. He found it kind of strange that they were both interviewing him at the same time in a Texas hotel room, but everything else was real, just like it had been for his brother Kyle who played quarterback for UT until he got in the car accident that left him a vegetable. He wasn’t supposed to refer to Kyle as a vegetable, or even think it, and never, never say, “Hey man, you’re a vegetable, did ya know?” His parents must have thought he was stupid or something. He’d never say that to Kyle. Sure, he thought it, but you couldn’t help that. The guy had a feeding tube and round the clock nursing care and his mobility pretty much consisted of jerking his head involuntarily. Sometimes, Dan stared at him and tried to see the person who’d broken the state high school record for passing yards, the star who’d gotten a full scholarship to Austin, the brother who on a trip to Eastern Colorado, just the two of them, before he left for college, pulled over on a back road, and let Dan drive, closing his eyes and pretending to nap just to show how cool he was about it.

Now they had to turn Kyle’s head so he’d slobber out the other side of his mouth.

“Make your brother proud,” their dad told Dan last year when he started as a linebacker. Parents on the other teams had complained. This was football for God’s sake, not hockey. Dan was too mean, too crazy. The refs constantly blew their whistles at him: “No illegal hits!” “It was legal!” he’d argue. And it was. He didn’t do helmet hits, just good old flying tackles, vicious enough to get him a penalty anyway, especially when he stood over his conquests afterward with his fists clenched. He didn’t care. He was trying to kill somebody, maybe even his brother, better off that way.

That’s what the A&M coach had said to him in the dream, “You’re a murderer, Dan Brock. Look what you did to your brother.” But the coach had a smile on his face. Creepy. Shit, he thought now, seeing that Mr. Adams had some sort of a long-barreled pistol pointed at his temple. What was he planning to do with that frickin’ thing?

“You think we should jump him?” Matt Morgan whispered.

Dan Brock stared at Mr. Adams. He was looking at a spot on the back wall, like they told you to do in speech class so you wouldn’t get so stressed by watching people’s faces. Mr. Adams, who was low key and the only teacher that let Dan sleep in the back of class, had once said to him, “I used to hate everyone when I was your age too, sometimes I still do.” He wasn’t fair game.

“Let’s roll,” Matt whispered again, just like they’d said on that plane that went down.

“Make one move, Mr. Morgan,” said their teacher, as if reading Matt’s name from a roll sheet, “and this gun goes off.”




The thing was, Vivian Hernandez thought, if I get out of here alive, will I be any different? She’d always heard that when you went through something traumatic and survived, it changed your life forever, mostly for the better. You appreciated every day, you liked your parents and little sister more, and you didn’t care about having to shop at Kmart for your clothes. But she wasn’t sure this was really going to change her life; they’d been sitting here for twenty minutes, nobody was getting up to leave or trying to talk to Mr. Adams, except Kelsey Dunn who had just said, “Mr. Adams, whatever is wrong, we can get help,” and Mr. Adams had answered in a fairly bright voice given the circumstances, “Please shut your pie hole, Kelsey,” and gone back to standing at attention with the gun at his head.

Everybody was texting back and forth. She wasn’t allowed to have a cell phone. Her parents thought it would distract her from school, and they still believed it meant gangstas on streets looking to deal, where she’d come from in East L.A. That, after all, was why they’d moved to Colorado. They had relatives in Northern Colorado and her dad had found a job working in maintenance out at the meat packing plant. Her mom cleaned homes just as she did back in L.A., but they had a bigger house here, even if the odor from the nearby stockyard made you gag on a hot summer day.

Kabir had looked in the window of the classroom door a while ago and seen what was going on and then disappeared. His eyes had gotten huge. She hoped he’d gone for help. Kabir reminded her of her father, who was always afraid of doing something wrong and getting sent back to Bogota, even though they were citizens now. Americans were suspicious of Colombians, he said, so they had to set a good example here, because of all the drug business. Kabir often had the same look on his face as her father did, worrying for some trouble he didn’t even do, a shame he carried with him just for being here. She wanted to tell Kabir to lighten up and not put his face so close to the exam paper, pressing his pencil down as if drilling his answers into the test. But he was too shy to even speak to anyone, and anyway, she was the same.

“Would you all please turn your chairs around with your backs to me,” Mr. Adams said.




They’d never used loaded weapons for the drills that they did in their Civil War Reenactment Club. Mr. Adams had strict rules about that. In fact, Jerry Worthington had never fired a gun in his life. But he did know that the particular gun Mr. Adams had, a six-shot Colt .44 revolver with a range of nineteen yards, long enough to reach any of them in class, had the power to penetrate seven three-quarter-inch white pine boards, because Mr. Adams had demonstrated that once using the same gun, blowing out their eardrums in the process.

“Mr. Adams?” Kelsey Dunn asked. “Is this a joke?” He didn’t answer. The barrel was flush against his temple. He was rigid. Was he trying to make a point? It didn’t really go with their lesson. They were studying World War I, the Treaty of Versailles. True, Mr. Adams wasn’t above a prank now and then. He’d once written comments on their papers backwards, some kind of weird skill he had, so they had to look in the mirror to read them. But was this a prank? It didn’t look as though he was punking the whole class.

Everyone turned to Jerry. As if he knew. How would he? They just dressed up in these uniforms and slung rifles with bayonets over their shoulders and marched around and learned about battles. What’s going on? Kelsey Dunn whispered to him. I don’t know, he whispered back.




Ariana was looking over the chart of Indie royalty that Oliver had passed her in history class. Oliver had put her at the bottom, somewhere below Shannon Grayson who had bought all of the band Bitzie’s demo tapes off eBay last summer, evidently giving her a secure place in the hierarchy. She noticed Oliver had made himself a bishop. Ariana, meanwhile, was some kind of lowly handmaiden. At the top were Hallie and Ishmael, the king and queen, even though they’d graduated last year. Hallie was in art school back East. Ishmael was still in Colorado working as a busboy at a Mexican restaurant. Ariana wasn’t sure how you could be a busboy and still be king of the Indies. At least Hallie had something to show for herself. She was a great painter. But Ishmael’s band hadn’t worked out. Oliver evidently disagreed. “If you’re really Indie,” he’d told her, “you understand that it’s all about attitude, not what you accomplish.” Success, in the conventional sense, was just such bullshit, he said.

“So why do this stupid chart?” she’d asked him.

“Just for fun,” Oliver had told her, with his simpering little smile. Oliver wore small green frame glasses and tight Capri jeans —he was above the gender thing, he said—but the jeans made him look like Anorexic of the Week. Oliver was also Patrick’s younger brother who was Ishmael’s best friend and the bass player in their now defunct band, The Turnkeys, and Patrick and Ariana had dated for a while, until it was clear Ariana didn’t know enough about Indie bands and obscure poets. Like she cared. The chart was stupid anyway. Indie royalty. What a laugh. Oliver was a little wannabe power grubbie. A snot, too.

He’d told her yesterday when they went shopping together at the thrift store that he didn’t like the term Indie anymore. Hipster was the better word. Not the old beatnik dudes with their silly berets and bongos or the hippies reeking of sandalwood incense, but the new kind of cool hipsters who could do fashion at the lowest possible cost, like the black suede boots he’d gotten at the Back to the Rack clothing store down in Denver and the velvet jacket with blue satin lapels and its nipped-in waist.

“Ugh,” he’d told Ariana, when she tried on a flannel shirt at the local thrift store—she’d stupidly agreed to go shopping with him. “That’s so Nirvana and Pearl Jam.” She took it off. Why did she let this twerp control her? He’d told her Mothman, a band she loved, was no longer acceptable as Indie because they’d appeared on MTV. “Kiss of death,” Oliver informed her.

“You’re just incredible,” said Ariana.

“Thank you,” Oliver said, taking it as a compliment. Ariana had rifled through the bins of t-shirts two sizes too big, since she was four months pregnant with Patrick’s baby and that was the only reason she was hanging out with Oliver, hoping to enlist his help in breaking the news to his brother, once she got up the guts to tell either of them. Patrick had come up from Boulder his first week after freshman orientation at college and called her. She’d thought they’d broken up but allowed herself to be flattered into screwing him at her parents’ empty house for the weekend. She hadn’t heard from him since, and she kept thinking she should do something decisive, but she couldn’t get past staring at the number for Planned Parenthood in the phone book. Her parents— her father was a retired Air Force colonel—would simply kill her.

“Oh, my God,” Denise Alexander said, who sat next to Ariana. They were waiting for Mr. Adams to stop shuffling the quizzes, which he’d been doing forever. Mr. Adams had finally stopped, but he had a Civil War pistol pointed at his head.




it had happened again. Kabir felt the warmth spread across his groin and into his underwear. Kelsey Dunn in her white shorts, with the flaps of her back pockets snugly buttoned, had simply walked up to Mr. Adams’ desk after collecting all their quizzes. The light from the tall classroom windows had revealed the outline of her panties. it was the same as two nights ago when he’d been watching a program on the History Channel—his parents restricted his TV watching—and a “flapper”—part of American culture from the 1920s—was dancing and swinging her beads, her loose breasts jiggling. That was enough to do it, his first ejaculation. While watching the History Channel! His mother would be mortified. His father would find it amusing perhaps and say that at least it had been an educational experience. But how could he tell either of them? Back in India no one talked about sex, not where his parents were from at least.

He decided Kelsey Dunn was staring at him oddly.

He raised his hand for permission to go to the bathroom, but Mr. Adams was busy moving around the quizzes that Kelsey had just brought him. He didn’t even look at Kabir when he left the room.

Stripping off his jeans in a bathroom stall, he tried— unsuccessfully—to wipe away the sticky fluid that only spread like glue. He thought about throwing the underpants away, but the trash can was empty and it didn’t have a lid. The last thing he wanted to do was stuff them in his pocket, so he flushed them down the toilet and watched as the toilet burbled and gulped and sucked them away with a roar.

He thought again about Kelsey Dunn. She was that kind of nice American girl in this small Colorado town an hour north of Denver where his parents had emigrated two years ago. He was only fifteen but had been placed in the eleventh grade because of high test scores and the insistence of his father who didn’t want him, their only son, to delay getting a head start on college and finding a good job, preferably in engineering or higher mathematics. Kelsey always questioned him in her sweet American voice about India. She had read two novels by Indian writers over the summer and would like to discuss them with him sometime. She had always wanted to go to India the way other kids dreamed of traveling to Europe or tropical islands.

He would nod politely at such pleasantries, not believing for a minute she was seriously interested in him beyond his importance as a cultural symbol. This did not stop him from picturing his mother having tea with Kelsey while they spoke about the wedding arrangements for Kelsey and him, his mother in her sari with a gold necklace and bangles up her arm to protect her from evil. He had little time to dwell on such a fantasy, because returning to his classroom and glancing in the door’s window, he saw his teacher Mr. Adams holding a gun to his head. The confused looks on his classmates’ faces indicated that this was not an idle demonstration. Several of them noticed him, including Kelsey, whom he thought mouthed Get help. And he recognized, too, the paleness and vacancy on his teacher’s face, the same as when his Uncle Bhanu lost his home and business to a flood in Bihar and held a knife to his own throat until Kabir’s father talked his younger brother out of killing himself.

He fled to the office, the fate of his new America trailing behind him.




Did he say anything? What were you thinking while he stood up there with a gun? Were you scared? Did he tell you why? No, everyone would answer to this last question. Yes, we were scared. We were thinking about our lives, they might say, if they could answer honestly. We were thinking about ourselves. And wasn’t that the same for him? He was thinking only about The Absence, which he’d been thinking about for a very long time. He could not imagine a more selfish act. After all these years of living alone in The Absence, of sparing Margaret and his children and friends, wasn’t he making up for lost time with this most public and heinous exhibit of self-serving misery? These young people had done nothing to deserve him laying himself out in such ugly pain before them. But he couldn’t reverse course now. For someone who abhorred public displays of emotion, he had become a baby again, crying in front of his class.

He could certainly picture an afterlife, but it was one for his students, not him. Kelsey Dunn would become a missionary or maybe work at a foodbank; Kabir Gupta would no doubt fulfill his parents’ dreams of being a mathematician; Elissa Lorge would go on for a PhD and more therapy over the death of her mother; Roland Fineman would try his hand at advertising after failing as a poet; Gerald Worthington would run his father’s hardware store until the day he died; Vivian Hernandez, never a contrary word out of her, would attend Yale on a full scholarship; Dan Brock would blow his knee out playing football and go into real estate with his buddy Matthew Morgan; Ariana, after a miscarriage, would become director of a women’s shelter; Oliver Yeager would move to the Bay Area and finally and officially come out.

He had a future planned for all of them but had somehow missed Gabriel Hap, that boy from a pious ranching family. He hadn’t expected Gabriel, always so accommodating and polite, to be the one who got up from his chair and came toward him. He really had not given the boy much thought. He doubted anyone ever had, even his parents. Gabriel Hap sat in a middle row, handed in his completed assignments—that was the best one could say for them—offered answers to only the most obvious questions, and was always thrilled to see his teacher at church. “I’m so glad you share a love for the Lord,” Gabriel bashfully told him once afterward. He wasn’t brownnosing either. But Gabriel Hap didn’t know that he attended only for Margaret. She sung in the choir and enjoyed being among the other worshippers on Sunday. Whether she actually believed in prayer or not, he couldn’t say. They never discussed it. The Absence grew greater for him at such times, and when he closed his eyes and heard the pastor’s words, he saw the warring tribes of the Bible tearing one another’s flesh from the bone. Why had he thought the Civil War was so different? It was not. It was one of the most lethal and brutal battles between men, savagery really. Six hundred thousand dead, twice that many gone from disease, fifty thousand amputees. And yet he could not stop glorifying it in his head. Those courageous men in blue and gray; armed with muskets and sabers in iron scabbards; their front lines strong behind the Chevaux-de-frises barricades; their feet bloody, bruised, and swollen from marching. He had wished to die for one side or the other.

And so it was Gabriel Hap who came forward, his hand out, his fingers extended, his eyes beseeching. What did the boy want? The gun of course. But was it to be a hero? Or to genuinely help?

Neither would happen. Gabriel, the young man’s future clear now, would go to war. He would learn to kill. He would talk about a day long ago in his history class when his teacher held a gun to his head, and how he alone stood up and tried to take the weapon away. A shot blasted through the window, blew out the back of his teacher’s skull, and stopped only after piercing the blackboard. His teacher jerked once and fell.

“The point was,” Gabriel Hap would explain to his young recruits, “you can’t hesitate and survive.” Sure, people had questioned his judgment, and some said Mr. Adams was actually lowering the gun to put it down, but the point was . . . “the point is you have to know you’re doing the right thing and not second guess. That gun was aimed at me,” he would tell them, “and the SWAT guys knew it and took the opportunity.” At that final moment there were words on Mr. Adams’ lips, but Gabriel would always say they weren’t meant for the living.



*Steven Schwartz, “Indie” from Little Raw Souls. Copyright © 2018. Used with the permission of The Permissions Company, Inc., on behalf of Autumn House Books,


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