Winter 2017 — THE POTOMAC

Shooter, five flashes

  Emily Greenberg

Charleston, South Carolina

It was early evening when he entered the church, fanny pack strapped across his waist, eyes hidden beneath the bowl–cut bangs, and asked for the pastor. Over casseroles, they discussed Scripture. Everyone in the Bible study was nice, so much so that he almost reconsidered his plans. Almost. Placing a hand on the semiautomatic in his fanny pack, he thought back to everything he read on Daily Stormer and The Council of Conservative Citizens: the Baltimore riots, the black on white crime statistics, the black conspiracy to take over the country and rape all the white women. He flashed back to the photos he had taken in the Confederate cemetery, the Nazi code numbers written in the sand, the jacket emblazoned with symbols for Rhodesia and anti–apartheid South Africa. Suddenly, everyone grew quiet. They bowed their heads in prayer. They closed their eyes. This was it. He stood and unzipped the fanny pack, held the gun up until a young black man walked towards him, his voice calm and steady. He looked just like Freddie Gray, like Trayvon Martin, his awakening. For months, wherever he went, he had seen Martin's soulful dark eyes peering from that white hoodie, and here was another man with the same dark eyes pleading with him, saying he could stop, that he didn't have to do this. But he did. No one else would.

Hialeah, Florida

For fourteen years, she lived with her 42–year–old son in a concrete apartment complex with aging furniture. So nice of him, taking care of his elderly mother. They were close. He took her to doctor's appointments around Miami–Dade and helped her with groceries. Sometimes they even shared a bed. They were that close, which was why the last few days were so disturbing. She knew he was upset about the deposition, knew he was hard at work on a screenplay, but still this was unusual. A few hours ago, she had slipped two Xanax into his lunch, but they were not working. He had lounged on the couch the rest of the day, weight room muscles bulging from a dirty white tank, eyes glued to the explosions on the television. Occasionally he wrote on one of the Post–it's: Louie's home. Very Spartan. Louie fucking the whore. Louie ask her to stay she refuses unless he pays for the rest of the night. Louie insults her. There was something not quite right. From the balcony, he stared at the parked vehicle below, muttering. Then he called 911 to say they were following him, that they were practicing witchcraft, brujeria, against him. The man in the car and the lawyer, Castillo. She wrestled the phone away from him with her arthritic hands, told the dispatcher he was acting strangely but not to bother sending anyone; he had left while she was on the phone. She hung up, wondering where he was. At the lawyer's again? She watched the news, made herself a cup of tea. Nearly five hours later, when he returned carrying a container of gasoline and a black gym bag with ten thousand dollars in cash, it was just like the movies: he kneeled, dumped the money from the bag, struck a match, lit the wet bills. She tried to stamp the flames out with her bare feet, but it was no use. Everything was going up in smoke.

Carthage, North Carolina

This was just a bad dream. She had not really left him three weeks ago. The last quarter century had not happened. They had not gotten divorced that first time, had not re–married twice more before returning to each other. He had not gotten drunk. Had not held a gun to her head or confined her to the house against her will. Had not called her family at 3 in the morning faking an emergency, faking prostate cancer, just so he could see her after she ran away. He had not taken Ambien last night. Had not unlocked the three guns from the safe. Had not loaded them in the car with ammo and driven the twenty minutes from his home in Robbins to the Carthage nursing home where she worked as a nurse's assistant. He had not shot at the windows and headrest of her PT Cruiser. Had not placed the weapon atop a Jeep Cherokee and walked towards the one story brick building, carrying three others. Had not pushed past the white rocking chairs or stared into the wrinkled faces of his elders. It couldn't be real. He was still 20, she just 17. They were going to grow old together.

Blacksburg, Virginia

He didn't say anything when his roommate entered the bathroom. He never said anything. Not to his parents or his teachers or his roommates. His classmates had thought he was deaf or mute at first, until they heard his deep–throated whispers in broken English. The rants against hedonism and wealth. The talk of his imaginary girlfriend or his made–up vacation with Putin. He dabbed moisturizer under his eyes, slipped in contacts, and brushed his teeth. By 7 a.m., he had made his way to West Ambler Johnson Hall. He met her on the fourth floor, by the elevators, and then returned to his dorm room. There, he assembled his package: videos, an 1800 word letter, and 43 photos. In one photo, he stares directly at the camera, grimacing, wearing a backwards twisted black baseball cap and brandishing two guns. In others, he points the gun directly at his military buzz or wields a hammer. Photos were second–nature to him. He used to photograph girls' legs in class or snap pictures of the teachers when they weren't looking. The letter too was easy for him to write. He had been practicing in English class, frightening the other students with his stories. Around 9 a.m., he stopped to mail the package several blocks from the main campus gates. Overnight to NBC: $14.40. Half an hour later, he stepped into Norris Hall wearing cargo pants, a black sweatshirt, an ammo vest, and a maroon cap. From his backpack, he lifted the chains, then wound them around the door handles. Tight, so no one could leave. Not before they heard what he had to say.

Littleton, Colorado

They used to shout “Heil Hitler” in bowling class for every strike. Fingers in the holes, right elbows bent as they slid across the hardwood in treadless soles, then the wind-up, the curl, the crack of hard polyester on wood, the pins parting like waves, falling like wounded animals. Not today, even though it was Hitler's birthday. They skipped the 6 am class at AMF Belleview Lanes but sat in the car. After the class let out, they watched their classmates walking up Pierce and across to the high school. When they were sure their parents had left for work, when they were certain the Harris house was empty, they drove the three miles to the two–story blue and gray–trim house on Reed and entered the two car garage. The bombs were ready. Following online instructions, they had assembled them from carbon dioxide canisters, galvanized pipe, and metal propane bottles. One end was primed with matches, striker tips in the sleeves so they would ignite when rubbed against. They had also sawed off the butts and barrels of their shotguns. For weeks, the neighbors had heard glass breaking and buzzing from the Harris family garage but didn't think much of it. They figured the boys were busy with a school project. The project was over a year in the making, ever since their arrest for stealing the computers. A year of testing bombs, amassing weapons, playing video games, spewing hate online and in journals. After the cars were packed and the goodbye video filmed, they turned out of the cul–de–sac, passing the two basketball hoops and a yellow sign warning "No Outlet." Left onto Alden. Left onto Upham, past the Rocky Mountains. Left onto Chatfield, past the proposed subdivision and the Kinder–Care pre–school and the St. Francis Cabrini Catholic Church. Left onto Pierce, past the Summer Bloom Garden Center, the Conoco gas station, the firestone dealership with the American flag, the Dairy Queen, the strip malls, the Pizza Hut hiring drivers, the Cooper 7 Cinema. A dip in the road and then more suburbia, more strip malls and Subway shops. Another dip crossing Deer Creek. Another proposed subdivision. Then two synchronized traffic lights and a left into the parking lot. Ten minutes after 11, the '82 BMW pulled into the senior lot, by the western entrance, just below the baseball field, and the '86 Honda Civic in the junior lot, by the south entrance. Regrouping by the Honda, they carried their duffel bags and placed them in the cafeteria just before the custodian replaced the security tape. The bombs were set to explode at 11:17 a.m., when the cafeteria would be its most crowded. They returned to the car to wait. Out of nowhere, Brooks approached, exhaling tobacco, asking why they had missed the philosophy test in third period.

Eric laughed, told him it didn't matter anymore. "Brooks, I like you now," he said. "Get out of here. Go home." He was wearing a black trench–coat and wraparound glasses, they both were, and something about them seemed off. Under the trench–coats, Brooks could see their t-shirts: one white with the words "Natural Selection" in black, the other black with the word “Wrath” in red. He thought about the jocks calling them faggots, about the cup of fecal matter and the ketchup–covered tampons, the website with death threats, the Hitmen for Hire video they had made for class. Brooks took a long drag on his cigarette. Then he began walking down South Pierce until he could no longer see the green–tinted library windows or the two men in black trench–coats, until he looked down and saw he was running.

Top | Home / Mailing List / Contact
All materials, text, images © The Potomac. All rights reserved.