Change of Pace

Updated: Jun 10

I thought that instead of my usual type of blog, I would try to entertain you with a short story (my shortest story yet) inspired by our need to self-isolate during the COVID-19 pandemic.

One or the Other

By Deven Greene

Max lifted the bed skirt and checked under his bed. All appeared in order. The blanket he’d placed over everything looked undisturbed. To be sure, he took out his cell phone and checked the picture he’d taken just before he’d left for school that morning. The folds in the blanket looked exactly the same. Nothing had been disturbed.

He remembered arguing with his mother about that bed skirt when he was five. She’d insisted he keep it even though he hated it. Like he hated everything in his life. Of course, she’d won the argument, and it had remained on his bed for ten years, until now. He still hated the way it looked but was glad he had it now as it hid everything under his bed from the casual observer. Even though his parents promised never to enter his room without his permission, he didn’t trust them and needed to hide things from them, even in the inner sanctum of his room.

Max reached under the bed and started to drag out the large shallow box so he could check the contents again. He didn’t consider himself to have obsessive-compulsive disorder, but he’d found himself checking his inventory more and more frequently as the date got closer. He knew he wouldn’t sleep well tonight. Tomorrow was the day, and he could hardly contain his excitement. After months of planning, all the while suppressing any comments that would give his plan away, he needed to maintain secrecy just one more day.

Max’s thoughts were interrupted by a knock on the door. “Dinner’s ready, Max.”

“Be right there.” Max aborted his plan to check his stockpile, letting the bed skirt fall back into place and brushing it a few times to hide evidence it had been disturbed. He breathed in and out slowly a few times, a trick he’d learned from one of the many therapists his parents had sent him to. The calming effect wasn’t great, but it helped him keep his thoughts to himself in times of stress.

Forcing a smile, Max exited his room, locked the door, and took his place at the kitchen table. As usual, the table was set, and his dad was seated at the head.

“Need any help, Mom?” Max asked as his mother placed a bowl of mashed potatoes on the table.

“No, dear. But thanks for asking. One sec and I’ll have everything ready.”

“Everything smells delicious,” Max said. “I wish you’d called me to help you. I know I’m not a good cook, but I could set the table.”

“You’re so considerate, Max. But I know how busy you are with your schoolwork and everything, and I love nothing more than taking care of you and your father. Here, all done.” She placed a bowl of green beans and a platter of sliced meatloaf on the table.

“Looks wonderful, Honey,” Max’s father said.

“Well, dig in,” his mom said.

As the food was passed around the table, Max’s father asked, “How was school today, Son?”

“Pretty good. I learned some cool expressions in Spanish class.”

“That’s nice. And how was your geometry test?”

“I think I did pretty well on it, to be honest.”

“That’s great news,” Max’s mother said. “I know you were having trouble with that class, but I was sure that with a little more effort, you’d do well.”

“I’m so proud of you, Son,” his dad said. “Your mom and I know you’re very smart. It wasn’t your ability, but your lack of interest…”

“I know, Dad. I wasn’t applying myself. You and Mom were right all along. I had a bad attitude. But that’s all changed now.”

“We can see that. These past few months, it like you’re a different person. Making friends, active in school clubs, doing your homework. And smiling! That’s so important.”

“I hate to bring this up again,” Max’s mom said, “but it really hurts our feelings, the way you still keep your father and I out of your room. We respect your need for privacy, of course, and we would never go in your room without your permission, but why all the secrecy? What are you afraid of? If you have a girlfriend, that’s okay. We understand. We were young once. Your room hasn’t been vacuumed for so long. I’m afraid it’s unsanitary. We don’t want you to get sick.”

“Tell you what,” Max said. “I’ve been thinking about it. I think you’ll be able to go into my room real soon. I’m just not quite ready now, but soon.”

“That’s good to hear,” his mom said, smiling. “It’s not that we want to pry. It’s just that we’re a family. We used to be so close, until you went into that slump. But I’m glad you’re finally yourself again, thanks to Dr. Siegal.”

“Yeah, he’s been really great.”

“Now I have a bit of bad news,” Max’s mother said. “I think we’ve all been expecting this, sort of, but not so soon. I got a call from your school while I was making dinner.”

“Oh?” Max asked. “What did they say about me?” Max felt his muscles tighten and his pulse quicken as he spoke.

“Son, your sweating,” his father said. “What’s wrong?”

“Nothing. I just want to know what they said about me.”

“They didn’t say anything about you, Max. They were calling all the parents to tell us school has been canceled until the end of the school year because of that coronavirus. It’s the law now. Everyone has to stay home. No getting together with your friends til this is over. Everyone has to shelter in place.”

“What?” Max yelled out, reflexively standing. “When? When is school going to be cancelled?”

“Starting tomorrow.”

“WTF! They can’t just do that!”

“Well, they did!” his mom said. “And watch your language, please. I’m glad you’re enjoying school so much more now, but I didn’t expect you to be so upset.”

“It’s just that I like school so much. I was really looking forward to going there tomorrow. I can’t believe this is happening.” Max ran into his room and slammed the door.

Lying on his bed, at first all Max could do was bury his head in his pillow and cry. He ignored the knocks on his door from his parents, and their requests to enter. Eventually, they stopped and he was left alone with his thoughts.

Max dried his tears and sat on the floor next to his bed. Still sniffling, he reached under the bed skirt and pulled out the box. One by one, he took out the Glock G44 semi-automatic pistol, the Beretta 92, and the AK47 with the bump stock. He checked each, confirming they were still loaded, then opened each box of ammunition. Lastly, he took out the paper with the list of names.

Brent Cox, Alexis Ernst, Xavier Garrison, Kurt Izhakoff, Jared Lambert, Ashley Mendoza, Amanda O’Neil, Forest Parnell, Lucas Stevens, Zoey Wilcox. He didn’t care how many other jerks at his school would die, but he would make sure these super assholes did. At least, that was his plan.

The assembly had been scheduled for tomorrow, and he knew all those scumbags would sit together. He’d gone over it in his mind so many times, he could picture them sitting in the same seats they always took at assemblies. He knew exactly which door he would enter by, after picking up the ammo. He was going to hide everything he needed in the early morning inside the closet near the auditorium, the one that opened from the outside and was never locked. He’d even done a dry run at the previous assembly to be sure he’d have a clear path from the closet to the auditorium.

After spraying the crowd with bullets, he would check to make sure all ten on his list were dead. He wasn’t concerned about hitting others, as he hated everyone at the school. It would all be over in less than a minute, before anyone could stop him. Then he’d blow out his own brains with the Beretta. His only regret would be not being able to see the headlines, or seeing his parents’ reaction when they read his suicide note filled with hate and blame, the note he had planned to pen that night.

Now, after all that planning, with months of pretending to like his therapist, act like he was happy, lie about caring about school, participating in school activities and making friends, his plans had been quashed. Quashed by a virus of all things. A thing with no soul, no intelligence, no nothing. There was no way now that all those jerks would be together in one place any time soon with this shelter in place thing going on. He’d have to wait until next year before carrying out his plan.

*

Max’s father lost his job at the hotel convention center due to the coronavirus. The family moved to another state over the summer, where Max’s dad found a well-paying job for a medical equipment supplier. Max’s new school was welcoming, and for the first time he made friends. Not a lot, but two young men he could relate to. The guns he’d brought with him to the new home, hidden on the bottom of a suitcase, remained well-hidden in his closet. With no need for them, they remained untouched. Two years later, Max graduated from high school and went off to a local college, where he majored in engineering. His classmates at the old school never realized their lives had been saved by the coronavirus.

*

Dear Reader, have you noticed that the coronavirus pandemic has interrupted the escalation of school shootings and workplace violence that has been causing so many deaths and injuries in our country? In a perfect world, we’d have no deadly viruses or mass shootings. If you had to choose one or the other, which would you choose?

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