*(I feel the need to preface this story with a genuine warning. This is one of the darkest things I have ever written, a cold, harsh, brutal tale of the here and now in the United States. It is very vulgar, extremely violent, and deals, in a brutal manner, with several of the awful things that seem to keep happening over and over again. If satirical cruelty on very serious issues is upsetting to you, I would advise you skip this one. For those of you hopefully willing, please offer some feedback. This second draft feel slightly incomplete. Thank you for your continuing interest–)
“The Loss of Shame”
Once upon a time people could do no wrong. It was impossible, the complications of life exploding all around them on their tiny screens. People could look around outside of themselves and see the mistakes only of others, their flaws in handling behavior or misunderstandings over their speech. Nothing was ever going to be our own fault because, after all, in the age of social media it was easy to reframe and restate reality to align with how you wanted things to be (and ‘easy’ is the key word to everything in life). Truth itself had become a controversial term because it was now accepted that this could mean many different things. Facts no longer mattered. Actual witnesses were immediately questionable if you didn’t want to believe whatever they saw. Everyone had an agenda and the precarious nature of reality was now skewed, transformed into a side show of ranting carnival barkers, each trying to outsell their nearest competitor. A cynical wave overwhelmed society and it was not just truth that was lost, but the idea of decency. The very concept of shame.
On Kayla Mackenzie’s sixteenth birthday her father was killed in a car accident. Kayla thought the man was selfish for picking that day to die. “Why couldn’t it have happened tomorrow?” Kayla texted to Amber, the girl who for the moment was her “BFF” (later that evening Kayla would call her “a cunt,” viciously laughing with another of her momentary friends). “I fucking hate him.”
Kayla’s mother, of course, was devastated, but not because she had loved her father (she hadn’t since the year after Kayla was born), but because of how much his death inconvenienced her life. “Why did you do this to me?” her mother shouted, pounding her fists into the chilly corpse on the hospital slab. “You fucking asshole! All you think about is you!”
Her birthday almost ruined, Kayla decided to head over to Argyll’s house instead of pretending to care about her mother and brother’s tears (her brother was only twelve years old and, for some reason, still cared about their parents). From the moment she got there Kayla was annoyed. All these people kept trying to give her hugs, telling her how sorry they were for her loss (how had they even heard about it? It’s not like her dad was famous, like on Instagram—wait! Was there a YouTube video of the crash?). Didn’t they remember that it was her birthday? That she was sixteen? Sweet sixteen? Why were they all so fucking stupid and selfish?
On the news that day there was an endless repetition of the same story over and over again. Some mass shooting in Texas, a crazy person screaming about Mexicans and Jews. and then randomly killing fourteen people outside of a Wal-Mart. After the brief condolences of Argyll’s family, they returned to their excited watching of the tragedy turned into tabloid TV. “My God,” Argyll’s’s mother said, “Why don’t those people just stay home in their shithole countries?”
“They better not come for my guns,” Argyll’s father barked, secretly pleased that so many people were dead. The world was too crowded anyway. Someday we might look back on the shooter as a hero, he almost nearly said out loud.
“Oh, it isn’t time to talk about that anyway. What we need to do is pray for the victims–or at least the ones here legally.”
Argyll rolled her eyes and pulled Kayla’s sleeve, urging her to go downstairs to get away from her boring parents. “That’s all they can talk about, guns and Mexicans and all that other bullshit no one cares about. It’s all so fucking boring.”
Kayla had been busy texting Colton, who had actually remembered her birthday. Colton was such a horndog. Ava told her that he had a big dick too, so she was interested. Kayla was smiling over the evilly flirtatious language she was using to respond: “WAT U DOIN’ LTR? U WANT 2 CUM OVR?” The “cum” was the key, not that she knew how to spell it any other way. Brad was so desperate to fuck her. Maybe tonight was the night.
Once downstairs Argyll started texting too, also to Brad, whom she was secretly in love with. Argyll had been putting on weight recently and she felt like a blob all the time. Kayla—who was definitely hot!—called her fat all the time. She must be fat. She already weighed almost 130 pounds! Argyll hadn’t been eating because summer was coming soon and she didn’t want to carry around all that extra weight. How could she fit into her new bikinis?
Argyll’s mother called down the stairs, clearly agitated. “Girls? There’s been another one!”
“Huh?” Argyll asked, barely listening.
“Another shooting! In Florida!” No response, a silent pause. “They say at least seven people are dead, including a baby!”
“I don’t care,” Argyll said, not looking up from her phone. After a few seconds they heard the woman padding off, murmuring something to another person who also wasn’t listening.
“They care about such stupid bullshit,” Argyll said, annoyed. She had been distracted. Brad hadn’t texted her back yet. Did she say too much in the last one?
“Yeah,” Kayla said, unaware what she was agreeing with.
“I mean,” Argyll continued, “this sort of shit happens every day. Who gives a fuck anymore?”
This briefly caught Kayla’s attention and, still not looking up from her phone, said “I never cared. I mean, I don’t know any of those people.”
The girls laughed. Kayla put her phone down, deciding to play hard to get now, cutting Brad off. Her phone kept bonging with increasing desperation. Argyll, meanwhile, kept glancing down at hers while the two of them tore into Amber to pass the time. Argyll never said “Happy birthday.”
Her birthday ruined, Kayla finally made it home. Her brother was there by himself, staring at the TV and watching some kid scream at the top of his voice while playing Fortnite. She stared at the screen for a minute wondering if the shouting boy was cute and how much money he made. She asked “Is that Savage Stan?” Kevin glared at her like she was stupid. “Stop talking!” he hollered. “I’m watching this!”
“Where’re Mom and Dad?”
Kevin stopped short, glaring at her. She was really just taunting him (what did she care where they were?) She expected him to tell her to shut up again, which would make her laugh.
“Dad’s dead you stupid bitch,” Kevin said, turning back to his video without another word. The guy on the TV was shouting, “Ahhhhhhhhhhhhhh! Yeaaaaah! Oh my God! Oh my God! Yeaaaaah! Git some! Let’s goooooooooo!” and a few other sound effects. Kayla shrugged and walked away. She went downstairs into the basement and switched on the television, pulling her phone out simultaneously. Mia had sent her a picture on Instagram of the cutest puppy riding a mangy old horse. It was hilarious.
On TV someone was talking more and more about the latest shooting (apparently a third one had happened, this time at a school in New Jersey. No one was killed in that one other than the kid who did it, although several of the students were shot). “Boring,” Kayla said without looking up. She switched channels, inadvertently to a weather report warning about the merging of two tropical storms in the Atlantic Ocean, heading for Puerto Rico, the Bahamas, and later the US. The hysterical news woman was stating that it was going to be a “Category Five Hurricane,” which would supposedly cause “Apocalyptic devastation.” Kayla turned the TV off and watched some videos on her phone. When her mother got home and called for her Kayla pretended she was asleep when she heard the clump clump of the cow stomping down the stairs.
“Kayla?” came the quivering voice, always on the verge of tears. When there was no response she moved closer, gently shaking her daughter. “Kayla? Honey?”
Nothing, although Kayla was getting annoyed. Why couldn’t the bitch just leave her alone?
“Kayla? Why don’t you go up—“
“Whaaaa?” Kayla finally said, pretending to have been jarred awake. “Why did you wake me up?”
“I just thought you’d be more comfortable if—“
“Like I care what you think.” Kayla turned back to her phone.
Her mother took a deep breath, suppressing an urge to slap Kayla. She huffed out some air and said, “Look, I know this has been hard for all of us and I just thought that maybe we should all . . . are you even listening?” finally came out, the woman flustered and no longer able to conceal her rage.”
“Mmm-hmmm,” Kayla replied, typing something with the barren rapidity of a master of the abbreviated language of texting.
It was hours of this, the three of them stashed into their separate places, each one out in the open and yet entirely cut off from one another. Things were better than way. Eventually, after mom went back out and then came wobbly back home, (sometime around midnight; she had been out at a bar commiserating with a friend, secretly looking to find a man for the night. Both efforts were futile.) her mother barked that it was a school night. Her brother grunted and sloughed off to bed, having already fallen asleep with a game module in his hand. Kayla did not hear, her headphones cranked to high. It didn’t matter anyway. No one came to get her.
At school the next morning Kayla noticed about seven different protests scattered indifferently across the front lawn. It was hard to make out what all the commotion was about, but it was obvious that most of the people weren’t taking it all that seriously. Behind the handful of students (and few self-righteous teachers) with signs blaring something Kayla could not have cared less about, most of the kids were laughing and staring into their phones, using the chaos as an opportunity to hopefully miss class. She saw Persephone Clark standing near the front, shouting slogans: “No justice, no peace!” and “Make America safe again!” She was apparently protesting guns. Kayla rolled her eyes and walked over to where Missy and Ambrosia, the two Jennifers (one a Jenny, the other Jen), and Kayla Morgan were standing. Three of them had their phones out, held up high, recording the scene.
“What’s all this about?” Kayla asked, squinting. Oh shit, she thought to herself. I forgot my contacts.
Without waiting for Missy’s answer (“They’re protesting something?”) Kayla called her mother.
“Mom!” she said, annoyed. “You didn’t remind me to put my contacts in!”
“Just bring ‘em to school and drop ‘em off in the office.
“But I have things I need to do. Your father’s—“
“Just fucking get them here! I need them!” Kayla hung up. “God!” she said to Missy. “She’s such a fucking bitch!” And then, “I bet she won’t even bring ‘em. She’s such a bitch. I mean . . . whatever! She doesn’t care if I fail.”
Missy was staring into the crowd, not listening. “OMG!” she said, tapping Kayla on the arm, almost hitting her in the face with her elbow. “It’s Greg Masters! Holy shit! He’s so fucking hot!”
Kayla glanced over. She wasn’t impressed.
Kayla searched the crowd for the boys she liked, hotties like Smith Quinn and Broxton Jimmie and Holden Andrew and Alden James and Brodie what’shisname and Byrd and Colby and Noah G. All those guys. They were around but there were, like, a million people there and Kayla just didn’t have the patience to keep looking through all the losers busy pretending like anything mattered.
The sides at the protest were mostly for and against: Gun Safety versus Open Carry (some of the adults were actually brandishing their guns on school grounds); Environmental Activism versus it was all the liberal lie; LBGTQ versus All Fags Go to Hell. There were cheap shots at politics and outright calls for anarchy. Eventually, right around the time the bell rang for first period, most of the crowd dispersed. Only the serious people were getting detentions for their trouble. One girl was suspended when she refused to leave the lawn, her sign “Do Something!” deemed inflammatory by the principal. She was eventually escorted off the lawn by the police twenty minutes later.
School itself was the same tired bullshit, several students asleep at their desks, a group of boys playing cards at the back of the classroom for money, a majority of bored kids staring at nothing or into their phones, and two nervous, awkward teacher’s pets refusing to look at anything other than the back of their teachers, who were silently scribbling names and dates in marker onto the smeared white board.
One student was brazenly wearing a hat in class, something that was against the rules of the school. This boy’s was a red “MAKE AMERICA GREAT AGAIN,” cap that he had worn just to irk the whiny, probably liberal social studies teacher talking about blacks and civil rights or some other bullshit. When the teacher politely asked him to remove the hat they boy smiled. “You can’t suppress my free speech motherfucker! All you liberal pussies want to do is take away my rights! Wait until the conservative press hears about this! I hope you suspend me! Come on! Do it! Suspend me for supporting our president!”
Kayla was still on her phone when the chaos struck. She had been reading about an earthquake in California that had downed power lines and started a huge wildfire near Bella Vista, the place where her favorite actor lived. She scanned the story for news of their house and then, finding nothing, she huffed and clicked over to Snapchat to look for updates about Ena Peters and Kiara Hamashindieka being lezzies. Suddenly there was a loud noise in the hallway, somebody shouting.
It was Lennox Brown, a tall, hyper thin art-type, tremendously unpopular and bullied even by other kids used to being bullied themselves. Lennox, wearing a black trench coat, was holding a grenade in each hand, and had an AR-15 hanging from his back. He had ammunition crisscrossed across his chest and had three handguns and assorted loose bullets stuffed into the pockets of his coat. He shouted:
Mine eyes have seen the glory of the burning of the school
He flipped the safety levers off each grenade with his thumbs and tossed them in either direction.
We have murdered all the teachers, we have broken every rule
Mr. Hanson, a math teacher who had embarrassed Lennox in class numerous times, a brute with hardly any knowledge of his subject said, “What the hell do you think you’re doing?” Lennox pulled the AR-15 in front of him and unloaded, shattering the man’s chest and splattering his insides all over the lockers.
The principal’s a faggot, we will drown him in the pool
BOOM! BOOM! Bang bang bang bang bang! Lennox began spraying the hallway stragglers. People were running and screaming and an alarm suddenly sounded, an eardrum shattering shriek. They main lights went off and blinking, epileptic flashes of red were in syncopation with the droning, electric bleating.
Our truth is marching on!
Lennox started kicking in doors; most of the teachers were slow on the uptake and forgetting their endless training on what to do in such situations. Most of the students were screaming, not cooperating, and shoving each other out of the way to get into the furthest corners of the room. The teachers were on the most part hiding under their desks, other than the handful who had been expecting this, those pretending to be generals and pointing and directing the students to places in the room with angry barks—“listen or die!”
The gunshots rang out, a pause over a onetime reloading the AR-15, until Lennox tossed it on the floor, settling for the handguns. When a classroom door was locked he shot the handle off and knocked the thing from its hinges, spraying the room and then later targeting individuals, mostly the teachers, with the handguns. One time he emptied both clips from the guns and paused for fifteen seconds to reload. The one brave student who eventually got up to try to save everyone was too late and was shot in the head. His brains splattered on the floor, some of it going so far as to land on quivering students’ shoes, including Uggs, Vapor Maxs and Jimmy Choos. These would later be included in the price of the lawsuit against the school.
Lennox kept singing, his rhythmic understanding of timing the gunshots to the song growing:
Glory, glory hallelujah
Teacher hit me with a ruler
I shot her in the head
And now she’s fucking dead
My truth is marching on!
Sirens were howling outside the school now, many students having raced out, screaming and trampling on one another. One boy with cerebral palsy was knocked over and had his glasses crushed, shards going into his eyes. People were crying. One person was killed. Of the teachers outside most of them were not thinking about gathering their students into the proper spot. Several of them raced to their cars and sped away. And still, many students were busy on their phones, texting their parents or friends who were home from school that day, telling them the exciting news. Kayla, who was among them, was texting several people, some of whom were standing beside her, about how awesome this was. “No school AND I’ll get to be on TV!” She added, “Imma gonna be a fckn star!”
As the situation was winding down Lennox attempted to rap his next verse, starting off
Aw aw aw aw
I be rapin’ all da bitches
Til they pussies feel like gruel
An’ I fuckin’ all day pussy
‘Cause I’m motherfuckin’ cool
An’ I gonna be so happy
Gonna live my life in–
And that was it. Suicide by cop, as Lennox had planned. The previous week Lennox had scaled to the top of the school and tied an electrical cord around his neck, the other end to satellite receiver. Hanging himself did not work, although he had deep purple spots around his throat. He then tried to leap off the building, but had been discovered by one of the security guards (who, by the way, every last one of them, ran outside even before the students the moment they heard the gunshots), who pulled him back from the ledge. “Are you fucking stupid?” the guy had asked him. When his parents were called Lennox’s mother refused to retrieve him from school, snapping that she “had more important things to do.”
One hundred and fourteen people were injured in this attack, with twenty-one initially dead (including the girl who had been trampled to death). Six more would die in the hospital. Among the injured, less than half had been shot. The bulk of them were stepped on or had fainted or curled up into psychologically broken balls on the floor.
Kayla was unmoved by any of this. She was checking herself out on her phone. She was primping her hair, putting on looks. She was smiling from different angles to see which pose looked best.
“This is awesome! I’m gonna be so fucking famous,” she said aloud, convinced that her natural beauty would make her the international voice of this tragedy, and not one of those gross overachievers who were already gun activists. She was the one America wanted. She knew it, she just knew it! America would love her to death.
©2019, 2020 Lance Polin