by Timothy B. Rennels
"It's mine and you can't have it!"
The boy pulled the stick he had found on the sidewalk from his sister's hands.
"What would I want with your old stick anyways? Get a move on now, Mr. Perkle's not waitin' on us again."
Parker Lee Thompson ran the stick he held against the iron pickets of the fence outside ReXall Drugs. The fence didn't flinch from its duty of protecting the storefront from intrusions from the street, regardless that the store was closed and darkened.
"Parker Lee! I'm warning you, if you make us miss the school bus one more time, I'm not waiting for you no more!"
Fourteen year old Parker muttered under his breath at his older sister and tossed the branch into the bushes of the house next door. He wouldn't have given it a second glance, but something knocked loose by the stick fell from the hedge just as he turned away. He took one step off of the sidewalk that ran along Baymont Street, and kneeled. His eyes went wide with wonder at the treasure that lay on the ground. He quickly looked up and scanned the street in both directions, gasping as he saw the bus approaching, two blocks down Baymont. Without hesitation he grabbed the handgun and stuffed it in his backpack.
"Rhonda, I'm comin'!" he yelled to his sister a half block ahead of him, and took off at a run to catch the bus.
Parker was out of breath and his heart was racing as the doors opened. The smiling man at the wheel greeted the siblings, and two others in a sing-song voice.
"School days,school days,if you love 'em count the ways!"
Each child was well practiced in the driver's routine, and had a response ready, dare they draw the witty attention of Mr. Perkle, a retiree who thrived on his daily route with the kids.
" Why, I get to see your smiling face! That's why I love school days." said Rhonda Mae Thompson with a wink.
"Suck up." Parker thought to himself as his sister practically pranced up the steps. He nervously took off his backpack and fumbled with the zippers.
"I'm lovin' today for the ravioli at hot lunch!" said the next younger boy.
Satisfied that he had all of the pockets zipped, he stepped on the first tread.
"I'm happy that I might learn math today Mr. P!" Parker's usual response brought the usual reply from the jovial driver.
"Be careful now, or math's gonna learn you!"
Parker's smile dropped from his face as he walked the aisle towards the middle where he usually sat. He avoided other kid's eyes and lowered his head as if shamed.
In his seat the backpack in his lap seemed heavy and forbidding. It was all he could do to resist the urge to unzip his bag, just the littlest bit, and reach inside and touch it. He ached to feel its weight in his hand.
"Does it even work?" he thought, as another 7th grader plopped into the seat next to him.
By the time the bus had reached Highland Heights Middle School it was filled with a rowdy mix of middle schoolers. The joking and laughing was harmless, mainly out of respect for Mr. Perkle. Parker played no part in the usual revelry this day. A wild fright had risen inside him and he was waging an internal battle. All his life he had grown up in obedient obscurity, never making a splash let alone a ripple in his world. Here he had something.
Danger, power, control, all danced on his devil's shoulder. What young man would not be enticed?
Nevertheless, his obedience was what made him almost throw up as he entered the familiar doors of his school. His scowl only signaled that he might be having a bad day, stay out of his way! He swallowed the last of his doubts and started the routine of a school day. As he carried his backpack through his morning classes, it had become heavier, and now, as he headed to lunch, he could feel it poking him in the back demanding release. He wanted so bad to feel it in his hand, to hear it roar. He stopped at his locker as he did every day, but froze, hesitant to leave it there as usual.
" What's on the menu today? I'll tell you, it's shit on a stick day! How dare they call them corn dogs!" This was accompanied by a slap to Parker's back.
The intrusion was not unexpected as Parker's best, if not only, friend met him here every day. But Parker's reaction wasn't expected.
"Will you stop that! I mean slapping me and all? You don't have to be touchin' up on me!"
"Sorry! Sooorrry! I didn't know your period started today."
Parker's anger seemed to fade and he seemed to really notice it was his friend standing there.
" Well just don't be bangin' me around ok?" Parker scanned the hallway right and left. " You could make this thing go off."
Parker unzipped the pack in his locker and reached in. He slowly pulled the gun out of the bag and looked at his friend. The look on Raymond Biddle's face to Parker was like the rush described by friends and neighbors in this drug plagued county in Arkansas. Pure ecstasy! His wide eyed friend reached out reverently to touch it.
"It's mine, and you can't have it!"
Parker's voice had risen an octave as he simultaneously stuffed the gun back and slammed his locker door.
"Boys! Where are you supposed to be?"
" Off to lunch Mr. Mertz. Got me a corn dog cravin'!" Raymond responded as he dragged his friend by the sleeve towards the cafeteria.
There wasn't much conversation between the two, and the elephant in the room was ignored. Finally as lunch ended, Parker leaned over and with a conspiratorial whisper said,
" I don't even have to tell you, don't tell anybody about this! I'll ring you after school and we'll hook up. 'ight?"
The seconds seemed like minutes as the afternoon classes wore on. He had decided to head to Raymond's house because Mrs. Biddle worked until 6:00 at the IGA and Mr. Biddle wouldn't stagger his way back home until well after dark. There he would pull it out and give it a good going over, see if it was loaded. If it was, well then they'd have to fire it. I'll cross that bridge when we come to it, he thought as the final bell rang and he carried his precious package from the classroom.
The first person he saw looked at him wide-eyed and backed away down the hall. As he headed to the bus the hall seemed to clear ahead of him, and kids whispered as he passed. All eyes were on him and he knew before he had taken five steps that Raymond had spilled the beans. He shook his head.
"That boy's too simple to keep a complicated secret." Parker thought.
Instead of shrinking and hiding now, he felt relieved that everybody knew. He was glad that everybody knew! He stood up as tall as he could and did the best impression of a fearless swagger that he could muster.
He even made a threatening fake step towards another 7th grader that he didn't like and was thrilled when the boy stepped back. Parker was like a peacock as he greeted Mr. Perkle and took his seat on the bus towards the middle, on his right.
Parker slowly unzipped the backpack and spread the edges apart, wanting just to look at it. The bus swayed as it rolled from the school lot onto the street.
"It's beautiful!" He thought, but before he could stop himself he was touching it. It was so smooth. The metal felt cold to his touch. He had wondered all day how this had got caught up in those bushes, just waiting for…him? He hunched over the bag making sure his seat mate wasn't watching him. As he caressed it, he hefted it in his hand to feel its full weight. He gripped it as he imagined he should. It felt so...powerful.
Suddenly an arm reached over his seat from behind, and snatched at the gun in Parker's hand. Parker refused to release his grip, but found himself being pulled up from his seat. Looking over his shoulder he realized it was Ted Lawson, a hulking 8th grader who he had never heard say a spoken word. The boy tried to wrest the gun from Parker but he held on desperately. His face looked like a Halloween mask of Rage as he screamed.
"It's mine, and you can't have it!"
Parker gave a last desperate tug in an arm wrestling match that he knew he would lose. The sound of the gun firing exploded in the confines of the bus. Things seemed to Parker to begin to move in slow motion. After a stunned moment a chorus of screams rose. The boy he had been fighting with over the gun had released his grip immediately when it fired. The burn on his hand was later used by his lawyer to turn his client from a participant into a hero.
Parker slowly dropped to his seat, watching in numb disbelief as Mr. Perkle slumped over the steering wheel. The last thing he saw was the growing red stain on the back of Mr. Perkle's head. The crash pitched him forcibly forward into blackness.
The unkempt, dark eyed, 20 year old shuffled like a man three times that. He had an air of evil unapproachability, discouraging any human contact. His sandals made scuffing sounds on the concrete floor.
The inmates were allowed to pass one by one through the mess line, then sit wherever they desired. Parker Lee Thompson chose to sit alone. If he were to look up it was more of a scowl that he presented, and if he were a dog you would swear you heard a low growl deep in his throat.
Engrossed by the distraction of eating, he was unaware of another inmate approaching his table. The unwanted company boldly snatched Parker's cup of pudding from his tray saying "Don't mind if I do."
Faster than a snake Parker snatched the man's hand and slammed it to the table. He pinned it there with the cup still in the man’s palm. Before the offender could react Parker drove his plastic knife into his wrist, sawing and twisting until the tip snapped off.
"It's mine, and you can't have it!"
His warning echoed off the walls of his home.