TW, Child abuse, physical and psychological violence, mental health and sexual violence.
“Okay class! Pop quiz”
The man shouts above the cries, and we all listen, glued to our desk, like flies buzzing in and never leaving a cheap fly trap. I can see the entire class from my vantage in the back, and I choke back the bile rising in my throat, from the smell of rank piss all over the room. Pools of it surround the flooring underneath, making misshapen puddles where the kids are sitting. I’m shocked when I see Billy Thorn, who has been a thorn in my side this year, has also pissed himself. A swell of something I don’t recognize churns inside my stomach. I wanna thank the man for bringing even Billy thorn down a notch, but I immediately see Mr. Cooper slumped inside that chair, specs of red dotted behind him, and think that I am no different from the rest of the hostages.
“I want everyone to think of me as a friend, that today is just a free day.” He says, as if he’s just another substitute, filling in. I wanna reach for my phone, but remember that he has collected all our electronics, and they sit in the front of the room, alongside Mr. Coopers limp body. Like anyone in our positions were holding out for hope, but know none is coming, our phones aren’t buzzing, and there’s no outraged parents outside, praying their children will get out safely.
“So, here’s what we are going to do kids, y’all are what” he looks over to the big yellow lettering by the front door. “6th grade, man I remember when I was your age. We are going to hear each other out, ya know? Show and tell, tell us about each other, and I’ll determine if I like you or not.”
I specifically eye the man for his age because it’s indeterminate. He looks younger than my father, but older than my older brother, who is in the 11th grade. I wanna doubt that he remembers his time at all, and he’s just making conversation. I start to wonder if I’ll remember today when I’m also older, but a broken sob and hiccup commences beside me, and I wonder if they all want to cry like the girls in the class, I don’t want to cry, not for this batch of kids, they’re so unlike me, but I also can’t help but fear the man upfront. We don’t know him, or why he’s done what he’s done, but we do know that he is very capable of being violent. Mr. Cooper is slumped on his desk, and in the man’s, hand is the hammer that has smashed into his head in. The hammer is like the one my dad lets me keep inside my room. I study it, hoping that it isn’t the exact one from my room, because I don’t want this to be my fault, I don’t want them to know that I gave this man the weapon used to bludgeon our teacher to death. My mind keeps slipping back to my room, where the hammer is tucked under my bed, and can’t help but see the man upfront, searching and scouring my bedroom, finding out about me, knowing me better than I know myself. I feel he knows my secret and that’s why he’s here today, not for Mr. Cooper, but for me.
“So, let’s start with you.”
The man points to Laura Jean, a grade B student, she doesn’t necessarily fall into Billy’s crowd, but she laughs with them, so she is all the same to me, and I feel like the man knows her, just like he knows me. I want to slam my hands on the desk, like my father does when he’s upset, to distract the man, while one of the braver students take him down, but I know this isn’t wise, this man is capable of more than we might know. Laura Jean falters, tears staining her face, right now she looks like my mother after a slam of my father’s hands, her face crumpled up and wet, her words slurring with a continuous cry. She tells the man her name, and one thing about herself, and the man makes us react to this, like today is a normal day.
“And do you have anything to show us miss Jean?” The man says, planting both elbow on the desk, and cupping his face, but this time we don’t laugh with the teacher, we just stare at the man and Laura Jean shaking, her head trying to keep from looking into his eyes. She shakes her head no, and the man slams his fist on the desk, scaring half the classroom as the other half silently weep trying to not garner more attention from the man.
“Not good Miss Jean, we always need something to SHOW, or else how can we TELL who you are.” He emphasizes the show and tell words of the sentence, practically spitting it right Into her face, so the rest of us know not to bullshit around. He regroups himself, pointing to another student, this one behind Laura Jean and for the first time I realize I’m three students away from exposing my true self.
I think back to a lesson Mr. Cooper taught me, when he held me after the bell, not saying it, but writing it in a letter, telling me we had to talk. So, I stayed back and listened to what he had to tell me, which was. “Peter, so how are you getting on?” I remember hating this question, he knew how I was getting on, but I nodded, shrugging my shoulders. Then he asked, “read any new books?” I had wanted to tell him of all the new books I had read over the week, which was one a day. I had no one to talk about books with, besides my baby sister, who couldn’t even talk yet. I didn’t wanna admit that it gotten this bad. I just nodded telling him some kids books that I had checked out from the library. He smiled, thinking he had gotten through to me, then said something that not even now, I could forget. “You know you’re my favorite.” I looked up with wide eyed shock, wondering if he was lying or just trying to make me feel better. He raised his eyebrows, “now don’t go telling anybody I told you that, but you remember our first assignment?” I nodded, my head feeling like it would fall off it I hadn’t stopped when I did. “You were the only one who answered honestly, from the soul.” He said dragging the word ‘soul’ out, like it was too cool for school. He continued, “the others were just boasting, but you Peter, you said it with passion, I respected that.” I was in shock, I had never been anyone’s favorite, nor my mother’s or dad’s. Mr. Cooper patted me on the shoulder and told me, “it does get better, life I mean, and it’s pretty rad being an adult, you can practically do whatever you want.” I wondered at that time what I would be like as an adult.
“M-my da-dads the sheriff, and h-he’ll kill you if you harm any of us.”
The shaking voice brought me back to reality. It was Billy thorn, two seats ahead of me, and the next person to present themselves, I had completely missed what happened to Clyde’s presentation, if he did one. He was crying face in his hands, while Billy tried to berate the man, so I assumed it hadn’t worked out for him.
“Sheriff thorn? You mean” the man said, gently guiding the hammer down Billy’s full puffed out cheeks and under his burly double chin. The hammers silvery handle, slicked with dried blood was a different shade of red, than Billy’s cheeks, which were full blown cherry color, the same shade of Mr. Coopers car, the one he took me in near the start of fall break last year. “let me guess” He said pulling the hammer from Billy’s chins, then mined it like one of those old cartoons where they hit their head over and over to remember something lost. Then in a fake sprout of eureka, he followed with. “the apple does not fall far from the tree?”
Billy’s hands were visibly shaking, and a part of me was relieved to see this monstrous child be so downtrodden, but still he was a child like me, he didn’t deserve to be berated, like I never wanted to be. From behind them I could tell the act Billy was putting on was a façade, and not a very good one, he was trying to act tough, like his father would, or at least that’s what my father said, ‘whole line of rotten egg headed bullies’ I laughed and felt renewed when he had told me, but that never lasted, the relentlessness that was Billy overcame even my spirit. But, seeing him like this, I was conflicted, my heart wanted to feel for him, like I had wanted him to feel for me, but I yearned to see him get put in his place, just not like this, no one deserved this.
“So, you think daddy would want to know what a piss baby you were today? Should we send him pictures of it?” Billy’s face reddened more than a tomato, his face looking like it would burst, a sausage overheated, heat pouring out its overheated creases. I followed the man’s eyes down beneath Billy’s chair, where a pool of piss sat stagnant and glistening off in the morning light. Billy’s whole façade cracked, and he started to sob, like the rest.
I looked to the front door, hoping for another teacher to come in and see us, or even another student, but this was one of the classrooms out in the open, for anyone to come in and invade, a trailer by itself, two classrooms used by one class, and it was us. The rest of the students sat still in their seats; their eyes glued on us.
“So, Mister Thorn, what do you have for us today?”
“S-screw you” Billy shouted, his voice mixed in with sobs, the other whimpers of those around us.
The man sighed and waved the hammer around, like a magical wand, then brought it down with so much force, that we all flinched, like thunder crashing after a bright lightning flash. The hammer didn’t hit what we initially thought, it only crashed against Billy’s desk. Smacking against it in such a rough manner that the middle of the desk had a faint black, maybe red, scuff to it now. Billy fainted, which caused some of the girls to scream, thinking that Billy was either taken out or injured. As if a reflect to the mild scream, the man whipped around, pointing his hammer towards them all.
“The best way to keep a prisoner from escaping is to make sure he never knows he’s in prison” the man poetically spewed this out.
We all watched as he walked back to the teacher’s desk, and grabbed ahold of Mr. Coopers limp hand, parading it around like a hand puppet. “Howdy students, you know today’s lesson of the day. Let’s get to know each other. Hyuck hyuck” he laughed outrageously loud, then moved the hair out of his face, like he was enjoying himself, then he pointed out. “Who’s next?”
I tightened my fist and stared on, it was my turn soon, and I still hadn’t figured what I would say, I didn’t wanna do it, but if I did it and got it over with maybe I could blend in, have him not bother with someone like me at all, maybe he wouldn’t discover my secret at all, maybe it would all just end.
The man was now sitting on the desk, his hammer pointed out like a talk show hosts microphone.
“So, what’s your name, and talent?” He said pointing the mic to the student right in front of me.
Gary was a quiet kid like me, but unlike me in a lot of ways, he wasn’t weird, nor the smelly weird kid. He was just Gary who they all copied homework and test questions.
“I- I’m Gary Allen an-and I wa-wanna be the president.” He finally spit out, his nerves shredded, and most likely his spirit too. This is what Gary always spouted off about, being the president of the whole United States, he’d always say that his mom and dad were grooming him to be successful.
“Oh ho, those are some big aspirations Gary, but can I ask, of what?”
Gary’s barely audible huh only reached me because the man said.
“CMON GARE PRESIDENT OF WHAT?”
Mr. Cooper once asked me did If I knew how lethal a gun was? I said I had, because my father was huge on them, and he even showed me how to use them, shoot them and clean them. I wasn’t fond of weapons, but I was fond of spending time with my father. So, when I was over and he showed me a collection of weapons he had similar to my father’s, I acted amazed, even though all I wanted was someone to talk to too. We talked about more than weapons, we talked about past lessons, and myself, along with my family life. He’d told me that I was the only student he’d ever let see his collection, and rode in his car. I was his special student, different from the rest, and I needed to keep this a secret, us meeting like this, because it could never be known that I was given special treatment. I think of that yellow couch, the smell of lemon drops, and the cold feeling of the fan blowing against my skin. I think of grasping the gun he showed me that day, holding it and taking aim.
“So, who do I have the pleasure of talking to today?”
The man asked, right up to my face, invading what I had thought was a safe spot away from it all. He had his hammer in my face, a makeshift microphone once again. I was snapped back to reality, listening to the cries of my classmates, as this man stood in front of me.
“Oh” he said, focusing his eyes on me. “Oh, ho I think we’ve got a winner.” His voice was choked and loud, almost inaudible, if I wasn’t right there.
The rest of my class stared at us in horror, probably thinking, good take him away and be done with the rest of us, he deserves it, we don’t, please just go. Then the man did something I hadn’t expected, he hugged me, whispering something in my ear.
“He did huh?” he said after coming back up.
I hadn’t heard him; I was so focused on the rest of the class and the strong smell of alcohol coming out of his breath.
“You’re his type, I mean, I can tell, you’re just like me” he said singing it lackadaisically, the hammer still in his hand swinging around loosely as he talked. “Let me guess, special, one of a kind, different from the rest? Car rides to fast food joints?”
I didn’t nod nor acknowledge what he was saying, I was spinning in my own head. I had known I wasn’t the only one, I saw it when he had fallen asleep, the name tags of previous students, before me.
“So, Mister, just like me, What’s your name and what’s his secret?” He said pointing back to Mr. Cooper. Ferocity in his voice, a danger I hadn’t sensed earlier.
My eye darted to my bag beside me, which held the present I had got for Mr. Cooper, the one that I would never be able to give him, because this man took him away from me. He took what I wanted away. Then it became clear, I had the perfect chance to end it all here, I didn’t care if my secret came out in the end, as long as I could save this classroom, who had never saved me, I wonder what they’ll say. Brave child saves the day, or revenge slayings end brutally, the cycle never ending. I had wondered when he told me he was like me, which name he was in that pile, but I know it doesn’t matter, because a victim is a victim.
“My name is Peter Hamm” a name I had been poked fun about since I was born, oh what a ham hock, oh the little piggy, take it you pig. A curse brought onto me by my own existence. “I do have something to show today, it’s a present from my father, that I wanted to show.” I don’t know what kind of face I was making, or if I was making one or not, but I do think I was smiling.
The man’s surprise and welcome didn’t shock me, he was just like me, so he would welcome what I had and what was coming to him. He crossed his arms expecting something great from me. So, I reached into my backpack and grabbed the surprise I had in store, not for my classmates, but for Mr. Copper himself, but now that he’s no longer here, I have to gift it to the man whose taken away my grief, maybe that’s not the right word, my way to deal with my own pain. Feeling around, I reach inside and grab the Glock 21c in the bottom of my bag, my father’s precious child, the one he proudly shows out in cupboard, which he leaves drunkenly open. I switch the safety off, and I survive.