This story is by Jennifer Seigworth and was part of our 2018 Summer Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
Joe stood waiting for the clerk to hand him his cigarettes. Twitching, he peered around anxiously. He was fighting the overwhelming urge to chase the itch coursing through his body; from his arms to his torso, down his legs, up his back…shake it off, he told himself.
“Sir, I gotta run in the back and get you that brand- I’ll be right back.” said the clerk. It had been a while since he had a fix. He could hear the familiar siren call from the euphoric demon that kept promising to “take all the pain away…” Joe had tried to quit heroin so many times, but failed.
“Breaking news on another school shooting!” shouted the store’s TV. Joe shook his head at the latest tragedy plaguing America.
A whirl of sirens flew past as he left the store and walked toward his efficiency apartment a few blocks away. Probably some doped up teenager whose Daddy didn’t hug him enough… he thought to himself. Kids these days are weak. Crying over little shit. Joe’s mind replayed the video of his father coming into his room drunk almost every night, “Wake up lazy ass! Why you sleepin’?”
Joe took his flask from the pocket of his hoodie and drank a swig of cheap brandy, wincing away the grim thoughts of his childhood. “It wasn’t that bad,” Joe thought out loud. “Lots of people had it much worse than me. I had my Ma, at least. Pop didn’t treat her good. I don’t know why she put up with his beatings…. always told me she stayed for me.”
Joe flipped on his TV and sat down in front of his coffee table. It was covered in his usual tools of destruction; his escape from agonizing thoughts. It was too much to feel the guilt of being an absent father to his own teenage son and daughter, leaving the responsibility on their mother. He loved them, more than they knew, but he had convinced himself they were better off without him. Kat routinely updated him on the kids and tried to encourage him to go back to rehab, time and time again. What a failure I am. Pop was right- I’m not good for anyone. I can feel their disappointment every time I see them. Tears began to well up in his eyes-which soon focused on the table in front of him.
Joe prepared his arm intent on sending a surge of relief through his body. As he wrapped the tourniquet around his lower bicep, he heard a name ring across the television that sent his jaw to the floor. “The latest report confirms that fifteen year-old Hunter Holbrook is the active shooter at Springview High School”
“Hunter?” Joe screamed aloud. “What are you doing, buddy? No, no, no….they are going to shoot you! What are you doing?” Joe’s mind reeled! He tried to shake off the cloudy feeling that kept him from focusing. He threw the tourniquet away from him and jumped to his feet. I have to get to the school….they will kill him… I have to go. Oh, please don’t shoot my boy!
Joe ran out his door, toward the school that was five blocks from his apartment. He had to stop and catch his breath after the first two blocks. A gunshot rang out! It felt like it went right through him! He ran the rest of the way, stifling down the vomit that was threatening to erupt. “Shooter is down!” Joe heard a loud male voice say. Joe felt himself sob, and scream “NOOOOOO!!! Hunter!!!” He fell to his face in front of the police officers that had formed a perimeter around the front of the school. Two officers overtook Joe and held him on the ground. “Sir, who are you and what are you doing here?” “Hunter’s my son! I’m Joe Holbrook! Did you shoot him?”
There was a long silence…across the entire school campus. Suddenly, a voice came across the walkie-talkies “The shooter is in custody. He has a minor wound, but he is physically stable. Has anyone reached his mother yet?” “We have been unable to reach the mother, but there is a man here claiming to be Hunter’s father, Joe Holbrook. How are the other kids?” “We have twelve confirmed injuries, no fatalities found yet- still searching for the rest of the kids and faculty.” A squelch was heard on the walkies, “Sir, we need EMS in here- on the south side of the school- the last classroom on the right of the hall….and…also…..the coroner…” crying could be heard in the background.
At the police station, Joe was shaking and itching as he answered questions regarding his relationship with Hunter as well as his daughter, Rachel and ex-wife, Kat. “Kat has given up on me as a husband…can’t blame her, I’m a mess. I don’t even know why she makes the effort to keep me involved with the kids. She plans visits, even if it’s just for me to stop over and see the kids for an hour. She makes excuses for me to the kids,” Joe shook his head, “I don’t deserve any of them. Does she know yet? Wait- was Rachel at the school? Oh my God! Rachel…the other kids, how many?” Joe was out of his chair now, pacing. God, why did Hunter do this? Oh, Hunter, what were you thinking? Where did you get a gun?
Hunter was being treated at St. Vincent hospital. They had a mental health detainment unit where he was to go through a psychological evaluation as well as necessary interrogation from the Springview police. Two of the lead detectives were with him now, “Hunter, what happened? What were you trying to do?”
Hunter just sat staring straight ahead…tears streaming down his face. “I’m tired of everybody disappointing me. My dad, my teachers, my friends. I showed them that I’m not invisible! I can hurt people just like they hurt me. They won’t forget me now. But…I wasn’t supposed to live through this. I wanna die.”
Detective Minnelli asked, “Hunter, do you know where your mother might be?”
Hunter murmured, “Mom found the gun in my room, I got it from this guy I know. Mom and me wrestled with the gun… Rachel came in… I just shot, and kept shooting.” The detectives looked at each other. “Hunter, what are you saying?”
Detective Minnelli’s cellphone rang. “What’s their condition? I see. Keep me posted.” He motioned Detective Ruiz into the hall, “This kid shot his mother and sister then rode his bike all the way to the school to shoot his peers and teacher. What the hell’s wrong with this kid?”
Another detective walked toward them with a tall, skinny man looking as if he had just been pulled from a gutter. “Excuse me, Detective Minnelli… this is Joe Holbrook, the suspect’s father. We just got word that the police found Kat and Rachel Holbrook in their home; both have gunshot wounds and have lost a lot of blood. Mr. Holbrook would like to see his son.”
Joe was having a hard time holding himself up. He ran to a garbage can nearby and threw up. This can’t be happening….my entire family… They will never be the same! The whole town will never be the same! My Pop was right, I’m a failure… this is my fault.
“Dad?” Hunter’s voice broke through Joe’s thoughts, as the detectives led him into the room. “Hunter! What happened? Your mom and sister…you shot your mom in the shoulder…she fell…hit her head on your nightstand. She’ll survive but has a long recovery ahead of her. Rachel…the bullet hit her spine…doctors don’t know if she’ll walk again.” Hunter sat quietly sobbing as Joe continued…“I need you to talk to me, Hunter. Your teacher is dead. Twelve kids are wounded, the whole school traumatized! The town wants your head on a platter!”
Hunter stared at Joe, and then jumped to his feet “Where were you? Why don’t you want me, Dad?” Joe saw something in Hunter’s eyes behind all the tears…he saw himself. That moment, he knew his son…his family NEEDED him. It’s time to step up.
Joe spent the next few months picking up the pieces of the lives he had neglected to be a part of. Joe signed himself into an outpatient rehabilitation program that helped him fight his addiction. The daily cravings were so strong. But, Joe knew he had no choice. He owed it to Kat, Rachel and Hunter to be sober. He finally realized the important role he played in their lives. Hunter needed to serve time, and go through mandatory counseling. There were many relationships that needed to be mended. One day at a time, Joe told himself, my son will pay for what he’s done, but he will know he is still loved and there is still hope for forgiveness and a better future. My Pop was wrong about me.