Took nearly two months off from writing following the completion of National Novel Writing Month (the work itself is still unfinished. My plan is to return to it by the end of the month). I wrote two different things over the past couple of weeks: one is something written for something a friend of mine is working on, and the other is this little thing below, inspired by something someone told me in a bar.
Everyone was surprised by the fact that in the end, he was always a nice kid. Those faults seemed to melt away whenever anyone saw that broken dejected smile that just seemed to exude niceness any time that he spoke or apologized for something wrong that seemed to do on a regular basis. It was crooked from years of sub par dental work that seemed to primarily affect anyone whose attitudes were just the right amount of terrible and enlightening. The young man flashed that smile at the oncoming traffic as he wandered through the town during the early hours of nightfall one Friday night, the lights behind the high school illuminating the slow, creeping cloud cover that had begun to follow the mild West wind in. He was excited, watching the parade of cars turn on Main Street and up the solitary hill, down the other side, and wind their way to the high school to the annual rivalry game.
The high school football team was on the verge of a playoff berth, the first opportunity in decades, leaving the town into a near frenzy when one enterprising football coach determined that they would be playing their neighboring rivals to determine who would get the opportunity to represent the conference in the playoffs, and potentially get a shot at the state championship. That near frenzy had been growing over the course of the week, ending with two students being arrested for attempting to steal and deface their rival's mascot statue. They were heralded as heroes when they returned to school the next day, so far as to be mentioned by the captain of the football team during a pep rally.
The young man had not attended the pep rally: he was freshly graduated in the spring and wanted nothing to do with his Alma Mater. It did not matter, as a storm of crimson and gold had descended over the town, marking it in the town's coat of arms. As he wandered down main street, he noticed the deserted quality that had descended upon the town as each car turned up main street, up the hill, and towards the lights that illuminated the east side of the town at that moment. Nearly all of Main Street was a ghost town: the shops that hadn't been closed for years were dark, with only the dials of electronics inside betraying any sort of warmth. The lone exception was the bar: as he walked past, the young man could see a small group huddled around a solitary television set that was tuned to the regional cable access channel, which was presenting live coverage of the game. Bathed in the glow of the television, the barflies usually listless eyes had a quality of life to the suddenly. The young man stopped along his walk to stare into the window for a few minutes before continuing his walk, all the way down to the near-vacant strip mall on the edge of tow
The strip mall was pushed forward by the youngest member of the town council; he was a self-styled 'real estate mogul' who owned the only two apartment buildings in the 500-soul town, along with the lease on the restaurant. He had convinced the aging members of the council that the town needed to invest in real estate to grow and make it a viable community choice in the greater metropolitan area: after much deliberation they agreed. Two years later, only two businesses occupied space in the building. The liquor store had moved from its old location to a new, larger space to deal with an increased demand for cheap alcohol that was being supplied during the onset of the recession. Its beer cooler was hardly full of prominent brews: Busch and Busch Lite were the most popular, along with Budweiser as a close second. The thought of the desperate occupants of the town swilling their crappy beer made the young man grit his teeth and felt his stomach roil in protest. He stared into the plate glass windows, looking for any sort of blinking light. When he didn't see any, he carefully placed his bag on the ground before reaching into his jacket and removing a slightly undersized baseball bat that was concealed in. He looked about, his head darting from side to side like a wary lizard darting through the desert sands before bringing the club down with deft force on the glass. It cracked in a spider web pattern that maintained some level of integrity, requiring the young man to kick out the glass from the door frame with his boots. It came crashing inward nearly whole, and he crept through the frame of the door, pausing to unlock it. The store was a cornucopia of alcohol: bottles of various colors lined the shelves and placards designated the cost. He jumped the counter and began to gather the most expensive of the bottles that were hidden back there, only available by request. He stuffed these into his backpack, carefully wrapping them in paper bags to minimize clinking. He then moved through the store, intentionally scrutinizing each bottle before selecting the highest proof bottles that he could. They were piled into the middle of the room before transferred into an old shopping cart, clearly stolen from the old grocery market that occupied the corner two blocks away. He piled the high proof liquors into it, before grabbing his bat from where he left it, right on the counter next to the cash register. He took it in his hand, tightening his grip until his knuckles turned white. He then brought it down hard on the register, causing the plastic machine to spring upon and reveal its bounty. He pulled the drawer out, and set it on the counter before picking up the machine and throwing it into a nearby shelf, hitting bottles of moderately priced, domestic wine that exploded in a cascade of broken glass and red liquor that covered the carpet. The register, the cheap piece of machinery that it was, exploded in fragments of plastic as the thin carpet did nothing to cushion it. The young man smirked and tightened his grip on the bat again. After he had successfully demolished the bottles of liquor, causing the entire store to reek with the smell of them, he gathered up the cash drawer and the shopping cart and walked into the parking lot. He grabbed one of high-proof liquors, opened the bottle with crack against the pavement, and poured the contents out over the drawer, soaking the bills in the potent alcohol. He carried a blank, emotionless expression as he lit a match and dropped, watching the bills burn underneath the fall sky. His eyes darted around again as the paper burned and the coins grew hot before settling on a monstrosity of a car that was sitting in the parking lot. He scrutinized it, noticing the sun-aged for sale sign in the window before walking up to it and trying the door. It was locked, but the bat broke through the passenger-side window with ease, allowing him to unlock the car and climb into the driver's seat. He ran his hands through the glove box and around the dashboard before an errant flip of the visor revealed exactly what he had hope for: an extra pair of keys, hidden in nearly plain sight. He popped the trunk and loaded the booze from the shopping cart into it, before firing up the engine in a loud, unruffled roar and screeching out of the parking lot, taking care to run over the burning register drawer, sending ash and plastic debris through the air and across the parking lot. The tires screeched across the pavement and out into the road, as the young man tightened his grip on the wheels, listening to the loud exhaust and the clinking of bottles from the backseat.
It did not take him long to find what he was looking for, as he careened through the abandoned streets as fast and loud as he dared. The playground that solemnly hung on the edge of town appeared deserted at first glance, but as his headlights illuminated the ill-maintained play set, he could count several figures hunched over, the lights of their cigarettes barely visible as they tried to conceal them. They were the only other people that the young man knew he would encounter. When they realized that it was not an authority figure, their demeanor relaxed as they stared at the newcomer. He opened his backpack, smiling his crooked smile as he revealed the contents. The kids gathered around him, all five of them looking intently at the bounty he had gathered. He passed out the top shelf bottles, continually smiling as each of the highschoolers marveled at the names and the price stickers that adorned each one. When the bottles had been removed, the young man took off without another word, climbing into the car and roaring back out of the park. The kids left behind started opening the bottles, taking gleeful swigs of the liquor inside and talking excitedly. No longer needing to go anywhere in particular, the young man decided to transform the streets of the town into his own personal demolition derby track. Each turn tested the limits of the cars handling, and the old machine was not up to the challenge. It careened into the light posts and parked car, while the driver laughed every time he scraped alongside of something. The path of destruction that the young man carved was clearly visible: anything that could be destroyed without risking completely destroying the vehicle. Every sign post was another nail as he slammed into them, twisting the metal underneath what was left of the bumper. He finally over did it, a few blocks away from the high school in the "newest" part of the town, where the long, winding roads gave way to houses that were new over two decades ago. He collided with a bright red SUV, which spun him into a nearby yard where one of his tires sunk into the soft earth. He slammed down on the gas pedal, but the tire just kept sinking with each revolution. After several minutes of revving the engine in futility, he gave up and turned off the ignition before popping the trunk.
The streetlights were caught in each drop of liquid as the high-proof bottles was opened and poured throughout the car: the trunk, the backseat, the front seats, and the dashboard were all soaked and the odor of the strong spirits was overpowering, causing the young man to pull his shirt over his mouth as he moved inside the car, carefully ensuring that every drop was not wasted and that the cloth seats in particular go the most attention. When he was satisfied with the job, he looked down the streets to see whether or not anyone was moving around. All he could pick up on was the soft glow of a television set twinkling through the curtains of the house across the street. He knew that the widow there had not heard the sounds of crashing as he tore down the street: her hearing was too bad and her television was too loud to be able to hear a knock at the door or the sound of her doorbell ringing. He knew that she might notice what happened next, and the thought of that made him shudder in anticipation. He smiled that devious, crooked smile before lighting the last of his matches and throwing them through the windows of the car, one right after another. When the fire roared to life inside of the vehicle, he stared at it for a few moments before running through the yards and zigzagging across streets, just barely suppressing gleeful laughter as he breathed heavy. The football game was near the end when the volunteer fire department heard the alarm go off, signaling a fire. They rushed out of the bleachers as the spectators turned their attention, causing many of the players to do the same. At that moment, the quarterback miscounted the snap and it was released prematurely into his hands, causing a fumble that was recovered by the rival team's huge nose guard. The crowd shouted, and everyone stopped paying attention to the men who had left and started berating the players with boos and yells of discontent. On the field, the quarterback, a remarkable freshman, looked as if he might cry when he saw his father booing him along with the crowd, regardless of the seventeen point lead. The volunteer firemen could see the smoke from the stadium, but still had to drive a mile to the station to get all their gear: in oversight, they had left just a single person at the station, who had begun to ready the gear in a breakneck pace which was not nearly fast enough. That delay cost them dearly, as the young man's placement of the car was nearly perfect, causing the firemen to drive the length of the town twice. The police officer who was on duty arrived right away from where he was watching the football game, keeping his squad car running nearly the entire time. However, all he could do was stand away from the car and watch as the fire kept burning through it. He attempted to cordon off the street, but the few people who were not attending the game stood huddled around watching it burn until the fire crews showed up and began dousing it in water. It never exploded, but was not much more than a burned out husk of metal surrounded by a black ring of grass and melting vinyl siding from the football coach's house. A few blocks away, the final whistles blew and the crowd roared as they had clinched victory by a ten point margin. When the field had emptied, the crowd converged around the remains of the burning car. The volunteer fireman has saturated it with water, but the remaining smoke beckoned out to everyone who was leaving the game and not journeying to the pizza parlor to celebrate with the team or to the bar to boast about past football glories and try to forget the years of disappointment. The gathered crowd had silently agreed to not to inform the coach of the conflagration that h ad been put out on his front lawn and caused his lawn to blacken and his vinyl siding to melt. He had larger things to concern himself with, and at that moment, not a soul in the town wanted to spoil his victory against their arch-rivals and his former mentor. It caused a quiet murmur to rise when the officer had called in the county sheriff to cordon off the wreckage while he went to the pizza parlor to wait to talk to the coach when the celebration to died down. He sat there in the parking lot with his squad car running, watching the festivities unfold. He had the computer on, and was searching through for some sort of lead.
Inside, the head coach was talking excitedly about boosters and his assistants while his players ate pizza and laughed amongst themselves. He noticed some of the senior players had already slipped out, but seeing the squad car in the parking lot, he was certain that there was no way that his boys could get into trouble tonight. He had already began strategizing, having his coaches pull up rival teams in their phones and attempt to locate videos that had been posted of star players and big plays. Once it started, the avalanche could not be contained, and the man's mind began turning and processing at a breakneck speed to ensure that when it was time to play against these teams, all from larger schools, that his boys would be ready. He did not notice when the officer's squad car speed off out of the parking lot and down the street to the strip mall, where a booster's liquor store had been vandalized.
The officer stood amid the wreckage and felt the strong smell of alcohol sting his nostrils as he wiped a finger along a counter and licked it to taste the whiskey that been broken over it. He knelt down to look at shards of broken glass, trying to look a professional as possible but realizing that all he could see was broken glass and spilt booze. He stifled a sigh as he remembered the owner was standing behind him, calling his insurance company and loudly complaining that he was on hold. The officer nodded, making a few scrawls in his notebook before walking outside. He noticed the remains of the cash drawer, which were strewn around the parking lot. He initially thought was that he was looking at a robbery, and that the perpetrator had simply broken up all of the shit because he could. However, seeing the charred coins and the few half-burnt bills, he realized that this was probably just an act of vandalism. As he squatted on the asphalt looking at the tire marks left behind, he started thinking harder about what had really happened that night, and who may have actually been to blame. He poked at a charred five dollar bill with his index finger and watched the burned portion crumble to charcoal under his touch. He walked back into the store and asked more questions of the owner as he waited on hold on his insurance company’s 24-7 hotline. It would be an hour before he got through, and he became more and more irate with each passing minute.
The post-game celebration at the pizza parlor was in full swing, as many of the adults began to drink, as the intensity of conversations turned toward excitement. The entire town seemed like it had coalesced into two locations: the bar and the pizza parlor. From outside of the latter, the young man stood looking through the giant, plate glass windows the marked the building, adorned with brightly painted letters denoting the name of the establishment. Behind the red-checked curtains, he could see the crowds of people talking and laughing, pointing at players who were still present and motioning wildly about the game like they were in the middle of some sort of violent seizure. The young man reached into his backpack, and felt his hand tighten over the cut down stock of the .22 rifle that he had modified the day before. He drew it out, the stock cut down to a crude pistol grip, covered in coarse tape to ease the feel against the rough wood. The magazine that he attached to it was massive, a drum full of shells that he had loaded into it after he had finished the makeshift grip. It made a satisfying click sound when it was loaded, and as soon as he thumbed off the safety, he began pulling the trigger as fast as he could into the window, that crooked grin on his face the entire time.
The courtroom was quiet as the judge sat there, contemplating his words. He stared down at the young man as he sat in the blue outfit that designated him as a prisoner at the county lock-up. His lawyer sat next to him, a young woman in a pale grey pantsuit, attempting to look intimidating, but coming across as clearly overwhelmed by the case and the fact that her client had refused to take the stand earlier and had her change his plea to guilty at the conclusion of the trial. She was looking over papers and her phone, waiting for something that she could use. It seemed like it was going to be a harsh conviction: he had hit two people in the restaurant, through ricochets of bullets as he fired upward through the windows and into the ceiling. They were both minors, however: star football players who had been sidelined by their injuries which many believed to be the reason that the team lost in such spectacular fashion in the first round of the playoffs. It had caused the town to come down on the young man with a ferocity and aggression that no one expected. He received threatening letters in jail, and the town collectively seemed like they wanted to see him hang from some makeshift gallows in the middle of town by the pale morning light. As the judge sat there, deliberating silently to himself as to what the sentence would be, he twiddled his moustache and looked down at the young man as he sat behind the table, his hands cuffed in front of him and his eyes staring passively at the state seal as it hung on the left side of the courtroom, away from the judge and the spot where the jury had previously been sitting before being dismissed after the plea was changed to guilty.
The young man had every opportunity to speak but declined at every turn to do so. His defense lawyer, who had created a vast array of character witnesses to validate the perception that the young man was merely misunderstood and deep down, carried the potential for redemption and rehabilitation. The prosecution’s witnesses sat in the back, and decried him with every breath they could, laughing in joyous concert when the plea was changed and the judge decided that since it had changed, he was perfectly content to hand down the young man's sentence. The only modification was the attempted murder charges that initially cropped up after he had been arrested and while the young man was waiting in the county lockup for the trial. It had been negotiated by his defense attorney, and assault with a deadly weapon was applied in its case: both of the athletes who had been struck by the bullets had only been struck accidentally from ricochets, when it became apparent that the young man had no desire to physically injure anyone. The judge sat there, looking over these facts while the condemned sat in his seat. The Judge had already deliberated slowly by himself, without even removing himself from the room as he sat there, staring at the young man who made no eye contact with him or any of the witnesses, just fixed his gaze on the state seal that hung in the courtroom. At the end, he asked the young man to rise, and gave his two cents on the matter, believing that the young man still had hope for redemption: he was, as the judge put it, a "good kid at heart."