School Survival

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Off The Edge: Part I


It was a cold morning, but then it usually is at 6:50 am in October when
you've been standing outside for 20 minutes in the rain. Joe could hardly
believe it, but he actually wanted the school bus to come. The one day I
actually want to go to school and the bus is late, he thought. Story of my
life. His ridiculously heavy backpack was weighing him down as he tried to
stay focused on not falling asleep right there. Falling asleep at the bus
stop was definitely not the best way to start the last day of his high
school career.

He heard the distinctive rumble and screech in the distance, and knew the
bus was coming. As it turned the corner he smelled the clouds of diesel
smoke enter his lungs.
"They don't allow smoking on school grounds but they make you ride on these
things?" he muttered to himself as he climbed onboard. He collapsed in the
first seat available, next to a kid who was doing last-minute homework.
“Hey, you're smart, right?" the kid whispered. "Han you tell me the
answers? Please?"
Joe glanced over the kid's paper without really looking. He was smart, but
he didn't know the square route of something divided by whatever the sheet
said, why the hell they needed to learn that, or that in six months the road
they were cruising down would be nothing but a charred, blasted pile of
rubble as society tore itself apart in a bloody orgy of destruction. But
what he did know was that this kid would never even acknowledge his
existence if he didn't think Joe had the answers to the homework.
"No, I don't have the answers." he replied in a tired voice.
The kid glared at him and muttered something under his breath.

The bus pulled into the parking lot, the bright sign saying Sycamore High
Welcomes You reflecting painfully bright light into his tired eyes. After
listening to a long-winded bus safety speech that they had already heard
last week, everybody stood up to leave. The kid who had asked about the
homework shoved in front of him.
"Freshmen in the back, asshole."
Normally, Joe would have pointed out that he was a sophomore, not a
freshmen, and that the kid was actually younger that him. But today he had
too much to worry about already.

He made his was to homeroom seconds after the bell rang.
"You're late." the teacher said in a monotonous voice.
"There was a bus safety drill. They let us out late." Joe replied, out of
"It doesn't matter. Homeroom starts at 7:30."
Joe looked at the clock. It was 7:31.
"Detention, after school today" the teacher said without even looking at
Joe sat down. On any normal day, he would be fuming. But today wasn't a
normal day. Not by a long shot. He had not intention of going to the
detention, or anywhere for that matter. Today he was going to find out the
answer to a question greater than anything in the school's watered-down,
boring textbooks could explain: what happens when you die?
He'd been planning this for quite some time now. He would go to the
bathroom, take out the zipgun he had built and hidden in his backpack, and
blow his brains out. They way he saw it, it was really the only way to make
statement in today's world. The only reason he's come to school today was he
wanted to make sure people know what had made him do it. It wasn't drugs, it
wasn't some heartbreaking family problem, it was the institution that had
taken away his freedom, his dignity, basically everything that made his life
worth living.
He stood up and walked towards the door.
"Where are you going?" the teacher snapped.
"I'm going to the bathroom. There's no rule against that is there?" He
retorted angrily. This was bullshit. I can't even decide to die the way I
want here.
"Yes, actually there is. You can't leave until homeroom is over. You have to
listen to the announcements and-"
"I don't really give a shit what those beurocrat pricks have to say. I've
gotta pee!"
There was a stunned silence. The teacher looked like Joe had just punched
him in the face. As depressing as this moment was, Joe couldn't help but
feel delighted at his reaction. He glanced around the room. The popular
kids, dressed in their school colors, looked scandalized. A few were
silently laughing. Most were just ignoring him. What a surprise.

Before anyone had time to speak, Joe turned and walked out the door. He
walked up to the student's bathroom and pushed the door. It was locked.
"What the fuck?" he thought. "How can they lock the bathroom?"
He turned and went up to the faculty bathroom. It was open. He found a stall
and sat down on the toilet. Someone had drawn a penis on the wall.
Apparently he wasn't the first student to come in here. Well, there'd
certainly be some interesting patterns on the wall when he was done.
He pulled out the gun. It was a good one, not like the crap gangs used to
throw together. He had made it out of the best pipe he could find, and built
the trigger mechanism as precisely as possible. He had even polished the
wood. If you were going to shoot yourself, he thought, you might as well do
it in style. He raised the muzzle to his temple, turning himself so that the
spray of blood would land directly on the school logo painted on the wall.
He pulled back the spring-loaded pin until it clicked into place.
"Fuck you all." He said, and pulled the trigger.

There was a flash of light, although he didn't know if it had been real or
if his mind had supplied it. He sat there for a whole minute, then stood up.
He was still in the bathroom. Was he dead? Was this what happens when you
die? There were no pearly gates, no fires of hell, and no pissed-off god,
although he'd never really believed in that stuff.

He turned to the wall. There was no splatter of brains and blood. He
tenderly felt the side of his head. No hole. He checked his pulse, and it
was still there. Ok, he thought. I'm not dead. So what exactly happened? He
unscrewed the gun, and let the bullet slide out into his palm. The primer
was dented, but the 9mm shell hadn't gone off. It was a dud.

He started to shake uncontrollably. He had almost died, and even though it
had been his plan he couldn't help but feel a sense of relief. Then it died
"What am I supposed to do now?" he said to himself. "I can't even die if I
want to!" All of the sudden he felt overwhelmed by despair. The fact that he
had absolutely no control over his life hit him harder than it ever had,
even when he had first decided to commit suicide. He couldn't choose his
life, and now his death was the same. He didn't die, and what did life offer
him? More of the same. Being used, abused, ignored, and controlled. Ever
since his teachers had congratulated him for his high intelligence, he
remembered nothing but pain. All he ever wanted was to be left alone, but
they just couldn't do that. It was all pressure, extra work, high
expectations, punishments for grades that would get other kids money. And
the future? Nothing but being a tool, being expected to make some great
discovery or do some amazing research that would help the people who had
done this to him. The world treated him like shit, and yet they expected him
to save it.

"Not anymore." He thought. He had just almost died, and all of the sudden he
felt an impossible sense of happiness. For the first time in his life, he
had absolutely nothing to lose. If he couldn't die, then he was going to
live. And live the way he wanted. Joe swung open the door of the stall, and
the fluorescent light hit him like a beam from heaven. He shoved open the
door, and walked straight into his teacher.
"Young man, this is the teacher's bathroom. You have no right to be in
"the other one was locked."
"I don't care. Hold it in until the end of next period."
"What if I can't?"
"That's really not my problem, and I don't like your disrespectful attitude.
What do you have to say for yourself?"
Joe thought for a moment, and then answered. "Catch."
He swung his arms, and the backpack launched itself through the air. His
teacher collapsed as 39 pounds of books and paper (most of which he had
ironically assigned) went barreling into his stomach. Joe walked up and
looked down at him trying to catch his breath. Adrenaline was pumping
through his head like never before.
"Listen to me. Listen to me! Going to the bathroom isn't disrespectful.
Neither is being one minute late. You're a fascist son of a bitch, and I
don't have to obey you anymore, You hear me? I'M LEAVING! Nobody has to get
hurt, just stay the HELL out of my way! You got it? The whole world, out of
my way!"

He took one last look at the shocked, winded man lying on the floor, then
turned to walk away, heading down the hall towards the exit. He had meant
every word he'd said. He was leaving, and if anyone pissed him off he'd take
them down. If he had had any idea how big this would get, he might have
changed his mind, but he didn't. This was a new day, with new rules. If the
world fucked with him again, he'd bring it to it's knees. He walked past
rooms full of students and teachers, blissfully unaware that soon the smart,
quiet kid they had taken for granted would turn their sterile, orderly world
into a war zone.


Joe reached the end of the hallway and put his hand on the doorknob. This is
it, he thought. If I do this, there's no going back. You pansy, another
voice in his head said. You passed that point when you KOd that geezer back
at the bathroom. "Good point," he said to himself. "I should listen to you
more often. He opened the door and stepped outside.

There was a construction site on this side of the school, with a path that
lead around to the football field. But he didn't take the path, instead he
walked into the construction site. The workers hadn't arrived yet, so it was
deserted. It was a bit creepy, standing in the silent field full of
machinery and broken pieces of buildings. Joe couldn't help but think it
looked like pictures he'd seen of war-torn villages in places like the
"Ok, get to work," he said. "you're in a pile of machines and tools. This is
you're element. It's time to get armed."
He went over to a pile of tools and started to dig. He found a large knife,
a roll of duct tape, and a thin rope. Jackpot. He was about to keep looking,
when alarms erupted from the school behind him, signaling that the time to
leave was now. Joe ducked behind a large section of concrete pipe, and then
started running. He ran all through the site, jumping over logs, bricks, or
whatever was in his way. The illusion of a battlefield was complete now,
with the enemy coming in from behind. What he didn't know was that in half a
year the whole town would look like this.

he climbed the fence at the border of the site and stopped, checking for
followers. There were none, apparently they hadn't figured out which way
he'd left. But soon every cop in the area would be looking for him, he
realized he'd better get a weapon ready soon.
He heard a noise off to the right and turned sharply. It was a gym teacher
leading a group of kids behind him, jogging in their unbreakable order:
jocks first, popular kids next, nerds next, troublemakers in the back. Joe
had walked in the nerd section more times than he could remember, but never
again. He recognized the teacher. It was Mr. Johnson, who Joe hated more
than anyone in the building. The cruel, sadistic asshole has never missed an
opportunity to humiliate Joe in front of the whole class, calling him weak
and mocking his less-than-stellar athletic ability. Joe knew he should be
leaving quickly, but this was an opportunity he couldn't resist.

"Hey! Yeah, YOU!" Mr. Johnson yelled in his grating voice. "Why the hell
aren't you in class?"
Joe looked at him calmly.
"I know you can barely find you're way around a baseball diamond but thought
even you could find you're way to class!" The jocks laughed along with him,
Joe felt the anger rising inside him.
"I'm not in class because I don't want to be in class" he answered.
"Well I don't really give a crap what you want! Get back to class now before
I call the principal! That is, assuming you have the muscular endurance to
make it to the offi-"
Joe kicked him in the balls, and he fell to the ground instantly. Some kids
screamed, others just stood there in shock.
Joe smiled at him "It looks like I had the strength to do that!" he said,
laughing. "You didn't give a crap what I thought because you had all the
power. Well now it's gone, how does that feel?"
Mr. Johnson moaned in pain and fear.
"Right now, I make the rules. Rule one: as soon as you can think clearly
enough to talk you're going to apologize to all the kids here that you
forced to run around in circles like little fucking lab rats. Rule two: if
someone doesn't want to play you're stupid games, they don't have to. Are
you getting all this?" Mr. Johnson make a gasping noise.
"I said, are-you-getting-all-this? That's called a question. I know you
probably flunked first grade to get a job like this, but I'm going to assume
you know what a question is.
He raised the knife, the blade flashed in the sunlight. Mr. Johnson nodded,
a look of terror on his face.
"Good. I'm glad we had this little discussion. I've gotta go now, and you've
got plenty of work to do. So long!" He turned and walked off into the small
forest on the edge of the field. Back on the track, several people in the
crowd, despite being scared, couldn't help but feel a bit happier.

Joe crashed through the bushes and reached the center of the woods. It was
nice in here, quiet and isolated from the outside world. No one here was
hunting him or attacking him, and although he knew it would last he stood
for a while just enjoying the peace and freedom. He couldn't believe he'd
actually done it, but here he was out on his own.

"Stop daydreaming! Get focused, you're literally not out of the woods yet"
he told himself sternly. Looking around, he saw a slightly curved branch and
broke it off, about a foot and a half long. Then, using the knife, he
whittled a hooked barb into one end, and scratched a checkered pattern into
the other end for grip. Then he grabbed some long thin twigs and quickly
sharpened the ends. Fitting the rear end of the spear onto the barb on the
branch, he swung it past his head. The twig shot into the woods, further
than he ever could have thrown it. He smiled, proudly admiring his creation.
He'd just built an atlatl, a spear-throwing device used by the Aztecs to
fight the Spanish invaders from a distance. It had been used to fight
oppressors, he thought. How appropriate.

Joe stuck the atlatl in his pocket, and cut the rope in half. One length he
tied around a rock to make a crude sort of mace. The other he tied around
his bundle of spears like a sling, and slung it over his shoulder. Then,
carrying his makeshift yet effective weapons, he ran off towards the


"Ok, what have we got on him?" Officer Barnard asked gruffly. He was the
school resource officer, and was extremely pissed off about actually having
to do police work.
"I've got his file here, Officer" the principal said, opening a manila
folder on the table. "Joseph Murphy, age 16, a sophomore. Criminal record
virtually spotless. Good grades, good kid. So what exactly happened?"
"I have no idea," Barnard growled. "Why does a friendly honor student beat
up two teachers and go AWOL?"
The principal rolled his eyes. "Well, that's sort of your job to find out.
Have you called the station yet?"
The cop glared at him. No pencil-pushing beurocrat was going to tell him how
to do his job. "Of course I called the station. All our truant officers have
been notified, and additional units have been sent out. We'll have him in no
"I'm not so sure about that." said a man sitting in the corner. It was Mr.
Franklin, Joe's former science teacher. "The kid's resourceful; he's not
going to make it easy for you."
"What do you know about this? You're not his teacher" The principal asked
"I used to be. And I got the impression that I was the only adult in this
building he respected. And I can tell you as a fact, he's not going to just
walk along the street waiting for you, and he's not going to turn up crying
in a church somewhere. He's going to fight, and fight hard. If I know him,
and I do, he's probably armed already."
"With what?" Barnard asked angrily. "He's used a backpack and a knife, I'm
sure our force can handle a scrawny little Rambo wannabe. You stick to your
area of expertise, and I'll stick to mine. Ok?"
"Absolutely," Franklin answered. "Just don't underestimate him. You know
what that scrap metal we found in the bathroom was? A homemade gun. And a
good one too. He's not afraid to use force, so be careful."
Barnard rolled his eyes and kept reading the file. He didn't care what some
schoolteacher had to say, it was just one little nerdy kid with a knife.
This was the first time he'd ever had to deal with a criminal, and he wasn't
going to let himself and his career be beaten by a student.


The town Joe lived in was one of those sprawling suburban wastelands filled
with developments named after the trees that had been cut down to build
them. Fortunately, the superficial residents had demanded that some trees be
left to make everything look nicer, and there were several veins of forest
running through the neighborhood. Nobody usually went inside them, out of
fear of getting dirty or losing their children, but it gave Joe a convenient
way to get around without being seen. He ran through a particularly long
stretch of woodland until he could see the large white masses of glass and
siding that meant he'd reached the edge. He crouched behind the bushes
looking out at the sunny street. All the other kids were at school and most
of the parents were at work, so it was completely deserted.
He stuck one foot out of the woods, then quickly drew it back in. A police
cruiser was coming down the street slowly.
They're looking for me, Joe thought, they've already been notified.
He waited under the bush until the car passed, and the crackling static of
the scanner had faded away in the distance. Deciding it would be best not to
use the roads until after dark, he kept on running through the woods.
Suddenly a thought struck him. What was he going to do when it got dark?
He'd have to sleep sometime or his reflexes would be dangerously slow. He
had no doubt he could find a hidden place to sleep, but what about heat? It
was October, and although it was nice now, at noon, it would get cold enough
for frost at night. He needed fire.

But how to get it. Stealing a lighter from a house would be easy, but he
didn't want to risk setting off an alarm until he had some better weapons.
That left only one option: he'd have to risk buying one.
Joe glanced up the street. There was a convenient store at the corner, they
always sold lighters there. And it wouldn't hurt to get some food too. He
quietly ran up to the border of the woods, then stashed the atlatl and the
spears under a log, out of sight. Checking the street for cops once again,
he broke through the bushes and went up to the store.

The store was mostly empty, except for a few guys sitting at a table
drinking coffee and reading the tabloids (Ten-Headed Baby found in Iraq!)
and a clerk who looked about a year or two older than Joe. Joe went over to
the refrigerator and got a bottle of water and some jerky, then went back to
the counter and took out his wallet.
"So, what can I do for ya, little man?" The clerk asked in an
I'm-so-much-cooler-than-you voice.
Joe pointed at the items on the counter. "I'd like to buy this stuff, and on
of these." he pulled a Bic lighter from a shelf nearby.
The clerk shook his head. "No can do, little man. You're gonna have to go
somewhere else."
He'd seriously better stop calling me that, Joe thought. "What do you mean?"
"You can't buy a lighter until you're 18, little man. Sorry" the clerk said.
"Ok," Joe said, "first of all, if you call me little man one more time I'll
light this thing and shove it up your ass with a stick. And second, why
can't I buy a lighter?"
The clerk looked shocked for a moment, then said "I don't like you're
attitude, little dude. You're not allowed to smoke."
"I'm not going to smoke," Joe said through gritted teeth, "I need it to
start a fire. That's not illegal is it?"
"I can't sell these to minors. Sorry little ma-" But he never had time to
finish the sentence. Joe whipped out the knife and held it to the clerk's
"Listen to me, asshole. I'm your customer, and it's your job to help the
customers. It doesn't fucking matter whether they're 18 or not. Got it?"
The clerk stood frozen in place. Joe turned around and saw the guys in the
back staring at him in fear. It was amazing, really. How mush respect a
weapon will get you in today's world. With a feeling of satisfaction, he
turned back to the clerk.
"Listen to me. 200 Years ago you wouldn't have sold this stuff to a black
guy if he'd come in here without permission form his master. People like you
make me doubt how far we've really come. Or maybe you've got some profound
reason why minors aren't allowed to buy lighters? Would you care to
The clerk swallowed. "They, uh, said you might smoke pot, or something...I
Joe sighed. "OK, let me clue you in on a few things here: plenty of adults
smoke pot too, but you sell it to them. Why? Because you're an ignorant,
prejudiced bastard, that's why. And about the pot, it doesn't fucking
matter. I have no desire to smoke weed, but if I did it's my FUCKING body
and my FUCKING choice! Got it?"
"I'm...I'm just doing my job..." the clerk whimpered softly.
Joe looked at him. "And why's that? You're barely older than me, a few weeks
ago you probably weren't allowed to buy lighters here either. Why they fuck
are you working for them, and doing the same thing they did to you? Come on,
we should be on the same side here." The clerk didn't answer.
"Well, whatever. Your choice. But I'm buying this thing, and you're not
going to stop me." He pulled out some money. "Give me my change, come on."
Shaking, the clerk opened the register and took out the money.
Joe pocketed the lighter and supplies. "Thanks man, pleasure doing business
with you." He left the store feeling angry but somehow satisfied.


Officer Barnard burst into the room. "We just got a call. A convenient store
on the corner of Oak street and Route 5. The kid went in and held the clerk
at knifepoint."
The principal turned pale. "Jesus. Are your men there yet?"
"They're on their way there now," Barnard said triumphantly. "We'll get him,
don't you worry. Weird thing is, he paid for the stuff."
"He...paid?" the principal asked incredulously. "Why?"
Barnard grunted, "Because he's crazy, of course. We'll get him. He can't
have gone far, it was only a minute ago. My guys will be there any second."


Joe had just grabbed the atlatl when he heard them coming. Sirens, moving
closer. The damn kid in there must have called the cops. Shit. Once they
realized he wasn't on the roads they'd start searching the woods, and it
would all be over. There was only one thing to do: make a stand and fight.
Quickly, he grabbed a large log and shoved it out into the road. Then he
loaded a spear onto the atlatl and took cover behind a bush. He could hear
the siren coming fast. Any second it would come round the corner. Joe took a
deep breath. He would have one shot at this, just one.
The road the car would come down was narrow, with only two lanes. If the log
trick worked, it would force the police into one lane. By disabling one of
the cars, he could block off both lanes and make the street impassable and
buy time to escape.

A moment later, he saw the cars turn onto the street. There were three of
them, with two officers each and their sirens blaring. As the came closer to
the log Joe held his breath. If they could run over the log undamaged it was
all over. The lead car slowed, then turned away from the log and into the
other lane. Perfect. Joe burst out of the bushes and took aim. Facing the
car at an angle, he swung the branch over his head with every bit of
strength he could gather.

The spear bent, and it's own flexibility launched it off the branch and
through the air, where it streaked to it's target: the front right tire.
There was a loud hiss as air escaped under the weight of the car. The diver
yelled and tried to control the vehicle, which had started to swerve. He
stomped on the brakes, just as the two other cars slammed into his rear. It
wasn't like the movies, where the slightest contact between vehicles
resulted in massive explosions. Instead, there was a terrible shattering,
screeching sound as the three cars tore themselves apart. Then, as the gas
splattered out of the tanks and hit the sparking metal, a sheet of flame
rose up, so powerful Joe shielded his eyes. For a moment he stood there,
dumbstruck by the sheer destructive power of what he'd just done. Then,
gathering his wits, he ran down toward the street towards the wreckage.

The trunk of the last car was intact, but it had come open in the shock of
the crash. Joe ducked as another plume of flame came out of the middle car.
Any minute the rear car's tank would blow, he'd have to be quick. He scanned
the inside of the trunk, and grabbed the MP5 submachinegun and a few extra
clips. He was expecting a shotgun, but apparently they weren't taking any
chances bringing him in. He dropped the atlatl and ran back toward the woods
just as the car blew. The spot where he had just been standing was
immediately consumed by the flames. Joe took one last look at the policemen
inside the cars. Some of them were staggering out of their cars, but others
weren't moving at all. He felt a twinge of sympathy, but this was not the
time to get sentimental. He had to get away before more arrived. Joe slung
the MP5 over his shoulder and disappeared back into the woods.


Officer Barnard hung up the phone, and fell into a chair. His face was in
his hands, and he was shaking. Mr. Franklin was watching him intently. In
any other situation he would have had an "I told you so" ready, but not now.
Barnard raised his head, and the principal gave him a questioning look.
"What happened?" he asked softly.
The Officer looked on the verge of tears. "Two of them are dead. Three are
in critical condition, only one was able to tell us what happened. Said the
kid was waiting for them, blew a tire and caused them all to crash. Some
kind of ambush..." he buried his face in his hands again. How could this
have possibly happened, he kept thinking. How?
The principal put a hand on his shoulder. “Officer, I know this is hard. I
know you knew some of the men in those cars. But we need your help. He's
still out here, you've gotta catch him."
Barnard stopped shaking. The principal was right, of course. This kid,
Joseph or whatever the hell his name was, was a killer. And he was loose in
the town. He needed to pull himself together if he wanted to avenge his
fellow officers (and of course, advance his career). This was business.
"Right," he grunted, getting to his feet. "Get on the phone, can HQ. We need
a swat team down here ASAP. Get choppers, thermal scanners, automatic
rifles, the whole works." And send a forensics unit over to the crash sight,
we may find some tracks or something. I want this town searched, and I want
him, dead or alive."
The other cops in the room quickly pulled out their radios. Barnard turned
towards the principal. "Has he got family?"
"Yes," the principal said, "parents and an adult brother."
"Well, we need to get over to his parents' house now, and tell them what's
happened. He might even try to go back there, come on."
Barnard, two other officers and the principal left the room and headed for
the parking lot. He didn't like the idea of telling the kid's parents what
happened, but if anyone had to he wanted it to be him.


Joe ran through the woods, the gun bouncing up and down painfully hitting
his back with every step. He'd been running for a while, and was getting a
bruise, but he had to keep moving. The sun was turning orange, and the
clouds above him were splattered with brilliant colors. Any other time Joe
would have stopped to admire the sunset, but he had more pressing matters to
deal with. Night would come soon, and he needed to find a place to hide. As
cool as night fighting looked in the movies, Joe could tell it wouldn't me
the same. The temperature was dropping rapidly, and he was starting to get
tired. If he didn't find a suitable spot to make a fire, hypothermia would
kill him long before the cops could.

Looking out at the bleak, colorless housing development from behind a tree,
he saw a house that was clearly deserted. The garage door was closed, and no
lights were on. Glancing into the backyard, he saw a cozy looking space
under their deck. It would be full of bugs, but it had to do. He would be
invisible to anyone around, including helicopters, and if the police wanted
to search the place they'd need a warrant, giving him more time to escape.
Joe looked around once more to be absolutely sure nobody was around, then
quickly ran across the yard and ducked under the deck. It was worse than
he'd expected, with the sickly smell of rotten leaves overpoweringly strong.
But at least it was dry, and would provide adequate ventilation once he
started a fire.

Joe gathered some leaves together, trying to remember what he had learned at
camp last summer. Leaves first, then kindling, then logs. Light it from the
bottom because fire goes up. He snapped some dry twigs and built a little
pyramid on top of the leaf pile, then took out the lighter and flicked it.
The tiny flame seemed blindingly bright in the dark space, and threw creepy
shadows on the wall. He lowered the lighter, and touched the flame to the
little bundle of leaves. The flame smoked, then died.
"Brilliant. I can make a weapon capable of taking out three police cruisers
out of scrap wood but I can't get a decent fire going." he laughed a little.
It sounded very strange, and he realized it had been the first time he had
laughed in months.
"Stop it. This is no time to get all emotional. Focus."
He looked around the damp hole. There was a metal flask in the corner, and
when he picked it up he saw that it was lighter fluid. Perfect. Within a few
seconds he had a nice little fire burning bright, and the space under the
deck was getting warmer.

Suddenly, a thought struck him. He hadn't talked to his parents since this
morning. He knew he wouldn't miss them much, but if he was going on the run
he might as well say good bye. At least they could get the truth about him,
not police reports filled with words like "disturbed" and "psychotic."
He put some more wood on the fire to last a while, then stepped outside.
Looking through the window of the house, he could see a cell phone lying in
it's charger on the table. Throwing caution to the winds, he smashed the
window with his rock, and reached through to grab the phone. No alarms had
gone off, so he assumed he was safe. He knew that cell phones could be
traced, so he checked his fire one more time then ran a few houses up the
street, and lay down in the bushes.

Joe dialed his home number, and waited. After a few seconds, his father
picked up the phone.
Joe paused for a moment, uncertain of what to say.
"Hi dad, it's me."
"Joe! Jesus, are you alright?"
He didn't know that Officer Barnard, the principal, and two other cops were
standing beside his parents, listening to the conversation.
"Yeah, I'm alright..."
His dad sounded scared. "Look, the police have said some pretty awful stuff,
but I'm sure we can work this all out when you come home..."
Joe breathed deeply to calm himself down. "I'm not coming home. Not this
time. I just wanted to talk to you before I go away."
His father didn't talk for several seconds, then asked "what do you
mean-Joe, is it true what the police are saying?"
"yeah, it is."
"but for Christ's sake, why?"
Joe had to calm himself again before responding. "I didn't want to. I wanted
them to leave me alone. I wanted to go and just live in peace. I wanted a
lot of things, but they just wouldn't let me."
"Joe, they're saying you're disturbed and unstable. If you come home we can
help you-"
"Nobody can help me. You're the ones that need help. The whole world is
disturbed and unstable, and all I wanted was to live free of it."
"Joe, please come home..."
"Bye Dad."
Joe closed the phone, then threw it as far away from his hiding place as
possible. Then he ran back and checked on the fire. It was still burning
warmly, but he still felt cold and knew it had nothing to do with the
season. The call to his Dad had been a mistake, and not just because of the
risk of being traced. He felt empty inside, like his last connection to his
old life had just been severed. His parents had been smothering,
overprotective, and put pressure on him that had been a major factor in his
suicide decision, but they had still loved him, and were probably the only
people left in the world who did. And now he wasn't even certain of that.
He looked around the dank, bug-infested space. This morning he'd been
worrying about getting the bus on time. How had it come to this?


Joe's father held the buzzing phone in his had for a few seconds, then hung
it up. Officer Barnard stopped the recording, and turned to the other
policemen in the room.
"Well? What's the word?"
"The triangulation was successful," one of the officers said happily. "His
coordinates are known; we're entering it into the computer for satellite
"In English please?" Barnard growled.
"We know where he is. 38 Sequoia Street, about a mile from here."
"Good. Get that SWAT team over their now." He knew that was overstepping his
authority, but he didn't care. This time he'd make the ambush. He thought of
the incredible promotion he'd receive and felt all tingly inside.
But as he headed towards the door, he turned. Joe's father was holding his
wife, and they were both crying. The happy feeling faded almost immediately.
He looked at them awkwardly.
"Look, I'm really sorry about this, if there's anything I can do I'd be
happy to do it..."
Joe's mother looked at him and took a shaky breath.
"Just...please don't hurt him. He's not evil, he's just...not right...please
just arrest him."
Barnard swore he would, then walked outside to his car. The SWAT van was
outside, and the team was strapping on body armor and loading their weapons.
He had no intention of keeping his promise. After what had happened today,
he wanted the kid's head on a plate.

The SWAT team captain came over to him and saluted. Barnard rolled his eyes.
"How soon will you be ready to leave?" he asked.
The captain responded in an annoyingly confident voice. "At about 2200
hours, sir! We still need to plan an operation that will minimize civilian
Barnard glared at him. "I don't want any civilian casualties. And spare me
the military crap. How soon will you be ready to leave?"
The captain looked taken aback. "Uh, in about fifteen minutes sir..."
"Good. Do whatever you have to, just get him."

Fifteen minutes later, Barnard stood watching the SWAT van streak down the
road, sirens blaring. Idiots. He turned to get back into his car, hoping
desperately that the team wouldn't fuck things up.


Joe lay perfectly still, with a pile of sticks and leaves blocking the
entrance to his hiding space. He had reduced the fire to a small pile of
glowing coals, to make as little light as possible. He could hear the SWAT
team searching the woods and bushes further up the street, but he was pretty
sure they wouldn't find him. He needed to save his strength. Tomorrow, when
they realized he had evaded them once again, they would come out in full
force. Helicopters, more SWAT teams, everything. Tomorrow would be the final
challenge. He went over everything he'd seen on Discovery channel about high
tech police gear, and tried to think of flaws he could exploit. He was doing
pretty well, until his fatigue finally caught up with him and he slept all
through the night. As government agents scoured the land outside, Joe
enjoyed his last peaceful night in this town.


Barnard slammed his fist on the report in front of him.
"Incompetent bastards! Those SWAT idiots couldn't find a fugitive if he hid
out in their own houses!"
The other officers in the station were looking at him nervously. When he got
this mad, students usually ended up in detention. But without any teenagers
to take out his anger on, they hoped they wouldn't become his new outlets.
"Tomorrow, we do this my way. I want roadblocks at every entrance to the
town, with patrols sweeping the woods and cruisers checking the streets. And
I want a chopper with a thermal camera circling the town looking for anyone
who's not where they're supposed to be! Bring everything out, tomorrow we're
going to get him one way or the other. Tomorrow, we finish this."

Joe woke up at about 6:30. Some part of his brain remembered that that was
when he had woken up the previous day, before his life had gone crazy. But
it seemed like it had been years ago. Joe took a deep breath to calm his
nerves. He knew what was coming, today would be the endgame.
He brushed the leaves out of his dirty hair and looked around. His fire had
gone out a long time ago, and it was freezing cold. He grabbed the bottle of
lighter fluid and stuck it in his pocket. He had the feeling it would come
in handy later. Carefully, Joe pressed his ear against a crack between the
boards of the deck and listened. He heard the sound of birds chirping, and a
car go by. Nothing out of the ordinary. As quietly as he could, he pushed
aside the wall of leaves he had used as camouflage and crawled outside.
There was a thin dusting of frost on the grass, and he could see his breath.
He jumped up and down a few times to get the blood moving, then, slinging
the MP5 over his shoulder once again, he vanished into the woods.

After running for a minute or two, Joe decided he'd better plan his escape.
Although all the housing developments looked pretty much identical, he knew
the general layout of the town enough predict where he could evade the
police most effectively. He figured his best bet was to avoid the downtown
area and head for the park. The park was full of trees and hills which would
provide excellent cover. He looked around through the trees until he saw a
bright orange glow on the horizon. Getting his bearings, he turned and
started south.

Joe reached the edge of Pine Acres development, although as far as he knew
there wasn't a single pine tree in it and there hadn't been for thirty
years. Looking around for cops, he quickly ran across the street and ducked
behind a bush. This was going pretty well, he thought; he hadn't seen a
single cop yet. Joe was just thinking that maybe something was wrong, that
this was too easy, when he heard it. Off in the distance, getting steadily
louder, was rhythmic hum of a helicopter. Joe's heart sank. The bush offered
no cover from the air, and after what had happened with the cars there was
no way they were just here to locate him. He needed to find a place to hide,
Desperately looking around, he heard the hum getting louder. In a minute it
would be too late. Finally, he saw a small apple tree in a yard down the
road. Forgetting about stealth, he dashed wildly out into the open, heading
for the tree as fast as he could. The hum was gone now, replaced by a
menacing thumping sound that seemed to vibrate all around. Joe dove under
the tree just as the helicopter broke through the cloud layer.

It was probably the most fear he had ever felt in his life, crouched under
the pitifully small apple tree while this great flying monster circled
overhead, not even 100 feet above the roofs. Lights were coming on in the
windows, as curious people looked out to see what was making the commotion.
Joe felt leaves swirl around him as the helicopter's rotors beat the air
down towards the ground. After a few seconds, he knew something was wrong.
When you're on a patrol, you try to cover as much ground as possible, but
this copter wasn't doing anything like that. It was hovering over the same
street, barely moving. Joe could only think of one explanation for this:
they knew he was there.
Peeking through the branches, he looked at the underbelly of the chopper. He
had a grim feeling that he knew what he was going to see, but it was
terrifying anyway. Attached to the bottom of the helicopter was a small
metal sphere, about the size of a basketball. Joe had read too many issues
of Newsweek and Popular Mechanics to not know what it was: an infrared
camera. From up there, no matter where he hid, he would appear to them as a
bright red blur, separate from all the others grouped together in their
houses. There was no place to hide, nowhere to run. The only option left was
to fight.

Joe burst out from under the tree and bolted in the direction of the park,
pausing only to let out a burst from the submachinegun into the sky above
him. The helicopter rose higher into the air, until it was out of the gun's
effective range. It circled above, as thought mocking his effort. He ran
along the border of the woods, knowing the chopper's gunner would never fire
so close to civilian houses. But he knew it wouldn't matter. All they had to
do was lock onto his heat signature and call for the cops to follow him. Joe
knew he had no choice but to try and take down the chopper, before it did
the same to him.

He ran over to a fenced in yard full of dogs, blasted the lock off the gate
with a burst from the MP5, and opened it. The dogs all ran out, and
dispersed into the woods and street. If Joe couldn't hide from their
infrared camera, he could at least try to confuse it. Now, instead of
following a single moving blob of heat, the officer operating the camera had
deal with several of them, moving everywhere.

Joe glanced at the street sign. He was almost at the park. If he could make
it there, he could hide his heat signature among the joggers and tennis
players who came there early in the morning. Until then, he'd give them more
heat to worry about. He pulled the bottle of lighter fluid out of his
pocket, splashed some on the branches of a tree, and lit them. The leaves
burst into flame, the fire creeping up the branch until the whole tree was
alight. Soon it would spread into the woods, and the whole town would look
like a giant blob of thermal energy on the camera. But that wasn't enough.
Joe ran over to the obligatory gas grill on a house's back deck, and cut the
hose with his knife. Then he threw a piece of burning wood into the path of
the escaping gas, and ran for his life.
A few seconds later, there was a deafening BOOM, as the flame went back up
the hose and into the tank. Joe felt a searing hot wind blow him over, and a
piece of shrapnel grazed his side, tearing a hole in his shirt. A massive
cloud of fire rose into the air like a mini mushroom could, and he could
hear screaming from the neighboring houses. If that didn't distract the
helicopter, nothing would.

As it turned out, it didn't. Joe had just reached the edge of the
development, across the street from the park, when it descended from the air
like some kind of hideous metal wasp, blocking his path. He froze. The
chopper slowly turned, so that the side door faced him. There was an officer
with a flight suit and a Kevlar vest sitting with his legs hanging out. He
was holding an automatic G36E with a long range scope, and raised it to his
A booming voice came from the cockpit. "Joseph Murphy. This is the police.
Drop your weapon and surrender, or we will be forced to fire. Repeat: drop
your weapon and surrender, or we will be forced to fire."

As hopeless as it looked, Joe had no intention of surrendering. He ducked
behind a rock just as a burst of popping noises echoed around the street and
three bullets whizzed past his head and slammed into a tree.
"What would Rambo do?" he thought. He had a sudden mental image of Sylvester
Stallone uttering an unintelligible grunt and throwing a rock at a
helicopter to bring it down. That's really pretty stupid, he told himself.
But suddenly, he got an idea. After firing a burst from the MP5 to keep the
chopper from coming over the rock, he pulled out his makeshift mace, with a
rope tied onto a rock. He tied the other end around the bottle lighter
fluid, opened it, and stuck a leafy twig in to the coil of rope. Joe lit the
end of the twig, and held the awkward assembly by the middle of the rope. He
swirled it around his head like a bola, then stood up praying for a lucky
shot. The helicopter was barely 20 feet off the ground, at point-blank
range. He released the rope, and the rock and flaming bottle flew through
the air and wrapped themselves around the rotor shaft. Some fluid splashed
out of the bottle and made contact with the burning stick, igniting the
rest. The pilot barely had time to rise higher into the air as the bottle
exploded, sending shards of metal and rope into the rotors. The rope tangled
into the gears, and the shrapnel jammed it's way inside the air intake fans.
The pilot felt a violent shake as the chopper began to tear itself apart.
Joe could hear horrible screeching noises as the engine failed, and the gas
tank ruptured. As soon as the fuel hit the flames, the town police's only
helicopter was dead before it hit the ground in a blinding ball of fire and

Joe ran across the street and into the park. Behind him, he could distant
booming sounds over the roar of the flames. His forest fire had spread, and
reached the houses. Other gas grills were exploding now, and he could hear
wailing sirens as the woefully under prepared fire department tried to
respond to as many panicked calls as possible. Joe could see smoke rising
over the eerie red glow of the flames. His town was beginning to burn.


Officer Barnard was standing behind one of the many roadblocks that had been
set up around the town. The street was buzzing with activity, as SWAT teams
looked over maps and checked their weapons, and other officers were running
around talking furiously on their radios. A yellow ribbon had been set up to
keep the gathering crowd of curious civilians away, as well as the swarm of
reporters and cameramen. For a moment he thought had seen Anderson Cooper,
but then he reminded himself to focus on business.
A rookie officer ran up to him. "Uh, sir, I think you should see this
"What is it?" Barnard snapped.
"Well sir, it's the'd better come see."
Barnard followed the young officer over to a portable TV that had been set
up in the mobile command center. There were other cops watching, all of them
looking horrified. One of them was the town's Chief, Barnard's superior
officer. Barnard was a little worried that he would get in trouble for
deploying SWAT teams the previous night, but the chief looked to engrossed
by the screen to care. He looked at the TV, and couldn't believe his eyes.
It was news footage of the town's own helicopter, reduced to a flaming pile
of rubble on the ground next to the park.
"What did this happen? How could this possible happen?"
The Chief turned to him. "It was the kid. He did something, built some kind
of device that ruined the engine, the pilot and gunner are dead." His voice
sounded hollow, and Barnard guessed that the Chief felt the same as he did.
"Barnard, take a squad over to the far side of the park. There will be a
SWAT team waiting there to help. When he comes through, drop him. I'd do it
myself, but they need me downtown. The fire's spread, and people are
panicking There's even reports of some looting."
"Looting?" Barnard said incredulously. "But for Christ’s sake why?"
The Chief lowered his eyes. "I don't know. Fear brings out the worst in
people. Get going Officer."

As he drove the lead car of the squad heading for the park, Barnard thought
about what that teacher had said. How he shouldn't have underestimated this
kid. he had scoffed then, but now it sounded horribly true. This one scrawny
teenager had made his peaceful little suburb look like downtown Baghdad.
First knocking over a teacher with a backpack, and now fire and death, panic
and chaos.
The Chief's words reverberated in his head. "Fear brings out the worst in
With hatred and images of the kid dead flashing through his brain, he could
certainly believe that.

A voice crackled over the radio. "...Target has been sighted on the edge of
baseball fields, heading south..."
Barnard parked the car alongside the road and got out. He drew his sidearm,
and knelt behind the car, facing the woods. He narrowed his eyes. This was
it, he thought. He'll be coming out any second now. This is it. Just you and
me. He flicked off the safety and waited.


Officer Barnard stood there behind his car, staring deep into the forest
with his gun drawn and ready. Two other cars and a SWAT van were parked
alongside him, and everyone there was armed to the teeth. When the kid came
out of the woods, he could either surrender or be cut to pieces before he
could even pull his trigger. Personally, Barnard hoped dearly it would be
the latter.
He and his men waited, not making a sound.
"Hey, what was that?" a SWAT member asked, squinting into the trees.
Barnard whipped his head around. "What? Did you see something?"
"No, but I think I heard a twig break or something..."
Barnard listened carefully, straining his ears to pick up every tiny noise.
Which wasn't easy, considering the fact that every few seconds there were
the thundering booms of explosions coming from the direction of downtown.
But then he definitely heard something, something very close.
The SWAT man was looking scared. "Do you think it's-"
"Shut up! I'm trying to listen!" Barnard turned his ear towards the woods,
and heard it: a crunching sound, like something moving through a bush.
"It's him," he whispered. But don't give the ultimatum until he gets closer
to the road, we don't want to warn him ahead of time."
His finger was on the trigger. Just a few more seconds...


Joe raced through the park, running from hiding place to hiding place,
always taking care to stay under things in case they sent in another
helicopter. But there was no sign of one, no ominous buzzing from the sky.
He relaxed his guard a little, choosing cover that would hide him from
viewers on the ground instead. He had just passed the baseball complex,
running past the groundskeeper's station where all the big lawnmowers were
parked. He didn't know that the groundskeeper was inside, and had called the
police with his location as soon as Joe had left. And he also didn't know
about the ambush that was waiting at the southern border of the park. He
only knew that the fight wasn't over, and he needed to get out fast.

He ran through the deserted playground, where he had used to play when he
was still a little kid. If he hadn't been so scared and angry, he might have
felt a twinge of nostalgia. But he knew there were much bigger things at
stake. The police weren't just going to let him leave after downing a
helicopter and torching the town. They'd be waiting, he just didn't know

Joe got to the last stretch of woodland and stopped. The park's edge was
also the edge of the town, and he felt it was probably guarded. But he had
to be sure. Creeping through the trees, he picked up a stick and threw it.
It hit the bushes at the end of the woods, making a sound that he hoped
might spring any trap.
Nothing happened. He waited a few minutes, but still nothing. No gunshots,
no bomb, no SWAT jumping out from behind every tree. But he wasn't taking
any chances. He crouched behind a log and waited some more.


Barnard stood there, holding his breath. It had been a full minute since he
had heard the noises coming from inside the forest, and he wondered why the
kid hadn't come out yet. Was it possible that he knew they were there? The
thought terrified him, the kid getting away because of his failure. If the
ambush under his command failed to do its job, he might as well send his
promotion down the garbage disposal.

He waited another minute, then started breathing normally again, with a
sinking feeling in his stomach. The kid must have known.
He turned to the deputy beside him. "Give the ultimatum." he said grimly.
The deputy raised the bullhorn to his mouth. "Joseph Murphy! This is the
police! We have you surrounded! Come out slowly and put your weapon on the
ground, and keep your hands where we can see them. Comply and you will not
be harmed!"

They all waited for another minute. Still nothing happened.
Barnard made up his mind. "Call headquarters. Request permission to enter
the woods and search."
The deputy stared. "Sir, he's got a gun..."
"So do we you pasty little rookie, now get on the radio! I'm not letting
this kid get away because you were too scared to fight!"
The deputy went pale, but nodded and picked up the radio. “This is Unit 5,
we have seen no sign of the target. Requesting permission to search the
woods, over."
The reply came back a moment later. "Roger that 5, send SWAT it to begin
sweeping the woods, but keep all police units back in case he comes out. And
exercise extreme caution, target is armed and dangerous. Over and out."

"All right," Barnard growled, "all SWAT units come with me. Spread out, make
two skirmish lines of three men each and do a pincer movement. Make sure he
only has one exit, and make sure it leads right into the cars."
The Deputy stood up. "Sir, you heard HQ's response, all police units stay
Barnard turned to him. "I don't really give a shit! SWAT team, get into
position. You three, come with me. Let's go."
they fell into formation, and entered the woods.


Joe heard the bullhorn and jumped. So they were waiting for him. He couldn't
leave that way, but the land behind him was undoubtedly being filled with
police at that very moment. He decided to stay quiet and let them make the
next move.
He heard the SWAT team before he saw them. It was hard to be stealthy
wearing body armor and over fifty pounds of gear, and he heard a crunching
sounds and faint swearing coming from the woods on his right. He pulled out
another clip and duct taped it, upside down, to the one in the gun. Now he
had the ability to reload extra quickly, and he felt he would need it.

He pushed deeper into the bushes for camouflage, and stayed perfectly still
until he could see three dark shapes moving towards him out of the trees. He
flicked off his safety, and the click seemed very loud.

Immediately, the woods erupted with gunfire. Three bright flowers of muzzle
flashes split the darkness like strobe lights at a disco, and the bright red
lines of tracers filled the air. Joe used the light to determine roughly
where each man was, then ducked out from under the bush and squeezed the
trigger. The gun shook in his hand, and he had to fight to keep control. He
heard a yell, and saw one of the shapes stop firing and fall to the ground.
One down, two to go. He flopped down on his stomach and crawled towards a
large stump. The remaining SWAT members didn't see this in the dark, and
kept on shooting at the bush.
It was almost too easy, he thought as he switched to semi-auto and squeezed
four more rounds into the area around the muzzle flashes. The MP5
submachinegun has excellent single-fire accuracy, and the two SWAT men fell
to the ground.

Joe stood up and ran over to the body nearest to him. He reloaded his gun,
then knelt down beside the body and pulled two more clips out of his vest.
He didn't bother to take his gun, double-wielding looked cool in the movies
but he knew all it did waste ammo and decrease accuracy. He grabbed a couple
smoke bombs too, and stuck them in his pocket. Then he started running in
the other direction, towards Barnard's team that he didn't even know was

The sun was much higher in the sky now, but in the tall trees it was still
hard to see. Branches whipped at his face as he ran through the forest with
the gun raised to his shoulder. He jumped over a rock, then dove to the
ground as more tracers whizzed past his head. Raising his head up a little,
he could see the outlines of more men. Four of them. Where the hell had they
come from? But he already knew the answer: they had set up a trap, and he
had fallen right into it. The only way out was to leave the woods, and run
straight into the cars.
The unfairness of it hit him like a wave, and he almost wanted to cry. Why
the hell was he here? Why couldn't everyone just leave him alone, instead of
chasing him out here to die in this dark, bloody forest?
Then it came over him again, the same feeling he had felt in the bathroom
after the bullet had failed. That inexplicably euphoric feeling of having
nothing to lose. Ok, he thought. If this is it, I might as well go out with
a bang.
He switched the gun to full-auto, and jumped to his feet.


Officer Barnard was standing behind a tree, gun drawn, heart beating fast.
He had heard gunfire and screams, and lost radio contact with the other
team. Then, Jesus, he had actually seen the kid as he ran towards them. The
man next to him has taken shots at him, but missed. It didn't matter though,
the kid was right in front of them with nowhere to go. They'd won.

Barnard grinned at his comrades, and made a motion to move in a take him.
The men were just about to obey, one of them had even shouldered his gun and
taken out a pair of handcuffs, when suddenly the kid sprang up in front of
them, gun blazing.
Barnard ducked, then crouched behind the tree. He heard the man with the
handcuffs go down first, then another scream from beside him as another man
was shot. He raised his gun, and pulled the trigger again and again. He
hadn't fired a gun since training, and the feeling was quite unfamiliar.
Working in a boring suburban high school had never required the use of
weapon. This decreased his accuracy quite a bit, and was ultimately what
saved the Joe's life. His shots splintered branches and knocked leaves to
the ground, but the kid remained unscathed. He could see his outline,
flitting between trees and rocks, always on the move. Every few seconds,
he'd let out a burst of fire toward Barnard and his men, who were unwilling
to shoot blindly into the woods in fear of stray bullets hitting their men
back at the cars.

Barnard reloaded his gun with shaking hands, and rose to his feet just as
the gunshots ceased. He looked around frantically, his eyes wide. Three
bodies were lying at his feet.
He was the only one left.


Joe whirled around a tree and sprayed bullets in the cops' direction. He
just had time to see the third man fall before he ducked behind another tree
to reload. He was trembling, an adrenaline rush like he'd never felt in his
life was pumping through his body, but he resisted the urge to fire again
after the gunshots from his enemies stopped.
Breathing deeply to get control of himself again, he peered around the tree.
It was silent, with clouds of smoke hovering in the air and clouding his
nostrils. He tentatively stepped out from behind the tree, empty shell
casings tingling under his feet as he walked towards the still bodies. He
knew he had to get out fast before the men outside moved into the woods, but
it still felt wrong to make noise in this dark forest filled with dead

He had just reached the first of the dead SWAT members when a figure rose up
in fron of him, looking around and brandishing a gun. Joe jumped in shock,
which delayed his shots. It was a tiny delay, but it gave the man enough
time to swing the gun around until it was pointed at Joe's head.
There was very little light, but the tiny trickle of sunlight through the
treetops was enough for Joe to recognize the man. He gasped; he recognized
this man, he had seen him every day for the last two years.


Officer Barnard had the gun mere feet from the kid's head. He had time to
see the kid's shocked expression as recognition dawned on his face before
Barnard pulled the trigger.
Nothing happened. He pulled it again, but still nothing. No bang, no flash
of light, no brass cartridges shooting out to the side. In an instant he
realized what he'd done: in the heat of battle he had panicked, and loaded
the same empty clip back into his gun.
All the air seemed to rush out of his lungs, and he felt his pants grow wet.
A cop wetting himself should have been funny, he thought, but it was the
most terrifying feeling he'd ever had. Right here, after all that, he was
completely helpless.


Joe flinched as Barnard pulled the trigger, but nothing happened. He didn’t
know why, but he didn't care. He raised his MP5 and pointed it right between
the cop's eyes. The officer dropped the defective gun, and put his hands in
the air.
"Please," he said hoarsely, "don't shoot."
Joe sneered. He had hated this man since he had first met him. He was a
brutal, power-hungry fascist, who would harass innocent students in the
hallway, or frisk them in front of everybody just because he didn't like
them. He looked at this man, begging pathetically for his miserable life,
and tried to make up his mind.
"I didn't want to shoot!" Joe yelled. "Why the fuck couldn't you just leave
me alone? I would have left and just lived my life in peace! Why did you do
Barnard stammered, "just...doing my, my job..."
"Yeah? Well your job shouldn't exist!" He was the one on the verge of tears
now. "Why can't you just let us live the way we want? Why did you treat us
like animals, huh? Why?"
"Please...I'm sorry..."
"NOW you're sorry, because I'm holding a gun! If I wasn't you and your
friends would just be treating me like shit again! Why should I let you
"We can help you..."
"Help me? Help me? YOU need help! Your society needs help, not me!" he was
crying openly now. "Turn away, walk out of these woods and tel your men to
stand down. DO IT!"
Barnard nodded. He walked to the edge of the woods, with Joe pressing the
barrel of the gun into his back. Once they were in view of the police, he
heard panicked voices. The other officers were staring and pointing, looking
He raised his arms. "Stand down."
The men didn't move.
"I said, STAND DOWN!"
They still didn't move. He looked pleadingly at them, then saw the chief
standing next to his car. Immediately, his hope died. The chief was in
command now, he had no authority to make the men lower they're weapons.
"Chief, please..."
The chief looked at him solemnly for a moment, then shook his head slowly.
Barnard realized what it meant: the chief was sacrificing him to take the
kid down. Panic rose inside him.
"You see?" The kid whispered. "Your friends are gonna let you die, and you
can't stop them. Your precious rules are going to kill you."
The next few seconds went by very fast. Three things happened all at once.
The kid dropped a smoke bomb and shoved Barnard forward, then ran back into
the woods. At the same time, the police opened fire. Joe made it into the
woods just in time, but Barnard was torn to pieces. As the rat-a-tat-tat
sound filled the air and a great cloud of smoke and blood swirled up around
his body, the last thought he had was one of disbelief.


"Cease fire, CEASE FIRE!"
The shots stopped, and the smoke slowly cleared away. Barnard's broken body
was lying in the dust. The chief looked wildly around, but the kid was
nowhere to be seen. He ordered his men into the woods to look for a body.
Outside behind the car he waited tensely, praying that Barnard's death
hadn't been in vain.
After the longest minutes in his life, the men emerged from the forest,
shaking their heads grimly. The chief collapsed onto the ground and buried
his face in his hands.


Joe sat on the rumbling floor of the boxcar. He had managed to jump onboard
half a mile past the town's railroad station. He had no idea where the train
was heading, and he didn't care. With the food and the knife in his pocket,
and the gun lying beside him, he was ready to face whatever the real world
had to offer. He looked back at the thick columns of smoke rising from the
ruins of his town and his past life which lay behind him, then turned his
eyes toward the whole world that lay ahead.
It was strange, he thought, that just a day ago he'd been considering
suicide, because right now he'd never felt more alive.


Written by:
13 September 2006

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