Tuesday, 11 February 2020 14:52

Screams and Shots by Trisha McKee

Screams and Shots by Trisha McKeeThey say in horror films that the ditzy, beautiful girl always dies first. In Kimberly’s case, that did not happen. She survived. Survived in the sense that she did not die that night. 

That night.

It had been a month, and that night still haunted her every thought, her mood, her speech. The only reason she was returning to campus was because her parents were driving her crazy. Their response to her trauma was to project their fear and panic onto her, just pile it on as if she were not already a trembling mound of jello. 

The psychiatrists and support groups had not really helped. They made her seep in the trauma of that night, the terror settling into her bones, her teeth chattering with the all too recent memory.

She remembered the gunshots, the screams… the crying and begging. She remembered the chaos, flashes in the suddenly blackest of nights, the thumps as bodies fell to the ground. That pool party had been packed, until suddenly she had felt all alone, running for her life. She had tripped over an exposed root, her body pitching forward, her face crushing against the Earth. All sense of direction, all ordered thought, had vanished as she tried to focus on her own escape and not the screams and shots. Dear God, not the screams and shots.

Screams and shots

The only thing to do now was to return to campus, resume day-to-day activities, pick up her life and somehow get past this. Somehow not jump at every sound, not scream every time a person crossed her path.

Fortunately Kimberly had no classes in the summer, because she could not fathom the thought of seeing an empty chair where Shannon had sat and gestured to her to share her notes, or not seeing Rich at the coffee stand right outside the building, his quick grin always brightening an otherwise sleepy morning. Even Zeus, whom she had rarely talked to but was always just there, in the hallways, even his absence struck her, cut off her airways when she dared to think about it.

There were so many of them gone now. The party had held all of her friends, or at least acquaintances she knew well from almost four years of classes at the small community college. They were family, they were fixtures in this world…. They had been mere children. 

“Your mom called me.” Tally approached Kimberly softly, slowly. “I told her you were fine. That you’d call her back.”

Tally had been her roommate through her entire college career. They had met on that first move-in day and had immediately clicked. Now they rented an off-campus apartment together, and Kimberly squeezed her eyes shut, allowing her mind to escape to the forbidden subject just enough to say a silent thank you that Tally had not been there that night. That somehow fate had jumped in, with a sick uncle and Tally’s rush home. 

“I’ll call her later.”

Tally stared her down, those hazel eyes softening with that sympathy Kimberly recognized from most people she encountered these days. “Okay. But please do. She was really worried.”

The words struck a chord in her, spurring anger that she immediately stuffed down. Kimberly relished the numbness. The pills the psychiatrist prescribed dulled the senses and her thoughts. The one thing that doctor was good for. Numbness. 

But to be told that her mother was worried… oh! Did she worry that there was another maniac around every corner? Did she fret about going out the front door? Did she drown in panic anytime there was a loud noise? Why was she expected to worry about her mother’s worry when she was simply trying to get through the day?

By the second day, Kimberly needed out of the apartment. She felt closed in, Tally was fussing over her, and people kept stopping by the apartment, some awkwardly staring and muttering words of condolences. Others curious and asking about that horrible night as if they were sitting around a bonfire asking about old ghost stories and not about the worst night of her life.

Screams and shots.

Kimberly tied her hair back in a low ponytail, forgoing makeup. Just another change in this new life, this world after that night.

Screams and shots.

She used to be known for how she looked. Silky, thick blond hair cascading down her back in impossibly gorgeous curls, green eyes expertly framed by long lashes and makeup. The ditzy, hot girl. The stunning party girl. Mesmerizing to look at but not one to take seriously. But now it took so much energy to even pull her greasy, tangled hair back. She noticed her sweats had coffee stains and dirt on them, and she had forgotten a bra, but it did not matter. Nothing seemed to matter anymore.

Walks used to clear her head. Because as much as Kimberly was known for being an airhead, she was a deep thinker. She loved her time away from the party scene at times, relished in not being the life of the party constantly, and sought out chances to sort out her thoughts, put things in perspective. 

Unfortunately, there was no clarity this time. She made a point to walk on the opposite side of town from… where it happened. But she was still terrified, tensing up anytime a person was in her general vicinity. 

Kimberly’s throat burned in frustration, and she wished she had taken another mind-numbing pill. She was uncomfortable at her parents’ home, she was miserable at the apartment, and now she was terrified outside. She no longer belonged anywhere. 

She made it to the stream, hidden from the busy sidewalk, and she was surprised to find it had the most calming effect that she had experienced in this torturous month. This had been their place. 

Screams and shots

The crunching of leaves had her on her feet, spinning around, bile rising in her throat as for a second, Kimberly was back in that nightmare, trying to fight for her life. Her fingers brushed against the handle of the gun she now carried, aching to grab it, use it, protect herself. 

An instant later, Fiona appeared, and Kimberly dropped her hand with a small cry. “Dammit. I … you scared me.”

And she recognized that look in Fiona’s eyes - that terror mixed with the medically-produced blankness. “Yeah. I didn’t expect you to be here.”

“I-” she became uncomfortable, shifting from one foot to another. “I used to come here a lot. To think.” She waited, anxious to hear if this had been her spot as well. Hating herself for still being so petty in light of all that conspired. She needed to worry about her well-being, the future. She needed to focus on getting past this and not hearing that night over and over in her mind.

Screams and shots

“Oh. I just … I’ve never really been here. Just walking.”

“Oh.” But inside she screamed in relief. Because life was all a lie right now. There was no good around her. That monster had plunged through that crowd shooting and killing, stealing any sense of peace these young people might have had. All Kimberly had known about kindness, goodness, about Karma was now a cloud of gunfire smoke. So to know that this place was still theirs exclusively…

“Mind if I join you?” Fiona asked, and Kimberly worked at keeping her expression clear.

“I was just about to leave.”

“No. Stay.” Fiona shot her a trembling smile. “We survived this, right? There are only a few of us out there. And some of the others aren’t coming back to school. They can’t stand being here anymore.”

Kimberly tapped a stone with the toe of her shoe, her breath hitching. “And you? Why are you back?”

Fiona shut her eyes. “I have nightmares. Not even nightmares. My mind just replays that night. I mean, we were at a private pool party. How much more laid back can a night get? And that monster- that asshole - just strides into the area like he is on his way to a meeting. And changes our lives forever. Right? Takes him away from me. And this place. On campus… that is where he was, where we met. I am not okay anywhere I go. So I might as well not be okay here…. Where he was.”

There was nothing to say to that. Kimberly kept her gaze down. Finally she nodded. “I … I’m going to go-”

“He ran from me and jumped in front of you.”

That statement hung between them. It had been there even before she spoke the words. 

“Fiona. Don’t.”

She nodded, tears shining in her wide blue eyes. “But he did. I saw that look of panic on his face when he realized you were in danger. I was in danger too, but he …. Why would he do that?”

“I don’t know. Instinct. The gunman was … he was facing me.”

“No.”

Damn. Caught in the lie.

“He was facing me and Wes. He was closer to you, but was facing us. And we could have escaped. We were close to that path to the main road. If Wes had just … if we had left you, we could have gotten away. He didn’t jump in front of Josie or Alyssa. Not Brad or Zach. So why you, Kimberly? Why did he put me in danger, why did he lose his own life for you?”

By now Fiona was openly crying, and Kimberly envied her that. She wanted to cry, to give the emotions a release, but she stood there dry-eyed. “I don’t know.”

“You do!” she screamed. “I saw the texts. The emails. He left me to protect you because you’re a whore!”

Kimberly flinched. Not because of that word. She’d had that word tossed at her so many times in her young life that it simply rolled off of her like raindrops off of a petal. It was the yelling. Loud noises put her on edge. Taking a calming breath, she kept her voice even. “So you know. What do you want me to say?”

“You don’t have to say anything. You whore. You pig. I just want you to know that you are the reason he is dead. If he had left with me, if we had escaped, he would still be here.”

There was no disputing this. Fiona was right. If he had taken that chance and run, they most likely would be alive, and Kimberly would be dead. And she wished it had been that way. 

Wes. Beautiful Wes with the black hair that constantly fell in front of those caramel eyes. She would give anything to have him here, to let others see his light, even if it meant she was not here. 

“Oh, don’t you dare cry!”

And Kimberly realized with a start that there were tears streaming down her face. Slowly, she reached up to touch them, to feel their realness. 

“You’re not getting my pity! He was mine!”

“I’m sorry,” she whispered. She said nothing else because there was no need. It would do no good to explain. To tell Fiona that their friendship while studying for their Art History class flourished. That they discovered they had a lot in common, like their love for the outdoors and for corny old western movies. He had been dating Fiona for several months, but admitted that they were growing apart, they didn’t have much in common.

“You should be sorry. You’re a moron. The only reason he would ever look at you is because you happen to have freakishly large boobs. Otherwise, no one would bother with you. And now… he’s dead.” She started to stomp toward Kimberly, who stood frozen to the spot, but then she let out a frustrated scream, turned, and ran out of the woods. 

Aside from his humor and compassion, she had loved Wes because he saw her as she was. He had recognized her intelligence. While everyone else was quick to write off her perkiness as stupidity, even her parents, Wes understood that she was smart. She had memorized the different kinds of plants, the types of birds, the name for each tree. Kimberly could rattle off the Top Ten songs and artists for any given year all the way back to 1970. She was a straight A student in college. She simply did not display her intelligence as others did. She wore the low cut sweaters, she spent hours styling her hair and putting on makeup, and she used her looks to get noticed because that was always how she had gotten attention. By being pretty.

Wes had seen more.

Fiona was far from a bad person. She had always called out a greeting to Kimberly, smiling and chattering about the latest book she had read, complimenting Kimberly’s outfit. They had never had a class together, but Kimberly knew her from other students and from Wes. She was kind and funny, talkative and confident.

Kimberly was shaking with sobs now. Because she could not go on. She was not sure if this pain was from heartbreak, from the trauma and fear, or from the shame of hurting Fiona. But she hurt. 

Her fingers grasped the gun and slowly, painfully, she pulled it out. 

Screams and shots

Kimberly had not disclosed to Fiona that she had broken up with Wes that day, afraid to hurt Fiona too much. Wes had been devastated, bargaining with her through a cracking voice. He pleaded for time to break it to Fiona, time to unclench himself from the relationship’s tight grip. Then finally he promised to tell Fiona that night, at the pool party.

Screams and shots

At the party, it was not long before Wes had guided Fiona to a private corner, his fingers barely touching her elbow as he leaned in, his forehead wrinkled. Kimberly had seen Fiona shake her head and then cover her face, and then… the first shot had happened outside the perimeter of the yard. And the spotlights had been shut off, blanketing everyone in a sea of darkness. There were screams, splashes of water and more….

Screams and shots

shots. So many shots. Kids ran in all directions, and as Kimberly’s eyes adjusted to the dark, she saw people running ahead of her into the woods, some dropping to the ground, others veering off into a random direction. 

Kimberly could not understand how she was running, and that guy with the gun, the monster aiming that rifle had caught up to her while walking calmly, the deadest look in his eyes. 

And Kimberly saw Wes stop, even when he and Fiona had a clear escape. 

Screams and shots

She realized as she fell and scrambled to her feet that Fiona was tugging on Wes’s arm, and giving her a slight push in the direction of that path in front of them, Wes then ran from Fiona and dove in front of Kimberly, screaming, “NOOOO!”

Kimberly had fallen to the ground with Wes’s body, not making a sound as the shooter calmly stalked away, seeking out the next victim. 

Screams and shots

It would be another hour before the man was shot down by police An hour of trying to keep her breathing silent, her tears quiet as she hugged Wes’s body to her. As she whispered her love to him and apologized for how their love story ended, for how his life ended...because of their love story.

Kimberly remembered every second of that night, every step, every scream, every shot. While a lot of the victims had blurred memories, patches of black outs, she was a fabulous witness. The best. It was a movie replaying in her head.

She put the barrel of the gun in her mouth, ready to stop that movie.

Screams and shots

Her finger rested on the trigger, tears rolling down her face, dripping off of her chin and off of the gun. 

She squeezed her eyes shut. Then opened them as she felt a warmth caress her skin. A burst of sunlight was pushing through the leaves and branches and resting on her face. She cried out, removing the barrel from her mouth as she saw a patch of wildflowers lit up from the rays of afternoon sun. Those were the flowers Wes had picked for her on their first visit to this secluded area. 

This was Wes. Warming her. Comforting her. And she realized that for a few brief moments, the movie had stopped playing in her head. 

Additional Info

AUTHOR BIO:Trisha McKee resides in a small town in Pennsylvania where it is silent. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in J.J. Outre Review, Crab Fat Magazine, Night to Dawn Magazine, Commuterlit, Parabnormal Magazine, The Oddville Press, several anthologies, and more. Her short story Where We Meet has been nominated for the Best of the Net anthology 2019.

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