( cross-posted to foolish_fool. )
Brent was an all-around nice boy. He’d never had troubles with the law, he only got picked on by people going out of their way to look for a fight, and he’d never gotten into drugs. He basically kept to himself unless there was something he really wanted to say; he was one of those kids who was content with their headphones and own seat on the bus.
His grades had begun to fall from A’s and B’s to low B’s and C’s that quarter, and his teacher had talked to him about it. Brent hadn’t told her much, except for the fact he was having strange thoughts he wouldn’t elaborate on. It seemed to help him to speak with her, though, and so they kept up their meetings.
Every day at lunch, he would come into Mrs. Edwards’ little office, across the hall from her room, and sit down with that same smile on his face. “How’s your day?” he would ask simply, and seemed content with listening to her, as if there was something in her voice that sedated a demon inside.
I admit, that may be grasping pretty deep for an explanation, but there’s no real other diagnosis.
But it’s really no secret that everyone has his breaking point, Brent Atkins being no exception to the rule. One day, around the end of the first semester, he burst into Mrs. Edwards’ office, interrupting a cup of straight black coffee.
The cup made no real mental impact when it slipped from forty-three year old fingers and shattered against a pale blue carpet, result of what the woman had seen in Brent’s left hand. She’d never been the best with guns, so she couldn’t put a title to it other than the inevitable “surprising,” maybe even “startling” if she felt kind that day.
Brent may have said, if that were thought allowed, “Fuck how kind you feel; you’re on my clock now, and quitting time ain’t for a few hours.”
Mrs. Edwards tried to look calm about this, but when you see a friend – yes, she considered Brent Atkins her friend by now – of yours looking like he wants to put a hollow point in your skull, a few shudders are mandatory. She folded her shaking hands and cleared her throat, speaking calmly. “Now, Brent. . .let’s be rational. . .”
Brent’s elbow plowed into the speaker box on the wall, showing her just how rational he was going to be, and he lashed out the other way, tearing the phone jack right out of the wall. No one in his class knew Mrs. Edwards’ office as well as he did.
Edwards took notice of the overcoat he was wearing, pockets looking more than amply stuffed. She knew this wasn’t a negotiable situation, and made it blatant. “Okay, Brent. Just sit down and tell me what you want; we can work this out.”
Brent growled. “Shut up, woman. Don’t try to play me for a fool; you’re shaking like Michael J. Fox. Call her in here. She should be passing now. If you don’t, you learn just what kind of a day this can end up as, sooner than the rest.”
The teacher stood and crossed the office, very aware of the barrel of a handgun at her temple the entire time. She leaned out the door and put on her best smile, knowing the system Brent had. Everyone was at his or her usual spot, and he knew where everyone was, because he was like that. So, of course, she – the only other woman Brent ever wanted to talk to – was there. “Elizabeth, could you come in here for a moment?”
Elizabeth, Brent’s girlfriend of three years and better known to even the teacher as Lizi, looked slightly startled. She was practically flying through the class, acing every assignment and test. Surely Edwards just wanted to talk to her about an advanced program or something; Lizi had never been in trouble in her life.
The rampaging – or, rather, soon-to-be rampaging – boy didn’t even seem to notice the gasp she gave him when she walked in. He just leaned over, reached into his pocket, and told her in a tone that Edwards couldn’t pick up, “Take this gun. Mine’s the only one that's loaded. Do what I ask and everything’ll be fine, Lizi. I promise." And then he handed her the said gun, a move more of trust than cahoots.
He turned his attention back to Mrs. Edwards. He seemed absolutely impassive to the fact Lizi was shocked and on the verge of bawling. “You’re to come with me. Lizi, you’re going to wait outside our class with the gun. No one in, no one out.”
Brent got his way, as if there was anything else that would happen, and led them both to the classroom. The hallways were empty, which was a good thing, or the entire plan would be botched. It was like he was Moses when he stepped into his homeroom, interrupting a class-wide discussion of the latest meal in the cafeteria: “What do they put in the Soup Surprise?”
One look at the gun put a silent blind over the children, and there was a murmur of panic. Unlike Hollywood tells you, most people are too dumbstruck to do anything serious, loud, and assertive in a time like that. It’s more a feeling of “Oh, God, please not me,” rather than the stereotypical “I must do good and vanquish this villain, lest I be stricken down by God’s fury.”
He’d been here already. He’d locked the cell phones in the teacher’s desk, locked the children in from the inside, and told them to stay put and shut their mouths. The conversation before had been something to make them convince themselves this was all a big ruse.
Brent took his position as teacher once more.
“Cooperate with me and nothing’s going to happen to you, got it?” A dumb nod wove through the rows of children. “Good. Now, a few rules. Anyone makes an unauthorized move, I open fire. Anyone notifies the authorities, the same thing happens. Are we still following?”
There’s nothing quite akin to twenty-four pale faces moving up and down in a horrifying unison. It’s an action like that that makes you think Stephen King is more of a prophet than the book-burners want you to think.
Then he began. One by one, he called students into the hallway, giving them each a gun and telling them the same thing: "Take this gun. Mine is the only one that's loaded. You'll do what I say, or I'll either shoot you or frame you as an accomplice. Either way, your social life is fucked if you don’t play my game." It became some kind of sick mantra. He sent each child to a different exit in the school, informing them this was an impromptu lockdown and anyone who got too close was to know this.
Eventually, it was he and Mrs. Edwards again. She hadn’t tried to negotiate a surrender, knowing that was like asking the Berlin Wall to step aside for a moment to allow a German or two passage. Brent was still commanding, not letting anything slip past him. This was a delicate plan, and a delay meant failure. “You’re going to go to the office and make an announcement. Everyone in the school is to gather in the auditorium, even the ones I sent out with guns.”
“What if I just run?” she asked hoarsely, a bit more scared than she wanted to let on.
“I’ll be watching from the security room,” he snapped. “And if you go one step off course, I’ll come and shoot you myself. Inform the authorities, and I’ll make it worse on you.”
After a look that said, “Where did we go wrong?” she went where he’d ordered, and Brent himself hurried to the camera room. He watched as, one by one, the classes filed out into the hallways with their ignorant excitement. He thought it a shame; here they thought it was going to be a guest speaker or something, and instead they would see the fall of the infamous Bridgeview Middle School.
Once the halls were vacant, along with the offices, Brent made his way to the auditorium, taking his time and feeling less burdened. After all, he’d dumped off twenty-some guns from his overcoat. You can turn back, a cold voice said, once that reminded him of that first kid who had laughed at him when he got acne.
“No, I can’t,” he said aloud, laughing at himself. “It’d be too much of a hassle to come up with something likely as a cover story for the whole mess. Besides, they know I have a gun. If I left, the whole country would be on a shoot-to-kill mission for me.”
He walked into the auditorium, and again there was the Biblical presence, like he was a striding miracle. Every eye in the room was on the flashing piece of threat clenched in his hand, and the clicking of his combat boots – for the effect, really – seemed overpowering.
“He looked like the messiah,” a witness would say.
He smiled strangely and spoke into the microphone, which was almost always there. “Can my classmates from Mrs. Edwards’ English class come down onto the stage with me for a moment? No, Mrs. Edwards, your presence won’t be needed; I can handle it.”
Hesitantly, the class stood up, spread all around the auditorium, but still all holding their assigned guns. Lizi was the last one on stage, sobbing hysterically, babbling about something regarding how much she wanted to wake up.
Brent didn’t notice. He just continued playing God. “Ladies and gentlemen, you’ve all been bluffed into joining me here. There is no gun threat; this was just a ploy to get you all gathered to hear my words. I assume the A/V club is in attendance?” A pause. “Stand, would you?”
Five boys with camcorders stood on wobbly legs, but they weren’t at all threatened here. Brent just nodded. “Start filming, boys. I want this to get to NBC, CNN, CBC. . .whoever you can sell it to for the right price, or just the value of knowing there’s a piece of history in your hands.”
Within thirty seconds, there were five different angles of the infamous Brent Atkins standing on the Bridgeview stage, a stage that had held some nationally famous writers, and the school itself had the highest test scores in the district.
“Good,” Brent murmured. “Just like that. Now, this is when everyone sitting there asks himself, “Why? Why would Brent Atkins, member of the drama club and the kid who’s happy with his Led Zepplin as opposed to your Dr. Dre, take a school hostage?”
“The truth is, ladies and gentlemen, that I haven’t. You’ve been taking yourselves hostage, for the past eleven to eighteen years. You were brought into families run by media; you were raised by television commercials and Gilligan; you’ve been pampered since day one and kept away from reality. And that is a worse crime than I have committed here today.
“The wool has been pulled over your eyes for far too long. Your parents tell you to pray to a man named God and everything will be fine, because God loves you. Stand if God has ever said he loves you back.” Not a tempted leg in the room. “Now stand if your boyfriend or girlfriend has ever said he or she loves you back.”
At this, half of the school’s population stood, and the A/V crew caught it all, despite the fact they were shivering. Lizi had stopped crying for this and stood to join him, looking at him with the awe that said this was not the boy she’d loved.
Brent slammed a fist on the podium. “Now sit down if that has ever solved world hunger; ever stopped a fucking war.”
No one sat.
Their messiah sighed heavily. “As I figured. Using this philosophy, tell me what good saying “I love you and accept you, God” does for anyone in the world. Tell me if there’s any real reason to do it at all, other than the fact your father, mother, and pastor tell you to.”
A choked cry came up, from a boy named Robert Samson. “There isn’t!” he yelled, maybe in an attempt to save himself. For years, he would be questioned about this same day, about what compelled him to jump up and join in the fight with Brent Atkins. As Brent himself would say, his social life was “fucked” with the amount of church he was forced to attend.
Brent nodded, like a motivational speaker, but didn’t seem to notice Lizi grabbing handfuls of his coat and crying on his shoulder. “There isn’t. Words don’t make a difference in the important times, unless those words are “Stop this.” The world will be passed down to you in a matter of years. The searches for cures to cancer and AIDS will be left in your hands. If you’re going to live with the wool drawn over your eyes and think praying to an invisible man who doesn’t give two shits will help you, you may as well throw up the white flag here today.”
He took on a thoughtful look, and laughed a bit, shaking his head and raising his gun. His voice was louder this time; this time it counted. "Huh. Isn't that funny? I have to scare you all shitless to get you to listen to what I have to say. But don't hold it against me; I'm not a bad guy. S'matter of fact, this gun only has one bullet in it."
Brent put the gun to his head. “This is my contribution to a better tomorrow.” One loud bang and Brent Atkins was gone. Elizabeth Bergen was never the same.
After that day, people stopped throwing their soda cans anywhere they wanted to. Over five thousand people stopped smoking the day those tapes hit CNN, and the number rose within the week. More people started majoring in the field of medicine; less people signed up for football and basketball than for after-school Algebra and Biology.
A local news anchor from NBC got the first interview with Lizi, and the first question was “Did you ever imagine he would do this?” It had been a week, so she’d calmed down a bit, and she simply shook her head. “You can’t expect something like this; you can only hope that the next great thing that happens in the world will be by someone who can tell you, “Brent Atkins made me do this.” And if it ever does come to that, I can honestly say I would be absolutely ecstatic.”