Authors: M.A. KROPF
Copyright © 2012 by M.A. Kropf.
Library of Congress Control Number: 2012903541
ISBN: Hardcover 978-1-4691-7279-8
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system, without permission in writing from the copyright owner.
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to any actual persons, living or dead, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.
Cover art by Chuck Todd.
This book is dedicated to my children for being my love and inspiration. I want to thank my family for being so patient while I spent countless hours on the computer. To Denise for pushing me through every instance of writer’s block and whose input helped to shape major story lines. To Dad, for being a constant support; no matter what harebrained idea I came up with you have always been in my corner. To Mom, for sending countless emails with research and follow-up phone conversations to bounce ideas off another set of ears. To my father-in-law Frank, who read for me and encouraged me along the way. Lane S-B, whose professional feedback on my very first draft was difficult to hear but helped to make the story better. To Uncle Larry, a well-published author, for encouraging me to rewrite when I didn’t want to, whose wisdom said I wouldn’t regret it— you were right. To Anita Todd, my editor, and Chuck Todd, the book cover artist, for their professional guidance and advice to help make the project complete. These two gave so much of their time and energy toward this project because they believed in it and I am extremely grateful to them. To my readers who read one, two, and sometimes three drafts and gave feedback: Claire W., Bill K., Larry L., Rae Jean E., Valerie L., Nanette M., Larry B., Carole L., Sam Y., Diana K. , Carlee S., and Char M. for reading and lending her name for the detective character. Special thanks to my musical inspiration: Evanescence, Creed, and Machine Head for setting the mood. Thanks to Kathy Weires, photographer, for making the process of taking the author photo relatively painless and making me look good.
This is it… the resolve… this is who I am. I never asked for this. As a nurse… as a mother… I always tried to be a good person, someone for my kids to look up to. Yet here I am doing the unthinkable… deciding who lives and who dies. Who am I to think that I should hold such control? Yet, as I stand here viewing the surreal scene in front of me, I struggle to fight the fear and the nausea… the excitement. I become acutely aware of every muscle in my body. One by one, flexing and extending as the blood pulses hard to supply the oxygen my muscles need to stay satisfied. My heart is pounding and racing… aching. A sudden chill vibrates through me as I become aware of a slight sweat band spread above my brow line. The back of my neck feels moist as a drop slowly trickles down my back. I take in a deep breath and, noticing the raggedness of my breathing, I steady myself. I smell the aroma of victory as the scene overtakes me, making me shudder as I feel the high. I can taste it on my tongue, which makes my mouth water and I have to swallow hard. I feel my saliva moving downward, a bit cold in my overheated body, only to land in my now quivering stomach. I sigh, realizing that the nausea has finally passed.
I stand and look at him, my victim, with contempt but also with a deep sadness that it had to come to this. He never saw it coming. His lifeless body is twisted into an unnatural position on the ground, still, but not dead… not yet… and a smirk spreads across my face.
But as the breeze of reality kisses my cheek, my face drops ever so slightly. The others… they were right… I have been created for this. I close my eyes for a moment as I feel a strange sensation. A need to do something, but what? Is this what they were talking about? I was drawn here and it felt right, but could I really finish it? Could I really end a person’s life? Even if someone deserved to die, was I really to be judge and jury? I feel lightheaded as the faces of so many victims who were dead because of this person swirl in front of me. Resolve overwhelms my senses as I realize that he cannot live to repeat these acts. My eyes close, and as I take a deep breath I feel a sense of calm wash over my body. At this moment I understand who I am meant to be and how far I have come to get here. In front of me I see my past, present, and future. I was born to complete a purpose…
. I suddenly see flashes of my past as I feel myself slipping into the memories of my youth… and the path that led me here.
Everyone has a destiny, and whether it is predetermined or not, reaching it is up to each one of us.
Growing up I had always been… well
different. I’m not sure why. I was a moderately attractive girl, sleek athletic build from all the years of soccer and running, long dark hair which I had been told had the perfect wave and body, although I was constantly at odds with it. I was good at sports, and academically I was in the top ten percent of my class. Still I never felt like I fit in. Friends, or the lack thereof, were a difficult subject for me to talk about. Many tried to be friends with me, but I was never able to let anyone close enough.
“Megan,” my father would say to me, “why don’t you call one of your friends and go to a movie or something?” But there was no one to call. It’s hard to explain, but I
things that other people don’t. A sort of a light or dark essence around a person. I remember my first experience with this when I was six years old.
The Catholic church that my family went to had a priest who always looked angry to me. But whenever he was around certain young boys in the congregation his shape took on an eerie dark hue. It was almost as if someone had taken a thick black marker and drawn a perfect outline of him, careful not to draw into the lines of his body but also not too far away. At least this is how my six-year-old eyes saw it. Everyone at the church loved him. He was, after all, one of the chosen ones… chosen by God. However, he disappeared one day, and neither I nor anyone in our church ever saw him again. It was much later, well into my twenties, that I heard he had been molesting the boys in the church.
The next time I noticed the strange outline, as I called it then, was not until my teenage years, when I was sixteen and a junior in high school. I hated high school. This time the outline was around a boy at school, and I remember it was much darker, more pronounced, and had a feeling of impending doom to it. Since I didn’t have a lot of friends, no one noticed when I became obsessed with following him around. I watched his every move, waiting for… well, I don’t know what I was waiting for. I was always intrigued by others and felt as if people wandered around with blinders on, not watching their actions, others’ reactions, or quite frankly even where they were going. I felt very aware of
as if I was waiting, looking for… or about to miss… something.
The boy’s name was John Steele, and I followed him around for two months the way an obsessed stalker follows his or her intended, watching his ever-changing outline. Sometimes it was jet black and very defined, moving with him. Other times it was a faded gray, less defined, more see-through and not very snug to his figure. But always there. By all accounts, John should have been a very popular boy since he was attractive and played on the lacrosse team. I saw that girls were definitely attracted to him because they would stare at him when he wasn’t looking. He seemed completely oblivious to this. He was an attractive boy with short brown hair, blue eyes, and a strong build. The lacrosse team had to work out in the weight room every day so most of the boys on the team were fairly muscular. We were similar in one respect… he did not appear to have a lot of friends either. While I did not find myself attracted to John in
, I was drawn to him. Why? I didn’t know.
One night, two months after first noticing John, I had an extremely vivid and terrifying dream. Little did I know then that what I saw was more than just a dream. The dream started in a classroom, not one that I regularly attended, when something dark walked into the room. There was a loud noise… many loud noises. I saw three specific faces, kids that I recognized from school but didn’t take classes with, twisted in terror and screaming. Everyone was screaming.
The screen in my head went red and I heard loud noises. It was more than noise, the screaming started to take shape. Words began to pierce the red screen… NO… HELP… MOM… PLEASE. The words were prefaced by and ended with more terrified sounding screams.
I wanted to wake up. I wanted out. I couldn’t take it anymore. LET ME OUT!
I woke up screaming, unable to breathe, my eyes wide with terror.
. . .
. . .
in my chest
. . .
in my head
. . .
. . .
. . .
make it stop.
Still today I can recall this and remember the pain with complete clarity.
My mom ran into the room and looked at me with worry and fear in her eyes. She grabbed my arms and pulled me close as her voice shook with uncertainty, “What’s wrong, what hurts?”
I couldn’t stop screaming, the pain was intense and wasn’t like anything I’d ever felt before. My mom yelled for my dad to call 911 and I found myself writhing in pain. My next conscious memory was of paramedics holding me down, then strapping me to a gurney. Why weren’t they stopping the pain, the pain, the pain? “MAKE IT STOP!” I screamed. At least I thought I had said it out loud.
I missed the ambulance ride and more in the cloud of pain. I then recall people working over me, poking, prodding, and testing in the emergency room. They finally gave me pain medicine, which coursed through my veins causing my fear and panic to slip through the welcomed shade of rest. The pain dulled and I was able to fall into a fitful sleep. I didn’t dream. Through a fog I could hear things in the room. I heard the doctor come in to speak with my mother, who was hanging on by her last thread of sanity. I heard him say they couldn’t find anything medically wrong with me that would have explained my symptoms. He suggested I see a psychiatrist. My mother broke down crying but reluctantly agreed… anything to help me, and I fell back into the haze.
By the next morning my pain had subsided and I was released to my mother’s care pending an appointment with a shrink. I was exhausted, I just wanted to go home but was afraid to go back to sleep and… no, I couldn’t think about what I had seen anymore.
Thankfully no more dreams. My mom called the school, explaining, “She’s…
” I heard the confusion in her voice.
I went to the psychiatrist that day, explained what had happened, that I woke from a dream in extreme pain that I truly felt physically. My head… my chest… I shuddered when my memory of the pain flooded my consciousness again. I was not in pain today.
He asked if anything else had been going on, boyfriends (ha!), family, school? Well I couldn’t tell him about the outline I saw around John because that was just crazy. So I said no. He spoke with my mom, chalked it up to normal teenage stress, hormones, possibly some attention-seeking…
. . . but he didn’t think anything was seriously wrong. I was starting to wonder if I
crazy, or, if not already there then at least on my way.
As we drove home my mom listened to the radio, we didn’t talk, and I stared blankly out the window.
What the hell was that,
I thought. The pain was
, I think, but then I wasn’t so sure.
Suddenly my concentration was broken, my heart sped up, my breathing was shallow and ragged. I felt dizzy. On the radio… my school… a shooting… a lot of kids dead… and the shooter…
. Dizzy… and then everything went blank.
I woke up a few minutes later to find that my mom had stopped the car and was calling out my name. I had fainted or maybe hyperventilated myself into unconsciousness. Was it a dream?
Then she started crying. “I’m sorry honey, your friends…” she said.
“What? What, what happened?” I tried to slow my breathing and concentrate. I didn’t want to pass out again.
“There was a shooting at your school, a student, I don’t know the details. Oh my God… if you had been there!” Her words were difficult to understand as she buried her head in her hands to sob.
“How many? Did they die? Who did it?” A sudden pain in my stomach, and I knew who but was trying to grasp at reality and put the pieces together. The outline around John, the feeling of impending doom, the dream… kids… faces… red… loud noises. Then the pain, and I shuddered once more.
“We need to go to the school mom. My friends.” I really didn’t have friends to worry about but I wanted to see the aftermath myself.
“No!” she exclaimed, “Haven’t you been through enough? No! I’m taking you home.”
We went home and I immediately turned on the news. “Breaking news, less than one hour ago a student opened fire on fellow classmates in a massive shooting… .” The words trailed off as I tried to think this through, feeling more aware and more in control. “The student suspected of being responsible for the shooting is a senior attending the school… the student’s name is being withheld until the investigation has been completed… .” Again they trailed off but my breathing had become ragged, shallow, dizzy. No, I can’t faint, I thought, not now, get ahold of yourself. “Reports coming in,” I tuned back in, “three students shot and killed, one in the head and two others in the chest.” Was this what my pain was about?
“The identities of the victims will be withheld until the families can be notified,” the reporter continued. But didn’t I already know who they were? Didn’t I see their faces… feel their pain? What do I do with this? Do I tell someone? Am I right or am I crazy?
Then they showed him, John, on camera, his head tucked between two police officers… in shame? Hands were behind his back in cuffs.
Then I saw it again, even on TV… the darkness that encircled him was wider and darker than it had ever been before. Had I seen this coming? Okay, that
I ran out the front door, not bothering to say good-bye to my mom. But she heard me and screamed after me, “Stop!” But I couldn’t. I needed to see what had happened for myself.
I jumped into my car, sort of a heap but it was all I could afford. I had just gotten my driver’s license and bought a stick shift… ugh. I was still so slow at this. I was able to get it going, shifting and grinding the gears, and lunging forward just to get up to the speed limit. I made it to the school as some of the families arrived, the families of the children, my classmates. Would they be the faces from my dream?
My brother, Tim, a San Francisco police officer for four years already, was there. He saw me and his eyes were wide with concern. “Go home,” he hollered at me. I saw the worry on his face but shook my head at him and looked away…
. He needed to focus, he was not a very good cop. I moved through the crowds of onlookers, some of them staring in bewilderment and others crying for the kids they knew and those they didn’t. I knew the back entrance to the building well, since that was how I often slipped out of class to avoid talking to anyone. It was unguarded and I let myself in. I knew where to go.
I felt the heat inside me rise as I got closer. “It’s the same room,” I murmured to myself. My breathing quickened and I peeked around the corner waiting for one of the officers to step away from the entrance. I saw my opening as a mother came running in, pushing past the police screaming, “My baby, my baby!” My heart ached and tears welled up in my eyes. I tried to shake it off, I needed to focus… to see.
The officers rushed to hold back the grieving mother and I snuck into the room. I stopped suddenly, unable to breathe.
There it was, just as I had seen it. All of it. The three faces, the three classmates… Gayle Alexander… Tori Cunningham… Jeff Whiten. All of them, just as I had seen their faces in the dream. I clutched my chest and, suddenly feeling dizzy, I fell against the wall, trying to brace myself and not look away. I needed to know this. Gayle, shot in the head twice, maybe three times? She lay in a large pool of blood on the floor. Tori, shot in the chest, maybe once. Blood was splattered like a Rorschach behind her on the wall and she was slumped in a heap in the corner. Jeff was the worst. He must have put up a fight. Several obvious wounds, his t-shirt shredded in pieces. He had left a trail of blood behind him as it looked like he was trying to get out of the room.
How could this be? How could I have known this? Could I have done anything? What would
. . . ?
“Hey!” an officer yelled at me. I tried to turn my head but the room was spinning… had I stopped breathing?
He rushed over, grabbed me before I fell, and carried me out to the ambulances. “Keep her out!” he ordered.
Ambulances? Oh no, not again. I tried to take deep breaths and recover so that I could avoid yet another ride to the hospital, where surely this time they would lock me away.
I stood up carefully. Good, my feet were working, my legs still a little wobbly, but I convinced the EMTs that I was all right. They were too busy to worry much more about me. I walked slowly back to my car, past the onlookers, crossing the caution tape.
. . .
. . .
could it really keep anyone out?