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chapter two

Maureen kept files on mass murderers. It was her hobby. Mass murderers were those murderers who killed more than four people at one location or during one event. They were different than serial killers, who usually killed one victim at a time over a long period of time before they were caught.

Maureen didn't know why she was interested in mass murderers, but she had been for a long time, since middle school. She'd given a report on them in her eighth grade social studies class, and due to her unmasked enthusiasm on the subject, she'd been dubbed "Death Girl." Now she mostly kept her interest to herself. She certainly didn't idolize the murderers. They were usually very fucked up people with enormous problems. But there was something about it. Mass murderers were usually the underdogs. Like Darrell Jones in 1987 who'd been fired from his job the previous day because his boss had incorrectly identified him as the one stealing from the office's petty cash. Darrell Jones was so angry, he came back to work the next day. He came back to work with a gun and shot forty of his co-workers and supervisors. Thirty of them died. Ironically, Jones' boss was late for work that day, and he survived. Jones himself couldn't take what he'd done, so he hurled himself to his death by leaping from a fire escape.

Maureen would never do anything like that, but she couldn't help identifying a little bit with the man's plight. And she couldn't help rooting for him a little bit. He was the underdog. He'd stood up. He'd shown everybody not to mess with him. Of course, then he killed himself. Most of them did. Whether it was because they couldn't deal with the horror of what they'd done, or because they didn't want to go to jail, or because they were simply suicidal in the first place, Maureen didn't know. But they usually killed themselves.

Robert Gordan had. She thought about Robert because Jared had mentioned Madison High School this morning. Robert was the only school shooter who'd managed to make it to mass murderer standing. He'd killed fourteen people, twelve of them his fellow students. Robert was one sick puppy. At first, the news had tried to make it out like a hate crime, saying Robert was targeting gay guys and black kids. But of the people he'd shot, only one was black. Then they'd said he was doing it to get back at the jocks and popular kids who'd made fun of him. Maureen had thought that might have been part of it, but she was an outcast and people made fun of her, and she'd never gone crazy and tried to shoot up her school.

When they found his journal, it started to all make sense. Robert Gordan's heroes were Michael Ray Macino and Joseph Fitzergald, who'd killed eighty-five and seventy-seven people respectively. Both were bombers. Bombers were Maureen's least favorite mass murderers. She always felt like they kind of cheated. Anyone could kill a whole bunch of people with a bomb. Using a gun evened the stakes a little more. It was more personal. If you shot someone point blank, you'd made a commitment. If you set a bomb, you didn't even have to be anywhere near the place when people died. It was kind of cowardly if you asked her. Anyway, Robert Gordan hadn't agreed with her. He was gung-ho for bombs. Robert kind of saw the world like a really big video game, and in his mind he awarded points to people for how many people they'd killed. His greatest ambition in life was to kill more people that Michael Ray Macino. Seriously.

Maureen thought he was kind of dull as mass murderers went. He didn't seem to have a soul. He was like a serial killer in that regard. He didn't seem to have a sense of right and wrong or a respect for human life. Serial killers usually saw their victims as less than human�almost objects. That's why they always said that when you negotiated with serial killers, you were supposed to stress the feeling of their victims, because that would make them uncomfortable. Robert was the same way. All the people in his school were just objects for him to kill so he could rack up his score. And he planned the whole thing meticulously. He didn't wake up one day and snap. He had it all planned.

Maureen guessed she was interested in mass murderers because she wanted to know what could possibly happen to a person that would make him do something so horrible. She wanted to understand it, make the situation reasonable. A human motive, even if it was as stupid as getting fired, made it easier to take. Someone like Robert Gordan just made her skin crawl. Could people really be that evil? She just couldn't understand him. Couldn't identify with him. That was frustrating. It was also a little frightening. She pulled out her file on Robert Gordan. She had newspaper clippings�pictures of Robert, articles on the Madison incident, the printing of segments from his journal.

"Maureen," called her mother from somewhere else in the house. "Maureen!"

Sighing, Maureen gathered up the clippings and tucked them back into the file folder they belonged in. She kept her files in a small black file cabinet next to her desk, and she filed Robert Gordan back in his place, alphabetically by last name. Then she opened the door and wandered down the hall in search of her mother.

She found her in the kitchen, holding the refrigerator door open and peering inside at its contents.

"Mom?" said Maureen.

"Maureen," said her mother. "Have you eaten? I haven't eaten."

Maureen shrugged. "Not since lunch."

"You want me to heat up the leftover Chinese or the leftover pizza?"

"We aren't waiting for Jim?" Maureen asked. Jim was her stepfather. He worked an hour away and was often late getting home. Usually, Maureen's mother waited for him to get home to eat. If he didn't get home until eleven, Maureen usually warmed something up for herself. Her mother never cooked, which was really a good thing, because her mother was a terrible cook.

"Jim called and said he's having dinner with a client," she said to the refrigerator. "Oooh. I think we've got some curry leftover from that Thai place. You want that?"

* * *

Jared had gym first period, but he almost never dressed for it. Even after a heart-to-heart with Coach Myers (who claimed he "really liked Jared," but if he didn't dress, he'd fail gym, and Jared didn't want to fail gym, did he?) he'd only bothered a few times, then stopped. High school was a joke, anyway, and gym was the biggest joke of all. He pondered. Maybe failing was the biggest joke of all. He'd met some really stupid people with high school diplomas.

Jared generally spent his first period sitting on the bleachers in the gymnasium, watching his fellow students sweat. It was unusually warm for the time of year, and Coach Myers lesson plans had dictated they be inside, even though it was certainly nice enough for the class to be out on the field. Instead, they were gathered in the gym, playing volleyball.

Myers had divided the class into teams and erected a huge net at half-court. Jared lounged on the bleachers and watched. Maureen Paulsen was in this class. He smirked, looking at her gym clothes. Maureen was wearing a black tank top, black shorts, and torn up fishnets underneath. She had on black canvas Mary Janes. Why didn't Myers ever get on her case about not dressing for gym? She didn't look like she was dressed to sweat. Jared answered his own question: Myers was afraid of Maureen. They didn't call her Death Girl for nothing. She looked like death warmed over.

The girl was so freaking skinny, and she was just shy of being frighteningly tall. Jared guessed she was maybe 5'11". Any taller, and she'd look like something out of a Tim Burton movie�too weird to actually exist.

Still, the chick was interesting. Like that comment she'd made yesterday about Michael Ray Macino. How many girls in high school knew how many people Macino had killed? Maureen was probably the only one ever. And Jared liked that about her. He liked that she was fierce, and that she didn't care what people thought about her. And watching her sidestep the volleyball as it headed right for her, he felt an odd sense of attraction. She didn't have any curves. Her breasts were bumps on her chest, and her ass was as flat as a wall. Still, she had a certain...grace. He'd fuck her. Maybe he actually would do it too. And maybe she might be useful. A sharp girl like that in the mix might really help his plan along.

Myers was yelling something at Maureen. Something about not being afraid of the ball. Jared saw Maureen shoot Myers a look, her eyes full of disdain. Myers shut up. Jared chuckled softly. She was definitely an interesting chick. He wondered what the teachers said about her in the faculty room at lunch. The young ones, ones like Ms. Trask, the English teacher, who was still starry eyed and hopeful that she'd touch children's lives, probably said they just didn't know how to reach her, but she seemed bright and very capable. Older ones, worn down by years in the education system, probably just called her choice names. Jared had no illusions about what teachers said about students when the students weren't there. He knew. He'd been around. When students thought a particular teacher was out to get them, it was usually because the teacher really was. Teachers were just high school students with faculty badges. They carried all their high school battle scars with them in their briefcases, and even if they didn't want to be petty, they couldn't help it. They were only human.

He liked the young ones, though. He especially liked Ms. Trask. So idealistic. So capable. So sexy. Ms. Trask was a babe. There was no getting past that. She was distracting. Jared was at Whitmore for a reason. He had a specific purpose, a project. He'd been working on his project for quite a long time, and he wasn't about to let it get fucked by sexy Ms. Trask. He should ease off.

Additionally, he probably shouldn't fuck Maureen. Distractions led to failure. Focus was the only true way to achieve success. But if he could get Maureen on board... If he could find a way to make fucking Maureen part of his grand plan...

Maureen was walking off the volleyball court and up the bleachers to where he was sitting. He shrugged.

* * *

Jared French was staring at her, and she couldn't decide if she was flattered or pissed off. Maureen could see him, gazing openly down on her from his perch on the bleachers. He was grinning. Well, leering was more like it. And she could swear he was doing eye sweeps of her body, taking her all in. Unable to stand it anymore, she stalked off the court and started climbing the bleachers.

"Hey," he said, his grin widening.

"You're staring at me," she said. Well, that had come out blunt and accusing. If she were ever going to have a chance with this guy, she'd have to stop doing that. She should be coy or something.

"Yeah," said Jared. "I was admiring your gym clothes."

Was he making fun of her? "I don't own sneakers, and I haven't shaved in two days," she said, holding out her leg so he could see the blonde stubble catch the light. God! That was great. Yeah, he was totally gonna be attracted to her with her hairy legs. What was wrong with her?

Jared kept grinning. "I just thought it was kind of ballsy," he said. "How do you keep Myers off your case?"

"I don't," said Maureen. "Didn't you just hear him yelling at me?"

"Yeah, but when you looked at him, he shut up pretty fast."

Maybe he had... Huh. Power she didn't know she had. "Whatever," she said, brushing it off. "So, um, about that billiards thing."

"Yeah, I think I'm gonna blow it off," Jared said.

"Oh. Right," said Maureen. Of course he was. Or maybe he just wanted to get rid of her. "Well, I guess I should be playing volleyball or whatever."

"You don't seem like the kind of chick who always does what she should," Jared said.

That was true.

"Hey," said Jared. "I do want to hang out with you. But this weekend isn't good. Maybe next week sometime, though?"

"Really?" Jesus Christ, had he really said that? She was dreaming. She was going to wake up and�

"I don't know," Jared continued. "I mean nothing definite or anything, but maybe something to keep in mind?"

He was trying to get rid of her.

"Paulsen," yelled Coach Myers. "This is gym class, not social hour."

"I better go," said Maureen.

"Don't dress next time," said Jared. "We can hang out."

"You don't dress, you fail gym," said Maureen. "I don't want to fail gym."

* * *

Trevor had cut Ms. Trask's first period English class, because even though she knew his name, he figured first period was the safest, as far as cutting went. If he cut first, he got counted absent, and if he was absent, he had a free ride to cut whatever other classes he felt like cutting that day. Teachers would see his name on the bulletin as absent and wouldn't bat an eyelash when he wasn't there. Even if he signed in late, his name would still appear on the absentee list. It was good trick, but it wouldn't work consistently. He'd have to use it sparingly, once a month or so, or teachers would catch on. Anyway, he wasn't sure that cutting was such a great idea at this school, anyway. At Praxton, there was a group of cutters and they usually all gathered in a certain place to hang out. Usually, it was behind the gym. Here at Whitmore, no one seemed to cut classes. He'd been wandering around inside and outside the building for the most of the period, and he hadn't seen anyone in the halls without a hall pass. Oddly enough, he hadn't been stopped for one either, so he guessed he should count his blessings.

But he hadn't cut just for the sake of cutting. Okay, part of him had, but that wasn't the only reason. Part of him just loved the freedom of cutting. It had been nearly two years since he'd been able to cut at all. The last school he'd been in, not Praxton, but the freaky private school his parents had sent him to, had made it impossible to cut, mostly because there weren't really classes. The school was a handful of kids, forty of them, K-12, and it focused on personal motivation for learning. There was no curriculum to speak of. Students were just supposed to decide what they wanted to know about and then the teachers helped them find information and design projects and all that crap. Actually, the place would have been kind of cool if Trevor hadn't been too drugged to know if he was dressed or not.

The past six years of his life were a kind of blur for Trevor. Right after the thing happened, he'd been understandably disturbed and depressed. He'd never been medicated up to that point. His older brother had. His older brother had been on a ton of meds. Trevor hadn't even been on Ritalin. He just wasn't a hyperactive child. But his parents were big into the psychiatry thing. Trevor guessed he didn't mind it so much. The talk therapy was even kind of cool, since his parent refused to ever talk about the thing that happened. But then, when apparently the talk therapy wasn't doing the trick, they put him on drugs. All different kinds, one right after another. Some of them made him feel like he had a plastic bag over his head. Some of them made him feel slightly euphoric. Some of them made him angry or even violent. Some of them did nothing at all. The one they finally settled on, that one just made him feel detached. He stopped caring. He stopped feeling. He stopped thinking. He just kind of wandered through his days in a haze. He got up, got dressed, ate if someone forced him, and went to school. That was when he started to cut.

He was still at Praxton then, and it was easy to cut classes. No one really noticed. Besides, because of what had happened, all the teachers at Praxton gave him a fairly large amount of space, almost as if they were afraid of him. They let him do pretty much what he wanted. Of course, all that cutting meant his grades started to slide pretty drastically. Trevor had never been the kind of guy who made really great grades. He did all right though. He made Bs and Cs and passed. Maybe he didn't pass with flying colors, but he passed. After he started cutting class all the time, his grades were Ds and Fs. This worried his parents, so he told them the truth. He just wasn't interested in school anymore. That's when they yanked him out of Praxton and put him into the other private school.

Trevor hated the school, because he couldn't just melt into the background there. There was too much focus on him. He was responsible for his education, and Trevor didn't feel like taking responsibility for anything. On top of everything, the pills he took made it tough to have ideas or think originally or even to concentrate. Sometimes he felt sleepy all the time. So, here he was with people telling him he could learn about whatever he wanted at whatever pace he wanted, and Trevor couldn't remember exactly what it was like to want things. He knew that then he really didn't want anything, except maybe to be able to switch off, like a television. He wanted to be unplugged, blank and black. To rest.

Trevor had stopped taking his pills about a month ago. He'd done it little by little, in case he'd developed any kind of dependency, chemical or psychological, and weened himself off the drugs in a few weeks. His parents didn't know. They thought he was still taking them, so they were still filling his prescriptions. Because of this, he still had a whole lot of pills. He had cut today in the hopes of trying to sell them. They weren't party drugs in any sense, but Trevor had found that some kids were stupid enough to try anything if they knew it was illegal. People would pay for the pills. People had offered him money for them before, when he was actually taking the prescription. Trevor had hoped to sell some here and hopefully make a little extra money. It was better than getting a job. But it didn't look promising. There was no one around, so he'd probably just have to forget the whole thing.

Trevor checked his watch. First period was almost over, and he was outside at the football field. He headed up the hill to the main building, staring at his shoes as he trudged.

"Hey," said a voice.

Trevor looked up. A guy was approaching him on the path towards the school.

"Hey," said Trevor.

"You're new here, right?" said the guy.

"Yeah," Trevor said. There was something weird about this guy. He looked really familiar, but he couldn't figure out where he'd seen him before.

"I'm Jared," said the guy.

"Trevor," said Trevor.

Jared stuck out his hand. Trevor took it and they shook. "Nice to meet you, Trevor," said Jared, smiling hugely.

That smile... He looked like...but no, that wasn't possible, because the person he looked like was dead.

"Yeah, you too," said Trevor. "You, uh, cutting class too?"

"Gym," Jared acknowledged. "Although they're sticklers around here. They find out you cut, and you're in deep."

Trevor nodded. "Yeah, I'm kind of getting that." He stuck his hands in his pockets. "You, uh, wanna buy some pills?"

Jared grinned. "What do you got?"

Trevor told him, still weirded out by Jared's grin. It was eerily similar to someone's that he used to know. He wasn't sure he liked Jared. Just standing here next to him made him feel uneasy, like something was crawling at his neck. Trevor fought the urge to run away. It was nothing. It was withdrawal from the pills. It had just kicked in late.

"I don't know," said Jared. "That stuff doesn't do much to you."

"It depends on how much you take," said Trevor. "More is better."

"Right," said Jared. "So what are you selling them for?"

"Five bucks a pill," said Trevor. "You'd need at least three to feel anything."

"Okay," said Jared. "Myself, I'm not so much into that kind of thing, but I might know some people who are, so I'll send them your way."

Suddenly, students began pouring out of the doors of the main building behind Jared and heading towards the various annexes of Whitmore.

"Guess the bell rang," said Jared.

"Yeah," said Trevor. "I better get going." Saved by the bell, he thought. He didn't want to talk to Jared anymore. In fact, he thought he might be okay with never talking to Jared ever again.

chapter three >>

Copyright (c) 2010 Valerie Chambers