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Heads or Tails
As I flip the coin one more time, hoping, praying it doesn’t come up tails again, my blood runs cold and my spine shivers. The coin mocks me as the eagle, representing life and happiness, bestows on me some horrible fate that’s sure to come.
To understand where I’m coming from, you must know a little “family” history. My name’s Lance. I’m eighteen, about 6’4,”and 210 lbs. My dad was a heavy drinker, and my mom always hated him for it. Whenever they were fighting, it was because of my belligerent father yelling at my mom and coming home at all hours of the night.
Growing up was tough with a dysfunctional family. To occupy myself, I developed a sort of game that now dictates my life. I’d get up early in the morning, before the screaming began, and flip a coin. Heads meant I’d have a good day. Tails meant a variety of misfortunes would cascade down upon my family and I. To see the severity of my misfortunes, I’d flip the coin again after receiving the initial tails. If heads appears up, then I’m in for the usual mom and dad drunken squabble. If tails turns up, then someone’s dead. This is the second time it has ever happened to me. The first time was when I was eleven years old. I awoke early and flipped the coin: Tails. Just then, on cue, mom and dad started screaming and throwing possessions to the floor. It sounded pretty serious, more thrashing and screaming than usual. I flipped the coin again, and after revolving in the air, it landed tails up in my palm. The overpowering echo of a shotgun slammed my heart like a freight train out of control. I dropped the coin and headed down the hall to see my father dead on the floor, and my mother gripping the gun barrel with her teeth as she pulled the trigger. The images still haunt my dreams. My grandfather, being in the military, taught me discipline and how to defend myself in the right situations. I never spoke a word of my superstitious habits to anyone. After all, who would believe it?
Now as I hold my fate in my hands, I feel nauseas and overwhelmed. Grandma Jo walks into my room with a laundry basket and notices my ghostly expression. With a deeply concerned tone, she demands to know what the matter is. I take a deep breath and fake a smile replying that nothing is the matter and that I’d be down for breakfast. Knowing that something was amiss, knowing that maybe today my grandparents –the only people I have left to call family- may be ripped away from me, I prepare for school.
I push out the unnerving thoughts racing through my mind, and try to return to my calm, cool, and collected demeanor. I venture down the stairs to the kitchen. By halfway down, the delightful smell of a home-cooked meal made with love is practically coaxing the drool from my open mouth. After devouring the last of the bacon and orange juice, I scramble out to catch the bus. Yes, I still ride the bus to school. Seniors don’t have to drive expensive cars just to be accepted … Right? Anyway, on the bus my buddy Jason saves me the last seat, and I’m glad to see a familiar face.
“Hey, man,” he sputters with a toothy grin on his face. “Are you ready for another day at the lovely Pine River prison?” Jay never was one for school. His idea of fun and standards wasn’t actually what society may call honorable. But he’s a good friend that never backs down from a challenge. “So …”
“Sorry,” I reply, realizing his attempt to start conversation. “I’m not feeling… well today.”
“That’s too bad. It’s going around these days,” he says, slipping on some headphones and cranking his music insanely loud.
As we arrive at the school, I can’t help but feel my heart pound and my breath fall short. Departing the bus now with inner reluctance, Jay says, “See you at lunch, maybe.” He turns and heads for a quick toke-and-smoke before school. Show’s his level of preparation for the day. I take the high road, comparatively speaking to my locker and find my little angel waiting for me. Her name is Zoey, and we met freshman year and have sort-of an on/off relationship. But, at least for the last year and a half, it’s been on, baby, and, oh, it’s been nice.
“Hey, you,” she says, twirling her luscious red hair around her slender finger. I don’t even answer; I just lean down and feel her tender lips form to mine. “Whoa, what was that for,” she stammers, blushing and burying her face into my chest for a tight hug.
“Nothing, I’m just glad you are here with me.” And still alive, I think to myself. How could I tell her that today something’s going to happen and that she’s better off without me. How could I tell her that today I flipped tails twice and am going on the brink of insanity?
“Let’s get to class. It’s almost first bell.” Zoey grasps my hand, and I feel reassurance flood through my body and a calm befalls me. Zoey and I have first through third hour and lunch together. As we head to class, I keep looking over my shoulder, as if Death himself is stalking me. Zoey sits across from me in Algebra Two. I marvel at her beauty and brilliance as she easily answers questions and smiles back at me. First and second hour pass with ease, and I begin to relax and curse my silly ritual.
In third hour we’re watching a movie, and we can sit where we like. Naturally Zoey and I pick a quiet corner to enjoy everything but the movie. By the end of class, I’m in a state of ecstasy. I start to laugh and be myself again and totally dismiss my predictions.
Soon Zoey and I are heading to lunch along with more than half the school. She stops to get a drink of water when two people walking by us are shot down. People are running, screaming, and crying as bullets are being sprayed across the hall. I hear nothing as innocents are being slain and the screaming intensifies. The only force that snaps me back into reality is Zoey clutching my leg. I look down and see she has been hit in the upper thigh. She’s crying and yelling my name. At once I pick her off the ground and head to the nearest classroom only steps away. I see people running with no real direction. I yell to anyone who can hear me, “Over here! Follow us into the classroom.”
Once in the class, I find a secure spot for my fallen angel to lay. I grab a sweatshirt hanging on a nearby seat and wrap Zoey’s leg. “Keep pressure on that.” I didn’t see an exit wound, and I hope the bullet didn’t strike a major artery.
“Where are you going?” Zoey painfully expels after seeing me head for the door.
“To see if those bastards are on to us.” After all, a hefty number of students did follow my lead, about 35 maybe 40 all together. Crossing the room, I calmly ask the nearest person to the phone to call 911. A teary-eyed blonde clutches the phone, dials emergency, and crawls under the teacher’s desk. Moving to the door I peer around the corner and see two men dressed in black, holding semi-automatic weapons, and heading our way down the hall. Apparently they witnessed our attempt to avoid devastation, or maybe fate has brought them down upon me. Heading back into the room, I notice a bag of a few baseball bats. This was coach Daily’s room, and he often allowed students to store their equipment in his room. I grab a solid oak Louisville Slugger and am pleased to see a few guys jump to my assistance. Among the four that joined me, Jason was down for some payback. Nothing needed to be said, the four of us know the circumstances. We head for the door. Jay’s right on my heels. With my bat drawn, I attempt to peer around the corner when an unsuspecting thug comes strolling into my sight. Without hesitation, I swing the bat with vicious tenacity and feel his skull crumble between my bat and the cement wall. The kid falls to the ground.
As his wing-man brings his gun up for a shot, I throw myself on him with desperation, knocking his gun free from his hand. On top of him now, I slam my numb fists into his pale, surprised face and feel him struggle to be freed. The kid must have been reaching for a knife, for now I feel the dull blade’s edge drive deep into my side. Before it can plunge any deeper, I roll off him with a cry of pain. The scum also rolls to his knees to stand. Jay shatters his spine with a tremendous downward swing then adds, “And stay down!” The man’s still alive but paralyzed and screaming in agony. His friend wasn’t as lucky.
I tell the other two students behind Jay to take the paraplegic’s weapons and make sure he’s being watched. I take the dead man’s .45 caliber pistol and buck knife along with an extra magazine. I return to the class and check on Zoey.
“Oh my God! Are you bleeding? Are you hit…?” She begins to cry and turn paler. I didn’t notice the blood that covers my shirt and hands during the scuffle.
“No, No…I… I’m fine. Hang in there.” The blonde informs me that the police are on the way. With relief I try to think but am unable to with the sound of a gunshot in the hall. I hear Jay scream, and another round cries out. I stand beside the door and hear the gunman call to his fallen brethren. I chance a glance around the corner and see one man crouching beside the dead man and another pistol whipping the surviving volunteer who I doomed. I recognize the two losers from the alternative school. But as I make this realization, the man crouching sees my clumsy movement. He attempts to stand, but in my haste, I squeeze off a round into his knee. He folds to the ground, but his friend strikes true. I feel a sharp pain in my stomach as I pull back to cover. I trip and fall next to the door, clutching my side. With a quick thrust, I close the door before the monster could move in for the kill. At once the door is bullet ridden, and shards of wood and screams of terror fill the room, shattering the windows and nearly hitting cowering students under desks. With a kick the door comes flying open, nearly coming off the hinges. When the rotten scoundrel discovers me on the floor so close to where he now stands, he brings his barrel down as I raise mine and fire. His gun is empty and useless, but with sick obligation, I feel the jerk in my hand as I pull the trigger and end his life.
My head pounds and the room darkens, but then I hear her. Zoey is screaming my name and edging towards me. I muster the last of my strength and stand to spare her the agony of crawling. Through the shattered window, I see all sorts of police cars and S.W.A.T. officers storming our school. I reach Zoey and collapse into her lap, dropping the weapon of death by her side. She strokes my face and sobs as I drift in and out of consciousness.
At the door I hear a grunt as the man I wounded earlier hobbles into the room leaning heavily on the wall. With utter madness in his eyes he raises his handgun to finish me off with a final shot. A deafening bang of a gun explodes next to my head. I feel the burn of the muzzle flash and smell the smoke of the barrel. Zoey at once throws the pistol away with obvious disgust. The shot wasn’t bad. It landed hard in the left peck, throwing the coward off his feet- not before he could squeeze off a round of his own, that is. It, like he intended, landed squarely in my chest. I feel my lungs tighten as I struggle to breath. Zoey, thank God, she’ll survive. She’s holding my face to hers to hear the words I fight to say in between gasps, “…I…LLOVE…YOOU…” I, for the last time, feel her sweet lips form to mine. The room darkens, and I no longer feel the warmth of her touch.